Tag Archives: Days

Day Zero

divide-by-zeroThat fall, Pastor S. from a church in another county came to our church to share in a morning service how they felt led to the mission field and were going to go to another country. S. shared his testimony followed by his wife L. L’s testimony paralleled my life closely, baptized at an early age, regular in church and youth activities but still felt empty. However in her early 20s she realized that she had not admitted that she personally was a sinner and that Christ’s death was for her. At that moment, God opened my eyes and I realized why I had been feeling guilty as my own pastor was preaching. I know the facts about Christ, his birth, life and death but had never applied them personally to myself. I had never admitted I personally was a sinner destined to hell without the shed blood of Jesus and had not believed in the reason for his death on the cross. My sin.

-Testimony found in last Sunday’s church bulletin.

There’s more to the writer’s testimony but I decided to quote just the portion specific to this blog post and of course, I took out any information that might identify the parties involved. This is Day Zero, the last few hours of the last day. At midnight tonight, time runs out in my countdown.

Yesterday, I went to church. It was interesting.

I walked in the side door and immediately ran into Pastor Randy. He smiled and greeted me. In a very friendly way, he asked where I’d been the last couple of weeks (he wouldn’t be the only one). He also surprised me. The day I met him and we had our rather lengthy chat in his office, I had volunteered to do some work for the church that is within my skill set. He hadn’t brought it up again, but yesterday, he said he talked with the deacons and they’d like me to proceed. He’ll email me later this week to set up a meeting and tell me what he has in mind. I’ll keep the nature of the work to myself for now, but in the moment that Pastor brought it up, I knew I was committed to the church. Actually, I knew that before I walked in the door that morning.

I also saw Charlie, who teaches my Sunday school class. He said he’d been thinking about me and wondering where I was. I saw Dick and Virgil and a number of other people whose names I still can’t remember (I’m getting better at it, though). People were friendly, but the friendliness was a different quality. I can’t explain it in so many words, but I felt more welcome somehow. As my wife says, maybe what’s different was my attitude.

Church was still church. There was a brief DVD presentation made by missionaries in the Congo. They baptized 18 people in the first month they were there. They make bricks for their worship structure out of clay that has to be dried in the sun. After the first Sunday service, a storm blew the thatch roof off of the structure and they had a “church work day” to put it back up. Services are spoken in French and then translated into one of the indigenous languages. It’s a different world, and yet, we’re all human beings on a journey to encounter God in our lives.

Pastor spoke on Acts 8:9-25. I’d recently covered the same material in D. Thomas Lancaster’s Torah Club Vol. 6, Chronicles of the Apostles, and Pastor Randy’s treatment of Philip’s encounter with Simon in Samaria seemed very different from Torah Club. The immediate impression I got was that the church was trying a little too hard to apply a modern Christian sense of evangelism to people and events that are 2000 years distant. Ancient Judaism likely didn’t concern itself with how converting someone of Simon Magus’s statue would be a big accomplishment.

But he said something else that made more sense.

Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed…Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.

Acts 8:14, 17-21 (ESV)

simon-the-magicianWhen Simon first hears the Good News from Philip, it seems like he too comes to faith in the Jewish Messiah King and is willing to reconcile his life to the will of the God of Israel. In other words, it seems like he has converted to Christianity. But his subsequent response to seeing the giving of the Holy Spirit indicates that he completely misunderstands what he is observing and what his faith in God is supposed to really mean. Pastor Randy says there is a faith that doesn’t save. And he said more than that.

He ran off a litany of verses from the New Testament, all “convicting Christians of their sin.” Verses such as 2 Cor. 13:5, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph 5:5-6, 1 Jn 3:6-10. Here’s another one.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-11 (ESV)

One of the objections I hear about “going to church” from believers who are not church-goers is that the church gives a whitewashed, “feel good” message, that doesn’t communicate the reality of the Bible, sin, and salvation. That may be true in other churches but it wasn’t in the one I attended last Sunday. It was anything but “whitewashed, feel-good.” The quote I opened this “meditation” with is part of that message. The message is that just because you believe, you may not have a terrifically realistic grip on the consequences of your belief. If you call yourself a Christian or a believer, but still can violate the Word of God with no feelings of guilt, anguish, or remorse, what you have may not even be what is called “faith.” Believing isn’t enough.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

James 2:19 (ESV)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Think about the author of the text I quoted from at the top of this blog post. If he hadn’t experienced God’s message about his life, at the end of all things, he might have been one who the Master declared that “I never knew you…depart from me!” How horrible that a person might live that long and believe they are truly in the service of God through Jesus Christ only to be told to their face that they have been woefully mistaken about what faith means. Even performing great signs and wonders isn’t meaningful. Simon in Samaria was a magician who was called “great,” and yet his magic meant nothing to God.

hourglassIn the days of the Torah the great magician Balaam was commissioned by Balak, a King, to curse the Children of Israel. Balaam spoke with God and an angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam, but he was no servant of the God of Israel (see Torah Portion Balak). Yes, what you do matters (James 2:14-24), but behavior, purpose, and intent all go hand in hand. Everyone has times of doubt when we wonder if God will ever come near, including me, but there comes a time that we can’t simply wait on God to tell us what we need to know, we must pursue God with all of our strength, our will, and our resources. If He is our goal, then we have only one avenue to reach it; Jesus Christ and a true and saving faith in the promises of the Messiah.

There’s much more to do once faith is affirmed or reaffirmed, but sometimes you need to touch home plate to make sure your foundation is solid. It’s like I went to church and God asked me, “Do you know what you’re doing here?” “Do you know what you want?” “Are you sure you want this?” The answer is either “yes” or “no.”

My time is up. The clock is running to zero. Before the last hours, minutes, and seconds ticked down and the hourglass emptied, I said, “yes.”

Advertisements

Tent of David: Return of the Christian

restoring-davids-fallen-tentYet even before delving into an appraisal of the institutional church, it is important to recognize the common ground on which we stand. By any biblical definition, all believers in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) are part of one body, the ecclesia of God. All who have made Yeshua their master are subjects of one kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.

I believe the term “Messianic” is an easy-to-understand descriptor that helps Christians who understand their Jewish roots to find a concrete identity and definition. Yet to be a “Messianic Gentile” does not make one something other than “Christian.”

-Boaz Michael
“Chapter One: The Church is Good,” pg 36
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

I started my somewhat unique review of Boaz’s book in yesterday’s extra meditation so you may want to go back and read it before continuing here. I’m only “sort of” reviewing the book, as I’m not presenting my assessment in a single chunk, nor am I trying to look at it with an objective eye. The book is primarily intended to impact the Christian already in the church who has become somewhat “Judaically-aware.” That doesn’t describe me, since I left the church for many years and have only recently returned, and I am writing my response to Tent of David from the viewpoint of my personal experience as a church “returnee.”

Boaz continues to talk about the definition of a Christian in relation to being a “Messianic Gentile,” which he began in the Introduction of his book. I think identity is very important because so many people have left behind the church and the identity of “Christian” out of a sense of disillusionment, seeking something more authentic in other realms, particularly that venue we tend to call Messianic Judaism.

I’ve received quite a bit of encouragement to return to the church recently, both from a friend and from my Mom (hi, Mom). I’ve concluded that God must want me in the church, regardless how I may feel about it and that there is some intended good in my returning there, and perhaps even in the particular church I currently attend. Of course it’s important, as Boaz points out in the first chapter of his book, to remember that there is much good in the Christian church, even if you’ve been told otherwise.

The first good mentioned is community, but the nature and scope of that community may not be what you expect. In the quote above, Boaz mentioned that everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is a member of the ecclesia of God. But just who is that exactly?

As a Messianic Jew, I am a Jewish follower of the Jewish Messiah; Gentile believers have also attached themselves to the same Messiah. So we are all Christians according to the word’s original, lexical meaning – Christ-followers. God forbid, that the term “Messianic” should foster an “us vs. them” mentality toward Christians who do not accept the Messianic viewpoint; this attitude is counterproductive, unbiblical, and unnecessary.

-Michael, pg 37

Boaz means to communicate that those Christians who consider themselves (ourselves) “Messianic” should not allow their (our) identity to separate them (us) from Christians who do not necessarily see themselves in the same light, relative to the Torah, the mitzvot, and Jewish practice. However he uses himself as a Messianic Jew in the example and that might not fit the metaphor, at least not according to Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman in his blog post Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah.

Messianic Judaism affirms that the Jewish people, believing in Yeshua or not, have been, are, and will always be the chosen people of God. The only nation God ever linked His name to in Scripture is Israel, calling Himself, the God of Israel. Scripture tells us His promises to Israel are eternal, and extend to the sons of Jacob, the House of Israel, known today as the Jewish People. Those leaders of the church did not affirm this. To them, 2000 years of post-Yeshua Jewish history, a history of spirituality and suffering for being Jewish, was worthless. In their view, 2000 years of Jewish unbelief in Yeshua means Twenty centuries of Jews went to hell. I have to confess that the concept doesn’t sit well with me. For Yeshua to be the Messiah of Israel, he would have to be good for the Jews. If his coming resulted in twenty centuries of Jewish people going to hell, the bottom line is, he wasn’t very good for the Jews. Either he wasn’t the Messiah, or the doctrinal understanding is wrong. I believe the latter. Yeshua brings salvation, but is that the only reason to believe in Him; for something we get? I think we should believe in Him because he is the Messiah, and being in relationship to Him brings us closer to God, and increases our kavvanah, or spiritual connection with God.

What they don’t grasp, is the idea put forth by R. Kendall Soulen in his book, The God Of Israel In Christian Theology, that after the first century, the Jewish Yeshua was virtually unrecognizable as a Jew, and therefore, as the Messiah. Jewish rejection of Yeshua was not an act of infidelity towards Yeshua, as much as it was an act of fidelity towards His Father.

infinite_pathsWhile Rabbi Dr. Schiffman has assured me that his writings were not intended to be anti-Gentile, they do draw a sharp distinction between what Jews do and who Jews are within a Messianic Jewish context, and what Gentile Christians do and who we are (Messianic Gentiles or otherwise) within a church or other primarily Gentile believing context. One God, One Messiah, two religions.

If I were to return to Boaz’s definition, then I’d have to believe that at some “meta-religious” level, both the Jewish and Gentile believers of the Jewish Messiah King must belong to the “Kingdom of God,” however you want to define it (In a recent conversation with Boaz, he talked about devoting a great deal of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ’s) resources to address the nature of the Kingdom of God in the coming year. You can get a preview of what he’s talking about at tv.ffoz.org).

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:13-22 (ESV)

Is this where Paul tries to describe that “meta-level” where both the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master exist in some sort of common framework? If so, then I have to conclude, going back to Rabbi Dr. Schiffman, that said-framework is virtual, spiritual, supernatural, or even mystical, since a united platform of Jews and Gentiles as believers cannot exist and yet maintain two separate and distinct religious identities.

In any event, that meta-level can’t really help me right now if I must adopt a specific Christian persona within a traditional church context. And yet the concept of identity gets complicated even if we just stick to Christians.

It is not anyone’s place to pass judgment on those who are infants in their faith, who have not taken on this or that mitzvah. James wrote in his epistle (4:11-12), “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

In essence, this passage communicates to us that the pace of someone else’s spiritual development is God’s concern alone…God has not appointed us to judge someone else based on his or her level of observance; to do so is tantamount to judging the law itself. James even goes so far as to say that one who judges another’s level of observance has ceased to observe the Torah himself.

-Michael, pg 38

I know Boaz intended to address the “Messianic Gentile” in the church or returning to the church, but that person isn’t me. In the past several weeks, Christians have shown me where I am immature in my faith. I have no judgment to offer anyone in the church, who have been performing the “weightier matters of the law” for much longer than I’ve even been considering them. Heck, on Christmas, I found out that one of the local Boise restaurants volunteered free meals to the hundreds and even thousands of homeless. My wife told me someone she works with volunteers for this project every year. Imagine that. I didn’t even know about it. Organizations such as the Boise Rescue Mission, Lighthouse Rescue Mission, City Light Home for Women and Children and Interfaith Sanctuary Housing Service, the CraftWorks Foundation, and others in the local Boise community regularly perform these “mitzvot,” so I along with many others, should be careful who we judge. I certainly have no room to say that who I am and what I do is better than any of these people and agencies.

That’s a rather humbling realization (I’ve been having a lot of them lately) when facing the daunting task of returning to God’s ecclesia and trying to find a place among them.

divergence0-3-negative_pointsBut “levels of spiritual development” aren’t always a simple set of stairs. For me, the different spiritual paths of the people around me and my own path look like a set of divergent vectors, different not only in level, but in character, trajectory, and “texture.”

In his book, Boaz says that some people who become “Judaically-aware” modify their trajectory to adapt their new experiences within the church context, but others allow it to drive their entire course, altering it so drastically, that it carries them completely out of the church and out of Christian fellowship. Of the former group, Boaz has this to say.

I know a number of Christian pastors who have seen the merit in Messianic theology and practice, and have embraced the feasts and even the dietary law on some level, but have no desire to leave their denominations, or their particular theological and cultural distinctiveness, behind. One, an Independent Fundamental Baptist, restricts himself to clean meat and attends Erev Shabbat dinners, yet still puts on his suit and tie for church every Sunday morning and evening, and goes door-to-door every Saturday. Another, a Methodist, erected a sukkah in his backyard last year, yet proudly supports his denomination at the state and national level.

-Michael pp 46-7

These people are the opposite of me. Instead of being in the church as my “home” and extending myself outward toward some modest Judaic awareness, I’m trying to reinsert my Judaically-aware self back into the church and discovering, much to my shock, that I’ve been terribly wrong about a good many things. It isn’t the church that has been resisting me, but rather me resisting the church, and from what I’ve been able to tell so far, they know a great deal more about the “weightier matters of Torah” than I do.

The Christians who, throughout the ages, have propagated this message and tried to soothe the hurting, feed the hungry, and speak to social injustice have been keeping the weightier matters of the Torah. Both Yeshua (Mark 12:31) and the Sages (Rabbi Hillel in b.Shabbat 31a and Rabbi Akiva in Sifra, Kedoshim 4:12) taught that love of neighbor is the essence of Torah. These are non-trivial accomplishments which speak to the robust, biblical ethical system which many devout Christians have embraced.

-Michael, pg 49

The one thing Boaz doesn’t do, and this is where I will have to watch my balance, is he doesn’t “chase the Gentiles back into church” with no inherit connection to the origins of our faith as it was born in ancient Judaism.

One thing Messianic Gentiles must learn is that they do not have a direct, unmediated relationship with God. Jews have many covenants with God by virtue of their very existence as descendants of the Patriarchs. In contrast, Ephesians 2:12-13 describes the state of Gentiles as “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope with out God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brough near by the blood of Christ.”

-Michael, pg 50

I know I quoted from Ephesians 2 earlier but Boaz uses it in a different manner. He’s talking about what links the Gentile to Messiah and God and that link only exists through the covenants God established with Israel and the Jewish people. Without them, we Gentiles would have no connection to Jesus and to God. I’ve tried to explore this in my own covenants series, but it’s a very complex and elusive topic of investigation. Even trying to isolate and examine Ephesians 2 led to a divisive “discussion.”

Nevertheless, Boaz tells us that going back to the basis of our faith, the Jewish Messiah King, and his Jewish apostles, we see that we owe a debt of gratitude to them and their inheritors.

Pirkei Avot 6:3 contains a profound teaching that is particularly relevant here:

One who learns from his fellow a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter, he must treat him with respect. For so we find with David, king of Israel, who did not learn anything from Achitofel except for two things alone, yet he called him his “master,” his “guide” and his “intimate,” as is stated, “And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate friend.” [Psalm 55:13] Surely we can infer a fortiori: if David, king of Israel, who learned nothing from Achitofel except for two things alone, nevertheless referred to him as his master, guide and intimate, it certainly goes without saying that one who learns from his fellow a single chapter, a law, a verse, a saying, or even a single letter, is obligated to revere him. And there is no reverence but Torah, as is stated “The sages shall inherit honor” [Proverbs 3:35] “and the integral shall inherit good” [Proverbs 28:10]; and there is no good but Torah, as is stated, “I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it.” [Proverbs 4:2]

Messianic Gentiles would do well to heed the teaching of this mishnah. Showing reverence towards one’s teacher, even if what they learned was small – a single letter or verse – is showing reverence toward God and the Torah. Conversely, dishonoring one’s teacher is in fact dishonoring God’s work in one’s life.

Michael, pp 51-2

Out of the darknessFor me, the door swings both ways. Not only must I maintain a sense of honoring my ancient and modern Jewish teachers (since I often quote from modern Jewish teachers and scholars), but I must also sustain my respect and honor for the Pastors and Bible teachers at the church I’m attending. That can extend to Christian friends with whom I meet and from whom I learn a great deal.

I suppose in addition to this being a commentary on one of the chapters in the Tent of David book, it could also be part of my “Days” series (though I haven’t titled it as such), but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point that I’ll be going back to church next Sunday and continuing to go in coming year. But while Tent of David may be a guide for Pastors who build a sukkah or who have decided to eat kosher meat, I don’t know if is particularly aimed at me. Boaz told me that between the preliminary drafts, which I previously reviewed, and the current, final publication, the intended audience shifted from people like me who left and are now returning (or considering returning) to church, to those Christians who are currently in the church and part of its culture, and who have also recently become aware of the Jewish origins of Christianity and the significance of Torah as the foundation of Christian faith.

It’s not like I’m without a guide and in fact, I may even have found a mentor of sorts, but I am unlikely to be able to use Boaz’s book as a direct mapping to my own, personal experience. As I continue to read what he’s written, attend services at church, and record my experiences a chapter at a time, I will share that with you and we will see together how accurate my prediction is…and where I go from here.

5 Days: Practicing Christianity

pakistani-christians-singing-hymnsBoth the Jews and gentiles recognized that the Jews denied the gods of the nations and claimed that their God alone was the true God, the Lord of the universe, but for both Jews and gentiles the boundary line between Judaism and polytheism was determined more by Jewish observances than by Jewish theology. Josephus defines an apostate as a Jew who “hates the customs of the Jews” or “does not abide by the ancestral customs.” He defines a convert to Judaism as a gentile who, through circumcision, “adopts the ancestral customs of the Jews.”

-Shaye J. D. Cohen
Chapter 3: The Jewish “Religion”, Practices and Beliefs
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd ed.

Many years later, as recorded in Acts 21, the apostles reaffirmed that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were all “zealous for the Law.” To clarify the key difference between Jewish and Gentile believers, they continued: “But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 21:25).

Based on this ruling and on the revelation Christ gave to him personally, the apostle Paul staunchly fought for the right of Gentile believers to remain Gentiles. This is actually what Paul was arguing for in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, the body of Messiah accepts everyone as they are – it doesn’t matter whether you’re slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile. You don’t have to become something you’re not in order to follow Yeshua.

-Boaz Michael
Introduction, pg 20
from his book
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

That’s comforting to know. God is the ultimate supporter of diversity. No matter who you are, where you come from, what your race, ethnicity, nationality, language, heritage, or anything else is, you can be reconciled to the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, Yeshua HaMashiach, the Savior of the world and the Jewish Messiah King.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (ESV)

This is Paul, saying the same thing we read in Galatians 3:28 and it fits very well with how Cohen states Josephus defines a convert to Judaism. Since we know that Paul opposed Gentile believers becoming circumcised when they came to faith in God through the Messiah, then we understand that the Gentiles did not convert to Judaism. They retained their Gentile identities. If we compare the message of Acts 21 with the rest of the definition of a convert as presented by Josephus, we can reasonably believe that the Gentile disciples of Messiah were not required to adopt the full yoke of the Torah and not commanded to perform the entire body of mitzvot.

I know I’ve talked about this before in The Uncircumcised Convert, Part 1 and Part 2, but when I started reading my actual, official, published copy of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David (yes, it finally arrived) and in parallel, took up Cohen’s book again (I couldn’t access it for a while because I needed to get my Kindle Fire replaced – battery problems), I immediately saw how what both Michael and Cohen wrote dovetailed into this message.

christian-coffee-cultureI know it seems as if I’m off on another religious harangue designed to bring the so-called “One Law” or “One Torah” movements within Hebrew Roots (as opposed to Jewish roots and as more opposed to Messianic Judaism) to task, but this is more personal, or more to the point, this has more to do with my personal identity.

After a recent encounter, I’ve received a very strong message that I need to redouble my efforts to return to church, stay there, and become part of the body of believers within their walls and their context. Part of that effort is picking up, to whatever degree I’m able, the identity of a Gentile believer, a Christian. Boaz Michael in his book plainly defines a “Messianic Gentile” as:

While these believers are still Christians, for the sake of clarity and definition I will call them by the term “Messianic Gentile” (the term “Gentile” meaning nothing more than “non-Jew”). A Messianic Gentile is a non-Jewish Christian who appreciates the Torah, his relationship with Israel, and the Jewish roots of his faith.

-Michael, pg 17

There are probably a fair number of Christians in churches who are also “Messianic Gentiles” based on that definition, but who just haven’t thought of themselves in such a light.

Based on my recent coffee encounter as well as other factors, not the least of which is Boaz’s book, I know I have to go to church and stay in church. It still doesn’t particularly thrill me at this stage, but I must proceed hopefully. And I know I’m not going in to change anyone or to present myself as some sort of “expert.” I’m certainly not going to bill myself as a “Messianic Gentile,” though I suppose the definition fits me after a fashion.

But who I am needs to fit better with other Christians. I can study the Jewish texts forever, and forever I will be isolated and alone because I’m not Jewish. It’s not my “Messianic Gentileness” I’m taking into the church and it’s not even my Christianity…it’s my desire to encounter God within the context of his non-Jewish disciples. Perhaps at some point, my voice will be added to theirs but for now, I need to be a learner and not a teacher.

I know I’m not a Jew and I know based on the Bible, that I’m not required or directed to act like one. Yes, the very early Gentile believers took on a number of the mitzvot such as giving to the poor among Israel, donating to build synagogues, studying the Law of Moses, and the fixed times of prayer.

All these texts imply that the recitation of prayers was a prominent feature of Jewish piety, not just for sectarians like the Jews of Qumran but also for plain folk. Jews who lived in or near Jerusalem prayed regularly at the temple. This is the plausible claim of Luke 1:10, “Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside [the temple],” and Acts 3:1, “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.”

-Cohen, Chapter 3

PrayingWe know the early Jewish disciples met at Solomon’s colonnade (John 10:23, Acts 3:11, 5:12) at the Temple for daily prayers. The later Gentile converts to “the Way” most likely adopted the times and “the prayers” in their own worship (Acts 10:3) as well as other Jewish customs and practices, but of course, as we’ve seen above, they were not considered converts to Judaism nor obligated to the mitzvot, although it seems like they were certainly allowed to perform the mitzvot in a number of instances. That had limits, particularly in terms of access to the Temple.

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

Acts 21:27-29 (ESV)

We may never recapture the full history of what the relationship was like between the early Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master, but we can take what information we have and use it to reasonably recognize who and what we are today as Christians. For me, that means pursuing a course of action that requires following both the timeless footsteps of the first Christians such as Cornelius (Acts 10) and the modern Gentile believers, with the firm conviction of who I am and who the Jewish people are in relation to God. If God permits, maybe my role will one day be of some use to Him among His people in the church, but for now, I just need to practice being who I am…a Christian.

5 Days: Encounter

meeting-a-strangerOne who responds “Amen” after a blessing surpasses the one who recites the blessing.

-Berachos 53b

“Amen” is an expression of confirmation, whereby we attest that what the other person has said is indeed true. Thus, when someone recites a blessing expressing gratitude to God or asserting that God has commanded the performance of a particular mitzvah, one is making a declaration of one’s faith. When we respond by saying “Amen,” we are essentially stating, “What you have said is indeed true,” and thereby we are not only concurring with what was said and expressing our own faith, but also reinforcing the other person’s statement and strengthening the other person’s faith.

There are things that one can do that will strengthen other people’s faith in God, and things that will weaken it. In Torah there is a concept of arvus – mutual responsibility – by virtue of which one is obligated to try to strengthen other people’s belief and trust in God. Although every person has free will, and God does not intervene to deter someone from committing a wrong, people who have suffered because of someone’s misdeeds often feel that God has abandoned them. Thus, if we deal unfairly with others, we may not only cause them to be angry at us, but also bring them to doubt God for allowing an injustice to happen. While such reasoning is faulty, the one who caused it is nevertheless responsible for causing the victim to feel that way. On the other hand, when we behave in the manner which God wishes, the result is kvod shamayim – bringing glory and honor to God, and strengthening people’s faith. Our actions can and do affect how other people will think and act.

Today I shall…

try to behave in a way that will result in people having greater respect for and trust in God.

-Rabbi Abraham J Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 11”
Aish.com

On Sunday afternoon, I had my periodic “coffee meeting” with a friend of mine. It was cold, windy, and threatening to snow, which is the perfect time to sit in a coffee shop, sip some hot java, and chat.

Oh, the conversation started out with small talk but that’s not where it ended up.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone said something to you and your internal response was “I wish he hadn’t said that,” not because it wasn’t true, but because it was true and you didn’t want to hear it?

I think most of us have at one point or another in our lives and last Sunday afternoon was the most recent occurrence in mine.

Can you encounter God in church?

I know that sounds like a silly question if you’re a Christian, but church was the last place I thought I’d ever encounter God in a meaningful way.

Let me explain.

My most recent “church experience” has been like a process of steps. I walk into the church, Bible in hand. I get the program, the pamphlet or whatever it’s called from the older lady standing near the door. We greet each other and I move on. I weave my way through the crowd of people chatting with each other and head for the door of the sanctuary. At the doorway, I’m greeted by several other gentlemen, one or two of which may engage me in brief, light conversation. Once that’s done, I try to find a seat near the rear of the chapel where I’ll be out of the way.

I busy myself before services by reading the contents of the pamphlet, paying extra attention to the outline for the day’s sermon. I’m usually greeted a couple more times by people I’ve made a casual acquaintance with.

People enter, settle down, and services begin.

The service has a pattern which is almost always the same. There’s singing, praying, the reading of the daily Bible passage, sometimes an appeal for donations for missionaries or other worthy causes and needs, the passing around of the plate for offerings, more singing, and the Pastor delivers his message while I rapidly take notes.

I usually slip out to use the men’s room during the last hymn because afterwards, the service ends and everyone floods out and lines start to form. I might even manage to get a cup of coffee before Sunday school.

Then I go to Sunday school. For the first few minutes, there’s the usual casual conversation between everyone else since they are all friends. I politely listen. Class begins and I struggle not to say too much, aiming for not saying anything at all.

Class ends, church ends, and I go home.

waiting-for-mannaAt what point in all that would I encounter God?

Oh, I’ve encountered God in a meaningful, supernatural manner that I can’t even begin to articulate, but those “meetings” are quite rare.

And I believe I encountered God over coffee last Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t what you would call supernatural. I forgot that God can insert people into the stream of your life who will tell you what you need to hear (though not necessarily what you want to hear).

He said several things.

  • People go to church to encounter God.
  • Anyone who wants to encounter God should spend time in prayer and reading the Bible, asking and expecting to encounter God.
  • Don’t seek Judaism and don’t seek Christianity, seek God.

Oh.

He said a lot more too, particularly on the dynamics of how to make connections and relationships. The following metaphor is my own but it applies.

If you are single and you want to make an impression on a girl, you don’t do so by showing up for dates only sometimes. If you have a standing date with your girlfriend every Sunday morning, if you like her and want to develop a relationship with her, you’ll show up for your date every Sunday morning unless something serious comes up to prevent it. You don’t just go hit and miss and still expect her to want to develop a relationship with you. She won’t think you’re very trustworthy and reliable. She won’t spend the time and energy to try to connect with you if she doesn’t see you making the same effort.

Oh.

I’ve been viewing going to church as only an obligation. Who in their right mind dates a girl if it’s only an obligation and not a desire?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

That sounds like an obligation but an obligation of love.

To be honest, I don’t always want to encounter God in a meaningful way, because some of those encounters aren’t easy to take.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:20-21 (ESV)

If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.

Job 34:14-15 (ESV)

Fear of the Lord may be the beginning of wisdom but it’s also fear.

But God cannot be avoided and without God, life is nothing.

Man’s life is dependent on the air around him. Without air he cannot live and the quality of life is dependent on the quality of air. In an atmosphere of Torah and mitzvot there is healthy life. In a G-dless environment life is diseased, and one is constantly threatened with the possibility of being stricken with contagious maladies.

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat, Tevet 11, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

torah-tree-of-lifeThe Rebbe goes on to describe how we can purify our environment by studying words of Torah, but taking the message down to basics, what is being said is that God must inhabit our environment for us to be who He designed us to be. We must encounter Him in order to live the life He has planned for us.

No matter how uncomfortable or even frightening those encounters may be.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

That reminds me of what Pastor Randy said to me the second Sunday after Thanksgiving. I skipped going to church the Sunday after Thanksgiving because I was wiped out and wanted some rest. Pastor made some remark, supposedly joking, asking where I was the week before. I figured I wasn’t very important to anyone at the church and my missing a Sunday or two wouldn’t be a big deal. Maybe it’s a bigger deal than I thought. I still don’t feel important at church, which isn’t necessary, but I don’t feel even slightly significant, either. But that’s my fault.

If church is an opportunity to encounter God rather than just a Biblical and social obligation, then it becomes something entirely different from what I first thought. Next Sunday is the last day of my countdown to zero and the end of the year.

Or, it’s a new beginning and a fresh encounter.

8 Days: Critical Mass

Critical_Mass_by_sam2993How much better than fine gold is the acquisition of wisdom, and the acquisition of understanding is choicer than silver! The paved road of the upright is turning from evil; one who keeps his way guards his soul. Pride precedes destruction and arrogance comes before failure. Better [to be] lowly of spirit with the humble than [to be] sharing the spoils with the proud. One who undertakes a matter intelligently will find good [success]; and praiseworthy is he who trusts in Hashem. The wise of heart will be called an understanding person, and one whose speech is sweet will gain learning.

Proverbs 16:16-21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

James/haSatan: First of all I made sure to use the words of Messiah particularly because you don’t know them or understand them. The teaching I put in the comments here were all backed up by scripture and were HIS WORDS and there is NO GREATER LOVE THAN TO LAY DOWN ONES LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS. What are you accusing Yeshua of…..hatred?

IF I don’t sit in a pity party with you guys reviewing all the past evils done to the Jewish people while at the same time “Bashing Christians” and attempting to lay all the responsibility at THEIR feet……you call my words hateful?

A critic

I know. Taking verses out of context can sometimes create a false impression of what is really being said, but in my current reading from Proverbs, there seems to be an emphasis on controlling your speech, humility, understanding, and wisdom. No, I’m not trying to blow my own horn, but I am trying to understand why someone who feels they have a valid theological point to make must do so while spewing vitriol and hate. Certainly comparing me to the adversary is a little over the top, no matter how angry my fellow Christian brother may be with me.

But what started this mess, anyway?

What follows is a confession of faith for Jewish converts to Christianity, from the Church of Constantinople. While it seems extreme to us today and many Christians have regained their appreciation for Israel and Jewishness of Jesus, how many Christians truly disagree with a basic premise expressed in this swearing of allegiance to faith in Christ when it comes to their own attitudes toward Jews and especially their view of Judaism?

My friend Gene Shlomovich wrote a blog post called Confession of faith for Jewish converts to Christianity, from the Church of Constantinople. He wanted to draw attention to how Jews, during the early Christian period, were put in the position of having to renounce their entire Jewish identity, the Torah of Moses, all of the mitzvot, in order to be allowed to enter the community of faith in the Jewish Messiah…uh, that is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Here is the “confession of faith” a Jew was expected to make as quoted from Gene’s blog.

As a preliminary to his acceptance as a catechumen, a Jew ‘ must confess and denounce verbally the whole Hebrew people, and forthwith declare that with a whole heart and sincere faith he desires to be received among the Christians. Then he must renounce openly in the church all Jewish superstition, the priest saying, and he, or his sponsor if he is a child, replying in these words:

‘I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom, and above all I renounce Antichrist, whom all the Jews await in the figure and form of Christ; and I join myself to the true Christ and God. And I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy, Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity, and the dispensation in the flesh and the descent to men of the Word of God, of the one person of the Holy Trinity, and I confess that he was truly made man, and I believe and proclaim that after the flesh in very truth the Blessed Virgin Mary bore him the son of God. and I believe in, receive, venerate and embrace the adorable Cross of Grist, and the holy images; and thus, with my whole heart, and soul, and with a true faith I come to the Christian Faith. But if it be with deceit and with hypocrisy, and not with a sincere and perfect faith and a genuine love of Christ, but with a pretence to a be Christian that I come, and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils.’ (From Assemani, Cod. Lit., 1, p. 105.)

That sounds very hateful and even kind of crazy, but it did reflect the reality of how Christians were thinking of Jews at that point in time. Unfortunately, something of an “echo” can still be heard among at least a few Christians these days.

With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful; With the perfect man thou wilt show thyself perfect; With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; And with the perverse thou wilt show thyself froward. And the afflicted people thou wilt save; But thine eyes are upon the haughty, that thou mayest bring them down.”

Both the abusers of the Jewish people and those of the Jewish people who hate G-d, his son, and their neighbor will stand in judgment together. “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish.”

No repentance……no mercy!

No-MercyNo mercy. No mercy from God?

Doesn’t God have mercy upon us even before we repent? If He didn’t, He would never allow us the opportunity to do so…no matter how long it may take some of us.

Or how about this?

This post is not about anti-semitism. It is Christian bashing by way of blaming men who were never really followers of Yeshua for Israel’s lack of belief, faith, and transgressing the law and departing through disobedience. Israel needs to take some responsibility and stop blaming others. If you have unforgiveness in your heart and need to go through history to find someone to blame other than yourselves you missed the entire point of the Torah. Repentance begins by taking responsibility.

But how could the Jews historically accept a Messiah who was re-cast as the “Goyishe King” and was unrecognizable to his Jewish brothers?

Unfortunately, that point isn’t always understood in the church or at least by some of those in the church. But what really bothers me isn’t that some Christians have an idea that the Jews are to blame for their own hardships because “they rejected Jesus.” What really bothers me is the level of rage and hate that such individuals express in trying to “explain” their point of view. Even if they believe they can back up their position with scripture, doesn’t scripture also encourage us to love, to use measured and wise words, to feel compassion?

The really sad part of the conversation I’m referencing is just that day, I had written a memorial to the victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings. Among the victims was a 6 year old Jewish boy named Noah Pozner. It’s one thing to take “pot shots” at Jewish people in general as a Christian if you believe Judaism is thumbing its nose at Jesus Christ, so to speak. It’s another thing entirely to completely forget a national tragedy that occurred hardly a week ago and to disdain (though indirectly) a specific Jewish victim. No, my adversary never mentioned his name or referenced Noah in any way, but when you condemn all Jews who don’t renounce being Jewish for the cause of the Gentile Christ, you condemn each individual Jew, including a young Jewish boy who did no harm to anyone at all.

You can go to Gene’s blog and read everything there including all of the comments and judge for yourself whether or not I’m being unfair. I typically don’t like calling people out personally on their behavior, but it really bothers me that a Christian can not only condemn all Jewish people everywhere unless they renounce being Jewish, but I find it offensive that it is done in so callous and harsh a manner. Does God hate the Jewish people He calls His own? Did the Messiah hate us before we came to him?

Are we supposed to hate those who disagree with us, who don’t accept our faith, who believe bad things about us? This goes way beyond what one “loose cannon” Christian thinks about the Jewish people and considers how the church views the “unsaved,” i.e. the rest of the world. Are we only supposed to love people once they’re “saved?” Until then, is everyone who isn’t a Christian just “secular scum?”

I hope I’m only referencing a few random, infrequently occurring believers among a more compassionate and caring church, but it’s hard for me to tell. I guess the only way to find out is to keep going to church and to see how people treat not only me, but those who aren’t like “us.”

I wonder what I’ll discover?

12 Days: Staring at the Clouds

staring-at-the-clouds“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”

OK, stop right there. It’s twelve days until the end of the year and less than a week until Christmas. There are only twelve days left in my arbitrary “countdown to oblivion” (yeah, I think it’s overly dramatic, too) or at least my countdown to “church or not church.”

I still haven’t made up my mind.

I didn’t go to church last Sunday. I suppose I could have gone, but every Sunday morning, I have to get up at around 4 a.m. so I can drive my daughter to work (she has to be there by 5 a.m.). Afterwards, I get to go back to sleep and last Sunday, sleep I did. I very deliberately didn’t set my alarm so I could get up in time to make it to church. I did periodically wake up, peek at the clock, briefly have an internal dialogue about whether to get up or not, and then I went back to sleep.

And I kept doing that until I determined that it was too late to make it to church on time.

Oh sure, I could have gotten there late. It’s not like anything depends on me being at church on time. But I decided that once it was too late to make it to church before services began, it was just plain too late.

And sleeping in was glorious. I enjoyed it tremendously.

My wife didn’t realize that I wasn’t going to church at first. At about 10 a.m. she mentioned it and I said I decided not to go that morning. That was the end of the conversation.

But I’ve been feeling guilty. I’m not exactly sure why, since my connection to anyone and anything at church is so tenuous. Of course, I already found out that if I miss a Sunday at church people notice. On the other hand, I also discovered that my primary (current) motivation for going to church is a sense of obligation. It’s sort of like the obligation I feel to go to the dentist for regular teeth cleaning. In fact, I’d prefer to go to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned than go to church because I only have to go to the dentist every so many months, and I at least have a long-standing relationship with my dentist and his staff, so we are very familiar with each other.

It’s only a community if you belong and as I also said recently, I don’t have that sense of belonging at church. If predictions are correct, any sense of belonging at all will take about a year.

365 days and counting?

Twelve days left. That’s two more Sundays, one right before Christmas and one right afterward.

I know I should go, I know I should go, I know I should go.

But I don’t want to.

There’s just nothing for me to do there. There’s no one to talk to, at least beyond a friendly, casual, and superficial conversation. The one sort of transaction that would engage me is exactly what I must avoid if I am to have any hope of establishing relationships at all.

More’s the pity, because without the ability to converse and interact, going to church is a really boring way to kill three hours or so.

I’m sure there are Christians out there who are shocked and appalled to read those words.

I started this series at 78 days, made the final determination to return to church at 62 days, and had a private meeting with Pastor Randy at the church I now attend at 57 days (you can see what a cautious fellow I am, slowly sneaking up on an objective).

And it was at 57 days that I went back to church…45 days ago.

Now I only have twelve days left, unless I choose to reset the clock once I reach zero days. I was hoping that I could have a chance to review Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David within the context of a church experience, but I don’t know now. Maybe this effort represents a failure on my part or maybe getting “cold feet” is part of the developmental process of returning to church.

I don’t know.

As I see it, I have two basic choices. One: I can let the twelve days elapse, with or without returning to church for one or both of the Sundays left. Then that is that. Church is no longer an option for fellowship and community. Endgame. Two: I can let the twelve days elapse, with or without returning to church for one or both of the Sundays left, then reset the clock to 365 days. That would mean letting 2013 be “the year of church.” I’d give myself a full calendar year to explore “the church experience.”

Option one seems like a relief and option two seems like a long haul to face, particularly alone. But if I haven’t been giving church a fair chance, then option two is the only one that lets me be fair.

When I look back boy I must have been green
Bopping in the country, fishing in a stream
Looking for an answer trying to find a sign
Until I saw your city lights honey I was blind

You better get back honky cat
Living in the city ain’t where it’s at
It’s like trying to find gold in a silver mine
It’s like trying to drink whisky from a bottle of wine

from “Honky Cat” (1972)
music by Elton John
lyrics by Bernie Taupin

I’ve got a scant twelve days to make up my mind. Until then, I’m staring up at the clouds looking for an answer.