My elderly Mom lives in an independent home and of course, their restrictions for the residents has been rather tight. It meant, among other things, that I couldn’t take her to church every Sunday. In fact, she hadn’t been to church for a year.
Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and macular degeneration, she can’t use a computer to attend services online. She can’t even read the Bible. About the best she could do was to find a Christian music television station and listen to hymns.
However, recently her facility eased up, and now I can take her out and bring her back without them putting her under quarantine. I got online and saw the church I take her to was holding in-person Palm Sunday services. I couldn’t get through to the church office by phone to confirm but made plans to take her anyway.
Mom was thrilled.
When we got there, only a few cars were in the parking lot. I thought I’d misunderstood the service time or sometime.
As it turned out, this was the very first time the church opened their doors for in-person services in months and I think a lot folks were hesitant to show up. Up until that Sunday, the Pastor had been recording sermons on his computer for the parishioners to access. More people started to filter in as the service began, but the crowd that day was still a bit thin.
It was even more exciting that they said masks were optional. So Mom and I “opted.” It was very liberating. That might freak a few of you out, but it felt really nice to have a choice.
They didn’t have the typical “shake your neighbor’s hand,” which was fine with me since, as a life long introvert, I can do without the “meet and greet.” Also, they just put a plate on a stool in front and anyone who wanted to donate could go up at any time during service and do so.
Mom wasn’t the only one looking forward to the Christian holiday season. Churches all over my little corner of Idaho have suffered for not being able to hold in-person services. Last Easter, our state’s governor issued a “stay at home” order right before Easter, so all services were virtual.
“I anticipate it will be a pretty emotional day tomorrow,” he [Reverend Duane Anders] said. “I’m a pretty emotional guy myself, I will probably cry through the whole service, just gathering, hearing people sing even with their masks on.”
For Foothills Christian Church in Garden City, however, in-person services never went away.
“I think that in-person services are critically important because it’s who we are as human beings,” Pastor Doug Peake said.
The video shows an officer telling the congregation that they could be fined £200 or arrested for the potential rule-breaking. He said: “This gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently. I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that though it is Good Friday, and I appreciate you would like to worship, that this gathering is unlawful, so please may you leave the building now. Thank you.”
A statement posted on the church’s website on Saturday said that they complied with the order to close the service and for people to go home, but insisted it had met all government requirements. It claimed the Met officers had misunderstood regulations on church services during the pandemic.
Fortunately, it looks like the church is going to formally complain because they believe they complied with all of the stated regulations.
I realize there’s a certain risk in meeting in person, especially if you’re part of the older population. In Mom’s church, masks were optional and some people wore them while others didn’t. The Pastor wore his when he was near people but took it off to deliver his sermon. On Palm Sunday, only a single singer/guitar player provided music, but today the choir and small band did so. None of them wore masks.
Worshiping together, as Pastor Peake stated, is very human. It’s not a license to be stupid or to ignore either medical evidence or common sense, but at some point, something’s got to give. If that London Catholic church wasn’t able to have a Good Friday service, I certainly hope they still got a face-to-face Easter.
At the end of the day, our relationship with God is personal, just between each of us and Him. But we are commanded to worship together, to support one another, to visit the sick, feed the hungry, support the lonely and grieving. At some point, we have to come together to do that.
Sad to say, but true. Well, not exactly sad. On the other hand, maybe.
I mean, I’ve had a lot to say about Easter over the years. The last time I went to Easter, or rather “Resurrection Sunday” services, I hurt my Jewish wife so much, I swore I’d never go again. It wasn’t something she said, but the morning I was about to walk out the door to go to church, the look of hurt in her eyes was absolutely profound and devastating. Ultimately, it’s part of why I walked away from church.
I would have kept my promise, too.
But then, last May, my wife and I convinced my Mom to move from Southwestern Utah up to near where we live in Idaho. Dad died a few years back, and with Mom’s progressing dementia, we weren’t able to easily meet her needs, especially nearness to family, across a nine-and-a-half hour drive one way between Boise and St. George.
One of the things I promised Mom if she’d move up here is that I’d find a nice Lutheran Church nearby and take her to services every Sunday.
And I did.
I managed to survive Christmas somehow, but as Spring approached, I realized that my promise to Mom would conflict with my (unspoken) promise to my wife.
Then COVID-19 happened (thanks, China). Now Mom is pretty much a prisoner in her room at her independent living home. Her meals are delivered to her, but between macular degeneration and dementia, she has nothing else to do but watch television. She doesn’t have a computer (and couldn’t operate one if she had it), so no video conferencing. All we can do is phone her.
So, with the churches closed (and some local governments making it illegal to even have drive-in Easter services), I don’t have to take Mom to Easter services. With her memory deficits, I don’t know if she even realizes today is Easter Sunday.
More’s the pity.
Look, I’m sure my wife would understand if I took Mom to Easter services. Heck, the one Sunday I was pushing a (paid) writing deadline, she even volunteered to take Mom to church (which is supposed to be a no-no for a religious Jew). Although, I wouldn’t get the same benefits from Easter services (I still prefer Passover, although my wife hasn’t elected to have a Seder in our home for years), my Mom would, which is why I’d go with her.
No, I can’t and she can’t.
With the above-mentioned draconian limitations on Christian worship, and people being buried in mass graves in New York City, it’s beginning to look more and more like another Holocaust.
I realize now that with the virus being used as an excuse reason for severely erasinglimiting civil liberties, that, my personal discomfort with Easter services aside (after every Passion Play, there’s a pogrom), it’s still a privilege to celebrate the resurrection.
In the shadow of approaching totalitarianism in America (is that too dramatic?), we must still believe that He is Risen, He is Risen indeed.
Something to ponder. If Jesus died on Passover and rose again a few days later (depending on your timetable), then why are most people celebrating his resurrection a whole month before Passover this year (and various other years as well)? Respectful responses are welcome. No witch hunting.
-Query from Facebook
No, this wasn’t directed at me. It was a general question tossed out into social media by a Facebook “friend” (I put that in quotes because we’ve never met face-to-face).
It’s an interesting question, but I must admit, it wasn’t the catalyst for today’s “morning meditation.” Easter was.
More specifically, my massive and total disconnect from Easter was the catalyst. For Easter, or perhaps more accurately expressed, for “Resurrection Day” three years ago, I crafted this little missive about my emotional disconnect from the event, even as I was attending Easter…uh, Resurrection Day services in a little, local Baptist church.
There were certain things I liked about the service. There were certain things I learned. But I wasn’t just gushing with joy like everyone else around me because “he is risen”.
Add to that, the memory of how my wife looked at me when I was walking out the door to go to Resurrection Day services, how crushed and betrayed she seemed, as if she found out I was cheating on her. I know I’ll never attend another Easter service in my life.
My regular readers are aware that my wife is Jewish and not a believer. More specifically, her viewpoint of Jesus, Paul, and Easter is what she learned from the local Chabad Rabbi. She would never stop me from expressing my faith in whatever way I choose, but I know it bothers her, at least on certain occasions…
She sometimes surprises me, though. She said that although she wouldn’t take me to Israel with a Jewish group, she does want me to go with a more appropriate (for me) Messianic group. I once had a passion to do that, but a lot of things dried up for me, including my sense of community.
I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s essay “The Jewish People are Us — not them” which you can find published here and which I reviewed a few years back.
Rabbi Dauermann was emphasizing that a Jewish faith in Yeshua shouldn’t result in Jewish “messianists” considering the wider Jewish community as “them” or as “the other,” the way most Christians consider “unbelieving” Jews. From his perspective (as I understand it), Jewish devotion to Rav Yeshua is very Jewish and should, if anything, result in Jewish Yeshua-disciples being drawn closer to larger Jewish community because, after all, Moshiach is the first-born of Israel’s dead, living proof that the New Covenant promise of the resurrection to Israel will indeed come to pass.
What’s more Jewish than that (and I know I’ll take “heck” from one or two Jewish critics of my blog for that question)?
But what about those of us, we non-Jewish “Christians” who stand on the Jewish foundation of the Bible, who feel a greater connection to Passover and Sukkot (Festival of Booths) than Christmas and Easter? What about those non-Jewish believers who feel more comfortable calling ourselves “Messianic Gentiles” or Talmidei Yeshua than Christians?
While Rabbi Dauermann may feel a lot closer to Jewish community than the Christian Church (and I agree, he should), does a “Messianic” perspective for a Gentile believer draw us closer to the Church or push us further away?
Simply put, because Rabbi Dauermann is Jewish, he identifies with larger Jewish community, even those who are not disciples of Rav Yeshua (which just baffles the daylights out of most Christians I’ve spoken to about it). I have a Jewish wife, so I’ve seen that dynamic in action first hand, and any thought of my denying her or forbidding her to associate with Jews (not that I would, of course), is totally revolting to me, absolute anathema.
But to reverse the equation somewhat, being a Gentile disciple of Jesus does not automatically make me think of the Church as “us” or even “me”. In fact, on Easter, I feel more apart from “Church” than ever.
Going back to the previously mentioned Facebook commentary on Easter, there have been some interesting responses. There are others like me out there who also experience the disconnect from this Christian holiday, even those who remain in the Church. Some recognize Easter as a deliberate attempt by the early “Church Fathers” to co-opt the Passover/Resurrection event for Gentiles, divorcing it from its Jewish origins and context.
Others launched into “paganoia,” often a consequence of some Hebrew Roots teachings, saying that Easter was a deliberate attempt to introduce paganism, particularly worship of “Ishtar.”
I don’t think I’d take it that far.
But I am disturbed by one thing. The resurrection of Rav Yeshua is living proof that the New Covenant promises of God to Israel (Ezekiel 37:11-14) will indeed occur, and Yeshua is the “first fruits from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Why don’t I feel connected to that?
Well I do, sort of, but it happens more on Passover and during the week of Unleavened Bread than it does at Easter, whether I’m in a church or not.
I know there are Hebrew Roots and Messianic Gentiles out there, those in their churches and elsewhere, who still have an emotional connection to Easter. These people were probably raised in a Christian setting by their Christian families or otherwise, spent enough time in a church to forge that visceral linkage.
I didn’t, not when my parents took me to church as a child, nor when I returned to Christian community as an adult.
Today being Easter punctuates for me that I consider normative Christianity as “them, not me.” I can’t say “us” because I don’t have an alternative “us” to relate to, at least not in an actual, physical form of community.
I’ve said before that I’ve given up the identity crisis that has seized so many non-Jews who are either in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots community. As Popeye famously quipped, “I yam what I yam,” even if it doesn’t have a widely recognized name or label.
For those of you who are indeed emotionally and theologically attached and even thrilled by Easter or Resurrection Day, may you use your worship to strengthen your devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and all he brings to us.
For those of you who are like me, any day is a good day to bring honor to our Rav and glory to the God of Israel. May the day come when we all merit the resurrection from the dead, and the life in the world to come.
Our people have survived for the past 3,500 years … and not by accident. We did it against all odds — Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms, Holocaust … There are perhaps 12 million Jews in the world today where by conservative demographic projections, there should be 400 million. However, they were lost to murder and assimilation. Why are we still Jews and how can we ensure our grandchildren will be Jewish?
There are questions all of us must ask ourselves: How important is it to me to be Jewish? What does it mean? Am I willing to die to remain a Jew? If I am willing to die as a Jew, am I willing to live as a Jew?
Somewhere between 90 to 96 of the present era, after the death of the last Apostle, John, we have a head-on collision as the Hebrew words of the Bible are assigned new meanings by the gentile church leaders who are products of the Greek/Roman culture. The leadership of the Church shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch and finally, Rome. By 311 CE when Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, issued the Edict of Toleration, the spiritual situation was already critical. Just think of it, Constantine, head of the greatest empire on the face of the earth at that time, became a Christian. Anything that was good enough for the Emperor was good enough for the subjects, so, Constantine began to award medals, prizes, and money to those who converted to Christianity. Would it surprise you to know that most who converted did so for the medals, prizes, and money?
-Dr. Roy Blizzard
“What Has Happened to the Church? Is it Pagan or Hebrew?” BibleScholars.org
Given that Purim begins this Wednesday (tomorrow) evening at sundown and concludes a little over 24 hours later, and Easter is this coming Sunday, the 27th, I thought their close proximity on the calendar this year justified some juxtaposition between Judaism and Christianity.
From Rabbi Packouz’s point of view, Jewish survival of a nearly endless stream of “Purim-like” genocidal events is due, not only to the love and mercy Hashem has for His covenant people, but because Jewish people throughout history have remained steadfast to community, Torah, and Talmud. It’s their dedication continuing generation after generation, to preserving Jewish life and traditions, to raising children and grandchildren to, not just be ethnically or DNA Jewish, but to have a lived Jewish experience through the mitzvot.
From Dr. Roy Blizzard’s perspective, the once united Church of Christ splintered very early in history, within less than 100 years of its inception, and since that time, has continued to fragment again and again until today we have 400+ denominations of Christianity, all vying for the right to say, “Lo, here’s Christ.”
OK, I’m being kind of negative where the Church is concerned, and I must admit that Judaism as a religious stream has also fragmented across the last two thousand years, and today is represented by multiple, competing communities. However, unlike Christianity (and to make matters worse), there are also an unnumbered population of secular and assimilated Jews who have no seeming connection to the God of their Fathers at all (obviously, a secular Christian is a contradiction in terms).
Where these two parallel trajectories across history meet, where Christianity and Judaism collide, is at the aforementioned (by Rabbi Packouz) “Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms, Holocaust” as well as “murder and assimilation.”
You don’t see too many Christian Crusades against the Jewish people these days (unless you count evangelizing the Jews as a “crusade”), but you do see a great deal of assimilation. My Jewish wife’s siblings were all assimilated, and two of them are avowed Evangelical Christians.
Is that such a bad thing? Not according to this article at the Rosh Pina Project. However, if a Jew has to come to the Jewish Messiah King by renouncing Jewish religious and lifestyle praxis and assimilate into the churches of their historic adversaries and conquerors, then I must disagree that it’s a good thing, particularly given Dr. Blizzard’s assessment of the rather poor spiritual state of the Church today.
The way R. Packouz sees it, if Jewish families want to support not only the observance of the mitzvot and Jewish religious praxis, but the continuation of the Jewish people as a population, this is what must happen:
If parents want their children and grandchildren to be Jewish, the parents must be a role model for living Jewishly. Any person I met who has positive feelings about being Jewish has told me it’s because he remembers his father making Kiddush, his mother lighting Shabbat candles, the Passover Seder. Memories, emotions and values only transfer through actions; philosophy does not pass to the next generation — unless it’s lived. Remember, a parent only owes his child three things: example, example, example!
Do you want your grandchildren to be Jewish? Then today go and buy To Be a Jew by Rabbi Hayim Donin. Read it. Make your decision. And then institute a gradual program of change that will lead to your living a fuller Jewish life. Then your children will have something that they value and want for themselves and for their children!
We actually have a copy of that book in our home and I know my wife has read it, and frankly, I wish she were more observant…much more observant.
As far as Dr. Blizzard goes, he believes that the restoration of the Church into what the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul) envisioned so many centuries ago, is possible in this manner:
I want to emphasize something before you misunderstand what I am talking about. Restoration is never going to be accomplished on a denominational level. It can only happen on an individual basis. If you are in the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, or whatever denomination, restoration can happen. It will happen as there is an increased hunger and desire on the part of God’s people for true factual information. It will happen as individuals begin to ask questions about their religious beliefs and test them against linguistic, cultural, and historical facts. The good news is that it is probably already happening to you.
I also think this is beginning to happen as small groups within their churches are becoming aware of a more Hebraic interpretation of their Bibles. Some remain in their church communities and become lone voices of restoration among their peers and the Pastoral staff, while others leave the Church altogether and either seek out like-minded souls, or lacking that, go on a solitary journey of discovery in the company of the Holy Spirit.
I wrote the blog post Standing on the Jewish Foundation of the Bible in November 2013 when I was attending a small, local Baptist church. I was having weekly private meetings with the head Pastor to discuss our relative points of view on the Bible, with him trying to turn me into a good Baptist, and me trying to enlighten him with the radically Jewish nature of the Messiah and his laser-like focus, not on the Church, but on the restoration of Israel.
Neither one of us were successful, in large part because of my conviction that the Church as it exists today, for all the wonderful things she has done, still represents a Two-Thousand Year old Mistake.
When the early non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and their Jewish mentors and teachers each demanded an ugly divorce, the Gentile Christian Church rose out of the seeming ashes of its Jewish origins and began describing a drunken course through history much as Dr. Blizzard has described.
On the flip side of the coin, the number of Jews who retained fidelity to Rav Yeshua dwindled over the decades and centuries until Jewish devotion to Yeshua as the revealed Moshiach was extinguished.
This is what made it possible for the various incarnations of the Church to persecute the Jewish people, burn synagogues, burn volumes of Talmud, burn Torah scrolls, and burn the Jewish subjects of the Jewish King, all in the”Gentile-ized” name of that King; in the name of Jesus Christ.
But the Jewish people and lived Judaism have continued to survive, in spite of the persistent spirit of Haman which has followed them across the pages of history, attempting time and again to finish what he started as we read in the Scroll of Esther (see your Bible for details).
In a tiny handful of hours, Jews all over the world will be gathering together and celebrating Jewish survival from historical and modern genocide (represented today in part by ISIS, Iran, the PLO, Hamas, CNN, Barack Obama) by the observance of Purim. And on Sunday, in sunrise services around the world, Christians will be gathering together to celebrate the meaning of a risen Christ.
Unfortunately, a nasty side effect of Easter, again, at least historically, is that “after every passion play, there’s a pogrom.” In other words, while Easter is supposed to be a celebration of life, particularly eternal life in the Kingdom of God, the crucifixion of Christ, memorialized on Good Friday (and with supreme irony, Purim ends the evening before Good Friday this year) has been expressed in harassment of the Jews because “they killed Jesus.”
I used to believe that way of thinking had gone the way of the Dodo bird, until I read of an incident that happened earlier this year:
When Catholic Memorial School, an all-boys high school in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, played Newton North High School in a closely-fought basketball game last Friday, tensions were running high among the crowd.
Fans of Newton North High, which serves the suburb of Newton, a leafy suburb known for its high academic performance and its sizeable Jewish population, teased the Catholic Memorial School for its all-boy makeup, chanting, “Where are your girls?”
As the crowd got rowdy, a group of between 50 and 75 supporters of Catholic Memorial started a chant of their own. “You killed Jesus!” they yelled at Newton’s team and supporters, repeating the slur over and over through the gym.
The Newton students fell silent, shocked and upset.
This happened within the past few months, not the past few decades. These Catholic sports fans wouldn’t have known to taunt the Jewish basketball players and their families with such an insult if they hadn’t learned it somewhere.
Perhaps there are certain corners of the Christian Church that haven’t put their houses in order yet.
Dr. Blizzard believes that the restoration of the “Hebrew” Church is happening one individual at a time, and in the present age, I believe that’s true. I also believe that there’s a war coming; a terrible war.
I believe every nation on Earth is going to turn against Israel in an attempt to finally accomplish Haman’s mission and wipe every single Jew from the face of our planet. I believe the western nations, particularly the United States, will be among those standing against Israel. I expect my neighbors, co-workers, and people I’ve worshiped with in church will be among those supporting such a war (though I hope there will also be those who will join me in opposing it).
However, the Bible tells us that when all seems lost and Israel is about to be buried for the last time, Hashem Himself will fight for her and He will win. Messiah will restore Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land, and…
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
–Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)
As such, I don’t think there will be a Church, at least as we understand the concept today, when King Messiah rules from his throne in Jerusalem. I believe there will be an ekklesia, a world-wide multi-national community of those devoted to the God of Israel, who are the disciples and servants of the Jewish Messiah King, made up of two basic people groups, Jewish Israel, and everybody else.
From Wednesday night to Thursday night, Jews around the world will celebrate continued Jewish survival in a way that looks like a cross between Halloween and April Fools Day. And without really understanding the significance from a Jewish point of view, on the very the next day, on Good Friday, Christians will commemorate the crucifixion of Christ, which has historically (and as we’ve seen, also in the current era) been used as an excuse to attempt to deprive some Jews of continued survival.
The Bible tells us the story of Purim and the meaning behind it throughout Jewish history, and in the end, Israel wins, and finally, all of Israel’s enemies, including us, will be made subservient to the nation we have forever attempted to destroy. Does this mean Purim wins over Easter, too? Well, sort of. But not actually.
Ironically, although this will elude a traditional Christian viewpoint, the resurrection of Rav Yeshua was originally supposed to be understood as the beginning of the restoration of Israel, the Jewish people, and the lived experience of Judaism through the Torah mitzvot. Only after all of that, will the rest of the world, we devoted ones from among the nations, be restored as well. Zechariah 14 paints this picture for us very clearly.
Fortunately for us, God is infinitely merciful, trustworthy, and kind. Although He could have assigned us inferior roles in the Kingdom of Messiah as a consequence of being from among the nations who declared (will declare) themselves as enemies of God’s Holy Nation of Israel, He did (and will do) this instead:
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.
–2 Corinthians 6:18
We will join ourselves to the Lord, minister to Him, love His Name, be His servants, be taken to His Holy Mountain (the Temple), be made joyful in His House of Prayer (the aforementioned Temple), our burnt offerings will be accepted, and we will all be privileged to call ourselves the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.
Our takeaway from both Purim and the Resurrection (though not necessarily the modern expression of Easter), is that we serve our Rav by celebrating the risen King Messiah who is the mediator of the New Covenant promises to provide for the continued survival of the Jewish people and the restoration of the Jewish nation as the head of all the nations (Jeremiah 31:7).
This year and every year, we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav (i.e. Christians everywhere) should celebrate Jewish survival and the Jewish state as signs of our risen King, who upon his return to us, will destroy the spirit of Haman once and for all and establish lasting peace not only for Israel, but for our contentious and weary planet. And in the end, we will finally be healed.
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
At the first seder my father would be brief, (In his explanations of the Haggada, etc.) in order to eat the afikoman before midnight. On the second night, however, he would expound at length; he began the seder before 9 p.m. and ended at about 3 or 4 in the morning, dwelling at length on the explanation of the Haggada.
The Alter Rebbe declared: The matza of the first evening of Pesach is called the Food of Faith; the matza of the second evening is called the Food of Healing. When healing brings faith (“Thank you, G-d, for healing me”) then clearly there has been illness. When faith brings healing, there is no illness to start with.
-Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory. Chabad.org
As I write this, it is still Friday morning. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous. I haven’t had a chance to practice with the Haggadah yet and given my work schedule, I doubt I’ll have the time after I get home before the seder begins.
Of course, there will just be four of us, but still, it’s important that the telling go smoothly.
In deference to the holiness of Pesach, I’m publishing this immediately after I write it, since the next opportunity won’t be until Monday the 6th.
I know I posted this in a comment my previous blog post but I want to draw more attention to these words:
Just before Purim, a non-Jewish woman asked me about the holiday. After I explained a little bit about Haman and his plan, she asked, “so Hitler wasn’t the first?” They really have no idea.
We read in the Haggadah, “for not only one has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.”
I’m a little different. Passover with Family. Easter with no one. And the imminent threat of Israel’s annihilation intensifies my faith that God will save and preserve His Holy Nation and His eternal and beloved Jewish people…people like my wife and children.
The Alter Rebbe declared: The matza of the first evening of Pesach is called the Food of Faith; the matza of the second evening is called the Food of Healing. When healing brings faith (“Thank you, G-d, for healing me”) then clearly there has been illness. When faith brings healing, there is no illness to start with.
Faith and then healing or healing then faith?
In her article, Quinn attempts to reconcile Passover and Easter, but I’m not so sure that’s even possible. I’ve heard it said that after every Passion Play there is a Pogrom. I once naively believed that was a thing of the past, but now I fear it’s not. Is it any coincidence that the U.S./Iran Nuclear Deal was sealed yesterday during Holy Week (Maundy Thursday), a deal that Al Jazerra chastises Israel for condemning?
One person commented on the Al Jazerra news story:
The Iranian People are a good people… Not like the Zionist..,, Thieves, deception kings and down right liars.
I think that sums up the attitude of their readers, their reporters, their supporters, and, Heaven help us, perhaps President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry as well.
I’ll admit to needing some healing just now. But before I can be healed, there must be faith. Passover is the story of Jewish survival in the face of overwhelming odds. At the Reed Sea, when Israel saw the Egyptians pursuing them, they were terrified (Exodus 14:10). I must remind myself of what Moses said, for it applies to every moment of Israel’s existence:
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
–Exodus 14:13-14 (NASB)
In Israel, the start of seder night is fast approaching. Here in Idaho, it should begin around 7:15 p.m. with candle lighting being at almost eight.
Easter is the story about the resurrection, the risen Messiah, who came to take away the sins of the world. What Christianity totally misses is that the hope and good news of Messiah isn’t just the promise of personal salvation, but of national rescue and restoration of all of national Israel as it is said:
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
The reason there is any meaning in Easter at all is because of what Messiah will do for his people Israel. It is my hope in the faithfulness of Messiah that Israel will not be destroyed.
But for me, faithfulness and healing is depicted more clearly in the Passover. Rabbi Menken finished his essay this way:
As the Haggadah tells us, this is the same ancient, irrational, murderous prejudice that has existed since Esav sent his son to murder Yaakov — and since Lavan, Yaakov’s father-in-law, plotted to destroy him. And that is the message of the Haggadah: keep the faith. Do what Jews have done since the beginning of our history, and “the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.”
G-d took the Jewish People out of Egypt to be His, to be close to Him and promote His vision for the world. On Passover we relive that departure from Egypt, the liberation from bondage. We break free from human limits to belong only to G-d. We know that the plans to destroy us today will not succeed, as they have failed in every generation. The Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands!
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman at Chabad.org said something similar:
We are limited by the very fact that we have human form. There is no freedom in following our whim, or even our most reasoned decisions. As a prisoner cannot undo his own shackles, so we remain enslaved to our own limited selves.
And so Moses was told, “When you take the people out from Egypt, you shall all serve G‑d on this mountain.”
What makes us free? Simple deeds done each day, as agents of the One who is absolutely free.
I’m only human. I’m very limited. I cannot free myself and am a slave to my human nature.
Except that in serving God, I can be free. That’s why Hashem, Master of Legions took His people Israel to Sinai and gave them His Torah.
The Passover Seder is a service of the heart, a service to God in obedience to the commandments. And while I, a non-Jew, am not commanded to observe the Pesach seder, as the head of a Jewish family, the duty falls to me. In the shadow of nuclear genocide, reciting the haggadah reminds me of the faith of a nation, reminds me that I must also be faithful, and reminds me of the faithfulness of Messiah.
May the Almighty heal my faith and my heart. May He continually save and fight for His nation Israel and His Jewish people.
Pastor Jackson attributes the above quoted statements to “hurting church members who failed in their attempts to discuss their grievances with the church’s leadership.” Jackson further states that people typically don’t experience conflict with other church members but “with the leadership of the church.”
I suppose that’s what happened to me. My relationship with the church’s head Pastor reached a tipping point when, in a sermon, he discounted the foundations of my understanding of the Bible, calling it a “misuse of the Law.” He also laid that at the feet of more normative Judaism as well as Seventh Day Adventists, so it wasn’t solely aimed at me.
As far as airing my grievances, I did that. I made the mistake of doing so on my blog instead of phoning or meeting with the Pastor, and that just made a difficult situation even worse. I left the church not because I had been kicked out, and not because I was so offended, I left in a huff, but because I was incompatible with church and particularly with the church leadership. I don’t think anyone was sorry to see me go.
The next highlight I have in this chapter is Jackson citing the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which the fox says of Aslan:
“He’s everything we hoped he would be.”
Unfortunately, the opposite of this sentiment is sometimes true in church.
We all have expectations of those around us. If people were truly unpredictable, our lives would be chaos. We couldn’t make plans with anyone. We have to have some sort of grasp of how our families and friends and the leaders and people in our houses of worship will react under certain circumstances.
I think a Pastor and church leadership have a certain expectation of what a person believes and stands for if they voluntarily attend their church week after week. If we choose a church or other sort of congregation, we probably do so because we expect that the leaders and members of the church think, believe, teach, and act in a certain way. It would be tough to drop a Messianic Gentile like me in the midst of a Fundamentalist Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho.
But since this is a chapter on Pastors, let me be quick to say that none of my leaving church was the leadership’s fault. They were behaving and teaching as was expected by the vast majority of the people attending that church. I was the square peg vainly attempting to fit into a round hole, or conversely, trying to convince the round pegs to at least consider the benefits of thinking and studying like square pegs.
Ah, this next point is important:
What do good spiritual leaders look like? Spiritual leaders are very important for our spiritual growth and maturity so it’s important for us to know what to look for in one. I’m very selective and protective about the people I let speak to my wife…
What I’m about to say wasn’t exactly Jackson’s point, but it relates. One of a Pastor’s jobs is to protect the flock from wolves. In spite of the fact that Randy spent nearly two years meeting with me individually and attempting to convince me of the correctness of his “sound doctrine,” in the end, I was a rogue wolf in the fold.
After a number of discussions with a young man in the Sunday school class we attended, I suggested he borrow my audio CDs of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant. He did. He listened to them. He seemed at least confused if not shocked. He asked to keep them a while longer so he could listen to the lessons again.
And when the Pastor found out about it, he was pretty unhappy with me. Based on our reading and discussing Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians together, Pastor came to the realization that he disagreed with Lancaster on just about everything. So my lending one of his flock CDs containing Lancaster’s teachings (even though Pastor had never listened to those sermons) exposed that particular “sheep” to “danger.”
As much as I disagree with his opinions on Lancaster, Pastor’s doing his job. He’s protecting the flock.
Jackson, in describing the ideal Pastor says, “First of all, he loves you.” Yes, the Pastor loves his flock and out of that love (just as Jackson loves his wife), he’s protective and will defend them.
Jackson’s point in mentioning this love is that it’s healing. A hurting believer having the Pastor notice and love them will help heal that hurt. But going back to what I said earlier, the basic theology and doctrine of Pastor and church goer must be what the other expects and desires.
Jackson also describes the ideal Pastor as transparent. He must be approachable and human rather than someone who dwells on high in an ivory tower dispensing holy decrees. Yes, Pastor was approachable and probably as transparent as a human being can be and still have healthy boundaries. I wouldn’t say he was nonjudgmental, as Jackson would have us believe of ideal Pastors. Not that he beat people over the head with his Bible, but he definitely had a firm sense of right and wrong doctrine, and he stuck to his guns.
An ideal Pastor, according to Jackson, “sees the greatness in you.” I think Pastor saw potential in me, but doing anything about it was contingent upon being convinced of his “sound doctrine” so that I’d be safe within the fold. So although Jackson says the ideal Pastor is not controlling, it’s tough to exercise your role as protective shepherd without maintaining control of who has access to them and under what conditions.
This next statement I thought was a bit over the top:
When he speaks, it is as if God Himself was speaking to you.
I think Jackson means the ideal Pastor is “Christ-like” in his love, compassion, and understanding of the people in his flock, not that he’s all-seeing, all-knowing, and commands one hundred percent of everyone’s respect and obedience.
…there is no human leader who can fully provide all that we need as growing disciples of Jesus. We need Him.
“Him,” in this context, is God.
And so Jackson urges his readers to realize that Pastors are also human, what he calls “tools of destiny,” and he wants us to know that someday, some of us may be in church leadership, which will further help us understand the responsibilities faced by our Pastors. Jackson also said that, given this, he urges reconciliation with church leaders when there’s a problem, and outlines the steps for his readers. Ultimately, it’s a call to forgive leaders who may have hurt us. Just for giggles, I included a photo of John MacArthur because to me, he exemplifies the sort of Pastor who generates a lot of “hurt” among people. But that’s just my opinion. What do you do when a well-known and influential Pastor has the ability to potentially hurt thousands?
The only end of chapter question I have highlighted is:
Are you looking for them (church leaders) to provide something that can only come from Jesus?
At this stage in the game, I don’t think I’m looking for a church Pastor to provide anything at all. How can they when my presence in almost any church (at least if I opened my mouth) would be a monkey wrench in the machinery?
In Chapter 11: The Cup of Misunderstanding (sounds like a little-known additional cup at a Passover seder), Jackson speaks of this metaphorical cup containing something that tastes bitter, tastes like injustice, and “those who drink it must do so alone.” He also says that this cup is usually received by “innocent people,” and is particularly harsh when “delivered to you by a brother or sister in Christ.”
Jackson compares being misunderstood and judged by someone in the church to the pain of betrayal suffered by Christ at the crucifixion.
I felt the comparison was a bit much. After all, human misunderstandings aren’t confined to the church, they happen in every human corporate venue, from the family to the workplace.
Jackson says this pain is intensified if the person you are trying to reconcile with makes it abundantly clear they have no intention of mending fences.
Someone once said, “You must embrace the cross if you would carry it with dignity.” The same is true of this cup.
I think what Jackson is saying is that being misunderstood, judged, and cut loose requires the Christian to be “Christ-like,” to bear the burden and the pain as Jesus did on the cross. Sounds pretty dramatic, but then, human conflict can elicit a lot of drama.
One of the end of chapter questions is:
Do you have a friend who can stand with you in your struggle?
In spite of my friend’s concerns about me and the issues Jackson addresses in his book, I don’t know that I’m really struggling, at least in relation to community or my lack thereof.
Jackson asks: “Are you passing the test? As you do, you’ll begin to look more like Him.” If the test is forgiving the Pastor, first of all, I doubt he thinks he needs my forgiveness. Nevertheless, I have forgiven him. After all, he’s only doing what he believes is right, and within his church’s context, it is the right thing to do.
In Chapter 12: Death by Religion, Jackson discusses watching an infomercial for Chuck Norris’s Total Gym product. The bottom line is that in spite of the seemingly fantastic claims made in the marketing of this all-in-one piece of exercise equipment, Jackson says if used as indicated, and if you eat a proper diet, the claims are all true.
Please forgive this sacrilegious comment, but I’ve noticed that in some ways, the Church is a lot like that infomercial–we’re touting a product that really works.
And by that he means:
A life devoted to His service is the only way to ensure our eternal salvation and to experience the life we were created to live.
But while a very fit Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley sell their product on TV, Jackson says, by comparison, those Christians promoting a better life through Jesus are more like “a flabby, middle-aged guy who thinks he looks good in spandex.”
In other words, many believers promoting a better life through Christ don’t look or act like they’re participating in that life. They look like they’re participating in a marathon dining session at McDonald’s.
We’re selling relationship, but what they see is religion…and religion is killing our sales pitch.
I’ve mentioned this artificial split between these concepts in a previous blog post. It’s really the traditional Christian rant against their misconception of Judaism:
Religion breeds death because it is limited to man’s ability to comply with its codes and regulations.
If Jackson had my understanding of the New Covenant, he’d (hopefully) understand why his opinion is completely out of the ball park.
But I don’t have time or space to go into all that again in this rather lengthy series of book reviews.
Religion is easier to control than a relationship.
You may have noticed that Jackson has shifted his emphasis from the individual’s relationship with other Christians in church or their relationship with the Pastor and church leadership, and is now focusing on the person’s relationship with Christ.
…after all, we’re all under grace and God doesn’t get ticked if we skip a day of devotions.
I’m not sure what God does or doesn’t think about an individual being hit and miss on living a life of holiness, not that any one of us is perfect at it.
Jackson then proceeds to bash the Pharisees, even though (he probably doesn’t see this) Jesus lived a life consistent with the basic tenets of Pharisaism, and as a matter of fact, so did Paul.
In describing “religious systems,” he says they operate like “spiritual frat houses”. They have their secret handshakes, inside jokes, matching jackets, and the like. Yes, I’ve experienced cliques in church. People who were ‘in’ and people who were ‘out’, though to be fair, I didn’t experience them at the last church I attended (at least for the most part).
However, Jackson could have been describing how some people experience certain individuals and congregations involved in the Hebrew Roots and the Messianic Jewish movements.
I’ve mentioned before Derek Leman’s blog post Gentiles Who Feel Left Out which addresses this matter. If you feel you are “in”, then being in contributes to your sense of identity, according to Jackson. You may, again, as Jackson says, experience a sense of being among the elite by being in.
This next point is important:
Spiritual fraternities do not welcome different opinions or viewpoints.
I’ve experienced that in spades, but I think that a lot of religious communities are like this, based on a mutually accepted sense of “rightness” of their doctrine. Anything that contradicts their doctrine is automatically wrong. These congregations state, using Jackson’s words:
We want your input and opinions–as long as they agree with ours.
This goes back to what I said before about expectations within the group. Jackson also says such “frat houses” are full of cliques, difficult to fit into (again, I know what that’s like), and Jackson says the only way to combat this is to “make sure that our hearts are free from religion.”
And yet, I could probably speak to Jackson for less than an hour and elicit a very protective and “religious” (as he defines it) response from him, just by disagreeing with how he interprets the Bible’s message of the good news. Actually, all he’d have to do is read my reviews of his book.
Only two of the end of chapter questions seemed relevant:
Are you managing a religion or living in a relationship?
Has your religious experience become a duty or a delight?
Convincing Jackson of the beauty of the mitzvot, particularly with Passover and the family seder coming up in a few days, all the preparations, all of the ceremony, and the retelling of the Exodus, would be a lost cause if I were to make the attempt. I suspect all he’d see is “religion,” missing how the seder brings a Jewish family closer to God.
Of course, I wonder how he’s managing the “relationship” of the upcoming Easter Sunday service at his church, which usually involves a multi-media presentation and tons and tons of preparation and ceremony?
So far, having reviewed about half of Jackson’s book in a fair amount detail, I have two preliminary conclusions. The first is that I don’t think he’s speaking to my situation. The second is that my opinion of my being incompatible with “church” is being re-enforced. I find it impossible to review his book as related to my current status of being apart from “community” without being critical of his theology and doctrine.
I just can’t seem to put our obvious differences aside and simply listen to what he has to say on a human level. This is my fault. I have a friend who tells me I need to be more patient and to speak out less.
One last story.
I had coffee with my friend last Sunday. On the drive home, he mentioned that his congregation had a guest speaker from Africa on the previous Shabbat. Among other things, this speaker talked about lions and how they hunt only the sick, the weak, the old, and those who wander off and are alone.
Not-so-subtle point received, my friend. *grin*
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman