Tag Archives: family

One More Time Back at Church

ChurchI’m sure my regular readers have noticed that I rarely post missives here anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the feeling that I’ve said just about everything I have to say about faith, God, and a non-Jew’s bent toward Jewish learning and worship.

However, changes and challenges continue to come my way. My Dad passed away over two years ago, and even then, my Mom’s memory was beginning to fail. Today, her dementia is quite pronounced and for over a year and a half, she’s been living in an independent residential facility, which has worked out well for her.

However, she was in Southwestern Utah, where she and Dad had decided to retire many years ago, while I live in Idaho and my brother lives in Virginia. It was a nine hour drive one way just for my wife and me to visit her.

Mom’s support continued to dwindle as her peers either moved away or passed away, and especially without Dad, she became very lonely. I finally convinced her to move to Boise so we could be near her and she could see us as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My wife and I researched support systems here and found a very nice independent living home just 15 minutes away from where we live.

With her memory and judgment continuing to deteriorate, she’s had a tough time adjusting, but then, it’s only been about two weeks since she’s arrived. There have been a number of hurtles to cross and we’re managing them as best we can.

One of the commitments I made to Mom was that I would find a Lutheran church for her and go with her to services every Sunday. I haven’t regularly attended church services in almost five years, ever since this happened. I never saw myself worshiping with traditional Christians ever again, but now, I go with Mom.

I took her for the first time last Sunday. She seemed to enjoy it, although she said the sermon was a bit long (I actually enjoyed it for the most part, though mentally, I was making little notes about how it could have been better). She even took communion (I called the church ahead of time and they said it was okay).

I’m taking her again this morning, hence my blog post.

It’s a nice place, relatively small and informal. The pastor and the church have a child-focused ministry, particularly regarding chronically ill children and those in the child welfare system. Not too many older folks at the later service, and when I did my research, I found they don’t have anything senior focused including any outreach.

At Mom’s church in Utah, when Dad was alive, they were very involved, had tons of friends, and participated in a lot of activities. Just before we moved Mom up here, she knew the Pastor and had one of Dad’s old friends give her rides to and from Sunday services, but that was about it (and the so-called “friend” of Dad’s turned out to be a bit of a snake, but that’s another story).

At her current residential home, there are plenty of activities, and thus opportunities for Mom to socialize as long as she takes advantage of them, but if we just go for Sunday services, we’ll arrive, worship, and then leave. No socializing, and Mom really needs to connect with folks.

I’ve thought about taking her to Sunday school before services, but between her dementia and macular degeneration in one eye, she neither reads well nor is able to retain what she reads for more than a minute or so. She wouldn’t even be able to follow along with a Bible study since, in any given conversation, I usually have to answer the same question five or six times or more since she forgets that she’s asked and that I’ve responded.

I know one of the reasons Mom likes the idea of me taking her to church is that it gets me into a church. However, in spite of her intentions, I’m going this time around only for her sake, which means, even if I were to go to a class with her, I’d be keeping my big mouth shut, something I didn’t do the last time I was “churched.”

I don’t know how this is going to work out in the long run, but as long as Mom wants to go to church on Sunday’s, I’ll take her.

I’ve looked at the church’s events calendar online, but besides a Quilter’s Group, there isn’t much for women, plus Mom doesn’t quilt. There’s actually more activities for men and a bunch for kids, but nowhere to plug Mom in.

I’m writing this to “think out loud,” so to speak. Beyond that, I don’t have much of a point.

I sometimes find it amazing and daunting that I’m actually attending services again, but it’s only to serve Mom.

Well, maybe I’ll take a few notes during the sermon just to see what turns up.

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Retiring in Israel?

israelAbout a month or so ago, my wife surprised me again. She doesn’t do that very often. After all, we’ve been married for over 35 years, so we know each other pretty well by now. However, after the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting and several other antisemitic incidents that made the news, she said if it gets much worse, she’d consider having us move to Israel.

Yes, you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.

Her making aliyah and having us move to Israel used to be a dream of mine back in the day, but that was a day when our children were still young and we all would have moved together. My wife and I discussed it and I did a bit of research, but life went on and we never seriously pursued it. My passion for living in “the Land” faded over time, and well, that was that.

Until my wife made her rather earth shattering pronouncement.

She hasn’t mentioned it since, and I haven’t seen her do anything else about it, plus, as my mother ages and her memory continues to deteriorate, the missus has seriously discussed moving my Mom up here from southwestern Utah, and I can only imagine that precludes any further discussion of my wife making aliyah.

To be honest, in addition to my Mom, I don’t think I could make myself leave my grandkids. Oh sure, my son (their Dad) is Jewish and he could make aliyah as well, but I don’t see that in his future, and certainly his ex-wife would prevent their two children from leaving the country on a permanent basis because it would severely inhibit her visitation rights.

But retiring to Israel is an interesting thought. I wasn’t going to write about it, but then, I read an Aish.com article titled Why We Left a Secure Life in the U.S. and Moved to Israel by Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, PhD. Of course, Rabbi Feldman is writing from a Jewish perspective, which doesn’t touch upon what it would be like for a non-Jewish spouse to go through the experience.

I found a news item from 2013 at Haaretz called Does Israel Hassle non-Jewish Spouses?, but it seems more directed at Israeli citizens who marry foreign non-Jews.

At a legal website, I found Aliyah for family members – immigration for non-Jewish nuclear family which was far more informative. The article states in part:

The Law of Return states that “a family member of a Jew” can mean a child or grandchild of a Jew, or the spouse of a Jew, or the child or grandchild to a Jew. The law does not provide for the immigration of other family members, such as siblings or half siblings and grand-grandchildren.

Therefore, if a non-Jewish member of another religion only has a Jewish father, or Jewish grandparents, and does not have a Jewish mother, he or she, would be entitled to immigrate to Israel legally, in accordance with the Law of Return allowing Aliyah for family members. It is important to note that hundreds of thousands of people have made Aliyah to Israel as family members of Jews, despite not being considered Jewish by the law of return, but were eligible for Aliyah as a family member of a Jew.

However, relative to some members of my readership, the article goes on to say:

In fact, in the Supreme Court verdict 2708/06 Steckback v. the Interior Ministry (Court ruling from the 16th of April 2008) it was clearly determined that a Messianic Jew would be entitled to immigrate to Israel, as a family member of a Jew, according to Section 4a(a) of the Law of Return, provided that he or she does not have a Jewish mother.

The same logic would seem to apply to a Messianic Jew/Christian, whose mother converted to Messianic Judaism, or Christianity, or any other religion, before the birth of the person in question. As the mother had converted before the birth of the Aliyah applicant, this individual was not born to a Jewish mother, and would therefore not be defined as a Jew, according to Section 4(b) of the Law of Return.

As I mentioned above, all of this is probably moot. However, my Mom turns 87 this year and although she’s in good physical condition for her age, at some point, she will pass. Also, the grandchildren will grow older, and although I will always love and adore them, they might not need Grandpa and Bubbe as much in ten years. Assuming my wife and I are still alive and healthy then, it’s possible that we may still choose to retire in Israel.

Again, the probability isn’t high, but it’s still non-trivial, so who knows?

But what is life like in Israel for the non-Jewish spouse of a Jew? At this point, I can only wonder.

Excerpt: A Time To Follow Your Heart

Chanukah MenorahA different kind of Chanukah story presented at Powered by Robots.

Sarah stood across the street from her Bubbe’s and Zayde’s house. The evening of December 24th, the first night of Chanukah this year, was cool, even in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood, but she had dressed for the occasion. She made sure the coat she was wearing wouldn’t attract attention in case anyone saw her.

Sarah wished she could get closer. She wished she could just knock on the door and go inside, but she wasn’t supposed to be there and she wasn’t supposed to change anything.

Wait! There they were. She could see them through the window in the front of their house. Bubbe and Zayde. Her big brother Aaron, all of seven years old, was excitedly jumping up and down next to them. Sarah couldn’t hear anything of course, but she could see everyone’s facial expressions and imagined Zayde firmly but kindly helping Aaron to calm down.

Tradition says that the Chanukah menorah must be placed either in a central area of the home or by a window. The latter is to proudly announce that a miracle had occurred and this was the commemoration of that miracle. Sarah was watching her family tonight thanks to a miracle she had created herself.

This tale is more flash fiction than a science fiction short story so you can read all of A Time to Follow Your Heart in just a few minutes. Let me know what you think.

A Psalm for My Dad

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The Lord performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103

I love you, Dad. Get better soon.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Family of God

Hebrews 3:1-6 contrasts and compares the respective stations of Moses and Messiah in the household of God in this sermon about our obligations to one another within the body of Messiah.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Nine: The Family of God
Originally presented on March 2, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster launched into this week’s sermon referencing the Bill Gaither Trio chart The Family of God. I don’t think Lancaster is actually a fan of country gospel music (and I know I’m not), but it must have been about the best way he could think of to introduce his topic.

Let me take a more conventional approach:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:1-6 (NASB)

As always, Lancaster managed to unpack these six small verses, revealing a broad spectrum of hidden meaning.

The “family” part is first addressed in the writer of Hebrews’ use of the term “brethren” or “brothers” to address his audience, but that’s only scratching the surface.

Next, Lancaster takes on “Jesus the Apostle.” We don’t usually think of Jesus as an Apostle but this only means “sent out one” which in Hebrew is “Shalach”, a messenger representing the sender such that he possesses the same authority and identity as the sender. If Jesus were the Shalach of God, then Jesus could perform acts not only in the name of God, but acts that would normally only be performed by God.

Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Genesis 24:1-4 (NASB)

The High PriestYou can read the rest of chapter 24 to get the details, but the servant of Abraham was Abraham’s Shalach, his sent out one. It was as if Abraham himself had returned to his homeland, to the city of Nahor, to seek a bride for Isaac.

Also we see Jesus the High Priest which, according to Lancaster, links to Moses. We don’t usually think of Moses as the High Priest. That’s who Aaron was. But before Aaron was inaugurated as Priest, Moses functioned in that role: both Prophet and High Priest.

Try to keep up because all of these details are important and they are interrelated.

He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.

Hebrews 3:2 (NASB)

Now we return to the theme of “family”. The term “house” can have two meanings: “household” such as the family members and the household servants or slaves, and “house,” meaning the physical structure.

Moreover, I tell you that the Lord will build a house for you. When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.

1 Chronicles 17:10-14 (NASB)

This is God addressing David through the prophet Nathan. King David wanted to build God a house, a physical structure, the Temple, but God responded by telling David that He, God, would build a house for David, a household, a Davidic dynasty, and it would be the Son of David, Solomon, who would build God’s house, and God would be a Father to Solomon and Solomon would be a Son to God.

This is just packed with information, and I bet you didn’t think David would be entering the picture here.

Another scripture is necessary to flesh this out.

Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household…

Numbers 12:7 (NASB)

Apprehending most of the rest of the verses I originally quoted from Hebrews 3 above, We see the passage from 1 Chronicles 17 also containing a double meaning of Son of David as Solomon and as Messiah. God not only builds the House of David through Solomon as the Davidic Kingship leading to Messiah, but the Messiah, Son of David will build a household for God…the body of Messiah, for that body is also the Temple of God.

TempleIt’s important to note right here that the household, that is the people living in the structure, don’t actually replace the structure. That would be insane. It would be like a family coming to their house one evening, leveling the entire building, and then trying to go to sleep that night in the hole left behind. So too does the “family of God” built by Messiah not replace the actual physical house of God, and remember, from Lancaster’s point of view, the Epistle to the Hebrews was composed while Herod’s Temple was still standing.

Now, why must Messiah be established as superior to Moses? The standard Christian interpretation is supersessionistic. The grace of Jesus is greater than the Torah of Moses and thus replaces the Torah. That’s what we’ve all been taught. But as Lancaster says, that’s not what the writer is trying to say.

We have yet again another Kal VaChomer or light to heavy argument. It’s as if the writer is saying, if Abraham, Moses, and the Angels are all highly exalted and esteemed in holiness, how much more so is the Messiah highly exalted and esteemed in holiness?

Moses is the faithful servant of the household but the servant isn’t the heir.

Sinai is tall and exceedingly awesome but Messiah is taller than Sinai. How can Messiah in the form of a man be taller than Sinai? Sounds like Midrash, doesn’t it? The answer is that Messiah is standing on summit of Sinai. All that Messiah is, if you will, is built on Sinai, built on the Torah, the culmination of Torah, the perfection of Torah. Jesus is the capstone, the stone placed at the top juncture of the structure of Torah, holding it all together and yet also being the pinnacle.

Jesus doesn’t complete Torah by replacing it but by perfecting it, by living a perfected life through Torah.

Recall earlier sermons that said the intent of this letter was to warn the Jewish audience who were in danger of losing access to the Temple in Jerusalem that they were not to let that distract them from what is greater than the Temple, Messiah. The letter’s audience were also the household, the Temple of God built by Messiah, gathered together, as family, as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters.

Again, the household does not replace the house but what good is there in an empty house? The house needs a household. They go together. And even when the physical Temple doesn’t exist, the family is still together, but the structure, if the household didn’t exist, is just an empty shell.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster’s sermon reminded me somewhat of what I wrote about recently in Fellowship: What I Learned in Church. Part of who we are in Messiah is united, we’re family, even when we fuss and feud with each other, we defend each other when threatened by those outside the family. That’s what fellowship means. It’s more than having friends at church, it is our family in Messiah, we are brothers and sisters through our faith.

UnityI always thought Christians calling each other “Brother Fred” or “Sister Sally” sounded kind of dumb, but it’s an expression of what Lancaster is trying to say, and what I believe the writer of Hebrews was trying to say to his audience. Family members encourage each other when there are hard times, and the Hellenistic Jews in and around Jerusalem were going through hard times in the years just before the Temple’s destruction.

Lancaster said that being a disciple of the Master was like getting married. You may become a believer because of who the Messiah is, kind of like falling in love, and in this way it’s just like a man and woman getting married. But you don’t just marry the person, you marry their family. Anyone who’s been married for more than a few weeks or a few months (and I’ve been married for almost thirty-two years) knows what I mean. Even if you love your spouse, if they have “problem” family members, you can’t just treat those people like strangers or acquaintances. They’re family whether you want them to be or not.

That’s probably one of the most difficult things about church for some people, loving God and worshiping Jesus at church (the structure) but having to put up with some pretty pesky “family members” in church (the household).

The second of the two greatest commandments of the Master (Matthew 22:39 citing Leviticus 19:18) is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), just about anyone is your “neighbor,” so we are called upon to love everyone.

But there is another love the Master mentions and even commands:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

John 13:34 (NASB)

How did Jesus love his disciples? How did Jesus love the world? By giving his life for them. It is this heightened commandment to love that we are to have for each other as believers, as disciples, and as brothers and sisters.

That’s a tall order for people who sometimes don’t even like each other.

A little over four months ago, I wrote on the topic of apostasy, particularly criticizing those in our little corner of the blogosphere who feel perfectly free to rake anyone over the coals publicly who have dared to leave the faith for any reason whatsoever.

Lancaster mentioned in the closing moments of his sermon that when family leaves us or is taken from us…if we lose a brother or a sister, it’s incredibly painful. If you have a brother or a sister in your actual family, imagine if that person died. How would you feel losing a member of your own family, someone you grew up with, someone you fought with, someone who, in spite of everything, was part of you and you were part of them?

The brideHow would you feel if they got fed up with the family and left, or they became incredibly discouraged by the family and left? Would you be hurt? Would you be angry? Would you be insulted?

I think that’s part of what inspired the tremendous backlash I witnessed a few months ago when a brother left the family. Sure, he had reasons, probably very good reasons. He’s found or rediscovered a family and I’m not writing to debate his decision.

The writer of Hebrews was addressing what Lancaster believes to be a profoundly discouraged group of Jewish believers in Jerusalem who were at severe risk of leaving the faith of Messiah. From their point of view, they probably had good reasons for moving in that direction as well, but the letter’s writer was begging them not to.

“Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession,” he said. Consider Jesus. Consider who he is and who you are in him. Sure, times are tough. You love the Temple and it is being taken from you by those who do not love our Master. But consider Jesus. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Persevere for the sake of he who is greater than Abraham, greater than Moses, greater than even the Angels through whom the Torah was delivered to the Israelites and ultimately to mankind.

Moses was the faithful servant in God’s House, and Messiah is the faithful Son over God’s House. They both gave their lives for the sake of God’s household, God’s people, God’s family. Though we are not exalted to the level of the Master nor to the level of Moses, yet are we not also asked to give all that we have for the sake of our Father in Heaven and for each other as family? Are we not the Bride of Christ?

The Boy in the Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainIn a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”

-Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities”
Torah.org

My four-and-a-half year old grandson keeps calling me from my Sukkah. Actually, he keeps phoning me from my Sukkah, calling me at work. OK, he’s only done it twice, and he had Bubbe’s (my wife’s) help doing it.

The first time was actually a day or so before the festival began. He and Bubbe were lunching in the Sukkah and he called me to invite me over. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my job right then, but agreed to join him later that afternoon. The second time was a few days later, still at the same time of day. He wanted to know why “Uncle Mikey” (one of my sons) wasn’t answering his phone. I explained that “Uncle Mikey” was probably in school (university) and couldn’t answer the phone.

The kid really wants more company in my Sukkah. And that’s a good thing.

This is the season of joy for Jewish people. The days of judgment have passed and there is great celebration in or rather outside many Jewish homes, eating, and singing, and dancing, all for the sake of the Torah and Hashem.

As I write this (on Friday before Shabbos), I have yet to take a meal in my own Sukkah (Note: On Shabbos I started taking my meals in the Sukkah). I almost did last night, but my wife and I had a conversation on a serious subject while making dinner and, both being distracted, we sat down at the kitchen table for our meal and were eating before I realized we’d missed eating in the Sukkah together.

I thought about breakfast or at least coffee this morning in the Sukkah, but it was still dark outside and after coming back from the gym, my son (in this case, David) and I were in a rush to get ready for work.

As Rabbi Hoffman suggests, I need to get my priorities straight. Obviously, my grandson already has his up to snuff, since he’s eating every day in the Sukkah and trying to invite others to do the same.

landonAnd I’m pretty sure that at his age, he doesn’t really grasp Sukkot yet.

But who knows?

It’s Friday before Shabbos, but you won’t read this until Monday morning (or later). I’m hoping I can get all the kids over on Sunday for a meal. Everyone has different schedules so it isn’t easy to gather together in our home regularly. But just once this week, it would be nice to eat with the family in the Sukkah (Note: As it turned out, everyone had plans away from our home on Sunday, including my wife…ah, maybe next year).

It is said in Machzor of Succos, “I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.” It is said in the Siddur, “I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment…” It is said in Isaiah 11:6 “And a little boy will lead them.”

And so, we should follow.