Tag Archives: culture

28 Days: Trying to Get Used to Church


Boy, you miss one day of church and you certainly hear about it.

I say that tongue-in-cheek, but I was surprised to find that people actually noticed I wasn’t in church last week. It caught me a bit off guard.

Today (as I write this), we had a guest speaker who delivered the “sermon,” the combined adult Sunday school class teaching and, if I’d have stayed, more teaching during and after a pot luck lunch (I knew nothing about this which is what I get for missing a week of church): James W. Rickard. I guess he does the taxes for a lot of the Pastors across the Northwest. Since my wife is so good managing finances, nothing he said came as a huge shock (credit card debt is bad) but I stayed for the “Sunday school” portion of his talk, just to see what he’d say.

This meant that Pastor didn’t give his sermon on Acts this week and of course, we didn’t meet in Charlie’s class to discuss Pastor’s sermon. And I had my brand new, ESV Study Bible with me and everything (because the battery in my Kindle Fire went toes up…replacement Kindle Fire will be shipped out soon).

Doug, the Music Director, who is over-the-top cheery and expressive at 9:30 in the morning, pointed out that the Christmas decorations are up in the church (I honestly hadn’t noticed until that moment) and one of the hymns he lead us in this morning (again, as I write this) was “Joy to the World.” Yes, I sang my first Christmas Carole in many, many years in church this morning. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still, I haven’t gotten to the point where I have to tell anyone at church that I don’t celebrate Christmas, so we’ll see how that goes.

I don’t really have a focus for today’s “morning meditation” slash “report on church.” I was just thinking though that it didn’t feel quite so strange this time. Almost exactly in between the end of service and the beginning of Jim Rickard’s class, my wife phoned me. She thought I was home and wanted me to look at the shopping list she’d left behind. I mentioned that I was in church (and listening to my voice say that out loud was an interesting experience). She quickly apologized and told me to have fun.

Did I have fun?

Not exactly.

I did sign up to participate in the church’s “challenge” to read the Bible through in one year or less (not like I haven’t done that before). That’s actually not much of a chore since I read the traditional Torah and haftarah readings each week, plus the traditional Psalm, a portion of the Gospel, and several of the Proverbs each Shabbat. I’ll just add a little more each day.

Why am I telling you all this and why should you care?

Consider this.

I bought a brand new Bible. I signed up for a church “activity.” People at church noticed that I had been absent last week. I can feel myself becoming more committed, bit by bit to going to this church. So far, my offerings when they pass around the plate (it still blows my mind that giving money is actually part of the religious service) have been cash, but I guess I should start making more formal arrangements if I’m going to continue attending. Am I starting to get used to the “church culture?”

Well, maybe a little bit. I’m choosing to redefine Christmas as a cultural event and a church tradition to make it easier to absorb when I attend services this month (though now that I think about it, I’m surprised Rickard didn’t mention Christmas and credit card debt in his teachings this morning…they seem like a natural fit).

kosher-foodsBut I still can’t get away from how much more integrated Judaism is (or can be) in terms of a relationship with God, as the Aish Ask the Rabbi column testifies in answering the question, “Why Keep Kosher?”

It is good that you are grappling with this and trying to acquire your Judaism as your own.

The ultimate answer to your question is “because God said so.” Beyond this, however, there are practical, observable benefits to keeping kosher today:

1) Spirituality: The Torah teaches that non-kosher food has a negative effect on a Jewish soul. The soul is like an antenna that picks up waves of spiritual energy. Eating non-kosher food damages the capacity of the soul to “connect spiritually.”

2) Self Growth: If you can be disciplined in what and when you eat, it follows that you can be disciplined in other areas of life as well. Kashrut requires that one must wait between milk and meat, and we may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods. (Even when you’re hungry!) All of this instills self-discipline, and enables us to elevate our spiritual side, by making conscious choices over animal urges.

3) Health Reasons: With its extra supervision, kosher food is perceived as being healthier and cleaner. After slaughter, animals are checked for abscesses in their lungs or other health problems. Blood – a medium for the growth of bacteria – is drained. Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters and crabs have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction). Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body. And of course, pigs can carry trichinosis.

4) Moral Lessons: We are taught not to be cruel – even to animals. A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day, and we “don’t boil a kid (goat) in its mother’s milk.” We must not remove the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice, prior to refrigeration). When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain. And we are reminded not to be vicious, by the prohibition to eat vicious birds of prey.

5) Tradition: One of the keys to making a Jewish home “Jewish” is the observance of keeping kosher. When we keep kosher in the home, our attachment to Judaism and the sacrifices that we make become ingrained on our children’s minds forever. And with food so often the focus of social events, keeping kosher provides a built-in hedge against assimilation. For many, the bridge between past and future is the spiritual aroma of a kosher kitchen.

Ultimately, we cannot fathom the full depth of “Why keep kosher.” For as the saying goes, there is more to keeping kosher than meets the palate…

christian-coffee-cultureHere you have the Rabbi responding to a query delivered by a young Jewish fellow who had just left home and was struggling with how or if to create a Jewish home for himself. For Jews, being Jewish isn’t just something you do on one day a week, it’s what defines you in every aspect of your life, including eating. Technically, being Christian should also define you in every aspect of your life, but because being a Christian is a religious identity and does not also define a nation, a people group, and arguably, an ethnicity (that last one is complicated), it’s easier to compartmentalize the Christian part of a person’s life from everything else.

Actually, it was Rickard who said that Christians must not compartmentalize their (our) lives but that we must be Christians in every aspect of what we say, do, and think. Of course, Rickard was raised in a Christian home, “confessed Christ” when he was eight years old (I can only assume he reaffirmed his commitment as he got older and understood the adult ramifications of a Christian faith and life), was married as a Christian, established a Christian marriage, raised Christian children, and has Christian grandchildren. Sure, his focus in teaching was being Christian in terms of managing finances, but that covers a great deal of just plain living.

Although not nearly as formally defined as it is in Judaism, Protestantism does have its cultural and traditional aspects (and as I mentioned before, Christmas is a major cultural tradition in the church) and since I’m trying to make this commitment, I suppose I’d better “hunker down” and get comfortable (or as comfortable as I can be) with the idea.

However, I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable with calling a voluntary financial gift to the Pastoral staff a “love offering.”

Yeah, I’m rambling. I guess as with everything else, the story is to be continued.

What is Messianic Judaism?

Every society has that which bonds it: A common ancestry and a system of patriarchal lineage. Or a common language or common borders or governing body. Usually, it is a combination of several factors that mold a mass of people into a single whole.

The Jewish people are unique in that they have only a single nucleus—and it is none of the above.

All that bonds us is Torah. Nothing else has proven capable of holding us together for more than a generation or two. Nothing else, other than the same Torah that first forged us as a nation.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Jewish Nucleus”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

When I became a follower of Yeshua, it was not a rejection of the God of Israel, but, on the contrary, a belief that Yeshua was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. I did not stop being a Jew, and did not stop living as a Jew. On the contrary, believing Yeshua to be the Messiah made me want to be more observant of the Torah than before. Believing in Yeshua enhanced my Jewishness rather than lessen it.

Whatever my experience is, it is not a conversion to Christianity. I do not criticize Christian practice, but simply state the fact, that their practices are not my practices, their form of worship is not mine. Whenever I have visited a church, I have felt out of place, like I was in someone else’s living room. Their culture was not my culture, their practices were not my practices. Their understanding of Scripture is not mine. The only conclusion is that their religion is not my religion.

I feel at home in the synagogue, any synagogue. Their practices and beliefs are familiar to me. Their understanding of God and of His love for our people resonate with mine. While traditional synagogues don’t acknowledge Yeshua, nevertheless, He is there. For me, He is the Messiah of Israel.

-Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman
“Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah”
Drschiffman’s Blog

What is Messianic Judaism? Who is a Messianic Jew? These are questions I’m probably not qualified to ask let alone answer, but I have a special interest in the topic for a number of reasons. One important reason is that I’m a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, so I am keenly aware of the intersection between our two outlooks on faith, the Messiah, and God as it expresses itself in our family life (I also have three Jewish children to add to the mix).

On top of that, most of my “Christian” religious life has been spent worshiping within the context of a One Law congregation (which isn’t really “Messianic Judaism” but I’ll explain that by the by). Within that venue, I gained an appreciation of (if not an actual proficiency in) Jewish religious thought and practice. I find not only many of the mitzvot quite beautiful and meaningful, but the symbolism and conceptualization behind the mitzvot, as the Rabbinic sages have expressed it, to be illuminating of God and oddly enough, my own Christianity.

Additionally, I have enough friends and acquaintances who are Jewish and Messianic and I desire to understand them and their unique experience better. That understanding I believe, will be critical for the Christian church as a whole (if the church can be said to represent a whole) to grasp as the days of the Messiah draw near and he calls His people Israel to return to him along with the nations of the world (“first to the Jew,” however). Without a firm foundation in the “Jewishness of Jesus” and how our world will one day be ruled by a Jewish King descended from the Throne of David, the traditional Christian will become lost and unable to connect to who and what Jesus truly is and what it actually means to be a Gentile disciple of the Messiah.

In addition to the Rabbis I’ve quoted from above, this “meditation” was inspired by a series my friend Judah Gabriel Himango has just started on his own blog called The State of the Messianic Movement. He intends to examine the three overarching groups that exist under the “Messianic” umbrella: Jewish Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots. This should require a definition of each of these terms and what (and who) they represent.

For myself, I’ve found that my understanding of what “Messianic Judaism” is has morphed over time. I used to think the term was a big “bucket” that contained what I thought of as Messianic Judaism proper, or groups of primarily Jewish people who worship Jesus as Messiah, One Law, which are groups of primarily non-Jews who believe that the Sinai covenant and its conditional statements, the Torah, are applied with perfect equality between Gentile and Jewish believers, and Two-House, which is made up of groups of primarily non-Jews who believe that their attraction to Torah and Judaism means they are “hidden” Jews who are descended from the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” (By necessity, these definitions are brief and do not contain all of the details and nuances to completely describe each group)

It would take too long to explain how and why I changed my paradigm for understanding Messianism, but a large part of the process was watching my wife rediscover her own Jewish identity during the last several years, moving from atheism, to traditional Christianity, to One Law, and then entering the community of Jews locally, first in our combined Reform-Conservative shul, and then finally becoming involved with the Chabad. I can say all that in a single sentence, but the reality of the experience is extremely complex and involved and having lived through my wife’s journey as her Christian husband (often observing but not significantly able to participate), it has been a remarkable and life-changing progression.

The missus and I were sitting at the kitchen table taking about subjects related to this and we landed on the “hot topic” of whether or not she thought Messianic Jews were Jews. Her answer surprised me just a little. She said that non-Jews who converted to Judaism but who did not renounce other religions (including or perhaps especially Christianity) were not Jews. During the last part of the conversion process, the almost-convert is asked if they voluntarily surrender any and all affiliations to any other religions or faith traditions. If they expect to complete the conversion and enter the mikvah, they always answer “yes”. If they answered “yes” but retained a faith in Yeshua (Jesus), then they lied and their conversion is null, as far as she’s concerned. If, for some reason (and I’ve heard unsubstantiated rumors of this occurring occasionally), the officiating Rabbi fails to ask the question and the convert continues to silently harbor a faith in Yeshua, then again, as far as my wife is concerned, the conversion isn’t valid. A non-valid conversion means the person entered and exited the mikvah as a Christian. End of story.

On the other hand, if a halalaic Jew in any way shape or form, came to faith in Jesus and worshiped him as Messiah, as mistaken as my wife thinks that person is, they are still a Jew. It would be like a Jew who practiced Buddhism or some other religious tradition. They’d still be Jewish. Her brother, for instance, is a born-again Christian and as far as I know, he continues to deny that his mother (and my wife’s mother) was Jewish (my mother-in-law passed away many years ago). To look at him, his wife, and his children, they are the perfect picture of a traditional Christian family. The idea of being Jewish just doesn’t compute within him and I’m sure he doesn’t understand why my wife and children consider themselves Jews. Nevertheless, if he should walk into our local Chabad synagogue on any given morning, and the Rabbi was aware of his status, he could still join the minyan for Shacharit prayers.

I’ve said everything above by way of introducing my humble definition of Messianic Judaism.

First of all, as Dr. Schiffman said on his blog, Messianic Judaism isn’t Christianity. Oh, it shares a number of common elements, not the least of which is the same Messiah. Jesus the Christ is the same guy (forgive me if that seems irreverent) as Yeshua HaMashiach. He is the Lord, the Savior, the Jewish Messiah King, who came once to redeem the world and who will come again, in power to redeem and restore Israel and to rule all of humanity.

However, who we are as disciples of the Messiah makes a huge difference. Regardless of how the movement of “Jesus worshipers” was started, first among the Jews and then among the Gentiles, 2,000 years later, Jews and Christians represent two wildly differing cultures and practices. As Dr. Schiffman said, he doesn’t feel comfortable in a church. He doesn’t belong there. His “spiritual home,” if you will, is the synagogue, any synagogue, Messianic or otherwise. I know of at least one other Jewish person who is Messianic and yet attends an Orthodox synagogue. I suspect there are others who quietly worship in their Jewish communities and yet who nurture a deep faith in Yeshua.

What is Messianic Judaism given all of this? In my opinion, it is a Judaism in the same manner as Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and so on. It is an expression of religious and halalaic faith and devotion of Jewish people as they relate to the Torah and God. It is the lifestyle, cultural, ethnic, religious, and halalaic context within which each Jew is Jewish. Most, if not all of the other modern Judaisms will certainly disagree with my opinion as will most Christians and the vast majority of non-Jews who are attached to the Hebrew Roots movement in some manner or fashion. So they’ll disagree.

My definition of a Messianic Jew is a person who is halachically Jewish and who practices a form of religious Judaism which includes acknowledging the person of Jesus (Yeshua) as the Jewish Messiah King, and who acknowledges the legitimacy of the Gospels, the Letters, and the Apocrypha in what most people call “the New Testament” as valid for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) This person’s ethnic, cultural, religious, and lifestyle practice should be virtually indistinguishable from any other religious Jew (it would be interesting to find out if various Messianic Jews pattern their halakhah after different sects, such as Orthodox or Reform, but I lack information here). As Dr. Schiffman said, a Messianic Jew practicing Messianic Judaism (sorry if this sounds redundant, but it’s important to be clear on this point) should look and act the same as any other religious Jew from the viewpoint of an outside observer.

The twist is that there aren’t (probably) that many Messianic Jews practicing Messianic Judaism as I’ve just defined those terms. Even in synagogues that are strictly Messianic Jewish, that is, shuls that are governed by a halachically, ethnically, religiously, and culturally Jewish board, Rabbi, Cantor, and so on, the majority of attendees will still be non-Jewish. The type of synagogue practice should again, be indistinguishable from any other synagogue apart from portions of prayers and services that acknowledge Yeshua as the Messiah and the heir to the Davidic throne. Synagogues like this are most likely very rare in the western world. I’ve only attended one in over ten years of being aware of Messianic Judaism, and I only visited there last spring.

So, while it’s understood, from my perspective, that Messianic Jews practice Messianic Judaism, do the non-Jewish attendees also practice Messianic Judaism alongside the attending Jews? The answer to that question is probably the same as asking if I practiced Judaism when (this was years ago) I attended our local Reform-Conservative synagogue with my Jewish wife and our children.

In other words, “no”. I certainly worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and privately in my own heart, acknowledged my Lord and the King of the Jews during the prayers, but I was a Gentile among Jews in a completely Jewish context. From their point of view, the best they probably thought of me was as a righteous Gentile, and it’s not unusual for Noahides to worship alongside Jews (where else would they go?). In fact, I know of many Christians who periodically or (for a few) regularly worship in one of the local synagogues, either because they’re intermarried like me, or they have some other affinity for the Jewish people and for Judaism.

In a sense, whether you worship in a church or a synagogue (assuming you are a believer in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah) depends largely on your sense of personal identity and in which culture you feel more comfortable. This isn’t really unusual. Some Jews feel more comfortable in an Orthodox synagogue than those of the other Jewish sects, and some Christians feel more comfortable in a Lutheran or Baptist church than in a Methodist or Episcopal church. Some of that is theological, but a lot of it is cultural and believe me, different Christian denominations have their own cultures. So why not different Judaisms?

I’m sure my descriptions and definitions are far from complete, but trying to define Judaism in any sense, let alone Messianic Judaism, is a very difficult and involved task. This is really more of an introduction than anything, but as I said, some of the material I’ve been reading lately has been tugging at me and I needed to respond. As always, many people will disagree and many people will become upset, troubled, and even incensed and outraged. I’ve talked recently about how poorly some people tend to respond when another person disagrees with them online.

It’s OK if we don’t agree. Please try not to take it personally. As I live with Jewish people every day, I’m kind of in tune with how they are like me and how they are not like me. I’m just extending that personal awareness into a public arena. Your mileage may vary.

Blowing Out a Candle

They DID NOT choose their religion. They were brain-washed into it. Religion is a matter of geography. Religion is a matter of the family you were born into.

THINK! It is not you who chose your religion, it was chosen for you! It is time to move on, to realize that religion is man made. Become who you are, an individual, an atheist!

From an image posted on Facebook
by Spread Logic and Reason

Disclaimer: This is a rant. This isn’t what I normally post here as a “meditation.” Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being pushed around by a bunch of folks on the web who think they can take an image, manipulate it with some text, and use it to complain about how bad religion is. Today, I decided to push back.

I first saw this bit of Internet meme “shared” by a Facebook friend and a person I’ve known for many years. He’s a person I hold in high regard but we obviously have different viewpoints on religion. If I had seen this coming from almost anyone else, I would have ignored it, but I consider this person an actual friend, so naturally, it hurts.

Here’s my initial response to seeing this image:

I turn 58 tomorrow. I didn’t become a Christian until I was over 40. I used to be an atheist, primarily because the prevailing culture around me was atheist and it seemed to make sense at the time. Then I started thinking for myself. Why would I let the culture around me choose my religion and my identity for me? Why would I let an Internet meme choose my identity for me?

And what have I ever done to you that you should try to change my identity into what you think would be better for me? I’m not trying to change you.

Then I thought about it some more while doing my lawn, came back over lunch and expanded my answer:

It occurs to me that all cultures and people groups have their various values and customs that are passed on from one generation to another. Most liberal progressives don’t complain about cultural diversity, even if it radically differs from their own, because they recognize that people have the right to observe their native customs and certainly, in the vast majority of cases, liberal progressives and atheists don’t demand that other people groups who are not white, middle-class Americans, change their ways just because they are different than the white, middle-class American atheist’s ways.

Islam and Judaism are closely tied to national, ethnic, cultural, and racial identity. Why isn’t is considered racism, prejudice, and bigotry for you to demand that Jews and Arabs refrain from passing on their values and beliefs to their children? Are you (the general “you”…not naming anyone specifically) more equipped to tell the rest of the world to live your lifestyle? Don’t you pass on your values (atheism, progressive liberalism) to your children?

Why are you trying to control everyone else in the world?

To be fair, between my first comment and my second, my friend said:

Jim, if you had been born in Saudi Arabia and were atheist, assuming you survived to 40, the odds are more likely you would have become Muslim. This isn’t really about an Internet meme, but an historical fact. It exited loooooong before the Internet. 99% of people grow up believing what their parents did. Why did none of the natives in the Americas become Christian for 1500 year. That you decided to for a different belief system than your environment does not alter the facts. You are an exception.

I can see his point, but I think he (and a lot of people like him) are missing something. In making statements and posting photos such as the one I put at the top of this blog post, aren’t atheists trying to say that their viewpoint, lifestyle, and values system is superior to everyone else’s? I know that many religions, particularly Christianity, are accused of exactly the same thing and I know from personal experience (having once been an agnostic leaning toward atheism) that having to listen to a Christian evangelist can be really annoying.

But what about all that “diversity” stuff? If progressive liberalism and atheism supports generally being accepting of racial, cultural and ethnic diversity, then isn’t complaining about how different ethnic, cultural, and racial groups choose to raise their children and pass on their values a type of bigotry? While Christianity isn’t tied to a particular nationality, race, ethnicity, or culture, Islam and Judaism certainly are. How can the comments espoused by this group of people be seen as anything but prejudiced and even racist?

Yes, I’m coming on strong. Yes, today I’ve decided to feed the trolls. But it seems like everyone is supposed to have rights to this, that, and the other thing in this world…except religious people. Not only is this group of atheists guilty of the same acts they say religion commits: exclusivism and rejection of the values and lifestyles of other people groups, but they’re also guilty of what the rest of the world sees Americans as doing: attempting to spread our own values and lifestyle to the rest of the world and using our own cultural lens to judge the right and the wrong of other people, cultures, and nations.

How are these atheists any more morally correct than any religious person?

“Blowing out someone else’s candle does not make your’s burn any brighter.”


Dear people who don’t like religion,

How does complaining about religious people make the world a better place? What do you gain by “going after” Muslims, Jews, and Christians? Do you plan on taking on Buddhists and Wiccans next? Has the Dalai Lama somehow offended you? If you really want to spend your time and energy being useful and helping others, please step away from the computer and actually do something for another human being. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Give cans of food to the local food bank. Spend an hour picking up trash in the parking lot of your neighborhood park. Hold the door open at a public building such as the library for a disabled person or a single mother who is trying to manage five children. Heck, just smile at a stranger once in a while because it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t complain about me or people like me, saying we’re the problem. Go out into the world and be the solution. If you do that, the problems will take care of themselves.

Signed, a fellow human being, who has volunteered, donated, picked up trash, held doors open, and who smiles occasionally at strangers.

Thank you.