Crossing the Ford of the Jabbok

PrayingHear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no man living is righteous. For the enemy has persecuted my soul; He has crushed my life to the ground; He has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead. Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart is appalled within me. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands. I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Selah.

Psalm 143:1-6 (NASB)

Part of the Returning to the Tent of David series

This is the “flip side” to this morning’s meditation, The Christianization of Acts 15. Every couple of weeks or so, I have coffee and conversation with a friend who is smarter and wiser than I am. Certainly, his spirit is far closer to God than mine. I often tell him of my thoughts and feelings and he is direct and forthright in his response.

This is a continuation of my Returning to the Tent of David series since it has a direct connection to my reacquaintance with the church and how I have been conducting myself within its walls.

Apparently, I haven’t been doing so well.

I spend a fair amount of time expressing my point of view on this blog. I guess that’s OK since, after all, it is my blog, my platform for talking about my experiences as they occur. But I also air out my opinions of and frustrations with the church and its members on occasion. I commented to my friend that I felt my Sunday school teacher is rather dogmatic in how he presents his lessons. And the instant the words left my lips, I knew what he was going to say.

So am I, just with a different point of view.

I’ve been spending a lot of time presenting and expressing my opinions. But what about God? That is, who is expending the effort here and whose purpose is being served, mine or God’s? In my friend’s view, it’s the former, totally.

No, he isn’t being too hard on me and in fact, I have every reason to believe he speaks not only with an honest heart, but from the heart of God. I’ve been studying and using what I’ve learned as a sword or a club to “go after” those with whom I disagree, and without the slightest concern about God’s desires. I guess I assumed that if I was doing this, it must be what God wants, but that was arrogant presumption on my part. I never even considered the possibility that I wasn’t in the right spiritual frame from which to conduct such activities.

No, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop going to church, attending Sunday school, or meeting with my Pastor (unless none of them will have me anymore). It does mean I need to take a step backward and start “preparing” for these actions in a different way.

Yes, studying the Bible is good. Studying intelligent and informative commentaries is good. But is it the mind and will of God that makes change, not the efforts of mere men.

There’s little doubt that my Pastor and I, in meeting together, are each trying to help the other change in a particular direction. Of course, I learn a great deal from these conversations, but I’m also hoping to impart something as well. But so far, I’m the only one doing the imparting. Has God been in my voice? Am I even aware of His presence in the Pastor’s office? For that matter, am I aware of God’s presence in the chapel during services or in the classroom during Sunday school?

Man aloneThe vast majority of the time, I must say “no.”

My friend keeps suggesting I “meditate” on the Bible, but the word “meditate” seems indistinct to me. He says it’s matter of considering a portion of scripture and mulling it over. What does it mean? What does it mean to me? What can it tell me about God and about myself? What scripture should I choose?

I meditate on all Your doings;
I muse on the work of Your hands.

I read books, including the Bible, as fast as I can, as if I’m in some sort of race to cover the maximum amount of territory in the least amount of time. I’m only mortal and my span on this sphere is exceptionally limited. God is infinite and forever. He can afford to take His time. After all, it is His time; He made it. Time exists only within His will and should He desire, time would cease to exist and scurry back to the nothingness from whence it came.

“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David,
And wall up its breaches;
I will also raise up its ruins
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom
And all the nations who are called by My name,”
Declares the Lord who does this.

Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)

I keep coming back to these verses because they define my purpose within a “Hebraic” and “Messianic” context. I say “my purpose” but it’s really the purpose of any non-Jewish disciple of Messiah, “the nations who are called by My Name,” says the Lord. It’s the “job description” for Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah who perceive that they are operating within a Jewish religious and spiritual context and not necessarily inside of “goyishe Christianity.”

I’m not trying to be insulting, but consider who our King is and from where he will reign. Can there be any doubt that Moshiach our King is and will be King of Israel, King of the Jews, and only out of all that is he King of the World?

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Humility is something I didn’t think far from my grasp, but a guess I am farther from its sheltering arms than I imagined. This isn’t my battle. I didn’t come here to fight. I came here to serve God. What an interesting thought, since it never occurred to me to say it that way before. I always thought, harkening back to Boaz’s book, that I returned to the church to help breach the gap between the traditional fundamental and evangelical perspective on Jesus, the Bible, and everything and how it all should be seen within the Jewish context, using Jewish terms, Hebrew language, and especially removing the paint from “Joseph’s” alien face (Genesis 45:4) to reveal the son of Jacob or more to the point, the son of David…the Jewish son and firstborn of Israel. The son of God.

man-without-a-coatIf this is how you want me to serve you God, then I have to admit I haven’t been doing such a good job. If this isn’t what you’ve wanted me to do, then I’ve been doing an even worse job than I thought.

How can I promote any form of healing at all by “banging heads” with other people or by beating my head against a wall? When Jacob wrestled the Divine, in midrash, it is said that Jacob wrestled with his doubts, or his evil inclination, or his own dark angel. He had to conquer something in himself before he could take the next steps back into the Land his descendants would one day inherit, the Land of Promise. Is that my mission as well, to conquer something within myself?

That I should slow down, take time with scripture, mull and turn over the Word in my mind and heart, meditate on His wisdom day and night is all worthy and right, and I’ve been in too much of a hurry to actually do it. Where will my spirit and the Spirit of God find a common meeting ground? Jacob arose at night, crossed the ford of the Jabbok and was left alone. There he encountered God. Jacob wrestled for the rest of the night and when the sun began to dawn, the battle was still raging. Jacob’s “companion,” seeing he had not prevailed, injured Jacob, permanently disabling him (see Genesis 32:22-32). But Jacob also received a blessing, a new name, and a mission to form a dynasty; to  ultimately become the father of a mighty nation that belongs only to God.

I seriously doubt my destiny is such a great thing in God’s eyes or in man’s. And yet there must be some reason for my existence, else God would have long since extinguished me, like I might blow out a candle. Not that I’m such a great light or even a small one. Who can glory in their own light when confronted with the blazing inferno of an Everlasting God? Only a fool. I pray that I am no fool, though I know I’ve been foolish.

God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love.

-Richard Wurmbrand

Whatever God wants me to do could easily fail if it was all up to me. Having launched myself in a particular direction for nearly a year, I haven’t looked back and I haven’t checked the map. I just figured if I went in a nice, straight line, I’d end up where I’m supposed to be. But there are no nice straight lines in my terrain, only back alleys, narrow corridors, dark tunnels, and labyrinthine passages. Getting lost if I am the only navigator is a foregone conclusion.

…but whatever your original intentions, you have become truly lost.

-Ducard (played by Liam Neeson)
Batman Begins (2005)

extinguished_candleIs that me? Maybe. Or maybe it’s what I’m on my way to becoming. But according to my friend, it’s not too late. I can slow down the horse, so to speak, take stock of my surroundings, renew my connection to God, through the Bible, through meditation on His Word, through prayer, through sincere repentance. Like a watchman on the walls of the city at night, I rely on the Presence of God as I await the dawn, considering His mighty deeds, recalling Days of Old, meditating upon Him in my heart.

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.
When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old,
The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders…

Psalm 77:1-6 (NASB)

And my spirit ponders…as I cross the ford of the Jabbok and am left alone in the dark…waiting.

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24 thoughts on “Crossing the Ford of the Jabbok”

  1. One Step at a Time
    by Joseph Morris

    In the morning with the journey all before us on the road,
    It takes courage to begin, that is sure;
    For the first step is the hardest, and we always think the load
    May be greater than we’ve power to endure.
    When the first mile lies behind us we can say, “Now that is done,
    And the second and the third will soon be past.”
    So we trudge on through the noontime, and the setting of the sun
    Finds us coming to our stopping-place at last.

    When a man would climb a mountain he’s appalled to see the length
    Of the slope that reaches up into the sky;
    But he starts, and with the climbing he will find he’s gained the strength
    To attain the very top, however high.
    For the climbing of a mountain takes but one step at a time–
    Who has courage to do that will reach the goal;
    He will stand upon Life’s summit and will know that joy sublime
    Which is his alone who dares to prove his soul.

  2. Really good things to ponder. Thank you for sharing! It is certainly easy to get a little Messianic chip on the shoulder. On the one hand, there is so much depth and truth and wanting to share it comes naturally. On the other hand, is everything you’ve written in this post. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Kari. I’ve almost completed re-reading Boaz’s TOD book and have taken a fair amount of notes with an eye on how my “journey” has gone so far. A lot of points have come up relevant to this blog post. I’ll be writing more on this soon.

  4. I understand also how I can use knowledge in a way that can be harmful, rather than a way that is beneficial. Perhaps this is a discussion you could have with your pastor – the purpose behind your engagement. Does each see their role only as convincing the other person that they are right and the other is wrong? Do you both view your purpose as straightening out the other?

    If you ask pastor, I suspect he may have been praying for God to show him more of himself, for the scriptures to be opened to him. This is the cry of his heart. So, the Holy One sends you. But it is not what he is expecting or looking for. He wants to find more of God, but within his own parameters. Is. 42 – The promise is that the Holy One will lead the blind in ways they haven’t known. Blindness is okay. Its a matter of who is leading.

  5. Thanks, Chaya. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that God is always leading in such conversations. I shared briefly with my Pastor last night that I needed to slow down in my reading and thinking and to ponder more on the wonder of God and my dependence on Him. In our hearts, we both desire to serve God and I hope and pray that our transactions do this.

    While no doubt there is a motivation in both of us to change the other, let the overriding motivation be to reveal God in our interactions as “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). There can be no constructive purpose if our actions aren’t motivated by God.

  6. I had an interesting situation. I was dealing with someone who was really in a mess. She said, “I have been praying for God to show me what to do.” Okay. Well, I am not perfect, and can’t claim to speak for heaven, but I offered her some advice on how to move in a positive direction, to get herself out of the mess. She didn’t see that the answer to her prayer was right in front of her. In most cases, human hands and voices are used to fulfill the purposes of heaven. Did she expect a voice to call down from the sky?

  7. Thank you for your transparency. Certainly, we need to be close to and led of the Ruach as we walk. It is a challenge not to run ahead of what the Father is doing… but clearly, He is doing some amazing things in this day!

    Your verses from Amos 9 caught my eye as the last couple days I have been pondering Isaiah 58:12 and 61:4 that repeat the theme of raising up ruins, repairing breaches, etc… Not sure how they apply, but the connection is interesting. Selah.

  8. The way I read them is that when David’s fallen sukkah (the Temple) is raised again by Messiah and the Jewish people, other people who are called by His Name, Gentiles, will also be there.

  9. James, give yourself a break, buddy! You haven’t necessarily done any damage. At least you don’t have to put up with so-called Christians who think there are “other paths to God,” which make up 57% of evangelicals. It doesn’t sound like your church has even totally bought into Replacement Theology. It could be worse! But it’s true that God’s agape should always shine through. If you’ve felt it hasn’t always done so, then just relax and let Him change that in you, brother. By the way, I think your take on God’s straight line of history from Abraham is spot-on — only additions, no subtractions!

  10. And it also makes me think of Hillel and Shammai, who debated fiercely, but whose debates were seen by the other rabbis as being “both for the sake of Heaven.”

  11. Thank you! I also need to learn humility, to connect with God, and to be less dogmatic. It’s hard to humble yourself and learn from others when you are so convinced of the truth, because it is so clear. But we must be patient and ask God what He wants us to learn in these struggles/

    Shalom!

  12. @David: The worse thing I can do is relax about myself. What other people do, they do and I have no control of that, but I do have control of me. If I am less than an exemplary servant of my Master then where am I to look for fault except with me?

    @genevievevictoria: You’re welcome.

  13. Well, you can put too much upon your own performance, as if you just said the right thing in the right way and the person would be convinced. I was thinking of Dan. 12:10, so I looked up the Hebrew. The wise (the word means those who ponder, consider, have insight) will understand, but the wicked will not understand. It doesn’t say the stupid won’t understand, but the wicked. I know that in Hebrew wisdom and understanding are linked more strongly to morality than intelligence. So, I am going to wager a guess that those who refuse to ponder, consider, examine, would be seen as wicked?

  14. All good self-examination, James. As I often say to describe my own condition: “When I’m in my own mind, I’m behind enemy lines.” 🙂 Only when I’m questioning my Abba in Heaven do I feel sufficiently safe from the hazards of my-own-self-will-run-riot. Many believers I know seem to have a very strong sense of confidence in their personal direction in life. I do what I think He’d have me do, keep asking questions of Him, continue moving and regularly throwing myself “on the mercy of the court” along the way. As the saying goes, in this life, “There is a new question to every answer.” I see method in your madness, so to speak; that the doing of what you’re doing is working itself out in the invisible places, being used by HaShem to His advantage. I know your writing is a strong source for me in terms of keeping me asking questions about the answers I may think that I have. And being reminded of my own fallibility is good for me spiritually. It keeps me dependent on Him.

  15. We all see as through a glass, so there is no excuse for dogmatism; I can only share what I see from my limited vantage point. But I learned something. I used to think that if I wanted to convince someone of something, not necessarily spiritual, but to agree to my plan, for example. I would lay out my case like an attorney; presenting evidence, witnesses, refutations. There were two wrong assumptions I made: 1. People think and act rationally. 2. People desire to know the truth.

  16. Chaya and Dan, I think you’re saying what I’m saying: that I can’t rely on myself in any conversation where I am representing Hashem, but rather, I must rely on Hashem and His Spirit, the teachings of Moshiach as his disciple. I must be humble sitting at the feet of my Master, I must be patient and wait.

  17. Yes, and I think Chaya makes a good point regarding the issue: rational thought has little effect on irrational contours of thought. Years of Christian theology, history, liturgy, tradition, etc. becomes such a “home-like mindset” that they cannot think of any other way or of themselves without it. It is like dealing with a dysfunctional person who is co-dependent on another or dependent on a form of escape. They are so connected to the dysfunctional life that they cannot think outside of it. Sometimes I honestly think of Christianity as a form of escape from reality, James, a chronic form of anti-Judaism that is absent of malice in its present day form. Which is why I focus my energy on educating about the history of Christian antisemitism. The first step toward healing is acknowledgment of the problem. This may sound a bit haughty, but I don’t see it being too far from wrong, a defensible position given Christian history and Christian antipathy toward Judaism and even toward the Messianic Jewish movement.

  18. Actually, my Pastor is highly rational and intelligent. He’s not going to accept anything I say without questioning it, and he’s right to do so. You are also correct in that his thought process has firmly embraced much traditional Christian doctrine. What I’ve been trying to convince him of is that we all interpret the Bible through our traditions. That’s the tough part because the “tradition” part of his understanding is fairly transparent to him.

    I don’t see him as against Jewish people, but he doesn’t have a high view of modern, religious Judaism as such relative to the literal message of scripture. Fundamentalist Christianity is a very specific entity. Christianity exists along a scale, and while some liberal churches might be exceedingly welcome to certain aspects of the Messianic vision, fundamentalism will require a little more convincing.

  19. I agree with education regarding historic Christian antisemitism. Most people have the idea that it is “a few bad apples,” or, “rogue priests, ministers,” etc. that are at fault. But hatred of Jews permeated Christian thought and doctrine. I would think anyone who thought differently was an outlier. I recall an apologetic teaching in the early years of MJ: The Christians who slaughtered and persecuted Jews were not “real,” Christians, they were Christians in name only. Manny Brotman said, “If I commit a crime in the name of Rabbi Karoff, is Rabbi Karoff responsible? But I would argue that hatred of Jews and anything Jewish was part and parcel of post-aspostolic Christianity. In Gen. 12:3, the second word translated, “curse,” doesn’t just mean to hate and despise; it means to treat as insignificant. Much of the church today doesn’t really hate Jews or Judaica, but they treat us and our heritage as insignificant. This brings a biblical curse upon them. And they wonder why 85% of children who grow up in evangelical churches leave when finish high school. Let’s get back to, “Rabbi Karoff.” No, he wasn’t responsible for the atrocities committed in his name, but all of those who encouraged teaching that led to such atrocities are responsible before God, and I wouldn’t want to stand in their shoes.

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