Category Archives: Repentance

Faith on a Desert Island

clouds
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Every time I see something about being a Christian in community, or a Jew in community, or especially a non-Jew in (Messianic) Jewish community, I start thinking about those of us who, for one reason or another, aren’t in community.

Many years ago, I listened to a “Messianic Jewish luminary” denigrate Gentiles who were isolated from community, and he had a point. A lot of non-Jews who have left the traditional Church for one reason or another, possess rather “fringy” theologies, and often are considered “religious nuts”. These are the kinds of people who believe faith can cure any ill, and who wouldn’t take their kid to a doctor even if he were having a heart attack. People who think taking an aspirin is a mortal sin.

But there are plenty of reasons to be disenfranchised or unaffiliated besides being mentally ill or having cult leanings.

For anyone with a “Messianic” perspective, it may be a matter of not having an appropriate venue within driving distance. In my case, it’s a little more complicated, being a Gentile believer married to a (non-Messianic) Jew.

But the most common reason we experience is that we’ve been burned, not just by the Church, but by Messianic Judaism as well.

Not to overstate the point, but Gentiles in Messianic Jewish space have traditionally been a problem, and some of us, who don’t want to be a problem, solve it by simply not showing up.

So what happens then?

Over the past few months, I’ve been satisfying my more “creative writing” desires by becoming involved in “flash fiction challenges” of various sorts. The idea is that someone posts a photo online and authors use it as an inspiration to write a very short story, anything between about 100 and 250 words. We then share our work with one another and comment.

In response to one of those challenges, I wrote The Listener.

As I finished writing it and was editing, I realized the message I was communicating was literally true of me. Various difficulties in my personal life, as well as just plain “busyness,” had resulted in my leaving the vast majority of my “religious practice” behind.

The result, among other things, was a massive piling up of anxiety and hopelessness. If God lets little kids starve all over the world, why should He care if my grandchildren are having problems? What’s the use of praying? God either knows they’re hurting and will have compassion or He won’t.

As many pundits have previously warned me, it’s hard maintaining faith outside of community, and there’s the rub.

Technically, all I should need is God, but in the history of Judaism and Christianity, at least relative to the Bible, faith has always been communal. Okay, Paul spent plenty of time alone, but he always came back (at least until he was shipped off to Rome).

I’m alone because my attending Church or anything “church-like” (such as a Messianic community) hurts my wife.

I’m alone because I’ve been burned, and more than once.

I’m alone because even if there were an appropriate community, and even if my wife didn’t mind, I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut, and 100% of the time, opening my mouth eventually ends up with me offending someone.

The religious blogosphere has been pretty peaceful lately, and I suspect that’s because the trolls and nudniks have moved on to something else, but real life is a wild west show.

We may wander away from each other, but while we can keep God at a distance, He’s always close enough to touch. He doesn’t fail. He doesn’t burn you.

Sure, He’s also incredibly hard to understand and, if you have trust issues, it’s still hard to believe everything will work out in the end, especially when kids all over the world are starved, beaten, raped, burned, and otherwise assaulted and abused on a daily basis.

I’ve got to get back. Not sure how, since a lot of my praxis is based on time I no longer have.

I feel more connected when I read/study the Bible. I feel more connected when I pray. I feel more connected when I take a deep breath and reach out to His Presence.

I feel more connected when I write here.

A lot of “religious people” can and probably will be critical of me. Fortunately, God isn’t a person. He’s always ready to welcome the prodigal son home.

Tipping Point to the End of Days

Question:

With the world appearing more and more a dangerous place, I’m wondering what Judaism has to say about the possibility of an apocalyptic final event. Does such a concept exist, and how will that play out?

The Aish Rabbi Answers in Part:

The other path is described as Messiah coming “humble and riding upon a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). In this scenario, nature will take its course, and society will undergo a slow painful deterioration, with much suffering. God’s presence will be hidden, and his guidance will not be perceivable.

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.” (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Handbook of Jewish Thought”)

“End of Days”
from the Ask the Rabbi column
Aish.com

I know a lot of religious pundits, both online and in various congregations and study groups, have tackled the question of the “end times,” so I’m probably being ridiculously redundant. On the other hand (and I’m sure I’ll get in trouble for this), as I was reading this column, I was thinking about how I, from my own (somewhat) unique point of view, see the matter.

According to the Jewish sages, the coming of Messiah can occur in one of two ways (the Aish Rabbi outlines both). The first is that the world becomes filled with love and kindness and all people everywhere bow down to and swears obedience to King Messiah. All the world has to do is engage in teshuvah (repentance) en masse and perform Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

I don’t see that scenario taking place any time soon.

The other path is as you see quoted above. Instead of Messiah entering this world and establishing his Kingdom in honor and glory, he humbly emerges on the scene riding upon a donkey. This event happens if the people of the world never get their act together, and we allow society to “undergo a slow painful deterioration, with much suffering.”

moshiach ben yosefSo there has to be a “tipping point,” so to speak, where the decision is made, when the fate of the planet is determined by worldwide human behavior and intent.

According to the sages, this tipping point occurs in the future.

But what if it has already happened?

In addition to Zechariah 9:9, consider the following:

When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your King is coming to you,
Gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!”

When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:1-11 (NASB)

The crowds seeing “the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” couldn’t possibly have missed the symbolism. No wonder they were filled with joy. The Messiah had arrived.

But here’s what was also necessary, at least as I interpret the sages:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:37-39

If the Talmudic sages are right (and I’m taking a big leap here), then when Rav Yeshua (Jesus) entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the tipping point had already arrived and the decision had been made that the world would slowly degenerate and degrade into moral chaos.

I think Yeshua’s lament over Jerusalem was his expression of sorrow of what the Jewish people would have to suffer in a world that has always hated them. No matter what they had suffered up to this point, the world was going to become so evil, that it would become progressively worse for all Jews everywhere.

hiddenMaybe this is why we don’t have prophets and miracles anymore, at least not like we saw them in the Bible including as illustrated in the Apostolic Scriptures. Because “God’s presence” is “hidden, and His guidance” is “not…perceivable.” This differs from why the “age of miracles” is believed by many Christians to have ended.

The Aish Rabbi continues (I’m repeating some of what I quoted above for emphasis):

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.” (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Handbook of Jewish Thought”)

According to the Talmud, as the Messianic era approaches, the world will experience greater and greater turmoil: Vast economic fluctuations, social rebellion, and widespread despair.

Isn’t that much of what we see happening around us today? Isn’t our society “valueless” (though it doesn’t refer to itself as such) in which the faithful are not only chided, but we also see religious groups, including churches and synagogues as well as our own government, promoting godlessness?

Of course the world of the past nearly two-thousand years has been filled to abundance with chaos, lack of ethics, cruelty, moral abandon, and our religions, including Christianity, have stood many times against the will of God rather than for it, especially in the historic treatment of the Jewish people.

But then again, if the tipping point regarding how Messiah would come was made in the early years of the First Century C.E., then from that moment on, we should have known that collective humanity wasn’t going to spontaneously repent and join together under the one Jewish King.

Of course, this only makes sense if my creative blending of scripture and Talmud actually works. I know many Jews chafe whenever a non-Jew such as myself appropriates Jewish literature and adapts it to “point” to the revelation of Rav Yeshua as the coming Moshiach.

They state that the Messiah is understood to come only once and not twice, but even though we consider him our High Priest in the Heavenly Court, in some metaphysical way, perhaps he is also still with us, humbly riding that donkey in the degenerate alleys and byways of our many cities in the world, suffering along with his people, waiting for the proper moment when the world finally collapses under the weight of its own iniquity, and then a world war of “immense proportion led by King Gog from the land of Magog” will trigger the final battle between good and evil (Ezekiel ch. 38, 39; Zechariah 21:2, 14:23; Talmud – Sukkah 52, Sanhedrin 97, Sotah 49).

The Aish Rabbi states:

What is the nature of this cataclysmic war? Traditional Jewish sources state that the nations of the world will descend against the Jews and Jerusalem. The Crusades, Pogroms and Arab Terrorism will pale in comparison. Eventually, when all the dust settles, the Jews will be defeated and led out in chains. The Torah will be proclaimed a falsehood.

Then, just when we think the story is over, the Messiah will come and lead the Jewish redemption. He will inspire all peoples to follow God, rebuild the Temple, gather in any remaining Jewish exiles to Israel, and re-establish the Sanhedrin. (Maimonides – Melachim ch. 11-12)

fall of jerusalemIt’s telling that one of the predictions, according to the sages, is that the nation of Israel will ultimately be defeated, the Jewish people will once again be in chains, and the “Torah will be proclaimed a falsehood.”

I can imagine that a good many Christians and Jews will have their faith crushed when Israel is vanquished in the final war and yet the Messiah does not come (or Jesus doesn’t come back). However, the Church has already declared the Torah as a falsehood, at least the way Jews understand it, as has Islam, so it’s not hard to imagine that Israel’s enemies won’t just be the secular governments, but Muslim nations and Christians as well.

That’s a rather sobering thought. That means any of us who continue to support Israel through these times will be enemies of many nations, probably including our own.

It means that even those Jews who make aliyah and those Gentile believers who are family members accompanying them or who otherwise manage to reside in the Land, are voluntarily painting a huge target on their backs, one that will bring the wrath of the entire planet down upon them and their loved ones.

“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that it may not happen in the winter. For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.”

Mark 13:14-23

I know there are some who believe Rav Yeshua was predicting the downfall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and perhaps he was, but then again, it’s possible to use a good prophesy twice. This could as well be applied to the coming destruction of Jerusalem in the final war. To my few readers in Israel, depending on when this war comes, this prophesy could well apply to you.

rusty toolsI encourage you to click the link I provided above and read what else the Aish Rabbi has to say about Messianic redemption. As I read him, it seems clear that he still believes things could go either way. Either the world still has time to come together and summon the Messiah in peace, or we could still plunge into darkness, war, and chaos.

Assuming the Jewish sages are correct, I believe the decision was made long ago, and that for the past twenty centuries, the world has been slowly eroding, like the banks of a river being gradually washed away, or a collection of tools abandoned in some workshop and crumbling into rust as the years pass.

For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

Matthew 24:37-39

Just as it was in the days of Noah as the flood approached, so it is today, and so has it been for almost two-thousand years. Life has seemed “ordinary,” but there are days ahead when we will dispair.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski wrote a commentary on Psalm 51:5 about King David and making teshuvah, even for sins which may be the result of some in-born character trait. If David was born with the biological nature to have great passion, and that passion led him to sin with Batsheva, it was still his responsibility.

In making teshuvah before Hashem, David takes personal responsibility for his sins rather than blaming other people or circumstances. Granted, he goes through many things, including the death of his first child by Batsheva, before arriving at this point, but he did arrive.

The same can be said for you and me. Moshiach is not here yet. We still have time. However, time may be very short. We don’t know, of course, but why wait? Make teshuvah now and serve God as if the war will begin tomorrow and you will lose time and your life.

The Aish Rabbi finishes his essay this way:

Despite the gloom, the world does seem headed toward redemption. One apparent sign is that the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel and made it bloom again. Additionally, a major movement is afoot of young Jews returning to Torah tradition.

By the way, Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity and Islam is part of God’s plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer to a perfected state of morality and toward a greater understanding of God. All this is in preparation for the Messianic age.

MessiahThe Messiah can come at any moment, and it all depends on our actions. God is ready when we are. For as King David says: “Redemption will come today – if you hearken to His voice.”

While we may not be able to avert the disaster of a morally decaying world and an impending and catastrophic world war which will destroy Jerusalem, we can prepare ourselves for those times by learning the Torah as it applies to each of us, whether as a Jew or a non-Jewish disciple of the Rav. When the horrors have finally passed, as the Rabbi states quoting King David, then there will be redemption for us, if we have hearkened to His voice.

The Price of Admission

Most of all though, I’ve outgrown something that simply no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in.

If religion it is to be worth holding on to, it should be the place were [sic] the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge.

It should be the place where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show.

John Pavlovitz
“My Emancipation From American Christianity”
John Pavlovitz: Stuff That Needs To Be Said

I’ve never heard of this guy before today, but apparently he’s a big deal. Not only is he a blogger, but he’s a blogger with 16,759 followers (as of this writing), one who’s been featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed, and just the one missive I quoted from above has garnered (as of this writing) 211 responses (that’s up from 209 when I initially completed reading his blog post).

I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, if you’re an “18-year ministry veteran” and “proudly serve at North Raleigh Community Church” pastoring “people in the Raleigh area and throughout the world,” I suppose having such a large audience attending to your content is a good thing.

On the other hand, even with my very modest experiences in religious blogging, I know that what most often attracts attention in the blogosphere is “blood in the water,” so to speak. In other words, people love to “debate” (argue about) controversy.

helping the poorYou can click the link I provided above to see Pavlovitz’s full write-up. You’ll quickly see, even if you just read the quote at the top of my blog post, that this author has something to say that’s likely to upset more than a few Christians.

However, we should consider…

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Luke 19:1-10 (NASB)

And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50

prostitutes
Photo: krauserpua.com

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”

Matthew 21:31-32

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:14-17

As it turns out, Rav Yeshua (Jesus) really did hang out with marginalized, victimized outsiders. He associated with what was considered the dregs of society in that place at that time. Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. He was bitterly criticized for it by at least some of the Pharisees.

PhariseesGranted, it was part of the job of the Pharisees to test the many itinerant Rabbis wandering throughout Judah and the Galilee, questioning their teachings and their understanding of the Torah and traditions. But our Rav never faltered in his convictions. How could he? Yes, as fully human, he could have failed.

But if it was impossible for him to fail, why was he tested?

So we can hardly fault Pavlovitz for wanting to emulate Jesus in also ministering to those who have been rejected by our society, and especially to distance himself from the modern-day equivalents of some of the Pharisees, those whose religion requires they always condemn people who we consider latter-day “tax collectors,” prostitutes, and sinners. People who are gay, transsexuals, drug addicts, HIV positive or who suffer from AIDS. Anyone who is not “us”.

Yeshua didn’t isolate himself from these people and often, he called the religious elite of his day to repent of their sins. But I’m not quite sure Pavlovitz is on the same page as the Rav. Maybe he’s just exchanged one form of religious elitism for another.

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Granted, this is a parable, meaning it’s a metaphorical story that probably isn’t a literal, factual rendition of an event. Nevertheless, it’s intended to teach us a moral and ethical truth. What is that truth?

Which of these two men, after praying, went back down to his house justified? The sinner who sincerely repented, not the one who thought he was already righteous.

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

jewish-repentanceThis is the central message of Rav Yeshua’s ministry. Repent. Without repentance, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, alternately known as the Kingdom of God (which doesn’t mean going to Heaven to be with Jesus when you die, but entering the earthly Kingdom of Messiah when he establishes his throne in Jerusalem).

Heck, I agree with Pavlovitz about “American Christianity”. God isn’t a Republican or Democrat, He doesn’t prefer either Fox News or MSNBC. He loves humanity, all of us, not just those of a certain political or social bias.

But I think that Pavlovitz may have missed that even though God doesn’t use some American political yardstick in order to judge, He does have standards and we are all accountable to them.

He’d probably think I’m a heretic or something, because, going one step further, I don’t think the Church will inherit the Earth and then rule and reign with Jesus, I think that Israel was, is, and always will be the center of Messiah’s Kingdom.

All of those tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners didn’t keep on doing business as before when they followed their Rav. They repented and kept repenting. The prostitutes stopped prostituting. The tax collectors stopped extorting money, paid it all back, plus an amount over and above what they took (which was a requirement of thieves in the Torah).

And “sinners…?”

But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

John 5:13-14

changeAnyone who Jesus helped, anyone he healed and comforted was expected to repent and stop sinning.

I don’t know how Pavlovitz sees his marginalized and outsider populations. I don’t know what he considers sin. It’s possible to be an outcast even after you’ve repented, made a big U-turn, and ceased sinning, so maybe these are the people he means. If so, then more power to him.

I hope that’s what he means. There are quite a number of churches and synagogues in the U.S. and elsewhere that have conformed, not to they hyper-conservative politics of many Evangelical churches, but the more progressive societal norms we see associated with secularism, emphasizing love far, far above obedience to the requirements of God.

I think it’s possible for what’s been referred to as Progressive Christianity to be just as elitist and just as self-righteous as they consider what Pavlovitz calls American Christianity. In responding to one of his critics, Pavlovitz wrote:

Brad, I’ve outgrown responding angrily to those who don’t understand, or wish to attack me from a distance. Take care.

If he’s outgrown so many things, does he believe he’s somehow more righteous than his detractors? Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector again. Who shall we apply the Pharisee role to? I don’t know. I can’t read Pavlovitz’s mind.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that each one of us as people of faith have our hands full taking care of our own behavior, our own battles with sin, our own faults and imperfections to have time (if we’re willing to be honest) to judge others.

I’m just as guilty as the next person of hopping on Facebook or twitter and slamming some politician, social media pundit, or, most recently, matters of safe places and microaggressions we see plastered all over the news.

I admit it.

I also admit, having once again confronted my own personal brand of self-righteousness, that I can’t go back down to my home justified until I leave all that behind and repent, begging God’s forgiveness because I’m a sinner, too.

I really hate admitting that, but it would be far worse for me if I didn’t.

faithI do believe that we, as believers, are better people when we stop looking at others as “types” and start looking at and treating them as human beings, just as human and flawed and loved by God as we are. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pass on the message of repentance of our Rav to those around us, though. But it does mean we should do our repentance first before asking anyone else to do so.

Jesus loves…but his love isn’t blind. The price of admission into the Kingdom of God always has been repentance. Keep practicing repentance.

Who Delivers the Consequences for Sin?

Fortunate is the person who fears God, and has a great desire for His mitzvos.

Psalms 112:1

We think of fear as a negative emotion, so we try to eliminate it. We therefore lose sight of the fact that fear can also be constructive. Fear motivates us to drive cautiously even when in a great hurry, and fear makes a diabetic adhere to his diet and take his insulin daily.

Religion has often been criticized for advocating the fear of God. This criticism may be justified if we were conditioned to think of Him as an all-powerful Being holding a huge club, ready to beat a sinner to a pulp for doing something wrong. All ethical works discourage the use of this type of fear as motivation. Rather, fear of God should be understood to mean the fear of the harmful consequences that are inherent in violating His instructions. The Psalmist says that wickedness itself destroys the wicked person (see Psalms 34:22).

“Fortunate is the person who fears God,” in the sense that “he has great desire for His mitzvos” (Psalms 112:1). It is only natural for one to desire the very best, and the realization that observing the mitzvos is indeed in one’s best interest should constitute the “fear” that should deter someone from transgressing the Divine will.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that observance of the mitzvos is in my best interest, and that I should fear transgressing the mitzvos in the same way I fear any injurious act.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day”
Aish.com

I blame myselfI’ve been thinking about this in terms of my own shortcomings, my own fears, and my own relationship with God and with other people.

In the Church, there’s this implicit idea that God punishes sin, and if you step out of line, you will be struck down by God in some manner. Keep stepping out of line, and you’ll be sent on a one-way trip to Hell without an electric fan.

That’s a really good reason to be afraid of God.

But as Rabbi Twerski describes it, the “fear” of God should take the form of a deep respect for the Creator of the Universe and a corresponding desire to obey Him. In fact, to repeat part of the above-quoted passage:

This criticism may be justified if we were conditioned to think of Him as an all-powerful Being holding a huge club, ready to beat a sinner to a pulp for doing something wrong. All ethical works discourage the use of this type of fear as motivation. (emph. mine)

While in traditional, fundamentalist Christianity, the “fire and brimstone” approach is supposed to be our prime motivator for not sinning and walking the straight and narrow, in Judaism, it is ethically unsustainable to use fear of harm and punishment from God to drive us to proper behavior.

Instead, what we “fear” is the natural consequences of our misbehavior.

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

John 5:14 (NASB)

It would seem that Rav Yeshua (Jesus) agrees with this perspective. How about the Apostle Paul?

In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 5:4-5

consequences
Credit: NPR.org

So is Paul advocating for the sinner to literally be dragged to the gates of Hell and handed over to the Adversary to be physically destroyed? Probably not. This is just a guess on my part, but it sort of sounds like Paul is willing to give the sinner enough rope to hang himself with, so to speak.

It comes back to consequences. Drink enough alcohol or do enough drugs, and you’ll destroy your body. View enough “adult material,” and you’ll destroy your marriage. Spend enough money gambling or even just binge buying a bunch of stuff you don’t need and can’t afford, and you’ll destroy your family’s finances.

Or as the Psalmist said, “…wickedness itself destroys the wicked person.”

In most cases, you won’t have to wait for some sort of supernatural intervention. You’ll turn your life into a pile of doggy doo all by yourself…

…or myself.

But if you have the power to destroy your own life, you also have the power to save it.

I’ve always been mystified when I hear Christians saying things like “I turned it all over to the Lord,” or “The Lord released me from my bondage to [fill in the blank].”

How in the world did they perform an action that sounds like a symbolic or even a hypothetical concept?

I think it means that the person finally trusted God so completely that he/she was willing to endure the consequences of making teshuvah (repentance or turning away from sin and back to God), believing that those consequences, no matter how difficult in the short run, would be ultimately beneficial in the long run.

wheelbarrowI suppose “I turned it all over to the Lord” is “Christianese” for expressing an act of great trust in God that, no matter what the consequences, teshuvah will always be the better course of action than living with the consequences of sin.

So God isn’t a mean old man with a club waiting to beat us half to death the second we step out of line. He’s a Father and a Teacher, guiding us in a particular direction and letting us know the consequences of each action we take. What He won’t do is override our free will. We have to choose the right path because, right or wrong, we are responsible for the consequences.

The longer we sin, the greater the consequences, or as our Rav put it so long ago, “do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

The Simplicity of a Life of Holiness

On the heels of writing yesterday afternoon’s meditation, I realized this whole “Judaicly aware Gentile on a deserted island in search of God” thing is really quite overblown.

That I have a relationship with God as an individual non-Jew is hardwired into every human being including me. It’s a matter of making teshuvah continually, repeatedly or constantly turning back to God, and then pursuing that relationship in whatever flawed and imperfect way I can, day by day, for the rest of my life.

There’s no complex praxis or ritual involved. We know that the Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) prayed at the set times of prayer, which likely means he prayed three times a day. He also gave much charity to the Jewish people. His prayers and acts of charity were recognized by God, much as Abraham’s faith in Hashem was considered to him as righteousness.

Having a relationship with God, for anyone, is a matter of allowing your day-to-day life to reflect righteousness and holiness. How? It’s not that complicated. Do good things to other people.

Pick up a piece of litter. Hold a door open for someone trying to enter a building behind you. Be kind to everyone you meet. Give to charity. Volunteer to help others in some capacity, such as at a food bank.

Give thanks to God for all you have, whether in plenty or poverty. Be content with everything that comes to you, for it’s all from the hand of God.

As far as it’s up to you, live at peace with everyone.

kindnessReally, if you can’t figure out what you can do to be a good person and a good servant to people in your family, people in your community, and a good servant to God, you haven’t been paying attention to your faith.

This is what I mean about the practices of Messianic Judaism sometimes being a distraction to those non-Jews involved. Admittedly, Hebrew prayers spoken and sung by people who are fluent (and musical) sound incredibly beautiful to me…and are far beyond my linguistic and tonal abilities.

But will God not hear my prayers if they aren’t in Hebrew or if I can’t carry a tune in a paper sack?

Admittedly, many parts of the prayer service and Torah service on Shabbat appeal to me, but let’s face it. I’m not Jewish. As far as I know, there’s no commandment for the goyim to daven in a minyan. If I pray alone, in English, is God going to ignore me? He didn’t ignore Cornelius.

So many “Judaicly aware” Gentiles are worried about how to perform this mitzvah or that, but they are (and I have in the past) making their lives so much more complicated than they have to be.

If you don’t have your hands full just resisting your evil inclination and striving to follow your good inclination, then either you are a bonafide saint or you’re delusional.

But I’ve been casting myself as outside of community, just me, a Bible, and God. What if I should find myself in a church or synagogue (or where ever) on occasion?

No problem. Do what the locals do. Stand up when the congregation stands up, sing when they sing (or sing softly if you have a voice like mine), if some part of the service is in Hebrew and you don’t know Hebrew, don’t say or do anything.

loveIn Sunday school or some other social gathering, be polite and friendly, but don’t offer any opinions or otherwise shoot your big mouth off (this is one of the reasons I don’t belong in community, because I can’t keep my mouth shut).

The principles behind living a life of holiness before God as a Gentile aren’t particularly hard. The only really hard thing is actually living up to that life of holiness. That takes a lifetime of practice, and no one gets to be perfect at it…

…least of all, me.

Lessons in Christian Repentance on Yom Kippur

Adam trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain.

Then he stopped, spun around and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! You had this all planned! You put that fruit there knowing I would eat from it! This is all a plot!”

There was no reply.

Without failure, we can never truly reach into the depths of our souls. Only once we have failed can we return and reach higher and higher without end.

Beyond Eden.

“Failure”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I previously said that in examining what the Bible says about how we non-Jews are to relate to God, I’d be staying mainly in the Apostolic Scriptures, since righteous Gentiles in the Tanakh (Old Testament) aren’t specifically oriented to Yeshua (Jesus).

However, since I’m writing this just before the start of Yom Kippur, and given that Adam, the first man, could not be considered Jewish but had a direct relationship with Hashem, I thought I’d write a little about how we Gentiles can fail and then return to God.

According to the above-quoted statement from Rabbi Freeman, God planned for Adam and Havah (Eve) to fail. Well, maybe He did and maybe He didn’t. However, if we believe God knows everything and is not bound by time or causality, then certainly before He “laid the foundations of the Earth,” He knew Adam and Havah would partake of the one thing in Eden that was forbidden to them.

So from Adam’s point of view, maybe it’s true that God “planned” for them to fail.

exileI can only imagine that, since they had nothing else to compare it to, Adam and Havah rather took their relationship and intimacy with God for granted…that is until it was severely damaged by their fall.

Is God as concerned about the sins of the Gentiles and their potential for repentance as He is for the Jews? A traditional Christian would automatically answer “yes,” but what would a Jew think? My opinion, based on a lot of years of study, tells me that most observant Jews would believe that God is more concerned about the spiritual state of the Jewish people than of Gentiles (and particularly Christians).

But is this true?

In an absolute sense, unless we can read God’s mind, so to speak, we can’t know.

However, we can take an educated guess and Yom Kippur sets the stage for this.

A day or so ago, I read an article called Jonah and the Whale: Why the Book of Jonah is Read on Yom Kippur. The question is why is this particular book read on Yom Kippur, the most Holy Day of the Jewish year?

The Book of Jonah is read in the synagogue on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the sacred Day of Atonement. Why, of all books in the Bible, this book this most holy day?

The answer is clear. The major themes of the book are singularly appropriate to the occasion—sin and divine judgment, repentance and divine forgiveness.

What is remarkable is that the work is not at all about Israel. The sinners and penitents and the sympathetic characters are all pagans, while the anti-hero, the one who misunderstands the true nature of the one God, is none other than the Hebrew prophet. He is the one whom God must teach a lesson in compassion.

JonahIt’s actually an astonishing revelation when you think about it. Almost without exception, only Jews observe Yom Kippur in any fashion at all, and yet, we see in the reading of the Book of Jonah, that the main objects of God’s concern for repentance, redemption, and reconciliation are a large group of pagan Gentiles. Further, the only Jew involved is reluctant to be an agent of redemption for these Gentiles, so much so that he literally “jumps ship” in attempting to get away from his responsibilities.

The brief article goes on to say:

It is precisely these aspects of this sublime prophetic allegory, and in particular the subthemes of the book, that inform Yom Kippur. These motifs attracted the ancient Jewish sages and led them to select Jonah as one of the day’s two prophetic lectionaries (The other is Isaiah 57:14–58:4). Its universalistic outlook; its definition of sin as predominantly moral sin (The “evil” of Jonah 1:2 is defined as injustice in Jonah 3:8); its teaching of human responsibility and accountability; its apprehension that true repentance is determined by deeds and established by transformation of character (Jonah 3:10), not by the recitation of formulas, however fervent; its emphasis on the infinite preciousness of all living things in the sight of God (Jonah 4:10–11); and, finally, its understanding of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness” (Jonah 4:2)—all these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur.

The “universalistic outlook” to how sin is defined as primarily moral, human responsibility and accountability to God, and how repentance is accessible to everyone through deeds and established by transformation of character.

So for the Gentile as well as the Jew, God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness.”

While the essay’s author Nahum Sarna states that “these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur,” we also see (apparently) that these “noble ideas” are equally applied to Gentile repentance and reconciliation to God.

As I said some months ago, we aren’t so much chopped liver after all. Although God sent a Jewish prophet (yes, in the Bible, we do find a few non-Jewish prophets) to redeem Gentile Nineveh, God’s primary purpose was to redeem Gentile Nineveh.

And guess what? Everyone, from the King down to the lowliest commoner, mourned, fasted, and repented and were subsequently forgiven by God.

I was explaining to someone at work, a Christian (we were discussing Yom Kippur), how the process of repentance and forgiveness of willful sin was the same in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the days of the Temple as it is today. There was no sacrifice for willful sin. Psalm 51 teaches us that how we are to repent hasn’t changed over time.

praying aloneThe Book of Jonah teaches us that a Gentile is of just as much concern to God as a Jew and that He seeks repentance from all.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NASB)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

So non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah can take heart and realize we too have our hope in the God of Israel, because, no matter how special Israel is to God, all people, even the lowliest from the nations, are special to Him (though probably not in the same way as Israel) as well.

One of the unintentional messages I think some non-Jews think they hear from Messianic Judaism is that in Israel’s specialness to God, we non-Jews who are “Judaically aware” are pretty non-special as well. I think that’s why some Gentiles have chosen to leave Messianic Judaism and either transition to Hebrew Roots, which they may see as more egalitarian, or return to Church, which is very much a “pro-Gentile” environment.

It’s also probably one of the reasons some Gentiles who have been involved in Messianic Judaism, have rejected Messiah and converted to (usually) Orthodox Judaism.

Jonah's KikayonHowever, the non-Jewish believer, whether they are Judaically aware or not (although such awareness gives we Gentiles, in my opinion, a better and more accurate understanding of the Bible), even isolated from community on some metaphorical deserted island, can be comforted by the fact that God wants us to return to Him, too.

In creating the whole of existence, G‑d made forces that reveal Him and forces that oppose Him—He made light and He made darkness.

One who does good brings in more light. One who fails, feeds the darkness.

But the one who fails and then returns transcends that entire scheme. He reaches out directly to the Essential Creator. Beyond darkness and light.

And so, his darkness becomes light.

“Returning Light”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org