5 Days: Encounter

meeting-a-strangerOne who responds “Amen” after a blessing surpasses the one who recites the blessing.

-Berachos 53b

“Amen” is an expression of confirmation, whereby we attest that what the other person has said is indeed true. Thus, when someone recites a blessing expressing gratitude to God or asserting that God has commanded the performance of a particular mitzvah, one is making a declaration of one’s faith. When we respond by saying “Amen,” we are essentially stating, “What you have said is indeed true,” and thereby we are not only concurring with what was said and expressing our own faith, but also reinforcing the other person’s statement and strengthening the other person’s faith.

There are things that one can do that will strengthen other people’s faith in God, and things that will weaken it. In Torah there is a concept of arvus – mutual responsibility – by virtue of which one is obligated to try to strengthen other people’s belief and trust in God. Although every person has free will, and God does not intervene to deter someone from committing a wrong, people who have suffered because of someone’s misdeeds often feel that God has abandoned them. Thus, if we deal unfairly with others, we may not only cause them to be angry at us, but also bring them to doubt God for allowing an injustice to happen. While such reasoning is faulty, the one who caused it is nevertheless responsible for causing the victim to feel that way. On the other hand, when we behave in the manner which God wishes, the result is kvod shamayim – bringing glory and honor to God, and strengthening people’s faith. Our actions can and do affect how other people will think and act.

Today I shall…

try to behave in a way that will result in people having greater respect for and trust in God.

-Rabbi Abraham J Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 11”
Aish.com

On Sunday afternoon, I had my periodic “coffee meeting” with a friend of mine. It was cold, windy, and threatening to snow, which is the perfect time to sit in a coffee shop, sip some hot java, and chat.

Oh, the conversation started out with small talk but that’s not where it ended up.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone said something to you and your internal response was “I wish he hadn’t said that,” not because it wasn’t true, but because it was true and you didn’t want to hear it?

I think most of us have at one point or another in our lives and last Sunday afternoon was the most recent occurrence in mine.

Can you encounter God in church?

I know that sounds like a silly question if you’re a Christian, but church was the last place I thought I’d ever encounter God in a meaningful way.

Let me explain.

My most recent “church experience” has been like a process of steps. I walk into the church, Bible in hand. I get the program, the pamphlet or whatever it’s called from the older lady standing near the door. We greet each other and I move on. I weave my way through the crowd of people chatting with each other and head for the door of the sanctuary. At the doorway, I’m greeted by several other gentlemen, one or two of which may engage me in brief, light conversation. Once that’s done, I try to find a seat near the rear of the chapel where I’ll be out of the way.

I busy myself before services by reading the contents of the pamphlet, paying extra attention to the outline for the day’s sermon. I’m usually greeted a couple more times by people I’ve made a casual acquaintance with.

People enter, settle down, and services begin.

The service has a pattern which is almost always the same. There’s singing, praying, the reading of the daily Bible passage, sometimes an appeal for donations for missionaries or other worthy causes and needs, the passing around of the plate for offerings, more singing, and the Pastor delivers his message while I rapidly take notes.

I usually slip out to use the men’s room during the last hymn because afterwards, the service ends and everyone floods out and lines start to form. I might even manage to get a cup of coffee before Sunday school.

Then I go to Sunday school. For the first few minutes, there’s the usual casual conversation between everyone else since they are all friends. I politely listen. Class begins and I struggle not to say too much, aiming for not saying anything at all.

Class ends, church ends, and I go home.

waiting-for-mannaAt what point in all that would I encounter God?

Oh, I’ve encountered God in a meaningful, supernatural manner that I can’t even begin to articulate, but those “meetings” are quite rare.

And I believe I encountered God over coffee last Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t what you would call supernatural. I forgot that God can insert people into the stream of your life who will tell you what you need to hear (though not necessarily what you want to hear).

He said several things.

  • People go to church to encounter God.
  • Anyone who wants to encounter God should spend time in prayer and reading the Bible, asking and expecting to encounter God.
  • Don’t seek Judaism and don’t seek Christianity, seek God.

Oh.

He said a lot more too, particularly on the dynamics of how to make connections and relationships. The following metaphor is my own but it applies.

If you are single and you want to make an impression on a girl, you don’t do so by showing up for dates only sometimes. If you have a standing date with your girlfriend every Sunday morning, if you like her and want to develop a relationship with her, you’ll show up for your date every Sunday morning unless something serious comes up to prevent it. You don’t just go hit and miss and still expect her to want to develop a relationship with you. She won’t think you’re very trustworthy and reliable. She won’t spend the time and energy to try to connect with you if she doesn’t see you making the same effort.

Oh.

I’ve been viewing going to church as only an obligation. Who in their right mind dates a girl if it’s only an obligation and not a desire?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

That sounds like an obligation but an obligation of love.

To be honest, I don’t always want to encounter God in a meaningful way, because some of those encounters aren’t easy to take.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:20-21 (ESV)

If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.

Job 34:14-15 (ESV)

Fear of the Lord may be the beginning of wisdom but it’s also fear.

But God cannot be avoided and without God, life is nothing.

Man’s life is dependent on the air around him. Without air he cannot live and the quality of life is dependent on the quality of air. In an atmosphere of Torah and mitzvot there is healthy life. In a G-dless environment life is diseased, and one is constantly threatened with the possibility of being stricken with contagious maladies.

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat, Tevet 11, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

torah-tree-of-lifeThe Rebbe goes on to describe how we can purify our environment by studying words of Torah, but taking the message down to basics, what is being said is that God must inhabit our environment for us to be who He designed us to be. We must encounter Him in order to live the life He has planned for us.

No matter how uncomfortable or even frightening those encounters may be.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

That reminds me of what Pastor Randy said to me the second Sunday after Thanksgiving. I skipped going to church the Sunday after Thanksgiving because I was wiped out and wanted some rest. Pastor made some remark, supposedly joking, asking where I was the week before. I figured I wasn’t very important to anyone at the church and my missing a Sunday or two wouldn’t be a big deal. Maybe it’s a bigger deal than I thought. I still don’t feel important at church, which isn’t necessary, but I don’t feel even slightly significant, either. But that’s my fault.

If church is an opportunity to encounter God rather than just a Biblical and social obligation, then it becomes something entirely different from what I first thought. Next Sunday is the last day of my countdown to zero and the end of the year.

Or, it’s a new beginning and a fresh encounter.

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6 thoughts on “5 Days: Encounter”

  1. Nice post James.

    “I figured I wasn’t very important to anyone at the church and my missing a Sunday or two wouldn’t be a big deal. Maybe it’s a bigger deal than I thought. I still don’t feel important at church, which isn’t necessary, but I don’t feel even slightly significant, either. But that’s my fault.”

    A person very close to me (relative) has the type of thinking you do.

    When a family member or friend is ill or had a difficult time, my relative will refuse to reach out so as not to “bother” the person. Or, this relative will want to see a family member or friend, but will wait, and wait, for an invitation (but never extend one themselves) and then the kicker is this relative will become somewhat bitter about being “left out.”

    This relative won’t ever take the initiative and reach out, call, invite, encourage, plan, or “do” for the “others” whose lives they say they want to be a part of and always remain the passive party. Being so close to this person, I know how sad and disconnected they frequently feel but they also refuse to take any action. The truly sad part is that this relative actually makes the “others” feel as though they aren’t significant, loved, cared for, wanted, needed.

    While you may not be as extreme as my relative in other relationships in your life, I do notice it regarding your church life. So I wonder, how much are those at church wondering just how significant they are to you?

  2. “but since I’m such a newbie at church and haven’t gotten to know anyone yet as as a personality, how important can we be to each other?”

    It’s just that you’ve mentioned how insignificant and unimportant you feel there several times in this series and have implied that you don’t like that.
    Based on my interpretation of your remarks, I’m saying that you aren’t connected because you’re resisting connecting. Since we cannot control others, only ourselves, if we want to be connected, we need to participate in the process. But if we run out before we can “connect” then we’re actually making sure we never connect, right? BTW, I tend to do this too, and feel just as lousey as a result, so I’m not picking on you, just sharring with you the pep talk I give myself… 🙂

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