Tag Archives: sacrifice

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Single Sacrifice for Sin

Hebrews 10:10-18 presents the death of Yeshua of Nazareth as the “single sacrifice for sin,” but does that make Yeshua a sin offering like those once offered in the Temple? In what sense is Yeshua a sacrifice? How can he be a sacrifice when his death does not accord with the Levitical laws for the sacrificial services whatsoever? This teaching, based upon the final chapter of D. Thomas Lancaster’s booklet What about the Sacrifices? answers the difficult question of how the death of the Messiah provides atonement for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Eight: Single Sacrifice for Sin
Originally presented on January 11, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”

He then says,

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:10-18 (NASB)

In today’s sermon, Lancaster continues to build on the points he made in previous weeks, including last week’s sermon in which he strongly differentiated between the nature, character, and purpose of the Temple sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood, and the purpose of Jesus as the single and final sacrifice for sin in the Heavenly Temple.

Now he specifically takes on a really big issue that even many Christians struggle with: just how does the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross take away sins and why doesn’t that mean God approves of human sacrifice?

LambThe “official” answer of the Church is that the sin and guilt sacrifices as well as the annual Yom Kippur sacrifices of the Temple took away the sins of the people of Israel, sacrifice by bloody sacrifice, year by year until Jesus was crucified, taking our sins away forever. Then the Temple system was rendered meaningless, having been replaced once and for all (Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:12) by the blood of Jesus, for as John the Baptist said (John 1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

But we have some problems with this theological theory. The Torah is very specific about what qualifies as a sacrifice according to God. Lancaster laid out a very convincing list:

Condition 1: An acceptable sacrifice must be an unblemished, undamaged, uninjured kosher animal, and usually a specific animal or set of animals relative to the particular sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t an animal of any kind, he was a man, and he certainly wasn’t unblemished or uninjured, having been whipped and bloodied before ever being nailed to the cross.

Condition 2: Any sacrifice must be made in the Temple, according to the Torah. Jesus was executed outside the walls of Jerusalem, not in the Temple.

Condition 3: The blood of the sacrifice must be splashed on the altar. This did not happen with the blood of Jesus.

Condition 4: The sacrifice must be performed by Levitical priests. Jesus was killed by people who weren’t even Jewish, the Romans.

Condition 5: The sacrifice must be slaughtered in a highly specific manner, with the throat cut by a very sharp knife. The animal must be bled out and suffer no pain whatsoever. If it suffers, it is disqualified as a sacrifice. Jesus certainly did suffer and suffer greatly, and no knife came anywhere near his throat.

Condition 6: God forbids human sacrifice and finds it repugnant.

All this means that Jesus absolutely, positively could not be a literal sacrifice for the atonement for sin and guilt.

Lancaster brought up the obvious objection of the Akedah or the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) but the flaw here is that God did not allow Abraham to actually kill Isaac. It was a test, not a human sacrifice.

This is the problem with Christianity reading from the Gospels and Epistles backward into the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. If you start with a New Testament mental and interpretive template, it forces standard Christian doctrine into the Old Testament text. Unfortunately, this results in erroneous conclusions based on Christian tradition.

So if the blood of goats and sheep never, ever took away sins in the first place, and Jesus can’t in any sense be considered an acceptable sacrifice, how does his death take away sin? Are the anti-missionaries and apostates right? Is Christianity a crock?

First of all, the writer of the Book of Hebrews says that the death of Jesus takes away sins once and for all in his single sacrifice:

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:10

After that single act, Jesus waited and still waits.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.

Hebrews 10:11-13

LevitesOn Earth, the Levites had to daily minister in the Temple, but the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem were never designed to take away sins, but instead, to cleanse the bodies of those desiring to draw near to the Divine Presence physically (Hebrews 9:13). The sacrifice of Jesus was qualitatively different in that it enables people to draw near to God spiritually (Hebrews 9:14). But now that the single sacrifice of Jesus has been made, he need offer no other sacrifices in the Heavenly realm, but waits seated at the right hand of the Father for the final battle to begin, when his and Israel’s enemies will be laid at his feet.

Verses 14-18 cite the New Covenant, specifically how God will write His Torah on the hearts and minds of the people of Israel and he will cleanse them of sin forevermore. In fact, verse 12 says for all time,” which Lancaster interprets as from the beginning of human history and the sin of Adam and Havah (Eve) to the end. So the blood and death of Jesus cleanses you and me of our sins two-thousand years after he was slain, and cleanses Abraham of his sins two-thousand years before the crucifixion, even though Jesus was executed at a single point in time, the early First Century CE. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

But first, we have to solve the mystery of how Jesus can be an effective sacrifice to atone for sin for all time and yet not be a literal Temple sacrifice. I mean, when John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God” do you really think John believed Jesus was a four-footed animal who grew wool and went “baa”? Of course not. John wasn’t being literal, the was being “literary”

The hearers and readers of the teachings of the Bible, that is, the ancient Jewish people, received these teachings within a certain conceptual context. They understood the Hebraic metaphors, symbolism, and wordplay being employed by the Prophets and the Sages of each time period in which the Biblical text was authored. As Christians almost twenty centuries later, we can make the mistake of either allegorizing the Bible, rendering God’s promises to Israel as “really meaning” promises to “the Church,” or we can be overly literal and attempt to directly compare the sacrifice of a sheep on the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover with the execution of a late Second Temple itinerant Rabbi, and one who ultimately was proven to be Moshiach, by a bunch of Roman soldiers at the command of the local Roman governor.

So if Jesus wasn’t a literal sacrifice, and comparing him to a lamb and the spilling of his blood to the splashing of the blood of lambs on the altar is metaphor, how does his sacrifice work?

self sacrificeThe answer isn’t very obvious in the Bible, which tends to throw a lot of people, but it has to do with God’s quality of absolute justice and something called “measure for measure.” That is, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.


Problem is, we see very little of that kind of simple justice in the real world:

Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?

Jeremiah 12:1

Good question.

According to Lancaster, the Pharisees answered Jeremiah’s (and our) question this way:

  1. Death is not the end. If it were, then our world, and God, is unjust.
  2. Justice is delivered in the resurrection when the righteous and the wicked are judged before God, with the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being condemned.

The righteous may suffer in this world, and even suffer horribly, but they will be rewarded in the Messianic Kingdom and the life in the world to come.

…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

Of course, even the best among us isn’t completely sinless. Even Lancaster admitted to having committed acts of which he is still ashamed and probably will be for the rest of his life. It can be said that we suffer in this world, at least in part, as a consequence of our own imperfections and our own sins, and thus, when we die, it can be said that our death is just because we have sinned. Even Paul said “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But what if a totally and completely sinless person should die unjustly? If he’s not suffering and dying in his own sins, when why is he suffering and dying at all?

Another explanation of AND THOU SHALT MAKE THE BOARDS FOR THE TABERNACLE. Why does it say FOR THE TABERNACLE? Should it not rather have said ‘ into a tabernacle ?  R. Hoshaya said: Because the sanctuary stands as a pledge, so that if the enemies of Israel became deserving of destruction, it would be forfeit as a pledge. Moses said to God: Will not the time come when Israel shall have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then? ‘ The divine reply was: ‘ I will then take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins. Thus too it says, And He hath slain all that were pleasant to the eye (Lam. II, 4).

-Exodus Rabbah 35:4

This Talmudic text points back to Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant, and specifically verse 11 which states:

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities. (emph. mine)

The Death of the MasterAlthough the traditional Jewish interpretation of these verses render the suffering servant as Israel, I have to agree with the Christian view in this case, and say that the Prophet is writing about Messiah, who as an individual person and who was completely without sin, suffered and died to justify the many.

The concept of the Suffering Tzaddik is known in Rabbinic literature and Lancaster even delivered a sermon on the topic. Although I haven’t listened to that sermon, I wrote a commentary of my own on the same subject several years back. Here’s part of one of the texts I quoted:

“… suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree … In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole.”

Derech Hashem (The Way of God)
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
As translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan
Feldheim Publishers
Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.
Quoted from Yashanet.com

To extend the thought, if a tzaddik or righteous one among the sages may die and atone for the sins of his generation, how much more so can death of the great tzaddik, the most righteous one, who was completely without sin, take away the sins of all peoples in all generations across the vast span of time.

Thus, the death of Jesus is effective to take away the sins of the world, but not because it was based on the sacrificial system that took place in the Temple as commanded by the Torah of Moses. It was effective based on God’s justice and the principle of “measure for measure.” If the completely sinless Jesus died an unjust death, to balance justice, since he did not die for his own sins, in the merit of his death, his blood atones for the sins, not just of many in a single generation, but of all people across all generations.

This also means that any comparison or “competition” between the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrificial system of the Temple is like comparing apples and airplanes. The one has nothing to do with the other. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was employing metaphor so he could get his point across, not saying Jesus was a literal lamb, or a literal sin offering. This is like saying Jesus is a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Jesus didn’t really establish and belong to this “order” of priests (and he certainly wasn’t literally Melchizedek). The Hebrews writer was using metaphorical language to say how Jesus could be High Priest in the Heavenly Court, even though he can’t and won’t qualify to be a Priest of any kind in the Earthly Temple (including the future Temple) in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

The biggest thing for me was nailing down the “time span” within which the sacrifice of Jesus atoned for sins. Lancaster says that metaphysically, it covered all sins across human history, from Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the very end of the age including our age and beyond.

…“for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

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.”

Romans 11:25-27

King DavidThis seems to answer the question, “are the Old Testament Jews saved?” The answer is “yes” if they sincerely repented of their sins. Like David’s lament in Psalm 51, it wasn’t the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and sheep that atoned for his willful sin with Bathsheva, it was repentance and a broken heart.

Lancaster didn’t address this, but it brings up the question of a Jewish person and if he/she must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. A Christian would say “yes,” and further, a Christian (at least some of them) would say that only Jews who believed in Jesus after the crucifixion were saved, since no one comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). However, if that is literally true, than all of the Jewish people who were born, lived, and died before Jesus (and the rest of humanity as well) were automatically condemned to eternal damnation.

But that violates the language of the New Covenant promises as well as Romans 11 and Hebrews 10. While I don’t understand it completely, the Jewish people, not just in the age when Jesus returns, but across time, will “mourn for him as one mourns for an only son” (Zechariah 12:10).

These conclusions won’t sit well with most Christians (and most Jews, since Lancaster will be accused of playing “fast and loose” with the Talmudic texts), especially the Bible literalists, but they have the benefit of making the older scriptures harmonize rather than drastically conflict with the Apostolic Scriptures. If we are to consider the Bible as a single, unified document describing God’s overarching redemptive plan for Israel, and through her, for the rest of the world, then we can’t have that plan jarringly switch tracks somewhere between the end of the Gospels and the beginning of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

If the Bible doesn’t appear to have a seemless flow that preserves God’s promises and integrity, and avoids making Him a liar by pulling the biggest “bait and switch” with Israel the world has ever seen, then the problem isn’t with the Bible, it’s with how the Bible is interpreted.

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:17-18

Photo: First Fruits of Zion

The consequence of the New Covenant promises to Israel is just that. On the merit of the death of the great tzaddik Yeshua who is the mediator of that covenant, God remembers the sins of Israel no more and writes His Torah within them so they will never sin again (but see last week’s review for why sin offerings will continue, even in the absence of people sinning). From that time on, with all sins forgiven, there will no longer be any offering for sin, for there will be no need for Israel to make sin offerings. They have drawn near to their God in Spirit and in truth.

May it be so for all of us who believe and make teshuvah before Hashem by the merit of Moshiach.

Tonight begins the festival of Sukkot. Chag Sameach Sukkot.

Tzav: Ashes at Dawn

burnt-offering-altarHe shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.

Leviticus 6:4 (JPS Tanakh)

What lesson do we learn from the ceremonious taking out the ashes from the altar each morning?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that the taking out of the ashes that remained on the altar from the previous day expresses the thought that with each new day, the Torah mission must be accomplished afresh, as if nothing had yet been accomplished. Every new day calls us to our mission with new devotion and sacrifice. The thought of what has already been accomplished can be the death of that which is still to be accomplished. Woe unto him who with smug self-complacency thinks he can rest on his laurels, on what he has already achieved, and who does not meet the task of every fresh day with full devotion as if it were the first day of his life’s work!

“Carry forth the ashes out of the camp.” Every trace of yesterday’s sacrifice is to be removed from the hearth on the Altar, so that the service of the new day can be started on completely fresh ground. Given these considerations, we can understand the law that prescribes the wearing of worn-out garments when one is occupied with the achievements of the previous day. The past is not to be forgotten. However, it is to be retired to the background, and is not to invest us with pride before the fresh task to which each new day calls us. (Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary)

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Tzav

I have been accused of being a very simplistic, very lyrical player, and that’s okay. That just comes from the blues, which is my background. But every day you wake up and transcend. You can’t ever rest on your laurels.

Carlos Santana

I could probably find dozens of similar quotes to illustrate this single point. But it’s a difficult point. Rabbi Packouz uses this lesson to tell us that our past successes do not transfer into the present. No matter how well you’ve done in anything, even serving God, you are only as good as you are today. Serving God well yesterday and then not serving God today just means you’re not serving God. Your “laurels” are already wilting, so to speak.

Carlos Santana says that “every day you wake up and transcend.” The Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson said this:

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.

Each day is a new opportunity to live, to serve God, to serve other people. Each day is a new opportunity to discover something new and exciting about yourself. It is why observant Jews recite the following blessing as their very first blessing to God, even before getting out of bed in the morning.

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”

But the sentiment works in another direction as well.

Success isn’t permanent and failure isn’t fatal.

-Mike Ditka
US football player and coach

failureI’ve noticed a good many people working in sales have that particular quote jotted on a sticky note or written on a white board in or around their work area. Success isn’t permanent. Rabbi Packouz and Carlos Santana both agree on that. But failure isn’t fatal, either. It only feels that way sometimes.

We were told to transcend limitations — but that doesn’t mean just jumping into the air with no idea of where you’re going to land!

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Said to one who fell into enormous debt trying to achieve miracles

Adding all this up, you might say, success isn’t permanent, serve God today as well as yesterday. Failure isn’t fatal, but don’t do anything stupid that will likely result in you failing God.

And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Luke 4:12 (ESV)

You may be eager to serve God but good intentions aside, eagerness is not enough. In fact misdirected, eagerness can get you in a lot of trouble. One horrible modern example is the “eagerness” of the Westboro Baptist Church which results only in demonstrations of bigotry and increasing the grief of the families of our fallen military personnel who gave their lives in the service of our nation.

Here’s another example of misguided eagerness and zealousness.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-5 (ESV)

Fortunately, Paul’s zealousness took a turn for the better, but he had to encounter the Master in a dramatic and startling way and be robbed of his sight before Paul could begin to see that he needed to travel in a different direction. Before that, he jumped into the air but didn’t realize where he was going to land.

Serving God is a partnership. It’s not just what you do and it’s not just what God does. We know we have a God who neither slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:4) and He is at work continually in the lives of human beings. But He requires that we work each day in His service, and that our work be considered and mindful, not random and reckless. This is why we not only read the Bible but study it. This is why we seek out fellowship with sober and mindful believers. This is why we pray for guidance and direction from the Holy Spirit. This is why we strive to do His will rather than our will.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Landron Paule_Histoire Sainte_Première Alliance_Droguet Ardant_Limoges 1991We don’t often think about the Master having a choice as to being crucified. It’s an uncomfortable thought that Jesus could have just said “no,” and escaped that night as he prayed in Gethsemane rather than surrender to God’s will and death.

But he had a choice. He could have said “no.” Instead, he said, “not my will, but yours, be done.”

Jesus had served God and human beings flawlessly for three years. He was without sin, so for his entire lifetime, we have to believe he never sinned. But it wasn’t about what he did yesterday. It was always about what he was going to do next with each coming dawn. So it should be with us.

Soon, Christians and believing Jews will mourn the loss of our Lamb and rejoice in the resurrection of our King. He teaches us that there are days when we dine on ashes, but then, the ashes of the offering are removed. Then it is time for us to rise from those ashes at dawn and to serve God anew. Some days we feel as if we have failed and have been burned out. But there is a new day coming, like the resurrection from the dead. If we fail to serve God today, it is as if we are still in the tomb. If we resolve to approach the service of the King as the dawning light of a new day, then we rise with him and in some small measure, share in his glory.

Remove the ashes of yesterday’s service for it is done. The sun has set and darkness is here. Then rise from the cold and dead ash and fly up like sparks into the flaming dawn. Today is bright and clear. It is life from the dead.

Good Shabbos.

Vayikra: Drawing Closer

eph-2-10-potter-clayThe Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.

Leviticus 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) primarily deals with what are commonly called “sacrifices” or “offerings.” According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: a “sacrifice” implies giving up something that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another. An “offering” implies a gift which satisfies the receiver. The Almighty does not need our gifts. He has no needs or desires. The Hebrew word is korban, which is best translated as a means of bringing oneself into a closer relationship with the Almighty. The offering of korbanot was only for our benefit to come close to the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra

Leviticus is one of the books of the Bible that many Christians can’t stand. It’s so boring. “Anyway,” we say to ourselves, “aren’t we done with all of those icky, bloody sacrifices?”

According to blogger and author Derek Leman, the sacrifices teach us a good many things about Jesus or Yeshua Our Atonement, as he titles his new book. No, I’ve not laid eyes on it yet but at some point, I’ll probably need to get a hold of a copy so I can review it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to offer what meager insights I have on this week’s Torah Portion and what it means for Christians.

The clue is in what Rabbi Packouz says about the nature of sacrifices or “korbanot” which has the meaning not so much of slaying an animal to appease God, but to bring an offering to God in order to draw closer to Him. Where else do we see this imagery?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV)

Paul calls us to be living sacrifices and Peter says to offer God spiritual sacrifices. Obviously, in neither case are they suggesting that we bring animal sacrifices to the Temple or to offer (gulp) our own bodies as physical sacrifices on the pyre, though as I once mentioned, every soul can be considered to be on the altar of God.

Peasants-Carrying-Straw-MontfoucaultWhen we connect our lives to making a “sacrifice for God,” we usually think of depriving ourselves of something, doing without, even suffering pain and torture. I can’t say that’s not what God will ask of us. After all, in China and elsewhere in the world, Brother Yun and many others like him have suffered greatly and sacrificed much for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But regardless of what God may ask of you or me, whatever it is, it’s not a matter of what we are doing without but what immeasurable treasures we gain, the greatest of which is the drawing closer to God.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of waiting around to see what God will ask. Sometimes it’s a matter of looking around and seeing what needs to be done.

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov once came to the marketplace in Yaroslav. He was passing among the vendors, checking the quality of the straw and hay for sale, when he met his friend Rabbi Shimon of Yaroslav.

“Rebbe, what are you doing here?” R. Shimon asked in surprise.

“Leave out my ‘rebbe’ and your ‘rebbe,’ and come with me to carry a bale of hay to a poor widow who had no hay or straw upon which to lay her broken body,” the Sassover replied pungently.

The two holy leaders went together, hauling a bale of hay on their shoulders. Astonished bystanders stared in wonder and moved aside to make room for them to pass.

As they went, Rabbi Moshe Leib remarked, “Were the Holy Temple standing today, we would be bringing sacrifices and libations. Now we bring straw, and it is as though we have all the kavanot (spiritual intentions) that come with offering the minchah sacrifice.”

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov’s father, R. Yaakov, would take a job before Passover grinding wheat at the mill—not for himself, though he was also a poor man, but for a widow and orphan who lived in his neighborhood. And he did this despite his great and abiding love for the Torah, which he learned constantly.

Moshe Leib, his son, followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite his greatness in Torah, he did not worry about his honor when it came to performing acts of kindness for his fellow Jew with his own hands, even if they were beneath his status in the eyes of others.

-Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles
“In Place of a Temple Offering”
from Stories My Grandfather Told Me
quoted from Chabad.org

practicing_loveWe are the closest to God when we are the closest to other human beings, especially those who have needs far greater than our own. Here we see that two men, two Rebbes who normally did not carry their own straw much less carry straw for a poor widow drew closer to God by looking around, seeing a need, and responding unreservedly. Or as the Master taught:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12 (ESV)

Drawing closer to God is inconsistent with claiming self-righteousness, self-exaltation, and self-privilege. Servitude, humility, kindness, and a spirit willing to help with no expectation of return draws Creator and creation into close proximity. Seeking who we are in God brings us closer to God. Seeking who and what somebody else is in God as if it were our own will only bring trouble.

This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the earth.

-Ethics of the Fathers 6:4

Does observance of Torah require living a life of poverty and depriving ourselves of all the niceties of the world.

Certainly not. The Talmud is elaborating upon another Talmudic statement: “Who is wealthy? One who is content with his portion” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).

People who can be happy with the basics of life – food, clothing, and shelter – can truly enjoy the luxuries of life, because they can be happy even without them. Those whose happiness depends upon having luxuries are likely to be perennially dissatisfied, in constant need of more, and consequently unhappy, even if they have everything they desire.

A wise man once observed a display of various items in a store window. “I never knew there were so many things I can get along without,” he said.

If bread and water can satisfy us, then we can enjoy a steak. If we are not satisfied unless we have caviar, we will discover that even caviar is not enough.

Today I shall…

…try to be content with the essentials of life and consider everything else as optional.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Nisan 2”

open-your-handAs Rabbi Twerski says, this isn’t an invitation to pursue self-deprivation, to give all our belongings to the poor, and then move to India to work with lepers. It’s not even an invitation to abandon motivation and striving to better ourselves, our incomes, and our positions in life. It is, however, an invitation to consider that after we’ve done all we can in taking care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, to look around, take stock of our environment, and to realize that we should be satisfied with the gifts of God’s providence. It is from those gifts that we give back to others and give back to God, for everything belongs to Him anyway, and who we are and what we have only exists so that we may serve Him.

And by serving God and serving others, we serve ourselves, for what we then achieve is union and belonging and closeness to who and where we came from in the first place.

Good Shabbos.

The Best Within Us

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

In spite of the fact that this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church has often been read as part of the vows at innumerable weddings, it has nothing to do with romantic love. It is Paul’s message about a much greater love and, in my opinion, a love that it much more difficult to express consistently in a life of faith. In fact, I think the kind of love Paul is describing has a lot more to do with what he had to say to the church in Rome.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave itto the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

Interestingly enough, the Talmud seems to echo the same lessons that Paul teaches:

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

I suppose I’m belaboring the point I was trying to make last Friday afternoon, but this blog isn’t about presenting topicial commentary or clever scholastic mysteries, it’s about me writing what’s on my mind, my heart, and my spirit as I approach each new day. The sorry state of love among the human race, including those who claim faith in God is still consuming me. What makes it worse is the lack of love among people of faith seems not to bother them (us) at all. And I have to share the name “Christian” with some of these folks. No wonder the atheists accuse us of hypocracy.

I just recently saw the film The Avengers (2012) for the first time. I know that’s a strange statement for me to make given the context of today’s “meditation,” but I do have a point. As well as being a top notch action film and a lot of fun to watch, there were a few good lessons to be found about love, honor, and sacrifice. Ironically, it took a completely secular film to talk about the qualities we Christians are supposed to possess by definition.

Of all the characters in the film, Captain America (played by Chris Evans) is the epitome of those qualities I just named. He is what we think of, in old fashioned terms, as “the greatest American hero.” He’s the ideal of what we used to believe were the finest qualities about our nation and our citizens. National cynicism has since destroyed those ideals but maybe not completely. The film has more than a few reminders for us that not only does the character Captain America have a much needed place in our world today, but the ideals Captain America represents are what we most long for in our lives.

Cap is sometimes juxtaposed in the film against the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man, a person who at once has everything and nothing. A man who has wealth, position, power, and glamour, but at the expense of the finer qualities of Captain America, such as love of humanity, purpose, conviction, honor, and the ability to sacrifice even his own life if it will save others. Stark is always looking for the loophole. Steve Rogers, Captain America’s other identity, always faces his challenges head on.

Toward the climax of the film (and I’m sorry if I’m giving too much away), the only way for Stark to save New York City from nuclear destruction is to carry a nuclear missile through a dimensional rift out of our world, in order to destroy the attacking army. This is supposed to be a one-way trip, but there are no other options and no loopholes. Captain America’s example throughout the movie finally made an impression on Iron Man so that what began beating in his chest was not the electronic perfection of the machine keeping him alive, but a real human heart of compassion, even for millions of people who he’ll never know.

As in most fantasies, Stark is saved at the last minute and rewarded for his willingness to sacrifice his life by survival and the opportunity to appear in more movies, but what about the reality of this lesson? What can we learn about love and even about “heaping burning coals on the head of those who hate us?”

Remember, this lesson comes to us courtesy of a secular and atheist entertainment industry. It is however, an industry that does, within the context of the film, allow Captain American to utter one single line of dialog confirming his faith in God, which I found just amazing. This lesson in love, honor, and sacrifice (as opposed to raw vengence and self-satisfaction) comes to us from people who, in all likelihood, have never met the God of the Bible and perhaps never will this side of the Messiah.

Where is our lesson? Where is the lesson of the church?

I don’t doubt that many Christians do live up to the ideals of our Master. Many believers do not just speak, but live out the example of Jesus Christ. Many extend themselves to feeding the hungry, providing clothing to those who need it, welcoming strangers into their homes, visiting the sick in the hospital, and even extending a smile and a hand of friendship to those who revile them, even if they are other Christians.

The sad and sorry part of our faith is that there are those among us who use Christ as a blunt instrument with which to beat their perceived enemies about the head and shoulders until they’re bloody and bruised. And then these Christians congratulate themselves for aptly employing Jesus as an object of vengence and an example of “tough love” which is neither particularly “tough” in the sense of true strength and honor, or at all loving in the way Paul described love to the Corinthians.

More’s the pity.

What is the defining quality of Christianity, judgment or love? They both exist within our theology. We know a time of judgment is coming and most Christians feel immune to it, imagining that only their enemies the atheists will face such a terrifying fate. And yet the Master tells us this is absolutely not true. Just who do you think Jesus is talking to in Matthew 25:34-46? Why would athests be expected to give water to the thirsty and clothe the naked in Christ’s name? And why would the Master say this?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ –Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

In Romans 12:19, Paul quoted Leviticus 19:18 to remind us that vengence belongs to God, not men. The Master gave us all a new commandment to love each other as a way of showing the world around us that we belong to him (John 13:34-35). If I have to err in the expression of my faith, I prefer to err on the side of love and to leave (to the best of my limited abilities) the vengence to God. God’s vengence, when He chooses to express it, does not contain our human faults, hositilities, and insecurities, but only His justice, which is neither ours to take or to give.

If secular films such as The Avengers can be an inspiration for us to be better people, to be “heroic” in the love we can show others, why doesn’t the church show the world that Christ brings out the best within each of us? If you want to carry the Gospel message to a desperate and unbelieving world and show other Christians “how it’s done,” I can think of no better way to do it than to show love especially toward your “enemies” because of the ways of peace.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

-Bertrand Russell


A Christian Seeking Messiah ben David

Everyone agrees with all the wonderful advice and ethics written in the books of the sages. Everyone agrees that this is the way to run your life. The only issue each one of us has is whether those words are truly meant for me, or for someone else in some other time and place.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“For You”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

In some strange way, these few sentences capture the struggle we encounter at the intersection of Christianity and Judaism. I know that many Christians and Jews don’t believe their two worlds intersect at all, but in spite of 2,000 years of “discomfort” between us, we just can’t seem to get away from each other.

The other day, on my commute home from work, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Judeo-Christian.” I wish I could have talked to the driver to find out what they were thinking when they put that on their car.

Let me explain.

Judeo-Christian is a term traditionally used to describe a specific set of ethical or moral values often associated with American historical and cultural beliefs. It artificially forces a connection between Christianity and Judaism that most Jews don’t appreciate. Christianity doesn’t mind so much because of the knowledge that we wouldn’t exist as a faith without Judaism, at least the ancient Judaism that ended (from the church’s point of view) with the destruction of the Second Temple.

When pushed, Jews and Christians will admit to sharing some common values and goals, such as feeding the hungry and and visiting the sick, but the foundations of how Judaism and Christianity view God, the world, and just about everything else are fundamentally and radically different from each other. In some sense, it’s amazing that Christians and Jews can have a meaningful conversation at all, at least on the topic of God (I’m sure there’d be no problem discussing the World Series or something like that).

As many of you know, I’ve recently been trying to describe the linked relationship between Christianity and Judaism as part of Israel’s national redemption. It’s slow going because the idea that God would actually intertwine the destinies of the Gentile church and the inheritors of Sinai is foreign to the two groups. Even within the realm of Messianic Judaism, which should be a friendly environment for both, the idea that Christ can only come back if Christians support and embrace Jewish return to Torah has met with significant resistence (Read Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1 and Part 2, as well as Disconnect Reconnect Disconnect if you don’t believe me).

Paul in Romans 11 explains that it was necessary for there to be a separation between the Gentile believers and the Jews for the sake of the nations. But after so very long existing apart from each other, overcoming the walls we’ve built between us is no easy task.

So how do we live together while maintaining our separate identities? How do two people who are married maintain their own lives and wills and uniqueness?

I don’t know, except to say that who we are is built into us. No matter how much you may love your spouse, that love doesn’t erode your personality so you stop being you and start being them.

Something does happen, though. You learn to set aside some of your personal desires and preferences and to act for the benefit of your beloved husband or wife because you want to do good for them.

Our Master did no less for us.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” –John 10:11-18 (ESV)

The difference between him and us is that Jesus is our Master and we are his disciples and servants. We are not greater than the one who sent us. But with our spouse, neither husband nor wife is elevated over the other.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. –Galatians 3:27-29 (ESV)

But I’ve been wrong before.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

I was having coffee after work the other day with a friend and we were discussing this whole matter. We realized as we were talking that, after 2,000 years of ascendency; after 2,000 years of being the sole owners and arbiters of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Christian church might not want to acknowledge that “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” They might not want to repeat the words of the Master when he said (John 4:22) “salvation is from the Jews.”

In other words, we Christians might not want to face the fact that when the Jewish King returns, he will restore Israel to its rightful place at the head of the nations, he will establish forever the full redemption of his Jewish people, and it is we from among the nations who will “flow” up to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to honor the King of the Jews and to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Rather than the church expecting it to be the other way around. Rather than the Jews “flowing up” to Christianity and abandoning Judaism, the Torah, and ultimately, the Jewish Messiah King.

Kind of humbling for we Christians, isn’t it?

I cheated a bit when I quoted Rabbi Freeman earlier. Here’s the full text of what he said:

Everyone agrees with all the wonderful advice and ethics written in the books of the sages. Everyone agrees that this is the way to run your life. The only issue each one of us has is whether those words are truly meant for me, or for someone else in some other time and place.

If it is truth, it is meant for you, now, here.

There is a truth about our existence in this world that we aren’t always aware of. Maybe we’ve never been aware of it, but it rests inside of us, like a cocoon which appears dormant or even lifeless, and yet contains the beginnings of what will become a spectacular butterfly.

Like a new life being nurtured in a mother’s womb, the will of God for each of us is embedded within our souls, waiting for the right moment to begin to stir. I believe that’s what is happening now in Christianity and Judaism. I believe this is part of what the Master called in Matthew 24:8 “the birth pangs” (please don’t overanalyze that metaphor and say he was really talking about wars and earthquakes…I think he was also talking about what I’m talking about).

Any woman who has ever given birth can tell you that it is a wonderful, and terrifying, and ecstatic, and agonizing experience. So too are the birth pangs we are approaching as Christianity and Judaism, divided for so many centuries, approaches an intersection that God saw and destined before He built the foundations of the Universe.

Our Lord, our Master, our Messiah is coming, but we all play a vital part in summoning his presence. We in the church must encourage the Jewish return to Torah and national redemption of Israel. Israel must be that light to the nations, drawing us all to God. Then the Moshiach will come, the Jewish King will ascend his throne, and the Temple of God will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.

For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. –Hosea 3:4-5 (ESV)

Blessed be the nation of Israel and may she return her heart to God and the Torah, that she may be redeemed and restored. And may the Messiah come soon and in our day.

Burning Alive

“…till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Psalm 103:13-16 (ESV)

The Apostle Peter had a slightly different spin to Psalm 103:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for:

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. –1 Peter 1:22-25 (ESV)

I write these “meditations” a day ahead, so who knows how I’ll be doing by the time you actually read this, but as I’m keyboarding this message, I am very much aware that “all flesh is grass,” (Isaiah 40:6) here one day and gone the next. I’m not feeling very “imperishable.” It’s not a perfect world. Today, it doesn’t even seem to be a particularly good one.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued another call Sunday to free Jonathan Pollard. His appeal came shortly after Pollard was rushed to a hospital.

“The time has come to free Jonathan Pollard. The Jewish people’s holiday of freedom should become his personal holiday of freedom,” the Prime Minister declared.

-by Maayana Miskin
“Esther Pollard: Don’t Make Me a Widow”
First Publish: 4/8/2012, 3:25 PM
Arutz Sheva News Agency

This is only one example of an injustice occurring during one of the most holy times on the Jewish calendar (and I suppose on the Christian calendar too, though Easter has just ended). My “calendar” isn’t exactly filled with joyous rapture these days either. Lots of reasons, though none that I’m prepared to disclose. I wonder if that’s the point, though. Is faith and trust in God, let alone in ourselves, supposed to be dictated in terms of circumstances? Not according to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (appropriate last name for this Passover, don’t you think?):

Why do we kick ourselves so hard when we make a mess? Because we pat ourselves so nicely on the head when we succeed. As though success and failure is all in our hands.

Yes, we believe. We believe that it is not our talents, our brains, our good looks and hard work that brings success, that everything is in the hands of heaven.

But when we walk out the door into the cold, real world, we leave our faith behind in a world of fantasy.

If we would chew on it a little and allow it to digest before we went through that door, if we would let it sink into our minds and our hearts, then it would be more than faith — it would be a vision, an attitude.

It would be more real than even a dollar bill.

Although Freeman’s message is more oriented toward comparing the spiritual to the commercial (hence the “dollar bill”), the fact that we kick ourselves when we’re down and pat ourselves on the back when we’re up seems to show how the center of our reality is us rather than God. If, when life deals us harsh blows or when life grants us lush blessings, we were to consistently turn to God in praise, the condition of our lives wouldn’t really matter, would it?

Then why do we still feel pain and sorrow? Shouldn’t true people of faith be immune to “situationalism” by now? Is that why all the “real” religious bloggers only talk about their lives in upbeat, positive terms, because either nothing bad ever happens to them or bad things never affect them?

It’s often why I take inspirational blogs, religious or not, with a grain of salt.

But speaking of which, another of Rabbi Freeman’s messages states that, “In the heavens is G-d’s light. In the work of our hands dwells G-d Himself, the source of all light.” God is not (supposedly) hiding from us up in Heaven, but He’s right here with us, occupying everything we’re doing, every experience we are having, and perhaps even everything that we’re feeling.

But instead of listening to me kvetch, God has something to say, and He wants me to shut up long enough to hear Him.

There are questions to which G-d says to be quiet, to be still, to cease to ask. The quietness, the stillness, the abandonment of being, that itself is an answer.

-Rabbi Freeman
Be Quiet

It’s tough to abandon my being when the pain from the splinters in my soul and psyche keep bringing me back to myself.

All flesh is grass, especially mine.

Peter failed the Master by denying him three times publicly right before the crucifixion. The disciple upon whom the “church” would be built came to his lowest ebb at that time and in the days that followed. The resurrection of Christ still didn’t heal his wound, and Jesus himself added to Peter’s pain:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. –John 21:15-17 (ESV)

Maybe you don’t see this transaction the same way as I do, but try to picture the scene. Peter is humbled and humiliated at having denied that he had anything to do with Jesus as the Master was undergoing his false trial. His betrayal and shame could only have gotten worse in the hours and days that followed, as Christ was tortured and then slowly murdered upon the cross. No wonder he and the others among the core disciples went into hiding.

Of course Peter ran to the tomb on even the slim hope that Jesus had been resurrected three days later, but that wasn’t going to fix the problem. Yes, the return of the Master from death was a joy beyond measure, but then, as we see recorded in John’s Gospel, Peter had to face his “accuser” again, the man he had horribly abandoned.

The Master asked, “Do you love me?” I wonder if Peter asked this question about his love of the Master. I wonder if he said, “How can I say I love him when I am so guilty?” How could Peter say, “Lord, you know that I love you” in response? How could he love even God when he must have so loathed himself?

Unlike Peter, in my current circumstance, I can’t say that I really failed. I only feel responsible because I’m involved. No one has failed, but when someone you love is hurt and in need, and you struggle to find a way to help and can’t, it still feels like failure. It also creates unbidden tension in other relationships, which serve as a reminder that after all, you’re only human.

I’m only human, and I am grass, cut and thrown into the fire, withering and turning to ash, even as I write.

I am on fire and soon the fire will be gone, and there will be only hot ash and smoke. And then that will cool, and the cold, dry ash that used to be me will be caught up in the breeze, become airborne, and scatter, carried by the four winds.

Even that would be a comfort, but I can’t let that happen because I’ve still got so much to do and have too many people who depend on me.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him… –Job 13:15 (ESV)

But God is gracious. As miserable as things can seem sometimes, He can also lighten the load. A little while ago, God relaxed the pressure He was putting on my skull with His thumb and I’m really grateful that He did. The fire is beginning to die down and I’m still here and in one piece. We may be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), but there’s only so much we can take before we break, or God, in His mercy, takes us off the altar.

Like Icarus, my wings have melted and I’ve fallen to the ground, but my ashes are cooling and pretty soon, I feel like I might be able to rise up from them again.

Maybe this time I’ll get a new set of wings, or maybe God will just heal the old ones.