Tag Archives: Jesus

Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part Two

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?

-Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter 3: Church Wounds
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing (Kindle Edition)

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.

unworthyPastor 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?

prayerI’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.

quitting churchJackson 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.

MessiahI 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.

I’ll continue my review in a few days.

Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part One

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?

Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter One: Have You Ever Been Hurt in the Church?
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing (Kindle Edition)

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?

Not exactly. Oh, I admit, it wasn’t any fun having the Pastor of the church I used to attend devote an entire sermon to refuting every single thing I understand about the Bible from the pulpit. I think I’ve made my peace with that and him, but it also convinced me that I would be an antithetical element in just about any Christian church in my area (as far as I know). In that sense, I have been left rather “gun shy”.

churchOf 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:

  1. What are the primary hurts you are carrying from church?
  2. 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.

chris jackson
Pastor Chris Jackson

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.


leaving churchTouché, 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:

  1. Do you still have hurts from areas where you were never heard?
  2. If so, do you need to process those hurts with someone who can help?
  3. 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?

Good SamaritanPastor 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.

Are Christians Idol Worshipers?

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).

-from “Ask the Rabbi”

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.

As far as “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30) is concerned, there are other ways to understand why no one comes to the Father except through the Son.

But as the Aish Rabbi above explains, this applies only to non-Jews. For Jewish disciples of Yeshua, I can only imagine things may be a little harder to understand.

The Mussar of Patience

Patience is a means not only to inner peace but outer peace. It is the ability to endure situations of all kinds and to remain level-headed. Patience out of balance can appear two ways. One extreme displays frustration, rage, and aggravation, while the other extreme displays apathy and indifference. Patience displayed in balance helps relationships and situations through rough spots and promotes healthy growth.

-from the middot page on patience
Riverton Mussar

Rabbi Michael Schiffman really got me where I live, so to speak, with his article on the middah of patience called What We Admire in Others. Here’s an excerpt:

I learned patience years later when I lived in Chicago in the 1970s. I was still driving like a New Yorker, which fared well for me in the Windy City. The bad part was that such driving, at best, is extremely rude. If someone was in my way, I tended to ride their bumper, honk my horn, and do whatever it took to get them out of my way. I’m sure my blood pressure was going through the roof. Usually, people got out of my way, and I got to go where I wanted to go the eight seconds sooner than I would have if I had been patient.

Fortunately, I’ve never driven in the way Rabbi Schiffman describes above, but I used to be a lot more aggressive behind the wheel when I lived in California. Idaho is a bit slower and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowed down too. But not to the traditional Idaho standard of driving. To me, most folks in the cars around me as I commute to and from work during the week drive about five to ten miles slower than I’d like.

And so I get impatient. I don’t ride people’s bumpers and rarely honk (if I do, it’s just a short “beep” to get the driver ahead of me to stop texting and notice the light has changed from red to green), but I still manage to mutter under my breath a few unkind words and drive just a little closer to the car ahead of me than I should.

When traffic goes slow, I have to tell myself things like, “It’s a truck, not a Ferrari” to remind myself that the world of cars and traffic wasn’t created just to annoy me. It helps, but I manage this bit of self-correction only after I’ve started to lose my cool.

But there’s another side of needing to be patient. My wife tends to process information by talking about it. Unfortunately (at least for me) she often repeats her main points over and over again after I’ve assimilated the basic message. Intellectually, I know this is a coping mechanism for her and all she needs me to do is to sit there and listen. But from my point of view, once she starts repeating information, I feel like the conversation should end, especially if the topic is at all uncomfortable.

listeningThis is another time when I need to tell myself that this is what she needs from me as a husband right now. No muttering, no inappropriate facial expressions, no “Oh, gosh! Look at the time! I’ve gotta run!”

You can click the link I provided to find out how Rabbi Schiffman learned patience in traffic, but here’s the ultimate point of developing this character trait:

Our attitudes are not just what comes out when we feel strongly about something. We have the ability to control how we react to situations around us. You don’t have to behave badly when you get mad. You don’t have to lose control. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. If we are really living a life that is sacrificial to God, a life of Torah, self-control should be evident in us. The real question is not simply sitting on our emotions until we eventually explode. The real question is how do we wait with a good attitude? The more you consider that your life is in God’s hands, and that what you have is not based on your ability to grab, but in the kindness and sovereignty of God, the less anxiety you will have about getting where you want and what you want before someone else grabs it. You are then free to act in kindness, and let others go first.

It’s more important to me that I treat people well, than to grab what I want at the expense of others. Who’s life are you living out? Your’s or Yeshua’s?

I mentioned getting older earlier in this blog post, which brings me to another quote:

“When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.”

-Abraham Joshua Heschel

And there’s also the Apostle Paul:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Ephesians 4:2

As well as proverbial wisdom:

“Slowness to anger [shows] much understanding, but a short-spirited person elevates foolishness.”

Proverbs 14:29 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Patience isn’t just about being polite. It’s not just about learning to keep your cool in hot situations. It’s not even just about lowering your personal stress, blood pressure, and improving your disposition. As Rabbi Schiffman said above, it’s about “living a life that is sacrificial to God.”

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 (NASB)

A disciple’s life is supposed to reflect the life of his or her Master. Our Master also said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.”

John 13:16

We are not greater than our Master Yeshua (Jesus). We are to look up to his example and by the power of the Spirit, strive to do as he taught us as best we can. That’s why I study and practice mussar (though I’ve obviously got a long way to go).

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

In Acts 15:21, James the Just, the brother of the Master and head of the Council of Apostles and Elders, commanded (seemingly) the Gentile disciples to study Torah in the synagogue on every Shabbat. Some believe the rationale was that James and the Council expected that the Gentiles would take up all of the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, but I think there are other reasons.

One reason is that we Gentiles have no hope of understanding the life and teachings of our Master unless we can apprehend such things through the “lens” of Torah. The teachings of our Master are Jewish teachings, and most of the time, he was speaking to a Jewish audience who had a completely different interpretive matrix for comprehending his words than the uninitiated first-century Gentiles, let alone we uninitiated twenty-first century Gentile disciples.

The other reason is that we learn mussar from the Torah. I’m not talking about the proper method of donning tzitzit or laying tefillin (which interestingly enough, you won’t learn from studying the plain meaning of the written Torah). I’m talking about understanding the humanity and holiness of the men and women who encountered God in the Torah as well as the teachings from the Prophets and the Writings.

Torah is not simply a path by which you gradually arrive at truth.

When you are immersed in Torah, even while pondering the question, even while struggling to make sense of it all, you are at truth already.

Torah is about being truth. And then, the questions will have true answers, the struggle a true resolution. By being truth, your​destiny is yet a higher truth.

(Tanya, Chapter 5. See also Hayom Yom for the 20th of Adar I.)

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Process”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

studying mussarStudying mussar is like studying Torah. You don’t have to wait to become proficient before you benefit from your efforts. Even while struggling with developing patience or any of the other middot, you are already immersed in living a life that is sacrificial to God, a life of Torah and self-control. A life of Torah for a Gentile disciple of Yeshua doesn’t mean externally imitating Jewish ritual and sign behavior. It means imitating our Master who taught us that loving God and loving our neighbor are more important than anything else. I study mussar so that I can learn to love as the Master would have me love.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

John 13:34


The Light Shining in My Darkness

Humility is about seeking a level playing field between all people. In displaying this trait, one does not seek to degrade or puff up oneself or others. Mashiach Yeshua says, “The greatest among you shall be to you as a servant. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought low, but everyone who lowers himself will be lifted up.” (Matthew 23 : 11-12, DHE). Humility out of balance can appear two ways. One extreme displays haughtiness, while the other extreme displays groveling and self-deprecation. The obvious middle is where humility shines.

-from “middah of the week: humility”

I find it ironic that this particular middah should arrive in my gmail inbox today (Sunday) since I’ve recently been called on the carpet (in another email) for a lack of humility, mainly for expressing opinions such as this one (although the criticism arrived before that particular blog post published).

Really, what am I doing wrong?

I am just an ordinary Jew. I’m not a scholar, I’m not a good or a bad Jew… I’m just an ordinary Jew. I celebrate the Jewish holidays, celebrate Rosh Hashanah, observe Yom Kippur and don’t eat bread for Passover. I wear a Jewish Star and have mezuzah on the door. I visit relatives at the Jewish cemetery once a year and light a yahrzeit candle in their memory. I have Jewish children (but that’s gotten a bit complicated).

-F. Barish-Stem
“Just an Ordinary Jew”

I’m not a Jew, ordinary or otherwise, but I do consider myself an ordinary person. I’m not a theologian, scholar, Bible expert, or even particularly wise (though I suppose there are more than a few people out there who consider me a “wiseguy”).

I think I need to remind everyone including myself why I created this blog and why I continue to write. It’s not (like so many other religious blogs out there) to promote or deliver my “erudite” pronouncements from some sort of theological ivory tower. It’s to create a simple record of my journey of faith, what I experience, what I’ve learned, and to share that with whoever may find it useful. Occasionally, someone says it’s been useful.

Actually, I’ve visited this particular square on the map before, about seven months ago, when I wrote The Broken Saint. At that time, I was considering creating a second blog, one that would be more purely just me expressing my “brokeness” as a human being and going lighter on theology and doctrine. I was convinced at the time by many kind people that it wouldn’t be necessary. I listened.

But here we are again. As the quote from Riverton Mussar mentioned, the middah of humility is about “seeking a level playing field” and more than that, putting the priorities of others ahead of your own.

So does that mean when someone asks me a difficult question and demands that I respond, that the right thing to do is allow myself to be backed into a corner so I can come out “fighting”? Where’s the separation line between humility and humiliation? Moses was considered the most humble person who had ever lived (Numbers 12:3) and yet he led millions of people through many difficult situations for forty years. When challenged, he did not always capitulate and instead allowed God to “make the ruling” (see Numbers 16 for example). Of course, I’m not leading anyone so I have no “followers” to complain about me.

I do have readers but that’s not the same thing at all. I’m not leading or even teaching as such. I’m just “talking” or “thinking out loud”.

Rav Shmuel Rozovsky explains this important message. Even in the darkest moments, with the worst imaginable conditions weighing down a person with such density that his every movement is torture — when it seems that no light can penetrate such thick barriers — there is one light that can prevail. That is the light of Torah and mitzvos, which can illuminate any situation. Even in Egypt, engulfed in total darkness, in a time of turmoil and chaos, those who clung to the words of Hashem were able to find their way.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.117
Sunday’s commentary on Parashas Bo
A Daily Dose of Torah

Being criticized in blog comments and via email is hardly all that “dark” but I’ve got plenty of other things in my offline life to deal with as well. Like I said, this blog spot exists mainly just as an extension of my thoughts and feelings as they occur. It’s not me playing “the Bible Answer Man”. I have far more questions than I do answers, so I ask them here.

But although I don’t necessarily agree that the midrash about the exact nature of the light that existed amid the plague of darkness in Egypt is literally true, I do agree that God is the light that draws us to Him. And as mere human beings, we see light better when contrasted against our own, that is, my own darkness.

In the Image of God

And yet there is something in the world that the Bible does regard as a symbol of God. It is not a temple nor a tree, it is not a statue nor a star. The symbol of God is man, every man. God created man in His image (Tselem), in His likeness (Demuth). How significant is the fact that the term tselem which is frequently used in a damnatory sense for a man-made image of God, as well as the term demuth, of which Isaiah claims (40:18), no demuth or likeness can be applied to God — are employed in denoting man as an image and likeness of God.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “Man the Symbol of God,” p.124
Man’s Quest for God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Colossians 1:15 (NASB)

Yes, I know. They don’t quite match. Heschel is talking about every human being as being made in the image (tselem) of God, even though that Hebrew word is typically used to describe detestable man-made images of gods. I’m hardly a language expert, so I have to wonder if Paul in calling Yeshua (Jesus) the “image of the invisible God” was thinking of the same word for “image” as Heschel mentions.

The reason I bring this up is that one of the more traditional Jewish arguments against Jesus-worship is that we are worshiping an “image” based on Colossians 1:15. Yet if each individual human being in general can be considered a symbol for and image of God, how much more can Messiah, the unique human presence on Earth, the mediator of the New Covenant, be considered the symbol for and image of God?

Kind of makes you wonder.

For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

Psalm 33:9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-3, 14

It is understood that God actually “spoke” the world into existence with His Word. In human terms, our words emanate from us, we generate speech and it exits our mouths. If others are around us, they can hear what we say. So I can only imagine that the Word emanates from God, but in His case, His Word does so much more than just make sound or even language.

I really don’t have that much more to say on the topic. I’m wrapping up the last few notes I took while reading Heschel’s book (I have to get it back to the library) and wanted to make sure I didn’t lose track of the information. It’s part of my continuing process of trying to “get a handle” on the nature of Messiah and also on the nature of man.

And in this sense, Hillel characterized the body as an “icon” of God, as it were, and considered keeping clean one’s own body an act of reverence for its Creator (citing Leviticus Rabba 34, 3; also see Midrash Tehillim, 103).

-Heschel, ibid

And what is more, Biblical piety may be expressed in the form of a supreme imperative: Treat yourself as a symbol of God. In the light of this imperative we can understand the meaning of that astounding commandment: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

-ibid, p.126

This may add some dimension to another equally astounding commandment:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

To be holy and perfect because our Father in Heaven is holy and perfect. It doesn’t seem like such a tall order if we are to consider ourselves symbols for God and images of God. The “Word became flesh” and sojourned among us so that he could be perfectly human and yet the perfect image of God, a living example, our High Priest, but only in the Heavenly Court, who was tempted but did not sin.

Not that we can perfectly refrain from sinning ourselves, but we can be better symbols and images of our God, just as the Master illustrated.

But all may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem: If a man has beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.

from “The Meaning of this Hour,” p.148

If what we are shown is also within us, what if we’re shown good and not evil? What if we’re shown a perfect symbol and image of God in seeming contrast to our own imperfection as symbols and images? If being shown evil teaches us to repent, shouldn’t being shown good inspire us to draw nearer to the Source of that good?

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

Inner lightI don’t think we can accept any longer the argument that Yeshua is not worthy of glory, honor, and devotion because he is considered the “image” of God, because we too are “images”. Each human being is, in some sense, representative of our Creator, and in a greater sense, Messiah is even more representative. How all this works is highly mystical and as such, I can’t explain it, but the “imagery” (pun intended) is compelling.

Our Master is the living embodiment, encased in flesh and blood, of what we should be or at least of what we should be attempting to be: holy and perfect representations of our Creator in human bodies. To do that, we must be in a constant state of repentance before God for nothing that is holy is compatible with sin.

Good Shabbos.