Tag Archives: friendship

The Language of the Soul

I recently read an online article at Aish written by Sara Debbie Gutfreund called The Blind Woman at the Gym, but it wasn’t what Ms. Gutfreund wrote that captured me. Someone named Sarah commented and what Gutfreund wrote (November 18, 2012 4:31 a.m.) and it was her story that prompted me to write my morning meditation (her comment was a single block of text which I’ve broken up into paragraphs to make her missive more readable):

This story reminds me of something that happened to me 19 years ago when I was doing my undergraduate degree. Our university required us to take a PE class. Being an English and French major at the time, I considered a PE class a waste of time and so I chose something ‘easy’ called “fitness walking”.

The first day of class, the gym teacher told each of us to pick a walking partner because we were to travel in two’s in a line. As I looked up from my books and surveyed the room for someone I knew, I found no familiar face. Then, at the very edge of class, in a corner, sat a blind girl and her leader dog who was an adorable black lab with soft brown eyes. The first thing I noticed was the other classmates looking toward her nervously, then back at each other, and then pairing off with each other and avoiding her because of their own discomfort. I thought to myself, ‘thank Goodness she can’t see their faces.’

I walked over and cheerfully said to her, “Hi, I am Sarah and I would love to be your walking partner this semester.’ The blind girl, with her beautiful long brown curly hair and eager smile quickly introduced herself as Angie and her dog as Sarge. All three of us, Angie, Sarge, and me walked together all semester and became great friends.

We regularly got together even after the class ended and remained friends until I moved 2,000 miles away.

That’s normally the end of the tale, two close friends move away from each other and never see or hear from one another again. But this is the age of social media, so finding anyone on Facebook should be a snap, right? Well, that’s not exactly how this next part happened.

Angie and I lost touch over the years, but the other day she found my parent’s phone number, called them and asked to be put in touch with me. We talked for hours that day and she told me about her marriage and her two children.

I’m leading up to the part of the tale that is the point of my writing this blog post. Here it is:

Then, she hesitated and said, “My daughter, my first born…I named her Sarah– after you…” Tears came to my eyes and I told her I was touched. She continued, “I met you when I was a freshman. You were a senior– and you weren’t disabled. And you took me in as family at a scary time in my life.” After we ended the call, I gave gratitude to G-d for giving me such an opportunity to meet Angie.

I don’t know why this final piece of Sarah’s commentary got to me. Maybe because it tells me that we may never realize how we affect people, for good or for ill, even after knowing them for years.

A chance meeting nearly two decades ago brought two young women together, one who was actively avoided by most of her classmates because she’s visually impaired, and their friendship meant so much to the young Angie, that even after the two parted, when she had her first child, a daughter, Angie named her “Sarah,” after the friend who meant so much to her.

We poor, pathetic human beings think we’re so powerless most of the time. We get cancer and we can’t cure it. We get into car accidents when we’re late for work. Our governments wage wars and we citizens can’t stop our soldiers, our fathers, brothers, and sons, from being maimed and killed. All the time we pray to an infinite and all-powerful God to rescue us from the consequences of being human.

And then Sarah tells the story of her friendship with Angie and in a sudden flash of realization, the power we all wield, to heal or to harm, to inspire or to discourage, stands in stark contrast to the impotency we were feeling just moments before.

I’ve spoken before about why all our religious arguments don’t work to serve the purpose of God, why only God can speak to our souls. Sarah’s story shows us that we can speak to each other’s souls. We just have to say the right words or rather, we have to actually show caring for another living being. Love and compassion are the language of the soul. It speaks even in eternal darkness and paints portraits even the blind can see.

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Intermarriage: Not Peace, But A Sword

onfire.jpgTo die while committed to a belief system that is idolatrous, false and contrary to what G-d has revealed to us AND has resulted in the persecution of the Jewish people for the last two thousand years, even if it doesn’t affect our eternity through the ever burning hell fires that Christianity reserves for those who didn’t believe in Jesus, is still not something I would desire for myself or anyone.

-from a private conversation

The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Proverbs 14:15

Faith and belief are both defined as accepting as true something which transcends logic and which may not be subject to proof by rational argument. Yet, belief in God is not the “blind faith” of a simpleton.

A simpleton does not think, either because he lacks the capacity or does not wish to make the effort. Therefore, he is gullible and can be easily swayed in any direction. Being credulous is not the same as having faith.

When we reflect on the concept of a Supreme Being, Who is in every way infinite, we are likely to feel bewilderment, because our finite minds cannot grasp the infinite. Since all of our experiences involve finite objects, we lack a point of reference for dealing with the infinite.

When this reflection brings us to realize that the question of the existence of an infinite Supreme Being cannot be logically resolved, we then turn to the unbroken mesorah, the teachings which have been transmitted from generation to generation, from the time when more than two million people witnessed the Revelation at Sinai. When we accept our faith on this basis, we do so as the culmination of a process of profound thought which is no way similar to the credulousness of a simpleton.

This process also helps us with other questions that we have about God. For instance, the fact that we cannot possibly logically understand God does not preclude our coming to a knowledge of His Presence.

Today I shall…

…strengthen my faith by reflecting on the unbroken chain of tradition since Sinai.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Elul 3”
Aish.com

I’d like to think I’m not a simpleton. I hope I’m thoughtfully considering my steps. I have faith. I believe. The faith and belief of the Jewish people ultimately rests at Sinai, at the giving of the Torah. It is said that each Jewish person is to consider himself or herself as having personally stood at Sinai and having received the Torah directly. This communicates a sense of direct “ownership” of the commandments of God, rather than just the tradition of having them passed down from one generation to the next.

For a Christian, faith and belief ultimately rests at the foot of the cross, in a pool of blood shed for our sins. Christians aren’t “commanded” to consider ourselves as having personally stood at the foot of the cross of Christ, watching him die for our sake and for the sake of the world. Maybe we should.

But even so, people like me have a difficult thing to face. In my case, I have a Jewish wife, two Jewish sons, and a Jewish daughter. My children don’t speak to me one way or the other about my attending church and professing my Christian faith, but occasionally my wife does. Occasionally a few (non-believing) Jewish friends do (although in strictest confidence) as well.

If I love my Jewish family and friends, how can I be a part of a faith that historically has been guilty of “the persecution of the Jewish people for the last two thousand years”? I thought I knew, but when someone you deeply care about asks that question, it’s not so easy to answer. The answer is long and involved, and when someone is responding to your Christianity on a really emotional level, they don’t always want to hear long, involved explanations that they’ll probably do their level best to shoot out of the water in any case.

I don’t really want to argue. If someone wants to hear about my faith, I’ll do my best to explain it to them. If they don’t, I’m not invested in beating people over the head with a copy of the New Testament.

intermarriageIt doesn’t help (ironically enough) that my wife used to be a believer. My limited experience with Jewish people who were once believers and then returned or adopted a more traditional Jewish practice and worship, is that they are more highly resistant to any idea that there could be validity in Christianity or Messianic Judaism. I can only imagine it’s like being a person who is an ex-smoker (I used to smoke a number of decades ago) and a smoker is trying to convince the non-smoker to light up again.

“Yuck,” is the predictable reaction, followed by a series of reasons from the non-smoker why lighting up is an incredibly bad idea, and harmful not only to the smoker, but to everyone around the smoker, particularly the smoker’s loved ones.

As a Christian among Jews, I feel like a smoker among long-term non-smokers. If I want to “light up,” I sure better take it outside, down the alley, and around back behind a shed where no one can see me or smell me. As a Christian among Jews, I feel as if they see me like this:

In 1391, the Jews of Barcelona, Spain were victims of a massacre. This was part of three months of deadly riots throughout Spain, which left the Jewish community crushed and impoverished. Incredibly, on this same date 70 years later, a bishop named Alfonso de Espina urged the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition was designed to uncover those Jews who continued to practice Judaism in secret (called Conversos or Marranos). During the years of brutal Inquisition, an estimated 32,000 Jews were burned at the stake and another 200,000 were expelled from Spain.

-from “Day in Jewish History” for Elul 4
Aish.com

You may consider that example a little extreme, but I’m not sure it’s that far out. I think it’s one thing to be Jewish and to be aware of Christians in your general environment, at the grocery store, at work, at the park, driving the streets of your city, and another thing entirely to be close to and even to live with a Christian. While my wife will occasionally give voice to her concerns, my children haven’t. My daughter, who is the only child left at home, has become more distant from me in recent months. She says everything’s OK, but everything else she says and does communicates otherwise. I can’t absolutely say it’s because of my continued church attendance and my reading from the Christian Bible, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch, either.

Authentic Jewish life is characterized by the study of Torah, the observance of Shabbat and Kashrut, and the thrice-daily worship of God. Not Shabbes leichter as museum pieces, but a generation of Jewish women who light their candles to usher in the holy Shabbat. Not klezmer concerts to evoke nostalgia for the shtetl, but Jewish bands playing Jewish music at Jewish weddings where Jewish communities are celebrating the beginning of a new generation of a Jewish family.

I wish my niece Jodi had had such a wedding.

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“The Dead End of Jewish Culture”
Aish.com

magen-davidRigler wrote this article as a description of how Jewish people identifying themselves as Jewish entirely on the basis of Jewish culture (as opposed to Jewish faith, observance of the mitzvot, and study of Torah) are reaching a dead-end to their Jewish identity. The painful result, from Rigler’s perspective, is her Jewish niece Jodi’s (not her real name) wedding to a Catholic husband in a Catholic church.

Rigler writes:

One December afternoon, my precious four-year-old niece Jodi walked into my mother’s suburban New Jersey kitchen and asked, “Bubbie, are you Jewish?”

“Yes, I am,” my mother answered proudly.

“So am I,” Jodi confided, “but don’t tell Santa Claus.”

I laughed when my mother told me this story, and I chuckled every time I thought of it – for 22 years. Last week, Jodi got married, in a Catholic church, kneeling in front of a huge gilded cross. I stopped laughing.

Apparently, Jodi’s perception of Judaism as a liability grew with the years. At the age of four, being Jewish made her a persona non grata to Santa Claus. At the age of 16, growing up in a town whose century-old bylaws stipulated, “No Jews or Negroes,” Jewish identity must have been a social non-starter. At the age of twenty, as a sophomore at Boston University, being Jewish must have threatened her budding romance with a handsome Catholic senior.

I’m sure Jodi’s Catholic husband doesn’t imagine that he might be considered guilty of any wrongdoing to Jodi or Jodi’s Jewish family, but, based on my experience, eventually he’ll have to confront those feelings. At least I don’t have Jewish in-laws who are upset with me, just the nuclear family and a few other Jewish people.

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 10:37 (NASB)

That’s a tough one to take. How am I supposed to respond to that, God? And what about this?

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Luke 9:26 (NASB)

This next one is even worse.

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

Hebrews 6:4-8 (NASB)

It would be worse to come to faith in Messiah and to fall away than never to have come to faith in the first place. Ouch.

So how am I supposed to choose, or if a choice is impossible, what am I supposed to do? At least in terms of marriage, Paul (and not God) had this to say:

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NASB)

separation“But God has called us to peace.” Really? Not until Messiah comes/returns (depending on who you are).

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m fighting with the missus (or anyone else) tooth and nail, and that I’m constantly engaged in some sort of “battle” of faith with the Jewish people in my life, but I can hardly ignore the steady undercurrent in these relationships as well as the occasional flare ups, either.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)

“Not peace, but a sword.”

Whoever has faith in individual Divine Providence knows that “Man’s steps are established by G-d,” (Tehillim 37:23) that this particular soul must purify and improve something specific in a particular place. For centuries, or even since the world’s creation, that which needs purification or improvement waits for this soul to come and purify or improve it. The soul too, has been waiting – ever since it came into being – for its time to descend, so that it can discharge the tasks of purification and improvement assigned to it.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Elul 3, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Assuming God is establishing my steps too, I have to believe that I have come to this place, this time, this circumstance, for a reason. What that reason is, I cannot say. May it be right that I am here for a good purpose, and that God intends my existence and my presence in order to correct and purify some part of the world around me. I have no desire to hurt anyone, least of all those people I love who are Jewish.

Wednesday Night in My Pastor’s Office

iron-sharpens-iron-hotWhat then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God…”

Romans 3:9-11 (NASB)

There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin.

Ecclesiastes 7:20

Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, “These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective.”

In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.

In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, “If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity.” In other words, people who see everything from an “I am great/right” perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.

When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.

Today I shall…

…be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 25”
Aish.com

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

Last night I met with Pastor Randy for the first time in several weeks. He has been away in Southern California as part of his Ph.D program and just returned late last week. Prior to our meeting, he sent me two PDFs as email attachments, one was a chart he had drawn as a graphic representation all the covenants, and the other was a text description of the covenants. I have to admit, I was intimidated. He was responding to something I had blogged earlier in the week. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

In response and to prepare for the meeting, I sent him a link to my blog post Abraham, Jews, and Christians, since I suspected we’d be discussing the differences between how Jews and Christians are connected by covenant to God and specifically why I believe that the Torah, the conditions pertaining to the Sinai covenant, still apply to the Jewish people today.

AbrahamI hadn’t slept well the night before, so I was running on three hours rest and as much chutzpah as I could summon. All I wanted to do was to go to bed (our meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., so as you can imagine, I must have been really tired), but I wanted to have this meeting, too. Armed with my hardcopy printouts and my Bible, I went to church.

Actually, it was a blast. I had a great time. When we started talking, I forgot completely about being tired. Pastor gifted me with Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, which I’ll start as soon as I finish the Septuagint book. I suspect Schreiner’s book is going to be a “challenge” to me, but that’s almost always a good way to learn. During our conversation, he suggested half a dozen other books for me, which I’m not going to reference here, so I suspect my reading list has been reserved for the next few months.

We actually agreed on most of the details of the covenant connection Christians have through Abraham and why that results in the Gentile church “bypassing” the Sinai covenant, but following a series of links from Abraham, to the New Covenant, to the “Last Supper,” to Paul’s commentary on Abraham in Galatians 3:16. The only link we Christians have through the Abrahamic covenant is stated in Genesis 12:1-3 which is the Messianic blessing on all the peoples of the earth. This was stated before the portion of the covenant requiring circumcision (which links the rest of the Abrahamic covenant directly through Isaac, through Jacob, and then to Jacob’s sons, the Patriarchs, and then the twelve tribes of Israel, and ultimately the Jewish people).

Where we disagreed was familiar territory: the duration of the Sinai covenant. Pastor believes that it should have ended at the cross with a “transitionary period” lasting until the close of the Biblical canon. My opinion is that it extends much further, well past our current age and through the Messianic Era, finally terminating at what we could consider “the end of time” as we understand it.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NASB)

temple-prayersAs long as there’s a Temple in Jerusalem or the promise that it will be rebuilt (which we have in the promise of Messiah’s return), then the Torah cannot pass away from existence and neither can Israel and the Jewish people (Jeremiah 31:35-36, Matthew 5:17-19). The best one can say is that certain portions (the Laws pertaining to the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and certain other ordinances regarding the Land of Israel itself) go into abeyance, a state of being temporarily set aside. When Hebrews 8:13 talks about the “Old Covenant” passing away, it describes the process of currently passing away, not having already passed away. I just happen to think that “passing away” process doesn’t end until the coming of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10).

We also agreed on one thing that will make a lot of Christians a little nervous. We agreed that the New Covenant isn’t yet a “done deal.” In other words, not all the work was finished “on the cross.”

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

Pastor used another term, but the way I see it, God’s finger is still in the process of writing the Law within us and on our hearts. If He had already finished it with the first coming of Messiah, we would all “Know the Lord” and we don’t yet. The moving finger has not yet “writ” and thus has yet to move on. Link the still writing finger of Jeremiah 31 with the slowly passing away of the Old Covenant in Hebrews 8:13 and I think you’ll see the Torah as it currently exists will be with us for quite some time.

We still went ’round a bit on the purpose and reason for the Law and finally agreed that how it is applied is largely situational (which I mentioned a few days ago). Pastor again tried to tell me that the Torah was given to show the Israelites that it was too hard for anyone to obey His Law and that they needed Messiah. I pointed to Deuteronomy 30, and he replied, Romans 4. I pointed out that one part of the Bible doesn’t cancel another and that only certain parts of Torah have been temporarily set aside as I mentioned above. I also referred back to Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 to illustrate that the Israelites didn’t experience Torah as a burden or a hardship but instead, their foremost joy.

Reading_TorahHe says the Torah does not provide salvation. I know that and I agree. It never did. When Israel violated the conditions of Torah they were ultimately exiled. And they were ultimately called back to God and restored to their Land. Why? Because of God’s love and grace. He never let them go. In that, we Christians are no different, though the nations are not corporately linked to God as is Israel. When we are disobedient, we are not abandoned but instead disciplined. When we become humbled and cry out, God brings us back, even as He has Israel. The Torah doesn’t save. It works as a specific set of conditions indicating the Jewish people are set aside for God, and the conditions apply to them alone on top of the obligations Torah applies to we Gentile believers.

Like I said in the quotes above, no one is righteous, no not even one. The Torah doesn’t confer righteousness, only our faith and God’s grace does that.

I don’t think he’s convinced, but I did the best I could to illuminate my end of the conversation. Part of the problem is Pastor’s perception of “Rabbinic Judaism,” but right then, I was only trying to show that during New Testament times, Torah continued to apply and the Torah moves forward across history. I didn’t want to even comment about the post-Biblical Rabbinic period until I created a bridge that started at Sinai and moved past the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascendance, with the Torah moving across that bridge and forward, spanning the history of the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t just observe the Law because he was born on the “wrong side of the cross,” he did so because that’s the obligation and the joy for all Jews under covenant. His death didn’t change that.

Boaz Michael puts things is proper perspective, I think:

This may sound counterintuitive to many, but the gospel—the story of Jesus’ first coming, his earthly life, his death and resurrection—is not the fulfillment or even the climax of Israel’s story. It does not complete or resolve the narrative that begins with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. It does not fulfill God’s promises to David in the books of the early prophets. It does not fulfill the promises of the later prophets concerning Israel’s final destiny. It does not even fulfill the Torah itself, in which God promises certain things to his people Israel after their return from exile.

The completion or resolution of Israel’s story does not and will not occur until she is redeemed from her exile, planted firmly in the land God has promised to her, and returned to a state of loving obedience to the Torah under the leadership of the Son of David, Yeshua the Messiah.

I mentioned the example of 19th century Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein who came to faith in Yeshua past the age of sixty; a person who was wholly Jewish before and after coming to Messianic faith who found that Torah was illuminated, expanded, and possessed of great joy by the Messiah. When Messiah “fulfills” the Torah, it doesn’t end, but it is shown to be truly perfect in Moshiach! Observance goes on for the Jewish believers, but it is Torah observance with much greater meaning, something that as a Gentile Christian, I can hardly even imagine.

Pastor surprised me a bit. My opinion has been that the population of Jews in Messiah dwindled more or less steadily past the Biblical period and finally extinguished completely sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries CE, and then finding a slow resurgence in the past several centuries.

Pastor contradicted me and said he believes that across the past two-thousand years, there has always been a remnant of Messianic Jews. I’d love to believe that but I need to see some evidence. He pointed me to a book called Our Jewish Friends by Louis Goldberg, which I’ll certainly have to read to see the validity of such a claim and how it could possibly be substantiated. Does Goldberg mean Jewish converts to Christianity? To me that’s not the same thing as people who live fully Jewish lives realized in Messiah. Now that would be a thrill to discover.

first-baptist-churchIn many ways, last night’s talk was one of our most productive conversations, at least for me. We won’t be able to meet again for another couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to it. I mentioned to Pastor that the following day’s “meditation” would be called On Being a Good Christian and was based on his sermon from last Sunday. That led to my angst on ever being able to officially join a local church and the dilemma of “denominationalism” for me. We know that Paul frowned on such divisions in the church (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) but he told me (surprising me again) that we can’t anachronistically apply Paul to our modern church.

We agreed that at the heart of all disciples in Messiah, we must all contain a set of core beliefs, without which, we cannot call ourselves “Christians” (which in this case, would include “Messianics”). Beyond that, denominations provide additional dimensions based on social, cultural, and sometimes even ethnic similarities. I had a brief epiphany and said that denominations were not unlike the evolution of the different streams of ancient and modern Judaism including the addition of elements of culture and tradition. I don’t think Pastor expected that comparison and hopefully it will be food for thought in subsequent conversations.

But since I opened the door, our next conversation in two weeks will be on the differences in Christian denominations. I actually need this since my grasp on the topic is extremely weak. I don’t know if I’m learning to be a better Christian, but I hope I’m growing and learning to be a better child of God.

Blessings on my Pastor for his patience, his intelligence, his passion, and his friendship.

 

 

Finding My Exit

no-exitWhen you and the path you have chosen get along just great, it’s hard to know whether your motives are sincere.

But when you come across a path to do good, and this path goes against every sinew of your flesh and every cell in your brain, when you want only to flee and hide from it —do this.

Then you shall know your motives are sincere.

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

I hit what seemed to be a pretty significant wall this past weekend. Hopefully not too many people noticed, but I was turning myself into knots inside and very seriously doubting my current path for a day or two.

The first event that contributed to this mess was from divisiveness in the blogosphere. I should have known better, but a miscommunication between a friend and I and then another in a long series of online “nastygrams” caused me to question whether or not my friend was pulling away from me and pulling much of my current world view along with him (long story).

As personal as the first event was, the second event was far more intimate. On Sunday morning, my wife and I were having a small chat before I left for church. I happened to mention that Pastor Randy gave me a paper on the different arguments between Arminianism and Calvinism and my difficulties in they way the author of the article was expressing his viewpoint.

I didn’t think much of it, but my wife, who is Jewish, started touting how Judaism has received the Torah in an unbroken line between Sinai and the present and that in any response to changes of circumstances across time, the Rabbis always consult the core text and all applications are based on strict adherence to the Torah, thus avoiding the problems I was having with a Christian commentary.

I think it was her attempt to show me that Judaism has a better handle on the Bible and thus on God than Christianity, which I don’t mind, but in our conversation, she brought up how, if the Christian view of the Bible were true, then it totally invalidates Jews and Judaism.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that her perception of Christianity is not what I believe at all. And yet I was confronted with a dilemma. I could explain, thanks to all of the information I’ve captured within this blog, why I believe she’s wrong and why a Messianic interpretation of “Christianity” is wholly Jewish, but my being a “prophet without honor in my own land” (and needless to say, in my own family), how would she take it?

The worst that would happen if I were talking to any other Jewish person was that they’d tell me I was “full of it” and walk away (not that I desire to insult anyone). But what would be the worst that would happen if that transaction were to occur between me and my wife?

I didn’t want to find out so I let the conversation die.

But as I went to church, I was confronted with two highly significant relationships in my life being (apparently) damaged, all because of who I am and my faith in Christ.

I remembered part of a conversation I had with my Pastor. I told him I left the Hebrew Roots movement in part because I knew my participation was very embarrassing to my wife. He asked me, somewhat incredulously, if my being a Christian and going to church were any less embarrassing to a Jewish wife. I absolutely didn’t consider that before, but at that moment and again last Sunday morning, it hit me like a punch in the teeth from Mike Tyson.

I also couldn’t help but consider a few verses.

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

Ezra 10:10-11 (NRSV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 10:34-38 (NRSV)

leavingThe Master doesn’t address husband and wife specifically, but it wasn’t hard for me to read between the lines. And in relation to Ezra, I guess I would be the “foreign wife.”

I wasn’t afraid this would dissolve my marriage, but I could see my friendship receding into the distance and, as damage control, what would be my only option to contain this conflict? If my wife was saying that my being a Christian made me “anti-Semitic” by definition, then how could I prove otherwise except to stop going to church? But how could I stop going to church and maintain my faith in Christ?

The conflict between my faith and my marriage came abruptly into sharp focus.

So last Sunday at church was miserable, not because of church, but because of me.

It’s actually pretty painful to see all of the other couples at church because they’re couples. There’s no conflict that I can see between husband and wife because of their faith. They sit together at church, they bring their children, they go to Sunday school together, they support each other’s views.

That’s also true of most people (but not all) I know in the Messianic movement. I sometimes feel like the only oddball.

So with a nudnik (and I know something about nudniks) trying to drive a wedge between my friend and me on the one side, and my most recent “religious conversation” with my wife on the other, who I am supposed to be at Christ was stuck soundly in the middle. All I could see were “no option options.” I was in a box with no way out, a room with no exit.

So what happened?

I did what I always try to do under similar circumstances…I didn’t do anything about it. The temptation was to act impulsively to reduce the discomfort, but that’s usually the wrong thing to do.

After church, there was plenty of gardening to do and that’s relatively mindless work, so I had a lot of time to think. After that, I was given the annual task of cleaning out my book closet (if left to my own devices, I’d keep everything I’ve ever owned). My wife and daughter tackled the equally daunting job of cleaning out and arranging the food pantry.

My son Michael came over by the by and cooked dinner for us while we were working. By the by, my wife and I interacted and I noticed that she was behaving, not as if I were an anti-Semite in the camp, but like I’m her husband and we’re doing typical Sunday evening family stuff together in our home.

The bubbling pot began to cool.

I got an email later that night allaying my other concern and reminding me that just because “bad attitude” people try to interfere with friendships doesn’t mean those friendships are any less established. The message couldn’t have come at a better time.

when-the-forest-beckonsThis whole episode reminded me that I have a duty to my wife to share the Good News of Messiah with her. The problem is, she’s already heard it, accepted it within the church, re-accepted it within a Hebrew Roots context, and, when transitioning first to the Reform-Conservative synagogue in town and then the Chabad, chosen to reject the Gospel of Jesus “because that’s not what Jews believe.”

I wish I could convince her otherwise, but that “Good News” might not be easy for her to hear coming from me, especially when I’m competing with the Chabad Rabbi, a lot of anti-missionary rhetoric, and two-thousand years of post-Jesus Jewish history.

That particular “adventure” is to be continued, but I do have a message for blogging nudniks who deliberately try to mess up friendships in order to further their own agendas:

There are people who believe they are doing good by swallowing others’ egos alive. The egos of those they cannot help, and of those who cannot help them, are inedible to them—and therefore intolerable. They cannot work with others—because their egos leave no space for “others”—only for those extensions of their own inflated selves that show they need them, or for those whom they need.

You don’t love your neighbor to glorify your own ego. When you come to your sister’s or brother’s aid, leave your own self behind. Love with self-sacrifice.

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

If you come to realize that what you do is not for the sake of Heaven but for the requirements of your own ego or emotions, then the need for you to attend to your own affairs is far, far greater than whatever temporary issues I may be experiencing.

I found the exit from my no-exit room and am continuing down the path that God has set before me.

How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

love-your-neighborWhy an “extra meditation” so late in the day? Why so close to Shabbos, when many of my readers east of me have already gone offline or are preparing to do so? Because I can, I suppose. More accurately, because I read something that touched me and I want it to touch you as well.

Many of us could write up a list of rules for how we’d like to be treated by our friends. Most don’t have a physical list to hand out to people (although it might reduce some painful guesswork if we did), but this is how the list might look:

  1. Be sincere — no acting.
  2. Respect me, always.
  3. Check up on me to see how I’m doing.
  4. Be supportive when I’m in pain.
  5. Greet me warmly when I visit.
  6. Give me the benefit of the doubt.
  7. If I need some help, be ready to lend a hand.
  8. Don’t act overbearing or disdainful towards me.

In our eyes these expectations are within reason. We don’t delude ourselves to think our friends would give us full access to their bank accounts, or sign their house or car over to us, nor do we want them to.

We’re obliged to “Love your friend like yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The obvious question is: how can we be obligated to love others as we love ourselves? Even for someone who naturally loves people, there’s no way such love could equal the devotion they have to themselves!

We come back to our list of expectations. That’s all we really want from others, and it’s really all they want from us. Just treat others as you expect them to treat you — that’s the obligation. Are we able to demonstrate that level of love? We must be, for we couldn’t reasonably expect of others more than we’re capable of doing ourselves! (HaKsav VeHaKabalah, R’ Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, 1785–1865)

Good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

I love that list but am also accused by it. I know I don’t always treat my family and friends in the way the list suggests (do I ever?). My heart also pines because I’d love to be treated that way by my family and friends as well. I am not assigning blame. If I don’t treat others this way, how can I expect the treatment to be returned?

And yet, it’s not just our friends and family who are involved.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48

I’m sure you saw that one coming from a mile away.

Hillel the Elder once said, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend [the negative picture of “love your fellow as yourself”]―that is all the Torah and all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” Our Master Jesus said the same thing expressed positively, linking love of God and love of neighbor:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

I’ve already written on the Torah’s greatest principle but I find that I need to repeat myself, not just for your sake, but for my own.

We can’t stop everything that’s wrong in the world. As I’m writing this, a terrorist has all but shut down the city of Boston and the surrounding area. An uncounted number of people are huddling in their homes in fear for their lives. Where will “the suspect” be found? Will he be found? Will he kill again? Who will be his next victim? Will it be me?

Hardly the sort of thoughts and feelings that usher in a peaceful Shabbos.

And we can’t do anything about it. But we can do something else. We can be sincere with our family, friends, and others we come in contact with. We can always treat them with respect. When we haven’t seen a friend for a while, we can call and see how they’re doing. We can be supportive when they’re sick or in pain. When they come to visit, we can greet them warmly and act sincerely glad to see them. When there’s a disagreement, we can strive to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they need help, we can offer them assistance. And even when we’re tempted to or we feel that we are in the right, we can deliberately avoid behaving overbearing or disdainful toward them.

And if we did all that, and if we did all that to everyone we encounter, and if we did that all of the time, we probably wouldn’t stop even a single act of terrorism, stop even one bomb from exploding, prevent even one gun from being fired at another human being, or inhibit the next natural disaster from devastating another city somewhere in the world.

But we would still make the world a better place and we would make ourselves better people.

159 days.

Past and Future Holy

There is a graphic example of this at the beginning of the book of Job. In a series of blows, Job loses everything: his flocks, his herds, his children. Yet his faith remains intact. Satan then proposes subjecting Job to an even greater trial, covering his body with sores (Job 1-2). The logic of this seems absurd. How can a skin disease be a greater trial of faith than losing your children? It isn’t. But what the book is saying is that when your body is afflicted, it can be hard, even impossible, to focus on spirituality. This has nothing to do with ultimate truth and everything to do with the human mind. As Maimonides said, you cannot give your mind to meditating on truth when you are hungry or thirsty, homeless or sick (Guide for the Perplexed 3:27).

-Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
“Eternity and Mortality”
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor (Leviticus 21-24)
Aish.com

Once I would have believed that but now I’m not so sure. I think that when you are sick, you can and in fact, you must consider, ponder, and meditate upon the Spirit and the ultimate truth, because in the process of dying, you are preparing to meet that truth.

Let me explain.

Last night, as you read this, I renewed my relationship with an old friend. I don’t have his permission to discuss the details here, so I must be deliberately vague. But he’s sick. He’s quite ill. We haven’t spoken in several years, even though he lives very close to me. When I heard that he was ill, I asked a mutual friend if he would like to visit this person with me. Our mutual friend lives in another state but was in town visiting relatives.

So for several hours on Sunday afternoon and going into Sunday night, our mutual friend, me, my friend who is ill and his wife sat in their living room and visited. We talked about many things including what we have been doing with our lives, where we’re living and working, and what else we’ve been doing, and movies we’ve seen, and trivia and science and families.

And we talked about doctors and illness and exams and families and trying to make plans when you know the future won’t be traveling as far ahead of you as you once thought it might.

Have you ever wondered about how God works? I don’t know either, but occasionally, God lets you see how He plays “connect the dots.”

My daughter “coincidentally” ran into the ill gentleman’s wife and one of his daughters in the same store in two separate events on the same day. That’s when my daughter found out that my friend was ill. Then my daughter told my wife. Then my wife and daughter told me. Then my wife said that maybe some other old friends and I should visit this friend. So I contacted a couple of old friends. Only one replied and he lives in another state. But the other state friend was coming into town to spend Thanksgiving with is family who lives locally, so I asked him to let me know when we could get together.

And so he called me on Sunday in the early afternoon and we made plans.

And we got together and drove over to our friend’s place.

And that’s when we got to talking about all kinds of things, especially the stuff no one likes to talk about but that will happen to each and every one of us.

I wonder if that’s why we don’t talk about getting sick and about dying?

Because it will happen to every one of us.

Whether we want it to or not.

Whether we’re rich or poor or black or white or any other color or where we live or anything else about us.

And whether or not we believe in God, we’re all still going to die.

And then we’ll know.

I can’t say this from personal experience (yet), but when you know you’re going to die, not in some distant, hypothetical future, but in a more or less predictable time frame, and you have a relationship with God, assuming the relationship with God survives the terminal news, you start thinking about Him a lot.

I wonder if He starts thinking about you more, too?

That’s probably a stupid question since God is infinite and so are His thoughts, but as I was sitting there talking and listening, I was thinking about God and I was wondering if He was thinking a lot more about my friend, too.

I hope so.

PrayerI know that I want and probably need a lot of attention from God. Just read my blog for a few days and you’ll figure out why. But I’m not so self-absorbed that I don’t realize there are a lot of other people who need God’s attention much more than I do. I know God’s resources are limitless, but if they weren’t and if each of us only got so much from God, then I’d ask God to take some of mine and give it to my friend. He needs more attention right now. So does his wife. So does the rest of his family.

I don’t have a lot to give that’s really valuable in a practical sense. I’m not a good handyman. I’m a lousy plumber and a worse carpenter. I barely know a car’s battery from its distributor cap, and electrical wiring is a complete mystery.

But I do have time. And I do have attention. And I can listen. I can talk, too. I can even read out loud.

And I can pray. I can visit. I can have a discussion with another person. So I have a few things to give.

I’ve been pondering about church and church attendance and community and having conversations with like-minded Christians.

Have you ever wondered about how God works? I don’t know either, but maybe He works just like He worked on Sunday afternoon, re-creating an old friendship and building a new one.

Good morning God. I gratefully thank you, living and existing King, for returning my soul to me with compassion. Abundant is your faithfulness. Thank you for making all things holy, including this past Sunday afternoon and past and future friendships.

The holy is the point at which heaven and earth meet, where, by intense focus and a complete absence of earthly concerns, we open up space and time to the sensed presence of God who is beyond space and time. It is an intimation of eternity in the midst of life, allowing us at our holiest moments to feel part of something that does not die. The holy is the space within which we redeem our existence from mere contingency and know that we are held within the “everlasting arms” (Deut. 33: 27) of God.