Tag Archives: emissary

Returning to the Tent of David: Notes from an Emissary

notes-in-the-darkMany Christians have chosen the path of the Messianic Gentile. They have seen their lives changed for the better as a result of the strides they have taken towards an understanding of their Jewish roots. They have studied, learned, and grown. At a certain point in this process of growth, though, it is not always obvious what to do next. I am frequently contacted by Messianic Gentiles who are debating what do to with their new understanding. I have connected with many communities in which this is a serious problem.

For the most part, Messianic Gentiles want to share the Messianic renewal with other believers. Grasping hold of one’s Jewish roots is a wonderful thing. It is a beautiful feeling to learn about the biblical feasts, the Sabbath, and other Jewish practices which our Master embraced and taught. Our love for Yeshua makes these things precious to us. For disciples of Yeshua, finding our Jewish roots is like discovering a beautiful, long-lost treasure.

-Boaz Michael
“Introduction,” pg 18
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

Part of the Returning to the Tent of David series

Here is where I come in. I should say that I’m not really a typical “Messianic Gentile.” I think the model may have been more appropriate back in the day, but not so much anymore, primarily because I’m a believer going to a church, and the missus is Jewish and not a believer. Furthermore, as Boaz says several times in his book, a “Messianic Gentile” is indeed a “Christian.” I’ve adopted the latter “title” to clarify my vision: that there’s nothing about a Messianic perspective on Messiah and the Bible that should be considered separate or apart from Christians and the Church (big “C”).

The other reason I don’t call myself a “Messianic Gentile” is that I don’t “keep Torah” in many of the ways someone on a Messianic community might. Even at the height of my so-called “observance,” I still drove on Shabbat, cooked on Shabbat, ate what you might call “Kosher-style” rather than what my local Chabad Rabbi would consider kosher, used the Siddur poorly, had (and still have) by and large no command of Hebrew at all, and so forth. I was a lousy “Messianic Gentile” in my practice. But the study and the information flow was and is fabulous.

Among the many things our Master taught us was the command to love each other as he loved us (John 13:34).

-ibid

This is a core of the message and the vision. If we don’t do these “Tent of David” experiences out of love rather than some other motivation, we lose and the Church loses.

And that’s not easy.

What is easy is to get involved in theological and doctrinal debates trying to show who is wrong and who is right. That’s no different from the typical “dust ups” we have in the religious blogosphere, and I’ve been critical of those before.

Becoming a living and active part of the church community isn’t always easy. I go to services, attend Sunday school, visit weekly with the Pastor, but that’s about it. Oh, I’ve taken on a special project that has required I work with one of the Associate Pastors and some of the staff, but I don’t know if that qualifies me as part of the community. Maybe it just takes more time or maybe I’m holding back.

Can one live as a Messianic Gentile among Christians who don’t yet embrace his lifestyle or viewpoint?

-ibid, pg 19

boaz-michael-beth-immanuelAs Boaz says on the previous page, “Yet this is not always easy. Churches can be resistant to the message of the Messianic Gentile.” But is my mission and purpose to go into church with the idea of changing people? This is one of the most difficult parts of the “TOD” experience. The vision is vast and glorious, but living it out day by day is difficult, especially when I’m not a gifted teacher, theologian, and publisher, but rather, just a guy “on the ground,” so to speak.

I don’t really try to live my life as a “Messianic Gentile” in the church. I just try to be me, which I suppose is both my greatest strength and my staggering weakness.

And why should the church listen to the rather odd sounding message of the “Messianic Gentile?” I mean, it’s their home ground. They hold all the keys that open all of the doors in their realm. They are comfortable with what they are being taught and what they believe fundamentalist and evangelical Pastors and their books and sermons tell them. Saying something like the Torah is not canceled is not just different or new information, it’s radical and potentially “dangerous”. It flies in the face of everything the average Christian in the pew has ever been taught.

The Gentile believers, as part of the commonwealth, had a unique and vital role in the process of building the Tent of David, using their numbers and resources to empower and bless the Jewish community and spread the message of the kingdom in their own culture. In this way, the apostles envisioned the imminent restoration of the Tent of David and the establishment of Yeshua’s hegemony over the entire world…It would hardly be an overstatement to say that this apostolic vision is Christianity’s raison d’être, its reason for existing.

-ibid, pg 22

That’s only vaguely how most Christians and most Christian churches see themselves. Frankly, it took me awhile to even see this aspect of my “reason for existing” and even longer to get comfortable with it. A tremendous amount of internal struggle along with lots of prayer and studying had to take place before I was able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and to recognize that the completed picture was “me.” I’ve spent many months trying to communicate on this blog what I see and while the people who already share that vision are enthusiastic, those who don’t are going to be just as blind to it as I was.

As disciples of the Messiah, Messianic Gentiles must live out by personal example the teachings of Yeshua…

-ibid, pg 24

I read this sentence and immediately thought about Sukkot. I happened to mention to my Sunday school teacher that I built a sukkah in my backyard, as I do every year, and a little bit about the customs around Sukkot. He seemed interested and enthusiastic, but not in the way I anticipated. It was more like a novelty item to him…something interesting and curious to look at but nothing that had to do with him and his lived experience. The idea of him building a sukkah would be seen in the same way as the idea of living in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet for a year. A fascinating thought but in no way connected to his experiential reality.

Who will show the institutional church its blind spot?

-ibid, pg 26

Who says they want to see it? The most interesting part of this experience is not the response, but the silence. I recently had a bit of a disagreement with my Sunday school teacher over the meaning of Acts 15:1-2. He says that the Jewish people who stated that Gentiles needed to be circumcised were “Satanically-inspired” and I said that they were Jewish people who had a legitimate theological question that needed to be resolved.

hereticBut we were the only two engaged on this issue. Everyone else in the room was silent. What were they thinking? Did they imagine I’d flipped out or was I just a heretic? OK, probably nothing that strong, but I really don’t think most of the Christians in that room had a clue how to deal with the idea that first century Jews requiring Gentiles to covert to Judaism as the only way to be saved were at all people expressing a valid concern, as opposed to a bunch of trouble makers and Judaizers.

“The church desperately needs creative heretics. A “creative heretic,” an independent thinker, is an example of the “unbalanced” force to which Newton refers in his first law of motion. Only the person who breaks with tradition can change the direction of an institution. A heretic is not an enemy of God but one who is more interested in truth than in tradition.”

-John Sloat, A Handbook for Heretics

Imparting the vision of the “Messianic Gentile” within a church setting requires a great deal of tact. I’ve tried as best I can to restrain myself. I almost always pick just one question (out of the many I could cite) to ask in Sunday school so as not to appear like I’m trying to argue. I can be candid with my Pastor but that’s part of our relationship, and all of those conversations only involve the two of us.

This can only happen, though, if those Christians who understand their Jewish roots choose to remain in their churches as faithful congregants.

-Boaz, pg 26

I’ve had this discussion before about whether or not the “Messianic Gentile,” that is, “me,” should join the church as an official member. My good friend with whom I have coffee every other Sunday afternoon says absolutely “yes.” I must join the church as a full member in order to be accepted and integrated into the body.

But I don’t know if I’d ever by a good Baptist when their’s so much about the theology involved with which I don’t agree. If being a good Calvinist is required, then it’s a “showstopper.”

Which brings me to the question of who changes? Boaz mentioned previously in his Introduction about the challenges of living as a Messianic Gentile in the Christian church. Part of the difficulty as I see it is that the church is exerting an effort to change the Messianic Gentile even as the Messianic Gentile is making the same effort to change the church. Boaz says that all committed Christians want to know Jesus better, and while I believe that’s true, they also anticipate that Jesus won’t look too “Jewish” as they draw nearer to him. The portrait of Moshiach I have to paint is far more semitic than any Jesus they’ve ever seen or want to see.

darkmirrorThe Tent of David book is designed to reach out to a vast population of Messianic Gentile and Hebrew Roots Gentile people in our country and either support them in the churches they already attend, or encourage some of them, like me, to return to the church as emissaries of the Messianic viewpoint on the Jewish Messiah. We’re not “secret agents” on a covert mission, we’re representatives of an idea and a perspective that isn’t common in the church. We’re part of Boaz’s vision of reaching the church with a new (or renewed) way of conceptualizing the Jewish Jesus. And we are only one stream among several they are trying to produce, another such stream being their A Promise of What is to Come television series (available for free over the Internet), which is designed to impart much of this information at a very accessible level for most Christians.

You are not required to complete the task, you are not free to withdraw from it … but be aware that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.

-Pirkei Avot 2:21

That sounds incredibly noble, but I’ve always had a tough time seeing myself as incredibly noble. I know too much about myself to see the reflection of a hero in the mirror when I shave in the morning.

So after nearly a year, who do I see when I look at my reflection? Most mornings, it’s easy to ignore the question. I’m getting ready to go to work or if it’s Saturday, I’m mulling over my “honey do” list for the day. If it’s Sunday, then I’m anticipating Pastor’s sermon and considering what I’m going to say in Sunday school, and then thinking about what the rest of the day will bring.

But this blog post series (assuming I write future entries) is about stopping and taking the time to look at the scruffy older guy in the mirror. Am I living up to my mission as an emissary to the church, as it were? Have I been successful in delivering my message and more importantly, in living it out?

I can’t say I’ve been wildly successful. A few people have expressed an interest in what I have to say, but they seem to only just get started on the trail and then stop. I have had conversations with one of the older Associate Pastors who is interested in Hebrew Roots but when I directed him to the First Fruits of Zion website to access some resources, I got the impression that he was quite overwhelmed.

I think there is a desire to learn more about the Jewish Jesus in the church, but there are two issues of concern. The first has to do with what Christians expect to learn. They expect that the Jewish Jesus will look and act just as they imagine him to be. They think the “Messianic Gentile” will teach them “more of the same” but maybe with some interesting but minor details. What they don’t expect is to learn anything different and especially anything challenging. The second issue comes out of the first: getting people to think outside the box without feeling like they’re being heretics or, heaven forbid, being brought “under the Law.”

That second part is really important, because if people aren’t willing to even consider a paradigm shift to a new perspective, they’ll never accept what the “Messianic Gentile” has to offer beyond the superficial.

thinking-inside-the-boxMy impression is that the mission of the Messianic Gentile in the church is a lengthy if not life long process. It also requires a great deal of commitment, not only to the church, but to God. My Crossing the Ford of the Jabbok blog post illustrates how I see what I need to do, not only for the sake of the mission but for the sake of my relationship with God. I do no one any good if I neglect dedication and devotion to Hashem, Master of Legions, Lord of Creation, while otherwise beating my brains out against the stucco walls of the church (or in the blogosphere).

If I am ever to be successful in showing the Christian world around me a true portrait of the Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah King who has come once and who will come again, then I must spend every possible moment at his feet studying, learning from his wise teachings, and becoming an ever more dedicated disciple of my Master.

Addendum: It has come to my attention that I need to be spending a lot more time sitting at the feet of my great Teacher than doing many other things. I’ll speak more on this in tomorrow’s “morning meditation,” but things are going to change.

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Emissaries

It is not uncommon for a first-time visitor to fall in love with Yerushalayim. And the place most people feel most attracted to in Yerushalayim is the Kosel itself. When someone told Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, that many people who live in Yerushalayim do not visit the Kosel at least once in every thirty days, he was astounded. “That is like a man whose ailing mother lives in the same city as he does, who doesn’t visit even once a month! Just as being in such a position is obviously morally untenable, the same should be true about one who is able to visit the Kosel once a month but fails to do so.”

Yet many visitors—perhaps because they come from so far—understand that the Kosel should be visited as often as possible and envy those who live so close, who sadly often visit much less than they would like.

One man on a short trip to Yerushalayim was all broken up about having to go back home to America. “If only I could bring the Kosel with me, it wouldn’t be so bad. Why can’t they instantaneously transport me there every day for shacharis? I would have so much more composure and could much more easily cope with the pressures of the day.”

But of course this was impossible.

When a friend heard about his trouble he made a novel suggestion. “Why not take a small piece of the Kosel back with you? That way you will feel connected and just looking at it will bring you back to the good times when you were here.”

He was very impressed with this idea, but as a religious Jew he was afraid to take such a step without consulting with a posek.

When this question reached Rav Moshe Feinstein, he ruled that this is forbidden. “It is clear that even one who uses the stones of har habayis transgresses me’ilah; how much more so regarding a fragment of a stone from the Kosel itself!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Memento?”
Me’ila 15

They say that “familiarity breeds contempt,” so I suppose it’s not surprising that when you have a fabulous resource or experience just minutes from your front door, you might not take every opportunity to visit it. That’s why people who live in cities with wonderful museums containing priceless treasures don’t visit them on a regular basis (usually it’s only when out-of-town guests come to visit).

This is also true of the relationship between Jews in Jerusalem and the Kotel or what some Christians call “the Wailing Wall.” This is also true of the relationship between some Christians and God.

Think about it.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. –Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

Examine the experience of someone who has just converted to Christianity, someone who was far off from God who has now been brought near by the blood and grace of Jesus Christ. That person is typically very excited and absolutely thrilled. He takes every opportunity to pray, to go to church, to go to a Bible study, to fellowship with other believers. He is a sponge, taking in every detail, every experience, every subtle nuance of being a Christian.

But sooner or later, the fire cools off. Since God is always near, how often do we visit Him? For some Christians, beyond going through the motions, not very often.

I suppose I should say at this point that this experience is common among people of all faiths, not just the church, but after all, the community of believers in the Jewish Messiah, is my primary audience.

But what about the rest of the story off the Daf? For those who truly appreciate what they can touch, how do you carry away a piece of holiness with you? In terms of the Kotel, you don’t. It’s an unspeakable crime to chip off a little bit of the wall and to carry it around with you as if it were a lucky charm. It’s not the stones themselves that impart holiness, it’s where they are built, why there were built, and what they represent. This doesn’t require that we literally carry a pebble or stone with us. But the man in the story was right in one important way. We do need to constantly carry holiness with us, no matter where we go. We need an anchor to hold us in place and to link us to God, as we are swept this way and that by the storms of everyday life.

We do not keep our traditions for the sake of the past but for their power to create a future, a power that will never end.

For the Torah was not given to this world so that it should return to its former glory, but so that it will transcend itself.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Traditions of the Future”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

One of the ways Judaism has carried holiness and a connection to God with them across history and no matter where they were living (having been driven out of one place and then another, and so on), was and is their traditions. Traditions themselves are not physical objects, though they can employ such objects, but they are concepts and ideas that represent love, faith, and devotion to God. You cannot carry a piece of the Kotel with you, but you can carry the desire to see Jerusalem in your heart. You can pray for the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. You can enter into prayer with a minyan and summon the presence of God within your midst.

What do we Christians carry around with us to transmit the sense of holiness?

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. –John 13:16 (ESV)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. –Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

We are not greater than the one who sent us, but we have been sent. We carry that Spirit and that mission within us and that sacred duty must never leave us. Many Christians think that only “official” missionaries take the Good News of Christ to the unbelievers, but even if we never overtly speak of our faith, if our behavior is consistent with the one who sent us, then we always declare our love of God and humanity by the one we carry around inside of us.

What is holiness? It’s not a thing you can hold and touch and feel. It’s not a candlestick or a kippah or even a Bible, although in their proper contexts, these objects are important or represent something important. Holiness is a spirit and an inspiration. It is God, not only among His people, but within His people. He is represented by our words and our actions, not just during worship and prayer, but as we go about our business in every hour of every day. That is what we carry and what anchors us to Him.

We are holy and sacred as emissaries (and we are all emissaries) and it’s not just what we have, but what we do that matters.

An emissary is one with his sender. This concept is similar to that of an angel acting as a Divine emissary, when he is actually called by G-d’s name. If this is so with an angel it is certainly true of the soul; in fact with the soul the quality of this oneness is of a higher order, as explained elsewhere.

From “Today’s Day”
for Iyar 8 23rd day of the omer
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

ShekhinahWe, as mere servants, are not greater than the One who sent us, but we are one in goal and purpose. We must not exalt ourselves beyond our station as believers and disciples, but we must take who and what we are very seriously, because not only God, but a desperate and suffering world is watching us at every moment, looking with diminishing hope for evidence that there is a loving God and that He can save.

Yet there is another message we can take away with us from the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; a lesson that may explain much, but cause some concern as well. The quote from the Rebbe recalls this event:

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. –Exodus 23:20-21 (ESV)

It may amaze you that God told Moses that a mere angel could forgive sins, but then, if the Name of God is upon the angel, then the angelic being wears God’s Divinity like a shroud, acting for Him in all things, as if it were God Himself.

But we all know an angel is not literally God.

Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30 [ESV]) and depending on how you interpret his words (and I’ve talked about this before), you may believe he was saying that he, Jesus, is literally and physically the same as God. This is a common belief and most people in the church, though they don’t understand it, do not doubt it for a second.

But just as an angel can carry the Name of God with him such that he can forgive sins and thus literally be called by God’s Name, how much more can the Son of God, the Creator’s personal and most trusted emissary, be also called by God’s Name, forgive sins in God’s Name, not be greater than the One who sent him, and still sit at the right hand of the Father.

I don’t understand it either, but it’s something to ponder as we live out the will of the one who sent us.