Tag Archives: faith

Faith on a Desert Island

clouds
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Every time I see something about being a Christian in community, or a Jew in community, or especially a non-Jew in (Messianic) Jewish community, I start thinking about those of us who, for one reason or another, aren’t in community.

Many years ago, I listened to a “Messianic Jewish luminary” denigrate Gentiles who were isolated from community, and he had a point. A lot of non-Jews who have left the traditional Church for one reason or another, possess rather “fringy” theologies, and often are considered “religious nuts”. These are the kinds of people who believe faith can cure any ill, and who wouldn’t take their kid to a doctor even if he were having a heart attack. People who think taking an aspirin is a mortal sin.

But there are plenty of reasons to be disenfranchised or unaffiliated besides being mentally ill or having cult leanings.

For anyone with a “Messianic” perspective, it may be a matter of not having an appropriate venue within driving distance. In my case, it’s a little more complicated, being a Gentile believer married to a (non-Messianic) Jew.

But the most common reason we experience is that we’ve been burned, not just by the Church, but by Messianic Judaism as well.

Not to overstate the point, but Gentiles in Messianic Jewish space have traditionally been a problem, and some of us, who don’t want to be a problem, solve it by simply not showing up.

So what happens then?

Over the past few months, I’ve been satisfying my more “creative writing” desires by becoming involved in “flash fiction challenges” of various sorts. The idea is that someone posts a photo online and authors use it as an inspiration to write a very short story, anything between about 100 and 250 words. We then share our work with one another and comment.

In response to one of those challenges, I wrote The Listener.

As I finished writing it and was editing, I realized the message I was communicating was literally true of me. Various difficulties in my personal life, as well as just plain “busyness,” had resulted in my leaving the vast majority of my “religious practice” behind.

The result, among other things, was a massive piling up of anxiety and hopelessness. If God lets little kids starve all over the world, why should He care if my grandchildren are having problems? What’s the use of praying? God either knows they’re hurting and will have compassion or He won’t.

As many pundits have previously warned me, it’s hard maintaining faith outside of community, and there’s the rub.

Technically, all I should need is God, but in the history of Judaism and Christianity, at least relative to the Bible, faith has always been communal. Okay, Paul spent plenty of time alone, but he always came back (at least until he was shipped off to Rome).

I’m alone because my attending Church or anything “church-like” (such as a Messianic community) hurts my wife.

I’m alone because I’ve been burned, and more than once.

I’m alone because even if there were an appropriate community, and even if my wife didn’t mind, I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut, and 100% of the time, opening my mouth eventually ends up with me offending someone.

The religious blogosphere has been pretty peaceful lately, and I suspect that’s because the trolls and nudniks have moved on to something else, but real life is a wild west show.

We may wander away from each other, but while we can keep God at a distance, He’s always close enough to touch. He doesn’t fail. He doesn’t burn you.

Sure, He’s also incredibly hard to understand and, if you have trust issues, it’s still hard to believe everything will work out in the end, especially when kids all over the world are starved, beaten, raped, burned, and otherwise assaulted and abused on a daily basis.

I’ve got to get back. Not sure how, since a lot of my praxis is based on time I no longer have.

I feel more connected when I read/study the Bible. I feel more connected when I pray. I feel more connected when I take a deep breath and reach out to His Presence.

I feel more connected when I write here.

A lot of “religious people” can and probably will be critical of me. Fortunately, God isn’t a person. He’s always ready to welcome the prodigal son home.

Finding God on the Slopes of Kilimanjaro

Margareth said:

Like you, I have found Aish articles really uplifting. It has really made me respectful for the profound wisdom I see in the articles there.

There are people like this I have met on the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro where my mother comes from. Their lives are hard and yet when you make an impromptu visit, their lined faces literally beam with happiness and they make sure they give a prayer of thanks before you are invited to eat and before you go. They put me to quite to shame in their faith and hope and joyfulness of attitude. Maybe the city life is what is destroying me…I do love being up there on the mountain. The missionaries outdid themselves up there.

I trust your day has gone well.

To which I replied:

My day is fine, Margareth. Thank you.

I know you’ve described the hardships of your life, but from my point of view living in southwestern Idaho, it seems incredible to be able to say you met people living on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. It illustrates that no matter who we are or where we live, no matter how far apart we are in terms of geography, nationality, language, and culture, we are all one in the Lord God. Most of us, we believers in the United States, tend to believe our problems and lives here are the only problems and lives. We rarely pull out heads out of the sand to realize how truly diverse are the people of God, how different our experiences, our very lives are from one another. And yet we are all brothers and sisters through our faith in Messiah. May he return soon and in our day.

I’d like to pull this brief transaction from the comments here and make it a blog post all it’s own. This realization, which escapes most of the Church in the west, needs to be pointed out and brought to light. I only wish I could bring these words to every Christian, Hebrew Roots person, and everyone attached to Messianic Judaism in any way, so we could all open our eyes and see that our struggles aren’t the only struggles, and that people of deep faith live all across the face of the Earth. It is God’s world and He will one day come back to live among us, in His Temple in Jerusalem, and the King will once again rule with Justice and Righteousness.

kilimanjaroThe first time I ever heard of Mt. Kilimanjaro was when I became aware of Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and much to my chagrin, I must admit to never having read it. But Hemingway isn’t the point. What Margareth said is.

I know when she mentioned visiting the people who live on the mountain’s slopes, and saying that’s where her mother comes from, they were simply statements of fact. But for someone like me, someone who is not all that well-travelled, and someone who pays far too much attention than I should to the “first world problems” declared by the news and social media pundits, it brought my own staggering ignorance into stark relief.

It also reminded me of just how ignorant most of us are in the United States of America, and probably many other western nations, to the true, vast expanse of the presence of the people of God in our world, all over the world.

In her brief descriptions of her life in the comments sections of Blessing God in a Dark World and Finding What’s Most Important, she has shown me a world I am completely unfamiliar with. And yet it is also a world where all we people of faith have a common mission and purpose. That mission and purpose is to bring the light of Messiah to others, in whatever we do, no matter who we are, no matter what language(s) we speak, no matter our nationality, history, culture, or personal experiences.

We have our master and teacher, Rav Yeshua, Jesus Christ in common. I know when our Rav walked this Earth, he came “for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), and yet, he commissioned his disciples to make disciples of all the people of the Earth (Matthew 28:16-20), and assigned Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, the responsibility of being his special emissary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-18).

To the best of his ability, and given the available modes of transportation of his day, Paul carried out his mission of bringing the good news of the Messiah, both to the Jews and the Gentiles living in the diaspora.

For the past nearly two-thousand years, others have taken up the mantle of the Apostle in bringing the good news to all the people of all the nations of the Earth. A lot of those missionaries have also caused a great deal of harm, destroyed the unique language of culture of many indigenous peoples, tortured, and even murdered people, Jews particularly, who would not convert to goyim Christianity, and committed many other acts that God condemns.

faithAnd yet, some remnant of the true intent of what Christians call “the Great Commission” survived. According to Margareth, the evidence of that lives on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro where her mother comes from.

I am amazed and pleased to pull my own head out of the sand and realize that I have something in common with people who live halfway around the world from me, people I’ll never meet, people, quite frankly, whose faith far outshines my own.

On the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the nation of Tanzania, on the continent of Africa, lives a people who have the same Messiah I do. They pray in his name. They greet visitors and travelers in the best tradition of Abraham (Genesis 18:1-8). Maybe the missionaries outdid themselves up on the mountain.

Or maybe the Spirit of God was exceedingly welcomed and has since resided with those humble people. The Church in America could learn a lot from them.

Thanks, Margareth. May God bless you and keep you forever in His Hand.

More Than Two Chances

What does being “contaminated by death,” and a traveling on a “distant road” have to do with us?

These terms point to deeper concepts. A state of disconnection from God is a type of death. A distant road is place where we are far away from who we really are supposed to be. This is something most of us can identify with.

-Kareb Wolfers Rapaport
“Pesach Sheni: The Holiday of Second Chances”
Aish.com

Second chances.

Any person of faith who believes Hashem grants us only two chances in life is sadly delusional. As far as my life goes, I can’t count the number of “chances” God has given me (and is still giving me) to pull my head out of that hole in the ground and get back into the game.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it disheartening to blog in the religious space, particularly in the realm Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots.

While I’ve been told repeatedly that my blog speaks for a certain number of people out there, people like me, non-Jews who have discovered that a particularly Jewish interpretation of the scriptures, of the New Covenant, of God’s intent for not only Israel but the rest of humanity, of the meaning and purpose of Messiah, is the best and most accurate way to understand all of that and who we are because of it, what I write doesn’t speak for a much, much larger segment of both Christianity and Judaism.

I’ve received criticisms and complaints, both on my blog and via email, from mainstream religious Jews, from Messianic Jews, from Messianic Gentiles, from mainstream Christians, and just about anyone and everyone who identifies with what we call Hebrew Roots.

Some of these folks are Internet trolls, but many of them are good, kind, well-meaning people who I’ve managed to inadvertently offend in one way or another.

I’ve stopped going to church, in part, because what I believe and who I am is fundamentally incompatible with traditional Christian theology and doctrine (and not being one who tends to keep his mouth shut when asked for an opinion, I became quite a pain in the neck).

I don’t deliberately stick my nose into online and actual mainstream Jewish venues, already knowing what they would think of someone like me (apart from quoting sources such as Aish).

I have increasingly separated myself from a number of Messianic Jewish organizations for similar reasons.

Only God is silent about what I write. I suspect He’s waiting for me to make up my mind about what I’m supposed to be doing.

So you see, I believe that if people were only given two chances, me included, the vast majority of us would already be toast.

According to Karen Wolfers Rapaport’s article:

Pesach Sheni, the holiday of second chances, reminds us that we can always change our steps and return home.

The question for someone like me is where exactly is “home,” at least in the material sense?

Of course Pesach Sheni has little or nothing to do with me since I’m not Jewish. In any event, its applicability in the current Jewish world is stifled by the absence of the Temple and the Priesthood.

The holiday only tangentially speaks to the non-Jewish world that God offers such “second chances” to us, too, and it begs the question, what do I do with the chance I hold in my hands now? What are you going to do with yours?

The Lessons of Failure

Few of us like tests. However, what if your child comes home from school and tells you that he has the greatest science teacher this year — he’s too busy to grade tests, so there won’t be any tests the whole year! Likely, you’d be heading for the phone to call the principal. Why? Tests ensure that your child pays attention to the material, does the assignments and achieves the ultimate that he can achieve in the subject. No tests, the child will likely slack off and learn little.

However, when WE get a test in life — be it health, economic, interpersonal — we ask “Why is this happening to me?” Why does the Almighty send us a test? Because He loves us and He wants us to get the most out of life, to develop ourselves and our character, to have the greatest life possible and to achieve our potential. The Talmud tells us that the Almighty does not send us a test that we cannot handle.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from the Shabbat Shalom Weekly commentary on Torah Portion Ve’eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35)
Aish.com

So the Talmud says that the Almighty does not send a test the person being tested cannot handle. I’ve heard something similar in Christian circles and I’m not sure I agree with either source. I think there are plenty of Christians and Jews (and lots of others) who have encountered horrifying experiences that completely overwhelmed them.

How many Jews didn’t survive the Holocaust, and even of those who lived, how many did not survive with their emotional and physical health intact?

While I don’t believe Christians are persecuted in the United States, there are plenty in other countries run by oppressive and anti-Christian regimes where Christians are beaten, tortured, raped, and murdered for their faith. Sure, just like in examples of Holocaust survivors, we hear miraculous testimonies from Christians who have been terrifically brutalized, but who endured nonetheless with their faith and other facilities remaining whole.

But what about the stories we’ll never hear because they’re unpopular, of Jews and Christians who were totally broken by these tests and trials, those who never recovered, those who lost faith?

What about things that we don’t see as persecution? What of the Christian father who loses his five-year old little girl in a car accident and turns to alcohol instead of God? What about the Jewish mother whose baby boy dies of SIDS and she responds by ceasing to ever again speak to Hashem in prayer?

God provides the tests, but their’s no guarantee we’ll pass.

failureWhat happens when we fail? I don’t think Rabbi Packouz’s commentary is very helpful here:

How do you know it’s a test? If it’s hard. Test are tailored made for each individual. It may be hard for one person, but not for another. Know that the choice you make will determine whether you get closer to reaching your potential or further away. Think back to a difficult situation. Beforehand you might have thought that you couldn’t handle it, yet you did — and you grew tremendously from it. We only grow from that which is difficult and challenging. We draw upon something inside of us that we didn’t know we had.

That’s assuming we have whatever it takes inside in the first place. But then there’s this:

People think that they are being punished with bad things. The Torah teaches us that ultimate reward and punishment are not in this world, but in the next world, the World to Come (Mesilat Yesharim, Path of the Just, ch.1). In this world, it is not punishment; He’s teaching you a lesson, giving you a message. If you gave tzedakah (charity) and your stocks went up — it’s not a reward, but a message that you are using your money properly and here’s more to use wisely. Likewise, if you misused your wealth and your stocks declined.

It is important to understand that what happens to you may be bitter, painful, but it is not necessarily bad. It depends on how you view what happens and how you respond to it. Bad is what takes you away from a connection with the Almighty.

The flip side is what happens when something good happens to us, something really good? Imagine you win the lottery and win big. Suddenly, you’re set for life. You now can devote much more time and resources to charity, prayer, and Bible study because you don’t have to work, you can hire others to clean your house and take care of your yard, and free you from all the “ordinary” tasks in life.

Just like “bad” tests, “good” tests don’t always have the desired result.

“But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—
You are grown fat, thick, and sleek—
Then he forsook God who made him,
And scorned the Rock of his salvation.

“They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.

“They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.

“You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Deuteronomy 32:15-18 (NASB)

moses mount neboJust as in difficult tests, there’s no promise we will respond as God desires when He makes life easier for us, there’s no guarantee we’ll come closer to Him either.

I hate tests. I’m not very good at them, at least the ones Hashem provides. It’s disappointing. I sometimes wish for things that would make my life easier, at least from my point of view, rather than having to endure all of God’s “tests.” All this occurred to me again as I was pouring a cup of coffee this morning in an effort to wake up my brain.

It also occurred to me that, just like the test a young student has to take in school, what I receive or don’t receive from God is for my own (ultimate) good, even if I don’t see it that way. If I don’t win the lottery, for example, while that means I still have to work and struggle to save for an eventual retirement, there is something “good” about that. I don’t know what it is, but God must.

And of all the tests Hashem puts in my path that I find uncomfortable or even downright painful, even though I don’t see the “good” in them, it must be there. I have to believe that if I have faith and trust in God. Otherwise, life is just random and meaningless and we have no support from God when we suffer…we simply suffer.

How empty and vain a life is that?

But it’s not easy. Rabbi Packouz teaches us what we learn when we pass a test, but what do we learn when we fail?

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.

-Napoleon Hill

Our best successes often come after our greatest disappointments.

-Henry Ward Beecher

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

You can Google “failure quotes” and find a seemingly endless supply of inspirational statements about learning from failure. Of course, the quotes of famous people don’t necessarily reflect the viewpoint of God on the matter.

Having arrested Him, they led Him away and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance. After they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. And a servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” A little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” After about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:54-62

peters-denialPeter’s failure. But it wasn’t the end, even though the failure was great.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.

John 21:15-17

Rav Yeshua gave Peter (Kefa) another chance to show how he loved his Master. Peter recovered from his failure and recovered well.

But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:4-10

This is just one small example of Peter the empowered Apostle and the result of his recovery from failure. He’d never be perfect and sometimes he’d make mistakes, but he never denied his Master again.

But what about us? We could attribute Peter’s boldness to his having received the Holy Spirit in the Acts 2 as opposed to his deliberately choosing to pass God’s tests rather than fail them. He was an Apostle full of the Holy Spirit of God. What about us? What about we poor, dim, ordinary human beings?

As Acts 10 attests, we Gentile Yeshua Talmidei are also supposed to possess the Spirit of the Almighty. Where is our greatness? Why aren’t we like the Apostles? What’s the difference between them and us?

Why do we continue to fail, what does that mean, and what do we learn, if anything at all?

The Torah states:

“And Pharaoh sent word and summoned Moses and Aaron. He said to them, ‘I have sinned this time. The Almighty is righteous. I and my people are wicked! … I will let you leave. You will not be delayed again.’ ”

Shortly thereafter, Pharaoh refused to let them leave.

Why did Pharaoh change his mind once the pressure of the plague was removed? Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel of the Mir Yeshiva explained that Pharaoh viewed suffering as a punishment. That is why he said, “The Almighty is a righteous judge and His punishment is fair because I have done evil.”

The reality is that there is a strong element of kindness in the suffering that the Almighty sends to us. In part, it is a divine message that we have something to improve. The goal of suffering is to motivate a person to improve his behavior. Pharaoh viewed suffering only as a punishment. Therefore, as soon as the punishment was over, he changed his mind and refused to let them leave.

Our lesson: View suffering as a means to elevate yourself and you will find meaning in your suffering. Try to accept it with love and appreciation. Even though there is still pain involved, it is much easier to cope. Whenever you find yourself suffering, ask yourself, “How can I use this as a tool for self-improvement?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Va’eira
from Growth Through Torah

runI think that’s what we learn from failure. If we see our failures as a punishment from God or some sort of inherent quality in ourselves we can never overcome, we will continue to fail. If, however, we choose to consider our failures as tests, they point to the areas in our lives where we need to improve. They show us a target to aim at, a goal to achieve, they illuminate a sort of “finish line” in a race.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

We fail, but as long as we persevere and do not give up, we will never be defeated.

I know, easier said than done, but as people of faith, every time we are knocked down, we must either get up again, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward, or we surrender our faith, give up on God, and go off in our own direction, becoming truly lost.

Passing God’s tests strengthens us, brings us closer to God, and shows us that God has built within us more persistence and empowerment than we realized we had. In fact, without tests, we’d never know just who God has made us to be. Even if we fail and fail often, as long as we keep trying, we never lose our way or step off the path God has placed before us.

Even in abject failure, abandoned by everyone we ever thought loved us, we are never alone.

When you have nothing left but God, you become aware that God is enough.

―A. Maude Royden

May this always be true of each of us.

Living With God Everyday

What we are talking about here is developing Messianic Jewish Household Spirituality. At Intefaithfulness we are doing this through an initiative called HaB’er (“The Well”). As resources of time, finances, and personnel allow, we will be providing materials, instruction and encouragement to Jewish and Intermarried households who recognize the priority of developing “The Three-Stranded Cord” of ever-deepening engagement with Jewish life, Yeshua-faith, and with God’s Presence. Our mission statement is “Living well at home in Jewish life with the Messiah.”

-Rabbi Stuart Dauermann
“Toward a New Solution to Current Problems in the Messianic Jewish Religious World”
Interfaithfulness.org

In Christianity, the main location for worship and prayer is the Church. In Judaism, it’s the home. Rabbi Dauermann points out in his article that, for Yeshua-believing Jews, whether they are in the Church or in the Messianic Jewish synagogue, they were “shaped” by American evangelicalism and thus, tend to be institution-oriented rather than home-oriented as are other religious Jews.

I’m not writing to comment on Jewish religious praxis, whether in the Messianic arena or otherwise. I’m here to write about the rest of us.

Actually, I can’t count myself as one of the Gentiles I want to discuss since, for a lot of reasons, the “practice” of my faith in the home is affected by the presence of my Jewish wife and children, none of whom are “Messianic”.

But I think the points Rabbi Dauermann brings up about the Messianic Jewish movement could be adapted to Jesus-following non-Jews, whether we call ourselves Christians, believers, “Messianic Gentiles,” or anything else.

churchFor a lot of us, our faith consists of going to church on Sunday, which includes the worship service, the sermon, and Sunday school. Then, if we’re really ambitious, there are programs, usually offered on Wednesday evening, in which we can participate.

But what about the rest of the time? What about our day-to-day lives?

In this, I think particularly an Orthodox or perhaps Conservative Jew might have an advantage.

Oh, Christians wouldn’t consider it such. I recall being in a Sunday school class a few years ago and hearing the teacher remark how we are so fortunate not to be “under the law” anymore (not that we ever were), and having been freed by the grace of Jesus Christ.

But free to do what? Play a few holes of golf after leaving church services and going out to lunch? How many Christians even say grace before eating if they’re in a public place?

Jewish practice may seem cumbersome to many non-Jews, but it has the advantage of continually reminding the Jewish person that God is always present. If you wear a kippah in acknowledgement of God being above you, your awareness is a persistent as your apparel.

Add to this all of the blessings to be said on a wide variety of occasions. If you were raised in an observant Jewish home, you started learning this practice in childhood, but for a Jew who was raised secular and became religious as an adult, there is probably something of a learning curve. Nevertheless, the message seems to be that a Jew is always obligated to acknowledge God in everything.

An observant Jewish life doesn’t occur just on certain days of the week or only between the hours of such and thus, it occurs from the moment you wake up until you go to bed at night.

Modeh AniAbout the only thing I’ve allowed myself to carry over from my past is reciting the Modeh Ani (in English) when I discover I’m awake in the morning and about to get out of bed. It’s a basic confirmation that I owe each day of my life to God.

The day-to-day religious practice of a Christian or otherwise religious non-Jew is not well-defined. We don’t have the rich history of tradition of the Jewish people to draw upon. Sure, some non-Jews have chosen to adapt bits and pieces of those traditions in their lives, but we don’t share Jewish history and, in most cases, Jewish community, so it seems at least a bit out-of-place.

I should say at this point that I’ve met Christians who have fully-realized and completely integrated lives of faith. Every thought and action is directed to the service of Christ and to people around them. However, I wouldn’t consider this a very common practice, more’s the pity.

But returning to practical praxis, among the very first non-Jewish Yeshua-followers who had learned from Jewish mentors, such as the Apostle Paul, their day-by-day behavior probably looked pretty “Jewish,” since it was the only model they had available, but nearly twenty centuries have passed and that connection has long since been lost.

Some congregations and other collections of Jews and Gentiles who are devoted to Yeshua as Messiah are attempting to reinvent that relationship, but it’s pretty inconsistent. I think I recently mentioned how fragmented the body of Messiah happens to be, and I don’t see it becoming any more unified in the near future.

But regardless of our religious orientation and our access to community of any kind, we still, as individuals, have a responsibility to not only maintain our awareness of the God above our heads day-by-day, hour-by-hour, but to act out of that awareness. For the non-Jewish believer, as I’ve already said, there isn’t a well-defined set of behaviors and traditions for us to draw upon. Nevertheless, we can do something. We just need to be more deliberate and maybe more creative about it.

followIf we are walking in the dust of the footsteps of our Rav, so to speak, what should we do?

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40 (NASB)

Do kindness everyday. No, you don’t have to save the world every hour on the hour, but you can take advantage of your opportunities, even in very tiny ways. Pick up a bit of litter and throw it in the trash. Hold the door open for someone. At this time of year, there are plenty of people ringing bells in front of stores taking in donations. Drop your loose change into the bucket. The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of getting mad at them or competing with them on the road, let them have their way. Maybe they have a really good reason for being in a hurry.

A few days ago, I came across a news story about a homeless Jesus statue that is being erected in numerous communities. The concept and application are controversial, and while I agree that $40,000 per statue could be better spent actually sheltering the homeless, feeding them, and clothing them, the symbolism invoked, for me, the quote from Matthew 25.

homeless Jesus
Photo: Kelly Wilkinson / The Star

Jesus is already homeless, and poor, and hungry, and needy. He is because we have homeless, poor, hungry, and needy people in our communities. If we wish to serve our Rav and to “do what Jesus would do,” then the Bible makes it abundantly clear how to respond.

But what about this?

If the world of Messianic Jewish believers is to be established, sustained, renewed and passed on from generation to generation, the efforts of religious school, seminary and congregation will fail unless we begin at the center: the home. It is for this reason that Jewish religious discourse terms the home a Mikdash M’at, a little holy sanctuary. This is the center. This is the microcosm from which blessing proceeds to the macrocosm of life, and socially, this is the seed from which the Kingdom of God will grow in the Messianic Jewish context, or not. Similarly, we find in Scripture that it is at the center, the Holy of Holies, where holiness is most concentrated and from which it radiates out into the community of the people of God and to the wider world. Think of the design of the tabernacle in the wilderness and each of the First and Second Temples, each termed a “Beit Mikdash.” In Jewish life the home, the mikdash m’at, is the Holy of Holies from which spiritual identity and vitality radiates out into the world and daily life. Apart from this center, all is empty religious noise and clamor, gongs and cymbals, and too often, as we will admit if we are honest, smoke and mirrors.

This is how Rabbi Dauermann ended his essay, with a plea to re-establish Messianic Jewish homes as Jewish homes, making them the “Holy of Holies.”

I’m not sure how this is done in non-Jewish homes. I’ve known a few Christians who make a little “altar” in their homes, putting a cross, a Bible, and other religious objects on a table to be the center of family prayer.

I’m not particularly keen on building “altars,” but the idea of family prayer and family Bible study time seems to be a good start.

Moon and StarsI don’t have any practical suggestions beyond what I just mentioned, and as I’ve already said, this isn’t an option for me personally, but if somehow it were possible to treat our own homes as sacred places, to realize that God dwells among us as we eat dinner, watch TV, help our kids with their homework, read our Bibles, read anything else, surf the web, answer text messages, then maybe, just maybe we’d act differently in our own homes…and everyplace else.

A little bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness.

-Jewish proverb

Can Messianic Judaism Directly Reach Out To Atheists?

An atheist cannot find God for the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman.

-Anonymous

Before anyone becomes upset, I am not saying that atheists are thieves. The quote simply means that an atheist cannot find God, not only because he/she isn’t looking for Him, but also because they are actively avoiding Him, just like a thief would avoid a law enforcement officer.

But it’s an interesting comparison, because if a cop did find a thief in the act of committing a crime, the thief would be “busted.” Once the thief saw the police officer and knew he/she couldn’t get away, they’d be facing the consequences for their actions.

arrestWhat happens when God “catches” an atheist? Well, this is where the metaphor starts to break down, because while God is aware of all human actions, we humans (and this is certainly true of atheists) aren’t always aware of God. Thus, although God sees our “crimes” (and any human action that opposes the will of God is the short definition of “sin,” which is analogous to “crime” in this example), we don’t see him “catching” us.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz posted the above-quoted sentence on this week’s Shabbat Shalom Weekly online column. He also said this:

Recently a friend of mine asked me, “Do you really believe in God?” When I answered “for sure” his response was “really?” Personally, I don’t find it particularly hard to believe that a rabbi believes in God. However, he seemed to be amazed that anyone believes in God.

In our experience at Aish HaTorah (a major international Jewish educational outreach organization), if you ask the young people who come through the doors of our world center in Jerusalem if they believe in God, four out of five will say “no.” What’s fascinating is that if you don’t ask the question directly, it’s possible to demonstrate to them that they do believe in God. Why? They are influenced by the society, the educational system and their friends to think that they don’t believe in God.

Do you want to demonstrate to someone that deep down they not only believe in God, but that they believe that God loves them? Here are the questions to ask…

I highly encourage you to click the link I provided above and read all of Rabbi Packouz’s discussion on how to illuminate anyone (or at least any secular Jew) to investigate their lack of belief in God. It’s really quite interesting (an equally enthralling question is if R. Packouz’s “method” were applied to non-Jews, would they become Noahides?). I’m not sure how it would play out for the rest of us, but on the surface, his arguments are compelling.

He finishes up his column with the following:

How can one intelligently deal with the question of the existence of God? Start on Aish.com and search the articles on “God” and “Evidence of God”. Go to AishAudio.com (search “evidence”) and listen to the four lectures “Evidence of God’s Existence” by Rav Noah Weinberg (the founder and head of Aish HaTorah and my teacher). Also, I highly recommend Permission to Believe by Lawrence Kelemen available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.

chabad
Credit: jewishvenice.org

I’m actually considering buying the Kelemen book (I’ve checked and it’s not available through my local library system), since it would be interesting to see how religious Jews reach out to secular Jews (besides the methods employed by Chabad).

It occurs to me that there’s a vacuum of this sort of information relative to Messianic Judaism.

Oh sure, Christianity’s efforts to evangelize the world are quite well known. If a traditional Christian wanted to know how to reach out to secular people in his/her community, all that person would have to do is approach their Pastor. I’m sure churches give classes on this sort of thing, and I know churches periodically organize their parishioners to canvas their local neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and handing out pamphlets.

But what does Messianic Judaism (and I’m using the term in the widest possible way) do to attract new members and to share their perspective on the “good news of Messiah?”

Just about anyone I’ve ever encountered, either within a Messianic Jewish (MJ) or Hebrew Roots (HR) environment, came to those venues by way of the Christian church. That is, whether they were Jew or Gentile, they first became a Christian and attended one or more churches before something happened to take them away from a particularly Christian viewpoint, and shifting them to a more Judaicly-aware perspective.

Oh, there may have been one or two exceptions, but I feel pretty confident, even based on anecdotal evidence, that most people, Jew and Gentile alike, come to a Judaic interpretation of all of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, only after converting to Christianity. I’m not saying that to be insulting. It just seems to best reflect the reality of how people come to the MJ or HR movements.

Of all of the resources available online and in brick-and-mortar stores, I can’t think of even one single book, audio, or video that teaches people like me how to share the message of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) specifically from a Messianic Jewish perspective.

You may be wondering why some slight adaptation of traditional Christian evangelical methods couldn’t be used. However, Christians and religious Jews see the Bible, God, and faith in fundamentally different ways (Christians tend to be internally based, with their faith hinging on personal beliefs, while Jews tend to be externally based, with their faith being acted out through performance of the mitzvot). Messianic Judaism isn’t just Christianity wearing a kippah. It’s a Judaism that acknowledges the revelation of the Messiah as illustrated in the Apostolic Scriptures, and one that has an unusually liberal policy on Gentile admission.

With all that said, is it even possible to share a Messianic Jewish view of our Rav and what the Bible is saying about him and redemption directly with an atheist, or must Christianity and the Church always be the first step?

encounterActually some time ago, I thought I’d found one such resource. It was either a book or a lecture (or lecture series) on audio CD, but a Google search does nothing to find it. Maybe I was mistaken, or maybe whatever it was has leaked out of my memory for good.

Christians have a well-honed machine for evangelizing as many people as it can reach, and at least some corners of Orthodox Judaism understand how to communicate their faith to secular Jews, but what does Messianic Judaism bring to the table? Instead of appealing to Christians in churches to take a Messianic look at the Bible, at their faith, at their Christ, can they reach out to people who do not have faith at all?

Christians can (which is how I came to faith in the first place). Jews can (and I know of more than one religious Jew who started out as a secular adult, and then became religious). What about Messianic Judaism?