Tag Archives: teshuvah

Faith on a Desert Island

clouds
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what happens then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel more connected when I write here.

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

The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian

Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time to review the past and look at where you’ve come in life. It’s a preparation for the upcoming “Days of Awe”—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—when we resolve to do better this year than last.

The theme of Elul is return to your essential self—a.k.a. teshuvah—helped along by prayer and charity. “The King is in the field,” they say, meaning that the G‑dly spark within you is much more accessible, as long as you search for it.

-from “The Month of Elul”
Chabad.org

Elul and ShofarThe month of Elul on the Jewish calendar begins this coming Sunday, September 4th. As the quote above testifies, it’s a month of preparation and personal reflection as the High Holy Days rapidly approach.

Two years ago, I wrote a rather lengthy blog post regarding the impact of Elul on both Judaism and (potentially) Christianity. Since then, things have changed a great deal.

I suppose if Christians have a “month of preparation” it occurs in the spring at the approach of Easter.

But I’ve always appreciated the formality of Judaism in endeavors of self-examination, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.

I suppose Catholicism has its rituals and ceremonies as well, but I’ve never found them particularly Biblical or attractive (though I know some will disagree with me on this).

As non-Jews, whether we call ourselves disciples of Yeshua or Christians, we don’t really have a lot of access to the Days of Awe unless we make that access for ourselves. That requires more from us as individuals, a greater personal dedication to approaching the Throne of God, abasing ourselves, praying for the strength to turn around, to turn back toward Him.

We don’t have a community (most of us, anyway) that embraces a specific praxis focusing on the path of returning to God or trying to find Him in the first place.

A few days ago, I wrote a fictional short story about a man struggling between discovering God and hiding from life. Ultimately, it’s God who finds him, and in a rather unusual venue, certainly not in a church.

Going to GodI think that’s where many of us are much of the time. If we really make the effort to connect to God what will it say about who we are? Will we even like what we discover?

In observant Judaism, every day during the month of Elul, except for Shabbat, the shofar is sounded after morning services as a sort of “wake up call” to prepare for Rosh Hashanah or the New Year. Usually when writing a message such as an email or blog post, Jews will finish with the phrase “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.

Psalm 27 is added to the morning and afternoon daily prayers.

There are other customs and the link I provided above to Chabad will render that information if you’re interested.

For a Jew, a relationship with God is personal, but it’s most often expressed in community. Christianity has community as well, but technically, it is represented by many people, by the nations, whereas Jews are a single people, a specific nation called out by God.

The Jewish religious calendar maps out the practice of a Jew and I suppose, depending on your denomination, your church has its own traditions and rituals as well. I’ve never found Christian traditions satisfying, though.

We don’t have the shofar blowing and it would probably seem strange to our friends and family if we started ending our missives to them with “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.

If any of us choose to follow the prayers, we can acquire the siddur of our choice through any online Judaica store. There are probably some Messianic siddurim available. I imagine a Google search would yield appropriate results.

siddur
Photo: bcc-la.org

Thus we could follow the tradition of adding Psalm 27 to our personal prayer time. Just be mindful of context. After all, we are not Jews and we are not Israel.

According to the Chabad, selichot are prayers asking God for forgiveness. Christians believe that once forgiven, always forgiven, so this isn’t always a common practice in many churches.

My wife, who is Jewish, says that rather than being depressing because of the emphasis on sins and judgment, the High Holidays are exhilarating. God is offering to hit the “reset button,” so to speak, to lay out a brand new, squeaky clean year for His people Israel. Jews have a unique opportunity annually, to live the next year better than they did the last.

But according to the Bible, forgiveness and redemption are available for the non-Jew as well, and from a Christian perspective, it’s our devotion to Yeshua (Jesus) that allows us to access those blessings. However for people like me, who are non-traditional and Hebraically oriented in our theology, if we choose to use the month of Elul in a manner similar to the Jews, we have to create the context and practices for ourselves.

Both Christians and Jews know they can ask for forgiveness at any time of year, however, for Jews, the month of Elul is a time to concentrate on what they’ve done for the past year, to right wrongs, ask for forgiveness from those people they have offended, and to ask for forgiveness from God.

We may not belong to Jewish community, but as private individuals, we could choose to adopt some of what the Jews do during Elul anyway, though more spiritually rather than too closely mimicking Jewish praxis.

In the past, I’ve written about community for the “Messianic Gentile,” but my experiences over the past few years have taught me it’s not really available for the vast majority of us either physically or emotionally. Sure, we can create our own groups, but anyone who’s tried to run a small congregation or even a regular home Bible fellowship can tell you how difficult it is to maintain over the long haul.

Besides, trying to figure out how to have a “Hebraic” praxis for non-Jews while avoiding treading too heavily on Jewish identity and particularity isn’t easy. I’ve fought in those wars in the past and have concluded for personal reasons that since I’m not Jewish, I shouldn’t walk that path. It’s too much like stealing another person’s clothes and then wearing them as your own.

And trying to do any of this in a traditional Christian setting in most cases won’t be practical, since the “Hebraic” praxis will be alien in that context. In fact, it might be received by Christian peers adversarially.

standing aloneSo more and more, this is a blogspot about the individual non-Jew who is neither fish nor fowl, who doesn’t fit in either world, and yet can’t adjust his or her perspectives on the Bible to “get along” with a more traditional congregation, whether Christian or Jewish.

From that perspective, while the month of Elul and all that it holds is communal for the religious Jews, for the rest of us, well, those few who are like us, it remains individual, at least until the Messiah returns.

Atonement, The Temple, and Tisha B’Av

Animal offerings aided the atonement process, as they drove home the point that really the person deserved to be slaughtered, but an animal was being used in his/her place. The offering also helped atonement in many mystical ways. But we should not mistake the animal offering for more than what it is. It was an aid to atonement; it did not cause atonement.

“Atonement Today”
from the Ask the Rabbi column
Aish.com

One of the questions Christians sometimes have about Judaism is how religious Jews expect to make atonement for sins without the Temple. The traditional narrative goes that God allowed the Temple to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE because He had annulled the system of animal sacrifices, the system of Levitical priests, and all of the promises and commands about them that God previously said were eternal.

Christians tend to believe that God sent Jesus to replace the Temple sacrifices and to be our permanent, once in a lifetime atonement, as opposed to having to make an animal sacrifice every time a Jew committed a sin.

I can only believe Christians imagine that there was a perpetual line of Jews in front of the Temple waiting their turn to make a sacrifice. If that were the case, if every time a Jew committed a sin of any kind they had to make the journey to the Temple, they wouldn’t be able to go anyplace else.

Praying ChildIn contrast, for a Christian, every time he or she sins, they can pray to God in Christ’s name where ever they are and whatever they’re doing, and it’s all good.

Well, that’s not how it worked.

First of all, not all sacrifices had to do with sin and even those that did were specifically for unintentional sins, that is, an act someone committed they didn’t know what a sin. When they discovered that they had sinned unintentionally, then they offered the appropriate sacrifices at the Temple.

That probably wasn’t all that common.

But the quote above speaks of the animal being a substitute for the person offering up the animal, that the person knew he or she should be the one to die instead. What about that?

The verse says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psalms 51:19). This teaches us that a person who does teshuva is regarded as if he had ascended to Jerusalem, built the Temple, erected the Altar, and offered all the offerings upon it. (Midrash – Vayikra Rabba 7:2)

When a person transgresses a mitzvah in the Torah, he destroys some of his inner holiness. He cuts himself off from the Godliness that lies at the essence of his soul. When a person does teshuva — “spiritual return” — he renews and rebuilds the inner world that he has destroyed. On one level, he is rebuilding his personal “Temple” so that God’s presence (so to speak) will return there to dwell.

-ibid

If we can understand not only the Psalmist David but the Rabbi correctly, it would seem that teshuvah, or sincere repentance is what draws us nearer to God on a spiritual level. That’s as true today as it was thousands of years ago when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, and further back still when the Mishkan or Tabernacle went with the Children of Israel through the wilderness.

So why make animal sacrifices at all if the true sacrifice is a broken spirit?

What inhabited the Tabernacle and later the Temple?

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

Exodus 40:34-35 (NASB)

It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

1 Kings 8:10-11

shekhinaThe Shekinah, often referred to in Christianity as the “Glory of God,” filled and inhabited the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and later Solomon’s Temple.

Prayer and true repentance brought any Jew, no matter where he or she was, spiritually closer to God. An animal sacrifice was required to allow the Jew to come nearer to where the Shekinah dwelt physically.

The Aish Rabbi doesn’t say that exactly, and I must admit the idea isn’t my own. I simply can’t remember where I learned it. If it was from anyone reading this, I’m not trying to rip you off, I really can’t recall the source of this information.

This year, Tisha B’Av or the Ninth day of the month of Av, the solemn commemoration of the many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people, begins this coming Saturday at sundown and continues through Sunday.

Jews all over the world will fast, and pray, and turn their hearts to God. I don’t mean to say that the Temple isn’t important, even vital to the lives of the Jewish people. Jews will weep over the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’Av as well as for many other tragedies.

The Jewish people long for the coming of Messiah who will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and restore the sacrifices and the Priesthood.

So am I saying that Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ) is irrelevant to Jews, that they can pray to God and be forgiven of sins without acknowledging Yeshua?

That’s complicated.

For we non-Jews, our access to the God of Israel is the direct result of our faith in Yeshua and all he accomplished, but I don’t believe for a second that he replaced anything. We non-Jewish disciples of our Master require our Rav in order to benefit from any of the blessings of the New Covenant.

The advent of Messiah was the next logical extension of the all the promises of God to Israel we find in the Tanakh (Old Testament), and then to the rest of the world. Yeshua came the first time as the forerunner of how God would fulfill the New Covenant promises. That includes his being the forerunner of the total and permanent forgiveness of all Israel’s sins as it states in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34; Romans 11:27) When he comes again, it won’t be as a preview but the main event.

I can’t believe that God out of hand rejects all Jewish people who didn’t convert to Christianity and believe in the Goyishe King. That would include the vast majority of Jews who have lived and died over the past two thousand years. God would never abandon His people Israel this way, nor expect them to violate the Torah mitzvot for the sake of eating a baked ham on Easter.

Tisha B'Av
photo credit: Alex Levin http://www.artlevin.com

I do believe that a Jew who acknowledges Yeshua as the sent Messiah, the Jewish King, Rav Yeshua, not to draw them away from Jewish praxis but to intensify it, crystallize it, bring that practice into sharper focus relative to the entry of the New Covenant into our world a bit at a time, is acknowledging Yeshua’s role as the mediator of that covenant, the living representation of the permanent forgiveness of sins, and the one who will rebuild the Temple at the end of these “birthpangs of Messiah” we currently experience.

Starting at sundown this Saturday, after the conclusion of Shabbat, there will be many tears shed by the Jewish people in their homes and their synagogues for all they have lost. But there will come a day when He shall wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4) and return joy and fulfillment to His people Israel through Messiah.

And when God has restored Israel, then the nations will be healed as well.

Afterword: I’m fully aware that I’m no expert on the Temple or the sacrifices, and I wrote this blog post on the fly rather than doing a lot of research (as I probably should have), so if you find any errors I’ve made, let me know. Thanks.

Tipping Point to the End of Days

Question:

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

The Aish Rabbi Answers in Part:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what if it has already happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 21:1-11 (NASB)

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

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

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

Matthew 23:37-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aish Rabbi states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 13:14-23

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

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

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

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

Matthew 24:37-39

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

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

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

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

The Aish Rabbi finishes his essay this way:

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

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

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

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

The Price of Admission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, we should consider…

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

Luke 19:1-10 (NASB)

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

Luke 7:36-50

prostitutes
Photo: krauserpua.com

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

Matthew 21:31-32

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

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

Mark 2:14-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:9-14

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

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

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

Matthew 4:17

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

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

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

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

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

And “sinners…?”

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

John 5:13-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I admit it.

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

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

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

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

Who Delivers the Consequences for Sin?

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

Psalms 112:1

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

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

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

Today I shall…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 5:14 (NASB)

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

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

1 Corinthians 5:4-5

consequences
Credit: NPR.org

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

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

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

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

…or myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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