Forgive them…

It was said: unforgiveness caused the holy altar in the Jerusalem Temple to weep. Why? Unforgiveness.

Unforgiveness, from an intentional act or something unintentional, separates; it divides.

The altar is the place where sacrifice was offered. One word for sacrifice קָרְבָּן/qārbān, means to draw near, and is from a root meaning to approach or be near to; it is also the root of cherub. The altar is where man approached God; and then, from a place of His forgiveness, he would then reconnect to man. Drawing near to God will inevitably draw us nearer to others.

The first sacrifice listed in Leviticus 1 is the עֹלָה קָרְבָּנוֹ, the Burnt Offering, or raising up and near to sacrifice. It was a total offering to God, representing the worshipper giving himself totally to God (Ro. 12:1); but it could not be given while in unforgiveness. As one draws near, and the other divides.

In that divide we dwell alone, giving not to God or others, but only to ourselves; as we cultivate the fruit of unforgiveness in our lives. The heart principle of godly sacrifice was giving our best to God, not ourselves. When we give we draw close. When we give the best of ourselves, we then invest ourselves, our lives, not in ourselves, but God.

In Genesis 2:18, the Torah says:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ

“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.”

When we are alone, in unforgiveness, we give to ourselves, and only ourselves. In fact, we take, rather than give. Isolation breaks us down, drives us inward, not outward.

Messiah Yeshua/Jesus taught:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).

Additionally, at the conclusion of the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35): “So also My heavenly Father will do to you, unless each of you, from your hearts, forgives his brother” (Matt. 18:35). Note the word “torture” in verse 34, not that God Himself will torture us; but rather, we will actually become our own torturers. Allowing torment to reside in our hearts and minds.

Why would He not forgive us in our unforgiveness towards others? We can answer this in many valid ways, but it is simple: unforgiveness not only divides us from those we are not forgiving, it separates us from Him. We turn, as it were, not to Him, but away from Him. We can rationalize unforgiveness in many ways, but in the end, extending forgiveness is not for them but for us. They may not want it, ask for it, or know they need it; but the act of forgiveness releases us from holding a debt that accrues bitterness, resentment, anger, and hatred. Yes, there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Ro. 8:1), but neither would we be living rightly by the Spirit of God in Christ while walking in unforgiveness!

If the sages conceived of the altar crying due to unforgiveness, how much more does our Father in heaven weep at unforgiveness? How much more does He agonize over our separations?

There is so much unforgiveness in the world; and surprisingly, it is rampant in the congregation of God as well. No matter the reason, it is not good for man to be alone; but especially alone in unforgiveness. It’s time we trust in the grace that God has extended in forgiveness, and experience the power of the Gospel in our lives once again. We must learn to place our hurt, and the cause of it, upon Messiah, whereby we draw close to Him and every promise found in Him (II Cor. 1:20). He gave us the example, while nailed to the cross, bloodied and beaten: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Yes, we are not that strong, and we are not Him; BUT, we are in Him, therefore, we can, we will, and we must. Yet, it takes humility. Listen to Peter’s words:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (I Pet. 5:6-7).

Be well. Shalom.

A Storks Kindness

Reading the lists of clean and unclean foods and animals found in the Bible can seem pointless, even extremely antiquated. Yet, there is a rabbinic teaching that says the lists of clean and unclean food are not so much about the food, but about us. We should not take on, as we might say, the qualities of forbidden foods.

But what of the stork? It’s on the forbidden list (Deut. 14:18), but why?

Stork in Hebrew is חֲסִידָה/ḥăsîḏâ, meaning: the kind bird, stork. It’s from the root חָסִיד/ḥāsîḏ, meaning pious, godly, holy, merciful, saint. Aren’t these good qualities? Well, yes. We are to be holy disciples of Messiah, saints. Appearances, however, can sometimes be deceiving.

The stork identified in the Bible was recognized for its kindly, compassionate behavior, but only to storks of its kind. Towards other birds, they were noted to be cruel at times.

The message is simple, our kindness, godliness, mercy, and grace is to extend beyond those of our own “kind,” beyond those like us. We cannot adopt a storks faith. We must recognize the image of God in the human other, even those we do not know, recognize or relate to, and respond according to His Word.

Messiah examples this for us in John 4, by His interaction with the Samaritan woman of unsavory character, delivering a message of forgiveness and recovery. Also, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10), making a recognized enemy the hero of the drama. Messiah warns against acting hypocritically, directing us to act faithfully (Lev. 19:18, 34).

It is easy to act in a kindly manner toward those most like ourselves; but we do not live righteousness in a vacuum. We live His Word in a complex world, with many different peoples, and customs.

Take the kindness the Living God has shown you, show it to those close to you, but also to those you do not know, probably would choose not to know, and there, you will learn the depths of His amazing grace. Difficult, but God. Hallelujah!

Be well. Shalom.

It Could Be Today…

When the barrier of the four minute mile fell, a time that seemed impossible for a human being to reach, there was nothing on that day to indicate: today is the day!

Roger Bannister, who would later become a medical doctor and academic, stepped up to the line on May 6, 1954 before 3,000 people, and some of the most elite runners of his time. He had probably run this race many times in his mind; but due to severe wind, earlier in the day Bannister had withdrawn from the race, only to reenter after the winds died down.

Having endured the emotional turmoil to run or not run, wind and weather, perhaps pressure from coaches and teammates, he ran the race of his life. He overcame the adversity of the day, and entered the day the Lord had prepared for him with a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.

Incredibly, it was due to an apparent failure at the Olympic Games, coming in fourth in his event, when Bannister set his mind to breaking the four minute mile barrier. He could have resigned himself to a fourth place at the Olympic Games, but instead, he used that moment to catapult himself to a greater moment: an impossible moment.

His record of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, that legendary four minute mile barrier that for so long stood as an insurmountable obstacle, was beat again two weeks later, and then again, and again. When one did the impossible, others found the strength to do it as well.

Dr. Bannister had dropped out due to adverse conditions. What he believed he needed in order to run his race was not present. The best conditions were not there. Better to drop out than fail, or fall short. Yet, when the slightest of opportunities presented itself, he stepped up to the line.

Many of us are facing challenges that we had not expected. We are tried, worn out, and ready to drop out. Yet, Dr. Bannister reminds us that in the face of apparent failure or set back, we can choose to get back in the race, and overcome the impossible, even our own doubt. Paul beautifully inspires us:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (II Tim. 4:7-8).

Paul has fought the good fight, in faith; and he reveals as the chapter unfolds, adversity, present in his race, that could have caused him to withdraw. Yet, he stayed in the race, and finished. After the finish line, there is a crown of righteousness, a victors crown. From Paul’s other writings we know he understands that we have received the imputed righteousness of Messiah, here pictured as a first place, victorious crown; but not only for him, no, for all who love His, Yeshua/Jesus, appearing.

Paul faced trial, and personal attacks; still he endured. Paul does not give us his finish time. We do not know how fast or slow he ran; some disagree with me on this point, and that is fine, but if all we can do at times is crawl in the race, we are still in the race … the race that Messiah has already won.

As we read in the psalms, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:34). This day, the one He has made, could be the day that the impossible becomes, not just possible, but present reality. Paul did not exhort us to wait on the perfect conditions, just be in the race. There is a precious reward just up ahead, Christ Himself.

When we read of Paul’s endurance, written in a deep, dark dungeon, knowing what he had endured for many years, most of us would understand if he said, “I give up Timothy. I tried. I failed. Here I die.” But he did not: “ … my time of departure has come, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” He kept believing. He held on.

As the Holy Spirit revealed to me recently: hope takes hold, and faith holds on. I pray that we move past the starting line, get in the lane He has set us in, and keep running – when our muscles spasm, our breath fails, our strength has gone – when everything in us says “stop.” I pray we keep going. As we do, He is faithful to do the impossible on the day He has made, and even when He does not, His grace will keep us in His race. It could be today that the insurmountable obstacle moves, but we will not know until He makes the day.

Be well. Shalom.

Vision of Repair

This Shabbat is called שבת חזון/Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of Vision; and it immediately precedes Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. Traditionally it is a fast day remembering many tragic events in Jewish history: the return and false testimony of the spies in the wilderness; the destructions of both Temples in Jerusalem; expulsions from England and Spain; and many other tragic events. It is a time of fasting, and mourning, but also hope.

The haftara, portion after the Torah, reading of Shabbat Hazon is from Isaiah 1:1-27. The name of this Shabbat is taken from the first word of this prophetic book: חֲזוֹן/Hazon – vision. Isaiah opens with an accounting of the waywardness of God’s people. The judgment that is to come, but also a plea of “come let us reason together, says the Lord …” (Isa. 1:18), the hope and vision of reconciliation.

Before one mourns destruction, we must have vision of repair.

Tisha b’Av, as a day of mourning, remembers many tragic events in Jewish history; all attributed to that day. I recall hearing a talk on Tisha b’Av some years ago where the rabbi explained that the reason one day was designated as the day of mourning is because if we were to mourn every event on the day it happened, we would be mourning every day.

The rabbis say that the second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hate, שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם/sinat chinam. While שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם, is often translated as baseless hate, it has a deeper meaning: hatred of grace. The grace that is to be between brethren, how we view others, and how we love them must be in keeping with His grace, as Paul writes, “See that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all” (I Thess. 5:15). Here, Paul is writing of grace through forgiveness, and grace in action (I Cor. 13).

In our moments of struggle with others, heaven forbid that they should come, we must see past the moment, even in the difficulty, to the reconciliation. Before the mourning, the vision. This is the vision of repair of brokenness. It is the vision of grace working, forming and conforming us to the image of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus (Ro. 8:28-29). It is a vision of repair of a broken society.

If שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם/sinat chinam, baseless hatred, a hatred of grace, destroyed the physical Temple in Jerusalem, how much more does does it destroy the Temple of God in us (I Cor. 3:16-17)? We love grace when we are on the receiving end, but we are prone to holding back grace when it is us needing to give.

Beloved friends: grace wasn’t ours in the first place. Give it. Love His grace! Freely give it, especially when the pain is so deep. Have a vision of repair even before the garment is rent. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “If you believe you can break something, have faith that you can repair it.” Messiah Yeshua said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Again Paul, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

The Body of Messiah is in need of loving repair. It is in need of the grace that saved it to be at work among us. May we return again the Lord who redeemed us, cleansed us, and who so deeply loves us. May we learn to kindly, and even lovingly disagree, not to separation, but Lord willing, ultimately restoration.

It’s hard; but with God, nothing is impossible.

Shabbat Shalom; and I pray He blesses you with a vision of repair, forgiveness, and renewal to His glory. Amen.