76 Days: The Encouraging Shepherd

Realize that if you ever feel discouraged, your attitude of discouragement is a greater problem than any external hardship.

You can change your attitude.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #607, At Least Don’t Be Discouraged”

A kind word can last forever. An encouraging word can be the foundation upon which many constructive years will be established. Enhancing the self-image of a child with a brief but powerful comment can create a magnificent human being. Words that inspire function like the fuel that enables the rocket to fly high and far.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #608, An Encouraging Word”

Thanks for that, Rabbi. Maybe I ought to buy your book and read that every day rather than some of the more discouraging content found on the web. But on the other hand, even in the midst of contention and chaos can come a small thread of hope.

drschiffman: Dan that’s your opinion but you state it as a fact. I wouldn’t deny you your right to your opinion but I must ask your forgiveness that I can’t continue the discussion at this time. I’m dealing with very serious health issues and am just not up to it right now. I respect you and am sorry but this is how it’s got to be for now. Be well.

Dan: Praying for you Dr.

drschiffman: Thanks Dan, I appreciate it

-from comments on Drschiffman’s Blog post
Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah

If you take the time to read the content of the blog post and the entire discussion in the comments section below, you’ll see that Dr. Schiffman and Dan are not exactly in agreement on the topic in question. On the other hand, the second that it became clear Dr. Schiffman was dealing with a serious health problem, the disagreement was set aside and Dan’s compassion became immediately evident. In fact, looking at the quote of their conversation, both of these men, even in disagreement, remained courteous and respectful toward each other.

That’s sort of the model I have been hoping to follow in my “blogosphere” transactions with the folks who disagree with me. I’ve had similar conversations with Dan in the past, and as much of a “firebrand” as he can be at times, his ability to put that all to one side and express warmth toward others including me, seems rare in our little part of the world of religious blogging. He’s not the only one, and to be fair, I’ll assume that most of the people I disagree with are good people who only desire to do the will of God, but those few voices that don’t seem to give a rip about anything except “winning” (in a Charlie Sheen sort of way) speak (or yell) so much louder.

That’s why it was important for me to quote from the brief exchange between Dr Schiffman and Dan this morning. That’s why their words are linked back to Rabbi Pliskin’s brief commentaries on encouragement. That’s why the encouragement of others is so important and why we must encourage, rather than discourage, each other:

Hi James. Don’t let a small number of people sour you on blogging and transparency. That, my friend, would be awarding them a very undeserved victory.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
from a recent comment on my blog

I have keep reminding myself that as loud as discouraging voices can be, there really are just a few of them. It’s not disagreement that’s the problem, it’s the joy killers and the attack dogs who are the real adversaries, not necessarily to me, but to the purposes and plan of God.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

Admittedly, it’s difficult to have a conversation where you’re building someone up while also disagreeing with them on the purpose and mission of believing Jews and non-Jews in God’s plan, but as we’ve seen in the transaction between Dr. Schiffman and Dan above, when something immediate and important comes up, the disagreement can be easily set aside and the “building up” instantly comes to the forefront.

It’s such a pity that not everyone in the body of believers can see that this is how it should be. It’s why I’m looking at the next 76 days and wondering what will happen next.

Actually, I feel more refreshed as I write this than when I pounded out the previous entry in this series, so there is hope. I’ve received a fair amount of encouragement, not just in blog comments, but also in emails and on Facebook, so I know that there are many more voices supporting me than tearing me down. I think that’s the important part to remember and it’s what I keep returning to. Only a few people see me as making “wrongful criticisms,” as if my motivation were one of malice. I’m not above admitting that I’m wrong, and I’ve done so in the past, but there’s a difference between that, and accusing me of bad motives and desiring to hurt others.

Really, in all that I’ve written to date, my desire has been to preserve, restore, and uplift others, not just believing Jews, but we non-Jewish Christians as well, illuminating the path we each must take, and showing how we all have a glorious mission and future in the plan of God. It just doesn’t have to be an identical path for the different parts of the body.

The goal is the same though, as is the Messiah, and as is God.

Behold, He stands behind our walls, looking through the windows, and peering through the lattices.

Song of Songs 2:9

“Whether God watches through the windows or through the lattices,” said Rabbi Yisrael of Salant, “God watches over us. The difference is that sometimes it is through a window, and then we can see Him just as He sees us. At other times, it is through a crack in the partition, where He can see us, but we do not see Him.”

Both in the history of the nation and in our personal lives, there have been times when Divine intervention was manifest. There have also been times when we were in great distress and felt abandoned, but even then, though God seemed to be absent, He was watching over us. The Torah foretold that there would be times of anguish when we would feel that God is not among us. At such times we must strengthen our faith and declare, “Behold, the Keeper of Israel does not sleep nor slumber.”

Commenting on the verse, He does great marvels alone (Psalms 136:4), our Sages tell us that “alone” means that only God is aware of some of the miracles He performs for us, because we are unable to recognize them as such. Those who failed to see the protective hand of God when the Iraqis rained scuds on Israel were morally and psychologically blind; anyone should have been aware of God’s protection. But even when His intervention is less evident, we must know that He watches over us, albeit “through cracks in the lattices.”

Today I shall…

try to reinforce my faith in the everpresent watchfulness of God over Israel as a whole, and over me as an individual.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 28”

To adapt Rabbi Twerski’s lesson just slightly, I’ll say that God watches over not just Israel, although this is certainly important, but He also watches over us all, as a mother hen might watch over her precious chicks. He never slumbers or sleeps, and it is the Good Shepherd who guards his flock, all of us, and though we are from our different sheep pens, we are all his.

If we truly know his voice, we will follow him in peace.

2 thoughts on “76 Days: The Encouraging Shepherd”

  1. James, I’m one of those you’ve helped to restore and uplift. I also can’t understand why people who profess to have faith in God can’t seem to express themselves civilly when “defending” Him or their particular understanding of Him. Does He even need our defense?

    I hope your 76 days ends with your having been restored and uplifted as well!

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