Living a Life

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of being a Christian or a Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua, or whatever you want to call me.

My life has taken a downturn recently, specifically since April. I was laid off of my job of eight years, basically because the company and my job description had changed so radically that I was no longer an adequate “fit”.

dad
© James Pyles

Then my Dad died abruptly, and it was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my folks at the time to be able to support my Mom.

So far the only job I’ve been able to get is temporary contract work for significantly less than I was previously paid and absolutely no benefits.

I’ve been trying for the past couple of months to get medical insurance through the local version of “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) and getting the run around. I received yet another encrypted email from them when I got home from work today that was probably prompted by my zillionth phone call to them this morning. I suspect they are about to reject, for some arcane reason, the document I submitted proving I’ve been without medical coverage since July 1st.

And to add insult to injury, I’m fined by the Federal Government every month I’m not insured, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to purchase coverage.

What does all this have with God, faith, and religion?

It has to do with life and how we live it, and more specifically, how I live it.

I’ll admit that I’m better at the study of the Bible then actually living out its principles. I suspect that my life has been going downhill because God is trying to get my attention. He wants something out of me. He wants me to live a better life, but it’s not that simple.

God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t say, “If you do this thing for me, I’ll make your life better and you and your wife will get health insurance coverage.”

How do I know this? Because tons and tons and tons of believers of great and wonderful faith live terribly dangerous and difficult lives. Just look at the Apostles. Except for John, they all were executed in one way or another, and even John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil, though amazingly he lived.

That’s been my sticking point. If you trust in God with all your heart and soul, there’s still no promise that you’ll escape pain and suffering. There’s no promise that if I trust God with all my heart and soul, that I’ll be able to provide my wife and myself medical insurance let alone a better income.

I mean God could do that, but obviously He doesn’t have to.

On the other hand, if I ignore what I think God wants me to do (love and trust Him completely), then I can hardly expect He will turn my life around or provide opportunities for me to improve my condition.

No I’m not writing this just to whine (well, maybe just a little). I’m writing this to speak to the question of Gentile praxis in a Messianic world (or at least a Messianic thought and study world since I don’t have that kind of praxis or community).

In the closed Facebook group “Messianic Gentiles,” First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) writer and teacher Toby Janicki has been sharing a number of articles on their particular publication of the Didache, which may or may not have originated with the Apostles or their students. It’s an attempt to answer the question of what is Gentile praxis within (Messianic) Judaism.

I certainly won’t discourage anyone from reading and pursuing that particular model of religious practice, and indeed, I’ve written on the Didache myself.

But it seems to me that all of us have our hands full anyway, not with the rituals of praxis but with day-to-day living.

I mean, how close to or far from God do you feel? How often do you read the Bible? How often do you pray? How often do you pray and don’t feel like you’re just taking to yourself and the four walls? Are you kind to others even when you don’t feel like it? Do you yell at the person who cuts you off when you’re driving to work? Given the terrible things that are happening in Huston thanks to Hurricane Harvey, what have you done to offer aid and assistance? Do you give to others in need in your local community?

huston
David J. Phillip/AP

These aren’t questions I’m asking you, they’re questions I’m asking myself.

A life of faith is no life at all if it isn’t lived, but frankly, living that life isn’t easy.

I’ve been trying to listen to Christian radio again (mainly because there’s no such thing as Messianic Jewish/Gentile radio, at least nothing that is freely available over the airwaves). I’m having a hard time with it.

Air1 at least has more modern pop songs, but it’s also marketing to the younger crowd, and it can be terribly juvenile and even shallow. On the other hand, they have mentioned their concern for the people of Huston, and I learned about Convoy of Hope from them.

I’ve tried listening to a couple of local Christian stations.

I have a tough time with the more traditional Christian songs and hymns. I had the same problem when I was attending church. The people who’ve grown up in the church have a great deal of emotional and nostalgic attachment to those tunes, but to me, they are terribly archaic and boring.

The Christian station where people talk drives me nuts. I guess this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I was listening to these two Pastors who were fairly gushing over Martin Luther. I can’t stand Martin Luther because of the Anti-Semitism he displayed toward the end of his life. This is on top of these so-called “reformers” not taking their reform back far enough in history so they could re-discover the deep connection Gentile believers have to a Jewish perspective on Hashem and Rav Yeshua.

Those “reformers” just changed things enough to object to some of the greater abuses of the Catholic church as it existed at that time. They kept all the stuff that deleted the Judaism out of an originally Jewish faith, and kept all the stuff that put Gentiles and only Gentiles at the top of the religious food chain.

Yeah, that works for me.

But I’ve got to do something differently, even if it drives me nuts. Frankly, I suspect there are a lot of non-Jewish but Judaically aware believers who are also scrambling to make sense of their/our lives. My point isn’t that the hard part of it all is being “Judaically aware,” the hard part is what’s hard for every Christian in churches and home fellowships all over the place.

The hard part is conforming our lives, our faith, and our actions to the desires of God. The hard part is to be a better person, even when it seems impossible. The hard part is to be a better person, even when God doesn’t promise to do anything for you in return.

This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life. This is the “Gospel message” you absolutely won’t hear on Christian radio ever, and a message you won’t hear in many if not most churches.

jfk
President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” (and he’d be appalled if he were alive today and could see the nature of the younger generation coming up and what they want).

But what if he asked works in a relationship with God, too?

“Ask not what God can do for you. Ask what you can do for God.”

Really, if responding to that doesn’t take up 100% of your time, I don’t know what will. Frankly, the prospect scares me to death, but at the same time, I can’t fault it, since this is what the Bible speaks of regarding our service to God and our fellow human beings.

I suspect, even if nothing else changes in my life, my response, if I choose to sincerely make true Teshuvah, will occupy every day I have remaining in this life.

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17 thoughts on “Living a Life”

  1. This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life.

    I think that deserves repeating.

    It seems to me that “Christian” thought and practice is increasingly moving away from the practical and towards a kind of pseudo-spirituality. That bible study seems to be about digging for deeper meanings in the text but avoiding things that are clear.

    “Who you are and what you do right here and now in this life” is being pushed aside for a more esoteric attitude to religious faith. (At least that’s my observation related to Christians and Christian forums I’ve known).

  2. James, thank you for the heart warming testimony. Even Yeshua trusted in his Father wholeheartedly, how much more do we need to trust in Him? A pleasant day will come to us. Father! Give James your servant and His family good insurance and good paying job!!!

  3. Agreed. Just listening to Christian radio for a day convinced me of that. It’s tragic.

    Where I live in Australia we’ve recently been given access to a new free to air, Christian TV channel.

    I was surprised and a little excited; until I dipped into it during the first week and found out what it was actually broadcasting.

    I soon found it is owned by a well-known Televangelist who became infamous in the 1980s when his frequenting of prostitutes was exposed.

    The whole programming schedule consists of shows featuring himself, his wife and his son, including “classic” programmes recorded around the time of his downfall.

    I’m not sure how to describe my overall feeling: it was a mix of embarrassment and grief as I realised that a lot of people see the channel as presenting a valid expression of Christianity.

  4. I really did love this, James. I resonate with so much of it. For many years, after our little messianic home group disintegrated, I didn’t go to church or any other congregation …. just to the Sunday school of the church we started with in 1999, sticking my messianic oar in where possible. Hadn’t been to services there for about 12 years, since I heard the head pastor preach a sermon on how messianics think we’re saved by works.

    Then about 18 months ago, the congregation I now attend on Shabbat started up; I’ve mentioned it to you. It’s not like the one in you and I both visited 5 years ago, meaning that it is charismatic; we sing in Hebrew but also English and some contemporary Christian songs (but *rich* ones). They have banners and flags and occasionally dancers. Home.

    And much to my surprise, hubby said he wanted to start going back to church now that the head pastor has retired. And even more to my surprise, I found I liked it. In three weeks, I only knew two of the songs, the music is loud, and people bring their coffee cups into the “sanctuary” (Rrrrrr), but the new guy is very humble and has a shepherd’s heart, and his sermons have touched me.

    As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” Finally, my hungry heart is getting fed. And those questions you asked? They’re getting answers. Rejoice with me.

    And another surprise — the women’s ministry director, and her husband who is the chief tech guy, showed up at the messianic congregation for a visit. Turns out that they know the same people you and I know who were from here. Small world.

    Also at the messianic congregation: the chief muckety of the local branch of a national Jewish organization, visiting with a friend.

    Aslan is afoot.

    May your heart soon be full, and your wallets as well.

    And your mom is right; you really do write from the heart.

  5. Being fined by the Feds each month due to lacking healthcare that they require but don’t provide sounds to me like adding injury to insult rather than the other way ’round. I sympathize also with the contract employment limitations. I’ve been there, tho’ as an underemployed engineer. The employment opportunities at our age become sparse despite supposed EEO protections. You have my best wishes in prayer, which is about all I can offer from 10,000 miles away.

  6. Thank you so much for this message. So full of wisdom and encouragement for those of us blessed to read it… Just wonder if you’ve come across Hebrew Nation or Lamb radio stations? Both Messianic and with quite a mix of programmes (and annoying adverts!) but some good, sound teaching too. You can listen for free online too.
    Shalom, shalom

  7. Thanks for sharing this.
    Remember that old greek myth about the guy having to roll a boulder up a hill and just when he got it to the top, it would roll back down and he had to start his task again? I feel that way quite often here lately – it sounds like you might, too.
    It gets frustrating and then I feel ashamed when I get frustrated and I guess I don’t really feel close to God when I get frustrated with life and want to reach out and smack happy people. Maybe we all go through this once in a while.

    I hope things get better for you.

  8. @Onesimus: Jimmy Swaggart. Now that’s a name I haven’t thought of in a long time. He’s still around? Wow. I can’t imagine watching Christian television. Christian radio is hard enough.

    @Michele: Five years? Wow. That’s a long time. Oh, and as you can imagine, I’m kind of sensitive about that “Gomer” guy, since I was tortured in Junior High for having a similar last name. Thanks for the blessing.

    @PL: Welcome to Obamacare. The gift that keeps on taking. Thanks for the best wishes and prayers.

    @Mary: You’re welcome. Haven’t heard of Hebrew Nation or Lamb Radio. Have to look them up. I have heard of Chavah Messianic Radio but they’re only available online and I only listen to the radio in the car.

    @Kathy: That would be Sisyphus although that story is also more broadly applied to any laborious and futile task. Thanks.

  9. James, I’m sorry to hear of you losing your job of eight years. I had lost my job of twenty two years back in 2010. So I know what you are feeling, especially as a man. I really enjoyed your article. You are asking some of the questions I am feeling. With all the shallowness that is being preached today, when life isn’t going the way Preachers say it should be going, has to cause one to stop and think. Does God owe us something because we are faithful and love Him? We know He doesn’t, though if we are honest with ourselves, deep down we think He should. The scripture tells us to imitate those who through faith & patience inherit the promises. But do we really want to go through the sufferings that they went through? Knowing what we believe sometimes is much easier than living it out in everyday life with people, isn’t it? Thanks for your honesty.

  10. I recommend a look at:

    Jacob Prasch…https://www.moriel.org,
    David Nathan…https://www.bolm.co.za/
    Greg Hershberg…https://www.bethyeshuainternational.com

    They help fill in my days of having no sane teaching nearby. They all have years of teaching available on YouTube, or from their websites, all three are Messianic Jews with mixed congregations. David Nathan was an Orthodox Jew out of South Africa…Greg Hershberg was a Secular Jew from the Bronx and is now in Macon,Georgia… Prasch is from NewYork, and currently is based in England, and was raised seemingly both Catholic and Jewish until Yeshua found him. All three have modest ministries that are yet worldwide because of the scattered nature of the ‘flock’ these days, all have been teaching a long time without notice being taken of them. They comfort me a lot.

    Walking in a disaster zone is all I see these days. I know no one who is not troubled with some sickness, personal loss, and lack of prosperity, as if we are all being squeezed in every possible way without actually doing us permanent damage. And yet, everyone is merely on the edge of their disaster…never quite falling completely into their particular set of trials, all unhappy much of the time, yet all getting through.

    I do not know if this is the current ‘wave’ of tribulation…the one for those Believers that are in relative safety and comfort who are not somehow able to be with other like Believers for fellowship, who need to be shown a little of just how difficult it can get, and how much we will need to lean on Abba over and over in the years to come, and on the trust that we place in Yeshua, even as we are taught of the Ruach, and not much of others.

    I only know that I am feeling my way in the darkness, and I do not know how to lighten yours, and that everything I am likely to say is equally likely to not help. Truthfully, when you are in the valley of weeping, the only one who can usher you back out again is G-d.

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