It can take a long time until something is invented. But once one person has already broken through the creative barrier, others can easily follow suit and produce the same results. For example, it took many years until someone invented the first railroad train. But after one person invented it, many others built similar railroad trains. It doesn’t take a genius to model the work of a genius!
The same principle applies to spiritual growth. There were people in previous generations who reached great heights. They were innovators in the field of Jewish metaphysics. Since we now have them as models, the knowledge of how to reach spiritual greatness is available to all of us.
Today, think of five great people you have met or read about. What qualities do you most respect in each one? As you reflect on these qualities, consider how you would apply these same attributes to yourself.
I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about and discussing the meaning and nature of non-Jewish identity within Jewish space, particularly within Messianic Jewish space. While it’s been suggested that most or even all non-Messianic Jewish synagogues would at least feel comfortable with non-Jews as guests (assuming these guests were polite and respectful), someone mentioned in a comment on another one of my missives that Messianic Jewish synagogues in Israel might not be so cool with that idea.
If it’s true, I can understand why.
I’ve heard it said that when a Jew makes aliyah and returns home to the Holy Land, they do one of two things: either increase their level of religious observance or become totally non-observant. There’s a single reason for both.
In Israel, a Jew has nothing to prove. They are Jewish. Israel is the Jewish homeland. End of story.
Except perhaps for Messianic Jews. I’m just supposing, since I’ve never been to Israel and I’ve never been to a Messianic synagogue in the Land, but if a Jew ever needs to prove he or she is an observant Jew in Israel, it’s when they are also a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus).
For thousands of years, any Jew who has been such a disciple has voluntarily converted to Christianity or been forcibly coerced into doing so. Though one process or another, they surrendered their Jewish practices and their Jewish identity and effectively became, at best, a “Hebrew Christian,” and at worst, a “Goyishe Christian”.
While there have been other Jews who have remained observant and become Yeshua-disciples historically, the weight of the Church’s requirement (demand) for Jews to abandon their covenant relationship with God so they can accept the grace of Jesus Christ is heavy on their shoulders.
Association with (Gentile) Christians in Messianic synagogues could easily be seen as compromising the Jewish identity and affiliations for Messianic Jews in Israel.
Like I said, this is based on a number of assumptions on my part and I’m sure PL or someone else can correct the mistakes I’m most likely making.
But particularly in Israel and certainly every place else, if non-Jewish disciples with a Messianic Jewish “leaning” can’t depend upon any sort of Jewish role model in order to understand ourselves (which I suppose could be rather “crazy-making” since, for a multitude of reasons, you can’t mix the two identities), where do we go?
Rabbi Pliskin no doubt was writing to a Jewish audience in the above quoted “Daily Lift” but he makes a suggestion I think we can all use.
Today, think of five great people you have met or read about. What qualities do you most respect in each one? As you reflect on these qualities, consider how you would apply these same attributes to yourself.
Think of five spiritually elevated people, five tzadikim, Jewish or Gentile. Consider what qualities they possess(ed) that you admire. Then incorporate those qualities over time into yourself.
Seems simple enough.
I know what you’re thinking…well, a few of you, anyway. You’re thinking “I want to imitate Jesus.” That’s fine and well. No better role model available. But then, what attributes or qualities about the Master do you want to emulate?
Yes, Yeshua donned tzitzit and laid tefillin but he was and is Jewish, so unless you’re a Jew (and if you are, you already have a set of traditions available to you that define the mitzvot for observant Jews), let’s just set those behaviors aside for now.
What about Yeshua’s kindness, his compassion for others, his wisdom, his sense of justice, his expression of duty and servitude to his followers, and even to strangers?
Those are all fine qualities to imitate, and you don’t even have to be Jewish to incorporate them into your own behavior.
Like Yeshua, you can give to charity. You can pray. You can “preach the Word”. You can urge others to repentance. You can look forward to the coming of the Kingdom and teach others to do the same.
There’s a lot you can do to imitate the Master. He gave plenty of examples that are accessible to any one of us right now.
Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to Yeshua or even anyone you know about from the Bible. Pick anyone you can think of who you consider spiritually great, figure out why they had such greatness, choose some qualities they displayed, and then learn to integrate them into your own life.
Above, I said it seems simple enough, but it really isn’t. It’s not simple or easy at all.
In fact, it will take a lot of hard work.
But that’s OK because you’ve got the rest of your life to work on improving yourself. So do I.
There are two basic things you (and I) can do to start off with: when you consider yourself, think the best of yourself, and when you consider other people, think the best of them, too.
There’s a blues chart I heard the other day called “I’m Amazing” by Keb’ Mo’. I inserted a link to a YouTube video of his performance in one of my comments on a previous meditation, but I’m sure it’s going to get lost there.
So I’m posting it at the bottom of this blog post where it won’t get lost, at least not as easily. I think my way of lifting up our spirits where many of my blog posts lately have been bringing them down.
If you are (or I am) not sure where to go in your walk of faith and your life of devotion to God, and especially if you’re frustrated because that walk cannot be defined as “Jewish,” it doesn’t mean there aren’t Biblical and other holy examples available to you. I just outlined how you can imitate the most important and holy Jew who ever lived and who still lives, Yeshua, and you don’t even have to be Jewish (or Torah-compliant, Torah-observant, Torah-submissive, or whatever) to do it.
We’re all amazing. It’s OK for you to be amazing. It’s OK to realize everyone around you is amazing, too.
“You ask how can you be bound (m’kushar) to me when I do not know you personally…”
“…The true bond is created by studying Torah. When you study my maamarim, read the sichot and associate with those dear to me – the chassidic community and the tmimim – in their studies and farbrengens, and you fulfill my request regarding saying Tehillim[*]and observing Torah-study times – in this is the bond.”
-from “Today’s Day” for
Sunday, Sivan 24, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan Chabad.org
This sort of relates to the rather lengthy discussion taking place in the comments section of my What am I, Chopped Liver blog post. It speaks of one person being bound to another, even if they don’t personally know each other and even if they are separated by great distances (and maybe even by time).
In this case, it’s the bond between a Chassid and his (or her) Rebbe, and it’s established and maintained by the Chassid studying the informal and formal teachings of their Rebbe, as well as associating with current and former students of the Rebbe.
Yes, this is discussing a very specific relationship in the Lubavitcher community, however, I think I can adapt it for a somewhat different but related connection.
We’ve been discussing the status and halachah of non-Jews who are in some manner associated with the Messianic Jewish community, if only through how and what we study.
For instance, in reading, studying, and reviewing the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, I’m attempting to gain a greater understanding of the Jewish Apostle Paul as applied to both the ancient and modern community of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah. In this, it can be said that I’m associated or connected to the Messianic Jewish community by my choice of study materials and how I’m allowing the essays in the aforementioned volume to modify and shape my understanding of the Apostolic Scriptures.
Actually, it’s not just the foundation of the Bible that’s Jewish but the entire collection of books.
So what am I doing?
Adapting the quote above, I’m studying the teachings of my Rebbe (and all of the related teachings) in order to bind myself to my Master, even though he and I are separated by culture, nationality, history, and even death. Not that he’s dead of course, but I must go through death and resurrection one day as his disciple.
According to the second requirement, I must also associate with his students. That’s a tough one. Who do I associate with? The most obvious answer would be other Messianic Gentiles, but I only regularly see one in my little corner of Idaho and we don’t always speak to each other on matters of faith.
Can there be association via the Internet? If the answer is “yes,” then I regularly associate with Messianic Gentiles and a few Messianic Jews via conversations on this blog spot.
Again, this is a rather loose adaptation of a very specific process among the Chassidim.
Why do I bring this up?
Because it gives us a loose set of guidelines as to how we are to relate to Yeshua and to each other. Chances are, just about everyone reading these words, or at least my regular readers, are already doing these things. We are already reading the Bible, including the Torah and the Prophets, studying the teachings of Yeshua in the Gospels, and of his disciples and apostles in the Epistles and Apocrypha. We also study related commentaries that offer additional insight into Jewish thought, not with the idea that we are obligated to take up all of the mitzvot, but to attain greater closeness to our own “Rebbe”.
In all likelihood, we are all, in some way, associating with other students of our Master, in the face-to-face or virtual worlds or both. Technically, we could go to a traditional church and associate with the Master’s students, but their understanding of his teachings are sometimes radically different from our own, so much so, that it seems as if we are speaking different languages to one another.
So I’m using some snippet of information from the Jewish world, applied very specifically to Chassidic Jews and adapting it for potential (or actual) use by Messianic Gentiles.
While periodically our bond with Messianic Jews, some of them anyway, can seem rather tenuous, based on the needs of the Messianic Jewish community, the bond between any disciples and their Rebbe, whether Jew or Gentile, should never come into question. It definitely should not come into question because we are “just” Gentiles.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
–Galatians 3:26-29 (NASB)
Of course Paul is not obliterating the covenant distinctions between Jews and Gentiles anymore than he is destroying gender distinctions between men and women, but he is saying that we all have equal standing in the ekklesia of Yeshua. We are all “clothed in Messiah,” as it were, so that regardless of our social roles in the Messianic community, we can all consider ourselves as belonging to Messiah and descendants of Abraham’s based on God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.
Gentiles are not heirs of the Sinai covenant, as are the Jews, but we are all Abraham’s children spiritually, though the Jews are also physical descendants through Isaac, and then Jacob, and then all of Jacob’s offspring.
Even if you don’t always feel close to the Jews in the Messianic Jewish community, or for that matter, some of the non-Jews, the words of Paul attest that we can and are close to our Master, the mediator of the New Covenant promises, he who through God’s mercy and the Master’s faithfulness, brings those of us who were once far off to be close to our Master for the glory of Hashem.
I just wanted you to know that.
1. The bond between Chassid and Rebbe is termed hitkashrut (see Elul 10). 2. Informal talks, as distinct from maamarim which are formal dissertations of chassidic philosophy. 3. Present as well as former students in the Lubavitcher yeshivot are known as “Tmimim. *. “At the time this letter was written, it had not yet become widely known about the establishment of the practice to study Chumash with Rashi daily, and to study Tanya as apportioned for every day of the year.” Footnote 4, Page 328, Sefer Hamaamarim Basi Legani.
Pastor Jackson attributes the above quoted statements to “hurting church members who failed in their attempts to discuss their grievances with the church’s leadership.” Jackson further states that people typically don’t experience conflict with other church members but “with the leadership of the church.”
I suppose that’s what happened to me. My relationship with the church’s head Pastor reached a tipping point when, in a sermon, he discounted the foundations of my understanding of the Bible, calling it a “misuse of the Law.” He also laid that at the feet of more normative Judaism as well as Seventh Day Adventists, so it wasn’t solely aimed at me.
As far as airing my grievances, I did that. I made the mistake of doing so on my blog instead of phoning or meeting with the Pastor, and that just made a difficult situation even worse. I left the church not because I had been kicked out, and not because I was so offended, I left in a huff, but because I was incompatible with church and particularly with the church leadership. I don’t think anyone was sorry to see me go.
The next highlight I have in this chapter is Jackson citing the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which the fox says of Aslan:
“He’s everything we hoped he would be.”
Unfortunately, the opposite of this sentiment is sometimes true in church.
We all have expectations of those around us. If people were truly unpredictable, our lives would be chaos. We couldn’t make plans with anyone. We have to have some sort of grasp of how our families and friends and the leaders and people in our houses of worship will react under certain circumstances.
I think a Pastor and church leadership have a certain expectation of what a person believes and stands for if they voluntarily attend their church week after week. If we choose a church or other sort of congregation, we probably do so because we expect that the leaders and members of the church think, believe, teach, and act in a certain way. It would be tough to drop a Messianic Gentile like me in the midst of a Fundamentalist Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho.
But since this is a chapter on Pastors, let me be quick to say that none of my leaving church was the leadership’s fault. They were behaving and teaching as was expected by the vast majority of the people attending that church. I was the square peg vainly attempting to fit into a round hole, or conversely, trying to convince the round pegs to at least consider the benefits of thinking and studying like square pegs.
Ah, this next point is important:
What do good spiritual leaders look like? Spiritual leaders are very important for our spiritual growth and maturity so it’s important for us to know what to look for in one. I’m very selective and protective about the people I let speak to my wife…
What I’m about to say wasn’t exactly Jackson’s point, but it relates. One of a Pastor’s jobs is to protect the flock from wolves. In spite of the fact that Randy spent nearly two years meeting with me individually and attempting to convince me of the correctness of his “sound doctrine,” in the end, I was a rogue wolf in the fold.
After a number of discussions with a young man in the Sunday school class we attended, I suggested he borrow my audio CDs of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant. He did. He listened to them. He seemed at least confused if not shocked. He asked to keep them a while longer so he could listen to the lessons again.
And when the Pastor found out about it, he was pretty unhappy with me. Based on our reading and discussing Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians together, Pastor came to the realization that he disagreed with Lancaster on just about everything. So my lending one of his flock CDs containing Lancaster’s teachings (even though Pastor had never listened to those sermons) exposed that particular “sheep” to “danger.”
As much as I disagree with his opinions on Lancaster, Pastor’s doing his job. He’s protecting the flock.
Jackson, in describing the ideal Pastor says, “First of all, he loves you.” Yes, the Pastor loves his flock and out of that love (just as Jackson loves his wife), he’s protective and will defend them.
Jackson’s point in mentioning this love is that it’s healing. A hurting believer having the Pastor notice and love them will help heal that hurt. But going back to what I said earlier, the basic theology and doctrine of Pastor and church goer must be what the other expects and desires.
Jackson also describes the ideal Pastor as transparent. He must be approachable and human rather than someone who dwells on high in an ivory tower dispensing holy decrees. Yes, Pastor was approachable and probably as transparent as a human being can be and still have healthy boundaries. I wouldn’t say he was nonjudgmental, as Jackson would have us believe of ideal Pastors. Not that he beat people over the head with his Bible, but he definitely had a firm sense of right and wrong doctrine, and he stuck to his guns.
An ideal Pastor, according to Jackson, “sees the greatness in you.” I think Pastor saw potential in me, but doing anything about it was contingent upon being convinced of his “sound doctrine” so that I’d be safe within the fold. So although Jackson says the ideal Pastor is not controlling, it’s tough to exercise your role as protective shepherd without maintaining control of who has access to them and under what conditions.
This next statement I thought was a bit over the top:
When he speaks, it is as if God Himself was speaking to you.
I think Jackson means the ideal Pastor is “Christ-like” in his love, compassion, and understanding of the people in his flock, not that he’s all-seeing, all-knowing, and commands one hundred percent of everyone’s respect and obedience.
…there is no human leader who can fully provide all that we need as growing disciples of Jesus. We need Him.
“Him,” in this context, is God.
And so Jackson urges his readers to realize that Pastors are also human, what he calls “tools of destiny,” and he wants us to know that someday, some of us may be in church leadership, which will further help us understand the responsibilities faced by our Pastors. Jackson also said that, given this, he urges reconciliation with church leaders when there’s a problem, and outlines the steps for his readers. Ultimately, it’s a call to forgive leaders who may have hurt us. Just for giggles, I included a photo of John MacArthur because to me, he exemplifies the sort of Pastor who generates a lot of “hurt” among people. But that’s just my opinion. What do you do when a well-known and influential Pastor has the ability to potentially hurt thousands?
The only end of chapter question I have highlighted is:
Are you looking for them (church leaders) to provide something that can only come from Jesus?
At this stage in the game, I don’t think I’m looking for a church Pastor to provide anything at all. How can they when my presence in almost any church (at least if I opened my mouth) would be a monkey wrench in the machinery?
In Chapter 11: The Cup of Misunderstanding (sounds like a little-known additional cup at a Passover seder), Jackson speaks of this metaphorical cup containing something that tastes bitter, tastes like injustice, and “those who drink it must do so alone.” He also says that this cup is usually received by “innocent people,” and is particularly harsh when “delivered to you by a brother or sister in Christ.”
Jackson compares being misunderstood and judged by someone in the church to the pain of betrayal suffered by Christ at the crucifixion.
I felt the comparison was a bit much. After all, human misunderstandings aren’t confined to the church, they happen in every human corporate venue, from the family to the workplace.
Jackson says this pain is intensified if the person you are trying to reconcile with makes it abundantly clear they have no intention of mending fences.
Someone once said, “You must embrace the cross if you would carry it with dignity.” The same is true of this cup.
I think what Jackson is saying is that being misunderstood, judged, and cut loose requires the Christian to be “Christ-like,” to bear the burden and the pain as Jesus did on the cross. Sounds pretty dramatic, but then, human conflict can elicit a lot of drama.
One of the end of chapter questions is:
Do you have a friend who can stand with you in your struggle?
In spite of my friend’s concerns about me and the issues Jackson addresses in his book, I don’t know that I’m really struggling, at least in relation to community or my lack thereof.
Jackson asks: “Are you passing the test? As you do, you’ll begin to look more like Him.” If the test is forgiving the Pastor, first of all, I doubt he thinks he needs my forgiveness. Nevertheless, I have forgiven him. After all, he’s only doing what he believes is right, and within his church’s context, it is the right thing to do.
In Chapter 12: Death by Religion, Jackson discusses watching an infomercial for Chuck Norris’s Total Gym product. The bottom line is that in spite of the seemingly fantastic claims made in the marketing of this all-in-one piece of exercise equipment, Jackson says if used as indicated, and if you eat a proper diet, the claims are all true.
Please forgive this sacrilegious comment, but I’ve noticed that in some ways, the Church is a lot like that infomercial–we’re touting a product that really works.
And by that he means:
A life devoted to His service is the only way to ensure our eternal salvation and to experience the life we were created to live.
But while a very fit Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley sell their product on TV, Jackson says, by comparison, those Christians promoting a better life through Jesus are more like “a flabby, middle-aged guy who thinks he looks good in spandex.”
In other words, many believers promoting a better life through Christ don’t look or act like they’re participating in that life. They look like they’re participating in a marathon dining session at McDonald’s.
We’re selling relationship, but what they see is religion…and religion is killing our sales pitch.
I’ve mentioned this artificial split between these concepts in a previous blog post. It’s really the traditional Christian rant against their misconception of Judaism:
Religion breeds death because it is limited to man’s ability to comply with its codes and regulations.
If Jackson had my understanding of the New Covenant, he’d (hopefully) understand why his opinion is completely out of the ball park.
But I don’t have time or space to go into all that again in this rather lengthy series of book reviews.
Religion is easier to control than a relationship.
You may have noticed that Jackson has shifted his emphasis from the individual’s relationship with other Christians in church or their relationship with the Pastor and church leadership, and is now focusing on the person’s relationship with Christ.
…after all, we’re all under grace and God doesn’t get ticked if we skip a day of devotions.
I’m not sure what God does or doesn’t think about an individual being hit and miss on living a life of holiness, not that any one of us is perfect at it.
Jackson then proceeds to bash the Pharisees, even though (he probably doesn’t see this) Jesus lived a life consistent with the basic tenets of Pharisaism, and as a matter of fact, so did Paul.
In describing “religious systems,” he says they operate like “spiritual frat houses”. They have their secret handshakes, inside jokes, matching jackets, and the like. Yes, I’ve experienced cliques in church. People who were ‘in’ and people who were ‘out’, though to be fair, I didn’t experience them at the last church I attended (at least for the most part).
However, Jackson could have been describing how some people experience certain individuals and congregations involved in the Hebrew Roots and the Messianic Jewish movements.
I’ve mentioned before Derek Leman’s blog post Gentiles Who Feel Left Out which addresses this matter. If you feel you are “in”, then being in contributes to your sense of identity, according to Jackson. You may, again, as Jackson says, experience a sense of being among the elite by being in.
This next point is important:
Spiritual fraternities do not welcome different opinions or viewpoints.
I’ve experienced that in spades, but I think that a lot of religious communities are like this, based on a mutually accepted sense of “rightness” of their doctrine. Anything that contradicts their doctrine is automatically wrong. These congregations state, using Jackson’s words:
We want your input and opinions–as long as they agree with ours.
This goes back to what I said before about expectations within the group. Jackson also says such “frat houses” are full of cliques, difficult to fit into (again, I know what that’s like), and Jackson says the only way to combat this is to “make sure that our hearts are free from religion.”
And yet, I could probably speak to Jackson for less than an hour and elicit a very protective and “religious” (as he defines it) response from him, just by disagreeing with how he interprets the Bible’s message of the good news. Actually, all he’d have to do is read my reviews of his book.
Only two of the end of chapter questions seemed relevant:
Are you managing a religion or living in a relationship?
Has your religious experience become a duty or a delight?
Convincing Jackson of the beauty of the mitzvot, particularly with Passover and the family seder coming up in a few days, all the preparations, all of the ceremony, and the retelling of the Exodus, would be a lost cause if I were to make the attempt. I suspect all he’d see is “religion,” missing how the seder brings a Jewish family closer to God.
Of course, I wonder how he’s managing the “relationship” of the upcoming Easter Sunday service at his church, which usually involves a multi-media presentation and tons and tons of preparation and ceremony?
So far, having reviewed about half of Jackson’s book in a fair amount detail, I have two preliminary conclusions. The first is that I don’t think he’s speaking to my situation. The second is that my opinion of my being incompatible with “church” is being re-enforced. I find it impossible to review his book as related to my current status of being apart from “community” without being critical of his theology and doctrine.
I just can’t seem to put our obvious differences aside and simply listen to what he has to say on a human level. This is my fault. I have a friend who tells me I need to be more patient and to speak out less.
One last story.
I had coffee with my friend last Sunday. On the drive home, he mentioned that his congregation had a guest speaker from Africa on the previous Shabbat. Among other things, this speaker talked about lions and how they hunt only the sick, the weak, the old, and those who wander off and are alone.
Why is it that people who have been wounded in church will still be talking about their wounds years later? Why can people forgive a betraying friend or experience a business meltdown and move on with their life, but if it is a church that fails them, it is nearly impossible to let it go? Have you ever seen this dynamic in others? Have you ever lived it yourself?
Reviewing Pastor Jackson’s book (Here’s the link to Part One) is my way of attempting to respond to what I am calling a pesky challenge to find fellowship and community (or something) with like-minded believers. I’m not sure such a thing is possible for reasons I outlined yesterday, but since a friend asked me to consider it, I suppose I should.
A couple of days ago, Derek Leman wrote the blog post Gentiles Who Feel Left Out which sort of addresses my current situation but not really.
But first things first. To answer Pastor Jackson’s question, a great many Christians who have left the Church and affiliated with Messianic Judaism and/or the Hebrew Roots movements have lived out the dynamic he describes above. And seemingly in response, Leman wrote in the aforementioned blog post:
I also say to disenfranchised non-Jews not to give up on churches. Many have not tried really looking. Some came from churches with certain labels and assume they can only return to those places. Be more open minded. There are churches, often outside of evangelicalism, whose clergy are better educated (evangelicalism is heir to revivalist Christianity and tends to squash intellectual growth).
That may well be true for some Christians and some churches. After all, I’ve read that First Fruits of Zion‘s (FFOZ) HaYesod and Torah Club materials are being taught in churches. I’ve heard that episodes of FFOZ’s television program A Promise of What is to Come are viewed and then discussed in Sunday School classes in some churches. So it’s apparent that there are some Christian churches that are open to this perspective and to “Messianic Gentile” worshipers.
But I’m reviewing Pastor Jackson’s book through the lens of my own experience, so finding “the right church” and fitting in isn’t the entire solution. In fact, it really isn’t a solution at all.
I feel like I’m participating in Pastor Jackson’s statement of talking about my “hurt” months and even years later, but again, I’m only revisiting all this because I was asked. Also, everything has been resolved between me and the church I used to attend to the extent possible. That doesn’t mean there’s going to be reconciliation and return and, relative to my home life, even if I did return, it wouldn’t be helpful.
Pastor Jackson, answering his own question, says “We don’t expect to get hurt in church.” That’s true. At least in an ideal sense, we expect “church” to be a safe place, maybe the safest of places, given how many Christians see secular society as unfriendly or even dangerous to religious people.
I only perceive church as “hazardous” to the degree that, at least in my own recent experience, what I believe is incompatible with how they define “sound doctrine.” Granted, it was only one church, but I do live in a pretty conservative part of the country and religious views in many local churches are also “fundamental”.
Pastor Jackson says one of the problems is that those hurt in churches are never heard. That is, they never get the opportunity to express their side of the story. That’s not the case with me. I had abundant opportunities to be heard by the Head Pastor and he listened to me at length. Jackson asked how there can be healing without closure. I have closure. I made a very definite decision on what to do in leaving church and why I was doing it. The door is closed. It’s over.
The end of chapter questions have to do with being accepting of differences, carrying around anger, and coming to the realization that some of your hurts may be your own doing.
I don’t think I understand the last question:
Do you know that God believes you can make it?
I’m not sure if Jackson means “make it” in life or “make it” in church.
In Chapter 4: The Other Life, Jackson makes an interesting statement:
Religion has left me parched and dry and wondering if it was really what God intended for me when He drew me into the other life.
By “other life,” Jackson means a life of faith and a personal journey with Christ. I find myself closer to God when I’m reading and studying the Bible (or writing this blog), so my “other life” is lived, for the most part, outside of any immediate fellowship. Although I don’t observe a proper Shabbat, I’m usually able to carve out a few hours to study the weekly Torah portion which often is the most rewarding part of my day and week. It’s the closest I come to the “other life”.
I read this next statement of Jackson’s and realized we conceptualize prayer in different ways:
A few weeks ago, I felt like the Lord spoke to me in one of my morning prayer times. I was journaling my thoughts to the Lord and then recording what I felt He was speaking to me in response.
Is that normal? Oh, I get the part about writing my thoughts down. I do that all the time. But writing down what I imagine God is saying back to me? Isn’t that substituting my personality for God?
I’ve never heard audible voices from Heaven but on those occasions when I thought God was trying to tell me something, it was usually through an unusual set of circumstances. That’s what led me to attend that little Baptist church a few miles from my house for two years. I won’t go into the story, but an unlikely set of events occurred that led me to call the Pastor of that church, set up a meeting, and then decide to go to Sunday services. It was so unusual, I just couldn’t chalk it up to coincidence. I felt as if God wanted me to go to that church as a sort of Tent of David experience.
Either I was wrong and God didn’t want me to go to that church or God did want me to go and I blew it. But I’ll never know which one it was.
The Chapter 4 end of chapter questions address hearing the “other life” speaking to you and what it said, whether or not religious life stifled or accentuated that voice, and taking the road less traveled. Nothing that really connected to my experience.
In Chapter 5: Troubled Waters, Jackson says:
A great feeling of personal satisfaction ensures when we are fulfilling the commands of God.
Jackson surely doesn’t realize what a loaded statement that is in Messianic and Hebrew Roots circles when applied to a Christian. He did connect that to “serving our fellow man” which I felt was encouraging, because much of the Biblical message has to do with loving God by serving people. Tikkun Olam or “repairing the world” after all is the Jewish mission and the Church has inherited some of that whether they realize it or not.
Jackson was raised in a Christian home and has fond memories of church:
I know it helped me. I can’t imagine what my life would be like or what temptations I might have fallen into had I not been raised in a Christian home. Church has always been the backdrop of my earliest memories.
I periodically encounter a “life long Christian,” someone who came to faith early in life and who was raised in a Christian home. When I tell them I didn’t come to faith until I was about 40 years old or so, they are almost always astonished. From their point of view, it is inconceivable that someone could live the first half of their life as a “sinner” and then come to faith. It’s funny that Yeshua and Paul never seemed to have an age limit on repentance.
One of my earliest memories was of my parents being water baptized in a swimming pool.
Just thought I’d toss that quote in there.
Jackson includes a number of other pleasant childhood memories about church involvement. He calls it “a flowing current of life that overwhelms us.”
But a few pages later he says:
It’s happening every day, you know. People are leaving the church by the thousands. They’ve tasted what church has to offer and, still dissatisfied, they are abandoning organized Christianity in droves.
Jackson attributes this mass exodus away from local churches to people being mistreated, misunderstood, or just plain bored. He wisely states:
They’re not searching for a different gospel or a different God–they just want more of Him.
“Get to know Jesus better.” That phrase was used to promote the Torah Club a few years back. I think Jackson is right. I think a lot of Christians are reading the Bible for themselves and realizing that the Bible doesn’t say what they’ve been taught it says from the pulpit or in Sunday School.
In that sense, people may not all be leaving church because they’re hurt but because they’re “hungry”. Jackson says, “Jesus didn’t come to earth to institute a religion–He came to reveal God.” True. Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, he practiced a normative Judaism of his day, specifically Pharisaism (I know a lot of Christians who would be really upset at that statement). The invention of Christianity only came later, much later.
Jesus did come as Prophet and Messiah to reveal God, first to the Jews but ultimately, to the rest of the world.
Jackson doesn’t want that message to be contingent upon what the local church does or fails to do. But he also says:
God created us to be part of a community, and from the beginning He determined that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. We need the Church!
Well, that “not good for man to be alone” addressed Adam and having a suitable “helpmate”, not religious community as such. Also, I believe in Messianic Days the Church as most Christians conceptualize it, will cease to exist and be replaced by Messiah’s ekklesia (which does not translate into “Church” in English). Messiah will define the correct sort of community/communities for his Jewish and Gentile subjects.
At the end of this chapter, Jackson asked four questions, but only the last is relevant:
Do you think this is what Jesus wanted?
If he means the Church as it exists today, I’d have to say “yes and no”. I think he wanted communities of disciples who would obey his commandments to love God and to love others, doing good, feeding the hungry, giving hope to the hopeless, visiting the lonely, making peace in the home, which many churches do, but there’s a lot that has happened in the history of the Church he definitely didn’t and doesn’t want.
He absolutely didn’t want all of the crimes Christianity has committed against the Jewish people and Judaism. How could he? The Bible speaks of the Messiah coming (returning) to defeat Israel’s enemies and to judge those who have harmed his beloved Jewish people. Imagine Jesus judging all of the resurrected Christians across the ages who were taught to hate the Jews, who were taught that the Jews killed Jesus, who participated in burning volumes of Talmud, burning Torah scrolls, burning down synagogues, who tortured, maimed, and murdered countless Jewish people whose only crime was to faithfully cleave to the God of their fathers, and who died in pain while singing the Shema.
No, that isn’t want Jesus wanted, and in the resurrection, there are going to be a lot of shocked and dismayed Christians.
I realize this wasn’t what Pastor Jackson meant but his focus and mine are different. He’s talking to Christians who have been hurt by other Christians and who have chosen to respond by leaving community. But when you ask me what Jesus wanted out of “the Church,” I have an entirely different viewpoint.
At the end of Chapter 5, I’m still not finding much of what Jackson is writing that speaks to my own experience. If anything, as good a guy as I think Jackson is, what he has recorded in his book simply emphasizes for me how differently he and I understand God, Messiah, and the Bible.
Where is the Church that Jesus said He would build? Where can I find the abundant life that He talked about? Where can I fit in and find real, unforced relationships? Where is the living water that my soul so desperately craves? And, possibly most important of all, why do church wounds go so deep and take so long to heal?
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to review Pastor Jackson’s book in stages, mainly because I haven’t finished reading it yet. Since I’m reading it on my Kindle Fire, I’m simply going to address the parts of the book I’ve highlighted, such as the quoted text above.
I rarely read Christian oriented books anymore. I tend to be drawn more to Jewish publications in book, blog, and website formats. To read Jackson’s book, I have to push past a lot of what I call “Christianese” and past a lot of traditional Church doctrine. I’m attempting to set aside the temptation to review this Pastor’s theology, and instead to focus on what he has to say about loving God but not “the Church”. I don’t think I’ve been entirely successful.
For instance, in the quote above, I have to push past the fact that Jesus (Yeshua) never talked about a Church, but instead, he spoke of an ekklesia, a grouping or community, a Kehilla (Heb. “congregation”) of disciples.
Where is his Kehilla today? Pastor Jackson asked a more profound question than I think he could have realized.
But he asked another very important question. “Where can I fit in?” This is something Derek Leman blogged about just yesterday. For me, that’s one of the $64,000 questions, and I’ve been looking for an answer. In my case, in any immediate and practical sense, the answer is probably “nowhere” or at least nowhere within driving distance.
But what about the “church wounds” he mentions? Am I “wounded” by the church? Is that why I’m avoiding going “church hunting” like a pack or rabid pit bulls?
Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, even if I found a church that would accept me into community and one that wouldn’t drive me crazy, I still have my long-suffering Jewish wife to consider. My attending church every week was like hammering nails into her temples each Sunday morning (not that she’s ever complained nor has she ever discouraged me from going to church).
How can I do that to her again?
Pastor Jackson also encourages his readers to separate God from the Church, or at least any pain caused by people in the local church:
He loves you. He’s longing for you. You are the Church. You are the apple of His eye, and He is pursuing you with the passion of a desperate lover. He is not the church that hurt you!
Strange how “apple of His eye” and “lover of your soul” are terms from the Torah and Siddur that specifically describe God’s relationship to Israel, the Jewish people. But then, Derek also recently blogged about how Christians typically read all of the Bible as if it were addressed to Gentile believers rather than the Jewish people.
But I digress (again).
Yes, losing faith in the Church (or a local church) does not mean you must lose faith in God, but how long can faith be nurtured without community to support it? I don’t think I’m avoiding community because I feel hurt. I’m avoiding community because I’m incompatible with community and even if I weren’t, my being in community would have a profound impact on my home life. Solve that, Pastor Jackson.
At the end of the first chapter, just like the subsequent chapters, Pastor Jackson added some study and application questions:
What are the primary hurts you are carrying from church?
Are you willing to embrace a path that leads to healing?
I think I’ve answered the first question and the answer to the second is complex. Healing, even if I’m hurt or damaged in some sense, doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation. It doesn’t mean returning to the church I left nor attending another, if for no other reason than my Christianity is a wound my Jewish wife must bear.
In Chapter 2, Pastor Jackson tells story about returning to his hometown and getting together with a friend. Jackson innocently asks about a mutual acquaintance and the conversation turns tense. Apparently this mutual friend did something unforgivable, he became a “covenant breaker” and was teaching his children to become the same thing.
My friend was silent for a moment as he considered the best way to break the terrible news to me. “No,” he said slowly. “He left the church. He disagreed with the leadership about somethings and decided to move on. Now his children are being taught that it’s okay to break covenant and bail out when things don’t go their way.”
-ibid, Chapter 2: The Left Behind
Break covenant? What covenant? That is, where in the Bible does it say that we non-Jewish believers are part of a covenant that specifically requires regular church attendance? Jackson doesn’t address the answer, so the concept of Christians having a covenant to attend church must be understood by him. Too bad that I don’t. There are still many parts of Christianity that seem so mysterious to me.
But the implication is that at least some Christians would consider me a “covenant breaker” for also not going to church. After all, I disagreed with the Head Pastor of the church I used to attend on a pretty regular basis, which led to some lively conversations in his office. We kept things friendly, but we really did (and still do) conceptualize the message of the Gospel in fundamentally different ways.
Though I’d probably disagree with Pastor Jackson in many areas as well, he tends to ask good questions:
I wondered why it is that we Christians can be so quick to write people off when they make decisions with which we disagree.
Touché, Pastor Jackson.
I’m just as guilty of writing off the Church as some people are of writing me off.
Jackson said he wishes “that every guest who visited my church would fall in love with us and never want to leave. I wish they would experience God, make lifelong friendships, receive training in the area of their giftedness and make an impact with us for the Kingdom of God.”
There’s a lot I could address in that brief statement, but the most relevant words he wrote were “experience God.” Theological and doctrinal differences aside, that’s at the center of our faith, experiencing God and then living out that experience day by day, helping others to experience Him, too.
Another good question:
What happens after people get left behind? Where do they go? Where are they now?
I suppose that Jackson would see me as being “left behind” by the Church. So where do the disaffected and the disenfranchised go and what do we do?
According to Jackson’s research, some just go to a different church, others, like me, stop going to any church and do something else with their Sundays. And some “are experiencing more fellowship in the local pub than they ever experienced in the local church.”
Jackson said that “the devil” didn’t take these people out, they were gunned down by “friendly fire” from within their churches.
They weren’t just interpersonal relationships that involved me — they were much bigger than me. They involved church-philosophy issues and relationships between spiritual leaders that disintegrated and, in the fallout, damaged hundreds of lives.
That part doesn’t particularly map to my experience since the only people who were affected by my leaving church were the Pastor and me (well, and my wife indirectly). I doubt anyone else at church particularly noticed, or if they did, any concerns passed quickly. I’d become kind of a pest with my odd questions and observations in Sunday school (although occasionally someone said they appreciated something I’d said). I certainly wasn’t part of anything like the disaster Jackson described in the above-quoted block of text.
At the end of Chapter 2, his questions were:
Do you still have hurts from areas where you were never heard?
If so, do you need to process those hurts with someone who can help?
Even if you currently feel like the wounded man in Jesus’ story, are you willing to be the Good Samaritan for someone else who has been wounded like you?
Pastor Jackson has a habit of taking scripture and using it allegorically to describe an unrelated situation. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) was Yeshua’s metaphorical story to answer a scribe’s question about who his “neighbor” was. The neighbor was the one who showed mercy to the man attacked by robbers and left for dead. Yeshua told the scribe to “go and do likewise,” that is, go and show mercy to those who need mercy.
This answers the third of the study questions. Even if we feel wounded by past church associations, we should show mercy to the wounded we encounter rather than, to extend the metaphor, pour salt into open wounds.
I don’t relate to the first question. I was heard, at least by Pastor. I just wasn’t believed. I was the elephant in a roomful of gazelles. I didn’t fit in and I refused to turn into a gazelle. I make a better elephant than a gazelle.
I did process all this with a friend who accurately predicted how it was all going to end. And as you all know, I process a great many things here on this blog.
Who can help?
I don’t know. I’m not even sure what needs help or what help would look like.
Just like my participation in church, my situation and Jackson’s book are an imperfect fit. I may find, as I continue through his book, that it’s no fit at all, again, like me and church. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
I’m going to stop here, even though I’m much further along in the book than the first two chapters. I’d like to keep this blog post from becoming unmanageably long. I’ll have more to say next time.
More to the point, by Christians worshiping Jesus as divine, does that automatically make Christians idol worshipers according to Judaism?
The Jewish criterion regarding idolatry – as it relates to non-Jews – is also subject to debate. The accepted ruling is that if a non-Jew believes in a single all-powerful God, even if he accepts other forces together with God (such as the Christian belief in the Trinity), it is not idolatry. (Note that this distinction only pertains to non-Jews.) However, any other type of belief in a deity independent of God is idolatry (Code of Jewish Law – Rema O.C. 156:1).
Granted, the various branches of Judaism would have other issues with the worship of Jesus as part of the Trinity, but it is only idol worship if we are assigning an inanimate object with directly being God.
I’m not going to address the whole idea of the Trinity or the divine nature of Yeshua, and how all that’s supposed to work and, for once, I’m not going to write a lengthy missive on the topic. I just wanted to clarify for those folks out there who have accused Christians of being idol worshipers, that according to Jewish thought based on the above-quoted passage, we/they certainly aren’t.