57 Days: The Lord has Promised Good to Me

Peace of mind is essential for obtaining many virtues. Its absence leads to all types of shortcomings. When you have peace of mind, you can use your mind constructively. Lack of peace of mind breeds anger and resentment.

The quality of one’s prayers and blessings is dependent on the mastery of one’s thoughts. Above all else, one’s ability to study Torah properly is based on having peace of mind.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #628, Peace of Mind is Essential for Growth”
Aish.com

Every Sunday, my daughter has to be at work at 5 a.m. That means I need to wake up at four and get ready to drive her so she can be at work on time. After that, when I get back home, I can get in bed again if I want to.

And that’s just what I did. But church services start at 9:30, so I set the alarm for 6:30. Makes sense to me. Gives me time to wake up leisurely, read, study, check my blog, have breakfast, and figure out if I have any semi-dress clothes that will fit. Haven’t had to “dress up” in quite a while, but fortunately I know how to use an iron and I don’t clean up half bad.

Both my wife and daughter were already at work when I was ready to leave for church, so there was no one around to wish me luck.

Made it there about ten to fifteen minutes early, which is early enough (I figured) to find a parking spot, but not too early that I’d have to conspicuously hang around a bunch of people I don’t know. Found the men’s bathroom, which is an important task in attending any public social event. About four people greeted me and shook my hand before I even got to the entrance of the sanctuary. Saw Pastor Randy who also cleans up pretty good. He was encouraging as was everyone else I met. He sent around the teacher for the class my son and daughter-in-law attends at the church. B.J. just wanted to say “hi” because he knew I was David’s Dad.

Because I told Pastor Randy that my wife is Jewish, other people seemed to know. One woman introduced herself (I didn’t hear her name because of all the background noise hundreds of people make when they’re talking all at once) and told me she was a Jewish believer. More than a few people, including the Jewish woman, said they hoped my wife would come to church with me soon.

Which is kind of what I was dreading, and that will sound odd to most Christians, but let me explain.

My wife wouldn’t receive the kindness of Christian contact and an invitation to come to church as a particularly positive thing. While she’s been to church in the past, her Jewish identity as it currently exists, does not accommodate going to church or attending Christian functions, even though she also doesn’t attend many Jewish functions. I just hope no one tries to contact her independently (I haven’t written my address and phone number down on anything at church, but I’m not that hard to find, either). I tried to explain this to Pastor Randy yesterday, but I’m not sure how he received it.

OK, one issue to be concerned about, but hopefully I’m making it a bigger deal than it really is.

Everyone was very friendly. Lot’s of handshakes and “glad your here.” I know that the “corporate greet your neighbors” handshaking is a normal thing in churches, but I’m still shy enough for it to make me a tad nervous.

The order of service and music was about what I expected. In fact, I was surprised that I remembered the tunes so readily. Nothing mysterious or too difficult. Words were on the screen at the front of the sanctuary.

One Pastor read the text from Acts 7 and then Pastor Randy gave the lesson from that chapter (they’re going through the book of Acts right now, pretty much dissecting it, but the series is slightly ahead of where I am in my Torah Club study on Acts, so I couldn’t leverage Lancaster while listening to the sermon). The bulletin contained a sheet for taking notes about Stephen’s defense to the Sanhedrin, which I used. I was interested in how Pastor Randy would frame Stephen relative not just to the Sanhedrin, but to the rest of the Jewish people, and the nation of Israel as a whole.

He very much acknowledged that Stephen was a Jew, just as his “fathers and brothers” were (Acts 7:2). I won’t go through my notes on what Pastor preached about, but it didn’t reflect the traditional Christian view of Stephen rejecting the Temple, Law, or the customs of the Jewish people in favor of the grace of Jesus Christ. Stephen was portrayed as “convicting” the Sanhedrin of going against the Torah of Moses and being faithless to God, which is more consistent with how I’d read these verses. The sermon was worded to be more accessible to a Christian audience and there were a few times that I thought the message might have been “toned down” a bit for the sake of the people listening (but I can’t be really sure, of course).

The Pastor made good use of his knowledge of Biblical Hebrew and Greek, gently suggesting that the NIV translation may not be entirely accurate. He spent a lot of time on the Abrahamic covenant, a favorite topic of mine lately. He also backtracked into Acts 6 and illuminated “trust and obey” to all of us. How do we know we trust God? How do we know our faith is genuine? Because if it is, we obey God. But what do we obey?

This is the $64,000 question from my point of view, since traditional Christianity usually says that works is dead and all we have to do is believe, while in Judaism, performing the mitzvot has center stage in a Jew’s life. The answer from the Pastor was, “good works.” Our faith is genuine if it produces “good fruit” (he didn’t actually say “good fruit,” but I thought I’d insert it here).

Pastor leveraged the Akediah (he didn’t say “Akediah,” but with his knowledge of Hebrew and having lived fifteen years in Israel, he must have been thinking it) to show us how faith, trust, and obedience are married concepts for someone who is truly righteous (he might have said, “for a tzaddik”). In going back to the original command God gave Abraham to leave Haran (Genesis 12:1), Pastor took the principle of obedience a step further in telling a story about some early Christian missionaries in India.

These missionaries were continually debating how they were to start out on their task, anticipating what might happen if they took this step or that. Finally, one of the missionaries said something like the following:

A Christian doesn’t have the right to demand to know where he is going. He must walk by faith.

Given everything I’ve been going through in anticipating “church,” he might as well have been talking to me.

Even as I wrote down the quote, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much of last week’s Torah portion had been inserted into Pastor’s message on Acts 7. He also included portions of Genesis 45 and Genesis 50, as he followed Stephen’s defense, which included references to the Patriarchs and the people of Israel.

Overall, the message was not only one of hope for Christians, that God is faithful and gracious even while we may have troubles in our lives, but that God has always been faithful and gracious to Israel and the Jewish people, even in the midst of their trials and suffering. God remains the constant for both Christians and Jews, and Abraham is the father for both the Christians and the Jews (and Pastor was careful to say that the Abrahamic covenant does not make the Christian “Jewish”).

After the sermon and closing song and prayers ended, it was time for Sunday school. I had chosen a particular class to attend, and Pastor Randy let Charlie, the teacher, know I was coming. Several handshakes later (I don’t mean to belittle this and actually, everyone was very friendly, but it will take me awhile to get used to so much human attention compressed into such a small space and time), I found where I could get a cup of coffee before class. The coffee ran out just as I was about to get a cup, so I didn’t have that delay before finding my classroom.

Consequently, I was the first to arrive. People trickled in and introduced themselves. The teacher and class members were mostly my age or older (I think one couple was a bit younger).  The first person to come in after me was an older gentleman named Dick. We got to talking and at one point he said something like, “It can be hard to find a church that gives you what you need,” and went on to say how fortunate they were to have a Pastor who preached the whole Word, including the Old Testament. He pretty much summed things up for me.

Class wasn’t as organized as I would have expected. I was glad it wasn’t heavily scripted, because that tends to stifle individual or creative response, but I saw that people struggled to respond when Charlie threw a question out among us.

I really, really had intended to be quiet, and just to listen and observe. That didn’t last very long and all of my old “reflexes” in addressing classroom questions and answers, built up over the years in my previous congregational experience, immediately took over.

In fact, I realized at one point, that instead of answering a question, I expanded on it and turned the question back to the rest of the class.

Oops.

I tried to tone it down after that, but I may have come close to crossing the line when I suggested that no matter how much God has chastised Israel, He has always brought them back, and will continue to fulfill His promises to them by bringing them back (not by restoring only a tiny remnant, but by redeeming Israel) to Him.

After class was over, I apologized to the everyone and particularly to Charlie for my being such a chatterbox. Not many of the other class members talked much, although during one of my monologues, I entered a dialog with one of the other fellows. Everyone was gracious about it and I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I didn’t think I’d get this “interactive” for weeks, but the wheels kept spinning in my head and once I opened my mouth, words started zipping out.

I was kind of interesting that all of the other students there were married couples except for one woman whose husband was on some sort of business trip in Turkey. I can see it’s going to be awkward to be going “stag” to church every Sunday.

Oh, both in the service and during Sunday school, I liked how the Jews weren’t blamed for rejecting Jesus or being bad examples, and in fact, the teachings emphasized how we Christians were expected to live up to the teachings of our Master.

At one point, Charlie, in discussing how Jesus dealt with faith or its lack as recorded in Mark 9 and 10, said, “If Jesus attended this church, what issues would he have to address here?” A little later he asked, “What would Jesus have to say to me” (about my failings)?

The experience wasn’t perfect, but then I expected that I’d feel out of place in an unfamiliar social environment. It was very “Christian” in all the ways I thought it would be, except that Judaism was treated much better relative to the Jewish Messiah and the Gentile disciples than I had imagined. The music lacked a certain punch, but that’s not really an issue for me compared to the other matters I’ve discussed, although they did introduce a bit of an “experiment” by having band sing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun (originally recorded by the Animals in 1964). It totally rocked.

Yes, I’ll go back next week for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m curious as to how far I can enter Christian fellowship and how much I will be able to integrate and still keep the core of who I am as one of the world’s most unusual Christians. At this point, my only real reservation, as I said before, is how far some of the folks in the church will try to press me to bring my wife to services. I don’t think that part would go over well at all.

Guess I’ll see how it all works out week by week, day by day, by God’s grace.

The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be…
as long as life endures.

-John Newton (1725-1807)
Amazing Grace

 

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8 thoughts on “57 Days: The Lord has Promised Good to Me”

  1. Good interaction. Good first steps. I’ve sometimes thought about visiting my old haunt, but don’t think I’m ready for that, yet, if at all. And, regarding ‘Amazing Grace’ to the tune of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ the first time I heard that was on an independent radio station and performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama. Sweet!

  2. I deliberately avoided my old haunt…the church where I first became a Christian, basically because I didn’t leave on very good terms. I’ve also heard less than encouraging things about a church affilated with them.

    It took a bit of time and God’s providence, but so far, I think I’ve found something rather unique, especially for Southwestern Idaho.

    Yeah. Wish I had a recording of the “Rising Sun/Amazing Grace” song. Whoever said Christian music had to be boring?

  3. Glad you’re finding a place. They are sometimes so hard to find. Mine’s at home with my family.

    You should have my email (to allow posting on your blog). Send me a message and I’ll reply with an ‘Amazing’ gift. : )

  4. OK, you’re on, marko.

    An interesting difference between you and me is that, being intermarried, I have a better chance to actually worship relative to the Messiah than I would at home with my family.

    As Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said in Slaughterhouse-Five, “and so it goes.”

  5. Good story about your experience, James. Several things you say about Pastor Randy suggest to me you’re not likely to find many in your area with his competence in biblical studies. There may be another one or two around. Wouldn’t that be something, if you found your place right away?

  6. I think someone recently suggested to me that God might have a hand in these events. 😉

    I agree. A Pastor with his skill sets and who is a “regular, approachable guy” to be found right here in Southwest Idaho is rather unlikely…and he’s an Idaho native, too. What are the odds?

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