Tag Archives: Beth Immanuel

Gifts of the Spirit: For the Common Good

kinbar“Everyone knew I was Jewish. It just didn’t mean anything.”

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar

I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 58:14

Rabbi Kinbar gave his first presentation called For the Common Good last week on Wednesday morning during the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. He told a story about himself that most of the audience, including me, probably didn’t know. Rabbi Kinbar was a Pastor for many years before he entered into Messianic Judaism and eventually became a Rabbi.

I won’t go into all of the details (I didn’t chronicle all of them in my notes of his presentation) but I wanted you to get that the vast, vast majority of Jewish people I know who are active and teaching in Messianic Judaism came to the movement by way of the church. Many of them were Pastors and teachers. But something called to them.

In Rabbi Kinbar’s case, Isaiah 58:14 called to him…literally.

He recalls a time (again, no specific details) when his eyes were closed and he was enjoying the presence of God in his life. At that moment, he felt a hand touch his shoulder and someone said, “I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.”

Rabbi Kinbar didn’t know what it meant at the time, although he wondered if it was about his father since he actually is named Jacob. As it turns out, this experience (Rabbi Kinbar never saw the person who touched him) spoke both about his father and about the patriarch, his father Jacob.

The general theme of the conference was the gifts of the spirit and you may be wondering what the above story has to do with the Holy Spirit of God. For me, it seems clear, since by God’s Spirit, Rabbi Kinbar was drawn toward a different path than the one he was traveling and by the Spirit, we are each drawn to the path that God would have us walk.

Why?

On an individual level, the answer is so we can be who God designed us to be. It would be tragic if God designed you to write grand symphonies but you were stuck putting together widgets on an assembly line. It would be equally tragic if you were trying to learn medicine, but God designed you to be a Forest Ranger.

But that’s not the kind of design I’m talking about.

I’m talking about how we know and serve God and how we know and serve each other, and that is a large part of the point Rabbi Kinbar was making and the point of the conference as well.

When we think of spirituality or the gifts of the spirit, most Christians think of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, but what about Judaism and particularly Messianic Judaism and its traditions? Spirituality in modern Judaism, Messianic or otherwise, may seem absent or at best disguised, but it’s quite clear in ancient Messianic Judaism as illustrated in the letters of Paul.

In many ways, we mirror the problems Paul was attempting to deal with in his day.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.

1 Corinthians 1:4-11

Rabbi Kinbar states that they really did lack nothing in terms of the gifts of the Spirit, but they did lack unity. Although all of the teachers and participants at the conference were well unified, though from widely different backgrounds, the larger Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements do suffer from lack of unity in many things, as does larger, mainstream Christianity.

But what does this have to do with the “path” and “identity” issues I mentioned at the beginning of this article?

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

pathPaul isn’t saying that he was some sort of chameleon, shifting practices from Jewish to Gentile, from weak to strong, and that his own Jewishness had no meaning to him. He was dealing (as we saw above) with a fractured population or at least a diverse one. He became a Jew to the Jew and not a Jew to the Gentile because he didn’t teach Torah to the Gentile. The one under the law is probably a Gentile convert to Judaism, and Paul learned to speak to these proselytes from the same position and set of concerns they were experiencing. It’s interesting to speak of a fractured population because Rabbi Kinbar said that if Paul had chosen to introduce the Jewish observance of Torah to all populations uniformly, he would have actually fractured them further rather than setting each group on their correct and individual paths, Jew, convert, and Gentile alike.

But Paul had to speak to each of these populations within the context of who they were in order to win more of them to the Gospel message of Messiah; so they could repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

In listening to Rabbi Kinbar’s message, I thought of the different populations I encounter. I thought of how I could present something like this to Pastor Randy, who doesn’t believe the Jewish disciples of Messiah were to continue to observe the Torah mitzvot, and to the Hebrew Roots people who occasionally read my blog, who believe that everyone is meant to observe the Torah mitzvot identically.

Rabbi Kinbar’s own encounter with the Spirit set him on a particular path because he is Jewish. He was and is supposed to be fed with the heritage of his father Jacob, the Jewish patriarch. But this isn’t just a message of distinctions but of distinctions drawn into unity.

Let’s see if you can spot what’s missing in the following passage:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

1 Corinthians 12:12-15

I didn’t see it either, but in fact, there is no mention of Torah in this portion of Paul’s letter. For we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks. Does that mean we are all supposed to obey the Torah in an identical fashion, Jews and Greeks, or all of us are supposed to discard the Torah?

Not at all, because we are united in the Spirit, not in the Torah. Many good things are said of the Torah, but it is applied differently to different populations within the unity of the Spirit, hence Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

Two paths, two peoples, one body, one Spirit, one Messiah.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

dove-peaceThe wisdom of God rests upon the Messiah in the full measure of the Spirit and in him, we are united if we accept this or torn apart if we do not. The Messiah crucified is the wisdom of God.

That last part is important, because Rabbi Kinbar isn’t talking about Jesus as he was before the crucifixion, for his death was necessary so we could all be reborn in him and indeed, so we could all be in him. For in him, both Jew and Gentile are one, not meaning identical behavior or identity, but one in purpose and in spirit.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that the Gospel message isn’t simply the individual accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and being saved. The Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles is “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It’s a message of unity in the Kingdom. Our salvation, our purpose, our unity in the Spirit is to be for the common good of all, not just the personal benefit you and I might derive from being a disciple of the Master.

But to be of any use to the common good, we must consider other people first rather than ourselves. Especially in America, we tend to be individualists, and in the worst possible expression, we tend to pursue “me first, because it’s a dog eat dog world.” But that’s not Messiah’s message and it’s not Paul’s message. You aren’t unified with the body through the Spirit and you aren’t serving your neighbor as yourself if all you think about is yourself and your so-called “rights.”

I was talking to a gentleman named Kevin while we were waiting in line for one of the meals at the conference. He regularly attends Beth Immanuel and he mentioned a certain event that occurred some years ago. When First Fruits of Zion moved away from a “One Law” position to one that reflected the reality of Jews and Gentiles as differing populations within a single Messianic body, a lot of people became upset. This was also reflected in the membership at Beth Immanuel and Kevin pointed out something I hadn’t really noticed.

Except for two or three non-Jews, the only people wearing tallitot during the prayer and Torah services were Jewish men. If any non-Jewish men were wearing a tallit katan, the tzitzit were tucked into their trousers so as not to be visible.

Apparently the shift in perspective at Beth Immanuel had two general reactions among the non-Jewish membership. One was what I just described, Gentiles who adjusted their outward appearance so that they could not be mistaken for Jews (although I must say that during the Torah services at Beth Immanuel, many non-Jews were called up for an aliyah). The other was a group of non-Jews who sought formal conversion to Judaism, usually within an Orthodox synagogue. They could not give up “Judaism,” so they surrendered the Messiah instead.

Rabbi Kinbar heard a voice telling him to feed from the inheritance of his father Jacob and he began a long journey in order to fulfill that mission for his life, and ultimately for the common good within Messianic Judaism. His being Jewish used to not mean anything when he was in a group where everyone was supposed to be inclusive, uniform, and the same, but God was not going to allow that. God wanted Rabbi Kinbar to not only be Jewish as a string of DNA or a piece of intellectual information, but to be Jewish and to live a fully realized Jewish life as a disciple of the Messiah.

Others among the Gentiles received a similar message and were obedient to the Spirit of God. Some Gentiles, however, could not operate for the common good and sought their own path instead, setting the Master and the will of God aside.

One who focuses on and romanticizes Judaism is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.

-Troy Mitchell as related by Boaz Michael

Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism, but seek an encounter with God.

-Tom

I mentioned previously that Troy’s “midrash” (Boaz didn’t get the quote quite right, but Troy sent me the correction which I’ll publish in tomorrow’s “meditation”) could be adjusted in a number of useful ways. Here’s one of them: One who focuses on and romanticizes the Torah is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.

Boaz, Troy, Rabbi Kinbar, and my friend Tom are all delivering the same message from differing viewpoints. Seek first the Kingdom of God and not the various tools and materials we are trying to use to build the kingdom.

As with my previous blog posts about lessons I heard at the conference, I’ve departed from a simple chronicle of the message and allowed this teaching to take me down personal roads that have meaning to me. I realize that after I absorb and process everything I learned, my next task is much more difficult.

Everything I saw and heard was shown to me from a different perspective and can only be understood from that perspective. If I’m supposed to pass this along to others, including my Pastor, I must find a way to help him…to help anyone who is interested, to see the same information, the same Bible, the same God, the same Messiah, from a different point of view. I’m not changing anything about what the Bible says or what the Spirit says. I’m only trying to change the person receiving those statements by changing their perspective.

grand-canyonThe Grand Canyon can be seen from a number of perspectives…from the north rim, the south rim, riding a donkey down narrow trails to the bottom, riding a raft on the Colorado river inside the canyon, flying over the canyon in a helicopter, and probably in other ways as well.

Depending on which perspective you choose, you will be looking at a different landscape, as if it were a different canyon. But the Grand Canyon isn’t changing (well, yes it is, albeit very, very slowly). What is changing is how you look at it.

The same God, the same Messiah, the same Bible, but different perspectives. But there is one overriding message to get from all this. I want you to at least try to temporarily change your perspective (yes, I know it’s difficult and can even feel threatening) to get the message I believe God is trying to tell each and every one of us. The Gospel message is for us to repent and seek first the common good of the Kingdom of God. In the Messianic Era, we will be united in Messiah and every knee will bow to the King.

In the present age, it is not so, but we can strive toward that goal. To do that, we must love God with all of our being and we must love our neighbors…all of them…as ourselves. The common good. The unity of the Messiah. Being connected through the Spirit that dwells within each of us.

Let us consume and be consumed by the Spirit of God for in doing so, while remaining man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Greek, we are all one in the Messiah and we are all servants to the King and to each other. The greatest will become the least and the least will become the greatest. Seek to be a servant and seek the path God has drawn you to and you will be among those who are called His sons and daughters.

I want to apologize for all of the errors that probably crept in as I was writing this “meditation.” My notes are pretty messy as I was working with a lot of loose pieces of paper. I neglected to pack a notebook for the trip. I especially apologize to Rabbi Carl Kinbar for any portion of his presentation I messed up. I do hope that my rather large missive really does serve the common good for all who read it.

Blessings.

125 days.

 

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Gifts of the Spirit: Let Us Be Healed by God

new-heartThen he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

2 Kings 5:15

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mark 16:15-18

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:26-29

In yesterday’s morning meditation I asked, “Why was Jesus resurrected from the dead but his wounds were not healed?” This question was part of Aaron Eby’s presentation Turn of the Age at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) annual Shavuot conference. This year’s theme, as I’ve previously mentioned, was Gifts of the Spirit and addresses something that Messianic Judaism hasn’t given a lot of attention to historically: the understanding and movement of the Holy Spirit of God in Jewish thought.

As far as the purpose of the miracles of Jesus goes, you’ve probably already guessed, since I provided ample hints. According to Eby, “the reason for Yeshua’s miracles was so that people would know God.”

Think about it. It’s not as if only prophets of God or the Messiah could perform supernatural miracles.

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents.

Exodus 7:10-12

So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

Numbers 22:7-12

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.

Acts 8:9-11

As we see from the above-examples, miracles all by themselves don’t prove you’re a messenger from God. Plenty of evil men could do magic and Balaam was not only a great magician, but he even spoke with God!

But it wasn’t just that Jesus did miracles. Many (but not all) of the miracles of Messiah were signs, not only to fulfill what the Prophets had said about him, but to show the people that God cared about human beings.

sabbath-breaker-lancasterSeveral weeks ago, I reviewed D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Sabbath Breaker: Jesus of Nazareth and The Gospels’ Sabbath Conflicts. Lancaster illustrates in his writing how Jesus did indeed perform miracles of healing on the Shabbat which did not involve life threatening injuries or illness. While this is a violation of Shabbat on one level, the higher principle of compassion and caring for human beings made this permissible. After all, “the Shabbat was made for man, not man for the Shabbat.”

So the specifics of Yeshua’s miracles were to fulfill the prophesies said about Messiah and to show that God does love His people Israel and seeks to draw them closer to knowledge of Him and the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Matthew 11:2-6

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

Mark 3:1-5

According to Eby, “healing corresponds to God’s self-disclosure.” But how?

May the One who was a source of blessing for our ancestors, bring blessings of healing upon (insert names here), a healing of body and a healing of spirit. May those in whose care they are entrusted be gifted with wisdom and skill, and those who surround them be gifted with love and trust, openness and support in their care. And may they be healed along with all those who are in need. Blessed are You, Source of healing.

-Mi sheberakh
quoted from Jewishealing.com

It’s probably anachronistic to insert this modern Jewish blessing for “a complete healing from Heaven” into a discussion of the healing miracles of Jesus, but the principle most likely predated the written blessing by centuries or even millennia. If you’ll forgive my assumption here, we can then consider healing as both physical and spiritual and indeed, when someone is healed in one aspect, the healing can be for the “whole” person.

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Luke 5:17-26

healingToday, it’s not uncommon in some Charismatic churches to lay hands on a person who is ill, to pour oil on them, and to pray for healing, but as far as I can tell, this is rather incomplete if all of the prayers are devoted to the person’s physical healing. When Jesus healed the invalid at the Bethesda pool at the Sheep Gate (John 5:2-9), he later, at the Temple, said to the healed man, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (John 5:14 NRSV)

I don’t think we can escape how healing is directly connected to restoring a person to both physical and spiritual health.

This is certainly God’s desire for all of humanity and what we see Jesus doing to heal people in the Gospels is only a taste of what we will see and experience in the Messianic Age. It’s as if with each healing and every other miracle Messiah performed, he was lifting back the edge of the covers, so to speak, and showing us just a hint of how the world will be when he returns in glory and power.

But what about the healing of Jesus himself? Why when he was resurrected in his “glorified body” was that body still full of holes?

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

John 20-19-20 (NRSV)

If Jesus had appeared without his wounds, it could have been said that the one who was resurrected was not the same person as the one who had died. By appearing alive to the disciples and to many other people with his wounds present and visible, it was established that the Jesus who had died was brought back to life, lived and walked among his people Israel, and was the same Jesus who ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.

Thus we have the confidence to know that we have a High Priest in the Heavenly Court who has also walked among men and who has lived a fully human life.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16

I’m extending Eby’s teaching beyond what he actually said, but I do this to share with you what his words meant to me and how they impacted my thoughts and spirit rather than to just transcribe his presentation. For everything he and all of the other teachers said, you will be able to order an audio CD from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) when it becomes available.

But Aaron said something that ties into his message as I recorded it in yesterday’s morning meditation.

As we read of the miracles of Jesus and indeed, the many other miracles that are from God, we can come to know God as Naaman the Syrian did, that there is no other God but the God of Israel. We can then seek first the Kingdom of Heaven as an act of obedience to our King and to summon his return to us and the age of the healing of the world.

How?

world-in-his-handsFirst, by having faith and trust in the God of the Bible and the Good News of the Messiah for all of Israel and the world. Then we must also be loyal to the King by adhering to his teachings and living an unswerving life of devotion and holiness. This life is lived by performing the mitzvot, each of us as we are called, the Jew and also the Gentile, repairing the damage done by the sins that caused the exile, first of all humanity from Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), and also of the Jews from the Holy Land of Israel. And what mitzvot are we to perform?

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34 (NRSV)

Love God. Love your neighbor. Heal the world physically and spiritually. Pray for the healing of Israel. Pray for the healing between Christian and Jewish people.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day.

126 days.

 

 

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)

Blessings.

134 days.

The road

Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1

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)

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

Romans 15:25-29 (ESV)

It is believed by the sages that if all of Israel would observe a single Shabbat properly, the Messiah would immediately come, since obeying the Shabbat is equivalent to obeying the entire Torah. We could extend this idea to say that if all Jews were to perfectly observe all of the Torah mitzvot, the redemption of Israel would be at hand. Interestingly enough, the two portions of scripture I quoted above directly apply to this concept. Let me explain.

There is just so much I could say about the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference I attended a few days ago. In fact, over the next several days, I will blog almost exclusively on my different experiences at Beth Immanuel, however one particular presentation stands out. When I heard it on the evening of the last full day of the conference, I knew it would be the keystone to everything I took away from my trip and the centerpiece to everything I intend to write.

I’ll just tell you in advance that this is going to be challenging. Some people don’t like being challenged.

Boaz Michael, Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) gave a presentation about, among other things, the redemption of Israel. But it’s not the sort of redemption that you are probably imagining. According to dictionary.reference.com, redemption, in a theological sense, can mean:

  1. deliverance from sin; salvation.
  2. atonement for guilt.

This falls in line with the traditional Christian understanding of the term “redemption” and often equates to “when I die, I’m going to heaven.” Being “saved” or “redeemed” is typically the single most important part of what happens to a Christian. Nothing else matters until you “confess Christ” and are “saved.” After that, you can live a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus knowing your eternal future in Heaven is secure.

But Jews think about meriting a place in the world to come quite a bit differently. The chief difference is that Jews aren’t really obsessed about being “saved” and “going to heaven.” While meriting a place in the world to come is certainly important, Religious Jews are far more concerned with obeying God in the here and now, and some even look for opportunities to perform a mitzvah that cannot often be accomplished. There is even a saying that the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah. This is actually a concept Christians should recognize:

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. –Matthew 25:29 (ESV)

Jewish in JerusalemThis is the point of the “parable of the talents” as told by the Master. As in the wisdom from the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the ‘reward’ of a sin is a sin,” we are “rewarded” for what we do, whether it is for the good or the bad. That reward can come either in this world or the next, according to Jewish thinking, but it’s directly tied to the sort of life a Jew lives right now. Jews have been commanded to obey all of the 613 commandments in the Torah but as you might imagine, being just as human as Christians or anyone else, they don’t do a perfect job. Unfortunately, God was very specific about the consequences to the Jewish people if, as a nation, they did not obey the commandments of Sinai.

The second Temple – when the Jews were involved in Torah, mitzvahs and acts of kindness – why was it destroyed? Because the Jews were guilty of harboring baseless hatred towards each other!”

-Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
-as quoted from askmoses.com

Most Christians believe that Herod’s Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and the Jews subsequently exiled from Israel because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. As you’ve just seen, this isn’t how Jews understand the cause for their exile and in fact, during the days of the Second Temple and when Jesus walked among his people, proper Jewish religious observance was rather high; much more so than in the days of the destruction of the First Temple.

However, the sin of baseless hatred of one Jew for another was very severe. Jesus especially pleaded with his people to repent of this sin.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. –Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

As recorded in Matthew 18:21-35, the Master illustrates how serious this sin is in the “parable of the unforgiving servant.” But sadly, tragically, Israel didn’t listen, resulting in dire consequences.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” –Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)

Simchat TorahIt’s not as if every single Jew in Israel was guilty of this sin, but Israel is judged by God as a nation, not a collection of individuals. If the nation is in sin, every Jew suffers whether they commmitted the offense or not. To this day, the Jewish people are in exile, not because they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but because they refused to listen and obey his teaching to turn away from the sin of baseless hatred toward their brothers and to instead seek peace.

This has nothing to do with whether or not Jews merit a place in the world to come. God didn’t take away Jewish “salvation” as a result of this sin, He took away the posession of the Land of Israel from the Nation of Israel, and scattered them across the face of the earth. Redemption, for Israel, isn’t being saved so they can go to Heaven, it’s the restoration of the Jews to their Land and the ascension of Israel above all the peoples of the earth.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

Connect that back to Acts 1:6-8 and you’ll see that Israel, as a nation, awaits final redemption so it can be restored to the place at the head of the nations as God has always intended.

But what does that have to do with you and me? Even if we accept that this is true for the Jewish people, what sort of role would Christians have in Israel’s redemption?

I’ll give you the answer to that in Part 2.

Disconnect Reconnect Disconnect

Normally, I start out a “meditation” with some sort of meaningful or inspirational quote, usually from Chabad.org, but I’ve got other things on my mind. Most of you know that I recently attended the First Fruits of Zion 2012 Shavuot Conference, hosted by Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. After five wonderful, exhausting days, I’m back home in Idaho. I’m really tired, even after sleeping all night, but I need to start writing about all this.

Blogging is inherently lonely. I know it might not seem that way, since in theory, I’m talking to anyone who has Internet access, but the reality of blogging is that I’m sitting at a computer keyboard alone and writing to myself. Ultimately, when I post this online, it’s available to anyone and everyone, but from my point of view, it’s like being a man who is stranded on a small, desert island, writing a note, putting it in a bottle, and then throwing it into the ocean. The tide takes it out and I’ll probably never see it again or know what happens to it. Will the cork work loose and pop out, letting water in and sinking my bottle? Will just enough water get in and ruin the message so that even if someone finds the bottle, they’ll never be able to read the note inside? Or will the bottle just float and float, carried here and there by nameless, unknown currents, bobbing around the seas, lost to time and man forever and ever?

Who knows, but that’s how I feel. Even if someone responds to a blog post, they are far away and faceless, an identity I can communicate with but never really know. An almost anonymous cardboard cut out, but never a living, breathing flesh-and-blood human being.

Until now.

There’s a long story about everything that happened up to the point when I entered Beth Immanuel for the first time last Thursday afternoon, but I won’t tell that tale right now. Jeremiah, my ride from the motel to the conference on the first day, dropped me off and then was called away. I walked into the congregation building (which is a very beautiful and richly textured synagogue) and didn’t get two steps inside before someone said (I can’t remember the exact wording), “You’re Jim Pyles. I love your blog.” (Hi, Michele)

Needless to say, I was stunned.

I really didn’t expect to get any attention relative to this blog. I figured that I’d meet one or two people I know through Facebook but otherwise I’d be pretty much anonymous. That never happened.

Please don’t think I’m saying this to blow my own horn, but probably fifteen people or so came up to me during the conference, recognizing me on sight, and saying something complementary about my blog. Daniel Lancaster publicly introduced all of the staff of FFOZ the first evening of the conference, asking each person to stand up when their name was called. I didn’t think much of it until he called my name.

What?

It probably didn’t help that I agreed be a presenter at Tikkun Leil Shavuos Saturday night (Sunday morning at about 2, actually).

Why am I telling you all this? It’s what happens when someone finds the bottle, reads the message, and comes to rescue you with a boat. It’s what happens when you get on the boat and you realize that a lot of people read the message and because of that, they feel like they know you and they want to get to know you better. It’s when you feel disconnected and alone on a desert island and then the island fills up with people who all know your name and story and all of them want you to know them, too. They tell you their stories and somehow your story and their stories interact, weave, and blend into each other to create a different, larger story about people who come from radically different places and yet all have something in common. To use a “star trek-ism”, it’s infinite diversity coming together to form an infinite combination.

Disconnection becomes connection.

And then it’s over.

Anyone who’s been to a conference like this knows that you are put through a whirlwind of events, worship services, presentations, meals, discussions, and fellowship. Suddenly, you’re back in your motel room asleep and then the next thing you know, it’s another morning and you’re praying shacharit with the congregation again. What seems like a days long stream of activities compresses into a few minutes, and once they blur by, you’re on a plane in the middle of the night, fighting the urge to try to sleep in an extremely uncomfortable seat while wedged between two people, flying back home.

I actually started to feel this loneliness the evening of the first full day of the conference. Some “vision” of the end presented itself to me during one of the presentations and I felt compelled to write notes for this particular blog post. I can’t find the notes but I still feel the separation and disconnection. I suppose that’s to be expected. After one of these events when you make or re-make so many connections so quickly, you almost always feel a sense of profound loss when it’s over. I remember thinking at one point that I could happily settle down into the community at Beth Immanuel and spend the rest of my life in worship there.

Of course, that will never happen for more reasons than I have time to recount in this missive.

Since I didn’t have a car, Jeremiah Detwiler picked me up from the airport (thanks for all your help, Jeremiah), and during the first night, I met a fellow named Dave who was staying at the same motel, so he agreed to ferry me back and forth (thanks, Dave). Dave and I met in the motel lobby on Friday morning after breakfast and drove back to Beth Immanuel. We got there a little early and sat in the sanctuary. After a few minutes, I heard the faint sound of Hebrew prayers and followed it into the library (the library by the way, is to die for). In a small room above the library, a group of men had gathered together for shacharit before the public ceremonies began.

I remember standing directly under the room and being filled with…something, an emotion, just listening to the prayers, and I found myself floating on the surface of the rhythm of the words, letting myself be carried off to sea. I’m terrible at languages and on my best day in life, I’ll never be able to learn Hebrew, but for some reason I can’t explain, Hebrew prayer just calls to me. However, it would have been too embarrassing to actually try to participate in the prayers with them, and since I’m not Jewish, I’ve promised myself I won’t put on a tallit again for that, and more reasons than I have time to recount here. But I couldn’t help myself when I followed the sound of the prayers from the sanctuary to the library and then I just stood in awe and wonder and longing, and I listened.

The prayers ended and I quickly returned to my seat in the sanctuary, but those precious moments when I was listening to the men praying are one of the highlights of my entire experience at the conference. I really do miss the prayers and while they resonate in some mysterious way with my soul, they also remind me that I can only be who I am and that there is a world I will always orbit but never truly arrive upon. My bird has no legs, so I must forever be suspended alone in flight.

And so I’m disconnected again, but it’s even worse than that.

It’s not simply that I’m restored to my previous state. If that’s all it was, I would eventually return to my “normal life” and that would be the end of it. After all, there’s always next year and I can attend the 2013 conference if I want to.

But it’s not just that.

I brought something back with me from the conference. Yes, I brought books back, and materials back, and memories back, but that’s not what changed things for me, not really. I also brought back questions about purpose, identity, and mission. I’m wondering about goals, and process, and destination. In the days ahead, I’m going to write about what I brought back, some of which is vast in scope and some that touches on just a few tiny details.

In many ways, blogging is futile. While I know now that I’ve touched a lot of people just by writing, I also realize that in a much grander scope, it doesn’t really matter. I can only touch people who choose to read this blog and even then, only those people who choose to be touched. And as a said before, there are severe limitations to the (dis)connections I can make in a virtual universe when, after all, both God and man exist and talk in the real one.

It’s like something really strange happened to the man rescued from the desert island and to all the people who welcomed him on their boat. Instead of going away from the island and letting himself go back to their land with them, the man ate with those people, and talked with those people, and shared experiences with those people for four or five days, and at the end of that time, he got off the boat and went back to the island. The people turned their boat around and went back where they came from. And again, they are isolated from him and he is isolated from them. From disconnection to connection to disconnection.

But he carried away their notes with him and he’s reading them. And he can’t just send out messages in a bottle anymore. And he doesn’t know what to do instead. So he reads. And he thinks. And he prays. And he waits.

And he still writes messages and sends them off upon the currents of the sea every morning as the sun rises because he doesn’t know what else to do.

Maybe one day, God will reach onto the surface of the deep and find one of those messages and read it.

And maybe one day, God will be the one to come to the island and talk to the man.

And then, He’ll tell the man how to leave the island without a boat, even if he has to walk.

And he’ll go to a place where he’ll find someone new to talk to.

I want to thank Dave, and Jeremiah, and Michele, and Karen, and Jim, and Mel, and Jacob, and Jacob, and Michael, and Bill, and Cliff, and lots and lots and lots of other people for talking to me and spending time with me and sharing your lives with me. If I didn’t mention your name, it’s because my memory leaks and sometimes certain details go away. It’s nothing personal, my brain is just getting older.

I also want to thank the leaders and congregation at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship for hosting the conference and for allowing me to participate in your community. I also want to thank everyone at First Fruits of Zion for creating and producing an absolutely amazing conference that not only informed but illuminated human beings. I now have a lot of new mysteries to experience and anguish over (but in a good way). I want to thank Aaron who I’ve never met before and Daniel who I have, as well as Toby, even though he thought I was a different person at first, and Shayna who kept the entire event under control. I want to thank Nick and Jordan who I never met before and who are two of the most amazing young people it has ever been my privilege to encounter, and Jacob who is an amazing young person who I have (virtually) encountered before.

Most of all, I want to thank Boaz Michael who I have met before but who I never got to know so well as I did over the past five days or so. It’s fairly common to encounter Boaz’s thoughts but I am blessed to have experienced his heart, and his passion, and his desire to please God and to serve not only the Jewish community, but the body of all believers in the Jewish Messiah, no matter who they are or where they may be found.

I’m sitting in a chair in front of a computer on a desert island on a Tuesday afternoon as I write this. I have no idea what’s going to happen next as I listen to the waves softly washing up to the sandy shore and hear the wind rustle the palm fronds above my head. But as I experience the loss of connection and settle back into my solitary niche, I proceed hopefully.