Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Ministry of Biblical Illustration

I have been thinking about how to give service at the fellowship that I regularly attend and to the L-RD at this time. After reading some passages in Ezekiel, I saw where G-d asked Ezekiel to put forth information to various target audiences. In these, I felt that I could merge my desire to serve G-d with my interest or hobby in drawing, as information does not have to be textual only, but also visual. But more so to do this with a community of other young persons who may share my passion/hobby for learning to draw and illustrate.

I believe the culture of the world is now skewed towards visual communication  and even in church, I see the use of this relative modern way of communication in the form of PowerPoint slides, multimedia or videos. I also see where even in the church quarterly or periodicals, graphics are designed and there are illustrations.

I am pretty sure that you may know young people or other persons within your fellowship that draw or want to learn. I myself, cannot draw well, but am an amateur. Nevertheless, I believe that if I use the little that I know for G-d, especially with others, then eventually, G-d will improve my talent over time.

The church should have a mission focus or emphasis, and a goal to make every believer a minister. One area of ministry that often is neglected is the use of visual arts or visual communication. There is an adage that says that a picture is worth a thousand words. Surely, in times gone by in the past, the LORD caused persons to write down his communications to human beings. However, he does not limit his communication to the written word only. Psalm 19 states that his creative works also communicates.

As such, I see a new area of ministry and opportunity for members to give service to the LORD at this time that is in keeping with the modern culture of visual information consumption. Our modern culture in today's world is skewed towards visual communication and even in church, the is reliance on this relative modern way of communication in the form of PowerPoint slides, not to mention the countless brochures, fliers and other visual communication that are create each year to convey ephemeral information.

Such a proposed ministry can have a mandate or the aim of merging the desires of members to serve G-d with an interest or hobby in drawing or illustration to get an opportunity to do so while also fellowshipping with a community of other persons who may share that same passion/hobby for learning to draw and illustrate.

As in Moses' record of the construction of the tabernacle, God gave and used talents of two men to design the tabernacle's art work and interior decorations, so it is that God can use the talents for visual arts that he gave to members in the congregation for the purpose of contributing to the growth of the church as well as these individual members who serve. 

(Published November 22, 2011; but revised November 26, 2011)

The relevance of Ezekiel 17:1-10 to the Immigrant

As I continue to see the scriptures through the standpoint of an immigrant, my Bible reading is no longer the same. As I look at texts, new meaning comes from passages that were once alien to me. Ezekiel 17 is one such chapter that became alive to me within these past 2 weeks.

A few things to point out about Ezekiel 17:1-10
  1. G-d created a riddle or parable -  a simple story with a deep meaning that one must extract from the surface
  2. He uses the imagery of crop propagation  and agriculture
  3. Generally, the Bible usually uses animals such as birds to represent spiritual or celestial beings, and plants to represent earthly beings or human beings (This is revelation knowledge that I can't give a justification for. But I could point out a number of passages in scriptures to support this, but at another time).
 In verse 3, there is mention of a great eagle, with great wings, that came to a foreign country and plucked up the highest branch on a tree.

With my coming to Canada to do my postgraduate studies, I feel that student immigrants (who are the brightest and most intelligent minds in their home countries) are almost plucked up from their homelands and taken to a foreign country. While there might be some element of choice in the matter, not all students that apply to graduate school or even to the high commissions or embassies are selected. They are sifted, just like how the Eagle in Ezekiel 19:4 crops off the top of the young twigs on the highest branch. These student immigrants selected are like the twig carried away to be set in a city of merchants (verse 4). In the immigration analogy, these cities of merchants are the highly developed economies of the world, the multi-cultural market places, that facilitates cultural and economic exchanges.

Continuing with the analogy, seeds are also taken, so it is not just twigs for propagation, but also seeds. These are planted by waters. They are planted in good soil, and they grow towards the Eagle who gives them birth in this new soil. However its branches are low and not as high as a tree. It also depends upon the Eagle that took it to the new soil to nourish it.

Another great eagle comes to the land, and the newly planted vine grows towards this other Eagle and changes its direction, moving away from the Eagle that gave it birth.

Though this passage has a meaning for Israel, the nation of immigrants, I see in it also a message for the United States of America, also a nation of immigrants. You were established by immigrants who were carried to the land by G-d (the great Eagle). G-d planted your forefathers and also children. But as the children of the new nation grew, they changed their direction from the G-d that planted them, and turned towards another great Eagle (another god).  Thus the words echo in Ezekiel 17:9: Will this nation of immigrants prosper?

The message is also for me as an immigrant student. I was brought to Canada by G-d, and my prosperity and productivity in this nation depends upon my willingness to grow towards him and be humble and humiliated and dependent on him. How important it is that in this city of merchants (capitalism and trade and commerce) and market place for world products and services, heavily trafficked by cultural and economic exchanges, that I maintain my dependence on the great Eagle that took me here, and not trust in another.

(Published November 24, 2011; Revised November 26, 2011)

Conversation on the Judeo-Christian Feasts

I had another discussion on the Judeo-Christian feast days with a colleague of mind. I made the point that the churches need to engage in more discussion of the santuary and the feast days and the symbollism thereof. One can not understand New Testament or Biblical prophecies without understanding these and the rest of the Old Testament.

I also made the point that I do not hear much of this discussion in churches back in Jamaica, except for the Amstrong groups and the Messianic Jewish congregations.

My colleague then responded that the topic has come up directly or indirectly in almost all of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) lessons over the past couple of years. I replied that it may have been raised a few times, but not much and not in detailed seminars.

I also went on to share of the need for Christians to celebrate at least one communion similiar to how the modern Jewish Passover is observed.

My friend in curiosity requested more details about how such a communion would be celebrated.

This gave me the opportunity to share that the communion in the New Testament is with a meal - a real supper, with table spread with some of the Jewish passover symbols. Here is a transcript of some of the dialgoue that ensued:

My friend: Sounds nice but I am not sure why one would want to do that. The first communion was held on Passover but they commemorate different events. That is why the symbols are not all the same and do not bear the same significance.

Me: But Jesus Lord's Supper did have a meal. And Apostle Paul did mention it, rebuking those who came and greedily ate the supper. Supper also implies having the meal at night. Churches have it in the day. So we are out of step with the symbollism.

My colleague: I wouldn't go so far as to claim that the time of night is symbolic. I would say we should be able to have it at any time of day. We probably need to ask ourselves what the purpose of the communion is and then what is the purpose of each thing that we do in achieving that purpose. It would be good to have a fellowship meal during the communion service but is not having such a meal taking away from the symbolism?

Me: Well communion implies fellowship and eating together. So it just seems a natural fit to have a meal and not just break bread and have a little sip of grape juice. In fact Paul said some persons got drunk at the Lord Supper, which implies that they had a lot to drink, and that it was not a littl sip of grape juice.

My colleague: I agree with you on both counts but I keep going back to the symbolism. What has been lost? If we have only lost gluttony and drunkenness then the change was a good one.

Me: Well...we can only know what was lost if we recreate the original symbollism or least close to it (without the sacrificing of a real lamb, which would be unlawful now). After all, the church is being restored to its original doctrines lost over centuries. Yet Reformation is only a gradual process.

My colleague: You mean a little over a century and a half? (assuming you are speaking about the SDA church) It is not always good to return to original doctrines. If people always did that then reformation would be of no effect. A mature religion/church is one that is not afraid to admit that not everything we believed in the past was right and that we might not yet know everything that we are supposed to know.

Me: No. I mean the church of the apostles and their traditions. Before Anti-semitism separated the Jewish Christians from the Gentile Christians. Agree with this though: "A mature religion/church is one that is not afraid to admit that not everything we believed in the past was right and that we might not yet know everything that we are supposed to know." As the Spirit leads us, which is gradually into "ALL truth".

My colleague: Amen...and so we continue searching for (the fullness of) truth... me gone.

(Published November 24, 2011; Revised November 26, 2011)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Succeeding in Academia through Spiritual discipline

This is one of my shortest reflection, and is based on my meditation of how my faith has played a role in my academic endeavours. I want it to be used to encourage other students and prospective students of the importance of not neglecting the spiritual disciplines of your faith. I also want to challenge you students to pursue your dream of a university education by applying your spiritual discipline to assist in your secular studies. The same habits formed from these spiritual exercises are those that will help you succeed in academia.

Studying - the mental habits of memorizing Bible verses/committing scriptures and text to memory and reflecting on the meaning of particular passages, messages or concepts - is a very useful habit for academia.

Reading - the at least weekly act of reading the scriptures brings familiarity with words and going through text. This habit is also useful for the times in getting someone used to weekly or daily reading practices, that are useful in academic studies, since most information conveyed in education is done through information transfer from text.

Prayer habits - Those who practice the daily or less regular routine of getting up in the middle of the night or early morning to pray to or petition G-d or to have devotion/quiet time with G-d, develop a habit that will help one to complete assignments or prepare for examinations. Countless time, one will have to forsake sleep to study or complete an assignment. Even those who practice prayer vigils, will be use to conducting an all night exercise that might be quite a useful habit when a paper is due the next day.

Fasting - Sometimes going without food for a period of time in order to get some work done to meet a deadline is important. Those used to fasting will not find it a strange habit to do so when necessary.

Listening to Sermons/Messages - Weekly sermons and messages from the pulpit are like lectures and the way that a lot of academic professors deliver information in class. The Christian/Jewish student will always be accustomed to sitting still for a length of time to listen keenly to the delivery of information, which will help them grasp what they ought to learn. They will have the habit of focusing their attention on a speaker for important information for a length of time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Conversation on Leviticus 21:16-23

It has been a while since I have last posted. This time I wish to post a conversation that I have had on the Web with some persons about some verses of the Scriptures and about G-d. The names have been removed to preserve anonymity. A little editing was applied to correct the spelling of words to what the persons intended to say.

Someone posted in response to Leviticus 21:16-23, 'lol, God made people with defects but he finds them gross. hahah'

16 The LORD said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the LORD. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.
[comment by Person 1 removed]

Person 2: I can't stop laughing. A nice way around this would just be to cure them all, but oh well. Btw, shouldn't the altar have magical properties that could cure them?

Person 2: So I can't go to the altar until my knee gets better?

I responded to the discussion which seem to be about Scripture and the character of G-d.

Me: Interesting questions and issues. What is the reference for this scripture?

Person 2: I'll definitely have to look, but I don't think is very nice regardless.

Me: G-d usually uses phsyical things to teach symbollic and spiritual meaning. In the day that his tabernacle is on earth, there will b categories of ppl who will not b able to come near to him.

Me: Perhaps a prophetic lesson or symbol that parallels the text that no whoremonger, adulterer and spiritual unclean person will inherit the kingdom (Ephesians 5:5 plus others in the New Testament

Ephesians 5:5 "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater..."
New Living Translation (©2007)"You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy..."

Person 2: The passage Person 1 mentioned clearly states that only people who could be classified as gross aren't allowed in. They did not bring it upon themselves. A whoremonger, adulterer, etc chose to partake in actions that God asked them not to partake in. The others, God Himself made them that way. Thus, I still don't understand.

Me: Found the verses in Leviticus 21 (New International Version).

Me: U r right Person 2. However, because of who is involved - the Levitical priesthood, which is a symbollic and ceremonial role, that parallels who G-d's ppl are, I believe G-d was teaching through the ceremonies a spiritual truth, just as he does with the other ceremonies and rituals in the "OT". Even though we do nothing as babies, we inherit SIN and what we inherit is still detestable to G-d. Likewise there is nothing that we can do to get rid of it, so it takes G-d's action to do so.

Person 2: So if you had one deformed child, in order to teach your other children a lesson, would you ban your deformed child from coming into the bedroom, telling him quite clearly that it's because he's too deformed to come near you?

Me: The deformed Levite ate G-d's holy bread. He was just excluded from the office of going into the temple/tabernacle to work on the altar/mercy seat. However I'll ponder your question some more.

Person 3: To this entire post - my point exactly

Person 2: Okay, Mark, while you ponder it, ponder it in terms of your deformed child having eaten the last slice of Christmas cake (closest thing I could think of to holy bread).

Me: Can't judge G-d by my/our personal standards. Have to evaluate him by his own standards and about what he says about himself. But I will still ponder your question in terms of the context/reference that you have posited.

Person 2: He DOES say He is merciful, so you can judge him by that and explain how the above is merciful.

Me: I'm still pondering, but I know that throughout the Bible G-d selected persons with defects to serve him. Moses was a bad speaker, perhaps with a stutter problem. Jeremiah also complained that he was not eloquent in speech and was young. David was not handsome (relative in comparison to his brothers). Jesus himself was describe as not handsome in Isaiah 53 [Jewish scholars may differ with me on this]. Israel was chosen by G-d as a nation, because it was smaller than any other and insignificant to world events. So it is a matter of pondering what are the differences that lead G-d to act differently in some parts of the same word.

Me: Jacob was chosen over Esau though Esau was more good looking and strong.

Me: I'll continue meditation on the subject and the questions. However I do know that G-d selects some people to be close to him and others, he does not select. He has that right. Not selecting someone to share special knowledge with does not mean that he loves them any less. He is like a CEO who selects the best persons for a job.
Me: Love the points and questions though, as they challenge my existing ideas and knowledge of G-d and who he is. Pushes me to search some more.

[END of conversation]

Now I want to find out what rabbinic literature has to say on the subject and would welcome input from Jewish literature on the subject, as contemporary Christian literature inadequately provides insight on such passages. Then perhaps this conversation is not at an end, but to be continued.