Thursday, May 17, 2007

Shalom -- Dis Ain’t Ebonics: Treasures of the Hebrew Language Part 1

In this new series, we’re going to be talking about different Hebrew words, their meanings, their spiritual connotations, and what it all means for you. This series could go on for a long time – Hebrew is a big language – so don’t be surprised if I throw in other articles from time-to-time.

So buckle your seatbelts and prepare to learn some Hebrew!

Treasure #1: Shalom (שלום)

It’s natural that we should start with Shalom, the word used every day by Israelis today to greet one another. Walk down the streets in Israel and you’ll hear “Shalom!”, or derivatives of it, all the time. So what does this word mean?

Now, unlike most English words, every Hebrew word is built from a root. What does that mean? It means that words are derived from other words, and the whole language is ultimately derived from the meaning of the letters themselves. So, when we look at word in Hebrew, we don’t just get a one-word “translation”: we receive an entire picture that comes from the word itself, its root(s), and the word pictures that help shed light on the ancient thought that went with the root. Not to worry, it’ll all make sense in a minute as we look at the word “Shalom”.

Let’s start with the simple definition: peace. Yep, Shalom means peace. Yet it means a whole lot more than that. The idea of Shalom includes wholeness, soundness, peace, fulfillment, prosperity, health.” Even “friendship” enters into the idea of Shalom. It is about being in a state of total peace that all of the above things just flow right out of that peace. Pretty powerful eh?

If we look at the root of Shalom (which is Sh. L. M. ש.ל.מ.) we see that the root gives us the idea of completeness, payment, and even recompense. The idea is that payment restores the situation to completeness, to correct order. In other words, Shalom just isn’t about a state of internal peace – it is about total oneness with God and with others. When we look at Yeshua’s prayer in John 17:21, we see that it is all about oneness – Shalom – with God and with our fellow brothers and sisters in Messiah. From the beginning of the Scriptures with Shma Yisrael (Deut. 6:4) to salvation through Yeshua (where he paid our debt of sin for us), it has all been about restoring Shalom – total peace, unity, and oneness with God.

Until next time!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Neo, In the Hebrew Matrix, You Don’t Have a Mind (part 3)

Neo, in the Hebrew Matrix, You Don’t Have a Mind (part 3)

This is part 3 in a three-part series on the “mind” in Hebrew. In part 1, we talked about the differences between the ancient Hebrew oriental culture and our modern Western culture. In part 2, we talked about the concept of “mind” in Western culture and correspondingly, the idea of “mind” in the Hebrew culture. If you haven’t read the first two parts yet, check ‘em out!

Part 3: What it all means for you: Moving from the head to the heart

So great, you say. I got it. In Hebrew thought, the concept of “mind” doesn’t exist, and the heart plays a pretty big role. But what does this all mean for me?

Glad you asked! The fact is, as believers today, we can learn a lot from the ancient Hebrew culture. I already talked about our tendency to over-analyze God; entire schools of Theology are built around super-analyzation (is that a word?). But beyond that, I want to highlight one area that we tend to over-emphasize the mind in place of the heart: the realm of worship.

Now, it’s no secret that the majority of our worship is mind-centered and devoid, at least to a certain extent, of a real heart experience. Wait!, you say. Isn’t that a little extreme? Well, let’s perform a little experiment. Go buy a ticket to your local NFL football game, and compare the intensity level between that and your Sunday morning worship service. I mean when was the last time you saw the parishioners jumping up and down, screaming their heads off like maniacs about their love for God? No, we would rather sing – “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart”, and the truth is that it’s a little too far down in our heart – we need to let it out!

Okay, now please don’t be offended. I think calm and tranquil worship times are great. But the fact is, there are quite a few times in our lives when we live from our hearts: in addition to football games, how about winning the lotto (have you ever seen completely normal people turn into absolute nutcases when they get the phone call that $55 million is on the way?), or a less pleasant case: how about when, as you prepare to lower the hammer with considerable force in order to insert that nail into the wall, the hammer head misses the nail and comes into contact with your finger? Now don’t tell me that you utter up a quiet prayer at that moment. The fact is, we all live from the heart – but for some reason, when it comes to the things of God, many of us have a tough time expressing from the heart, and instead give God a piece of our “mind”, which unfortunately, doesn’t even exist – at least not in Hebrew thought.

So what am I saying in all this? I’m saying that we’ve made the “mind” too important in our Western culture. The ancient Hebrews didn’t even have a word for the idea – they were too busy enjoying life from the heart, living, worshipping, and praising God with all that was inside of them. I want to suggest that if we want to have the kind of life that ancient Israel experienced: the presence of God, national revival, and even international influence for the glory of God, we could learn a few things from ‘em: make it all about the heart, and we’ll all be a little less mental.

Until next time!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Neo, In the Hebrew Matrix, You Don’t Have a Mind (part 2)

This is the second installment of a three-part series on the “mind” according to Hebrew, and what it means for you as a believer. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, check it out!

Part 2: The “Mind” in Hebrew: You mean they were brain-dead?

As we talked about in part 1, the ancient Hebrews were part of an oriental culture that experienced life very differently than we do today. In our Western culture, we talk about two parts of life: the “mental” stuff and the “non-mental” stuff. You know what I mean: the non-mental stuff is music, fun, love – all the things that we all really want deep down within. Yet spend a day in corporate America and you’ll see that the money goes to those with the – you guessed it – brains.

It’s not all bad, you know. I wouldn’t want Britney Spears designing the space shuttle or the latest skyscraper in NYC (no offense intended, she’s just not the most qualified for that kind of brain-intensive work). Yet, spend an hour talking to a Theology student and you’ll realize that the mental ones have somehow made it into the realm of God (okay, I have to admit that’s a good pun). Today we teach up-and-coming preachers 35 different theories on the atonement, 6 different approaches to parsing the qualitative indicative form of the predicate in the Greek New Testament, and if that’s not enough, just start up a conversation about Calvinism and eternal security, and you might as well forget lunch and dinner because the conversation will last 10 hours. Yes, the study of God has become one of the mind’s favorite topics. I call it “Intellectual Wars: God meets the super-brains”.

Hello?!! Does anyone see something wrong here? Is it just me, or have we made this way way too complicated? The answer might lie in the fact that we steadily moved away from the Hebrew roots of our faith, and especially in the fact that the Hebrew language doesn’t even have the word “mind” in it.

You see, in Hebrew thought, life is something to live and experience. There are plenty of Hebrew words for thoughts, understanding, and wisdom – but in place of the word “mind” as the center for all this activity, the Hebrew has the word “heart”. In Hebrew thinking, our “thinking” comes out of the same place as our “feeling”: the heart. There’s no separation between what we know (facts, ideas, etc.) and what we feel deep down on the inside. They are one because we are one, and we are one because God is one, since we are made in His image (Gen. 1:27).

The whole idea of separating thinking from feeling is part of an overall Greek philosophy called “dualism”. The idea is that the “mind” is “good” – thoughts are safe, easily controlled. But my emotions are “bad” – they grab ahold of me and whirl me around, taking me to places I don’t want to go. This is the reason I can jump up and down, screaming my head off like a mad idiot at a football game, but I sit like a bump on a log in church. Why? Because deep down inside, I believe the lie that when it comes to God, emotions are bad – and if not bad, at least dangerous, needing to be controlled at all costs.

Hebrew thought is just the opposite. Of course, the Scriptures talk about the flesh (Rom. 7), which is warring against God. Many times the flesh is experienced through emotions – we WANT that money, that house, that girl or guy. Yet sometimes, the very lack of emotion can be the flesh as well. When we sit in church daydreaming about what we are going to eat after the service, we’re just as much in the flesh as when we are coveting our neighbor’s iPod. So we see that the emotions themselves aren’t bad – the question is, what is fueling those emotions? The source can either be God or the flesh – but the emotions themselves are not the problem.

You see, in Hebrew thought, life is meant to be lived and experienced passionately. When the ark of the covenant was returned to Jerusalem (2 Sa. 6:12-22), it says that David – the king of Israel – went whirling and spinning before the Ark of the Lord. That was something completely normal! Check out Ps. 149:3: “Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.” I like the Message Bible’s translation: “Let them praise his name in dance; strike up the band and make great music!”

That is the truth. In Hebrew culture, life – and worship – was something that you lived passionately, flowing out of your heart. God wasn’t something to be analyzed, understood by human reasoning – He was someone to be experienced, to be tasted and seen (Ps. 34:8). He was something to be lived – with your whole heart. In the course of that experience, you would understand facts and knowledge – but it would always flow out of the love relationship with your heavenly Father that you were experiencing in your heart, day by day.

Coming up next: Part 3 – what it all means for you as a believer today: moving from a head knowing into a heart experience.

Until next time!
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