Tag Archives: fellowship

The Necessity of Messianic Jewish Community

Orthodox Judaism is the approach to religious Judaism which adheres to the interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Tanaim and Amoraim and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim.

-from the Wikipedia page on Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism is not a unified movement with a single governing body, but many different movements adhering to common principles. All of the Orthodox movements are very similar in their observance and beliefs, differing only in the details that are emphasized. They also differ in their attitudes toward modern culture and the state of Israel. They all share one key feature: a dedication to Torah, both Written and Oral.

-from Jewish Virtual Library

Note that the image above and all other images of Jewish people in this blog post are not specifically Messianic Jews. I say this so there will be no mistaken attributions assumed.

There have been some conversations going in the discussion sections of a number of my blog posts. They’re too numerous to reference here, but the general themes have to do with Messianic Jewish community, the role of Gentiles within a Messianic Jewish community space, Bilateral Ecclesiology, and just how “Jewish” Messianic Judaism should be.

Opinions span a broad spectrum as the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots movements do themselves, but this morning, I read a rather interesting article that got my attention:

The Orthodox Jewish community has a certain mystique.

Whether it’s because we look, act or believe differently, people are intrigued by stories about the Orthodox Jewish community. Media outlets often oblige but whenever I read these stories, they don’t quite resonate with me. They don’t look like the Orthodox community I know. So I’d like to share a few things that happened to me over the last year that give a more accurate insight into the real Orthodox Jewish community.

My wife and I have experienced fertility problems. We thankfully had been blessed with two children but as they grew older we had been trying for some time to have another child to no avail. One day I was speaking with my rabbi about our situation and I conveyed to him that my wife and I wanted to pursue fertility treatments but because of the steep cost, we were having second thoughts. A few days later my rabbi said that he spoke with an anonymous individual with means in the Jewish community who had agreed to sponsor fertility treatment for young Jewish couples if they could not afford it. He would not know who we were and we would not know who he was. He was motivated purely out of a sense of loyalty to the continuity of the Jewish People.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

-Shimon Rosenberg
“The Orthodox Community I Know”
Aish.com

As I read through Mr. Rosenberg’s story about “the Orthodox Community I know,” I was struck by how different this would probably seem to most people who aren’t part of this community, and especially to Christians. Even those Christians who are supportive of the Jewish people and of Israel, don’t always understand (how could they?) Orthodox Judaism in general and the devotion of individual people in Orthodox Judaism to their community, lifestyle, and commitments in specific. And even most Jewish people who are not Orthodox don’t always understand the Orthodox.

Seven years ago, had I encountered the woman I am today, I would have pitied her: long sleeves and an ankle-length skirt in the middle of summer; no driving, writing, talking on the phone or cooking from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday; recently married to a man she’d never touched — not so much as a peck on the cheek — until after the wedding. I’d have cringed and dismissed this woman as a Repressed Religious Nut. Now my pity — or at least a patient smile — is for that self-certain Southern California girl I was at 25.

-Andrea Kahn
“What’s a Nice Cosmo Girl Like You Doing With An Orthodox Husband?”
Aish.com

See what I mean?

Christians especially see Orthodox Jews as rule-bound, rigid, odd (to say the least), and on a path that will certainly lead them to Hell. After all, no one can be made righteous through their own acts as we see here:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Isaiah 64:6 (NASB)

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

On that point, Derek Leman recently wrote a blog post called Our Deeds Are Not Filthy Rags which illuminates this matter and adds quite a wrinkle to the traditional Christian interpretation of the Isaiah verse. Also, Jacob Fronczak’s article “Sola Fide” in the latest issue of Messiah Journal deepens the exploration into this important topic.

I’m not trying to create a commentary on the nature of “salvation” and the differences between Christianity and Judaism, I’m just saying that we can’t automatically dismiss how Orthodox Jewish people (or any Jewish community) see their own relationship with God.

My friend Gene Shlomovich made a similar observation today on his blog:

So, the reason G-d chose Israel is because He already loved them and has promised their forefathers that He will take care of them. Does it make Jews somehow better than any other people? Not at all and it’s not the reason behind G-d’s love for Israel. After all, one parent’s child is not inherently better than a child of another parent. Your child is no more deserving of love than someone else’ – she is just yours. G-d loves Israel not because He has some grand plan and purpose for Israel (even though He does) or because Israel will proclaim her G-d and His Torah to all nations (which she certainly will). Neither did G-d set His affections on Israel because, as Christianity claims, “Israel was chosen to give birth to Jesus” and “to give nations the Gospel”, a useful tool that can be discarded once the chief purpose has been accomplished. No, these are all conditional reasons. G-d didn’t set His love on Israel because Israel was somehow capable of earning G-d’s love by her performance. Instead, G-d loves Israel because He loves Israel – that’s all there’s to it.

Depending on which denomination of Christianity you belong to or to which Christian doctrine concerning the Jewish people and Israel you adhere, you may actually believe that God still loves Israel and has future plans for her, but it’s really all about “the Church.” God may still use Israel, but their relationship isn’t what it once was, and God really loves the Church best.

I’m oversimplifying that viewpoint of course. I don’t have time to go into all of the details and you don’t want to read a ten-thousand word blog post.

But look at this:

Nine months later we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

The excitement began early Friday morning and as the day progressed I started thinking about Shabbat. What would we eat? How would I recite Kiddush? Light candles? I remembered hearing about an organization called Bikkur Cholim which means “visiting the sick.” It’s a volunteer-driven charity that looks after the needs of people in hospital. I called them and within a couple of hours someone came to our hospital room with literally bags of food, grape juice for Kiddush, electric candles to serve as Shabbat candles, even spices for havdallah. The food is free and the person delivering it is a volunteer. In the few moments I had to speak with him I learned that he was just a regular guy — an accountant — who takes off Fridays from work to volunteer for Bikkur Cholim. I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

-Rosenberg

I’m talking about not just God’s love for Israel, but within the Orthodox Jewish community, one Jew’s love for another as well as the community’s love for one Jewish family.

I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

Jewish Man PrayingThat’s the Orthodox Jewish community most of us, particularly in the Church, don’t see.

No, I’m not saying Orthodox Judaism as a practice or a community is perfect. The fact that it contains human beings means it will, by definition, be imperfect, just as any other form of Judaism will be imperfect, just as any of the estimated 41,000 Christian denominations and their members will be imperfect, just as any human community anywhere across time and space was, is, and will be imperfect.

Jews don’t need to be perfect for G-d to be on their side – G-d already loves them as His own people and nothing can ever change it. No doubt, He has disciplined us when we sinned, and He did that many times. However, at the same time, He’s very merciful. He promised that He will not be angry with us forever (Isaiah 57:16). As that Deuteronomy prophecy promised us G-d Himself will “circumcise” the hearts of all Israel after He brings them to the Land. When He does, all Jews will be Torah-observant, to the last one.

-Shlomovich

The statement that Jews don’t need to be perfect for God to love them, particularly in Orthodox Judaism, might take some Christians by surprise. It is generally thought by some of the Christians I know that Jews believe they have to perform the mitzvot perfectly in order to please God.

Again, I’m steering clear of the whole “salvation” issue, and I’m instead talking about love. Please don’t try to “bust my chops” about Christians being saved and Jewish people not being saved. It’s not what I’m writing about and I won’t approve any comments on the topic.

But what does all this have to do with Messianic Judaism?

It has been argued by many non-Jews affiliated in one way or another with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots, that the “Jewishness” of Messianic Judaism should be toned down a bit. Those Jewish people in the Messianic movement who advocate for wholly Jewish communities for disciples of Yeshua as Messiah are putting Judaism first and Messiah second. I myself have quoted Troy Mitchell of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship as saying:

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Of course, I usually aim that quote at non-Jews who are so enamored with Jewish practices that they leave faith in Jesus entirely and convert to Judaism, usually Orthodox Judaism. You’d think, given that, I wouldn’t be trying to paint such a rosy picture of Orthodox Judaism here.

But, on the outside looking in, we often criticize things we don’t understand. It’s easy for Christians or just about anyone else to be critical of Orthodox Judaism because we are outsiders. We aren’t like them. We’ve been taught that we should never be like them, and if we tried (by converting or otherwise affiliating with the Jewish community), we would lose our salvation and God’s love.

From an Orthodox Jewish point of view (not that I have that point of view, I just quote articles), God loves Orthodox Jews and, referencing Shimon Rosenberg, Orthodox Jews love each other.

Applied to the Jewish people within the various circles of Messianic Judaism, they are also loved by God and they are also Jews who love each other, both within their specific Jewish communities, and identifying with larger and even worldwide Jewry. That doesn’t mean Yeshua plays second-fiddle to Messianic Judaism anymore than Hashem plays second-fiddle to Orthodox Judaism. From an outsider’s point of view, it seems like an Orthodox Jew’s devotion is to the “rules” first and the will of God second, but as I quoted above:

I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

The mitzvot, especially those that are performed for the well-being of other people, are done because ”it’s what God wants of us.”

JewishMost non-Jews in Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, and probably not a few Jewish people in those groups believe that it’s unBiblical, racist, and just plain wrong for Jews in Messianic Judaism to desire a community that is primarily or exclusively Jewish. The fact that Gentiles are “grafted-in” to the Jewish community, once called “the Way” and are considered equal co-participants in God’s love make it almost unthinkable that God would still reserve a “specialness” for the Jewish people and that God would not only tolerate but expect that Jews feel a “specialness” for each other.

Gentiles feel excluded by this sentiment among believing Jews. They (we) feel like we are rejected, inferior, second-class citizens, and “back of the bus” riders traveling on the road to the Kingdom.

To counter this, I can see at some point, a Messianic Jewish writer composing and publishing a small article called ”The Messianic Jewish Community I Know,” describing why it is important to have such a Jewish community for Messianic Jews. Granted, the uniqueness of Messianic Judaism when compared to the other Judaisms in our day (or historically), makes it more difficult to operationalize Jewish community within the larger community of disciples of Messiah, and I think we’re still working that out.

But the consequences of failing to support Jewish community within Messianic Judaism can be (and have been) disastrous.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

Romans 11:13-16 (NRSV)

According to Mark Nanos in his classic text The Mystery of Romans, the problem Paul was addressing in his letter were Gentiles who were flaunting their “freedom” (not being obligated to Torah observance to the level of the Jews) to the Messianic and non-Messianic Jewish populations of local synagogues in Rome, acting as a “stumbling block,” especially for the non-believing Jews who, because of Gentile arrogance, were inhibited from considering, let alone accepting, faith in Yeshua.

While the Nanos view would be considered controversial by many Christians, it does explain Paul’s rather harsh rebuke or even threat (Romans 11:21) to the “grafted in” branches. Paul was passionate for his people, the Jewish people, even his opponents, and Paul said he would surrender his own salvation if it would save some of them (Romans 9:3).

The Jewish PaulPaul never abandoned his people and God never abandoned Israel. We, as non-Jews, may not understand Jewish “choseness” but it exists. We, as non-Jews may not understand the need for Jewish people to have community specifically within a wholly Jewish context, but it exists. I live it out. I live with a Jewish wife. She needs to be a part of our local Jewish community and even though it is sometimes uncomfortable for me, she needs for me to not be a part of that community.

Admittedly, other intermarried couples share synagogue life, even within Orthodox Judaism (look at Chabad), but given my background in Hebrew Roots and my current relationships within different aspects of Messianic Judaism and normative Christianity (and the fact that our little corner of Idaho makes it difficult to be anonymous), it’s best for her that we have a clean line separating me from that part of her life.

I think it’s because I can see that line on a highly personal level and that I’ve gone through the struggle of making it OK for that line to exist and even to be necessary for my Jewish wife, that I can see the necessity for an exclusively Jewish community within the body of Messiah, too.

Humanity, when completely unbound by G-d’s Laws, when unrestrained by fear of Him, when viewing their fellow human beings not as created in G-d’s image but as an unprofitable animals to be destroyed is at its absolute worst. Unshackled from the divine, humanity is driven to satisfy the desires of its lower, animalistic nature. In such a state, human beings have the capacity to do much evil in their rebellion against the Almighty. Since there’s nothing they can do to G-d Himself, evil people can only resort to rejecting, despising and destroying everything that G-d loves and holds dear. This is why, I believe, Jews have suffered so much during the Holocaust and have been an object of hatred everywhere they went and to this very day. Their identification as the people loved and chosen by G-d has made them the perennial target for the worst humanity has to offer.

-Shlomovich

Gene wrote that in response to the question, ”If G-d is with Jews, why did the Holocaust happen?” Maybe I’m being extreme applying it to the current context, but I believe just because we don’t always understand the relationship God has with the Jewish people and that the Jewish people have with each other, we shouldn’t discount it, either. And as Christians, we absolutely should do nothing to destroy Jewish people and Jewish community. We have been warned.

In Jeremiah 31:3, God said to Israel ”I have loved you with an everlasting love,” and in John 13:34, Jesus gave his Jewish disciples a new commandment to love one another as he loved them. Christians generally apply that “new” commandment to themselves (ourselves), the commandment of self-sacrificial love, but I don’t want to set aside the immediate context in which Jesus uttered these words. He was talking to Jewish disciples within his Jewish community. He knew each and every one of them would suffer and all but John would die in excruciating ways for the sake of Heaven. That’s the kind of love the Jewish Messiah and Rabbi from Nazareth wanted each member of his Jewish community to have for all the other Jewish members.

Again, that doesn’t mean this commandment doesn’t have wider implications, but even Paul, the emissary to the Gentiles went ”first to the Jew” (Romans 1:16 for instance), because the Gospel message, the “good news” of the Kingdom of God, belongs first to the Jew and then also to the rest of the world.

In a comment on one of Derek Leman’s blog posts, I said:

That gets back to the one statement you made among your list of questions: “Maybe what they were impassioned about was the hereafter, the blessed age to come, not so much the Messiah.” In my opinion, the focus really wasn’t so much about the afterlife or eternity, but the restoration of Israel under the Messianic King, who would return the exiles, rebuild the Temple, teach Torah, and bring peace to all the nations of the world, with Israel as the head.

That’s something to be impassioned about in my humble opinion.

Christian and JewishIt’s not comfortable to belong to a group where certain members are more special than you are, especially if their being special has to do with an inborn trait such as, in this case, being Jewish. There’s no way to acquire being Jewish except through conversion, so we can never attain that particular position of being special. We can never fully belong to that group in a way that is identical to what the members of that group have between each other.

We Christians balk at that, in part, because anyone can become a Christian and Jewish Christians in the church (as opposed to Jews in Messianic Judaism) are just like everyone else, identical in role, function, and identity. That’s actually not a good thing, and I have had more than one Jewish person tell me that Jewish conversion to Christianity is just finishing the Holocaust that Hitler started.

Which is a really good reason why Messianic Jewish communities for Messianic Jews is so important and so necessary.

I have no desire to participate in any attempt to remove Jewish people as a distinctive people and community from the face of the Earth. That would be like wanting to remove the Jewish identities and specialness of my wife and three children, and frankly, I wish they were more observant and more mindful of their distinctiveness as Jews. This isn’t to say that I don’t want them to also embrace Messiah, but that’s out of my hands for lots and lots of reasons. I must trust in God that He loves my wife and children, not just because He loves human beings, but because He loves Jews.

Paul said “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). He also said ”If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy” (Romans 11:16), meaning (I believe) if the first fruits, that is, the first Jews to come to faith in Yeshua are holy, all Jewish people, all the branches, are holy. While the Church struggles with the plain meaning of that text, I find it gives me some strength and assurance that God won’t throw the Jewish people in general and my Jewish family in specific under some cosmic bus just for giggles. I trust the Apostle Paul that he was using those words to caution arrogant Gentile believers in the Jewish synagogues in Rome that the calluses on the Jewish heart for Messiah will one day be made smooth and they will be healed.

In the end, all I have is my faith in God that, for the sake of the Jewish people, my Jewish people, my family, they will also be healed and saved.

In the meantime, I accept that there are some places my wife must go that I cannot and should not follow. And as objectionable and offensive as some members of my readership (and beyond) find the term “bilateral ecclesiology” and the concepts behind it, I ask that you try to see Jewish people and Jewish community requirements from my point of view, even if you can’t see it from theirs.

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?

What I Learned in Church Today: Fellowship

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14 (NASB)

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—-and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—-what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:1-3 (NASB)

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon. Pastor Dave gave a sermon on Christian fellowship based on 1 John 1 and 2 (Pastor Randy had been out-of-town all week at a conference and wasn’t able to prepare a sermon for today). Pastor Dave doesn’t give sermons very often but I think he did a really good job at this one. I found that he was touching on many Jewish concepts, probably without realizing it. He spoke of walking in darkness or light 1 John 1:6-7 which I associated with halachah or the way to properly “walk” in lived obedience to God. He also talked about how God as light doesn’t mean like a light bulb, but as something that reveals what was once hidden, which brought me back to D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on Purim, which I reviewed yesterday.

Further, he talked about how Christian fellowship should be more than just liking each other and getting along. It should be more than just getting together over football and beer (my words, not Dave’s). It should be fellowship surrounding a core of our common faith and identity as Christians. That, to me, is really Jewish:

Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent” (Isaiah 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: This is the table that is before G-d” (Ezekiel 41:22).

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 3:3

But he also spoke of the heart and from the heart about fellowship. Just being in church with fellow believers doesn’t mean you have fellowship or at least, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always feel like you have fellowship.

Man aloneThat point really spoke to me because I don’t have a lot of what I consider true fellowship in church…and it’s probably my fault.

Everyone is friendly and approachable, but I know if I let myself off my chain and really start talking about what I think and believe relative to the Bible, a lot of those people won’t want fellowship with me, or they will think I’m deluded or a heretic or something that would make fellowship impossible. He even said the very words I sometimes think:

“I don’t have any real friends at church.”

That’s not exactly true. I do have one, Pastor Randy. I’m friendly with many others, but outside of Sunday services, for the most part, we never see each other. If I had left church after the sermon, I probably would have been depressed.

But I went to Sunday school where, for this week, we departed from studying Acts and focused on Ephesians 1. I recently learned that if I have any serious questions about the lesson, mentioning them to the teacher before class begins is really helpful. He has more time to respond and I don’t think he feels so much “under the gun” since it’s just him and me.

I was having a tough time with his notes trying to figure out what his point was. It wasn’t until he started class that I realized it had a lot to do with what I’m learning from D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews and especially a concept I’m going to explore in tomorrow’s review. How Jesus could have all authority over literally everything granted to him at the ascension when he sat down at the right hand of the Father, and yet we barely see a glimmer of that reality in the day-to-day world around us.

His lesson worked over various bits and verses of scripture, but I was taking the entire chapter and to some degree the entire letter as a single unit, trying to summarize in my head why Paul even wrote the epistle and what his overarching message might be to Ephesus.

How can we have all spiritual blessings now and have authority to rule with Jesus and at the same time be mere mortal creatures struggling just to survive and discover some sort of meaning for our existence here and now?

Adult Sunday SchoolAnd then, when one of the people in class asked me a question in response to something I’d said, the answer hit me, but visually. I quickly asked permission to use the whiteboard, hopped up, and drawing a few pictures, gave a sixty second lesson on God’s perspective vs. ours and how I saw Ephesians 1 being some sort of bridge between the two.

I think I made the teacher nervous for a moment because he asked how long I was going to take. I told him “less than a minute,” which calmed him down, and afterward, he jokingly said that he might have to put me to work doing some teaching.

I know he was kidding and I also know that Pastor Randy would never sanction me to do any teaching in the church, since he knows what we agree and especially what we disagree on, but it felt good to “teach” again, even if it was just for a few seconds. I also felt that momentarily, I was part of the flow of transaction in the class. After class ended, I stopped to talk with the teacher and another fellow for about fifteen minutes, including sharing just a little about how “Jewish” some of the concepts Pastor Dave presented in his sermon. Every once in a while, I get the opportunity to drop a little pebble in the pond with the hope that the ripples it makes will be productive.

As I was leaving, I was able to chat with Pastor Randy for a bit, mainly over further suggestions I have for the church’s website (which I built to replace their previous and archaic web presence). He had to rush off to a Deacon’s meeting, but as I left church today, I felt a little lighter, a little brighter than on other such occasions.

I have to admit that I’ve been afraid of fellowship at the church, of becoming really involved, because of what I thought the impact would be on me and particularly how my wife would see it, not that she’d complain. Naturally, I have no problem at all with her involvement with our local Jewish community and it’s right for her, as a Jew, to be involved with other Jews. But letting the door swing both ways, I worry that she’ll be put off by being Jewish and yet having not only a husband who’s a Goy, but a Christian…one of those.

If I invest in fellowship in the church, what does it do to my wife’s feelings? We live in a fairly small community. Word gets around. How many of her Jewish friends already know I go to a church and what do they think? Not that I’m overly concerned about what people think, but I am concerned about how who I am affects her relationship with other Jewish people, especially if that affect is “damaging” in some way.

But if I don’t invest in fellowship in the church, then what am I doing at church? How will I be able to make a significant and positive contribution if I don’t develop relationships and interactions that go beyond merely attending services and Sunday school? Pastor Dave called fellowship vital not optional.

He also asked a funny question that has a serious answer, which is at the heart of my fears. Apparently Pastor Dave is a naturally friendly guy and he can’t imagine not getting along with someone or someone not getting along with him. He asked why we sometimes fail to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our relationships at church. The following quote, I have no idea where it came from originally, popped into my head:

The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

In spite of Stephen McAlpine’s rebuttal, there are plenty of people who can say they’ve been “burned” by church. Given my own theological bent, I can expect to be rejected if I dropped too much information to too many people about my understanding of the Bible vs. what is typically taught by Evangelicals.

Good SamaritanBut there’s another answer I could give to Pastor Dave, and it’s another cliché of a sort, but I think it’s a useful one. Sometimes atheists will say that “religion is just a crutch” to which the cliché response is “but everyone is limping, or beaten, or bleeding.”

But it’s not religion that’s a crutch in the functional sense, but fellowship. One of the functions of fellowship, of friendship, of family, is when you’ve been knocked to the ground, and you’re having trouble getting back up, someone is there to help you. Fellowship in Christ is walking the path the Master set before us when he said this:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NASB)

So fellowship in Christ not only helps us support one another when we are “limping,” but it is a direct public witness that we are Christians obeying the command of our Master by being loving.

It’s risky. Any participation in a community of people is risky. But Christian fellowship is supposed to be worth a few risks and may be the only way, or one of the only ways to encounter God as part of the body of Messiah.

Joseph was a stranger in a strange land, even as he held royal power and authority in Egypt. Moses was raised in Egypt and was a stranger in Midian, where he found a wife and raised two sons. The Torah admonishes the Israelites in how they treat strangers because they too were once strangers and aliens in Egypt.

In many ways, I’m also a stranger in a strange land, a Christian who doesn’t fit very well into a Christian church, someone who finds Adon Olam in a siddur more familiar than anything in a hymnal.

But it’s my fault. If I am to accept the challenge of fellowship, then I have to take risks, well, more risks than I’ve already taken. I just don’t know where the path will lead, the price not only I, but my family will have to pay, and how to do my best to not hurt anyone and to avoid the obvious trapdoors and pitfalls involved in “mixing” theologies, relationships, and identities.

What I learned in church today.

Shalom Aleichem

Shalom_AleichemShalom aleichem is a greeting version in Hebrew, meaning “peace be upon you” (literally: “peace to you”). The appropriate response is “aleikhem shalom” Yiddish: עליכם־שלום , or “upon you be peace”.

This form of greeting is traditional among Jews throughout the world. The greeting is more common amongst Ashkenazi Jewish. It first found in Bereishit (Genesis) 43:23 and occurs six times in the Jerusalem Talmud. Only the plural form is used even when addressing one person. A religious explanation for this is that one greets both the body and the soul, but Hebrew does occasionally use the plural as a sign of respect (e.g. a name of God is Elohim אלוהים literally gods).

-from Wikipedia.

I was sitting in my Sunday school class getting ready for the discussion and mentally dissecting the sermon given by one of the Associate Pastor’s half an hour before when I woman I’d never met before walked up to me and said, “Shalom aleichem.” I was momentarily taken aback, but I returned the same greeting and we struck up a conversation. I started talking about how “Jewish” the Messiah would be upon his return and that a lot of people would be surprised when he returned as the Jewish King, ruling with a rod of iron from Jerusalem. We discussed how “every knee will bow” in acknowledgement of the King, not because they reasoned it out or even because their hearts became soft to God, but because Messiah is King! He will rule the world. It will be obvious.

Strange conversation but it’s not the point of this missive.

We got back around to her interesting way of greeting me. I told her I had assumed that she said it because she knew my wife and kids were Jewish. That wasn’t it. She had no idea who I was and who my family is. She isn’t Jewish either and doesn’t speak Hebrew, so that’s not it. In fact, she’s a fairly traditional Christian. I’m not sure Kathy (that’s her name) really knew why she greeted me with “Shalom aleichem.” Understanding that, I assumed it was something God had to say to me in relation to my recent cultural and spiritual hollowness. I think it was God’s way of saying to me that I’m not as disconnected and isolated as I think.

That said, Sunday school class was “interesting” but sometimes in an almost dismaying way. That’s only because of something called Bible Study Fellowship and a fellow named John MacArthur, whose interpretation of the Bible is heavily leveraged by our Sunday school teacher Dean.

Dean’s a nice guy. I like him. He’s not always very flexible, though. He tends to take MacArthur and run with him, so to speak, forgetting that Bible interpretation isn’t the same thing as established and immutable fact. How Dean tied 1 Peter 3:18-20, Chapter 12 of Revelation and the “demon possessed humans” in Genesis 6:1-4 made me almost chew my tongue right off (metaphorically…my tongue is quite intact, thank you very much).

Shalom aleichem vs. the “culture” of Bible Study Fellowship. Oh my.

But I was reminded that a significant portion of our class time was spent praying for others. For people with cancer. For people who are out of work. For people who are old and slowly dying. And more than that, we talked and planned how we, as human beings, would be the answer to the prayers we could answer (we can’t cure cancer, but we can offer other assistance). Part of the lesson from 1 Peter 3 was all about being people designed to help others, how God would enable us to do what we thought we couldn’t do, how we should be eager to do good, how we would be blessed and yes, how we would be sometimes punished, just for doing good.

seeking-peaceOne guy gave a reasonable description of Tikkun Olam without ever having heard the term before. Really, he reminded me of a Rabbinic commentary I’d read recently. Something about how we are all created in the image of God and in His image, we are designed to do good. Only the “brokenness” of the world and our own “brokenness” get in the way.

At the end of class, Charlie, the guy sitting next to me, said he admired my ability to keep quiet when I obviously had something to say (good thing I don’t play poker). That helped to defuse some of my frustration at MacArthur and how he was being applied. Yes, there are other opinions besides MacArthur’s, but the flip side to some of these little puzzles we discuss is that what we are really supposed to be doing as children of God and disciples of the Master isn’t hard to figure out. Charlie also reminded me that we have this sign out in the foyer to the church:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

God is listening to me after all, He’s paying attention…and He responded to me today.

Shalom aleichem.

157 days.

Where Do We Go From Here?

jewish-family-lifeQuestion: I need a good book on Judaism. My wife is Jewish and I recently found out that I am, too! We want to raise our kids Jewish. I have read extensively on the subjects of philosophy, religion and psychology. I need something with some real meat, not a yawn intro book.

The Aish Rabbi Replies: The first place to start, of course, is with the all-time bestseller, the Bible. It is not a yawn! I recommend the “Stone Chumash” (artscroll.com), because it will give you a proper Jewish translation plus extensive commentary.

Jewish life is based largely around the calendar year. “The Book of Our Heritage” by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (feldheim.com) is a classic work, featuring a lively and scholarly explanation of all the laws and customs of the Jewish holidays.

An understanding of history is also integral. Rabbi Ken Spiro has written an excellent book filled with facts and anecdotes – “Crash Course in Jewish History” explores the 4,000 years of Jewish existence from Abraham to Zionism, while answering the great questions: Why have the Jewish people been so unique, so impactful, yet so hated and so relentlessly persecuted?

Finally, I suggest you start in earnest by attending a Discovery seminar. It provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy, and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit http://www.aish.com/dis/

May the Almighty guide you and your family on the path to Jewish fulfillment.

“Home Study”
From the “Ask the Rabbi” archives
Aish.com

Seems pretty straightforward, necessary, and praiseworthy. A gentleman who has recently discovered he is halachically Jewish and who is married to a Jewish wife wants to establish a Jewish family life. While the person in question wasn’t raised in a Jewish household and apparently spent most of his life believing he wasn’t Jewish, the fact that he married a Jewish woman and then recently discovered he is a Jew has had a profound affect on him. He desires to integrate himself into Judaism and ultimately the Jewish community. What could be wrong with that?

Problem (no, not with the guy who wrote “Ask the Rabbi”):

More than a few non-Jewish Christians also express more than a passing curiosity about Judaism and their (our) faith’s “Jewish roots.”

Why is this a problem? Because once you’re drawn to Jewish practices, Jewish philosophy, and Jewish literature, what do you do with that knowledge and those desires?

There are numerous answers, some relatively benign and some highly controversial. I didn’t want this morning’s “meditation” to be controversial but either God or the defective wiring in my brain had other ideas.

Those non-Jews who began in 1960s America to seek the roots of the faith that trusts Rav Yeshua for the redemption of mankind were attracted to the budding MJ movement precisely because it seemed to be seeking the same thing. I sometimes suspect that the resulting fusion between Evangelicalism and MJ has produced the kind of Christian-Jewish religious result they were seeking, though it is currently mislabelled as MJ (while the real essence of MJ has been inhibited because it must pursue more authentic halakhic Jewish praxis that is not suited to non-Jews and is not always appreciated by assimilated American Jews who have lost touch with comprehensive genuine Jewis praxis and perspective). If we could effect the necessary separation that sets MJ free to become itself (i.e., a truly and thoroughly Jewish messianism), while the Jewish Roots of Christianity folks satisfy themselves with the semi-Jewish style of religious praxis developed together with MJs so far, perhaps we would end with a pair of related religions resembling the first-century vision. And if we do it now, maybe we’ll be better prepared for the physical establishment of the messianic kingdom in Jerusalem ‘ere long.

ProclaimLiberty
Comment on Shammai, Peter, and Cornelius

two-roads-joinThat’s a very generous and informed perspective from a Jewish point of view, although I don’t doubt that a number of people will disagree with this statement. It necessitates two separate religious paths or conduits in the worship of the God of Israel through the Messiah, one for Jews in the Messiah and one for Christians. Coming alongside does not require any overlap and I know more than a few Jewish believers who would prefer that non-Jewish Christians (or “Messianic Gentiles” as the case may be) not “overlap” into their world at all.

My personal belief is that at some point, most likely in the Messianic age, non-Jews will enter into some parts of a space that was previously reserved for Jewish people in terms of the Shabbat, perhaps some manner of keeping kosher (if for no other reason than to maintain table fellowship with Jews), visiting Jerusalem at least once for Sukkot, and generally attempting to reconcile with Judaism after Christianity’s long separation from its “root faith.”

This isn’t to say that I support Christians attempting to mimic the totality of Jewish identity and lifestyle under the mistaken belief that Paul or James commanded them to, but if what we see in many of Paul’s epistles is any example, the very early Gentile believers (and I’ve said this more than once before) had lived experiences that were far more “Jewish” than what Christians are accustomed to today.

Can we use something of what we see in the apostolic scriptures as a sort of “model” for “trying on” a variant method of worship and observance on a voluntary basis?

Maybe not.

Derek said: If you are not Jewish, but keep Sabbath with the Jewish people, don’t forget you are doing it with Israel, not in place of Israel.

But one day, all will keep Sabbath in the interim age and in the final age, all will be Sabbath. Jews who keep Sabbath now are forerunners, proclaiming by our peculiarity that God is Lord of Time, the bringer of the Time to Come.

James said: I’m sure someone’s going to mention Isaiah 56:1-8 to you at some point, so it might as well be me. I don’t really have a problem with what you’re saying since you aren’t taking that stand that non-Jewish believers are wholly forbidden to observe some sort of Shabbat rest. Certainly those of us who are intermarried would have a tough time avoiding Shabbat if our spouse chose to observe it (or other mitzvot such as kosher food in the home).

It seems clear that in the Messianic age, everyone will be keeping Shabbat and I don’t see why, given the parameters you’ve presented, Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start.

Derek said: Isaiah 56. Two interpretations. (1) This is the Age to Come and reflects what the law for the nations will be then. Many believe this. I prefer: (2) This was about the Persian period (539-334 BCE) when Isaiah 56 was written and was about the situation of Gentiles in Jerusalem at that time.

As to the idea, “Since Sabbath will be universal in the Age to Come, therefore why not keep it now?” let me say a few things. This is a valid choice, not obligation. Those who make this choice are not holier than those who don’t. And the best reason Messianic Gentiles have for doing this is to join with Israel in foreshadowing the Age to Come. It is not to replace Israel’s calling as the forerunners. Gentiles are not commanded to be forerunners in this matter. To choose to do so should go along with a right understanding of Israel’s priestly calling.

James said: I never said I was claiming obligation, Derek.

Derek said: James, I know that because I know you and what you believe. I was giving my perspective on your question for the benefit of all readers. Many would see your words “I don’t see why . . . Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start” as an argument for “I must keep Sabbath as a headstart” or “it is better to keep it now even if we don’t have to.” There are many worthy callings in the world and foreshadowing the world to come by resting in the seventh day is only one of them. Differing ways of holiness are lesser or greater based on deeds of lovingkindness and not based on ritual holiness statutes.

From Derek Leman’s blog post
The Sabbath is Between God and the Jewish People

Shabbat-Made-Easy-paintingSorry for that rather lengthy copy and paste of our conversation, but I wanted to illustrate that even between two people who hold relatively the same perspective on Shabbat, there can still be room for a “dynamic” exchange of viewpoints.

I resigned from the vast, vast majority of anything “Messianic” nearly two years ago when I launched this “morning meditations” blog. I made that decision for a wide variety of reasons that are too lengthy to recount here. However, one such reason was to become part of the solution by ceasing to be part of the problem. If the issue is an objection to Gentile Christians assuming Jewish identity, even superficially, my response was to stop assuming any aspect of Jewish identity. It’s easier to talk with people if they don’t perceive you as a threat.

It’s also why I started publicly identifying myself as a Christian, in order to make my “voice” available to a wider audience. Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots writers and teachers tend to end up speaking to a rather limited audience in most cases. However, some of what we talk about is really important and I believe should be consumed by a wider audience. If I can talk to more people and a broader spectrum of populations, maybe the dialog can be expanded and maybe it will actually do some good for a change.

Anyway, I can hope.

But on mornings like this one, I wonder if hope is enough. All of these religious factions and their variants continually butt heads against one another and periodically, I get tired of fighting the turf wars. If you want something, take it. If you think I’m “playing with your toys” and you want them back, here they are. If you want me out of your yard, I’ll go home.

But then, one of the imperatives of some areas of Messianic Judaism is to carry a unique message back into the church. That’s kind of hard to do if there is no dialog between Jewish and non-Jewish believing communities and no overlap in perspectives and practices. I can’t always say what you say without also doing what you do, at least in some minimalist fashion.

Did Paul kick all the God-fearing Gentiles out of the synagogues because they were associating with Jews in a Jewish space on the Jewish Shabbat? Did Peter refuse to enter the home of Cornelius because he was a God-fearing Gentile and Jews were forbidden to enter into Gentile homes? Did James and the Council of Apostles rule that the Gentiles had no share in the Messiah or the world to come and that they should return to their pagan practices rather than turning to God (or did he say that the Gentiles should turn to God, but by way of inventing a totally new religious system totally divorced from Judaism)? For that matter, and to play the other side of the coin, Did James, Paul, or any other apostle absolutely demand that the Gentiles must conform  to the Torah and even (eventually) to become circumcised?

I can see why some Christians might become so exhausted by all of this wrangling that they’d (we’d) just finish the job, retreat into church, and never look at anything Jewish or Hebrew Roots again. You guys all want your various turfs? They’re yours. Have fun.

I know that’s not what the vast majority of believing Jews are saying, but in Messianic Jews defining their exclusive space, is there a space for interaction with Christians? There is going to be another Shavuot conference given by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and hosted at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin in a few months. There will be Jews and Christians in attendance. There will be some overlap of practice between the two populations. Jews and Christians will be having (kosher) meals together, praying together, listening to teachers together. They’ll be breathing the same air together.

I know that given the real and perceived threats (and some of them are pretty darn real) to Jewish identity specifically within the Messianic Jewish realm, it’s important to make sure there are firm definitions for what is exclusively Jewish about Messianic Judaism as one of the Judaisms in our world, but just once it would be nice to see someone go out of their way and say what believing Jews and Gentiles have in common and on what platform we can both stand.

where-do-we-go-from-hereI believe my basic perspective and the direction from which I’m coming has merit and value. Not that I can’t be wrong and not that I haven’t made mistakes (and I’m sure I’ll make them again), but I think that part of what the Messiah will do when he returns is find a way to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles who are in him. I believe it’s possible to be different and still to co-exist and even to be friends. I believe that when you have something special, you can share it, even though it still belongs to you.

I don’t want to be Jewish. God made the person He wants me to be and I have no right to change that. If I did want to be Jewish, then I’d convert (though that would be problematic since I’d have to surrender my faith in Messiah in the process, which is completely unacceptable). But being married to a Jewish wife, having three Jewish children, and having something of a passion for reading Jewish literature, philosophy, and theological studies, I find myself drawn in a certain direction. If I have violated your “keep off the grass” sign, I’m sorry.

Two-thousand years ago or so, the Gentile believers decided to walk away from their Jewish neighbors. We left their house and taking a few of the “toys” with us, moved in next door and set up a completely different place to live, with a Messiah who didn’t look even remotely Jewish. Now a few of us realize that was a big “oops.” The problem is, even trying to repair the damage that was done is enormously difficult. The rift is huge, the pain runs deep, and the blood still pours out like a river.

I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t want to be an antagonist and I certainly don’t want to claim an identity that I have no right to, but the Jewish pain at the presence of Gentile Christians (including Hebrew Roots) may just be too great for any extension of olive branches to cover. But I keep getting these mixed messages that say “approach,” “retreat,” “approach,” “retreat.”

Where do we go from here? I’ll continue discussing this theme from a different direction in tomorrow’s morning meditation.

Sparking Illumination

bright-spark-welderThe Jewish people have no monopoly on G-d and spirituality. In fact, Judaism’s core desire is that the world perceive G-d’s presence in their lives, and grow spiritually. What’s curious then is the wording of what is arguably Judaism’s most famous expression: “Shema Yisrael… Listen Israel, G-d is our Master, G-d is One (Deut 6:4).” If this eternal message relates to all mankind, why is it addressed only to Israel? Would not the One who created and sustains all mankind, by definition, be the Master of all?

Rashi’s classic commentary solves the puzzle: G-d might appear to be the Master of only the Jewish people, those who received and accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The nation of Israel got direct instructions on how to live from the Master Himself — “Israel, G-d is our Master.” However, “G-d is One” — we wish and hope for the day when every soul universally recognizes the Al-mighty’s intimate involvement with all, when the spirituality hidden beneath every surface becomes abundantly clear.

Perhaps this is a perspective that has been overlooked, but it’s crucial that our practice and interaction with people reflect this hope. It increases our concern and our love for others, and helps us appreciate everyone’s efforts to grow and live meaningful lives. Is this not a recipe for unity?

Good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

The Rabbi’s message was originally posted on August 12, 2011 but I periodically revisit it because I took the rather bold step of asking Rabbi Dixler a question. I’ve blogged about it before but in re-reading the Rabbi’s blog post and particularly the comments that have accumulated, I decided it was time to write about the message again.

I must say at this point that trying to “retrofit” modern or any post-Biblical Rabbinic commentary and insights into the original Messianic faith of “the Way” and thus into Christianity is a dubious prospect at best (not that I haven’t been guilty of doing so time and again), but it’s a way of creating dialog and raising awareness among the different “fragments” of the people of God about how God really, really is One and that He is the God of all of Creation, not just of one people group or one religious group. No, I’m not saying that the God of the Bible talks through all religions and their stuff such as Taoism, Buddhism, or Hinduism. I’m saying that regardless of the “systems” and “theologies” and “philosophies” that we human beings manufacture in order to organize ourselves and make “us” feel better and superior to “them,” God is God, a complete and objective unity, in spite of what we believe about Him or even if we believe He exists.

But remember I said that I asked Rabbi Dixler a question. Here it is:

Greetings, Rabbi Dixler.

Thank you for your insightful message, but I must admit to not quite seeing how Rashi’s commentary, as presented in your letter, solves the puzzle. G-d did indeed give direct instructions to the nation of Israel on how to live, but I don’t see where the rest of humanity receives the information that G-d is One.

I’m aware of the Noahide Laws as recorded in Genesis 9, but they don’t resonate from Noah to the rest of the nations in the same sense as the unbroken chain of Torah does from Moses and Sinai to the Jews of today. There’s a unified link between G-d, Moses, and the Israelites who stood at Sinai that can be traced from 3500 years in the past all the way to the present-day Jewish people. When you say that “we wish and hope for the day when every soul universally recognizes the Al-mighty’s intimate involvement with all”, how do you believe this will happen? Will we only become aware of the “spirituality hidden beneath every surface” when the Messiah comes?

Forgive me for asking you this question. I’m a Gentile married to a Jewish wife and we frequently have discussions like this. Since you asked for comments, I thought I’d take this opportunity to ask for your viewpoint.

Thanks and Good Shabbos.

And here is the Rabbi’s response:

James, You make a great point. He did give instructions to the rest of the world, but not to the level He gave to the Jewish people. It would seem that the discrepancy would give the appearance of Him acting as Master over the Jews, while exhibiting less mastery over the non-Jews. The point of the message was to say that He has as much a desire to have that relationship with the non-Jews, if they reach the required level of recognition of Him. While Jews may not always act at that level of recognition, they are the descendants of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs which gives them an advantage.

The recognition of the non-Jews has been happening throughout history and it will certainly reach it’s zenith at the time of the Messiah. The spread of the belief in monotheism to most of the civilized world was likely the greatest manifestation of this that we’ve seen so far.

the-shepherdNow remember that I said it wasn’t so good an idea to try to fit what normative modern Judaism says into normative modern Christianity. From my point of view, Rabbi Dixler doesn’t present a full picture because, from his perspective, he can’t present a full picture. He is (understandably) unwilling or unable to recognize that the Messiah has already come and will come again and that, in his first coming, he did something remarkable for all of humanity. He gave us the ability to get a lot closer to God than we ever could previously. He gave the non-Jewish people of our world the ability to connect to God in a way that is much more intimate and fulfilling than Rabbi Dixler has described on his blog.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

Acts 15:19-21, 30-31 (ESV)

The beat goes on, but you get the idea.

But while God is God and God is “universal,” human beings are scattered and shattered and fragmented all over the place in terms of who we think we are, who we think God is (if we have a concept of God) and what we think that means about ourselves and everybody else (and I’ve talked about this before). I’m not just talking about Jewish identity vs. Christian identity, but we can’t ignore that aspect of our connection to God either. As I said just yesterday, we need to heal the broken pieces of humanity, not tear ourselves more and more apart.

But as I’ve also said, unity is not the same as uniformity. I’m not talking about coming together in one, anonymous, doughy, blob with no distinctive features or identifying marks. Don’t worry though. As one of the people commenting on Rabbi Dixler’s blog said, we are nowhere near any form of unity:

I’m a Chab Jew and I have experienced the desdain of other Orthodox jews, some Chassidim. If we cannot be one how can we expect to have the goyim in the boat?

Good question.

After quite a number of questions and comments, Rabbi Dixler sent out a general reply:

An issue that has been raised by a few is that this message somehow dilutes the idea of the Chosen Nation and that the commandment to love is only towards others Jews. To be clear, the Jews were chosen by G-d to be the recipients of His Torah since they are the children of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – those who discovered G-d’s presence for themselves, devoted every ounce of their being to Him, and introduced the pagan world to what it means to have one G-d. At the same time, the mission of Jews that they’ve been chosen for is to spread the knowledge of G-d’s presence to all of humanity, by acting as a light to the nations. Built into this mission is the concern that all of humanity appreciate G-d and the spiritual relationship we have with Him.

The supreme irony is that Israel is a light to the world in a way that much of Judaism must deliberately reject due to the historic nature of the relationship between Christians and Jews.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (ESV)

cloaked-in-light-tallitAs Israel’s first-born son, the Messiah embodied Israel’s mission to be a light to the nations. He was and is the living, breathing expression of God’s intention to live among, not just the Jewish people, but among all people and to bring us all close to Him and close to each other. Rabbi Dixler’s comments come so very close but still miss the target, at least as I see it.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Israel is the light of the world and that light is transmitted in its most perfect form from the body of the first-born son of Israel, the Messiah, Son of David. But as his disciples, we too are called to be a light to the world, to send forth the light that originates from God to a dark and desperate humanity. One of the Jewish commentators I quoted above lamented that if Judaism isn’t united, how can they expect the goyim to get into the boat? If the disciples of Messiah aren’t united in love and purpose, how can we expect to ignite a spark, let alone shine a light that illuminates the power and glory of Christ in a fallen Creation?

After examining my finances, I think I’m one step closer to being able to attend the Shavuot Conference being hosted by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) in Wisconsin this May (there are still a few more details to work out). But based on my experience with the conference last year, I realize that “for every ascent, there is a descent,” for every uplifting event of fellowship, there is an inevitable let down when it’s over. That’s why, as much as I’m looking forward to going again this year, it’s not the focus of my faith or my “mission” (if I can be so bold as to say that I even have a “mission”).

The goal, the focus, and purpose of our lives and our very beings is not to count on periodic events of fellowship, sharing, and worship, but to live out each day with purpose, seeking an encounter with God, promoting healing between the damaged and torn parts of Messiah’s body. The Messiah isn’t just the Christ who belongs to the goyim and he’s not just Yeshua who belongs to a tiny population of modern Messianic Jews. Messiah belongs to all Jews everywhere and he belongs to any and all people from among the nations who hear his voice, who are called out, and who recognize the shepherd.

the-last-candleWe don’t all do “light to the world” in the same way, so it appears as if we are working at cross purposes relative to all of the different “Judaisms” and “Christianities” that exist in the world today. But if we believe that God is One and His Name is One, then we must also believe that whatever man has put asunder, God will one day join back together, not as an anonymous, gooey, doughy mass of bland, “wonder bread,” cookie cutter cut up humanity, but as who He made each of us to be and each of our people groups to be; those chosen at Sinai and those who joined him at the cross.

We don’t “get it” now. None of us really “get it” now. But if we keep striving for our encounters with God, if we continue to seek His will, if we keep striking our little stones against our little bits of flint, maybe we’ll one day create a spark, ignite a flame, and then the light to the nations and the light of the nations will illuminate the world.

And we will be illuminated, too. I just hope my tiny candle doesn’t burn out first.