Tag Archives: Brother Yun

The Heavenly Man: A Book Review

heavenly-manOne day we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be required to account for our lives. Now is the time to repent, before it is too late! “In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Dear friend, if you sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit tugging at your conscience, then fall on your knees and cry out to God from a repentant heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to take full control of your life and to help you daily walk in humility and dependence on Him.

-Brother Yun (with Paul Hattaway) from “Repentance,” pg 21
The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun

Those are the final words that appear in Brother Yun’s book, which are actually from another book by Brother Yun and placed after the index to provoke interest in Brother Yun’s teachings. In reading them, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this:

Then a certain sage arose to test him and said, “Teacher, what should I do to take possession of eternal life?” He said to him, ‘What is written in the Torah? How do you read it? He answered and said, “Love HaShem your God with all your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength, and with all of your knowledge – and your fellow as yourself.” He said to him, “You have answered well. Do this and live.”

Luke 10:25-28 (DHE Gospels)

The words of the Master sum up Brother Yun’s life well (not that Brother Yun isn’t still with us). In reading his book we see the story of a young and powerful disciple of the Master, a boy in China, just barely 16 when he first encounters Christ, and the amazing tale of his progression as a teacher, a Pastor, and an emissary for the Lord throughout the hazardous expanse of Communist China from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. How many times was Yun (actual name Liu Zhenying) sought after by the authorities as a fugitive from the law for the “crime” of preaching the Gospel? How many times was he arrested, tortured, beaten, starved, ridiculed, tried, imprisoned, and left to rot in some filthy cage? How many times did he cry out to Jesus, not for his own sake, but for the sake of his family, his fellow prisoners, even for those guards and officers who were abusing him?

Even after his eventual escape from China to Germany and the west, how many trials did he suffer? How long was he separated from his family who he had to leave behind in China? How much did they suffer even after they left China but were trapped in Myanmar? Even in the west, the stories that came out of China about his struggles, about the many miracles Yun had witnessed and been a part of, about the amazing movement of the Holy Spirit that enabled thousands and even millions of Chinese citizens to hear the Gospel when Bibles were in short supply and when very little was known about God, the Christ, and the holy scriptures, how many Christians disbelieved and called Yun a liar?

I have to admit, the more “supernatural” aspects of his story seem amazing and even farfetched to me too, but perhaps we don’t see miracles in our lives because we don’t depend on God so strongly for mere day-to-day survival. We aren’t in a Communist prison, tortured daily, exposed to horrible diseases, beaten not only by guards but by our fellow prisoners, dragged through human filth, barely fed, and all the while, commanded by God to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are not only his enemies but ours.

The vast majority of the book is a chronicle of what it is like to be a Pastor and an evangelist in a country where even owning a Bible and declaring yourself a Christian is a crime punishable by many years in prison or even death. This was brother Yun’s life for nearly thirty years and it illustrates the stark contrast between the life of an outspoken and courageous believer in atheist China and the comfortable lifestyle of Christians in America.

Beyond what you might expect from such a life story, two points stood out…well, three, but I’ll get to that.

The first point I’ve already talked about in a previous meditation:

However, after a few years these same mission organizations started putting other books at the top of the bags of Bibles. These were books about one particular denomination’s theology, or teaching that focused on certain aspects of God’s Word.

This, I believe, was the start of disunity among many of China’s house churches.

These booklets told us we must worship in a certain way, or that we must speak in tongues to be a true believer, or that only if we were baptized in Jesus’ name (instead of in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) could we be saved. Other teachings focused on extreme faith, still others argued for or against the role of women in the church.

We read all these booklets and soon we were confused! The churches started to split into groups that believed one thing against groups that believed another. Instead of only speaking for Jesus, we also started speaking against other believers who didn’t conform to our views.

-Yun/Hattaway, pg 233

infinite_pathsThe concept of denominations was all but unknown in the world of Brother Yun and the people to whom he ministered, the majority of them being uneducated farmers and peasants. Introducing ideas like “theology,” “doctrine,” and “dogma” resulted in a terrific whirlwind of chaos and confusion in the different churches among the Chinese faithful, producing years of discord and disunity among them.

But the second thing that got my attention was this:

The path of following the Lord Jesus Christ is not an easy one. Along the way lies suffering and hardship, but nothing we experience will ever compare to the suffering Jesus endured for us on the cross.

I have a problem with the “prosperity” teaching prevalent today, which tells us if we follow the Lord we’ll be safe and comfortable. This is completely contrary to Scripture as well as to our experiences in China. In addition to serving years in prison, I’ve been arrested about thirty different times for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To follow God is a call not only to live for him, but to die for him also.

-Yun/Hattaway, pg 214

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

Romans 14:8 (ESV)

I too have been critical of prosperity theology which I believe is not only unscriptural but a cruel joke, given the lives of people such as Brother Yun.

Paul knew what it was to live a life of hardship and difficulty and ultimately to also die for Messiah. So did Peter, James, John, and the other devoted disciples. So have an army of men and women across the span of time and the history of the church who have been martyred for the sake of the gospel. Although Yun did not die in the name of Christ, he lived a life of extreme hardship, sacrificing almost everything to his faith and to teach the words of Jesus to just one more human being, and then another, and then another, and then…

I think what I took away most from Yun’s book, the final notable point he makes, is what I quoted at the very beginning of this blog post. No matter who you are, no matter where you serve God, no matter what you do, the details of every action you’ve taken will one day come to judgment. How have you spent your time? How have I? Are we really suffering for our faith? Have we really done all we can to promote the kingdom and to summon Messiah’s return?

Have we really, really repented in humility to God?

Repentance is both the first step to walking in the kingdom of God and the key to continuing in a place of obedience and submission to the Lord. The very first message Jesus proclaimed in His ministry was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17). Without a deep experience of repentance in our lives, we will continually struggle with basic sin and never mature as believers.

The Devil doesn’t care if you have served the Lord in the past. What makes him frightened is if you are living for Jesus Christ today, relying on and trusting Him right now, and being willing to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We may look like we belong in the kingdom of God, and we may be successful in tricking other people, but the all-knowing God cannot be fooled. We have to submit to Jesus as Lord and King if we want to dwell in His kingdom. We cannot trick God, whose “solid foundations stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness'” (2 Tim. 2:19).

-Yun/Hattaway, “Repentance,” pp 19-20

prayer-in-the-darkWhat more can I say? Whatever you or I may think of the validity and accuracy of certain details in Yun’s book and in his life story, the message of repentance, turning away from sin and turning toward God; the message of the suffering servant on the cross and the suffering servant of the Master in China and around the world, is the message that rings out the most clearly from the pages of this book.

Being a “Heavenly Man” isn’t a life for the faint of heart or the weak in spirit, but as Paul said:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

If you read Brother Yun’s book and take this message to heart, you’ll never look at your path of faith the same way again…at least if you are willing to be honest with yourself and with God.

Separate Paths

SeparatedHowever, after a few years these same mission organizations started putting other books at the top of the bags of Bibles. These were books about one particular denomination’s theology, or teaching that focused on certain aspects of God’s Word.

This, I believe, was the start of disunity among many of China’s house churches.

These booklets told us we must worship in a certain way, or that we must speak in tongues to be a true believer, or that only if we were baptized in Jesus’ name (instead of in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) could we be saved. Other teachings focused on extreme faith, still others argued for or against the role of women in the church.

We read all these booklets and soon we were confused! The churches started to split into groups that believed one thing against groups that believed another. Instead of only speaking for Jesus, we also started speaking against other believers who didn’t conform to our views.

-Brother Yun (with Paul Hattaway)
Chapter 20: “The Road to Unity” pg 233
The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun

“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

-Thomas Gray
“Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” (1742)

Any of this sound familiar?

Brother Yun (Liu Zhenying) is describing a situation that occurred with the Christian communities of China in 1994. Various Christian missionary organizations from other nations wanted to help the isolated and often persecuted church in China. When China’s borders started to open up in the 1980s, these missionaries took the opportunity to engage representatives of the church in China, which was broken up in to thousands of house churches for the purposes of security and anonymity in relation to a hostile government, and try to provide for the Chinese Christians’ needs. They needed Bibles…lots and lots of Bibles.

After foreign Christian missionaries were expelled from China after the advent of the communist revolution in 1948-1950, the body of Chinese believers were pretty much on their own. Only a handful of Christians possessed Bibles, including Brother Yun, and almost nothing was known about “Christian theology” except what was revealed by the Bible itself and the Holy Spirit as it was manifested in the lives of the faithful, particularly Pastors and teachers like Brother Yun. Although there were very rare encounters with a few Chinese people who self-identified as Catholic, Christianity in China had no denominational identity of any sort. The focus of Christians in China was to covertly study the Bible, covertly meet in small house churches, covertly travel to preach the Gospel where it was unknown in China, and if captured, imprisoned, and tortured, covertly teach the Gospel to other prisoners and on occasion, even to sympathetic prison guards.

No one was thinking about denominationalism and anyone who was a Christian was a brother and sister to everyone else who was a Christian. They shared the same passion for Christ, the same fear of the government, the same pattern of concealing themselves to avoid detection and arrest, and the same risk of being tried, jailed, tortured, and executed by the anti-church state.

That changed in the early 1990s, and with the knowledge that there were different theologies, different doctrines, different denominations, and different identities, all calling themselves “Christian” but sometimes differing radically from one another, the once unified church of China became fragmented and fractured, just like Christianity in the rest of the world.

We arranged for Zhang Rongliang and the leaders of this Fangcheng Church to meet with us. This was a big step because of the tension that had existed between his group and Brother Xu’s group for many years. The day before Zhang arrived we had a time for prayer. Brother Fan said, “Brother Xu, I believe the Lord has given me a word for you, but I’m not sure you can accept it.”

He continued, “I feel that when Zhang Rongliang and his leaders arrive you shouldn’t sit down with them and talk straight away. You shouldn’t even pray with them at first. When they arrive you should immediately get on your knees and wash their feet one by one.”

Brother Xu, who leads millions of believers across China, immediately responded, “I accept this as a word from the Lord. I’ll certainly wash their feet.”

Yun/Hattaway, pp 236-7

I’ve spent this past week addressing the struggle between Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots Christianity in terms of community identity and whether or not we can consider our two groups (and the multiple sub-groups contained within) at all part of the same “body of Christ.”

There are days when I have my doubts.

This isn’t quite what Brother Yun is describing, but it is related. At one point, the Chinese Christians conceptualized their identities as Christians in fundamentally the same way. They just didn’t know any better. Then, with the awareness of denominationalism, split after split occurred, and the only way to even begin the healing was through an act of humility, much as what the Master performed upon his own disciples shortly before his crucifixion and death.

washing-feetIn the case of Brother Xu and Zhang Rongliang, it almost didn’t work. When the different groups of Chinese Christian leaders got together in the same room, discussions degraded and old arguments resurfaced. Zhang flew into a rage and almost stormed out before Brother Fan pushed Brother Xu into hurriedly getting some water and kneeling in front of Zhang to wash his feet. It took years to unify most of China’s churches again but the effort wasn’t totally successful, at least in the short run. However, by the beginning of the 21st century, most of China’s estimated 58 million Christians were unified as brothers and sisters, averting the disaster that came about with the knowledge of “differences.”

But the problem isn’t the same in the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots Christianity space. Jews are different by design…God’s design. Finding a way to integrate Gentiles into a Jewish religious movement and yet have the Gentiles retain their identity, not requiring that they convert to Judaism, was and is something of a chore. I personally don’t believe it was ever completely accomplished in Paul’s lifetime, and not that soon afterward, the whole thing disintegrated (though it took a few centuries to finish it off) into a Jewish religion that did not believe the Messiah had yet come, and a Christian religion that believed the Jewish Messiah came, rejected the Jews for rejecting him, and took upon himself the Gentiles instead. When the Christ returns, it is generally believed he will reward his faithful Gentile Christians and judge the unbelieving Jews.

What a mess.

I still don’t have an answer but I have a vague sense of an ideal. The ideal is that somehow, in some way, the Jewish sheep and the Gentile sheep will be able to enter the same room and without too much discord, be able to have a conversation. In some way, we’ll be able to discuss what we have in common and not just what makes us different (and was drives us apart). In some way, we will all seek to encounter God and we will all seek joy in Him in a way that is universal.

Imagine what it would be like to speak to the wisest, most powerful being in the universe.

Realize that when you pray, you are doing just that. As you talk in prayer, nothing else in the world exists for you but Him and you. Talk to Him with the ease you talk with your father. At the same time, maintain complete awe and respect.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Proper Prayer

When you personally are happy, it doesn’t make any difference what others have. So the way to counteract envy is to increase your own level of joy.

By mastering joy, you will become free from envy.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Joy Removes Envy Of Others

I believe fear of assimilation and marginalization within the Messianic movement drives Messianic Judaism to strive with great effort to preserve their Jewish identity. The history of the church has certainly shown us that such Jewish fear is well founded and that supersessionism, otherwise known as replacement theology or completion theology, is something, in all its forms, to be resisted, battled, and defeated.

I believe that a lack of recognition of the Jewish source of Christian faith, and frankly, envy of Jewish “chosenness” has led some factions within Hebrew Roots to claim the full Torah mitzvot for themselves. Even if these factions deny attempting to usurp an actual Jewish identity, modeling your life on modern Jewish synagogue worship practices and recognizing zero differentiation between Gentile and Jewish believers within the body of Messiah amounts to taking away another kid’s toys just because that kid has them and you want them.

OK, both of those examples were of extremist positions but things can be pretty “extreme” in the world of religion. The Chinese Christians had nothing to fight about until the very concept of differences and distinctions within Christianity was introduced from outside of China. You might think that Hebrew Roots has the right idea from that example and say that the “cure” for the Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Roots conflict is also to eliminate distinctions, form a unity movement, and to start washing each other’s feet (washing away uniqueness and identity along with the dust of the road).

But as far as I can tell, there were no Jewish believers in China. Brother Yun’s book doesn’t address the issue. The problems and the practice of Christianity in China over the forty or so years his book covers had wholly different priorities.

But it also presents a kernel of truth. Distinctions being what they are, we all either need to find some common ground upon which to walk and talk with each other, or we might as well accept the denomination solution that has been alive and well within both Christianity and Judaism for many centuries and agree to disagree, form our own groups, and be happy inside of them.

Do Orthodox Jews complain about Reform Jews? Do Protestants complain about Catholics?

separation-east-and-westProbably.

Even if I went around washing everyone’s feet in the blogosphere, I doubt that it would result in the sort of healing that Brother Yun describes in his book. The only healing I know how to accomplish is my own, and even that is a monumental task. Rabbi Pliskin describes how prayer can connect each of us to God and dispel petty bickering, envy, and unhappiness, replacing them with awe, respect, and joy.

I can’t control anyone reading this blog. I can’t stop caring about you and what happens to you, but I can’t affect your lives in any way, shape, or form unless you allow it on some level. I probably shouldn’t even try because trying only contributes to my own lack of peace, blunting my joy in the realization of God.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 (ESV)

“Hope never abandons you, you abandon it.”

-George Weinberg

Walk whichever path that you will. Peace.

Ki Tisa: The Doors of the Temple

moses-and-the-tabletsFraming the epic events of this week’s sedra are two objects—the two sets of tablets, the first given before, the second after, the sin of the golden calf. Of the first, we read:

The tablets were the work of G‑d; the writing was the writing of G‑d, engraved on the tablets.

These were perhaps the holiest objects in history: from beginning to end, the work of G‑d. Yet within hours they lay shattered, broken by Moses when he saw the calf and the Israelites dancing around it.

The second tablets, brought down by Moses on the tenth of Tishri, were the result of his prolonged plea to G‑d to forgive the people. This is the historic event that lies behind Yom Kippur (the tenth of Tishri), the day marked in perpetuity as a time of favor, forgiveness and reconciliation between G‑d and the Jewish people. The second tablets were different in one respect. They were not wholly the work of G‑d:

Carve out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

Hence the paradox: the first tablets, made by G‑d, did not remain intact. The second tablets, the joint work of G‑d and Moses, did.

-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
“Two Types of Religious Encounter”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Chabad.org

I don’t know if this seems so mysterious to me, even if I hadn’t read the rest of Rabbi Sacks’ article. I’ve always imagined that many of the acts of God were really committed through a “partnership” between Him and humanity. Certainly (in my opinion) the Bible is less of a document dictated by God into the ears of its passive writers and more of God stirring the spirit within each of the authors, allowing those people to pour out their witness, their drive, their passion onto the rest of us. God didn’t tell Paul word for word what to put in his letters, nor do I suspect that He personally crafted the Psalms or the Proverbs. Humanity must have a stake in what is holy or we can’t be part of it at all.

Hence Moses and God at Sinai with the tablets.

Hence Liu Zhenying, also known as Brother Yun, in China.

My mother had never learned to read or write, but she became the first preacher in our village. She led a small church in our house. Although my mum couldn’t remember much of God’s Word, she always exhorted us to focus on Jesus. As we cried out to him, Jesus helped us in his great mercy. As I look back on those early days, I’m amazed at how God used my mother despite her illiteracy and ignorance. The direction of her heart was totally surrendered to Jesus. Some of today’s great house church leaders in China first met the Lord through my mother’s ministry.

At first, I didn’t really know who Jesus was, but I’d seen him heal my father and liberate our family. I confidently committed myself to the God who had healed my father and saved us. During that time I frequently asked my mother who Jesus truly was. She told me, “Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for us, taking our sins and sicknesses. He recorded all his teachings in the Bible.”

I asked if there were any words of Jesus left that I could read for myself. She replied, “No. All his words are gone. There is nothing left of his teaching.” This was during the Cultural Revolution when Bibles could not be found.

-Brother Yun (with Paul Hattaway)
Chapter 2: A Hunger Fulfilled, pg 26
The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun

brother-yunIt seems as if God leaves “gaps” in his plan for humanity that only human beings can fill. There would be no stone tablets without Moses, and there would not have been many of “today’s great house church leaders in China” without Brother Yun’s mother. Brother Yun first came to faith at the age of 16 in 1974. As mentioned above, this was during the Communist “Cultural Revolution” and Christianity was illegal in China. If a person were found to be a Christian and particularly to possess a Bible (they were almost non-existent in China in the 1970s), the Bible would be burned and the person imprisoned and tortured, the Government demanding that the Christian renounce his faith. Often prisoners died under torture or through some other means while in captivity. Nevertheless there were courageous souls in China, including in impoverished Henan Province, who knowing next to nothing of who Jesus is and anything that was written in the Bible, still believed, and prayed, and had faith.

I’ve only just started this book, but as I tore into the opening pages, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the early churches that Paul had started and nurtured. In one sense, having visits from Paul and reading his letters for support, the former pagan believers and God-fearers turned disciples seem much better off than 16-year-old Liu Zhenying and his family. His mother had come to faith as a young woman thanks to Christian missionaries, but this was before the Communists came to power. The Christian missionaries…all Christian missionaries had either been put in prison or forced out of China by 1950, so whatever faith and learning Brother Yun’s mother possessed, atrophied and finally died…or almost.

Still the “early church” in the first century may not have experienced too much more of an advantage than the church in China in the mid-1970s. If there was a Jewish synagogue in the community that welcomed or at least tolerated the Gentile disciples of “the Way,” they could sit and hear the Torah and the Prophets being read and taught, daven the traditional prayers, and share some fellowship with the Jewish community. If not, such as with Lydia and the devout women in Philippi (see Acts 16:11-15), the Gentile believers would have to meet together without such support or encouragement and carry on as best they could. Full knowledge of the scriptures would probably not be available, and worship of God would be a matter of what could be remembered from the synagogue. But worship would be much more about the faith and endurance each of the worshipers could summon by the grace and Spirit of God.

God and man in partnership, meeting somewhere in between life, death, and infinity, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven a little bit closer to earth one day at a time.

The Jewish mystics distinguished between two types of divine-human encounter. They called them it’aruta de-l’eyla and it’aruta de-l’tata, respectively “an awakening from above” and “an awakening from below.” The first is initiated by G‑d, the second by mankind. An “awakening from above” is spectacular, supernatural, an event that bursts through the chains of causality that at other times bind the natural world. An “awakening from below” has no such grandeur. It is a gesture that is human, all too human.

-Rabbi Sacks

On 1 September 1901, a large ship docked in Shanghai Port. A young single lady from Norway walked off the gangplank onto Chinese soil for the first time. Marie Morsen was one of a new wave of missionaries who, inspired by the martyrdoms of the previous year, had dedicated themselves to full-time missionary service in China.

Monsen stayed in China for more than thirty years. For a time she lived in my county, Nanyang, where she encouraged and trained a small group of Chinese believers that had sprung up.

Marie Monsen was different from most other missionaries. She didn’t seem to be too concerned with making a good impression on the Chinese church leaders. She often told them, “You are all hypocrites! You confess Jesus Christ with your lips while your hearts are not fully committed to him! Repent before it is too late to escape God’s judgment!” She brought fire from the altar of God.

-Yun/Hattaway, pg 19

christian-devotionI’ve spent a good deal of time on my blog lately talking about Jewish identity, Torah obligation, healing the rift between the different shredded bits of flesh that, if put back together, would become the body of Christ, but sometimes it’s just good to “get back to basics.” What if you didn’t know what you know? What if you had never even seen the Bible? What if you only knew just little bits and pieces about who Jesus is and what he’s supposed to mean in your life…and yet you still possessed a dynamic, consuming, passionate faith that could lead you anywhere God called you to go?

So far, that’s what I’m finding in Brother Yun’s book. Maybe that’s what was taking place in the lives of many of the former pagan Gentiles who had come to faith but who, unlike the God-fearing Gentiles, had never spent much time in a synagogue, never seen a Torah scroll, and who had only bits and pieces of information about the foreign “Messiah” who died, not just for the Jews, but for the Greeks, the Romans, and everyone else in the world.

Brother Yun’s story also reminded me of another prisoner.

“[A]fter all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ.”

Pastor Saeed Abedini
from a letter he wrote as a prisoner in Iran

People are put in prison for their faith and we believers on the blogosphere argue about theological minutiae. Men and women are beaten and tortured just because they’re Christians, and you and I complain at each other about whether or not a Gentile Christian should wear a kippah or pray with a siddur. What we consider “problems” and what we “whine” about on our blogs is nothing. There are real men and women of faith out there who know what it is to encounter God who really don’t care if they get a Shabbat rest as long as they are called to serve the Lord.

I’m not saying that many of the topics of our various debates are not worth the zeros and ones they’re printed with on the web, but I am saying that we tend to take those topics (and ourselves) way too seriously. Rabbi Sacks says:

An “awakening from above” may change nature, but it does not in and of itself change human nature. In it, no human effort has been expended. Those to whom it happens are passive. While it lasts, it is overwhelming; but only while it lasts. Thereafter, people revert to what they were. An “awakening from below,” by contrast, leaves a permanent mark.

temple-prayersEven if God chooses to “awaken us from above,” it probably wouldn’t last. I suspect that’s why we don’t see grand and astonishing miracles performed right before our amazed eyes. Miracles wouldn’t matter. In a day or a week, we’d be complaining about the same old stuff again. Only when we are open to being “awakened from below,” when we become willing partners with God, even a God we know almost nothing about, will we see miracles that will make a difference within us and more…miracles that will make a difference in the world. Am I being too dramatic?

About a week and a half ago, a friend of mine gave me Brother Yun’s book as a gift. In the western countries, we tend to take our faith for granted. We don’t have to fight for it. We’re not persecuted. Going to church isn’t a crime punishable by being sentenced to prison. Having a Bible and reading it in public won’t get us dragged off of the streets by the police and tortured in some government office.

God could accomplish everything He wants to do all by Himself. He needs nothing from us. But if He did it that way, we would have no ownership of Him, His plan, and His purpose in our lives. He acts only for our own sake, not for His. But we too must act, for a passive faith in a vain one. It is said that Messiah will build every part of the next Temple in Holy Jerusalem and construct it…all but the doors. It is said that one who puts up the doors of a house, even if he has built no other part of it, becomes owner of the house. We are expected to pull our weight, to take our part, to help repair our broken world. We are also expected to participate and be involved in what God is building, in raising David’s fallen sukkah.

We will put the doors on the Temple, and then it will be a house of prayer for all the peoples. If we didn’t, it would be God’s house, but we would be strangers in it. We are not called to be strangers, but sons and daughters of the Most High.

Everything can be done with joy. Even remorse can be with joy.

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

Good Shabbos.