Tag Archives: Acts

57 Days: The Lord has Promised Good to Me

Peace of mind is essential for obtaining many virtues. Its absence leads to all types of shortcomings. When you have peace of mind, you can use your mind constructively. Lack of peace of mind breeds anger and resentment.

The quality of one’s prayers and blessings is dependent on the mastery of one’s thoughts. Above all else, one’s ability to study Torah properly is based on having peace of mind.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #628, Peace of Mind is Essential for Growth”

Every Sunday, my daughter has to be at work at 5 a.m. That means I need to wake up at four and get ready to drive her so she can be at work on time. After that, when I get back home, I can get in bed again if I want to.

And that’s just what I did. But church services start at 9:30, so I set the alarm for 6:30. Makes sense to me. Gives me time to wake up leisurely, read, study, check my blog, have breakfast, and figure out if I have any semi-dress clothes that will fit. Haven’t had to “dress up” in quite a while, but fortunately I know how to use an iron and I don’t clean up half bad.

Both my wife and daughter were already at work when I was ready to leave for church, so there was no one around to wish me luck.

Made it there about ten to fifteen minutes early, which is early enough (I figured) to find a parking spot, but not too early that I’d have to conspicuously hang around a bunch of people I don’t know. Found the men’s bathroom, which is an important task in attending any public social event. About four people greeted me and shook my hand before I even got to the entrance of the sanctuary. Saw Pastor Randy who also cleans up pretty good. He was encouraging as was everyone else I met. He sent around the teacher for the class my son and daughter-in-law attends at the church. B.J. just wanted to say “hi” because he knew I was David’s Dad.

Because I told Pastor Randy that my wife is Jewish, other people seemed to know. One woman introduced herself (I didn’t hear her name because of all the background noise hundreds of people make when they’re talking all at once) and told me she was a Jewish believer. More than a few people, including the Jewish woman, said they hoped my wife would come to church with me soon.

Which is kind of what I was dreading, and that will sound odd to most Christians, but let me explain.

My wife wouldn’t receive the kindness of Christian contact and an invitation to come to church as a particularly positive thing. While she’s been to church in the past, her Jewish identity as it currently exists, does not accommodate going to church or attending Christian functions, even though she also doesn’t attend many Jewish functions. I just hope no one tries to contact her independently (I haven’t written my address and phone number down on anything at church, but I’m not that hard to find, either). I tried to explain this to Pastor Randy yesterday, but I’m not sure how he received it.

OK, one issue to be concerned about, but hopefully I’m making it a bigger deal than it really is.

Everyone was very friendly. Lot’s of handshakes and “glad your here.” I know that the “corporate greet your neighbors” handshaking is a normal thing in churches, but I’m still shy enough for it to make me a tad nervous.

The order of service and music was about what I expected. In fact, I was surprised that I remembered the tunes so readily. Nothing mysterious or too difficult. Words were on the screen at the front of the sanctuary.

One Pastor read the text from Acts 7 and then Pastor Randy gave the lesson from that chapter (they’re going through the book of Acts right now, pretty much dissecting it, but the series is slightly ahead of where I am in my Torah Club study on Acts, so I couldn’t leverage Lancaster while listening to the sermon). The bulletin contained a sheet for taking notes about Stephen’s defense to the Sanhedrin, which I used. I was interested in how Pastor Randy would frame Stephen relative not just to the Sanhedrin, but to the rest of the Jewish people, and the nation of Israel as a whole.

He very much acknowledged that Stephen was a Jew, just as his “fathers and brothers” were (Acts 7:2). I won’t go through my notes on what Pastor preached about, but it didn’t reflect the traditional Christian view of Stephen rejecting the Temple, Law, or the customs of the Jewish people in favor of the grace of Jesus Christ. Stephen was portrayed as “convicting” the Sanhedrin of going against the Torah of Moses and being faithless to God, which is more consistent with how I’d read these verses. The sermon was worded to be more accessible to a Christian audience and there were a few times that I thought the message might have been “toned down” a bit for the sake of the people listening (but I can’t be really sure, of course).

The Pastor made good use of his knowledge of Biblical Hebrew and Greek, gently suggesting that the NIV translation may not be entirely accurate. He spent a lot of time on the Abrahamic covenant, a favorite topic of mine lately. He also backtracked into Acts 6 and illuminated “trust and obey” to all of us. How do we know we trust God? How do we know our faith is genuine? Because if it is, we obey God. But what do we obey?

This is the $64,000 question from my point of view, since traditional Christianity usually says that works is dead and all we have to do is believe, while in Judaism, performing the mitzvot has center stage in a Jew’s life. The answer from the Pastor was, “good works.” Our faith is genuine if it produces “good fruit” (he didn’t actually say “good fruit,” but I thought I’d insert it here).

Pastor leveraged the Akediah (he didn’t say “Akediah,” but with his knowledge of Hebrew and having lived fifteen years in Israel, he must have been thinking it) to show us how faith, trust, and obedience are married concepts for someone who is truly righteous (he might have said, “for a tzaddik”). In going back to the original command God gave Abraham to leave Haran (Genesis 12:1), Pastor took the principle of obedience a step further in telling a story about some early Christian missionaries in India.

These missionaries were continually debating how they were to start out on their task, anticipating what might happen if they took this step or that. Finally, one of the missionaries said something like the following:

A Christian doesn’t have the right to demand to know where he is going. He must walk by faith.

Given everything I’ve been going through in anticipating “church,” he might as well have been talking to me.

Even as I wrote down the quote, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much of last week’s Torah portion had been inserted into Pastor’s message on Acts 7. He also included portions of Genesis 45 and Genesis 50, as he followed Stephen’s defense, which included references to the Patriarchs and the people of Israel.

Overall, the message was not only one of hope for Christians, that God is faithful and gracious even while we may have troubles in our lives, but that God has always been faithful and gracious to Israel and the Jewish people, even in the midst of their trials and suffering. God remains the constant for both Christians and Jews, and Abraham is the father for both the Christians and the Jews (and Pastor was careful to say that the Abrahamic covenant does not make the Christian “Jewish”).

After the sermon and closing song and prayers ended, it was time for Sunday school. I had chosen a particular class to attend, and Pastor Randy let Charlie, the teacher, know I was coming. Several handshakes later (I don’t mean to belittle this and actually, everyone was very friendly, but it will take me awhile to get used to so much human attention compressed into such a small space and time), I found where I could get a cup of coffee before class. The coffee ran out just as I was about to get a cup, so I didn’t have that delay before finding my classroom.

Consequently, I was the first to arrive. People trickled in and introduced themselves. The teacher and class members were mostly my age or older (I think one couple was a bit younger).  The first person to come in after me was an older gentleman named Dick. We got to talking and at one point he said something like, “It can be hard to find a church that gives you what you need,” and went on to say how fortunate they were to have a Pastor who preached the whole Word, including the Old Testament. He pretty much summed things up for me.

Class wasn’t as organized as I would have expected. I was glad it wasn’t heavily scripted, because that tends to stifle individual or creative response, but I saw that people struggled to respond when Charlie threw a question out among us.

I really, really had intended to be quiet, and just to listen and observe. That didn’t last very long and all of my old “reflexes” in addressing classroom questions and answers, built up over the years in my previous congregational experience, immediately took over.

In fact, I realized at one point, that instead of answering a question, I expanded on it and turned the question back to the rest of the class.


I tried to tone it down after that, but I may have come close to crossing the line when I suggested that no matter how much God has chastised Israel, He has always brought them back, and will continue to fulfill His promises to them by bringing them back (not by restoring only a tiny remnant, but by redeeming Israel) to Him.

After class was over, I apologized to the everyone and particularly to Charlie for my being such a chatterbox. Not many of the other class members talked much, although during one of my monologues, I entered a dialog with one of the other fellows. Everyone was gracious about it and I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I didn’t think I’d get this “interactive” for weeks, but the wheels kept spinning in my head and once I opened my mouth, words started zipping out.

I was kind of interesting that all of the other students there were married couples except for one woman whose husband was on some sort of business trip in Turkey. I can see it’s going to be awkward to be going “stag” to church every Sunday.

Oh, both in the service and during Sunday school, I liked how the Jews weren’t blamed for rejecting Jesus or being bad examples, and in fact, the teachings emphasized how we Christians were expected to live up to the teachings of our Master.

At one point, Charlie, in discussing how Jesus dealt with faith or its lack as recorded in Mark 9 and 10, said, “If Jesus attended this church, what issues would he have to address here?” A little later he asked, “What would Jesus have to say to me” (about my failings)?

The experience wasn’t perfect, but then I expected that I’d feel out of place in an unfamiliar social environment. It was very “Christian” in all the ways I thought it would be, except that Judaism was treated much better relative to the Jewish Messiah and the Gentile disciples than I had imagined. The music lacked a certain punch, but that’s not really an issue for me compared to the other matters I’ve discussed, although they did introduce a bit of an “experiment” by having band sing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun (originally recorded by the Animals in 1964). It totally rocked.

Yes, I’ll go back next week for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m curious as to how far I can enter Christian fellowship and how much I will be able to integrate and still keep the core of who I am as one of the world’s most unusual Christians. At this point, my only real reservation, as I said before, is how far some of the folks in the church will try to press me to bring my wife to services. I don’t think that part would go over well at all.

Guess I’ll see how it all works out week by week, day by day, by God’s grace.

The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be…
as long as life endures.

-John Newton (1725-1807)
Amazing Grace


Vayera: Miraculous

abrahams visitorsThe Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.

Genesis 18:1 (JPS Tanakh)

When Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch was a child of four or five, he entered into the room of his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, and burst into tears. His teacher in cheder had taught the verse “And G-d revealed himself to Abraham…” “Why,” wept the child, “doesn’t G-d reveal Himself to me?!”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “When a Jew, a tzaddik, realizes at the age of 99 that he must circumcise himself, that he must continue to perfect himself, he is worthy that G-d should reveal Himself to him.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Tears of a Child”

This is a well-known commentary on this week’s Torah Portion, Vayera and I’m hardly in a position to add to what a great many sages and spiritual luminaries have already stated regarding this portion of the Torah. But in studying the Torah Club commentary (volume 6) for this week on Acts 4:32-5:42, I discovered what could be a tangentially related issue.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (ESV)

D. Thomas Lancaster’s lesson on these verses, both in the written text of his commentary and in the Torah Club audio teaching, speaks about “the age of miracles” and whether or not we have miracles today. As we read passages such as the one I quoted above, we Christians may be hard pressed to explain why 2,000 years ago, severely ill and disabled people could be cured simply by having Peter’s shadow fall across them, while today our most fervent prayers and petitions to God fail to prevent a loved one from dying of cancer. Why don’t we see miraculous signs, wonders, and healings in today’s church?

Some say that we do, but because we live in the 21st century, many events that a person 2,000 years ago would have called a miracle, today might be explained as some other phenomena. Even in the church, we are sometimes hesitant to say something is a miracle for fear of appearing foolish. On other occasions, the claims of miraculous events from some seem to be so common that the credibility of witnesses is brought into question.

While I do believe that sometimes miracles do happen today, they don’t seem to be “predictable,” which I guess stands to reason, but they also don’t seem to be predictably produced by an identifiable individual or group of individuals, such as the apostles. When we read about Peter, John, and the other apostles in the early chapters of Acts, it’s as if they’re doing miracles all the time.

One explanation, as Lancaster points out, is that the book of Acts compresses 35 years of history into about two hours worth of reading. It’s easy to get the impression that Peter was healing the sick through miracles every day and several times a day. This is probably untrue and only the “highlights” of the “Acts of the Apostles” were recorded by Luke. All of the other more mundane occurrences in their lives over three and a half decades went unchronicled and passed away into the shadows of history.

But there’s another reason we may not see miracles today the way we see them in Acts.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

This is the day when the apostles of Christ (and only the apostles of Christ) received the Holy Spirit. Most Christians think this event is identical to what happens to all people everywhere when they receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (although I’ve yet to hear a modern Christian tell me that they received the Spirit on tongues of fire). But what if this isn’t exactly true?

We know that in Acts 10:44-45 the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his entire household also received the Holy Spirit, but to the best of our knowledge, none of them went on, after the initial event, to perform miraculous healings, signs, and wonders. What’s the difference between Cornelius and Peter? Were the Jews the only ones with the Spirit able to perform miracles, or was something else going on?

It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:3-4 (ESV)

Take a closer look at this verse. According to Lancaster, “those who heard”, that is, those who were direct witnesses of the Messiah, were the apostles. Only the apostles were able to be witnesses of the validity of Jesus “by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his (God’s) will.”

The idea, in this particular explanation, is that during the so-called “age of miracles,” God did not use everyone to perform miracles, and miracles did not occur for just any old reason at all. The miracles were a witness that occurred through those who actually walked and talked with the Master, that he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

The apostles could be compared to Abraham as we re-examine the brief Chasidic tale recorded by Rabbi Tauber above. They were “tzaddikim” (Righteous Ones) who were assigned by God to fulfill a specific mission and purpose; to witness to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. Their tools for doing so, in addition to what they taught, were signs and wonders.

I know this viewpoint could be questioned and disbelieved, but I think we should at least consider the possibility. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t do miracles today, and it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use “ordinary Christians” to perform said-miracles today. It does mean however, that God does miracles “according to His will” and not our will. It also may mean, as we see in Rabbi Tauber’s tale, that when someone, a tzaddik, realizes he must perform the equivalent of “circumcising himself at the age of 99 years, he is worthy that G-d should reveal Himself to him.”

It’s an imperfect theory and it certainly could be wrong, but we’re an imperfect people and God, and His reasons for doing anything, are perfect. Whether we understand the nature of miracles happening in the past as opposed to happening the present or not, we can certainly acknowledge that miracles seem to occur in the world from time to time, at the will of God and for His own purposes, but we must not depend on them. Should God choose to intervene in our lives with a miracle, it is good, but if He chooses not to, it is good as well.

We depend, not on miracles to sustain us or to be a witness to the Messiah, but on our faith and trust in God. These are the stones with which God builds the path we walk upon as we journey each day, as we follow Him, reaching out to touch the hem of his garment, flourishing in the glow of His holiness, and then reflecting that light into the world. Perhaps that is miracle enough, for the light of God is His healing of the world.

It is a Divine kindness that His mercies are endless.

Lamentations 3:22

Another way to translate this verse is, “It is a Divine kindness that we are never finished.”

The Maggid of Koznitz was extremely frail and sickly as a child. It was not thought that he would survive to adulthood. Much of his life was spent sick in bed, and he was so weak that he was often unable to sit up to meet visitors. Still, he lived to an advanced age.

The Maggid once revealed the secret of his longevity. “I never allowed myself to be without an assignment or a task to perform,” he said. “People are taken from this world only when their missions here are completed. Whenever I was just about to finish one task, I would start another; hence, I could not be removed from this world if my assignment was not completed.”

Even from a purely physiological aspect, the Maggid’s concept is valid. Some think that the healthiest thing for us is rest and relaxation. Not so. In reality, unused muscles tend to atrophy, while muscles that are exercised and stimulated are strengthened.

The same principle applies to the entire person. If we constantly stimulate ourselves to achieve new goals, we avoid the apathy that leads to atrophy.

Today I shall…

try to take on a new spiritual goal, and stimulate myself to greater achievement in serving God and being of help to other people.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Cheshvan 16”

I’ll be away from the computer for the day and won’t be available to respond to or approve comments. If I am unable to attend to them before Shabbat begins, then I will do so on Saturday after sundown.

Good Shabbos.

62 Days: Going Back to Ekklesia

And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 5:11 (ESV)

Acts 5:11 is the first time that Luke uses the word “ekklesia” to describe the community of disciples. Christians might be surprised to learn that the word “ekklesia” does not literally mean “church.” Biblical Greek has no word equivalent to our English word “church.” The word “ekklesia” translates the Biblical Hebrew word “Kahal.” Kahal means “assembly,” “congregation,” or “community.” The word ekklesia is interchangeable with “synagogue,” and it appears hundreds of times in the Greek version of the Tanach (Old Testament) to describe the congregation of the people of Israel.

from Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Torah Portion Vayera (“And he appeared”) (pg 97)
Commentary on Acts 4:32-5:42
Produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)


Of course, I’ve heard that before, but maybe some of you reading this haven’t. My understanding of the word “ekklesia” is that it can be any collection of people who have gathered for a common purpose. It can as easily be a group of people who have gathered together for a riot or a lynch mob as to worship the God of Israel. A rather startling revelation for anyone who thought that “ekklesia” was a brand new word, something revolutionary for its time, the invention of the Christian church. (Only the Darby Bible Translation, World English Bible, and Young’s Literal Translation render “ekklesia” as “assembly” in Acts 5:11 according to Biblos.com. The other Bibles use the translation “church.”) D. Thomas Lancaster continues his Torah Club commentary on the subject.

By translating the term as “church,” our English Bibles have done us the great disservice of making us think of the church as an entity different, distinct, and outside of Judaism and the Jewish people. The “church” is not a New Testament innovation. When we read the word “church” in our English Bibles, we need to remember that it denotes the assembly of the messianic community within the larger Jewish nation, not something outside of Israel. (pg 97)

So, from Lancaster’s description, we see that the early “Christian church” of the Jewish disciples of Jesus was indeed not some new creation, but a continuation of the Jewish community that they had belonged to since the days when they were first called to follow the Messiah. It was a Jewish community no different from the other communities of the various sects of Judaism that were common in that day.

It almost makes it sound as if Christianity and Judaism are the same thing, but as I previously mentioned, in the modern era, Christians do not practice Judaism.

But our Christian faith was once very much a Judaism, as we see in the early chapters of Acts. I recently talked about this as well, but I’m sure you’re aware that a lot of water has flowed under that particular bridge, and we’ve been taken away from the foundations of the beginning of the Christian faith.

But during the time I’m discussing here, there was no “Christian faith” as we understand the concept. There was just another sect of Judaism that believed it was following the Jewish Messiah. That’s actually not incredibly unusual, as over the long centuries of Jewish history, there have been many would-be Messiahs who have attracted many followers. All those Messiahs and all of those followers have faded away…all except one.

But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

Acts 5:34-39 (ESV)

For nearly 20 centuries, there were no Jewish followers of Jesus, at least none who retained a Jewish ethnic, cultural, and religious identity and lifestyle. Even today, halakhically Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah are few in number. Many have abandoned their Jewish identities and have joined “the church,” and they are, for the most part, indistinguishable from the Gentile Christians around them. Some are in the synagogues today and quietly worship alongside their Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform brothers in Jewish community. Very few worship in authentic Messianic Jewish communities, mainly because such communities are extremely difficult to establish and maintain. The overwhelming majority of followers of Christ are Gentiles and they worship in the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Christian churches in this nation and around the world.

So I’m looking at trying to connect to a church, an “ekklesia,” although as we saw above, “ekklesia” doesn’t mean “church.” But modern convention says that “church” is the only place I have left to go if I want to be a part of the community of the body of Messiah (they’ll call him “Christ” of course).

If I were to print this blog post out and take it with me to my meeting with the Pastor this Saturday (I had to move the appointment time back one day), I wonder what he’d say? I wonder what the church’s board of directors would say if they read it? What would any of the church members say if they could read this commentary about “the church?” Would they find a kindred spirit in me at all, or only some “religious oddball?”

As far as the nature, meaning, and implication of the word “ekklesia” in relation to Acts 5:11 and the early community of disciples of Jesus, I’m not an “oddball” at all, but there’s 2,000 years of Christian culture to address. The “church” isn’t just the community of Christ in the 21st century, it is the collection of all of the doctrines, theologies, dogmas, and philosophies that have been incorporated into what it is to be a Christian and what Christians understand and believe.

Derek Leman’s recent blog post Congregation Lift: The Principle of Aiming High included the following:

In evangelical Christianity (and I was totally immersed as a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where I got my B.A. in Bible and Theology) I found a principle I came to completely reject. It was the principle of aiming low. In church after church, chapel service after chapel service, the supreme height of Christianity was presented as “getting saved.” Christians lived for getting into heaven. Every sermon had to tell people how to gain access to the place of white clouds and harps. The “born again” experience, interpreted shallowly as “getting in,” was the be-all, end-all, the graduate degree of faith. Whenever deeper subjects came up (discipleship, serious commitment to giving and serving) these were optional add-ons for the few who were called to be more than “saved.”

Church teaching always aimed low. Get them saved. Tell them over and over again. Preach 52 sermons a year that, no matter which Bible text was used, ended up being about afterlife admittance. And this was called “the gospel,” even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the word gospel (euangelion) in the New Testament. The people in the pews were viewed as probably incapable of any higher life with God. So appeals to things like giving, serving, serious pursuit of holiness, were extras to which people would be vaguely invited to discover outside of the weekly 60-minutes for God event.

This makes my “spider-sense tingle” or, put another way, screams “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson” at me. It scares the heck out of me. What am I getting myself into?

Fortunately, Leman goes on to say:

Now, this is not actually Christianity. In my opinion, what goes on in the 60-minutes-for-God event in most church buildings is not Christianity. True Christianity, I would argue, is a beautiful thing. What keeps good people in low-aiming evangelical popular churches? I think it is the fact that small, inner circles of Bible readers in these places all find something deeper than what is presented in the 60-minutes-for God events.

That still makes it sound like finding “true Christianity” is about as simple as locating teeth in the beak of a hen or finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

But I have to start somewhere.

I once employed an Internet meme stating that “One does not simply learn Torah in a church,” and was promptly, though indirectly chastised by none other than Boaz Michael, who along with his wife, does attend a church in a small town in Missouri. Apparently, the “weightier matters of the Torah” are indeed to be found in the church, or at least in some churches.

My point, a point for congregational life, is this: the Bible and the great thinkers and teachers of Judaism and Christianity, aim high, not low.

What does aiming high in congregational worship, teaching, and discussion mean? It means that leaders are educated and expected to have read other opinions and to be familiar with a broad range of ideas. The “what it means to me” approach to Bible teaching is a disaster. It means that the prayers and songs should call to a deep devotion and a wise faith. It means complexities and realities of suffering, of the failure of goodness to produce a pain-free life, of the highest goals of loving sacrificially, should be the core of the teaching. It means people at all levels of learning and practice should be challenged.

I guess I’m just trying to “psych” myself up for this Saturday. I worked up the nerve yesterday to tell my wife about my appointment and she took it pretty well. I looked for any signs of “discomfort” in her facial expression and body language and listened closely to her vocal tones, but everything indicated that she was calm and accepting of my position. So why do I feel like I just pounded another nail in the coffin of whatever shared faith experience we used to have?

It doesn’t help to have just discovered (literally, as I’m writing this) that people in middle age (i.e. “me”) are the “group making the biggest exodus out the back door of their churches,” according to information I read on Michelle Van Loon’s blog. Lovely. As I’m trying to get back in, all of my age-mates and peers are going back out.

Feinberg’s list of things that push older members out the door tags the usual suspects (changing worship styles, lame small groups, politics, communicators in the pulpit instead of pastors), though I believe that some items on her list torque those over 65 differently than they might if a person was in his or her early 40′s. For instance, Boomers developed church services heavy on entertainment and light on organ music and choirs; older Gen X-ers, now in their forties, came of age in an era when worship style wars had already been fought in many corners of Protestantism. For instance, I appreciate some hymns, but prefer thoughtful, organic modern worship music. I have a long history of breaking into highly inappropriate giggles if I visit a church and find my sung worship accompanied by bombastic organ music (and is there any other kind?).

Organ music? Lame small groups? Communicators instead of pastors? Oy!

Van Loon continues:

That said, those in the second half of life simply can’t freestyle their spiritual lives. God calls us to community, though our relationship with that community can and should change as we mature. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if church leaders were willing to consider how to better facilitate spiritual growth for those in the second half of life?) Illness, the needs of aging parents and travel change our relationship with regular Sunday morning church attendance. Others find what they have to offer others is better received in contexts (non-profits, missions organizations) other than that of their local church.

I can see there’s no going back to the simple concept of “ekklesia” as Luke describes in Acts: the community of disciples who meet, pray, teach, share, and worship. To be part of a community is to meet the community where they are. It would be nice, as Van Loon says, if “church leaders were willing to consider how to better facilitate spiritual growth for those in the second half of life,” but how is the church supposed to meet me where I am, or is that even the point anymore? Who is supposed to be serving who and why does one even go to church?

So though I disagree with Feinberg on one hand, I agree with her on the other. She’s right: those of us who are older are called to mentor those younger than us, and to give ourselves away in generous, selfless service.

I can’t imagine, “oddball” that I am, even getting that far. In fact, I’m still trying to find out why I’m “going back to church.” I don’t really expect or need to “be fed” by the church, but I can hardly imagine they’d trust me to do any feeding, particularly as a “newbie.” I don’t know that I want to do any feeding. Teaching is draining and as a teacher or just a person, I’ve been wrong before, and I don’t want to take others down a wrong path with me. Maybe, I’ll just see if they need their carpets vacuumed once a week and that will be my Christian “mitzvot,” my way of giving back to a community that seems about as familiar to me (especially reading Van Loon’s blog) as the surface of one of Saturn’s moons.

What am I doing anyway?

Edit: I posted this a day early (it was supposed to be tomorrow’s “morning meditation”) because I had something of an epiphany. You’ll see what it’s all about in tomorrow morning’s blog post.


Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts 4:32-35 (ESV)

Communal life was not new to the first century Jews. The Essenses lived in a communal fashion somewhat similar to Luke’s description of the Jerusalem community. The Essenses surrendered property and possessions to the common fund. The disciples’ economic model of common property, shared meals, and communal life might also be compared to the socialist, secular Kibbutz movement in the modern state of Israel.

from Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Torah Portion Vayera (“And he appeared”) (pg 92)
Commentary on Acts 4:32-5:42
Produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

Periodically, religion gets dragged into the political arena (and after all, this is an election year) or it is thrust into such an arena by some of its adherents. Christianity and Judaism are no exceptions, and particularly fundamental Christianity often makes its presence known, for better or for worse, in support or opposition to issues and candidates. On the other hand, there are Christians who use the example of the early Jewish disciples in the passage we see quoted above as an illustration of how we should “redistribute wealth” so that those who have should give to those who do not, creating a balance of sorts, where everyone possesses exactly the same material goods as the next person, with no one having more and no one having less.

I mentioned the concept of “Christian communism” in last week’s study on Acts and suggested that this particular scenario was never meant to be the eternal model of the Christian church. In fact, according to D. Thomas Lancaster’s study on this week’s portion of Acts, this particular type of community was responding to a very specific set of circumstances.

What factors gave rise to the communal economy of the Jerusalem believers? The apostles were all Galileans. None of them owned property in Jerusalem. With them came their families, wives, and children and several more Galilean followers of Yeshua (Jesus). The entire community intended on staying in Jerusalem where they could meet daily in the Temple. The Temple anchored the believing community in Jerusalem. It became their place of assembly and prayer and the central hub from which they proclaimed the gospel. In addition, pilgrims from all over the world, present at Jerusalem for Shavuot, had become disciples. Many elected to relocate to join the community. They were without property or career in Jerusalem. The establishment of the Jerusalem community required a corporate economy. Those relocating to Jerusalem sold their possessions and contributed to the upkeep of the community.

So, taking the specific context into consideration, we don’t particularly see a case where Peter or John cried out, “Hey everybody! Jesus told us sell all our stuff and give it to all the people who don’t have anything!” We also have to keep in mind that all of this giving was totally voluntary. No one was forced to give up all their personal possessions nor was it actually a condition of being part of the community. It was simply a practical consideration, especially for those Jews (and all of the people we’re talking about here are Jewish) who were making “aliyah,” if I can borrow the modern term, and returning to the Land.

But I know you’re thinking about Ananias and Sapphira.

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 5:1-11 (ESV)

But what was their great crime and why did they die? Was it because they held back some of their wealth from the community? Peter seemed to think it was because they lied to the Holy Spirit. What if they had said, “we are selling our property but are giving only half the proceeds to the community, keeping the other half for ourselves?” Would they have died for being “greedy;” for desiring to keep some of what was rightfully theirs (and Peter acknowledges this)?

Probably not. But Ananias and Sapphira wanted to appear as if they were giving everything to the community when in fact, they kept back some if the profits. They wanted to “look good” and still secretly keep more for themselves. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too, as the saying goes. So it wasn’t greed as such that resulted in their deaths, but greed that lead to lying to God and to the community.

Perhaps the following will help to illustrate what happened and of what sort of economic model the early Jerusalem community was using.

There are four types of people. There’s the man who says, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours.” This kind of man is neither good, nor bad, but some say this is the type of person that lived in Sodom. There is the man who says, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.” This kind of man is an ignoramus. There is the man who says, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours.” This is a righteous man. Finally, there is the man that says, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.” This is a wicked man.

m.Avot 5:10

Applying this principle to the Jerusalem community, Lancaster says:

The third expression, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours,” best expresses our Master’s ideal for His disciples and describes the type of economy practiced by the Jerusalem community. They sold their possessions and goods only to meet the needs of others as those needs arose.

Notice that the focus is not on everyone being compelled to give up everything for the sake of the community, but rather, while you understand the value of giving and hospitality to others, it is not contingent upon the other having the same values as you. You do not demand that the other consider his possessions as yours. You only accept upon yourself the value your possessions also belonging to the other as the other has need of them. (Notice too, that the one who believes that “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” is considered an ignoramus.)

But again, we need to remember that we are reading here applies specifically to the Jerusalem Community and isn’t necessarily the universal model for what all Christian communities should be like in the world today. There are also other, related principles to keep in mind.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 (ESV)

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)

As far as Paul’s letters are concerned, we have to be careful to separate out what he intended to be universal principles of the faith vs. specific instructions to those individual churches with particular problems. However as far as the two above-quoted statements, it seems the ideal of being self-supporting and taking care of one’s family first is a good rule of thumb for any Christian. This certainly does not preclude charitable giving, and particularly providing care for the needy, and tzedakah is a long-established mitzvot among the Jews and was taught repeatedly by Jesus. However, none of that suggests we must give to charity before taking care of our families, nor that we should be compelled to give to what others consider a worthy cause at the cost of supporting our families.

But there’s another important example to consider, one presented to us by our own Master.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

In Judaism, the principle of giving tzedakah does not require that you give yourself into the poorhouse, so to speak, or require that you starve your family for the sake of others, even if those others appear more needy than you. Yet Jesus praises this poor widow who gave all she had to live on to the offering box. I don’t know if this was meant to be taken literally or as a parable to teach a lesson. For instance, the rich gave out of their wealth and thus sacrificed nothing of their own livelihood, so should they be as praiseworthy, giving thousands of dollars (this is just an example) as compared to one who sacrificed all that she had to live on, even though it was only pennies? What it seems Jesus is teaching is not spending yourself into poverty by giving to the poor, but that it is more praiseworthy for the poor to give little and yet have it be a significant impact on their livelihood, than for the rich to give much and to affect them not at all.

The Rebbe and the ChildIt would be like very small child giving everything in her piggy bank to a charity that supports needy children in disadvantaged nations, vs. Bill Gates giving millions to the same charity (although the child, of course, can depend on her parents to provide for her needs).

So what do we see in all of this that applies to Christians today? Christ does not expect us to do without personal possessions or to do away with belongings of our own. It seems the Christian principle of earning your own way and taking care of your own family is an important and even vital one. We are expected to give and give generously to those who are in need (as opposed to those simply in want who can provide for themselves), but Christianity does not require that literally no one has more than another person.

Also, and this is very important, giving is not mandatory and cannot be forced. If you say you are going to give a certain amount or value, then give it and don’t lie, just to be seen as more holy or more like a good guy. On the other hand, if you sell property, for example, and say you will give half the value to charity and keep the other half for yourself, there’s nothing un-Christian about that. Whatever you give, you give out of willingness, not because you were forced or coerced into it, either by your church, or by your government, or by pressure from a “politically correct” social group.

OK, I’m being maybe a little political here, but I’m trying to illustrate a point. Giving and sharing, as far as the Bible is concerned, cannot be defined by a social group, or a cultural value, or a political party, or a government. Charity is between you, those you give to, and God. It cannot be manipulated by any party or entity outside of those involved.


64 Days and 41,000 Paths to Follow

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:13-20 (ESV)

Solemnly charged not to speak in Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) name, the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

The Sanhedrin could argue that they were God’s ordained authority on earth, therefore disobedience to them was disobedience to God. It was a difficult contradiction, and one faced by others in Jewish history. Decisions the legislators adopted by majority consensus were also adopted as the ruling in heaven. (see b.Bava Meitza 59a-b)

What does one do when God-ordained institutional authority rules in contradiction with the will of God? The Master had already prepared his disciples for just such a circumstance. He had foreseen the way things would go and had assured His disciples that they would possess “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” and the right to make legal determinations of binding and loosing. (Matthew 16:19) As apostles of Yeshua, the twelve disciples represented the authority of the throne of David. That important legal power gave Simon Peter and the Twelve the right to overrule the Sanhedrin if necessary.

-from Torah Club, , Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Torah Portion Lech Lecha (“Go Forth”) (pg 78)
Commentary on Acts 2:42-4:31
Produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

It’s all fine and well for Jesus to assure “His disciples that they would possess ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven’ and the right to make legal determinations of binding and loosing,” but what about us? The apostles represented a direct link to the Messiah, since they had been taught by him and the giving of the Holy Spirit to them, in a very public visible and physical demonstration, was only days or weeks old. While the Sanhedrin could attempt to refute and even defy their “Messianic authority,” a good many witnesses in Jerusalem were more than convinced, and correctly so. Not only that, but there could have been no doubt in the minds of Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles, that they were in the right. Thus they had not only the authority, but the confidence and certainty of mind to be able to stand up in defiance of an order of Israel’s authentic and authoritative legal court system.

But how does D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on the legal authority of the apostles to defy the legal authority of the Sanhedrin affect us? That is, who holds “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” today?

You might say, “the church,” but which one? How many denominations of the Christian church currently exist?

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. This statistic takes into consideration cultural distinctions of denominations in different countries, so there is overlapping of many denominations.

-quoted from “Christianity Today – General Statistics and Facts of Christianity”

Oh my!

That’s a lot of denominations, and they don’t take into account a lot of the more fringy or cult-like groups who also claim some sort of authority to interpret scripture over their flocks in a legal manner.

And then there’s the Internet. As we’ve seen in a seemingly endless stream of religious blogs and their associated comments, there is a plethora of groups and individuals who claim to collectively or personally possess “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” and the right to defy the more established Christian authorities.

I suppose we could split the difference 41,000 (legitimate) ways within the body of Christianity and say that each church possesses a set of keys as applied to their own communities, and that their authority, as it were, is limited to the confines of said-communities, but that’s not really satisfactory. There are not 41,000 Gods and there are not 41,000 Christs, and there are not 41,000 Holy Spirits. God is One. While I believe, to a certain degree, that how the Bible principles are applied may vary and even evolve over the centuries in order to serve the needs of each generation, there is still an objective God; a God unto Himself, the One God with One Mind, and One Spirit, who cannot be subdivided in any manner, even though we may want and even need Him to do so for the sake of our own priorities.

So who inherited the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” or were they simply lost over the course of time?

That’s the problem we are having today. Look at the struggles the “early church” had in Jerusalem. They never became a major power in the Jewish hierarchy. They remained a small Jewish sect operating within the larger collection of valid Judaisms of the late Second Temple period and to some small degree, beyond the destruction of the Temple (but not very much farther). If there was one authentic Messianic (Christian) Jewish authority with the living apostles of Christ among the many Judaisms, when the Jews either surrendered Christianity to the nations or were “kicked out” of the assembly of the Messiah by the Gentiles, what happened to that authentic authority? Was it divided and subdivided, and subdivided again, endlessly across history, like a single-celled organism replicating, evolving, developing to form some vast living mass that is associated but not particularly unified? Is that authority shared among 41,000 living “cells” in what is (loosely) collective Christianity today?

Who currently has the right to make legal decisions that are binding both on earth and in Heaven and to defy all of the others who claim authority over the “Christian church?”

Oh, it gets worse.

It has been taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, (Lit., ‘all the arguments in the world’) but they did not accept them. Said he to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!’ Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place — others affirm, four hundred cubits. ‘No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,’ they retorted. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!’ Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards — ‘No proof can be brought from a stream of water,’ they rejoined. Again he urged: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,’ whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: ‘When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have ye to interfere?’ Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’ Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: ‘Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!’ But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘It is not in heaven.’ (Deut. 30:12) What did he mean by this? — Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline. (Ex. 23:2 though the story is told in a legendary form, this is a remarkable assertion of the independence of human reasoning)

R. Nathan met Elijah (It was believed that Elijah, who had never died, often appeared to the Rabbis) and asked him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour? — He laughed [with joy], he replied, saying, ‘My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me.’

Baba Mezi’a 59b

The Torah Club commentary, from which I quoted above, refers to this Talmudic story, and it is believed in observant Judaism, that the right of the Rabbis to interpret and apply halakhah in an authoritative manner derives from this passage as attached to Deuteronomy 30:12 (Stone Edition Chumash):

It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, “Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?”

My Christian reading audience is probably asking why any of this matters, since the Jews do not have authority to interpret scriptures for Christians, and especially not to establish halakhah for us. That’s a good question and you’re right. We don’t expect any of the Talmudic rulings to have any sort of impact, let alone authority, over any of the 41,000 Christian denominations (and their variants, spin-offs, or edge case adaptations) today.

But what about Jews who profess Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah King, not as members of a Christian church, but as disciples of Yeshuah HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ) within a wholly Jewish ethnic, cultural, and halakhic religious and lifestyle context? What about Messianic Judaism?

When G-d intrusted Israel with the Torah, He commanded them to appoint leaders to interpret the Torah and to judge whether or not the people had broken the Torah. Inherent in this process is the development of case law, history, tradition of the Jewish people which establishes the precedence that fleshes out the full meaning and implications of each of the commandments. This body of tradition was created by the Jewish people at the commandment of G-d…The Torah invests the divine authority in the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people (this is in the Deuteronomy ch. 17), where their rulings are called…”a word of Torah”. Any Israelite presumptuous enough to reject the rulings of the judges of Israel was cut off from his people, the same punishment as for someone who rejected the written Torah. How much more presumptuous is it for a gentile to cast off entire body of Jewish tradition and claim the right to act as the judge and definer of the Torah?

-Boaz Michael
President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Speaking at the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) July 2012 conference in Baltimore, Maryland
as quoted by Gene Shlomovich on his blog
Daily Minyan

We see that in some corners of Messianic Judaism (as I define it), there is a serious devotion to the authority of the Jewish people to define themselves as Jews and to determine halakhah for themselves based on the authority of the sages. This rather flies in the face of we non-Jewish Christians but is a particular “thorn in the side” of some of those non-Jews who have either directly (by attending authentic Messianic Jewish congregations) or tangentially (through an affiliation with some form of the Hebrew Roots movement) attached themselves to a (more or less) “Jewish” viewpoint on the New Testament scriptures, Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, and God as the God of Israel.

I’ll tell you right now that I don’t know what all this means and that I don’t have the answers to the questions I’m asking. Because of this, some people accuse me of not knowing if I’m coming or going, and I suppose that is a valid concern from an outside observer’s point of view. On the other hand, there are others who feel exactly the same way about the impact and the consequences of a real, authentic, and transparent life of faith and trust in God as we attempt to grasp the meaning of the Bible across the history of the Jewish people and the world.

The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (UJRC) has established a written Standards of Observance (PDF) document that is intended to guide its member synagogues in the appropriate halakhic rulings as adapted for Messianic Jews, but it is only one body and cannot possibly represent all Jews who profess Yeshua as Messiah everywhere. It also, by necessity, defines a varying level of halakhic response for the non-Jewish disciples who come under the MJRC’s authority, but again, the scope if such authority is limited. These standards do not solve the problem or answer the questions I’ve been posing in today’s meditation however, but only because, like the multitude of Christian churches that exist today, it can’t, at least not outside its own community. We don’t have a universal legal and theological interpretation of scripture where “one size fits all.”

We long for the coming of Messiah. Christians desperately await the return of the King in all his glory. We have many reasons for doing so but one of the reasons I seek him and his presence is to help me understand who indeed on earth holds the “keys to the kingdom,” if anyone. Many claim to hold them or at least know the path on which to travel to find them. Many would-be “Messiahs,” religious leaders, pundits, and self-taught scholars of one stripe or another, profess to know “the truth.” But who are we to believe except God Himself, but how we understand God through the Bible and even through the Spirit, is split at least 41,000 ways, from a Christian perspective.

How am I to choose among 41,000 paths, and probably more if I factor in my own fascination with Judaism, as applied to my Christian faith? I can’t. I can only choose one of the myriad ways as they stand before me and start walking, trusting that God will not allow me to travel the wrong path, nor select a guide made out of my ego, my biases (at least not too severely), or my weaknesses, but only His Son, and the lamp of the throne of David.

May he and I walk together discovering the truth of his existence and my own. May God grant you this gift as well, for this may be all we can do until Messiah returns to rule in Jerusalem, and reveals clearly the One God and the One Way from His Temple.

Blessed is Hashem from Zion, He Who dwells in Jerusalem. Halleluyah!

Psalm 135:21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

64 days from now, on my path, chosen from among 41,000 paths, (and probably more) where will I find myself?


A Walk to Redemption

WalkingThe chassidic community in Poland was in a state of shock. The great chassidic master Rabbi Moshe of Lelov had decided to ascend to the Holy Land and settle there. How could they possibly go on without his leadership?

To his closest disciples the rebbe revealed that when he was a small boy, his father, Rabbi David of Lelov, had said to him: “I did not merit to see the Holy Land, but you must go there. Through your divine service which you will perform there, you will succeed in bringing Moshiach sooner, and hastening the Redemption.”

-Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles
“The Shattered Goblet”

Last spring, after Shavuot, I wrote a two-part meditation called “Redeeming the Heart of Israel,” Part 1 and Part 2. I received a certain amount of criticism because I was perceived as somehow elevating Israel and the Jewish people above the non-Jewish believer in the Messiah. While the church is slowly moving away from its stance of supersessionism (I know, I used that word, again) and anti-Israel/anti-Jewish beliefs, it is still difficult for many Christians to take Paul at his word and believe that “all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26)

Part of the problem is understanding what redemption means. From a traditional Christian point of view, individuals are redeemed; we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ, which generally means, when we die, we go to Heaven. All seems so nice and simple and reassuring. But that’s generally not how Jews see the concept of redemption and the coming of Messiah. As we see from Rabbi Tilles’ story, it is clear that the coming of the Messiah is closely coupled with the redemption of national Israel, not necessarily focused on each individual’s redemption (although this too is important). However, the Jewish point of view is often criticized by Christians as extra-Biblical and thus invalid.

But is this actually true or did Christ’s own disciples believe he was supposed to accomplish Israel’s national redemption?

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (ESV)

I’ve mentioned all this before, but I don’t know if anyone is taking the message seriously. I’m not trying to “undo” or contradict the doctrine of personal salvation through Jesus Christ, but to illustrate that one of the things he will do upon his return, that was expected the first time he was here but not accomplished, is to restore Israel as a nation to a state of rule over the earth, and return the Jewish people to their Land and heritage in glory and honor.

That’s the part some Christians, including some of those in the Hebrew Roots movement, have a problem with. The “inequality” among the body of believers in the form of salvation coming from the Jews. (John 4:22) Traditional Christianity has historically taught (and thankfully, this is changing) that the church has replaced the Jews in all of the covenant promises, and that Jesus killed the Torah in the process. Hebrew Roots maintains that the Torah still lives, but that the distinctions between Jew and (Christian) Gentile have been totally eliminated and there is only one new identity before God, the “Messianic” identity, despite the fact that God has promised to be a God to the Jewish people forever, to return them to their Land, and to establish Israel as the head of all the nations (i.e. the rest of us).

If you read all of Rabbi Tilles’ tale, you’ll see that sadly, Rabbi Moshe of Lelov never accomplished his mission to reach the Kotel and summon the Moshiach. It is believed that this occurred because the time for the Moshiach’s arrival had not yet come. While Christianity doesn’t believe we can do anything to hasten the return of Jesus, Jews believe by performing acts of tikkun olam or “repairing the world,” that we all, Jews and Gentiles alike, can take part in bringing the time of his coming (or return) just a little bit closer.

In the face of everything I’ve just said, we Christians have a couple of choices. We can accept that the Bible is telling us that we are dependent on the Jews for our salvation through the Jewish Messiah and our covenant relationship with the God of Israel, or we can ignore those parts of the Bible that present this information and focus on either the traditional church doctrine of supersession, or one of the variants being created in minority movements within larger Christianity (which includes Hebrew Roots in general and it’s subgroups such as One Law, which indeed is a Christianity and not a “Judaism”).

Probably the most lively debate on this topic currently happening (though it seems to be winding down) in the blogosphere is on Gene Shlomovich’s blog. I’m actually learning a great deal from a few of the individuals posting (and I may mine some of those comments and pull them together for a future “meditation”), mixed in with the more expected objections to Jewish “choseness” within the Messianic body. But I struggle to remember a lesson that I very recently wrote discouraging the acceptance of someone else’s “gift” of their own anger and hostility, which is not an easy task on the web, but one that is absolutely necessary if we are to truly call ourselves disciples of our Master.

We see in the early chapters of Acts that the community of disciples of Jesus Christ were all Jewish and that, upon accepting the Spirit and declaring their discipleship, the Jews did not deviate in any way from being Jewish. In fact, in the Torah Club commentary I’m reading this week, the early Jewish disciples are referred to as “The Temple Sect.”

Contrary to popular assumptions, the disciples did not teach against the Temple or the Levitical worship system. If the gospel did cancel the Torah and the Levitical worship system, the apostolic community in Jerusalem seems to have been ignorant about the change. They continued to revere the Temple and participate in its services throughout their lives.

The disciples of Yeshua revered the Temple because their Master revered it. He regarded the Temple as his “Father’s house.” As a boy, Yeshua was reluctant to leave the Temple courts. As an adult, He was found in the Temple teaching and attending the festival services. He spent the last days of His life, prior to his crucifixion, in the Temple. He prophesied its coming destruction only with sorrow and weeping…

After the ascension, his disciples “were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:53). They were likely in the Temple when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. Aftr that, they remained day by day in the Temple together.

As I continue my study of the book of Acts in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club, I hope to find that my perceptions are becoming clearer on these points, including what redemption truly means for Israel and the nations, and where we all stand, Jews and non-Jews, as brothers and sisters in the Messiah.

In my Days series, I’ve been recording my plans to return to more traditional Christian fellowship, in part to reconcile on some level with the larger body of Gentile believers. I don’t know how successful I will be, but I’ve been challenged to trust God more than I have in the past. Hopefully, the ground will remain firm rather than falling out from under me.

Walter Donovan (Julian Glover): As you can now see, Dr. Jones, we are on the verge of completing a quest that began almost two thousand years ago. We’re just one step away.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford): That’s usually when the ground falls out from underneath your feet.

from the film
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Hopefully and with God’s grace, my journey toward reconciliation and redemption will also have a “happy ending.”