When He made the world, He made two ways to repair each thing: With harshness or with compassion. With a slap or with a caress. With darkness or with light.
“And G‑d looked at the light and saw that it was good.” Darkness and harsh words may be necessary. But He never called them good.
Even if you could correct another person with harsh words, the One Above receives no pleasure from it. When He sees his creatures heal one another with caring and with kindness, that is when He shines His smile upon us.
—cited from Kedushas Levi on Shabbos Vayechi, 5751
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on the Letters and Talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
Continued from Part Six of this review.
Since the overall theme of Pastor Chris Jackson’s book (not to mention one of Boaz Michael’s books) is healing, I thought the above-quoted statement of Rabbi Freeman’s was an appropriate way to start out this final review.
Beginning with Chapter 18: The 21st Century Christian, Pastor Jackson writes:
Do what the occasion requires! This statement comes from the Bible, from the passage when the prophet Samuel gave this command to the newly anointed King Saul (see 1 Samuel 10:7).
The occasion of the 21st century requires a specific response. It requires a specific breed of Christians. The day and age in which we live requires a specific type of church.
The good news is that God has known all along what the specific challenges of each era would be, and He has strategically placed believers in those eras to respond to them.
Jackson also briefly cited Esther 4:14 and other sources, all to say that each of us, you and me, were born and live in this time for a very specific purpose.
That purpose, Jackson says, is to summon revival, which he discussed in a previous chapter. Quoting Romans 8:19-22, Jackson says creation is longing and groaning as if in childbirth.
Of course he means all this starts with the American church and ripples outward, which is Biblically unsustainable. However, it’s his “hook” to engage his reader, to engage us (or them). What he misses (and how would he ever see it?) is that our purpose as believing Gentiles is to encourage Jewish return to Torah observance, to making Aliyah, all in preparation for the return of Messiah and the rise of Israel to the head of the nations.
We can’t simply coexist with the ideologies of our day. We can’t peacefully allow our nation to be overrun and destroyed by demonic strategies.
See what I mean? Oh, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for our country. We are encouraged to do so in the Bible. But America is not the center of all things. We haven’t replaced Israel. New York, Los Angeles, or Seattle haven’t replaced Jerusalem as the city where the Almighty has placed His Name.
But then Jackson asks an interesting question:
What are some of the specific messages that you were meant to carry?
The response I have in my notes is You have no idea.
The other question, which comes at the end of this chapter is:
Do you believe that God has strategically placed you in this hour of church history?
I don’t know that I’m even part of “church history” or “the Church,” at least as Jackson defines those terms. We search all our lives in an attempt to find purpose and meaning in the world and in God’s plan of redemption. Who is to say for what reason you or I exist at this moment in time?
Moving on to Chapter 19: The 21st Century Church, Jackson continues:
I would like to include a chapter here that slightly detours from specifically discussing you and me as individual believers and instead focuses briefly on the bigger picture of the Church. As we move past the hurts we received in church and resolve to take our place again in God’s plan for His Body, it’s important to recognize what that plan is so we can identify what our role in it might be.
Staying with his focus on the American church, Jackson believes that Christianity has a highly critical role in the history of America right now. Quoting Pastor Jack Hayford of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, Jackson writes:
I perceive “an hour” has arrived. It is an hour of citywide impacting that is beginning to occur in New Testament ways, because New Testament vitality and spiritual penetration is taking place.
I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, even in the larger context of the original quote. Sometimes, Christian Pastors word things rather oddly, at least from my point of view.
Somehow to Jackson, it means “The church is not irrelevant!” I suppose a lot of atheists would disagree with him, especially given certain events that have saturated mainstream media lately.
In order to describe the church the 21st century needs, he goes through a list of churches we read about in the Apostolic Scriptures, such as those congregations as Ephesus, Colossae, Thessalonica, and Antioch. He also mentioned “other New Testament churches, like the one at Jerusalem.” Really, I was astonished (and so would be James and the Council of Apostles and Elders) that he conceives of the faithful first century Jewish disciples in the Holy City as “a church.” Many of the original communities Paul established in the galut were more synagogues, particularly the ekklesia in Antioch, but modern Christians can’t help revising history to make them “churches.”
I was just as surprised that he cited Numbers 23 and Balaam’s words “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed,” applying them to the Church when clearly Balaam was describing Israel. Has Jackson replaced Israel with the Church? It would seem so.
I know he’s trying to build up his Christian readers and building up the Christian Church in order to convince his audience that it is an institution of destiny and that to be part of that destiny, they must return to their congregations, but in order to do so, he has to bend the meaning of scripture beyond any reasonable bounds.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, Jackson reinvents the “Church” at Antioch to look more like a 21st century Evangelical church. This serves his own perspective and probably the majority of his readers, but I don’t think it serves the Bible or God’s true intent in his redemptive plan for Israel and then the world.
Moving on to Chapter 20: The Life of a Puzzle Piece, we read:
Did you know that you and I are living inside a puzzle box?
Yes, I’ve always suspected as much. Actually, Jackson means a jigsaw puzzle box, with each of us representing one of the pieces. We all have to fit together (he cites 1 Corinthians 1:10 here) in order to see the big picture.
Jackson relates what he calls “The Parable of the Puzzle Piece” to get his point across. From the point of view of the individual puzzle piece, we can’t see the big picture. The puzzle is actually the body of Christ or the unified Christian Church. If we aren’t part of the entire puzzle, then life has no meaning and makes no sense.
Well, that’s not entirely true, since plenty of atheists find meaning, purpose, and direction in life, and there are Christians who aren’t actively part of a local church that have other means of fellowship, and of course, as Jackson says, rely on their relationship with Jesus to help make sense of their lives.
However, returning to the puzzle piece metaphor, he states that although an individual piece can’t see the big picture, it is absolutely essential in order to complete the big picture. If you’ve ever assembled a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that one or more pieces are missing, it can really be annoying.
This is Jackson’s way of saying that each and every individual Christian is important and matters to God. Just like he said earlier that each Christian should be considered God’s favorite.
But each piece only contains a fraction of the whole and will never “fulfill its destiny” if it isn’t correctly put together with the rest of the pieces.
It’s pretty obvious where Jackson is going with all this, but at one point he adds:
Sometimes it takes several attempts for the piece to find its fit.
In other words, if your first church experience doesn’t work out, try, try again. Cute.
Oh, and a puzzle piece usually fits only in one single spot. Trying to fit a puzzle piece in a gap where it doesn’t fit won’t work out well and the piece will end of being mangled if forced.
Be patient, he says. Your place might not become available until other puzzle pieces are put together.
Although he doesn’t quote 1 Corinthians 12, he does say “Don’t get jealous of any other pieces–we’re all equally important.” Equally important but not identical. Each piece is uniquely shaped and will only fit in one location within the puzzle. This might be a message describing the differing roles of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic movement.
One of his end of chapter questions is:
Do you know that you are crucial for God’s big picture plan?
Even accepting this, as Jackson said before, the individual puzzle piece can’t see the big picture and therefore is unlikely to know where it fits or what it contributes.
Chapter 21: Old People starts out:
Recently, a number of young adults in our church hosted a very special banquet to honor the senior citizens in our congregation. We wanted to treat them to a night of honor and esteem that would send a clear message that we loved and needed them in our church.
This reminded me of the following commandment from the Torah:
‘You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.’
–Leviticus 19:32 (NASB)
But Jackson was simply leveraging the concept of “the wisdom of the aged” to what he imagines an older might say to a younger one. Advice like “I’m not better than you” and “It’s all about relationship” (his favorite theme). The advice is largely just restating points he made earlier in his book about being transparent, Christianity’s evangelical mission, and “God will come through.”
Chapter 22: The Abundant Life begins:
I think the book of Ecclesiastes is probably one of the most overlooked and underrated books of the Bible…
Well, in the traditional church, that’s probably true.
On the other hand, Jackson also says:
…and then moving on to something easier, like the book of Psalms or the gospel of John…
The Gospel of John may seem deceptively easy, but being that it’s the most mystic of the four gospels, I’d have to say that anyone thinking it’s “easy” hasn’t read it in sufficient depth.
Going back to Ecclesiastes, Jackson attempts to distill some Christian principles from Solomon’s wisdom such as “The perspective that this life is only a pilgrimage–a journey toward eternity” and “Enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures.”
The bottom line of this next-to-the-last-chapter of Jackson’s book is in one of his end of chapter questions:
Do you ever consider the fact that this life here on earth is merely the dress rehearsal for your eternal life in heaven with Jesus? How does this change your attitude and perspective?
I assume this is meant to put a life in church community into some sort of positive context with the realization that our earthly life is a test. How we perform on the test determines how or if we share a life “in heaven with Jesus.”
I tend to prefer a more Jewish interpretation of being alive, that what we do is important, not primarily because we will merit a place in the world to come, but because what we do summons or inhibits the return of Messiah. Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World) matters because the world matters to God. In fact, it’s to our world that Messiah will return, and it is here, not in Heaven, where we will reside in the Messianic Kingdom.
Last chapter, Chapter 23: Sleeping With Bathsheba…Again.
So, now what? We’ve looked at the good, the bad, and the ugly of church life, and we’ve recognized that, for all of its very human shortcomings, the Church is still the Bride and the Body of Christ. He is still committed as ever to building it into a force that will overthrow hell in every region of society.
Jackson might almost be writing in a foreign language as far as I’m concerned. No, I understand what he’s saying, but it’s just such a different point of view on the purpose and glory of Messiah from the one I hold.
Jackson goes on to say that “we are the Church” and as such, we can’t remove ourselves from church, anymore than we could remove our heart or our lungs and remain alive. In this case, he means spiritual life, of course.
I’m like you-I’m finished with religion that helps only the ultra-disciplined but offers no life for hurting, desperate people.
I know he’s speaking to his target audience, but this is just another slam against ancient and modern Judaism…”religion but no life”. Jackson believes, based on the current “cultural maelstrom,” that we’re “entering the age of the Church,” that the Church is God’s instrument to bring a fallen world back from the brink of disaster. that there will be a great revival in this country (U.S.A), and that we all can be a part of it if we’re a part of the Church (meaning a part of a local church).
Jackson actually brings up a point (you probably know what it is based on the chapter’s title) that I sometimes think about. After David’s sin with Bathsheba, David remains married to her and indeed, she becomes the mother of Solomon, the heir to the Davidic throne and ancestor of Messiah.
If those events were to happen today, let’s say with a President instead of a King, most of us would be appalled and call for this President’s immediate impeachment and imprisonment.
But in this case, Jackson is talking about second chances:
Perhaps there’s a Bathsheba waiting for you. Perhaps there are relationships in your church that ended in pain, and you’ve vowed never to return to them.
In other words, reconsider your decision.
And that’s it. The end of the book. Since this is a pretty long blog post, I’ll save my final conclusions for another time.