Shavuot Fellowship in Wisconsin

Twenty-years ago the spirit of the Lord kindled something new, and the ministry of first fruits of Zion was born. With the teachings of First Fruits of Zion, Christians and Messianic Jews began to rediscover the Torah.

Two decades later, First Fruits of Zion and the Messianic Jewish movement still lives, breathes, and is ready to thrive. At Shavuot 2012, First Fruits of Zion breaks new ground as we present our game plan for the future of Messianic Judaism, for Jewish believers in Yeshua, and for Messianic Gentiles from all nations. Come and hear the vision, become a solid member for change—be inspired to kick-start a fresh revolution by learning practical ways to facilitate study groups, Torah studies, and other outreach efforts.

from the Shavuot Conference 2012 webpage
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I have to admit to being a little nervous about attending this conference. Oh, I’m also really excited. I’ll get to see some old friends that I don’t get “face time” with very often, and actually meet people I’ve only communicated with over the web. But like some “fine wines” (yeah, that’s a joke), I don’t really travel well, I like to get to bed early, and I don’t enjoy large crowds. I don’t really thrive in a large conference environment.

But more to the point, I haven’t been to anything like this for a number of years and as an “unaffiliated Christian” in a world of Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles, and others who don’t traditionally identify with the mainstream church, I’m not sure what to expect or how I’ll be viewed by everyone (not that I should care, I suppose).

For one thing, the tallit and tefillin are staying at home (I’ll still bring a kippah). When I backed away from the One Law position (the basic Idea that all of the 613 commandments or mitzvot that observant Jews believe apply to them also applies to all non-Jewish Christians by virtue of being “grafted in”), I backed away from just about everything that had an outward Jewish religious practice. I started to imagine (not that she’d say anything) what my (non-Messianic) Jewish wife might be thinking every time I put on a tallit and laid phylacteries to pray. For me, it was easier to come to peace with the direct interfaith part of our marriage if I didn’t try to “walk her side of the street” so to speak. I put most of the religious items I used in “Messianic worship” in a box and there they’ll stay until I have a good reason to bring them out again.

So I don’t consider myself “Messianic” in the sense that most (probably) of the attendees at the Shavuot conference consider themselves Messianic (the non-Jews, that is).

There’s another issue here though. This whole classification of Christian vs. Messianic among non-Jews is just a little crazy. I know that it’s meant to differentiate between traditional Sunday Christians and those who have become more aware of the Hebraic origins of our faith, but it’s gotten to the point where we’re almost acting like we have two different religions.

I’m not OK with this. If Jesus was and is King of the Jews for Messianics, then he was and is King of the Jews for more traditional Christians. Recognizing the Jewishness of Jesus and then encasing that fact with a Messianic “bubble” only isolates that information and the truths it contains from all other Christians everywhere. Rather than focusing on the differences between how many non-Jews in the Messianic movement see things and how most other Christians see things, maybe we need to spend more time paying attention to how we’re alike.

I know a number of non-Jews who self-identify as “Messianic” visit and read my blog posts. If that’s you, I want you to practice something in the privacy of your own homes when you’re all alone. I want you to say out loud, “I’m a Christian.” Repeat it a few times. C’mon, don’t whisper. Really belt it out. “I’m a Christian.”

“I’m a Christian.”

Was that awkward? For some of you, it probably was. No, I’m not making fun of you or trying to be mean. My point is that whether you consider yourself a “Messianic Gentile” and pray wearing tzitzit and tefillin or you think of yourself as a Christian and feel no need to adopt any Jewish customs or commandments in your prayer and worship life, God is One. He’s the same God. Jesus is Jesus. He’s the Messiah, the Lord, the Savior, the Christ.

He’s the same guy for Messianics and Christians. We just picture him differently.

But how does he picture himself?

We don’t really know, but it wouldn’t hurt to stretch ourselves a little and try to see Jesus from a Jewish point of view and within a functional Jewish context. That’s probably a picture closer to his reality than many in the mainstream church see him.

However, you may be very comfortable with the division between Messianics and Christians. You may be asking yourself why you’d want to go through all that trouble and mess up your comfort. Because he is the Christ and we are Christians. He is the Master and we are his disciples. Jesus didn’t ask us to stand apart from each other, he asked us to be a united body and to work together like the different parts in your body.

I’m not a typical Christian. I don’t go to church. I have particular standards regarding food items that most Christians don’t observe. I have certain other convictions and perspectives that you won’t find in most churches. But I’m still going to be a really different “breed of cat” than most of the other conference attendees when I get there in a few weeks. In some ways, I’ll be just as nervous attending the conference as I would be if I decided to visit a church next Sunday morning.

But the point is, I shouldn’t have to feel that way. I probably wouldn’t if I got my wish (and my prayer). My wish and my prayer is that all believers come together in unity and truth, regardless of how different we are, and recognize our mutual fellowship and discipleship as followers of the Messiah King, who came once for the salvation of souls and who will come again to repair the world.

My wish and my prayer is that we who are grafted in realize that we are all Christians.

When you think of yourself and what you believe and then think of other believers and how different they are from you, try to consider how much you have in common with each other. That’s what I’m going to be doing on May 24th at Beth Immanuel.

And if you happen to be planning on attending FFOZ’s Shavuot Conference 2012, post a comment and let me know. I’d love to meet you when we’re together in Hudson, Wisconsin…and meeting in spirit and in truth.


30 thoughts on “Shavuot Fellowship in Wisconsin”

  1. I will certainty be there and look forward to seeing you again. Knowing you, your journey, and many of your thoughts (meditations) I think your going to have a great time. We all look forward to our time with you.

  2. I’m with Boaz on this, James. I’ve enjoyed your posts. I am a Christian. There, I said it and I’m glad! See you there.

  3. Maybe I’ll wear a cross necklace. The real question, though, for me, is skirts/dresses (Messianic women’s uniform) versus slacks (Christian women’s occasional uniform, unless they’re Gothard grads). Be grateful you don’t have to deal with that. 😉

  4. “I know a number of non-Jews who self-identify as “Messianic” visit and read my blog posts. If that’s you, I want you to practice something in the privacy of your own homes when you’re all alone. I want you to say out loud, “I’m a Christian.””

    Same goes for Jewish followers of Jesus. Christian means follower of Christ. Messianic means follower of Messiah.

    They’re synonymous.

    We use “Messianic” to mean a focus on Israel and the Jewishness of Messiah, the centrality of the land and people of Israel in the Messianic age. Some Messianic Judaism folks want to own that term, but that’s as silly as a particular Christian denomination owning the term Christian. (Even worse, in fact, since some Hebrew Christians (Judaism-rejecting Jewish people in the Church) call themselves Messianic as well.

    If you follow Jesus, Jew or Gentile, you’re a Christian. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I use the term Messianic only when explaining the difference of my beliefs from standard Christianity.

    Regarding the conference, I may go this year and meet up with you. I was at one of FFOZ’s Shavuot conferences a year or two ago. The main issue for me is that they tend to use the this Feast of the Lord as a sales pitch for their new materials. And, this year will be pitching a new book which rips into my own community. (I’m sure Boaz has requested you all to do book reviews on it, even if it’s not released yet!) So I’m not really thrilled to go, but I might anyways for community and fellowship’s sake, in spite of everything else. We’ll see.

  5. Judah said:

    If you follow Jesus, Jew or Gentile, you’re a Christian. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I use the term Messianic only when explaining the difference of my beliefs from standard Christianity.

    That’s a very even-handed response and I’m glad to see you saying that, Judah. However, you and I both know non-Jews who are part of the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement who would be offended if they were called “Christian.” The point I’m trying to make here (and in one of my recent blog posts) is that we need to try to promote greater community and unity between the different parts of the body of believers. Since I assume the primary audience of my blog (though I can’t know this for sure since most people don’t comment) is non-Jewish Christian/Messianic, that’s who I’m addressing.

    I know what you’re saying about the labels and who “owns” them. I think part of what you are describing is the reaction of Jews in the Messianic movement who are concerned that they’ll be marginalized as disciples of their own Messiah (first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles) by the waves of non-Jews entering “Messianism.” Since that’s happened before, namely in the first and second centuries, and it wasn’t pretty. This is only my opinion, but I believe Jews who have acknowledged Yeshua as Messiah aren’t anxious to repeat history and desire to “reclaim” the Messiah as the first Son of Israel. I think this is why we’re all pouring over the New Testament texts trying to figure out how the relationship between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Master was supposed to work in the first place. We need a template for figuring out how to interact with each other now.

    I don’t know how it will all work out in the end, but as uncomfortable as the different “aspects” of the Christian and Messianic world can make each other sometimes, we all need to hang in their with each other. Our different squabbles are going to seem pretty silly once we’re all standing before the Messiah himself and he asks us to give an account of what we’ve done as his disciples. Will we all be “good and faithful servants” or something else?

    Regarding the conference, I may go this year and meet up with you. I was at one of FFOZ’s Shavuot conferences a year or two ago. The main issue for me is that they tend to use the this Feast of the Lord as a sales pitch for their new materials.

    That’s pretty much the short definition of a conference. 😉

    I’d love to see you, even if you can only stay for a little while and after all, it’s not like I get to Wisconsin very often.

  6. >> you and I both know non-Jews who are part of the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement who would be offended if they were called “Christian.”

    Not at all. Most of the folks who attend my congregation call themselves Christians. Come on, James, what happened to “judging all men in a favorable light”?

    >> That’s pretty much the short definition of a conference

    Yeah, but doing sales pitches for non-essential religious materials during one of God’s feast days. Gosh. I’m put off by that.

    Anyways. We’ll see. How long you in town for?

  7. I was making a set of observations, not “judging men in an unfavorable light.”

    I’m in town for the conference. I’ll arrive the morning of the 24th but don’t leave until the evening of the 28th (the conference ends at noon so I guess I’ll have some time on my hands, depending on when my ride wants to take me back to the airport).

  8. I wondered what would Gene say seeing the picture on top of a bunch of gentiles wearing kippot and holding a Torah scroll…..

    Just asking…..

  9. Judah,

    You’re spot on with the term “Christian.”

    You’re wrong with your other statements.

    I am glancing at the last 5 years of our conference themes. Not one of them was stationed around one of our books. While, I am sure we’ve drawn from them or perhaps even shared our thoughts (that are reflected in some of our books) in the sessions—it is not for the need to promote or sell them—it is unavoidable as they represent our understandings. So you’re wrong and unfair in making it sound as if our events are for a platform for self-promotion.

    As far as I know you’ve attended one conference. We gifted you and your family the registration to the event. You attended for free. So, your subtle allusion that these events are about money-making opportunities are wrong. This year, as it is true with every year, we are loosing money.

    You are also wrong that somehow we “us this Feast of the Lord” as a sales pitch opportunity. Some reading this could assume that we are not honoring these times in the proper manner. On the contrary our focus is Shavu’ot. Our view is that we want people to come and experience something special by joining others, being a part of something that is holy, respectful, traditional, and honoring. We love to have as many people there as possible as it increases the joy of the feast. No work, no cooking, no session recordings, no sales pitches, etc. People know us better than that.

    On one level, especially this year, you are right in that we will focus on the work of First Fruits of Zion. You may choose to view that as self-promotion. This year represents the 20th anniversary of this work. Most of the sessions are geared around reflecting on the first 20 years and looking forward to the next years. This conference has been described this way from the beginning, and most attending are some of our closest friends that identify with and support our work. They desire to rejoice in this milestone with us.

    Additionally, we do have one session (that is not on a Sabbath or Feast day) that is promoting or celebrating a new book. Each of our staff members will be sharing sessions on their personal journeys—how the Lord has worked in their life, how they see and value the work of the spirit in bringing them to the Messiah, Torah, etc. Toby will be sharing his story and at the end of his session we will be announcing his new book, rejoicing with him in its completion, and honoring him for his dedication and faithfulness. Will Toby mention his book? Of course and he should—it is a book that will bring people closer to God, Torah, and confidence in their calling as Messianic Gentiles.

  10. One way to “assess” FFOZ’s intent regarding the Shavuot conference is to attend it together and then compare notes. Then we can do what we always do…blog about it and share our experiences. If we’re talking about unity of different people and traditions, then let’s get together.

  11. OK, stop. I’m not going to approve a comment just made by a person (not one who has commented yet in this blog post) who just responded to this conversation. I didn’t create this blog post to entertain a “Boaz-bashing” session, so knock it off. Dear Commenter (and you know who you are), if you want to reword your statement so that it doesn’t come off like a personal attack, I’ll allow it. Otherwise, no dice (I’ll email you a more detailed response in a little bit).

    Anyone tempted to comment here, particularly about FFOZ and such, please re-read my actual blog post first. See? I’m talking about promoting unity, not slicing and dicing people just because the Internet makes it easy.

    I just saw the following quote on twitter and it is an excellent commentary on how Rambam recommended that we speak favorably of one another in public, even if we disagree with the other person’s position in private (honestly…does anyone actually *read* the wisdom of the sages, not to mention the Bible?):

    “Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.” -Confucius

  12. I guess I didn’t login properly before and so my previous comment never showed up. Anyway…

    @ Boaz,

    You wrote that Judah was unfair. I didn’t think so. If you don’t talk about FFOZ during Shavuot then you won’t be susceptible to charges of self-promotion or conflicts of interest (and you won’t have to worry about losing money during Shavuot). How about simply self-correcting rather than going after Judah? Judah was correct to bring this to your attention and you should be thanking him. We should all be able to enjoy Shavuot commercial free.



    [I don’t normally comment on this blog but whenever someone goes after Judah for doing his job then I’ll happily step in]

  13. I’ll permit this comment because it seems to have been toned down. I understand that people need to disagree and express their opinions, but there’s a fine line between “free speech” and “bashing.” Peter, you’re standing on that line now.

    Again! Re-read what I actually wrote in this blog. Please read my commentary on Torah portion Emor which addresses how we need to speak to each other, particularly in public.

    All of you, search your conscience. If you consider yourselves disciples of the Master, then actually try to do what he taught. In John 13:34 he told us to love one another. That doesn’t always mean “like one another” or “agree with one another.” Anyone who has ever been married knows that we can love our spouse but not always agree with them and sometimes they can even drive us kind of nuts.

    But we love them because that is God’s intention in marriage. It’s also God’s intention for the community of believers, no matter who you are. I’m not exalting myself, but I can see why Paul became frustrated with some of the churches in the diaspora over their petty bickering. He got a little hot under the collar in some of his letters.

    Really people, get a grip. If you need to spew venom, do it on your own blogs. We bloggers are a dime a dozen and we don’t lack for access to our own weblogs.

    Peter, you asked Boaz to be “self-correcting” rather than correcting Judah. Please take the same advice. Thanks.

    Oh, and everyone, I will start deleting blog comments at my discretion so if you choose to say anything more here, mind your manners.

  14. On the other hand, the conference is not on the date of Shavuot, so no harm is done if FFOZ are promoting themselves of selling their material.


    *shakes head*

    *Wonders if anyone is paying attention to messages of prudence and restraint over the tongue as taught by the Master and his Apostles*

  15. I hope a little joke is ok…a few years back Arnold Schwarzenegger was speaking to a Jewish audience and explained how he as a Christian had much in common with Jews…”I don’t keep kosher, I don’t go to Shul on Saturday, and I married a shiksa!”

  16. I enjoyed your blog and totally agree with you – it is time we start setting our differences and find common ground to stand on and talk to each other and not at each other. Hope you enjoy the conference.

  17. James, we’ll be there, God willing. It’ll be good to meet you in person.

    As for FFOZ using conferences for “self-promotion,” it’s impossible to have a conference and not have it be “self-promoting” in the sense of promoting the organization’s values. That includes its materials, which are simply a more permanent expression of those values. I doubt if you will be able to go to any kind of conference, messianic or otherwise, that doesn’t do the same thing.

    In the two FFOZ conferences I’ve been to, the sale of their materials has been very low-key. If you didn’t see the location of their materials table, you probably wouldn’t know it was there. To accuse FFOZ of exploiting the Lord’s festivals for gain is simply wrong. At last year’s Shavuot conference, one session was devoted to a theme related to an FFOZ product (Galatians) which wasn’t even published yet. That was out of probably a dozen sessions. At the Sukkot conference, with its “Heaven and Hell” theme, there wasn’t even that. FFOZ’s conferences stand by themselves.

    Such conferences have value beyond materials as well with the fellowship and worship experiences.

    After working as a religion editor for 16 years and for other reasons, I’m sensitive to abuse of ministry. FFOZ isn’t doing that.

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