Pilgrimage to Wisconsin

thekingdomisnowThis Shavu’ot, in honor of the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the teachers from First Fruits of Zion are gathering to provide historical answers about the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” from a Messianic Jewish perspective. We’ll be taking a serious look at the role of the Holy Spirit and supernatural gifts. What does Judaism say about prophets and prophecy? What did the gift of tongues mean to the early believers? What is a Spirit-filled life, and what are the gifts of the Spirit from an apostolic-Jewish perspective? How did they function? Is the Holy Spirit active today? How so? This is prophetic teaching about the power of the Messianic Era (the Kingdom) bursting into this current age in the form of supernatural manifestations.

The Gifts of the Spirit are tokens of the Messianic Era—a down payment on the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven, bringing the power of the Messianic Age into our world today.

-from the Shavuot Conference 2013 webpage
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I went to last year’s conference and had a blast, but just like last year right before I left home, I am experiencing a little trepidation. Things have changed in the last year. I’ve returned to a Sunday church setting for regular worship and have been exploring areas, concepts, and ideas that I have never touched on before.

Last year, I expected to be completely anonymous and was astonished when so many people recognized me. This year, I’m afraid I’ll expect people to recognize me (and I hope I’m not such an egomaniac) and instead I’ll be completely anonymous, even to the people I know well.

Truth be told, I don’t travel as well as I used to. I like going to new places once I arrive and I discover I really do have confirmed room reservations, transportation, and meals, but there’s always a concern that I’ll get on the wrong plane and end up in a different city, arrive at the correct destination but have no luggage (I actually dreamed about that recently), or arrive at the correct destination and no one will have heard of me. I have no desire to sleep in the airport.

I know this is the wrong attitude to approach this year’s Shavuot conference. The theme of the conference is Gifts of the Holy Spirit which presupposes faith and an expectation of gifts that are beyond human creation and experience. If God wants me to go to this conference, He’ll make it possible. If he wants me to participate in a meaningful way, He’ll make that happen too, somehow.

As you read this, it’s Tuesday morning (or later) and I’m on a plane between Boise and Salt Lake or between Salt Lake and Minneapolis–Saint Paul. I suppose if I traveled more, this wouldn’t seem so daunting, but I haven’t been on a plane since last year at this time, so it’s hardly a common occurence in my life.

OK, stop. There I go again. Trust. Faith. I’ve got to remember that.

Last year, I was just beginning to explore this whole Christian vs. Messianic thing. This year I’m deeply involved.

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 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.”

-Me from last year

conference2I’m a Christian. In many ways, I’m more of a Christian now than when I took this journey last year. Am I too much of a Christian?

Life is exploration. Life is change. Life is a journey and as I write this (last Wednesday morning from your point of view), I’m anticipating a big one (for me, anyway). I find that I’m suddenly scrambling in my brain and in my schedule to put last-minute touches on projects, make sure all my arrangements are arranged, and I’m still trying to frantically put all my ducks in a row (the darn things have a tendency to wander).

Last year I said, ” 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.” Right now, I’m more used to going to church on Sunday than I am attending a Messianic conference. I’m sure once I get there, everything will be fine, but there’s this nagging suspicion that I’ve mutated into a lifeform that will look, act, and sound alien to the people in that environment (kind of like a duck in a pond full of swans).

As you might expect, I’ll have little or no time to actually compose new “meditations” when I’m at the conference, so I won’t be posting “morning meditations” every day while away from home (I’ve composed a couple previously that will be automatically published tomorrow and the next day thanks to the WordPress scheduling feature). I may or may not get access to a computer, so I might not even be responding to comments (or clearing comments held for moderation) until the following Sunday, but we’ll see about that.

I’m hoping this will be a time of renewal and rejuvenation (an odd thought for someone approaching his sixth decade on earth) as well as a revived illumination. While I am a creature of habit and I take great comfort in a regular routine, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in and the more I walk my yearly circle in the same way and on the same path, the less I learn and thus, the less I can return to others.

I suppose I should consider Toby Janicki’s point of view on attending the conference:

Today, many Gentile believers are returning once again to the celebration of Shavuot under the auspices of Messianic Judaism. While Christian tradition focuses primarily on the Acts 2 outpouring of the spirit in its celebration of Pentecost, a Messianic Jewish celebration of Shavuot focuses on both this outpouring and the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. In some ways Shavuot represents the totality of the believers walk, spirit and truth. God not only gave Israel his precious instruction and desired they share it with the nations, but he also gave his people the Holy Spirit which enables us to walk out those instructions and spread the kingdom of heaven. Chag Sameach!

One day, God be willing, I’ll see Jerusalem and the Kotel with my own eyes within this lifetime. But if a trip to another part of my own country to see people who are relatively the same as me causes such concern, how will I face traveling to another country where the people don’t even speak my language and they conceptualize the world in fundamentally different ways?

May God travel with me on my journey (and journeys) and grant me companionship wherever I may find myself. May I also find Him there as well.

…when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” – And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:18-19 (ESV)


134 days.

The road

11 thoughts on “Pilgrimage to Wisconsin”

  1. Hi, James — I hope you enjoy the conference. When you do get back to this blog, however, I’d like to discuss a terminology issue. You mentioned an exhortation to non-Jewish followers of the messiah to claim: “I’m a Christian”. I’d like to ask you whence you are deriving your definition for the term, and what do you think it means to the various English speakers who hear it? I’m not being facetious when I ask this, because identity is an important personal issue, as you well know. I’m reasonably sure you are not deriving its meaning from the three times the word is used in the Rav-Yeshua messianic writings.

    To review, the first mention is in Acts 11:26, where it is stated that it was first applied to “the disciples” in Antioch. Likely, those who used the term did not bother to distinguish between the few Jewish apostles, who were there in Antioch to teach and encourage, and the new disciples in the non-Jewish assemblies there. Nonetheless, the context is primarily a non-Jewish one, and we are not told whether the term was merely descriptive or if it carried a negative connotation.

    The second mention is in Acts 26:28, where the Roman governor Agrippa (addressed as a “basileo”) cites the term in connection with Rav Shaul’s defense of the concept of resurrection and how it relates to Rav Yeshua. Rav Shaul does not re-iterate the term and does not even hint at whether it is an appropriate appellation for even a non-Jew. He merely expresses the wish that Agrippa would become like him except for the chains he was wearing at the time.

    The third and final mention is in 1Pet.4:16, where it is associated with the suffering of persecution and with shame. The implication is that it is a severely pejorative term, though Kefa encourages his readers to embrace the suffering that accompanies this label. I suggest that his exhortation is not actually intended as an encouragement to take on the label as a badge of personal identity.

    Linguistically, the connection of the Greek term “chrestos” (“greased”, as describing a treated-leather shield) with the Hebrew term “messiah” (“annointed king”) is already tenuous, and unlikely to be a common association in the average Greek speaker’s mind. Hence “christianos” is more likely to have invoked the image of “greasy” (or slippery and untrustworthy) than the image of devotion to some Jewish messianic-hero king.

    Now, we cannot discount the possibility of deriving meaning from its later usage. But the history of those who have identified themselves as “Christians” throughout the centuries doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence relative to the foundations of the faith they were presumed to represent. To be fair, most of them had already inherited a flawed faith that had repudiated its original connections with Judaism. Those few who overcame that disability are the more to be commended, but their exemplary behavior does not necessarily redeem the term “Christian”. This is one reason why a commonly used term is “believer”, even though this term is too non-specific. Some have attempted to qualify it as “born-again believer”, which is a bit cryptic but somewhat more specific.

    So while one may recognize a need for an alternative term to replace “Christian”, which has accrued such negative connotations and whose very origin is somewhat problematic, no one has yet succeeded in identifying and popularizing such an alternative.

  2. I’m still here, PL. My son’s coming to give me a ride to the airport in a bit.

    I use the term “Christian” if, for no other reason, than because it is immediately recognizable in modern times as identifying a follower of Christ (Messiah). It also avoids some rather uncomfortable incursions into Messianic Jewish religious space and helps make clear that I am not claiming to be someone other than a Gentile disciple of my Master.

    Beyond that, while the history of Christianity relative to Judaism (and many other things) has been less than stellar, I’m uncomfortable with the tendency among certain Hebrew Roots groups and individuals to engage in “church bashing” and “Christian hating,” particularly as a method of them playing the “superiority card” (“I keep Torah and you don’t,” and so on).

    What remains transparent to many such people is just how much good people who call themselves “Christians” are doing in the world today. I want to take back and own the “goodness” of what the Gentile followers of the Jewish Messiah are doing, who we are, and why we’re not to be avoided like lepers by “Hebrew Roots Gentiles” or “Messianic Gentiles” because of a history we did not create nor can we control.

    We can only control who we are now and what we do in Messiah’s name. I’m not going to throw a lot of good people and those who are following the teachings of Jesus by feeding the hungry and comforting the grieving because of a bit of nomenclature.

  3. James, I agree completely with PL. The ‘I am a Christian’ line was too much… Seriously stung, because culture understands it to mean something I am NOT.

    As a pastor who spent 11 years in the pulpit of a very conservative Christian church, and having been raised on the missionfield as well as personal trips of ministry as a teen, I’ve spent time serving in the name of Christ on four continents. I know full well the many good things Christians have done. Still, I know just as well the great error that they walk in and utterly reject and have repented for the antisemitism they have perpetuated globally.

    I reject the term and title. Rather, I follow Messiah according to Scripture. That is not arrogance or ‘playing the superiority card.’ That is pursuing Truth, no matter the cost. I grieve deeply for those of my former church as well as family and friends who walk in blindness to the simple obedience of Torah.

    Our Father is bringing His people together into one. All of Scripture points to this. That doesn’t make us a homogenous soup, but neither does it allow for this false dichotomy of two laws, two Messiahs, and two promised kingdoms. Judah will be rewarded for protecting Torah and Ephraim (the grafted in Gentiles) will be rewarded for carrying Messiah to the nations. Both will have to learn not to be jealous of the other. The place that we meet is in humility accepting BOTH Messiah and Torah. The Jews have stuff to repent of and straighten out just as the Christians have stuff to repent of.

    May Abba bless you with refreshment and a new fire as He, by His Ruach leads you to all truth.


    1. Thanks, Pete, for your statement of appreciation. But you raised another terminology issue, by a passing mention of Ephraim. Please do not associate Ephraim with either “the nations” or with “the grafted in Gentiles”. Ephraim was nothing other than a Jew, as were all his descendants, his tribe, his allotted territory, and everything about them. It is true that Ephraim became the symbol of assimilation and even for the entire northern breakaway kingdom of Israel. But HaShem expressed His unwillingness to see Ephraim utterly destroyed, and even in Yohanan’s revelation (ch.7) the tribe is cited in cryptic form. Menashe is fully represented, and so is “Yosef”. However, since Yosef is solely represented by his two sons Menashe and Ephraim, these distinctive references to Menashe and Yosef must be subsuming Ephraim in the latter (which is hinted also in Yehezkel 37). If one wishes to argue that this is not the case, then one is faced with the prophetic statement of Isaiah 7:8 that within 65 years (from the time of that prophecy) Ephraim was to be shattered so that it would be no longer a people. However, since Ephraim is cited in Zechariah 10 in the passages about regathering, one must allow for a restoration of Ephraim, even if it is identified with Yosef. Nonetheless, this is after being purified from all that they were criticized for, so that they are not any longer associated with being scattered among the nations. Hence they should no longer be considered the “poster boy” that is falsely used to suggest non-Jewish inclusion. Rav Shaul had all the opportunity he would have needed to use such imagery in his olive tree metaphor, if he had thought it was at all appropriate. He was a master of the midrashic technique of pulling together obscure scriptural references to build an illustration. The fact that he did not take such an opportunity with Ephraim allows us to infer that it was not appropriate.

      Thus we know that any search for a better alternative label to replace the term “Christian” would be mistaken to consider a term like “Ephraimite”. And it’s just as important to know the terms we shouldn’t use as it is to seek after ones that we might use.

      1. I hear what you are saying, but do not think we agree on terminology. You say, ” Ephraim was nothing other than a Jew, as were all his descendants, his tribe, his allotted territory, and everything about them.”

        Ephraim was not and never has been a Jew. He is a Hebrew. He is of Israel, but not of Judah. There is a clear distinction throughout most of the Tanakh after the division of the kingdom.

        By your definition all of Ez. 37 is fulfilled except maybe the last five verses… I think you would be hardpressed to prove that. If it is unfulfilled, then how do you differentiate between the sticks? Just who is the stick of Ephraim?

        Rav Shaul was indeed the master of the midrash… Is it possible, even remotely possible that maybe there are somethings he knew but was not allowed to reveal until the fullness of time?

        Ultimately, we will all have to wait for Messiah to come teach it rightly. I’m willing to be wrong, but in the meantime must follow the pieces I feel He reveals to me.

        Shalom, brother. I pray one day we can fellowship f2f, just as I hope for that opportunity with James.

      2. Shalom, Pete — The two sticks represented the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (Yehudah) who had split in the insurrection among Solomon’s sons — the same two national entities that Yirmiyahu was addressing when he described the “new” covenant renewal in his chapter 31. After the Assyrian conquest and decimation, refugees from Israel fled to Judah, and their descendants were among those who were carried off to Babylon not so long afterward. By the time the captives returned from Babylon, they were all deemed to be from the territory that had been called Yehudah and hence were all called Yehudim (Jews). This was the initial stage of fulfillment of the two sticks being rejoined. While distinctive tribal identities did not disappear altogether until after the Hurban several centuries later, they were no longer as significant, except for the distinction of Cohanim and Levi-im. Even the kingly line of Yehudah was not emphasized, although there are even today a few whose family traditions claim that lineage. While Yehezkel’s visions are still in process and pending final fulfillment, as is Daniel’s 70th week, the two sticks have not been separate for a long time now, since the end of the first exile. And those dry bones being called together seems to fit best with the re-establishment of Israel as the second exile now draws to a close. Recognizing the timings of prophetic fulfillment is not always easy or obvious. So, despite all that was said to condemn Ephraim (or the breakaway nation that he came to represent), his descendants were never anything other than a part of the “Jewish” people, though the term “Jew”, as derived from the territory and nation of Judah, only began to be applied to the entire people during the first exile and after the return from it.

      3. I know we are not going to agree on this, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

        I believe my King’s plan is whole lot bigger than the box we put Him in. That’s why He’ll get the glory and we’ll be surprised.

        Shalom, friend.

  4. ALL: thank you for the post, James, and to the respondents for their comments. Only two hours ago i returned from the weekly ecumenical ladies Bible study i attend and this very discussion came up right at the end of our time. We said we would continue to follow that thread next week. your comments give me a lot to reflect on over the next 7 days ….

  5. Made it to my destination OK. Sorry I won’t be able to participate much as it is difficult to type long responses on kindle fire. I will try to provide more detailed replies next week. Blessings.

  6. Hopped on a real computer for a few seconds. I’m a little disappointed that referring to myself as a “Christian” has become an issue. I know that a lot of cultural and historical baggage is attached to the term, but we have a tendency to let our “labels” not only define us but separate us. The essential beliefs of many church-going Christians I know aren’t all that different than what most of us who comment on this blog believe.

    Also, if someone who calls himself a Christian and goes to church can believe what I can talk about the things that I talk about, then the word “Christian” as most of you understand it doesn’t have to define me. I’m not a machine that’s programmed by a word or what anyone may think it means. If I’m defined by anything outside of myself, then I’m defined by God.

    1. Mea culpa, James – I’m afraid ’twas I who focused the spotlight on this one element. I don’t think the issue was so much that you chose to call yourself a “Christian” so much as your exhortation for others to proclaim it, as it were, “loud ‘n proud”.

      The effort by honest believers to distance themselves from the term — and its history — and to find an alternative, has been pursued since the mid-1960s in the USA, when the term “born-again believer” was coined, and commonly shortened simply to “believer”. In the ’60s, the particular history that was in view was not the classical periods of persecution and triumphalism against Jews nor even the witch-trial period of Salem, MA — but rather the anti-intellectual aspects of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. Somewhat later, as consciousness awakened to the even longer period of historical actions that desecrate the name of G-d, the desire for a distinctive term that could repudiate that attrocious history was intensified. This probably added to the impetus in the late ’70s to adopt the “messianic” adjective that was then forced to become a noun, similarly to what had been done with the adjective “charismatic”. I believe it was the Jews for Jesus missionary organization that coined and insisted on the use of the term “Messianic Gentile” in order to maintain the distinction between them and “Messianic Jews”; and therafter the terminology spread.

      At issue, of course, is the desire for “believers” to identify with the authentic spiritual message of the original Israeli rabbi rather than with a tradition and its label that has far too often deliberately represented other things very much at odds with that authentic message. More than that, there is a desire for the labels we use to communicate to others that the true message is different from what they’ve commonly heard it to be. It has become understood that the label “Christian” directly inhibits evangelism (not merely to Jews, but to all sorts of folks). So while Jewish messianists were setting about recovering their own identity and seeking terms of identity within their own ethnicity — which happen to correspond with the Messiah’s own ethnicity — non-Jews were also seeking different and more authentic terms of identity (though somewhat clueless about the impacts of ethnicity issues).

      Recently, you’ve expressed a wish to reclaim a positive reputation for goodness performed under the “Christian” label. It seems that many believe this to be a futile exercise, and perhaps that “that ship has sailed” (meaning that it is too late to do so). While I don’t wish to discourage you unnecessarily, I tend to side with that view. I’m even a little pessimistic about the possibility of reclaiming the correct meaning of “messianic Jew”, which has been wrenched away from the model that actually and originally gave it meaning.

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