Vision of Repair Part 2

Every week when I bless the congregation I lead, and before every prayer I say for someone, I first remind myself of the love I am to have for them, I check it, is it still there regardless of how I am feeling at the moment; but I am also reminding myself of God’s love for them. The rabbis explain that when Aaron blessed Israel with the priestly benediction (Num. 6:24-26), he was to do so with love (Sota 39a).

Aaron was to look out over Israel, with all of their complications, and bless them in אהבת חינם/ahavat chinam, or causeless love. His love for them was not based upon their merit, but God’s grace working in and through him.

As I wrote in a previous post, the rabbis say that the second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hate, שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם/sinat chinam (Yoma 9b). While שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם, is often translated as baseless hate, it has a deeper meaning: hatred of grace. Kindness withheld.

If there is a baseless hatred, or hatred of grace, working in the nature of man, then there should be אהבת חינם/ahavat chinam, a causeless love, or love in grace working in the renewed man: a love and grace that is freely given, not earned. The grace between brethren, how we view others and how we love them, must be in keeping with His grace; as Paul writes:

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2).

Certainly, we did not earn this gift of grace, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8); but, once we receive it, we are to walk imitating Him.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, wrote that if sinat chinam, baseless hatred, caused the destruction of the second Temple, then to rebuild Israel and the third Temple, ahavat chinam, causeless grace/love, would need to be cultivated among the Jewish people.

We can read Scriptures about grace in love and its application: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18); “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34)l “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); “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (I Jn. 4:16). And the list can easily be expanded; but until we walk in His causeless love, or a love in grace, as difficult as that sometimes is, we will not capture, cultivate or taste its fruit.

Perhaps the most widely known verse of Scripture is found in John 3:16, and it speaks of the Lord’s love for the world/humanity, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Or, an alternate reading, “For this is how God loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

For God so loved, He gave. This is the supreme example of ahavat chinam, causeless love, or love in grace. The giving of Yeshua/Jesus, the Son of God. From this act of ahavat chinam, causeless love, a love we did not merit or deserve, is born a vision of renewal, repair and celebration: “Then all the survivors will do up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16). Further, “After these things I looked, and behold, a vast multitude that no one could count – from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues – was standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9; specifically Tabernacles/Sukkot imagery).

Repair, renewal, and rebuilding in the human family requires grace, a grace that in fact has a cause: Him. His giving of causeless, unearned love to us, then flows out into the lives of others as His causeless love through us. If we view others with sinat chinam, a hatred of grace, then they will never merit receiving anything from us, as we will never lower ourselves to them. Yet, if we ourselves, as recipients of His ahavat chinam, causeless love, or love in grace, act as imitators of Him (Eph. 5:1-2), then we will freely give what has been freely given to us: His love, grace, mercy.

The action of ahavat chinam, causeless love, or love in grace, cares, as much as we are able, for the human being before us, made in the image of God. Remember, the love that we are to imitate and example: at times, love is nourishing the body of the unfortunate, or defending the life of those under attack, and in countless other circumstances.

Let us capture His חֲזוֹן/Hazon – vision of renewal, and join in His work of restoration, to His glory, and one day we will celebrate in exuberant praise before the Throne and the Lamb.

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.

The Miraculous Axe

Many years ago I was working on clearing some small trees and brush away from a natural pool of water on a neighbors property. There was a nice flow of water, and in this pool they could enjoy the cool water on a hot day. For the larger trees I used my chainsaw, but for the smaller branches around the pool, on trees they did not want taken down, I used my hatchet. It would be less damaging to the tree, and on the edge of the pool it was a safer option. When I was done I put the hatchet in my hammer holder on my belt, or I thought I did, then “splash!” Into the pool it went.

Of all the miracles recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, one that I consider from time to time, is perhaps the most unusual of them all, this includes the parting of the Red Sea, manna, and the sun standing still.

An axe-head falls into the Jordan River, and a prophet retrieves it; as we read, “So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it” (II Kings 6:4-6).

God does not want to bless you for the sake of blessing – He blesses you for the sake of healing. But why this miracle?

The young man who lost the axe-head was from בְנֵי-הַנְּבִיאִים, the sons of the prophets. In other words, he was a student of the leading prophet of the time Elisha. Elisha, “to whom God is salvation,” was a farmer, not surprisingly, when Elijah set his mantle on him. Elisha then destroys every means of returning to his former life: oxen, yoke, and his own clothes. He follows, serves, and learns from Elijah over a period of 12 years; and then, upon seeing Elijah taken away into heaven bodily, he walks with greater anointing than Elijah – a double portion, as he was “adopted” as Elijah’s spiritual son.

The young prophet, without income or any possession, borrows an axe, and promptly loses it; according to the Torah, Exodus 22:13-14, he is now liable for it, and must make full restitution. He borrowed it because he could not afford it in the first place; and in that moment, the waters of the Jordan became bitter for this young prophet.

Elisha cuts a branch, and tosses – literally “sent it” – to spot where the axe-head had fallen. The axe-head then rose from the water, and was restored. This miracle draws the readers attention back to Exodus 15:22-26, when Israel runs out of water, then coming to bitter waters they need a miracle to make them sweet. The Lord shows Moses a tree – or “taught Moses a tree” – and throwing it into the water, the waters are sweetened.

It seems a rather unusual miracle; however, what we notice of Elisha is that he walked the dusty streets, he went into the dirty shops, into the wars, the places where people worked, and where they lived, and brought the life and character of God there. He was present in life.

The young prophet who dropped the axe into the Jordan did not have the resources to make restitution to its owner, so Elisha restored an ordinary implement of labor by extraordinary means. Elisha made the young prophet whole again, thus removing the bitterness from the flow of blessing – the Jordan. Elisha cured the bitterness.

Yeshua/Jesus has done the same, and to a greater degree (Heb. 12:15). He did not endorse moving to the Jordan, away from the profane; rather, He sat and ate with tax-collectors and sinners. He healed and restored people so they could get back into life. He showed them extraordinary grace.

The crowd of prophets who followed after Elijah and Elisha often stood at a distance watching, not drawing near; but God never builds His Kingdom on the crowds standing and watching – He builds His Kingdom on those who press in.

After we sing, dance, praise, and learn in congregation, the world of harsh realities is still out there. People are still watching their ax-heads fall into the flowing water. Again, God does not want to bless you for the sake of blessing – He blesses you for the sake of healing: yours and theirs.

I did not get a miracle with my hatchet. I got wet. And at times we get wet for the recovery of life.

God is able.

He will still lift anyone’s ax-head – their loss in life – not for the sake of the loss, but for them. He is in the recovery business. And business is busy, but so good. Yet, sometimes, He does not send a stick into the water. Sometimes He sends you into the water; and in that sending, He includes you in the miracle of turning bitterness, loss, and hopelessness into eternal joy.

Hallelujah!

Be well. Shalom.

The Ragtag Remnant: Beauty in the Rubble

As the people of Messiah Congregation can attest to, prompted by the Lord, I spent seven months teaching through the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi. These books focus on the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the Jewish people as the first exile ends, and the return begins. In the wake of the pandemic, at the time, this prompting gave direction, invigoration, and hope that the Lord would complete what He had started.

As the Book of Ezra opens, the Lord stirs Cyrus to make a proclamation, allowing all the provinces of his kingdom to restore and worship their own gods in their temples.

Cyrus, or Koresh, means “keeper of the furnace,” and if you recall, Isaiah writes of Israel and the judgment leading to their restoration, “Behold, I have refined you, though not as silver. I tested you in a furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10).

It is one thing to prophesy the judgment leading to destruction and exile; it’s quite another to name the ruler who would open the way for their return some thee hundred (300) years prior to the events depicted in Jeremiah, Ezra and Nehemiah. God names Cyrus. Think about that, God named Cyrus, not his parents, the keeper of the furnace – the one who would do His will.

As Ezra 2 unfolds, those responding to the stirring of the Lord (Ez. 1:5) are accounted for; an accounting that is virtually identical to the one in Nehemiah years later. So what? With all of the ups and downs of the next 20 plus years, they make it, it wasn’t pretty, but they reconstructed His Temple.

It wasn’t a glamorous crowd, this ragtag remnant, perhaps not one that any of us would want to be part of, but they responded to the call to do God’s work, here is the meaning of some of those names from Ezra 2:

“The children of a flea,” the children of the one whom “God has judged,” the children of “the lost, the wayfarer,” the children from the “pit of the father,” the children of the one whom “God saved,” the children of the one who says “Jehovah is Father,” the children of the one “hidden or distant.”

It is as if the Lord is saying: “I build on fleas, upon those whom I have judged, the wayfarers, those delivered out of the pit, the hidden, the unseen, those at the bottom unafraid to join their hands in My work.”

The beautiful lesson of these names, is that there is room for all of us, and for everyone to join in His work.

So they set out, and after months of travel, Ezra dedicates one phrase to their journey, “When they arrived at the House of the Lord …” What? That’s it? Yup.

And what did they arrive to? A heap of rubble. But that’s not how they saw it, they arrived at the House of the Lord. Then some among the leaders gave according to their ability for the work yet to do, and they began to keep the fall feasts. Yet, they first built the Lord’s Altar (Ez. 3:2). There were no gates, no outer walls, no foundation, no structure, but they built the Altar. Why?

They arrived at the House not yet seen, and there, in faith, they built the Altar. The rubble was a testimony of past failures, and God’s judgment; but the Altar would speak to His promises, faithfulness, and to the future hope.

As you look to the pages of God’s Book, the people of God built altars in times of crisis, victory, and when they experienced defeat. Altars are places of worship to the Lord expressed as an act of sacrifice, where the one offering experiences a new beginning (Ro. 12:1). It is a place, where in the face of His magnificent grace, we have an attitude adjustment.

We cannot approach His Altar without believing in Him, desiring Him, and recognizing that He is worth far more than we have to give. He is worth all that we are, all that we will or could hope to be. Yet, by grace through faith He receives us in Messiah (Eph. 2:8-10).

We have entered an age of pressing, surrounded by voices of doubt and frustration. Yet, we cannot leave the work of God – believing in the One He sent – in stalemate: we press on.

As you face your rubble, speak God’s promises to it, just as that returning remnant did. They did not return to a pile of rubble, they returned to God’s House, even in the midst of the rubble.

Place this, dear reader, in your heart, the words of the apostle Paul, “Things no eye has seen and no ear has heard, that have not entered the heart of mankind – these things God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).

Certainly, in Christ, your latter days will be greater than your former days, when you trust Him (Hag. 2:9). Hallelujah!

Be well. Shalom.

Waiting on … Dothan

If you know me, it’s no secret that I love mountains. In fact, 46 of my friends are mountains. Each one having a unique personality and perspective. From any summit or approach in the high peaks region of New York State, I can look out and call by name those mountains looking back at me.

There was a minor earthquake in the Adirondacks earlier this week, very small 2.5, that caused me to meditate on the permanent, impermanence of mountains. I wondered about Mt. Marcy, our tallest mountain, shaking. It didn’t in this recent quake, but what would it take to move Mt. Marcy? Simply: an act of God.

My mind traveled back in time to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens on the Cascade Range in Washington State in 1980, I was 6. The eruption of this beautiful 9,677ft mountain reduced it to 8,363ft. Think about that! The mountain was moved, but tragically many people died, lives were changed, and property was destroyed.

I’m sure for someone Mt. St. Helens represented some personal mountain, something they hoped they could overcome, but didn’t believe was possible. But then, the mountain was moved, it was knocked down, it prominence and majesty irrevocably changed.

I love mountains, in nature. Personal, metaphorical mountains in life, honestly, I’ve climbed them, and I can do without them. Yes, I know there are more to come. Hey, at least I’m honest.

Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, was given a vision. It was ridiculous from a human perspective; and he arrogantly shared it with his family. At his young age, he had no idea the mountains and valleys that were to come before the purpose of that vision came to be: not for his glory, but Gods, and ultimately, salvation for others.

There is a period as the Lord begins to move Jospeh from his fathers house, to the hands of his brothers, and ultimately to the seat of power in Egypt, when it seems that God was quiet, not involved, not speaking, when happenstance seems to be in control. But God.

Only with years of anguish and sorrow, in triumph and tragedy, could Joseph see the hand of God orchestrating his life. Joseph remained faithful, even while the Father was quietly maneuvering him to be a rescuer of his family: even his brother who had wronged him. As Joseph tells his brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20; cf. Ro. 8:28-29).

Like Joseph, many of us seem to be on our way to Dothan. We are sent out, and at times it seems that we are unable to hear the whispering of heaven to assure us that we are heading in the right direction. Except for “the man” along the way telling us the way there.

Dothan, דֹּתָן, is an interesting word, as it seems to mean two wells, or a place of waters. Water often signifies life and refreshing in Scripture. And in Joseph’s case, it did mean life, just not the life he was expecting.

For the first time in many, many years, I find myself on that journey to Dothan. Not exactly sure as to why, and unable to discern the “why,” yet finding comfort that His will is ordering the way. For me, that is my Mt. St. Helens eruption, and the fracturing of the mountain of abandonment that I’ve attempted to cross for as long as my memory has been. While some pray for healing, I often pray: “I will never leave you … I am with you always … “ that’s my security, the presence of Christ.

It’s the paradox of go, and wait: hurry up, but be still!

Dothan is not the destination, it is a place of life and refreshing, for the next leg of the journey. Dothan is a place of life, but also a place of miraculous victory! It is a junction point that we look back to and say, “I needed to go there, in order to get here.” Where we go may not be what we are expecting, but it is what He is ordering. The purpose will only be clear after the rescue.

The mountains we pray to be moved in faith are moved by an act of God alone. We can hardly move ourselves, so let Him do the fracturing, the shaking, and ultimately the healing.

Just as Jacob did with Joseph, our Father in heaven has showered gifts upon us and wealth for the work along the way (I Cor. 12-14). We are adorned, even in our servants attire, in robes of His Sons glorious righteousness, and we will settle, after all the Dothans of this life, in a place prepared especially for you and me, by the hand of Messiah Himself (Jn. 14:3).

That mountain before you, as you stress to climb it, will crumble with one word from the One who set it there. Glory to His name. Trust Him.

Shabbat shalom.
Pictured: Mt. Marcy from Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain.