alone in a boat

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

Do you think of yourself as a leader?

-Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter 13: A Leader Who Lost His Cutting Edge
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing

Continued from Part Five of my review series.

I need to find a way to accelerate this review process or it’ll take as many blog posts to finish as Jackson’s book has chapters. Okay, here goes.

According to Pastor Jackson, we are all leaders in the sense that anyone with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will “rise to the top,” so to speak. That said, rising to the top in our homes, our jobs, and our relationships, as he says, is easier said than done. It’s possible for anyone to lose their “spiritual edge,” as Jackson puts it, including Pastors.

The cure for “spiritual dullness” (and I can relate) is to remember that “the Christian journey is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” True enough. Any of us can temporarily pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but for the long haul, we need the faithfulness of God to see us through.

Like most Christians, Jackson says we need to believe in God, but he also says we must experience Him. This goes back to advice I’ve been given in the past about not focusing so much on Judaism or Christianity, but pursuing the presence of God. Jews do that through prayer and the mitzvot and there are Christian equivalents, though Christianity considers itself more of a “relationship” than a “doing” religion.

Jackson asks a telling question:

When was the last time you took the day off of work just to be with Jesus?

If this Pastor had a Jewish appreciation of the Shabbat, he wouldn’t have to ask that question, at least not in that way. He might ask instead, “When was the last time you truly observed Shabbos?” With Easter behind us and now in the midst of the Week of Unleavened Bread, special days of Holiness should be on everyone’s mind, and hopefully, in everyone’s experience.

End of Chapter questions included “Have you lost the edge in any area of your life” and “Are you convinced that you can get it back?”

Good questions.

Moving on to Chapter 14: Mimicking God, Jackson spoke of a small-group meeting he had recently attended where the meeting began:

He opened his Bible to Ephesians 5:1 and read, “Be imitators of God.” After that, he closed his Bible, looked everyone in the room in the eye and said three words: “Now…let’s wrestle.”

Jackson continued, “Some truths must be wrestled with.” I agree, and in fact, I believe that many more truths must be wrestled with than most religious people are willing to engage, particularly in the Church.

While Jackson describes Ephesians 5:1 as a “wrestling verse,” he states that wrestling ends in verse 2: “and walk in love.”

The word “walk” is a great word with a profound meaning. In the Bible it means ” to regulate one’s lifestyle.”

WalkingAgain, Judaism anticipated his response with the concept and application of halachah. Jackson’s “halachah,” if you will, is summarized with the word love. That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s out of this love for God and our neighbor (see Matthew 22:36-40) that we must respond behaviorally. Walking in love isn’t metaphorical, feel-good language, it’s a call to action.

I’m convinced that the primary search of mankind is not for doctrine, religious truth or strategies for successful living; it is for love. It is for acceptance. It is for belonging…

Then why are these things so difficult to find in religious community?

When people in the world see Christians who bear one another’s burdens, who are quick to forgive, who fail to judge and criticize, who are quick to repent and ask forgiveness and who reach out with accepting arms of love, they will feel like they’ve come home. They will realize that they have truly encountered Jesus in our churches.

While I can see his point that living out the teachings of the Master is the best way to communicate the truth of his faithfulness, Jackson seems to have moved from attempting to heal the wounded Christian who is estranged from the Church, to matters of what Christians call “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20). What’s the connection?

Or is Jackson speaking to the person who not only left the church but left the faith?

The Lord not only wants to heal you from your hurtful experiences in church, but He wants to make you one of his saints.

I’m never really sure what being a “saint” means in this context. Is it equivalent to the Jewish concept of a tzadik, a holy, righteous person who is close to God?

From here, Jackson encourages his readers to consider how children relate to God with that innocent faith that never questions anything. We should be more transparent than performance-oriented, don’t worry so much about “coloring inside the lines” (rules), and instead, becoming “prayer warriors”. We should also consider ourselves God’s “favorite,” as if the world were created only for our sakes individually (and that last part is actually a very Jewish concept).

The chapter seemed to focus on how much God loves each of us as a way of healing our hurts and getting us to reunite with church. By realizing that we are loved by God, we should reflect that love, both to people outside the Church and to other Christians.

Jackson continues with this theme in Chapter 15: Becoming Someone’s Angel. I’ve sometimes said that we should be the answer to someone’s prayer. Instead of waiting for God to intervene supernaturally in some situation, if we see a need and we have the ability to fill it, we should fill it. I think Jackson would agree with this.

Jackson seems filled with his own boundless enthusiasm for the work of the Church, so much so that he said:

I believe the United States is due for a third Great Awakening and that the other nations of the earth can also be transformed by a visitation from Him.

Church splitI believe no such thing, and in fact, based on the ethical and moral nosedive that many churches and all of secular western culture is in right now, I believe that in the end, except for a small remnant, the nations in general and most churches in particular, will turn against Jewish people, Judaism, and national Israel. The churches may call that “a Great Awakening” but based on how I read the Bible, it will actually be rebellion against God.

Like many American Christians, Jackson sees America as the central nation in God’s field of vision. But the Bible says that the centrality of Israel is the lynchpin in God’s redemptive plan for the rest of the world. If Jackson doesn’t see this as well, he’s in for a big surprise when the Messiah returns.

Jackson does rightly say that “most answered prayers come in the form of other people,” but he misses the big, big picture.

He did go on to say something to which I can relate:

One Sunday morning I was so discouraged that I didn’t think I could cut it as a pastor. I didn’t even want to be in church.

I used to have quite a number of Sunday mornings in church where I felt exactly like that, not that I had to worry about being a Pastor, of course. My answer was to stop going to church. My Sundays seem more productive and liberating now.

Jackson then told a story that I think illustrates some of my points well. He mentioned how he had visited a church friend, and older woman who was laid up with an injury, to pray with her. As they were praying, he heard a noise from the bathroom and discovered another woman cleaning the toilet. As it turns out, this other church friend had been coming over pretty much every day cooking and cleaning, as well as praying with the injured woman and keeping her company.

I suddenly felt a little sheepish and realized that this young lady’s cooking, cleaning and other practical help was far more a demonstration of the heart of God than any quick prayer.

I completely agree. I think it’s examples like this young woman, this living, breathing answer to prayer, that trump all of the “religious arguments” we have in the blogosphere, from the pulpit, or anywhere else. Churches and synagogues that preach this sort of message and follow it up with continued action are better than all of the theological and doctrinal pontifications we stack up against each other.

Then in Chapter 16: Ten Times Better, Jackson says:

One of the most significant problems with Christians–with me–is that we so frequently surrender the image of God in us. Rather than living in our glory as the Creator’s image-bearers, we live from our lover, natural selves.

And living like that, Jackson wonders if non-believers ask:

Is that what it means to be a Christian?

alone at churchI’m sure many people who surf into our blogs and read the comments sections ask that same question about Christians, Messianics, and Hebrew Roots people as well.

Jackson makes another good point:

…a major reason that people are leaving the Church today by the thousands is that there is frequently no real discernible difference between Christians and the world.

So many churches, in an attempt to “fit in” with the current culture, “adjust” their Biblical morals and ethics to fit the larger, politically correct and progressive mindset of the world around us. How can the Church be imitators of God if it’s too busy taking its cues from CNN and MSNBC?

For the Church as well as the individual believer, how we live out our faith is a matter of choice. Who are we trying to please, people or God?

None of this is why I left church, but I can agree with a lot of what Jackson is saying. True, he’s speaking from his own Hashkafah, but it’s not as if I can’t relate at all with his worldview, at least the broad strokes of it.

It goes back to what I said before. Don’t seek Judaism and don’t seek Christianity, but seek an experience with God. I might add, then walk on the path He sets before you, even if it leads to some pretty uncomfortable places.

I still don’t think that means back into church, or at least not the church I left. My problem is that I can only see a few steps ahead at a time, so beyond that, I proceed forward trusting that God won’t lead me over a cliff.

Moving on to Chapter 17: Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense Without It, Jackson says:

The Christian religion is a lifelong quest to know our loving Creator and become more and more like Him.

In that, it is indistinguishable from my understanding of Judaism, although exactly how that task is accomplished can look quite a bit different between the two religions. For instance, Jackson asked:

How can I know God more? How can I be more like Him? How can I prosper financially and thus bless my family?

That last question seems distinctly Christian. In Pirkei Avot 4:1, we learn:

Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot

That doesn’t preclude ambition and achievement, only that we need not constantly feel that we must have more just because somebody else has or become some television commercial says so. I sincerely hope Pastor Jackson doesn’t subscribe to any form of Prosperity Theology, which seems like a total scam.

Jackson wants to “experience the abundant life” he says Jesus promised him? Really? Does that really mean financial abundance? Is that what the Master meant in John 10:10?

Gateway to EdenJackson goes on to compare Genesis 1:1 with John 1:1 and says “John 1:1 details the real beginning of the story.”

I’m sure from his point of view, that probably seems true, but most Christians read the Bible from the Gospels or from Paul backward rather than from Genesis forward. That unfortunately leads to the false conclusion that “the Church” is the center of God’s plan rather than Israel. And focusing on John 1:1, Jackson says:

If any project, process or expedition gets too far away from its original design, it is destined to fail.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, that describes the Christian Church and the divergent path it has taken across history since the days when the Apostle Paul was sent to be an emissary of the Messiah to the Gentiles.

Jackson goes on to state how Matthew 28:19 “set the course of the Church throughout the ages” based on good, solid principles.”

He compares this with:

Jesus said of the Pharisees that they searched the Scriptures in pursuit of life, but they couldn’t find it. They could not find true life because their religion had become divorced from mission.

In other words, he presents a traditionally Christian discounting of the Pharisees and by extension, all of post-Biblical Judaism. From Jackson’s point of view, 100% of the Church’s mission is evangelizing:

On days when I share my faith with an unsaved person, I’m on top of the world.

And…

I exist to manifest the glory of God.

What about the young woman who was manifesting the glory of God by cooking for a disabled woman and cleaning her toilet?

…and I think I blessed the people who were in attendance. Of course, they were just like me…

I think this is the book’s central message about community, whether Jackson intended it to be or not. Particularly in the church, but most likely in any other human community, we thrive if we are in a group made up of people just like us.

But I’m not just like them.

Life makes no sense…until we return to the sanctuary of God. Christianity makes no sense…until we return to the place of mission.

Up to JerusalemAssuming Jackson isn’t being metaphorical, it seems he’s replaced the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with the Great Commission. This isn’t far-fetched from the Church’s point of view if he believes that the body of Christ is the Temple and that we are all stones that together make up the Temple. He won’t be able to see that we can metaphorically and spiritually be a “temple” and yet there can also be a Heavenly Temple as well as a future Temple on Earth in the coming Messianic Age.

These chapters continue to convince me that, as I said above, I’m not like them.

And further, as I quoted Boaz Michael saying in my previous blog post:

Most religious arguments involve bitter clashes over “what we believe” (theology) and “what we do” (praxis). If we do not share the same hashkafah informing our theology and praxis, this type of debate will be pointless and irresolvable.

And…

For example, many Christians operate under the hashkafah which assumes that the authority of the New Testament has replaced the authority of the Old Testament. This paradigm holds it as self-evident that any conditions established in the Old Testament remain operative only if restated in the New Testament. So long as that paradigm remains firmly in place, there is no point in arguing…

I made it through five chapters today. Only six more to go.

I’ll continue my review in a bit.

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10 thoughts on “Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part Six”

  1. Today’s essay covered five chapters? Has Jackson been keeping each of these chapters short and punchy, perhaps one thought at a time for ease of consumption? Oh, well, with only six more to go perhaps you will be able to finish the remainder in only one more essay (maybe two?). I wonder what are the events that indicate to Pastor Jackson that a third Great Awakening is due? One perspective would infer that notion from the existence of the moral nosedive that you cited, as a statement of what is needed and may be perceived to be needed. Some would suggest that such conditions are what drive entire bodies of real believers “to their knees” in supplication for G-d’s help. There is some justification for them to seek such help in a generalization of HaShem’s promise to Israel in 2Chron.7:14 — “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Some have asserted that this is what brought about waves of “revival” or renewal in two previous cases of “Great Awakening”. One may wonder how many may discern just what kinds of repentance and self-abasement among those who would wish to consider themselves in the category of “My people” would be required in the present era to justify the desired healing and renewal?

  2. My personal experience in the church is that it also takes cues from CNBC but that may be true for parts of Judaism as well but I don’t have enough real experience there to speak as an informed person.

    In my experience hurts from church can come through differences over theology and practice as you experienced James but also from churches in their business mode.

  3. @PL: Yes, the chapters are relatively short. He’s writing to the widest possible audience, so he’s probably speaking to a short attention span.

    As far as the third Great Awakening, I think that’s just his boundless enthusiasm speaking.

    @Daniel: Churches in their business mode?

  4. Yes, the church in business mode. And you might as well go to church if you think taking cues from FOX is the way to go.

    How can the Church be imitators of God if it’s too busy taking its cues from CNN and MSNBC?

    For the Church as well as the individual believer, how we live out our faith is a matter of choice. Who are we trying to please, people or God?

    There’s also FOXbusinesschannel.

    I have a Messianic friend who always has CNBC on (rather than most places, that have either CNN or FOX on in work environments). Maybe CNBC without the poisonous politics added works out? And certainly he has his own perspective and makes his own choices.

  5. There is a (black) man recently released from prison who was wrongly found guilty of murder and put on death row for thirty years. The system hadn’t bothered to do a proper ballistics test on his gun and the bullets and, additionally, had (about fifteen years ago) turned down a request for appeal based on the obvious need to do it. He is now out, but he lost all those decades of building a way to work in society and invest in a home and so on. On top of that, he has recently been diagnosed with cancer. And he’s been told he’s not entitled to any compensation. One of my sons (the economics major) mocking what he has seen as a FOXnewsConservative point of view said, “All he needs to do is pull himself up by his bootstraps.”

  6. This type of conservative also has “object permanence” deficiencies. But not in terms of blocks and toy trucks, rather with regard to moral concepts. Jeers and cheers in favor of strict abortion denials don’t translate into THEM being wrong to personally get, or push on their girlfriends or daughters, what they see as the convenient or inescapable route. Nor does it mean there is any respect for the women who don’t ever have an abortion but spend their time raising children in marriage; do all the right things, except look at you, alas you didn’t spend your time building a career. You deserve nothing. Not even to be treated like a wife. The person who deserves respect is money.

    Yes, we need a revival. But I don’t think it’ll happen.

  7. Another ‘Great Awakening?’ Not likely. I see the majority of the denominations pointing to a ‘golden calf’ and saying/ ‘ this is the Jesus that died for your sins.’ They want a Jesus that they can ‘mold’. Does this mean I think the ‘churches’ aren’t having any positive influences? No, however, I think it has fallen far short of what it was intended to be. As Chaya once commented, I want my words to be valued. James, you are right. Having tasted Messianic Judaism/ Judaism, you can’t go back. I explained it to my daughter like this,( using the analogy from Hebrews, taken from Lancaster’s book, “Elementary Principles”) Torah/Old Testament is this large banquet table with a variety of delicious food and christians want to tell me I can’t eat that because it is for the Jews, and today we only need milk. If being a Noahide means denying Yeshua, I can’t do that, either.

  8. @Marleen: Actually, I’m not a fan of FOX News either. They are just as biased as the more liberal news agencies, simply in a different direction. If I had to choose specific venues from which to get my news, it would probably be the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor. If you’ve been making assumptions about me, please don’t. I’m not a stereotype. Thank you.

    @Cynthia: While I can hardly say I’ve got the inside track on God’s plans, I agree that the sort of revival Pastor Jackson anticipates is highly unlikely. It’s more likely that the world will continue to spiral down morally and ethically with only a remnant left among the righteous Jews and Gentiles when Messiah returns.

  9. You put that well, Cynthia. And I think James also said something along the lines that a “revival” would probably be in weird directions anyway, especially considering how this author thinks.

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