hebrew jesus

It’s easy for us to forget that the message of Jesus and the entire Bible come from an intensely Hebrew context and worldview. Jesus was a Jew teaching Jews, and bringing the words of scripture back to their original Hebrew language and setting, understanding what the first Jewish hearers of those words would have understood, is the closest we can come to their original intent.

Fearless Apocalypse

Dave Brisbin 10.30.22
It doesn’t take a prophet or a genius to see that the world is on a collision course with something out there. That everything can’t continue at this speed indefinitely. It’s a scary realization, and when we get scared, we start looking for something certain on which to stand. Which means I’ve been getting questions again on whether we are in the end times, whether the scriptures that describe them are true and when they will play out.

Short answer: I don’t know. Longer answer: no one can possibly know, no matter their years of study or absolute certainty. Jesus tells us flat out that no one knows the day or hour when such end times will occur—not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Couldn’t be more blunt, but Jesus gives a clue here that can help us make sense of apocalyptic passages. Fear drives us to imagine certainty, some illusion of control, missing that the purpose of these passages is not what—the certainty we crave—but how to live in uncertain times. Prophetic books tell us how to live to avert disaster; apocalyptic books tell us how to live after the disaster has occurred with continued hope and faith.

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When Jesus says the Father alone knows, that he will not drink another cup of wine until he returns, that he goes to prepare a place for us and promises to return with the blast of a trumpet, his way lit by the lamps of heaven to snatch us and lift us up to his Father’s house—he is using images from the Hebrew wedding tradition to show us how to live in uncertain times. A Hebrew bride must live the year or more between her betrothal and consummation anticipating being carried away at any moment to her new life while relishing every moment of the only life she has ever known.

Both Israel and the church have always seen themselves as brides of God—all human history and each individual life lived between betrothal at birth and consummation at death, between heaven and earth, now and not yet. We can’t know when or what, and that terrifies us, but we have been given how. How to live without fear. It’s all we can know with certainty, but with trust it’s all we need.

 

Father Overflowing

Dave Brisbin 6.19.22
Physical survival depends on how well we manage and compete for finite resources, a zero sum situation in which there’s only so much oil in the ground, and our share always comes out of someone else’s. Winners and losers. So we can be forgiven for embedding a scarcity mentality so deeply in our psyches that we pin it on God as well—keeping us forever fearful and defended, the opposite of the vulnerable connection love requires.

Our concept of God is all-important. It orders our view of life and relationship, meaning, purpose, identity. It regulates our fear. Or not. Jesus knows this and works hard to draw his people away from the anthropomorphic images of God as Ab—father in Hebrew that carries images of the fierce tribal leader presented in early Hebrew scripture and the legal judge presented by the Pharisees and other first century contemporaries.

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The names we use for God mirror our concepts of God, so instead of Ab, Jesus used Abba, which adds a feminine ending, a unity of transcendent father and immanent mother, a balance of power and intimacy with whom we can both be in awe and in love. Then in his model prayer, Jesus uses another name: “Our Father who art in heaven,” in Aramaic: abwoon d’bashmaya. In abwoon, AB, strong leader of the house, is joined with WN, the security of life that continues, presenting a genderless cosmic parent who causes the flow of birthing, creation. The D and B prefixes in d’bashmaya show God not living in heaven but identified with heaven as the visible face of God’s inner essence…the heavens, the universe, show us who our Father is.

Science tells us there are up to 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe with up to 700 billion stars in even a small galaxy like our Milky Way. Most stars have planets, if like Earth, contain up to a trillion species with billions or trillions of life forms each. The universe tells us our God is insanely extravagant, abundant beyond belief. No scarcity. No zero sum. God is an inexhaustible, overflowing love of life. Can’t diminish it; can’t earn it. Admission is free and every seat is front row center. Once we experience that, we know there is nothing to fear.

 

Becoming Convinced

Dave Brisbin 5.15.22
After twenty-nine weeks studying the Sermon on the Mount, can we say in one sentence what this masterpiece is all about? If not, we’ll be lost in detail and miss its intent. Speaking strictly for myself, the Sermon is a radical exercise in deconstruction: a ruthless and unapologetic tearing down, upside downing, of the world we think we know: life and love, ethics and spirituality. Once we see Jesus working to break us through the limitations of our own minds—the thought and behavior patterns that keep us from the experience of full connection herenow—we have engaged the process he calls the Way.

When Jesus tells us that even if we do miraculous things in his name, we still may not know each other, have no intimate experience that makes us one in kingdom—he is trying to break our obsession with accomplishment, ultimately the accomplishment of certainty. In the fear that makes up the working of our conscious minds, certainty is the greatest prize. But certainty is a unicorn; it doesn’t exist in this life. Knowing God doesn’t mean being certain theologically, legally, doctrinally, or any other way. It means spending enough time out of our conscious minds to become convinced.

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So we can be convinced and uncertain at the same time? Conviction and certainty seem like synonyms but look very different hanging on a human. Certainty is an intellectual agreement that is only mind deep, reinforces intolerance of uncertainty and anything that doesn’t agree. Deep down, the mind knows the assumptions made, and fear remains. Conviction is a house built on bedrock, a choice informed by intimate experience, and though unprovable in the mind, creates trust that directs decisions and regulates emotion as sure as the steps of a mountain goat.

Jesus’ Sermon pulls back the curtain of manufactured certainty and forces us into the disturbance of realizing we just don’t know, can’t know the ultimate workings of life and God. But in the process of questioning everything we think we know, accepting uncertainty, we come to rely on a power greater than ourselves that convinces us we’re not alone.

 

Lord, Lord

Dave Brisbin 5.1.22
It’s amazing how differently we hear things depending on our emotional and intellectual investments. Sometimes when counseling couples, I actually see words changing meaning in the air between one partner’s lips and the other’s ears. It’s all about what we’re prepared to understand. We hear what we’re prepared to hear. It’s the same with scripture.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that not everyone who calls out, “Lord, Lord, we’ve prophesied and done miracles in your name,” will enter the kingdom of heaven. And to put a really fine point on it, he finishes with: “I never knew you: depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” Focused on afterlife as reward, and accomplishment and performance as the prerequisite for God’s favor, we immediately hear Jesus talking about our day of judgment with God—heaven or hell. But final and permanent damnation based on a principle we may have not even understood? That would violate everything Jesus lives out and says about the nature of God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness. Whatever this saying means, it’s not that.

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To know in Hebrew/Aramaic doesn’t mean understanding facts. God knowing us, we knowing God, is about intimate experience, as only long time together without defense or pretense can create. Jesus is telling us that our investment in accomplishment and grandiosity is the opposite of and blockage to the intimacy that changes us from the inside out—the knowing of one thing: the allness of God’s love. Until we intimately know that love, nothing Jesus says will make sense.

This saying isn’t about the afterlife and final judgment of God at all. Jesus’ kingdom is always here and now, and we are crying Lord, Lord, each and every day we desire to experience the fulfillment Jesus calls kingdom. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness is a direct quote from Psalm 6, but there, David tells us that those confronted with their dysfunction turn from their lawlessness, literally repent. Jesus isn’t judging here. He’s confronting. Trying to help us change direction and repent our way back into the intimacy of kingdom.

 

Wolves and Sheep

Dave Brisbin 4.24.22
Jesus gave us just one Way to experience the oneness of the Father, which when followed looks like presence, emotional regulation, and vulnerability. But this Way remains elusive because it’s nothing less than the complete deconstruction of our egoic consciousness—everything we think we are and have—in favor of a truth we can only see when everything false is removed. Very hard to do, and Jesus says few go by the narrow road to new life, rebirth.

Our churches haven’t been teaching this Way; it’s a tough sell. We don’t want to hear about a path that doesn’t ascend straight to prosperity or salvation, that curves down into the depths of ourselves, painfully purging until we can see where we really need to go. Everything in us wants a kinder, gentler way, a miracle cure or a savior we can passively accept. But without the healing that only a dive into our deepest fears can bring, we will always be looking for something or someone to do for us what we can only do for ourselves: become vulnerable enough to experience the love that casts out fear.

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If we keep looking for cures and saviors, we become prey to those who would lead us. Jesus says we must be wary, that some leaders are ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing, referring to the overlarge woolen prayer shawls covering the religious leaders of his day. Of course not all the leaders of Jesus’ day or ours are charlatans or hypocrites, and Jesus says the only way to discern falseness is by their fruits, their effect on each of us. But that effect isn’t just a result of their leading, but also of our following—our willingness to stop waiting to be saved and begin partnering with God in the process of salvation.

Until we submit to the realities of Jesus’ Way, we will never see that we were born “saved,” that is, loved and accepted as perfectly as we can ever be. Jesus’ Way is the way of remembering who we are and have always been…beloved. Remembering our belovedness means letting go of everything that says otherwise, and until we do, no shepherd, no matter how good can lead us past the wolves.

 

Among the Living

Dave Brisbin 4.17.22
It has always struck me that the gospels tell us nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. The central event around which Christianity orbits is left entirely offstage. The gospels pick up the story after the resurrection has occurred and focus not on the event itself, but the effect it has on Jesus’ friends. The gospels are telling us, with their own gaze, where to look, what is important to see.

What we see is that none of Jesus’ closest friends recognize him when they first see him again. They watched him die. They buried him. Regardless of what he taught, they fully expected him to stay buried and stay dead. The gospels are showing us that the miracle of resurrection in our lives is not an external event, but a process of recognizing the miraculous. That we all see what we expect to see until something breaks the spell of rational limitation.

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We see the resurrection as a huge supernatural event as well as a huge theological truth. But in the gospels, nothing huge, supernatural, or theological breaks that spell and brings the truth of resurrection home to Jesus’ friends. Just the opposite. The smallest, most intimate connections—the tone of voice calling Mary’s name, the breaking of bread at the Emmaus table—tiny details seen and heard a thousand times break through to prove identity in the only way we accept. In intimacy.

We only know someone when we’ve experienced them in intimate detail, and Jesus’ friends had to re-experience that intimacy with him to prove his identity to themselves. Same with us. As long as resurrection remains huge and transcendent, it remains distant, a thought in our heads. But the moment we begin to see the risen Lord in the most intimate details of everyday life, we realize, as Jesus’ friends slowly did, that we can’t seek the living among the dead. Life is motion; set belief is static. We will never find our God among motionless thoughts in our heads. Only among the living.

That’s us, the living, the moving ones. When we’re ready, we will find our risen, living God in each face we encounter and embrace or not at all.

 

My Savior and My Threat

Dave Brisbin 4.10.22
Our fears define us, make us see everything through the pain of our unmet wants and needs—or the compulsive need to hold on to what we think we already have. If we’re afraid of change, it’s because we’re invested in our status quo and see change as a threat to our powerbase. If we’re afraid of no change, we feel marginalized and oppressed, victims looking for a savior to fix our problems.

Einstein said we can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Seems obvious, but each of us is stuck trying to use conscious and unconscious tools created by our fears to fix problems also created by fear. This is really the point of Palm Sunday: when Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the people see him as either savior or threat based on their fears. But Jesus is neither and both, a true paradox, and he weeps that his people couldn’t remain in the tension of his paradox long enough to recognize what he was really bringing: the invitation to a way of seeing past their fears.

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Today we would immediately say that Jesus is our savior, but can we resist the fear-based reaction to choose one side of the paradox long enough to see the deeper truth beyond the seeming contradiction? If we say Jesus is our savior, not a threat, we will miss how Jesus saves and from what. The truth of this paradox is that Jesus can’t be our savior until he’s first a threat…a threat to all our powerbases: everything we hold dear, take pride in, use to advantage. Until everything we’ve piled up in our lives out of fear is cleared out, we can’t even see what we need to be saved from.

Jesus is not riding into our lives to save us from oppression or fix our problems. He’s here to save us from the fear that keeps that oppression and those problems in place, and until we let Jesus threaten all we’ve built out of fear, he can’t save us from fear itself. The truth Jesus brings can and will make us free—by threatening everything made of fear on which we rely.

Jesus is my savior and my threat…but not necessarily in that order.

 

The Way to the Gate

Dave Brisbin 4.3.22
When we were kids, my sister did a paint-by-numbers of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. You remember those…a canvas board with a printed outline of an image, jigsaw-puzzled into numbered patches to correspond with paint colors. She worked day by day, filling in the patches with the right colors, and when she was done, if you stood about a block away, the colors fused into a whole in your eyes the way digital sound fuses in your ears.

Contrast her experience filling in the patches with Da Vinci’s after a lifetime of preparation, an image in mind, planning composition and technique, grinding pigments, mixing colors, experiencing the flow of bringing something radically new into the world. The two are as far as night from day, east from west. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had created a paint-by-numbers spirituality and righteousness. All legalists do. They imagine that our most profound experiences in life can be digitized, reduced to numbers that if followed in the right sequence will create a product, an outcome: righteousness, justification, salvation.

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Jesus passionately and sometimes violently disagreed. Spent life and ministry trying to bring us from paint-by-numbers to artistic flow, from conformance to transformance. When he says unless we exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, he means that kingdom is not an outcome, but the experience of the flow itself. Painting by numbers tries to create an outcome without the preparation it takes to enter the flow of pure presence and creativity.

Jesus is brutally clear that there is only one way to the flow of God’s spirit, and that Way is hard—requires stripping away everything we cling to out of fear that blocks the flow. When he says the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and few find it, he’s not saying that most people are going to hell. He is saying there are no shortcuts, and few will take the time and disturbance to realize that both gate and way are a person and not a product, and never what we expect to find.

Falling to Heaven

Dave Brisbin 3.27.22
Ever think about why you’re here? On this planet? Breathing? Maybe you have no idea, or maybe you have answers that will most likely have to do with accomplishment—things we do that give us a sense of meaning and purpose. But if Jesus and Brene Brown are right, we’re here to connect, to be at one with each other. All the rest is commentary.

Could it be that simple? Could human purpose have nothing to do with accomplishment, only how and whether we relate? Hard to process. We want to do something concrete, purposely control outcomes. But what would accomplishments mean in isolation, with no connection to share? Accomplishments are only meaningful in the context of connection. They end at our head stones, yet we chase them as ends in themselves. Truthfully, what we accomplish is important, but only as a meaning/purpose delivery device—a means for delivering connection.

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An ancient desert Christian saying: “If you see a brother by his own will climbing to heaven, take him by the foot and throw him to the ground, because what he is doing is not good for him.” The ancients understood that climbing to heaven turns our spiritual lives into a task to be completed and heaven into an accomplishment—and the mental tools we use for climbing were forged in our fear of loss and may move earthly objects around, but not heavenly ones. Life is not a task, but an experience; heaven is never accomplished or acquired, only received…a gift we could never give ourselves.

Jesus and the ancients knew that climbing can’t acquire what can only be gifted; it moves us in the wrong direction. When you’ve fallen in love, did you have to work at it? Accomplish it? Complete the task by climbing into position? There’s a reason we speak of falling in love. It’s involuntary. We can work to avoid it, but we can’t make it happen. We can’t climb to heaven, ultimate purpose, either. We fall to heaven by letting go of everything that would break our fall. Until we let go and fall hard, we never realize why we’re here, never experience the connection that is heaven.

 

Snakes and Stones

Dave Brisbin 3.20.22

I’ve been going on about Jesus as a poet. A great poet. And if that sounds strange and unfamiliar, how about considering that Jesus was a great psychologist too? Jesus deeply understands the human condition and human psychological development, and in the poetic language of his day and choosing, articulates a Way to psychological health and balance for which we all crave and pay big money these days.

Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness beautifully symbolize the three “energy centers” of Thomas Keating or Maslow’s deficiency needs—security and survival, esteem and affection, power and control. In earliest childhood, we develop unconscious, emotional programs to meet these needs that then emerge into consciousness as our attachments and aversions: things we like and don’t like, cling to for happiness or cling to not clinging to. Compulsive thought and behavior patterns are driven by these attachments and aversions, which create triggering events when frustrated in any way.

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Jesus’ time in the wilderness was his drilling down to identify and meet the basic needs that were driving his compulsions in truly transcendent Way. If you think Jesus was above such compulsions, consider why the gospels would preserve such a story with Jesus pushed to exhaustion and starvation by the effort. Jesus’ Way is not theology. It’s braving the difficult passage to truth that makes us free of the compulsions that enslave us and keep us apart from each other and God.

When Jesus says no parent, or God by extension, will give their child a stone if asked for a loaf of bread or a snake if asked for a fish, he is giving us first steps along the Way. Distinguishing between objects that may look similar from a distance—seeing which give live and which take it away—is how we build the awareness to see which of our cherished attachments and aversions are really meeting our most basic needs. No one gives up what they’ve clung to entire lives until they can see past compulsive snakes and stones to the freedom of sustained life that loaves and fish represent.

 

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Embedded in the fun and laughter of each of our gatherings and events is the connection and accountability as well as the structure, discipline, and opportunity for service that authentic community is all about. We help create programs for physical support, emotional recovery, and spiritual formation that can meet any person’s needs. Such programs work at two levels: first to address a person’s physical and emotional stability—clinical, financial, relational,professional—anything that distracts from working on the second level: true spiritual formation centered around the contemplative way of life defined by an original Hebrew understanding of the message of Jesus.

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