Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Moving Time!

This blog has been dormant for the better part of a year, but I've been busy setting up a new home for my random thoughts and design wackiness. I found it easier to consolidate everything using the Wordpress platform.

My design website can be found at Melek Design
My personal blog has moved to Robert W. Williams - Thoughts & Musings

I've moved most of the content to the new locations, and this blog is staying put as an archive.  Please update your subscriptions and saved links to the new locations and stop by to say hello!

Also, if you want to display any content from this blog on your own site, email me for permission before doing so.

See you soon!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Four Necessary Things

It's been a long time since I've posted on this blog, so if you're reading this, I'll give you a heads up on the other projects I have going.

My general design experiments are posted (fairly regularly) at Dubya Designs 365
My newest project is designing my way through the 613 Commandments of the Torah.

I don't forsee this blog going away, since I'm using it as a companion to Design 613. At some point, I would like to centralize everything at the same place (perhaps Wordpress).  I haven't made a lot of progress toward that, so if and when I ever get there, I'll notify you here.

This post stems from an art commission I did for Word Live regarding circumcision and Acts 15. Here is a low resolution version followed by an explanation: (click to view full size)

The idea behind the creative brief for the project was that circumcision was marked off the list of requirements for Gentiles. This was based on the account from the beginning of Acts:15, where certain believers were teaching that unless Gentiles were circumcised, they couldn't be saved. The gist of the project was that grown Gentile converts everywhere found much joy and relief at the fact that they weren't required to be circumcised to remain a follower of Jesus. I tried to take it down a humorous, tongue-in-cheek route, while still giving an accurate representation.

In case you can't read it clearly, here are the requirements from the center square of the image:

1. IDOLATRY: Don't bow down to or reverence idols! For that matter, don't even think about them favorably. It's okay to despise them because they are abominable to God.
II. CONDUCT: Abstain from the filthy practices of pagans. Keep yourself pure and holy before God!
III. DIET: God gave instructions for the preparation and eating of food--Follow them! They will help you live a healthy, happy life and save you a lot of problems in the long run.
IV. CIRCUMCISION: This is a MUST! If you don’t do it, you can't possibly be saved! IMPORTANT!!!
V. FAITHFULNESS: Attend Synagogue services every week to learn more about growing in God’s Grace.

It seems to be commonly accepted in Christianity today (at least among the circles I have been in), that Acts 15 was written to "let Gentiles off the hook" as far as what God expects of them. The Jews have the Law (Torah), but all that God requires of the Gentiles is faith to be accepted in Messiah. It's unfortunate that most English translations of the Bible are worded in a way that supports this misconception. Here is a summary of how I have come to understand this passage from the Hebraic viewpoint of the 1st Century.

First, we need to understand that when we read the word "circumcusion" in the New Testament, it rarely ever simply refers to the act of removing the foreskin. By this time in history, it had become such a deeply embedded practice in Judaism (as per God's instructions in the Torah, which also connected it to the idea of circumcising one's heart to be faithful to Him), that it was used idiomatically to refer to the process of a Gentile converting to serving the one true God and embracing Judaism. Circumcising a grown man was pretty risky from a medical standpoint at that time in history, but it had become a part of Jewish custom that converts to Judaism were to undergo the process as part of their formal conversion.

Some sources I have read attribute this to a difference of opinion between two major Jewish rabbis named Hillel and Shammai, of which Hillel interpreted Torah more leniently and Shammai more rigidly. Here is an interesting summary of the relationship between these two men. Apparently, the viewpoint of Shammai, that every male convert to Judaism was required to be circumcised, became the accepted practice in Judaism, and the apostles and followers of Messiah, who now presided over the synagogue at Jerusalem (James the brother of Jesus) were reversing the opinion of Shammai in favor of a more accurate interpretation of what the Torah commanded (which coincidently was the opinon stated by Hillel in their disagreement.)

At any rate, English translations of Acts 15 coupled with the writings of Sha'ul (Paul) have really added unnecessary confusion to the subject. Sha'ul did not require adult converts to Judaism (following Messiah) to undergo circumcison, because it did not violate the commandments. The Torah commands the parents to circumcise the male child on the eighth day. The commandment is not geared toward the child. If someone has already lived many years past the eighth day, the command is not violated if a grown male convert remains uncircumcised. There is not an issue if the adult convert chooses to undergo circumcision to better identify with his Messiah; it does not invalidate his faithfulness (although English translations tend to insinuate that in the writings of Paul.). However, male children born to Gentile converts were to be circumcised on the eighth day as instructed by Torah, as the commandment was to the parents.

The issue in Acts 15 was whether Gentiles should continue to be required to go through the long process of formally converting to Judaism (which often took years, and culminated with a circumcision ritual). If so, this was problematic, since the Gentiles were coming in by the droves under the ministry of the apostles. In weighing out the issue, the beit deen (synagogue court), which ruled on such matters decided that the viewpoint supported by the Torah ("it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us"--idiomatic for "this is what the Tanakh [today known as the Old Testament] supports.") was to require four (more accurately five) things of Gentile converts. Here is that list as per the teaching of my rabbi, Robert Allon, who is a skilled linguist in Hebrew and Greek.

1. Abstain from the defilement of idols (from bowing their hearts and bodies to idols)

2. and unfaithfulness (don’t stop living according to the Torah)

3. and strangled* (don’t be overwhelmed by all this new stuff, you’ll learn it eventually)

4. and blood (live according to the laws of purity)

The fifth requirement that is pretty much ignored by most people who discuss this chapter is from the next verse (21) which says:
For Moishe (Moses) from ancient times has those in the cities who preach him, being read in the E-dah (syagogue) every Shabbat (Sabbath).
In other words, converts to Messiah were expected to keep the Sabbath (Friday evening at sundown to Saturday evening at sundown) and attend the synagogue (not church) to learn more about growing in grace. What was taught in the synagogues in the 1st Century? How to practically live out the Torah in your everyday life.

As the old advertisements for Virginia Slims cigarettes used to pronounce, "You've come a long way, baby!" Christianity has indeed come a long way from what was expected of those declaring their faith in Messiah in the 1st Century. Perhaps it's time we start heading back that direction.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Keeping the Nine

I ran across an article on the 10 commandments today that intially seemed edifying, but as I read into it further I was smacked with a glaring misconception which really aggravated me. I'm not going to share the name of the well-known author or the ministry he represents because I don't think it would be fruitful. I do my best to refrain from acting like a "heresy-hunter", naming names and hurtling accusations at those whose beliefs aren't in line with my own. I've done my share of that in the past and I've seen the damage it does to everyone involved.

It seems to me that the intent of the article was to explore the practical application of the Ten commandments in our lives today and seeks to expand upon it in light of modern culture. The part that stuck out to me the most was the explanation of the fourth commandment

FOUR: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." [Exodus 20:8]
"I will worship you through your word everyday. I will spend enough time everyday to make up an entire Sabbath day. I will talk about you and your words in the morning, getting up, Walking, sitting down, lying down, going in the car, whatever I am doing, when I have time to think about my choices of thought, it will be about you and your words.
To begin, here is the breakdown of the Hebrew words that make up the Fourth Commandment:

Remember (Hebrew root: zakar)
"TO REMEMBER, TO RECOLLECT, TO BRING TO MIND. The origin lies in the idea of pricking or piercing; the idea of memory then comes from that of penetrating or infixing in one's mind. It signifies especially (a) to remember, to be mindful (i.e. to retain in memory) The grammatical structure of zakar in this passage carries the form of an imperative (i.e. "you" do something!)

the sabbath (Hebrew root: shabbath)
"the seventh day, or sabbath."
From the root shabath, which means "TO REST, TO KEEP AS A DAY OF REST. The primary idea is of sitting down, sitting still, the opposite of laboring."

day (Hebrew root: yom)
"any specified period of time that has a beginning and ending. It can be a 24 hour day or a longer period of time (i.e. the "day of provocation" in the wilderness, when Israel resisted God, lasted 40 years)

to keep it holy (Hebrew root: qadash)
(1) TO BE PURE, CLEAN, properly used of physical purity and cleanliness; (2) to be holy, sacred, (b) used of things destined for holy worship. The usage in Exodus 20:8 carries with it the additional idea "to regard anything as holy, set apart, consecrated to God."

In short, God instructed us to be mindful to keep the seventh day set apart from the other six days and rest during that period.

The Biblical Sabbath is celebrated from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night, as Hebrew days were reckoned from sundown to sundown. God emphasized keeping the Sabbath 35 different times in Old Testament. This does not count the times when the Sabbath is simply mentioned, but rather times when God reminded us to actively take part in observing it. I didn't tally the number of times that the Sabbath was spoken of in the New Testament, but there are many mentions of Yeshua (Jesus) and those who continued ministered the Gospel observing the Sabbath.

Granted, I don't consider myself an expert Sabbath-keeper. In fact, at times I feel like I may be one of the most awkward Sabbath-keepers in history. I'm still relatively new to it and I'm convinced that my observance can be improved upon. In spite of the way I feel about my performance thus far, I'm going to stick with it and eventually I'll become more comfortable doing it and it will be a richer, more relaxing, more rewarding time in my relationship with God.

Here is the exerpt from the article and why I believe it sends us on the wrong path of thinking (and toward wrong actions as a result
"I will worship you through your word everyday."
There are many Scriptures that state this same thought in the Old Testament. Here are three of them.

Joshua 1:8 NIV Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Psalm 1:2 NIV But his delight [the righteous] is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 119:97 MEM. Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.

[Note: at the time when these passages were penned, the "law of God" [Torah] was the entire Word of God. Today, the Torah is the foundation of what has been added since then, and remains the foundation of our faithfulness to God.]
I will spend enough time everyday to make up an entire Sabbath day.
Taken at face value, this statement doesn't make any sense. I'll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that the author is saying that throughout the seven-day week, he will devote time each day that would equal a Sabbath day in worship, study, etc...Or to repeat a statement I have heard more times than I would care to, "Since we have the Holy Spirit, we can spend time with God anytime and make every day holy."On the surface there may not seem to be anything wrong with these sentiments, after all the author is speaking about taking action to get closer to God. However, if we examine them more closely, we begin to see how several different passages of Scripture have been Frankensteined together to achieve an end which negates the very commandment he is trying to expand upon.

The concept behind the word "holy" is to set apart or consecrate something. For something to be holy, it must be separate from what is common. There is a phrase said to many young graphic designers who tend to overempasize everything which goes, "If everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized."

In other words, the whole idea of the Sabbath being holy is in that it is set apart from what we do on the other six days of the week. If every day is "holy", then none of our days is "holy."

I will talk about you and your words in the morning, getting up, Walking, sitting down, lying down, going in the car, whatever I am doing, when I have time to think about my choices of thought, it will be about you and your words.
This is basically a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:6-8
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (7) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (8) Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

[Note: although some people have applied verse 8 literally, the language of the verse used Hebrew idioms to instruct us to constantly meditate upon and find strength through meditating on God's Word. I do not think someone is wasting their time in applying it literally, since in most cases they are achieving the figurative aim of the commandment in the process. At any rate, the one who only applies it literally is better off than those who ignore the commandment altogether.]

When deconstructed, the individual parts of the article find their foundation in Scripture. However, when they are mish-mashed together as if referring to a single commandment, it is misleading. There are actually several commandments referenced, all of which should be obeyed, and none of which overturn the other. We should worship God through studying His Word every day. It should be what we ponder and discuss regardless of what we are doing or who we are with. But in addition to doing this, we should keep the rest of God's commandments, including setting apart the Sabbath from the other six days of our week. It's not really even about choosing a day of worship. It doesn't matter which day of the week you choose to gather with other believers to worship God; that doesn't replace the Sabbath, which God established at the end of Creation and remains His appointed time for us to rest and enjoy a special time of communion with Him.

What disturbs me about someone teaching that God's Sabbath doesn't matter is that it's too close for comfort to what the serpent told Eve regarding eating the forbidden fruit. "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. [Genesis 3:8 NIV]

In other words, "God doesn't mean what He said." Instruction along those lines never ends up pleasant for those who follow it. I think I'll stick with God's instruction; will you join me?

Shalom v'shalom! (Peace and wholeness multiplied upon peace and wholeness to you.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Have Spread Out My Hands

I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, "Here am I, here am I." All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not upright, pursuing their own imaginations—a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of unclean meat; who say, "Keep away; don't come near me, for I am too sacred for you!" Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.
[Yesha'yah (Isaiah) 65:1-5]

It seems to be our tendency today to read passages such as this and look down our noses at ancient Israel--"What was wrong with those stubborn, rock-hugging, idol-worshiping people?!" But if we examine the charges that Yahveh God is bringing before them, it hits a lot closer to home than we may like to admit.

Yesha'yah (Isaiah) begins by quoting from the Song of Moses, describing how Yahveh will use the willingness on the part of Gentiles who desire to live in covenant with Him to provoke Israel (the wayward bride) to jealousy to return to Him.

They have moved me to jealousy with [that which is] not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with [those which are] not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. [Deuteronomy 32:21]
Next He gives a simple contrast between His actions, and those of the bride He is desperately in love with. The Hebrew word translated as "day" is yom, and refers to any period of time, regardless of size. Yahveh is telling them, "All of this time I stand here with arms reaching out to you!" In spite of that, His bride has:

1. Walked in ways that are not upright (i.e. she has pursued a lifestyle that is not according to the righteousness set forth in conditions of marriage found in Yahveh's Torah),

2. Pursued her own imaginations (by following their own lusts),

3. Provoked Yahveh to His face (by openly practicing idolatry),

4. Offered sacrifices in gardens and burned incense on brick altars (This refers to private persons offering sacrifices of their own free will and the idolatrous burning of incense in honor of a deity on altars of brick (The guidelines for free will sacrifice are described in Leviticus 17;  for building an altar in Exodus 20:24-25),

5. Sat among the graves and continued in hidden places [shrines of gods in sepulchral caves],
(Numbers 19:16 pronounce those who touch graves ritually unclean, thus those who continually dwell among them declare themselves unfit to worship in Yahveh's presence)

6. Eaten what He deemed as unclean (Ignored God's dietary instructions by eating animals that He refers to as unclean, and never refers to as food at all). [Guidelines found in Leviticus 11]

7. Displayed the attitude, "I'm am holier than you!" to those around them.
In short, Israel was trying to worship God in the way they chose, and didn't hide the fact that they were serving other gods at the same time--and living as if that behavior was acceptable for God's spotless bride.

But yet through it all, Yahveh is still standing with arms outstretched saying, "Return to Me! You are My beloved!"
__   __   __   __   __   __   __   __

This passage has really disturbed me since I read it earlier this week. Maybe it's because I have seen myself in most...okay, all of the charges against Israel--from having my heart turned away from Him, to following my own lusts, to serving self and other things right before His face, to choosing to live an unclean life, to partaking of things that are not beneficial and only serve to addict, make sick and depress me, to having the attitude in the midst of being so far from Him that represent Him better than anyone else and self-righteously taking credit that only belongs to Him.

I've heard his call to "Return to Me!" and I can honestly say that I'm doing more to build a relationship with Him now than ever. It just terrifies me to think that someone could live a life in complete opposition to God, all the while claiming to be His spotless bride and more spiritual than others.

I have been that person, and I just can't be anymore.

"Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin...Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." [Psalm 51:2, 10-12]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Working of the Ruach Kodesh

Throughout my life, I have subscribed to many misconceptions as to the purpose and intent of the giving of the Holy Spirit. For the longest time, I mostly associated it with emotional release, holding to that understanding and refusing to take a deeper look. I have given the Holy Ghost credit for revelations that in reality were my own self-righteous attempts to elevate myself above other believers. I have treated It as the miracle cure that I expected to take away all my problems and make my walk with God easier. However, it was not until I began to study what Scripture teaches about the purpose and intent of the Ruach Kodesh (Holy Spirit), that I began to understand the benefit of It in my relationship with the Creator.

I believe the best way to avoid misconceptions and misunderstanding is to firmly stand on the authoritative record of Scripture. As David wrote in Psalm 119:89 [LAMED] “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.” At the time when David wrote the Psalms, the Word of God he referred to (and wrote Psalm 119 in adoration of) was the Torah, which became the foundation of the prophets' actions, words and writings. The Torah and prophets were the foundation for the life and teachings of Messiah. The Torah and the prophets coupled with the life and teachings of Messiah became the foundation of the Apostles—the same foundation that has been passed on to us through their writings.

It was in the Torah where the record of God anointing Moishe (Moses) with the Holy Spirit, which was also given to the 70 elders of Israel to assist them in teaching Torah to Israel. (Numbers 11) There are many accounts of the Holy Spirit active in the lives of those who loved God and sought to live by his commandments, from Yehowshuwa' (Joshua), to David, to the prophets which wrote of the time when the finished work and sacrifice of Messiah would pave the way for God's Spirit to be freely given to all nations of the world drawing them into a right relationship with Him.

The foundation of the prophets is important in establishing a clear picture of the work of the Holy Spirit as recorded in the New Testament. Yirmeyah (Jeremiah) wrote (31:33) “But this shall be the covenant [literally: sacrifice] that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put [literally: cause to receive] my Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The Hebrew idiom translated as “write it in their hearts” refers to God's Spirit becoming so ingrained in our heart, (our decision-making center) that we will not deviate from It's guidance.

Yechezqe'l (Ezekiel) expressed the same concept this way: (36:26-27) “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” The intent in God freely giving humanity His Holy Spirit was to encourage and enable us to live by and keep the statutes and judgments of His Torah.

The same understanding is seen in the Apostolic writings. Sha'ul (Paul) wrote in Galatians 5:16, 18 “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh...but if ye be led of the Spirit, you are not under the Torah.” [literally: subject to punishment from transgressing Torah] According to Paul, the opposite of walking (living) in the Spirit is to live a life in opposition to the commandments of God.

Yochanan (John) the beloved as a disciple of Messiah, gave a clear summary of the purpose and intent of the Holy Spirit in our lives: (1 Jn. 3:24) “And he that keeps his commandments dwells in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.” The purpose and intent of God giving humanity His Holy Spirit was to draw all men into a right relationship with Him, which culminates in our loving and serving God. 1 John 5: 3 “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”

Shalom to you and yours.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"Candlelight" - The Maccabeats

Great video just in time for Hanukkah!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In the Day That I Am Afraid

I had my wife take some pics of me this past weekend to reflect the changes in my appearance as of late. My beard is starting to get fuller and actually show up in pictures (the blight of being fair-haired I guess). During the shoot, I was goofing around a bit and she captured this one. As I was sorting through them, I decided to keep it and the words of Psalm 56:3 came to me.
The Hebrew sentence consists of only three words, but they say a lot.

What time I am afraid I will trust in thee, O LORD.

"What time" in Hebrew refers to any set period of time. It can be a day, a year, 40 years (as in the day of provocation in the wilderness, when Israel tempted [rebelled against] God), a lifetime, or thousands of years, as long as the period of time has a beginning and and end.

"afraid" comes from a Hebrew root meaning to tremble. Sometimes it's from excitement, as two newlyweds going on their honeymoon, ecstatic to begin a new life together and embark upon the journey of two becoming one. However in this case, the trembling is from being terrified of something. The context of the Psalm puts David fearing for his life at the hand of his enemies.

The last part of the verse seems odd in the English translation. When I read it, I think of something along these lines:
Although I am utterly terrified, I will trust you. I can see my enemies, and I'm terrified, but I'm reminding myself that I trust you. They're coming closer and I'm more terrified, but I think of you and I'm okay (for the moment). Now their getting really close and I'm shaking like a leaf...maybe I'll run to a safer place and think about trusting you some more...
"trust" is from the Hebrew root batach, which means:
to confide in anyone, to set one's hope or confidence upon anyone, to throw yourself and all your cares on someone, to be secure,to fear nothing for yourself (used in a good sense, of the security of the righteous.)

In other words, although David may have been surrounded by people wanting his blood, he was able to be confident in God because that's where his mind was dwelling. He realized that no matter how bad his situation became, God remained unchanged. If he made it through to see the other side, it was because God held him in His hands and walked through it right beside him. If his enemies were successful in taking his life, God would draw him to His chest and hold him there for all eternity.

When your circumstances have you shaken, put your confidence in the Rock.