As I write, we are still in the period between Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and Atonement (Yom Kippur) a time known in Judaism as “the Days of Awe.” For observant Jews, this is a 10-day period of self-examination. Michael Strassfeld explains: “At Rosh has-Shanah, we commemorate the new year of creation, when our successes and failures are tallied in the account books of heaven. As we mark another year’s passage, an evaluation of our progress is made by ourselves and by God. As a people linked with God, our ups and downs in history are not viewed as accidental; our fate is tied into the morality of our deeds, thus how we act helps create history” (The Jewish Holidays A Guide & Commentary by Michael Strassfeld, pp. 106 – 107).
Observant Jews think of themselves as part of a family – the Jewish people. What any Jewish individual does affects the whole, and vice versa. During this period, Jews look inward with a view to repentance. Writes Strassfeld, “Yom Kippur falls on the tenth day of Tishri and brings to a close the ten days of repentance begun with Rosh ha-Shanah” (ibid. p. 111). On Yom Kippur, repentance is no longer the primary focus; rather, it is a day of atonement “when those who have failed at repentance…may cast themselves upon God’s mercies and ask that He act for them. Until this final day of the season of repentance, all is up to us; it is we who are given the burden of changing our ways. Now, seeing that we have not been able to do so fully, we turn to God and ask that He be the one to act, that He offer kapparah, a cleansing of the slate and an opportunity to begin again, even to us sinners who have not been able to work our own way out of the quagmire of our tangled lives” (ibid. p. 111, note).
Learning from the Jews
This is a wonderful way to start a new year. We non-Jews can learn from the Jews at this sacred time of the year. Who among us does not need to repent and clean up his or her act? The Days of Awe are a time of turning – of teshuvah – the Hebrew word for repentance. During this time we may look inward, at our heart, and determine where it is not right. Where we discover that it is not right, we can turn it back to the Lord.
We may discover sins of commission or omission. Did not James, the brother of Jesus, teach that “to him who knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). And do we not find the same instruction in Proverbs? “Do not withhold good from one who deserves it when you have the power to do it [for him]. Do not say to your fellow, ‘Come back again; I’ll give it to you tomorrow,’ when you have it with you”(Proverbs 3:27-28).
Often, we miss opportunities to do good because we hesitate, or because we ask the lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Our neighbor is the person who has a need. The apostle Paul instructed the churches in Galatia: “As we therefore have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Both Jesus and Paul expected us to do good on the basis of opportunity and need, not on the basis of someone’s standing with one’s own denomination. Read the verses that follow the question, “Who is my neighbor?” When opportunities to help appear, spiritual nit-pickers will always find a way to get out of it on grounds of various technicalities: Who is my neighbor? This person is a different color than I am; this person is probably in a bad attitude or this person isn’t a member of my denomination. Like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable, those of us who don’t really want to help will find an excuse to “pass by on the other side” (Luke 10:31 & 32).
Opportunities to Help
We are living in a time of mega-disasters. There are plenty of opportunities for Christians to help their own and those who are not yet called. Often, helping someone who is as yet unconverted can draw them to Christ. The watching world is more interested in how we Christians live than in what we have to say. If they see in us “the peaceable fruits of righteousness,” they may be drawn to us. If they view as a bunch of judgmental, exclusivistic, self-righteous, self-seeking windbags, they most definitely will not be attracted to us. Christian exclusivism is one of the great alienators to those who study Christians. How we live and how we treat people is often the most compelling way of preaching the Gospel. An excellent book on this subject is: Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels. Check it out if you get a chance.
In this sense, we all have a ministry. We are all called to service. Warren Wiersbe defines ministry this way: “Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God” (On Being a Servant, p. 3). We, as Christians, are the “loving channels,” but it is God, not His servant, who is to be glorified.
During this time, and throughout the rest of the year, it might be well for each of us to focus on, and repent of, our own selfishness – our unwillingness to reach out to those who could have used our help during the past year.
There are some in the Churches of God Pod who covet the tithe – in fact they covet any money they can get out of their followers. They resent it when members use any of their resources to help those who are not members of their exclusivistic group. Such misguided leaders are prime candidates for a “season of repentance.” May God grant them the ability to “come to conviction” and perform a journey of teshuva.
No One Excluded
When it comes to repentance, we all have a full slate. “There is none righteous, no not one.” Each of us has a “package” of sins that is uniquely tailored to our weaknesses, our personalities, and our desires. We are guilty of sins of commission and omission. All too often we omit the sins of omission from our list of things to repent of because we have failed to even consider them. Perhaps its time to admit both the omissions and the commissions and do something about both.
When we are confronted with our mortality, our sinfulness and our humanity, it ought to have the effect of bringing us low. Like King Hezekiah of Judah, it should induce us to “walk softly” before God (cf. Isaiah 38:15). We have nothing to crow about. Yet God, in his mercy and his grace, has received us — warts and all. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “For thus said He who high aloft forever dwells, whose name is holy: I dwell on high, in holiness; yet with the contrite and the lowly in spirit – reviving the spirits of the lowly, reviving the hearts of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15 JT).