Tag Archives: disciple

Sukkot Without A Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainSeems strange, right? No sukkah this year. Let me explain.

My parents are aging and their health is none too good. My wife and I haven’t been able to visit them in a while. A window opened up in our schedules, so we took a long weekend and drove down to their place in Southwestern Utah last Friday. We stayed Saturday and drove back home Sunday.

As most of you reading this probably know, Sukkot began at Sundown last Sunday.

Now we got home at about 2:30 p.m., but I was all in from a nine-hour drive so I didn’t haul out our little sukkah kit and put it together as I usually do.

However, yesterday morning, the missus and I were up at the same time along with our son David, and I asked her if she’d like me to assemble the sukkah when I got home from work.

Her answer kind of surprised me.

She said that I built the sukkah each year because I wanted to, not because she wanted me to.

Hmmmm.

I distinctly remember one year her thanking me for remembering to put up the sukkah when she forgot.

We never have meals in it and it’s rather small, maybe fitting two or three people max.

In our marriage, she’s the Jewish spouse and I’m the goy. I suppose I could have built it anyway, but something told me that if she didn’t want to observe the mitzvah as a Jew, who am I to do so (and not being Jewish, I can’t really observe the mitzvah anyway)?

sukkot jerusalem
Sukkot in Jerusalem

I know some of you are going to say there is an application for Gentiles in Sukkot and I agree with you. On the other hand, without the Jewish people, without the Exodus, without the forty years in the desert, there would be no celebration of Sukkot, and none of that has to do with we goyim, even if we are disciples of Rav Yeshua.

So this year, it’s Sukkot, but without a sukkah.

Perhaps it is fitting since I have distanced myself from at least certain elements of Messianic Judaism. But while some Messianic Jews feel it’s important to separate Gentiles from Jewish praxis, they still can’t insist we distance ourselves from Hashem (and I’m not suggesting they are).

On the other hand, Judaism in general believes that the goyim can have a place in the world to come under certain circumstances (although the Noahide Laws don’t quite map to the life of a “Judaically aware” non-Jewish disciple of Yeshua), so while a Jewish celebration such as Sukkot might not be appropriate for us (again, some of you will argue against this), entering the presence of Hashem through the merit of Rav Yeshua is allowed for us.

So for me, at least for this year, the sukkah will have to exist in my imagination and in the future when we will all enter Hashem’s House of Prayer, which is a shelter for all people, Israel and the nations alike.

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What Defines The People of God?

Chosen People Racist?

What’s behind the whole concept of the Jews as the Chosen People? Isn’t this idea racist?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

All human beings are God’s people, as it says that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Further, the great prophet Malachi said, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) The Talmud likewise points out that one reason the entire human race descends from a single set of parents, Adam and Eve, is so that no one would be able to claim his ancestors are greater than his fellow’s (Sanhedrin 37a). Judaism does not believe there is an inherently superior race of human beings.

-From the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Aish.com

Yesterday, I posted a blog article called Giving Up the Identity Crisis, which was based on material I reported on in Where Are All The Gentiles Who Are Drawn To The Torah?; a comparison between modern Noahides and their communities, and we “Messianic Gentiles” or, if you prefer, Talmidei Yeshua (Gentile Disciples of Jesus).

I’ve been pondering the ramifications of giving up the identity crisis and becoming more comfortable with who I am. Relative to our relationship with God, there’s only really one thought to consider: you’re either Jewish or you’re not.

new heartThe Jewish people, the modern inheritors of the covenants Hashem made with the Children of Israel, are the only named participants in those covenants. For the rest of us, by attaching ourselves to the Jewish Messiah, we attach ourselves to Israel and thus by God’s grace and mercy, we are allowed to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant.

But as the quote from the Aish Rabbi states, if the Jewish people are not inherently superior to the rest of humanity, and if we’re all created in the image of the Almighty, then why are there distinctions between Israel and the people of the nations at all?

Historically, however, the world slipped away from its relationship with God, and eventually the entire world was worshipping idols. Approximately 4,000 years ago, Abraham re-discovered the one God, and chose to accept the challenge of spreading the ideas of monotheism and morality to the world. Through his dedication and willingness to give up everything for God, he was chosen – and his descendants after him – to become the guardians of God’s message.

In other words, Abraham chose God, and thus God chose Abraham.

Abraham then passed this responsibility to his sons Isaac and Jacob. That mission was formalized 3,300 years ago at Mount Sinai, when God put these ideas into a written form (the Torah).

Oh, that.

Yes, Israel became the keepers of the Torah of Moses for many, many centuries as well as the only nation on the planet that paid homage to God and obeyed His laws and statutes.

the crowdOf course, in that time, there were a number of non-Jews who, seeing the wisdom and beauty of the Torah, attached themselves to Israel and eventually, after the third generation, assimilated completely into Israel, leaving behind their non-Israelite lineage.

But God didn’t desire that humanity either have to convert to Judaism (which is how modern Jews view the ancient assimilation process) or be out of relationship with Him. And while modern religious Jews believe that humankind is born into a relationship with the God of Israel through the Noahide covenant (see Genesis 9 and AskNoah.org), God had a better plan.

That plan was absolutely not to replace Israel and Judaism with Gentile Christianity. That plan was and is for the people of the nations to benefit from God’s ultimate redemption of Israel by redeeming us as well, at least those of us who accept that Moshiach is the mediator of the New Covenant, trust in him and obey God’s commandments as they apply to the Goyim.

We aren’t born into this covenant relationship, but we are grafted in essentially as “alien residents” among Israel (symbolically, since most of us don’t live among the Jewish people in national Israel) so that the barriers that previously separated us from Israel have been resolved.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all Christians and all Jews get along. Quite the opposite in some cases. But it does mean that the Gentiles and Jews who revere Rav Yeshua (Jesus) within the context of the ekklesia (which does not mean “church”), and trust in Hashem to save, are part of a larger Messianic community that will be fully realized upon Moshiach’s return.

I’ve said all this before in one way or another, so why am I repeating myself (yet again) now?

jew and gentile
Martin Luther King Jr. in the front line of the third march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with Rabbi Joshua Heschel, March 21, 1965

Because (and this is a gross oversimplification) once you learn that the only two identities you can have are “Jewish” and “Other” within the devotees to Israel’s God, there’s not much else to be concerned about.

But like I said, this is a gross oversimplification. People love labels and love to differentiate between groups by those labels and what they think those labels mean.

However, what we call ourselves and what we tell ourselves that means is probably less important than what we actually do about it. Is the non-Jew who says he or she “observes the Shabbat” any more or less loved by God or created in His image than the non-Jew who volunteers at the local food bank, donates clothing to the local homeless shelter, or who spends time with hospitalized friends and relatives because tzedakah (charity) was made part of our obedience to our Rav and thus to God?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the blessing of lighting the Shabbos candles is very beautiful, and so is inviting God into the home to share our rest, but the Shabbat is a unique sign of the Sinai covenant, a covenant Hashem made exclusively with the Children of Israel (and the mixed multitude present who would assimilate into the Israelites within three generations).

Once we acknowledge that we are either Jewish or not and we learn to be OK with that, our identity problems go away for the most part.

I am a (non-Jewish) disciple of my Rav.

Another person might say “I am a (non-Jewish) Christian,” and essentially mean the same thing.

OK, there are differences, but if I obey my Rav by donating to my local homeless shelter and the Christian obeys Jesus by donating canned goods to the local food bank, are we not both being obedient and following his commands? Are we not both being faithful in the same way to the same Master?

churchSure, you might say that Christians believe in supersessionism, or deny that the Jewish people are still attached to God through the commandments and the Torah, or that they believe that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross,” but which of us has a theology and doctrine that is 100% correct from Hashem’s point of view?

Probably no one. And yet with an imperfect understanding of the Bible, our Rav, and our God, we can still do good in His Name. That very likely describes 100% of Christians and observant Jews.

One Christian denomination rails against another spending a lot of time and resources to do so. One branch of religious Judaism rails against another spending a lot of time and resources doing so. And good grief, just look at those of us who live, study, and worship “outside the box,” so to speak. We waste a lot of time arguing about distinctions this and distinctions that.

Isn’t there a better way to use our resources and to obey our Rav?

There is once you let go.

Someone on a closed Facebook group recently asked non-Jewish group members why they became Messianic Gentiles and what was the biggest obstacle they had to overcome in entering into Messianic Jewish community.

I know these are important questions and answering them facilitates a sense of community among those who participate, at least a virtual community since these people (potentially) live all over the world, but in some ways, making that distinction also facilitates the identity crisis.

Inner lightWho is a Messianic Gentile and what does that mean? What’s a Messianic Gentile’s relationship with Messianic Jewish community and how (or if) do we fit in? There are a bunch of other questions attached to those and there is no one unified answer.

But what if those aren’t the most important questions to ask and asking the right question gives us a better answer?

We are all created in the image of God. The Aish Rabbi said that the Jewish mission is to be a light to the nations. My interpretation is that Rav Yeshua is that light (John 8:12) and by becoming his disciple, we too become lights to the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

Maybe all we really have to answer is the question, “How can I better shine my light onto the world?” That’s a totally inclusive question because it applies to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Sure, the answer is somewhat different depending on whether you’re Jewish or not, but not as much as you think.

Both the Jew and the Gentile are commanded to do kindness and give charity. Both the Jew and the Gentile pray. Both the Jew and the Gentile give thanks to God for what He provides us from His grace, mercy, and generosity (Psalm 145:16).

I’ve stopped worrying about what to call myself (this is a lot easier for me because I’m not part of a religious community that has a label and expects that label to mean something specifically defining). I suppose there are any number of words that others use to define me. My Jewish wife for instance, considers me a Christian. From her point of view, she’s probably right.

Who am IBut what about God’s point of view? Maybe the identity He assigned us, the person He created each of us to be, is based less on some theological system of belief and more on what we do about it.

If you behave like the person God created you to be, and strive each day to become a truer realization of that person, who cares what people call you? Who cares what you call yourself? It matters most of all how God sees you and your (our, my) response to Him.

Who am I? What do I call myself? Why, I’m “me”. I’m doing my best to be the person God created me to be. Or like Batman said, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

Talmidei Yeshua

Actually Questor made the suggestion for a proper term by which to call Judaicly-aware non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua in coining the phrase תָלְמִדִם שׁל יֵשׁוּע – Talmidim shel Yeshua – Disciples of Yeshua, however ProclaimLiberty suggested:

Nice label suggestion, “Q”, but the phrase requires the possessive contraction as: “תָלְמִדִי יֵשׁוּע” (Talmidei Yeshua) rather than as merely a descriptive or explanatory phrase.

Of course, referring to people like me as “Talmidei Yeshua” is going to draw a lot of blank stares from Christians or just about anyone else.

Just the other day, I got a knock on my door, and when I answered, the fellow asked if I was a Christian. I said “yes,” but pointing at the mezuzah on the door frame, I said my wife was Jewish. If I had told him something “I’m Talmidei Yeshua,” he might have given me a much less predictable response.

For as many years as I’ve been involved in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, there’s been a struggle as to what to call ourselves. OK, Jewish disciples of Messiah can call themselves Messianic Jews, but even early on, there was some resistance to applying the word “Messianic” to non-Jews, the idea being that “Messianic” belonged to the Jewish people.

church?A lot of Gentiles in Messiah don’t like being referred to or like calling themselves “Christians” because of the implications of replacement theology, denial of the applicability of the Torah as a requirement of God’s for Jews in general and Messianic Jews in particular, and the whole church on Sunday, Christmas, Easter, eating ham at the drop of a hat deal that seems so anti-Jewish and thereby anti-Messiah.

Some folks hedge their bets and say they’re “believers” which is acceptable as an alternate “Christian-ese” word that still doesn’t peg the non-Jewish Messianic as “Christian” specifically.

However, in spite of all this, Messianic Gentiles as a proper term, has risen to the top of the list in being the most accurate representation of who we rather odd non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah King are in our theology, doctrine, and praxis.

That said, Q and PL may have a point in addressing us as “Talmidei Yeshua” since “Yeshua’s disciples” is both accurate and generic. I even mentioned to PL that we could refer to both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah by that title and still be correct.

Except that he reminded me of something:

Yes, it could refer to both, though Jewish disciples might prefer ‘Hasidei Yeshua. Or, as someone in my local ‘havurah suggested last week, Jewish disciples might do well to forego any distinctive label altogether, being satisfied to be simply Jews without any such label that could suggest separatist factionalism or “minut”. Just as Rav Shaul was content to identify himself simply as a Pharisee or a Binyamini (tribal designator), without any other qualifier specifically associated with Rav Yeshua, so could modern Jewish disciples do in modern terms. Distinctive terms such as “Nazarene” did not appear until later, and were used primarily to distinguish Jewish messianists as individuals to be avoided or forced out of the Jewish community. That sort of social dis-interaction needs to be countered as Jewish messianists re-integrate within the wider Jewish community, bringing what they’ve learned from Rav Yeshua with them.

For gentile disciples, on the other hand, a label could have a positive function to emphasize that such individuals have “drawn close” to the Jewish community and embraced the principles and values of the Torah covenant.

Stuart Dauermann
Rabbi Stuart Dauermann

And that Reminded me of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s article “The Jewish People are Us — not Them,” published in Messiah Journal, which I reviewed a couple of years back.

Historically, converting to Christianity has been seen as drawing the convert out of his or her former life and associations and into the Church. This has been true whether the convert were a Jew or anyone else. Sometimes, the convert’s Jewish family and friends don’t even acknowledge this person as Jewish anymore.

However, as Dauermann correctly pointed out and as I interpret him, being Messianic is a very Jewish thing to do. All religious Jews eagerly await the coming of Messiah. The only difference between a Messianic Jew and any other religious Jew, is that the Messianic acknowledges the specific revelation of Messiah as Rav Yeshua (I’m sure there are Jews who would strongly debate this point).

Accepting the revelation of our Rav as Moshiach, if anything, should increase and enhance the observance of a Jew and ideally, draw the Jew nearer to his/her fellows and to Jewish devotion and praxis.

That’s why there probably isn’t any real need to call a Messianic Jew anything other than a Jew. PL rightly points out that Paul didn’t create a special designation for himself after the events of Acts 9. So why should any other Jewish disciple of the Rav do so?

However, it always seems to come back to “what do we do with the Gentiles?” If being “Messianic” is such a Jewish thing to do, then it must be a pretty strange thing for a non-Jew to do. Who are we? What do we call ourselves? How do we define our praxis? Once we enter this world, as distinguished from the more traditional Church, we find ourselves in an indistinct, foggy, no-man’s-land, being neither fish nor fowl, still Gentile but located, even tangentially, in Jewish space because we have declared ourselves as disciples of the Jewish Rav.

One of these things is not like the othersCalling ourselves Talmidei Yeshua may not change a great deal, but it does give us some small sense of identity, or at least what to call ourselves, that shouldn’t be objectionable in Jewish religious and social space. Of course, it’ll rather put off most Christians who consider the title “Christian” to be more than sufficient, but then again, anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that people like me don’t think, speak, teach, write, or believe in precisely the same things you’ll find preached in the average Evangelical Church on Sunday morning.

Of course, those other pesky questions remain unanswered for the most part. Yet I think each person has created his or her own answers out of necessity. Some let themselves be defined by the standards of accepted praxis for Gentiles in their congregations. Some, like me who have no congregation or group, self-define. However, there remains no single standard to which the Talmidei Yeshua can consult and emulate.

This is probably why so many of the non-Jewish Talmidei Yeshua look to their Jewish counterparts with envy since Jewish halachah is well-defined.

My Jewish wife would be perplexed by all this. From her point of view, and from the point of view of the Jews attending the two synagogues in my community, I’m considered a Christian and that’s that. All the little spins and twists that I derive from Jewish literature in understanding my faith are moot to them.

human beings
Photo: theshirtlist.com

This isn’t a problem really if we don’t factor community into the equation. Besides my name, I have no idea how God refers to me, how He categorizes me (besides “human” or “Goy”), how He thinks of me, if He has to have categories at all. None of this probably matters to Him. He doesn’t see titles or labels, He sees the heart and the relationship.

In the end, that’s all there is. Maybe we live in community or at least family, but we die alone and only God receives us. He calls us by whatever name He wills.

The Convert and the Disciple: A Shavuot Lesson

Question:

I attended synagogue services on the holiday of Shavuot morning, and we spent a half-hour reading the Book of Ruth. Is there any special connection between Ruth and Shavuot?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah and prophetic reading on Yom Tov always relate to a deeper theme of the day.

In this case, Ruth is the ancestor of King David, who was born on Shavuot, and died on Shavuot.

Another reason is because Ruth is the quintessential Jewish convert, and on the very first Shavuot – when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai – each Israelite essentially became a “Jew by Choice.” That’s why the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law use the Sinai experience as a basis for determining the requirements of all future converts:

1) Mikveh – All converts must immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath), as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:14, 24:8).

2) Milah – Male converts must undergo circumcision, as the Israelites did before leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:48 and Joshua 5:5).

3) Mitzvot – All converts must accept to observe all 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:3).

Interestingly, the Torah intimates that the souls of eventual converts were also present at Sinai, as the verse says: “I am making [the covenant] both with those here today before the Lord our God, and also with those not here today.” (Deut. 29:13)

From “Ruth and Shavuot”
the Aish Ask the Rabbi column
Aish.com

In my recent review of the Mark Nanos essay “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates” as found in the book Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition), citing Nanos, I commented that the Apostle Paul was very much against the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) converting to Judaism, frankly, because it was unnecessary. In Messiah, Gentiles have an equal communal status with the Jewish disciples, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the same promise of the resurrection.

mikvahThe other major reason that Paul discouraged Gentiles from converting is that it would undermine God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to many nations. If we all converted to Judaism as a means of accessing a covenant relationship with God, then God’s promise that not just the Jewish people but all peoples would bow to Him, would be null and void. And as I hope you realize, it’s impossible to thwart the plans and promises of Hashem, God of Israel.

So is there any good reason for a Gentile in Messiah to convert to Judaism? There must be, because some few such converts exist (I have no statistics as to exactly how many there are or where they can be found and only personally know of one such person).

I also know that some critics of Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space believe that the practice of conversion is not presupposed in the Torah and thus is unbiblical, not to be recognized by those Gentiles who believe the Torah applies equally to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

However, as we see above, the Jewish people certainly do believe there is a precedent in the Torah that allows for ritual conversion of Gentiles, bringing them into Israel as (Jewish) children of Abraham.

Neither Christianity nor any branch of Judaism believes that Gentiles must convert to Judaism and indeed, Christianity sees converting non-believers to themselves is the desirable outcome, not becoming a member of the tribes, so to speak.

I also mentioned before that both in the late Second Temple period and today, those of us, that is, non-Jews who have some sort of connection with Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular, often suffer from an identity crisis. More than once, the dissonance of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do given my rather unique outlook on the Bible, has stirred a great desire in me to “throw in the towel” and stop associating with religious people altogether, both face-to-face and over the web.

It’s not an easy life.

Orthodox JewsSome non-Jews entering Messianic community have shot out the other end, so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism as a way to end that dissonance and secure a religiously and socially acceptable identity within Judaism. To do so however, they had to surrender all fealty to Yeshua as Messiah and King, thus, from Christianity’s point of view, becoming apostates.

I believe, both in ancient and modern times, that God gave the Jewish people the ability to be “gatekeepers” into their realm. Nanos spoke of a “chronometrical gospel”, that is, a time-related good news event or set of events, a good news that entered our world heralding the advent of the New Covenant promises with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, the Messiah.

Prior to Yeshua, there was a mechanism in place whereby Gentiles who were drawn to the God of Israel could undergo a ritual allowing them to join Israel and thereafter be considered indistinguishable from the born Israelite. It was the only real option for such Gentiles, apart from the status of God-Fearers who had no covenant status relative to God (unless you count the Noahide covenant).

The process of conversion seemed to morph over time and was likely different in some manner to the process we see Ruth undergoing to convert to Judaism and become the eventual ancestor to King David and ultimately, Yeshua.

No one should question the authenticity of David’s let alone Yeshua’s Judaism because a convert was their ancestor.

But as I said before, if converting to Judaism were the only way for Gentiles to apprehend the blessings of the New Covenant (let alone Sinai), then as I said above, God’s promise to Abraham would fail.

two pathsSo through Messiah, another avenue was created, one that does not require we convert and become Israel. We are permitted now to come alongside Israel, not being them but being at the same table with them, partaking in the same blessings without being responsible for the same obligations. This makes it possible for the whole world to come to God, to be blessed by God, to attain the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God, and to receive the promise of a life in the world to come, all without conversion and all while remaining fully Gentile citizens of the nations.

In another Aish Ask the Rabbi column, the Rabbi states in part:

Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.

I’ve mentioned in this blog post and several others including this one, that we “Messianic Gentiles” actually have a very specific duty, that of encouraging and supporting Jews in Messiah (any Jew we may encounter, actually) to return to Torah and to more fully observe the mitzvot.

Without Jewish devotion to Torah, as the Aish Rabbi states, what God has preserved in the Jewish people will eventually fade…and without Israel, we Gentiles have no hope, because 100% of the promised blessings we receive God made with Israel, not us!

That’s why Yeshua is the King to the Jews first and only after, the King of the nations of the world. Whether the realization is comfortable or not, Israel is the gatekeeper, it guards all the doors, it holds all the keys, all through God’s covenants with Israel, and all through the person of Israel’s King, King Messiah, Son of David.

There may well be some valid reasons for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but they are all minimized within the Messianic Jewish realm simply because, as Paul pointed out repeatedly, it’s not necessary in order for a Gentile to have an authentic relationship with God. Particularly for the Gentile but also for the Jewish people, the cornerstone, the lynchpin to that relationship is Messiah. He opened the door that let the Gentiles into a full relationship with God, and he brought the very beginnings of what will someday be the completion of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel, and only through Israel, to the world.

aloneWe non-Jews should not dismiss or denigrate converts to Judaism, regardless of which branch they convert into, but we should rest assured that it is not a requirement either. This may be confusing relative to Gentile identity in Messianic community (which is why I suspect such Gentiles either covert to Judaism, return to the Gentile Church, or just give up on religion completely), but what Jews and Gentiles don’t yet understand about the non-Jew’s role and function among Israel, is well understood by God.

If I, as a non-Jew who studies within a Messianic Jewish framework, am never accepted as who I am, either by Gentiles or Jews, I can take comfort that in the privacy of my prayers and studies, I am still accepted by God. I can be a disciple and a Goy. I can be who I am. I don’t have to become someone else or pretend to possess another’s responsibilities to stand in the presence of the Almighty.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.

-ibid

How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.

-ibid

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

What is it to be in a Community of Faith?

Being ignored is very dismissive and disrespectful, especially if you claim to have a relationship. I think all of us desire to be understood and that our contributions are useful, not just feigned interest when your real intent is to build a relationship only for the purpose of setting the other person straight. Yes, the Christian need to maintain a semblance of agreement and avoid conflict and the hashing things out that might be useful is discomforting, but that is the way it is.

-chaya1957
from a comment on What I Learned in Church Today: Anti-Gentilism and Crypto-Supersessionism

This speaks to the theme I was discussing on that particular blog post as well as on Old Wine Made New, which is a continuation of my exploration of my role in the church and more fundamentally, who am I?

As much as I’d like to think that I’ve backed off of being arrogant or even disingenuous in my rationale for returning to church, I don’t think I’ve progressed very far. In reading Chaya’s comment though, I realized (or was reminded) that in my case, there are three possible motivations for being in church (although they can certainly overlap):

  1. Seeking community with fellow believers.
  2. Seeking an encounter with God.
  3. Seeking to share my unique perspectives with other believers.

Number three is the one I tend to lead with and the one that has gotten me in plenty of trouble. It’s this part of what I refer to as the Tent of David process that is the most difficult to implement. Actually, the toughest part is to find the right balance between competing priorities in being at church, and I think the balancing point is in a different place for each person.

As I’ve learned before, it’s important to establish yourself as a member of the community, otherwise, no one will take you seriously. I’ve been “standoffish” as far as becoming a community member goes, especially if it requires formally joining the local church. I realize that Pastor Randy has privately taken me through the curriculum he presents in his “new member” classes. Needless to say, I don’t agree with not of the “particulars” of the Baptist or Fundamentalist Church, so I could hardly become a member in good faith.

But being a committed member of the community is a basic requirement that must be fulfilled prior to offering anything in the way of a perspective on a theology or doctrine that differs from the Evangelical Christian norm. Certainly a Messianic Jewish viewpoint on theology and doctrine can be considered quite outside the traditional Christian norm.

But then, I’ve been cheating myself, since one of my major issues, at least within my own mind and heart, is how I lack “like-minded community” in my little corner of Southwestern Idaho. By not joining community, I’ve been denying myself community and thus remaining isolated, at least in terms of face-to-face transactions from fellow believers. Sure, I can show up at church, participate in the worship services, and go to Sunday school afterward, but that’s not community, it’s attendance.

I go out of a sense of obligation, out of a sense that this church is where God wants me to be for some reason, as if I may still have a purpose there, but then, I can’t tell what that purpose might be. For about the first year give or take a month or two, I thought I had a purpose. I spent a lot of face time with the head Pastor and I thought we were building a dialog that could result in at least the introduction of some material from a Messianic point of view.

But it didn’t work out that way. Periodically, someone will pull me aside to ask a few questions or complement me on my participation in Sunday school, but that’s pretty hit and miss.

All of these musings are against the backdrop of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Annual Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin which, as you read this, has just ended. While I’ve struggled with my participation at the conference in the past, in my heart, Beth Immanuel or some place like it is more who I am than a Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christian church.

This isn’t to say that going to church for a Christian is bad, it just isn’t really “me.” And even then, if being a square peg in a church of round holes had some purpose or meaning, then being different would be OK, especially if, among all the differences, I could find a common “meeting place” with the other people in the church community.

Sometimes I feel like the character “Uncle Martin” in the old TV show My Favorite Martian (1963-1966). I look like everyone else, but the internal differences are remarkable.

I recently read an article at the Rosh Pina Project called The mature Messianic Jewish believer is also a disciple. Writer Dror discussed the variability of Jews in the Messianic Jewish movement who nevertheless, should be considered part of the community. The issue revolved around Jewish Torah observance:

There is a school of thought within Messianic Judaism that teaches that Messianic Jews can only truly be “Messianic” if they are also Torah observant. A sharp divide is made between Messianic Jews who do keep Torah, and those who don’t – with those who don’t even compared to Bin Laden!

Rebbe
Rabbi M.M Schneerson, the Rebbe

I’ve been reading Sue Fishkoff’s book The Rebbe’s Army, which is about the history, development, and activities of the Chabad in connecting with largely secular Jewish people and bringing them closer to the Torah through performance of mitzvot and association in Jewish community. Regardless of what you may think of the Chabad and what they do, they have a single-mindedness of purpose and are remarkably inclusive of Jewish people, regardless of background or knowledge.

Messianic Judaism struggles with this issue because, in my opinion, at the same time it is attempting to present Yeshua as the Messiah to non-Jesus believing Jews, it is also trying to establish itself as a Judaism, observant in the mitzvot, knowledgable in Talmud, and everything that every other religious, ethnic, and cultural Judaism is.

I can understand why Messianic Jews want to be taken seriously as a “Judaism”, alongside the other accepted Jewish religious movements. Some Messianic Jews seek to shore up the boundaries of Messianic Judaism by explicitly stating that practitioners must keep Torah. They go too far. People can get carried away with an idealistic vision of a religion accepted even by the Orthodox world, and end up using harsh language against secular Messianic Jews.

Yet only perhaps 13% of Jews worldwide could really be described as Torah-observant, which leaves the 87% of non-observant Jews whom Yeshua still loves. I would imagine that at least 87% of Messianic Jews are not Torah-observant, and it would be weird to have a Messianic Judaism that pretends this huge non-observant majority does not exist or is somehow worth dismissing.

This struggle isn’t my struggle to the degree that I’m not Jewish and have no meaningful input in the Jewish world, Messianic or otherwise, but it does define a parallel issue among the Gentiles involved in the Messianic Jewish movement (who are the majority of members in the movement, at least in western nations).

While many aspects of Torah are found in messianic Judaism as a unique expression of our Jewish faith in the Messiah, we do not believe that the Gentile church, or Gentile Christians universally, are called to the same expression as us. In fact, it is the unity of Jew and Gentile in Messiah, in spite of our cultural diversity, which glorifies God in the body of the Lord, via the one new man. (Eph. 2:15). In our view, therefore, it is wrong to admonish Gentile believers universally to think that they need to observe the Torah. It is clear, furthermore, that the Apostles dealt with this precise question of Gentile Torah observance and answered it on point in Acts 15. All of this will be discussed further in this paper.

-from “One Law, Two Sticks, A Critical Look at the Hebrew Roots Movement,” pg 4
A position paper of the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS) Steering Committee, January 15, 2014

The reception of such a statement among non-Jews involved in some aspect of the Hebrew Roots movement is generally not accepted very well and is often understood as the Torah being completely applied only to the Jewish people and having no relevancy for non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) at all. This is a basic misunderstanding as the above-quoted paper states:

At times, this can be rather ambiguous, as the term “Torah” (law), of course, has different meanings depending on context….

Generically, the term “Torah” is often thought of as a set of laws providing a moral code for right living. Although there are such commandments in the Torah, the moral law is a very limited part of Torah, and is not a good basis for understanding what Torah is. While the Torah does contain certain moral laws given to Israel, it was not in fact, given in order to be the ultimate moral statement and standard of God to humanity for ethics and basic right v. wrong living. The Torah does not purport to be such a statement. While there clearly are universal moral laws in the Torah, there are many aspects of the Torah that have nothing to do with morality, and which therefore are not intended to be universal. For example, the commandment to Israel to wear tzitzit (Num. 15:38), or to be circumcised (Lev. 12:3).

The Torah does not approach being an exhaustive, all-encompassing, moral code. In fact, Paul’s assertion in Romans 2:14 states:

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.”

-ibid, pg 5

In fact, much of the Torah applies to all of humanity but the Torah uniquely applies to the Jewish people, the descendants of the ancient Israelites who received the Torah from God through Moses as Sinai as the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel.

God gave the law at Sinai, creating a unique nation. There are things given in the Torah which are unique to Israel. Above all, the actual revelation at Sinai was not the law, but rather, the lawgiver. In fact, God not only gave the law at Sinai, but God revealed Himself unto the people Israel. (See Ex. 19 and 20). The Jews from the most ancient times have understood this.

-ibid, pg 6

Mount SinaiA Gentile believer’s obligation to the Torah is more involved and complicated than it would seem on the surface, especially when accessing an Evangelical Christian (low) view of “the Law”. Nevertheless, no one is trying to minimize or marginalize the Gentile participants in Messianic Judaism or those who have discovered the “Hebrew Roots” of the Christian faith.

But what does this have to do with my sense of Christian community or lack thereof? Plenty. Actually, it has more to do with my sense of community within the Messianic Jewish movement, even though that community is remote.

In reading Fishkoff’s book about the Chabad, I came across a bit of dialog attributed to an older Jewish gentleman, a businessman, who had become involved in Chabad activities and who had been encouraged to perform some of the mitzvot, including laying Tefillin. He found it compelling to increase his observance, at least to some degree, but he admitted, “I still work on Shabbos.”

I’ve read in any number of Jewish sources, that Judaism relative to the mitzvot is not an absolute. In Christianity, we are taught that Judaism is an “all or nothing” religion. Either you perform all of the mitzvot and perform them perfectly, or you are condemned by God. It’s the rationalization for us to say that Jews cannot keep the Law perfectly (who could?) and therefore, they need to abandon the Law entirely and accept the free gift of grace and salvation from Jesus Christ.

But that’s not how observant Jews see themselves, and certainly not within the Chabad framework. In fact, Jews who have grown up in other branches of Orthodox Judaism complain, according to Fishkoff, that Chabad services are too elementary and that the Chabad siddur (prayer book) is laced with English translations of the Hebrew and Hebrew transliterations for Jews unfamiliar with Jewish worship. That’s great if you’ve been a secular Jew all of your life and are uninitiated in the synagogue service, but if you have been raised an Orthodox Jew, it’s bound to be slow and frustrating.

But all of these people along the scale of observance and familiarity with Torah and Talmud are Jewish and all of them are universally in covenant with God. That needs to be understood by the rest of us (Gentile Christianity). The expectation is to strive to be better without necessarily ever becoming perfect. In Judaism, God is a gracious and forgiving God, not a harsh taskmaster.

Evangelical Christianity, for its part, is also lenient relative to any expectation of “performance” by its constituency, but there are expectations nonetheless, though they tend to center around things like church activities, tithing and other giving activities, church and classroom attendance, and so on. Ironically, Evangelicals, at least some of them, perform more “Torah” than you might imagine, such as visiting the sick, giving to charity, donating food items to the hungry and those organizations that feed them, praying for the well-being of others, both in the church and beyond, and so on.

churchBut what about me? That is, what about the “Messianic Gentile” or one who self-identifies as such? I work on Shabbos, not at my job, but I typically do my lawn work. I try to spend as much of Saturday as possible reading the Bible and studying, but my wife, who is in fact Jewish, does work on Saturday. So does my Jewish daughter. And I’m likely to have some sort of “honey do” list to complete on Saturdays.

My wife will light the Shabbos candles for Erev Shabbat but typically she doesn’t invite me to be a part of the event. We eat “Leviticus 11 kosher” or as the local Chabad Rabbi calls it, “kosher-style,” but we’ve never kashered our kitchen. My wife doesn’t always fast for Yom Kippur. She rarely attends Shabbat services.

Neither one of us lead what you might call an “observant” lifestyle. Now how that works in my wife’s Jewish experience is between her and God and I will not question how she chooses to live out a Jewish life.

But identifying as a “Messianic Gentile,” what does Messianic Judaism expect of me? Some have said that Gentiles are “invited” to extend their observance beyond the minimum required by the Acts 15 ruling, but depending on who you talk to, some people in Messianic Judaism (more of the Gentiles than the Jews) are a little stiff about what you do and don’t do.

It gets even worse in some (but not all) Hebrew Roots communities to the point of “legalism,” and as we saw from the Rosa Pina Project quote above, if you’re a Messianic Jew and you aren’t scrupulous in your observance, you can be open for some harsh criticism.

I say all this to illustrate the challenges in establishing and maintaining community, regardless of what that religious community might be. While I find that I missed attending this year’s Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel, some part of being there is intimidating. I worry about fitting in sort of the way I worry about fitting in at church. The theology and doctrine taught at Beth Immanuel is more in line with my personal beliefs, but what about my practice? And at church, although my practice isn’t much of an issue, what about my theology and doctrine?

A believer is someone who believes Yeshua is the Messiah.

A disciple is someone who believes Yeshua is the Messiah, and is making a serious attempt (although it will be weak and flawed in many ways) to conform his life to the ways and teachings of Yeshua. As well as his behaviour and attitudes changing, his conceptualising of faith will change and he will begin to understand concepts which were initially tricky, like Yeshua died in our place, Yeshua is divine, and we need to work on our hearts to produce spiritual fruit.

See the difference?

Mature disciples who meet regularly with other disciples will strengthen their faith, and may or may not choose to observe Torah in order to supplement and enhance this spiritual journey. Yet at its core, this is a personal choice.

-Rosh Pina Project

Regardless of who you are, Jew or Gentile, as a believer in and disciple of Yeshua (Jesus), it ultimately is less about what you do as who you are in relationship to God through Messiah. The relationship, the walk, the interaction, is where it all starts. Performance of the mitzvot, however you want to define that, is the outgrowth, the expression, the fruit of that relationship in faith, but how many of the mitzvot you perform and how well you perform them doesn’t define you as a disciple, since each person negotiates his or her relationship with God.

I’m convinced that people of faith are far more judgmental of other people of faith than is God.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of community, it only gives us the means to dodge the judgmentalism of other people in our community (or sometimes outside of it).

I suppose part of my issue of community within the church is my own judgmentalism, how I view Christian viewpoints on Israel and Judaism and why they don’t conform to my own. As I’ve said several times before, it is arrogant presumption to believe Evangelical Christians would have any desire whatsoever for some outsider to breeze into their church and tell them what’s what. How dare I judge their theology and doctrine and yet bristle when they judge mine?

coastI feel caught in the middle, between my struggles with Christian theology and Messianic practice. But those are community issues. The real issue is whether or not I’m a believer or a disciple. If the former, then it’s all about what I know about God and if the latter, then my heartfelt desire should be to know God. If I am truly seeking to know God, then everything should flow out of that pursuit and whatever community of faith I find myself in should judge me, for good or for ill, on that basis.

In turn, I should judge myself on what my goals really are. They should never be about changing anyone’s mind for only God does that. If I am a disciple, my single goal should be to draw nearer to God through Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus). From that, everything else will come.