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 He had probably run this race many times in his mind; but due to severe wind, earlier in the day Bannister had withdrawn from the race, only to reenter after the winds died down.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 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.