Tag Archives: gifts of the spirit

Behaalotecha: The Journey of Grass

desert-islandThen Moses said to Hobab, son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are journeying to the place about which the L‑rd said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Go with us, and we will be good to you.”

Numbers 10:29

Note that Moses said that the Israelites would journey to Israel, whereas Jethro was invited to go to Israel. The difference between “going” and “journeying” is that going can mean to travel physically but remain emotionally unwilling. The body moves along, but the heart remains in place. Journeying means to go physically and mentally—the entire person journeys to the destination.

It is possible to go without journeying. One can board a plane and travel with reluctance. Your heart and spirit are with your family, but you have no choice, because circumstances force you to make the trip.

As we read these lines, we can reflect on our own lives. Those of us privileged to be born into Judaism are in possession of a gem we don’t fully value. It is incumbent on us to learn from righteous proselytes (The same applies to those holy souls who do teshuvah midstream in life and adapt to a whole new lifestyle) how to value the privilege of Judaism.

-Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
“Live Every Moment”
Commentary on Torah Portion Behaalotecha

Last week I was in the middle of a journey, at least I hope it was a journey. To tell the truth, I always think of myself as in the middle of a journey, but last week at this time, as you read my Friday missive, I was also far from home. Specifically, I was attending the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Although I had made my airline reservations months in advance and on some level was looking forward to attending the conference, part of me wanted to cancel everything and just stay at home. It’s more comfortable at home, more predictable…it’s safer. I suppose I was “going” to the conference but not “journeying,” to borrow Rabbi Gurkow’s metaphor. But then again, I was forgetting something.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives, And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you…

Genesis 12:1

That’s how the verse is translated in the NASB version of the Bible. Now let’s look at how the Aish Ask the Rabbi writer translates the same verse and then read his brief commentary.

God appears to Abraham and commands him: “Go to yourself” (“Lech Lecha”) – away from your country, your relatives, and your father’s house.” God is telling Abraham that in order to become truly great, he must “cut the umbilical cord,” and embark on a journey of growth and self-discovery – away from the familiar routine.

In commanding Abraham to go away from his country, his family, everything he ever knew, God is also commanding him to “go to himself.” We can understand this as going to the Land of Promise, to Canaan, to the Land that would one day be known as Israel. This was the core of everything God intended Abraham to be as the Father of Judaism and the spiritual father of all of those who turn to the God of Abraham through faith in Messiah.

Go to yourself.

In some sense, that’s what I discovered (or rediscovered) in returning to Hudson last week. I expressed some misgivings about going to the conference right before my trip and it turns out, on that first Tuesday night as I sat in services and listening to the teachers, I was right to feel that way. Instead of everything feeling comfortable and familiar, I felt like a literal “stranger in a strange land.”

boaz-michael-beth-immanuelEven as Boaz Michael was welcoming all of the attendees that first night, encouraging those who were completely unfamiliar with synagogue worship to engage in the process on whatever level they felt they could, it was as if I was standing on the outside looking in through a dirty window. I realized that I was at the intersection, or some might say, the point of collision, between the Shavuot conference and my Tent of David experience.

Seven months ago or so, I started attending church again. In spite of the discomfort I felt on multiple levels, I eventually settled into a sort of “rhythm” in my church attendance, in my fellowship with other Christians, in my weekly conversations with Pastor Randy, and everything has gradually become “normal.”

But in sitting in the pew at Beth Immanuel on the first night of the conference, I was struck by how familiar and unfamiliar everything was. Even as I moved through the subsequent days of the conference and gradually re-acquainted myself with Jewish worship, eventually drawing a sense of comfort and even enjoyment in the Jewish expression of encountering God, I realized what it was really like to stand between two worlds. In some ways, the typical Sunday worship service at church couldn’t hold a candle to the Jewish prayer and Torah services, the depth they generated in me, and the complex pattern that davening in a synagogue weaves in my personal fabric.

But while I realized that the synagogue wasn’t my world, it reminded me that the church really isn’t my world either. I started wondering about the consequences of Calvinism and perhaps I was one of those consequences. What happens when a person who God doesn’t choose for salvation ends up on the House of God anyway? What happens when he wants to love an encounter with God but feels completely foreign to the attempt?

Was this God’s way of telling me that I didn’t belong? Were others called to “journey” but I was merely “going” along for the ride?

Go to yourself? But exactly where does “myself” reside?

I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:18-20

Tree of LifeIf Calvin is right, then how dare God tell the Children of Israel as a corporate body to “choose life” knowing that He had deliberately programmed some of them to not choose life? Talk about setting people up for destruction. Was that what God did to me? Did he program me for destruction and then allow me to find myself among the people of God? If that was so, then my sitting in Beth Immanuel listening to the prayers, listening to the Torah being read, listening to the Spirit of God speaking to the hearts of everyone around me except me was a cruel and horrible jest.

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear…

Isaiah 59:1

No, the arm of the Lord is not too short that it cannot save, if God actually chooses to save. Was God choosing to save me or condemn me as I sat among those at Beth Immanuel on the first night of the conference?

Either Calvin was having a hardy laugh from Heaven (or from the grave…whatever) or I was being kicked in the gut by bilateral, bicultural ecclesiology.

I realized looking around me at Beth Immanuel, how vitally important it is to create and preserve a fully religious, cultural, and halachic Jewish experience within the context of Jewish disciples of Messiah. This must feel like “home” to the Messianic Jews (and not a few Gentiles) in attendance, both those who had traveled far to be there, and those who attend every week.

But as I cruised into the synagogue at a pretty good clip emotionally, I suddenly hit a major cultural wall and dropped from warp speed down to sublight down to a full, complete, and abrupt stop. It was like being dropped from an airplane down, down into the ocean. Splash! I was underwater and I couldn’t breathe. Which way was up? Would I drown?

I eventually found the surface and oriented myself. Eventually things got better. While I didn’t always understand everything that was happening around me, it was the people who made me feel at home.

“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.”

Troy Mitchell

Troy was kind enough to let me know the actual words of his midrash, which Boaz was quoting from memory at the conference.

It was the teachings at the conference that helped me focus on what’s truly important, which is building the Kingdom of God. I’ve already blogged on what that means and will continue to do so from different perspectives and through the eyes of different teachers as I keep writing into next week. When we proceed forward under our own effort or feel as if we’re being dragged along for the sake of social or moral obligation, we are merely “going.” To actually, willingly follow the Spirit on the path of God, it is then we are on a “journey.”

The goal of humankind is to reach beyond the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden—to a state where any sense of ego is meaningless. A place called Eden, which is beyond the Garden, the place of Essential Being from where all delights flow . . .

“And a river went out from Eden to water the Garden.”

And now you know the secret of why such a tree was created.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Over every single blade of grass, there is a heavenly force that whispers to it and commands, “Grow!”

-Bereishis Rabbah 10:7

Hands of the GardenerAccording to Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, midrash says that human beings must struggle against two forces as we strive for spiritual growth, inertia, which affects all things, and the yetzer hara, which is unique to people.

While Christianity sees our “sin nature” wholly as an impediment to be done away with, Jewish thought considers both inertia and the yetzer hara as motivators, urging us on, pushing us to achieve more, to climb higher, to plumb ever greater spiritual depths, to strive toward the sun, the light, the air…to overcome who we are in order to become who we were meant to be.

That’s what I found at the intersection, or even the terrific, horrific collision of this year’s Shavuot conference and my Tent of David experience in the church. Rabbi Twerski’s commentary puts the finishing touches on my journey like this:

If a lowly blade of grass has both a tendency towards inertia and a spiritual “mentor” which demands that it fulfill itself, we human beings, with two adversaries, certainly have even more powerful forces urging us to achieve our full potential. We should be aware of what can hamper our achievement and make the effort to overcome it.

Today I shall…

…bear in mind that there are numerous obstacles to spiritual growth, and that I must try to triumph over them.

May it be so by the will of God.

Good Shabbos.

124 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: For the Common Good

kinbar“Everyone knew I was Jewish. It just didn’t mean anything.”

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar

I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 58:14

Rabbi Kinbar gave his first presentation called For the Common Good last week on Wednesday morning during the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. He told a story about himself that most of the audience, including me, probably didn’t know. Rabbi Kinbar was a Pastor for many years before he entered into Messianic Judaism and eventually became a Rabbi.

I won’t go into all of the details (I didn’t chronicle all of them in my notes of his presentation) but I wanted you to get that the vast, vast majority of Jewish people I know who are active and teaching in Messianic Judaism came to the movement by way of the church. Many of them were Pastors and teachers. But something called to them.

In Rabbi Kinbar’s case, Isaiah 58:14 called to him…literally.

He recalls a time (again, no specific details) when his eyes were closed and he was enjoying the presence of God in his life. At that moment, he felt a hand touch his shoulder and someone said, “I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.”

Rabbi Kinbar didn’t know what it meant at the time, although he wondered if it was about his father since he actually is named Jacob. As it turns out, this experience (Rabbi Kinbar never saw the person who touched him) spoke both about his father and about the patriarch, his father Jacob.

The general theme of the conference was the gifts of the spirit and you may be wondering what the above story has to do with the Holy Spirit of God. For me, it seems clear, since by God’s Spirit, Rabbi Kinbar was drawn toward a different path than the one he was traveling and by the Spirit, we are each drawn to the path that God would have us walk.


On an individual level, the answer is so we can be who God designed us to be. It would be tragic if God designed you to write grand symphonies but you were stuck putting together widgets on an assembly line. It would be equally tragic if you were trying to learn medicine, but God designed you to be a Forest Ranger.

But that’s not the kind of design I’m talking about.

I’m talking about how we know and serve God and how we know and serve each other, and that is a large part of the point Rabbi Kinbar was making and the point of the conference as well.

When we think of spirituality or the gifts of the spirit, most Christians think of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, but what about Judaism and particularly Messianic Judaism and its traditions? Spirituality in modern Judaism, Messianic or otherwise, may seem absent or at best disguised, but it’s quite clear in ancient Messianic Judaism as illustrated in the letters of Paul.

In many ways, we mirror the problems Paul was attempting to deal with in his day.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.

1 Corinthians 1:4-11

Rabbi Kinbar states that they really did lack nothing in terms of the gifts of the Spirit, but they did lack unity. Although all of the teachers and participants at the conference were well unified, though from widely different backgrounds, the larger Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements do suffer from lack of unity in many things, as does larger, mainstream Christianity.

But what does this have to do with the “path” and “identity” issues I mentioned at the beginning of this article?

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

pathPaul isn’t saying that he was some sort of chameleon, shifting practices from Jewish to Gentile, from weak to strong, and that his own Jewishness had no meaning to him. He was dealing (as we saw above) with a fractured population or at least a diverse one. He became a Jew to the Jew and not a Jew to the Gentile because he didn’t teach Torah to the Gentile. The one under the law is probably a Gentile convert to Judaism, and Paul learned to speak to these proselytes from the same position and set of concerns they were experiencing. It’s interesting to speak of a fractured population because Rabbi Kinbar said that if Paul had chosen to introduce the Jewish observance of Torah to all populations uniformly, he would have actually fractured them further rather than setting each group on their correct and individual paths, Jew, convert, and Gentile alike.

But Paul had to speak to each of these populations within the context of who they were in order to win more of them to the Gospel message of Messiah; so they could repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

In listening to Rabbi Kinbar’s message, I thought of the different populations I encounter. I thought of how I could present something like this to Pastor Randy, who doesn’t believe the Jewish disciples of Messiah were to continue to observe the Torah mitzvot, and to the Hebrew Roots people who occasionally read my blog, who believe that everyone is meant to observe the Torah mitzvot identically.

Rabbi Kinbar’s own encounter with the Spirit set him on a particular path because he is Jewish. He was and is supposed to be fed with the heritage of his father Jacob, the Jewish patriarch. But this isn’t just a message of distinctions but of distinctions drawn into unity.

Let’s see if you can spot what’s missing in the following passage:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

1 Corinthians 12:12-15

I didn’t see it either, but in fact, there is no mention of Torah in this portion of Paul’s letter. For we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks. Does that mean we are all supposed to obey the Torah in an identical fashion, Jews and Greeks, or all of us are supposed to discard the Torah?

Not at all, because we are united in the Spirit, not in the Torah. Many good things are said of the Torah, but it is applied differently to different populations within the unity of the Spirit, hence Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

Two paths, two peoples, one body, one Spirit, one Messiah.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

dove-peaceThe wisdom of God rests upon the Messiah in the full measure of the Spirit and in him, we are united if we accept this or torn apart if we do not. The Messiah crucified is the wisdom of God.

That last part is important, because Rabbi Kinbar isn’t talking about Jesus as he was before the crucifixion, for his death was necessary so we could all be reborn in him and indeed, so we could all be in him. For in him, both Jew and Gentile are one, not meaning identical behavior or identity, but one in purpose and in spirit.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that the Gospel message isn’t simply the individual accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and being saved. The Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles is “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It’s a message of unity in the Kingdom. Our salvation, our purpose, our unity in the Spirit is to be for the common good of all, not just the personal benefit you and I might derive from being a disciple of the Master.

But to be of any use to the common good, we must consider other people first rather than ourselves. Especially in America, we tend to be individualists, and in the worst possible expression, we tend to pursue “me first, because it’s a dog eat dog world.” But that’s not Messiah’s message and it’s not Paul’s message. You aren’t unified with the body through the Spirit and you aren’t serving your neighbor as yourself if all you think about is yourself and your so-called “rights.”

I was talking to a gentleman named Kevin while we were waiting in line for one of the meals at the conference. He regularly attends Beth Immanuel and he mentioned a certain event that occurred some years ago. When First Fruits of Zion moved away from a “One Law” position to one that reflected the reality of Jews and Gentiles as differing populations within a single Messianic body, a lot of people became upset. This was also reflected in the membership at Beth Immanuel and Kevin pointed out something I hadn’t really noticed.

Except for two or three non-Jews, the only people wearing tallitot during the prayer and Torah services were Jewish men. If any non-Jewish men were wearing a tallit katan, the tzitzit were tucked into their trousers so as not to be visible.

Apparently the shift in perspective at Beth Immanuel had two general reactions among the non-Jewish membership. One was what I just described, Gentiles who adjusted their outward appearance so that they could not be mistaken for Jews (although I must say that during the Torah services at Beth Immanuel, many non-Jews were called up for an aliyah). The other was a group of non-Jews who sought formal conversion to Judaism, usually within an Orthodox synagogue. They could not give up “Judaism,” so they surrendered the Messiah instead.

Rabbi Kinbar heard a voice telling him to feed from the inheritance of his father Jacob and he began a long journey in order to fulfill that mission for his life, and ultimately for the common good within Messianic Judaism. His being Jewish used to not mean anything when he was in a group where everyone was supposed to be inclusive, uniform, and the same, but God was not going to allow that. God wanted Rabbi Kinbar to not only be Jewish as a string of DNA or a piece of intellectual information, but to be Jewish and to live a fully realized Jewish life as a disciple of the Messiah.

Others among the Gentiles received a similar message and were obedient to the Spirit of God. Some Gentiles, however, could not operate for the common good and sought their own path instead, setting the Master and the will of God aside.

One who focuses on and romanticizes Judaism is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.

-Troy Mitchell as related by Boaz Michael

Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism, but seek an encounter with God.


I mentioned previously that Troy’s “midrash” (Boaz didn’t get the quote quite right, but Troy sent me the correction which I’ll publish in tomorrow’s “meditation”) could be adjusted in a number of useful ways. Here’s one of them: One who focuses on and romanticizes the Torah is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.

Boaz, Troy, Rabbi Kinbar, and my friend Tom are all delivering the same message from differing viewpoints. Seek first the Kingdom of God and not the various tools and materials we are trying to use to build the kingdom.

As with my previous blog posts about lessons I heard at the conference, I’ve departed from a simple chronicle of the message and allowed this teaching to take me down personal roads that have meaning to me. I realize that after I absorb and process everything I learned, my next task is much more difficult.

Everything I saw and heard was shown to me from a different perspective and can only be understood from that perspective. If I’m supposed to pass this along to others, including my Pastor, I must find a way to help him…to help anyone who is interested, to see the same information, the same Bible, the same God, the same Messiah, from a different point of view. I’m not changing anything about what the Bible says or what the Spirit says. I’m only trying to change the person receiving those statements by changing their perspective.

grand-canyonThe Grand Canyon can be seen from a number of perspectives…from the north rim, the south rim, riding a donkey down narrow trails to the bottom, riding a raft on the Colorado river inside the canyon, flying over the canyon in a helicopter, and probably in other ways as well.

Depending on which perspective you choose, you will be looking at a different landscape, as if it were a different canyon. But the Grand Canyon isn’t changing (well, yes it is, albeit very, very slowly). What is changing is how you look at it.

The same God, the same Messiah, the same Bible, but different perspectives. But there is one overriding message to get from all this. I want you to at least try to temporarily change your perspective (yes, I know it’s difficult and can even feel threatening) to get the message I believe God is trying to tell each and every one of us. The Gospel message is for us to repent and seek first the common good of the Kingdom of God. In the Messianic Era, we will be united in Messiah and every knee will bow to the King.

In the present age, it is not so, but we can strive toward that goal. To do that, we must love God with all of our being and we must love our neighbors…all of them…as ourselves. The common good. The unity of the Messiah. Being connected through the Spirit that dwells within each of us.

Let us consume and be consumed by the Spirit of God for in doing so, while remaining man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Greek, we are all one in the Messiah and we are all servants to the King and to each other. The greatest will become the least and the least will become the greatest. Seek to be a servant and seek the path God has drawn you to and you will be among those who are called His sons and daughters.

I want to apologize for all of the errors that probably crept in as I was writing this “meditation.” My notes are pretty messy as I was working with a lot of loose pieces of paper. I neglected to pack a notebook for the trip. I especially apologize to Rabbi Carl Kinbar for any portion of his presentation I messed up. I do hope that my rather large missive really does serve the common good for all who read it.


125 days.


Gifts of the Spirit: Let Us Be Healed by God

new-heartThen he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

2 Kings 5:15

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mark 16:15-18

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:26-29

In yesterday’s morning meditation I asked, “Why was Jesus resurrected from the dead but his wounds were not healed?” This question was part of Aaron Eby’s presentation Turn of the Age at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) annual Shavuot conference. This year’s theme, as I’ve previously mentioned, was Gifts of the Spirit and addresses something that Messianic Judaism hasn’t given a lot of attention to historically: the understanding and movement of the Holy Spirit of God in Jewish thought.

As far as the purpose of the miracles of Jesus goes, you’ve probably already guessed, since I provided ample hints. According to Eby, “the reason for Yeshua’s miracles was so that people would know God.”

Think about it. It’s not as if only prophets of God or the Messiah could perform supernatural miracles.

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents.

Exodus 7:10-12

So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

Numbers 22:7-12

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.

Acts 8:9-11

As we see from the above-examples, miracles all by themselves don’t prove you’re a messenger from God. Plenty of evil men could do magic and Balaam was not only a great magician, but he even spoke with God!

But it wasn’t just that Jesus did miracles. Many (but not all) of the miracles of Messiah were signs, not only to fulfill what the Prophets had said about him, but to show the people that God cared about human beings.

sabbath-breaker-lancasterSeveral weeks ago, I reviewed D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Sabbath Breaker: Jesus of Nazareth and The Gospels’ Sabbath Conflicts. Lancaster illustrates in his writing how Jesus did indeed perform miracles of healing on the Shabbat which did not involve life threatening injuries or illness. While this is a violation of Shabbat on one level, the higher principle of compassion and caring for human beings made this permissible. After all, “the Shabbat was made for man, not man for the Shabbat.”

So the specifics of Yeshua’s miracles were to fulfill the prophesies said about Messiah and to show that God does love His people Israel and seeks to draw them closer to knowledge of Him and the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Matthew 11:2-6

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

Mark 3:1-5

According to Eby, “healing corresponds to God’s self-disclosure.” But how?

May the One who was a source of blessing for our ancestors, bring blessings of healing upon (insert names here), a healing of body and a healing of spirit. May those in whose care they are entrusted be gifted with wisdom and skill, and those who surround them be gifted with love and trust, openness and support in their care. And may they be healed along with all those who are in need. Blessed are You, Source of healing.

-Mi sheberakh
quoted from Jewishealing.com

It’s probably anachronistic to insert this modern Jewish blessing for “a complete healing from Heaven” into a discussion of the healing miracles of Jesus, but the principle most likely predated the written blessing by centuries or even millennia. If you’ll forgive my assumption here, we can then consider healing as both physical and spiritual and indeed, when someone is healed in one aspect, the healing can be for the “whole” person.

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Luke 5:17-26

healingToday, it’s not uncommon in some Charismatic churches to lay hands on a person who is ill, to pour oil on them, and to pray for healing, but as far as I can tell, this is rather incomplete if all of the prayers are devoted to the person’s physical healing. When Jesus healed the invalid at the Bethesda pool at the Sheep Gate (John 5:2-9), he later, at the Temple, said to the healed man, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (John 5:14 NRSV)

I don’t think we can escape how healing is directly connected to restoring a person to both physical and spiritual health.

This is certainly God’s desire for all of humanity and what we see Jesus doing to heal people in the Gospels is only a taste of what we will see and experience in the Messianic Age. It’s as if with each healing and every other miracle Messiah performed, he was lifting back the edge of the covers, so to speak, and showing us just a hint of how the world will be when he returns in glory and power.

But what about the healing of Jesus himself? Why when he was resurrected in his “glorified body” was that body still full of holes?

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

John 20-19-20 (NRSV)

If Jesus had appeared without his wounds, it could have been said that the one who was resurrected was not the same person as the one who had died. By appearing alive to the disciples and to many other people with his wounds present and visible, it was established that the Jesus who had died was brought back to life, lived and walked among his people Israel, and was the same Jesus who ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.

Thus we have the confidence to know that we have a High Priest in the Heavenly Court who has also walked among men and who has lived a fully human life.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16

I’m extending Eby’s teaching beyond what he actually said, but I do this to share with you what his words meant to me and how they impacted my thoughts and spirit rather than to just transcribe his presentation. For everything he and all of the other teachers said, you will be able to order an audio CD from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) when it becomes available.

But Aaron said something that ties into his message as I recorded it in yesterday’s morning meditation.

As we read of the miracles of Jesus and indeed, the many other miracles that are from God, we can come to know God as Naaman the Syrian did, that there is no other God but the God of Israel. We can then seek first the Kingdom of Heaven as an act of obedience to our King and to summon his return to us and the age of the healing of the world.


world-in-his-handsFirst, by having faith and trust in the God of the Bible and the Good News of the Messiah for all of Israel and the world. Then we must also be loyal to the King by adhering to his teachings and living an unswerving life of devotion and holiness. This life is lived by performing the mitzvot, each of us as we are called, the Jew and also the Gentile, repairing the damage done by the sins that caused the exile, first of all humanity from Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), and also of the Jews from the Holy Land of Israel. And what mitzvot are we to perform?

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34 (NRSV)

Love God. Love your neighbor. Heal the world physically and spiritually. Pray for the healing of Israel. Pray for the healing between Christian and Jewish people.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day.

126 days.



Gifts of the Spirit: Dancing at the King’s Wedding

king-davidThen he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

2 Kings 5:15

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mark 16:15-18

Curious combination of scriptures. What could they possibly have to do with one another? Oh sure. The quotes from Jesus seem to mesh, linking the Gospel message with the Kingdom of Heaven. But do they link in the way we think they do? Perhaps not.

Last Friday morning, Aaron Eby spoke at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) annual Shavuot conference on a topic called Turn of the Age. The message focused on what we see the Master saying in Matthew 4. It wasn’t the last time Yeshua would speak those words and those words also resonated throughout many different teachings at the conference.

The Kingdom of God is near. What does that mean?

Here’s a hint: it’s not Heaven.

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

Zechariah 14:6-9

That’s not Heaven either. We see the prophet telling us of the events that will herald the coming Messianic Age, when the Messiah King will rule over all the earth from his throne in Holy Jerusalem.

But if this is what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of Heaven is near, how could it be near? Almost 2,000 years have passed since he spoke those words, and the Messianic Age is no more upon us now than it was when the Master taught his disciples in the Temple courts. What is “near?”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:32-34

How could Jesus say that the scribe was not far from the kingdom of God? How could the scribe be “near” the Messianic Age when we know that the Messianic Age; the return of the King, has not yet occurred? We’ve been waiting for twenty centuries and we are continuing to wait.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

What does repentance have to do with bringing the Messianic Age? For that matter, what is the “good news” of the Messiah?

According to Eby, it has nothing to do with personal salvation. But let me back up a second.

Yes, of course, personal salvation is important and even vital to us as individual believers. We cannot even know God to the slightest degree unless we repent of our sins, confess Christ as Lord, and accept the gift of salvation. I know that.

But that’s not the entire message or even the primary message of the Gospel.

up_to_jerusalemIn America and many other western nations, Christianity is taught as a religion of individuals. Oh sure, we have the expression “body of Christ,” but we don’t act much like a body. Judaism, by contrast, is much more community focused. The idea and lived expression of “Israel” has never been about the individual Jewish person, but about all Jews everywhere, inextricably tied together with all other Jews, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, their local customs, or anything else. Yes, it is true that not all of the different groups of Jewish people get along all the time and there can be much friction, but at the end of the day, so to speak, a Jew is a Jew. Just take a look at Shoah and you’ll understand. When they come for one Jew, they come for all Jews.

The Good News is not just the message of personal redemption but of national redemption for all of Israel; it’s the good news that the Messiah King has come and that Israel has been restored and brought back to God as a Holy People and as the head of the nations.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Acts 1:6

Clearly the apostles understood the message of the Good News of the Kingdom, not of going up to Heaven but of Heaven coming to earth, so to speak; of the restoration of Israel and the return of the King to the Throne of David. The question wasn’t inappropriate, it just came too soon.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29

Christianity has been beating the Jews viciously with the “Gospel message” for many centuries, demanding that Jews stop being Jewish in order to be saved by the “Goyishe Jesus.” But we’ve terribly misunderstood what Moshiach has taught us. We’ve put the cart before the horse. We substituted the nations for Israel.

It is we in the church who must repent for the Kingdom of Messiah is at hand, and we don’t want him to discover us unprepared.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13

Aaron didn’t quote all these scriptures, but in reviewing my notes of his teaching, these words are fairly dripping off the tips of my fingers and onto the keyboard. Imagine then, that the foolish virgins were those who did not know the King for they did not know Israel, but the wise virgins knew the King and the King knew them, for they waited for the rising of the Jewish nation and the return of Israel’s firstborn son from Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven is near whenever we do something to prepare ourselves, whenever we read the Bible, whenever we pray. The Kingdom is at hand whenever we give food to the hungry, whenever we visit the sick, whenever we comfort a person who is grieving. We summon the Kingdom every time we do the will of the Lord and Master who loves our souls. We bring the Kingdom just a little bit closer whenever we love God, whenever we love another human being, and especially whenever we love Israel.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachThe Good News is that we should repent, particularly of our sins against Israel, in order to bring the Kingdom of God. When we repent, we bring the Messianic Age one step closer to fruition. In Judaism, it is believed that human beings have some sort of control of the “timing” of the Master’s return. I don’t know if that’s really true or not (and certainly it’s not a belief in the church) but it does summon the idea that we are partners in creation with God. When we are saved, we are to live a spirit-filled life, one of patience, kindness, and love, a life that rejoices in truth, that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

The gifts of the Spirit are in an intricate dance with the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God, and we must be part of that dance as well, lest we be left out in the cold and the dark when the bridegroom comes. We can dance at the wedding of the King or march to a funeral dirge. Our choice.

This is only part of what Aaron had to say, but to say more would make this “meditation” far too long, at least for today. I haven’t even told you why Jesus did miracles. It’s not for the reason that you think, although Naaman the commander of the army of the king of Syria knew.

I’ll leave you with a question (which I’ll answer tomorrow).

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:26-29

Why was Jesus resurrected from the dead but his wounds were not healed?

127 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Even the Living Stones Weep

girl-dancing-rain“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.” So begins Vonnegut’s absurdist 1969 classic. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

from the Amazon.com description
of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel
Slaughterhouse-Five (or The Children’s Crusade)

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

I received an email just a little while ago (as I write this) that reminded me of what was most important about the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference which I recently attended. I plan to post a lot of material about the various conference presentations over the course of the next few weeks and my personal observations about them, but the man on the other side of the email said something that touched me in a personal and painful way. What he said doesn’t make for a great quote, but it does transcend the world we live in and connect to the spirits of man and God.

I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse-Five when I talked with Lisa about her grandfather.

Let me back up a step.

I have what you might call “limited social needs.” I can only take so much of a room full of people over the course of a day before I am “done.” I like my space and I like quiet. I know this makes me sound terrifically anti-social and even a little misanthropic, but it’s just me having my “social needs cup” filled to the brim, and then to overflowing, and then to spilling all over the joint. It gets to be a mess.

So when everyone else was downstairs eating, drinking, and socializing late into the evening, I walked back up to the “sanctuary” (probably not the right word) to be alone.

But I wasn’t alone. Lisa was there. She was on the phone talking to her grandfather, who is in his nineties, for the billionth time that day.

Lisa’s grandfather suffers from dementia. He experiences a lot of different points in the past but almost never the present. He’s a man who has become unstuck in time. During a single phone call, he can be fighting in the Pacific during World War II. He can be walking down a road in the snowy woods when he’s five. He can be buying a pack of cigarettes at a local bar and remembering that he can’t let his wife know he smokes. He can look at a picture of his wife with fond love and remembrance and blissfully, gratefully not remember that she was taken from him many years ago. Because that sorrow would be too much to bear.

He’s lived a good life.

And he’s become unstuck in time as he wanders with each step along that life.

Lisa told me her children wouldn’t consider her a patient person, but she’s very patient with her grandfather. Most people wouldn’t be. Most people wouldn’t be patient listening to a man who is unstuck in time shifting up and down the corridors of his life, second by second, as he appears here and there, and he reorients himself to being a young adult one second and a small child the next.

And who is he talking to when he’s five years old and his granddaughter Lisa, who has children in their late teens herself, is on the other end of the phone?

tearsI felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I listened to her tell me about her grandfather. When Billy Pilgrim became unstuck in time, the reader of Vonnegut’s story discovers a grand adventure with measures of sorrow and tragedy, but one that ultimately ends in victory.

But Lisa’s grandfather isn’t on an adventure. He’s old and, in those moments when he comes to himself in the present, he is terrified that he no longer has control of his mind.

Let me tell you another story. It’s about miracles and it’s also about one miracle that hasn’t happened.

But let me back up a step…let me take one really giant step backward.

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.

Romans 9:2-3 (NRSV)

Do you realize the depth of what Paul’s saying? He’s declaring to the readers of his letter to Rome and by inference to us, that he would deliberately surrender his salvation; his relationship to Messiah and to God and everything that means, for the sake of his people, the Jewish people; for the sake of an unbelieving Israel who absolutely needs to know their King.

One evening at the conference, Boaz Michael made a suggestion. He wanted us to talk about miracles. He asked people in the room to share their experiences with the Spirit of God.

Many people had such experiences. I was shocked at how many people raised their hands and wanted to share. I was astonished by the passion, the holiness, the sorrow, the glory, the love of God for all of those people.

A woman named Karen came home because her mother was dying. Her mother was in the last stages of life. She was bedridden. She was ready to die at home.

Karen was sleeping in the room with her mother. She woke up surprised to see her mother standing beside her bed. At first she tried to get her mother back into bed but then she realized her mother was wearing a party dress. But…why? Her mother came up to her and touched Karen’s shoulder…and it was the exact feeling she remembered as a child on all those occasions when her mother took Karen in her arms and embraced her. It had been such a very long time since she had felt her mother’s loving arms around her.

The vision passed. Maybe it was a dream. But the next day after receiving a few phone calls from siblings, she realized it was real. Each of them had seen the same vision of mother in her party dress at the exact same moment.

And then Karen’s mother went to her party to dance with the bridegroom.

Let me tell you my story. I have no miracles. But “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Like Paul, there is someone I would give up everything, even my relationship with my Master, even the grace and salvation of God, so that she could love Him and know Him.

one-of-ten-virgins-oilIf only my wife could know Moshiach and love Him. I would turn my back and walk into the distance and the darkness, like the foolish virgins who did not keep their lamps filled with oil while waiting for the bridegroom.

If I could have one miracle from God, that would be it.

Why am I telling you all these things? What possible difference does it make to touch the lives of a few people who have been happy and sad and whose fingers have grasped the hem of the garment of God?

Because each of these people are precious in the sight of God and in my sight as well. There are some people out there who have spoken unkind things about these wonderful people and the time we spent together last week. I’ve been spending time exchanging emails with some of the people I met at the Shavuot conference. I’ve also been reading the comments of some of the critics of these people and their displeasure about why we came together. I even know someone who is a critic who was invited to come and to share but who declined the invitation.

More’s the pity. I wish he’d have come. I wish I could have met him.

I’m heartbroken that anyone could be angry at people like Lisa and Karen (though I frequently experience my critics’ anger towards me). No, these angry people don’t even know Lisa or Karen (though they may think they know me) and so it’s not personal.

Except it is.

Because God loves Lisa…and Karen…and amazingly, even me. And God loves each and every person who criticizes us and who is angry, maybe not at us, but at the people who attended the Shavuot event because of their issues with First Fruits of Zion or Boaz Michael, or whoever, or whatever.

I’m heartbroken because of a man who has become unstuck in time. I’m heartbroken because of a woman who held her daughter one last time before she wore her party dress to attend the banquet of the King. I’m heartbroken that my own miracle has yet to come (if it ever comes). I’m barely holding back my tears as I write this, because the things that some of the people of God need to understand, they don’t understand. And out of that ignorance, they criticize, berate, disdain, and sometimes even hate.

Jeffty is Five is a short story written by Harlan Ellison which I first read in 1978. I also heard Ellison read the story aloud at a Science Fiction conference a year or so later. It’s the story about a little five-year old boy named Jeffty and his five-year old friend. Jeffty’s friend grows up. Jeffty never does. He stays five. He’s stuck in time. Time moves all around him, going forward and taking everyone and everything else with it…except Jeffty.

Jeffty never notices and his friend stays his friend. The fact that Jeffty never grows up slowly erodes the minds and feelings of his parents but Jeffty has a friend who protects him. Jeffty stays in a world where there is no such thing as television, and where the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, and the Shadow still save the day in weekly radio programs, not just in his imagination…when Jeffty turns on a radio, those programs are brand new and real.

Eventually, Jeffty is neglected by his friend, now a very busy adult, for a few minutes and the present intersects with Jeffty and his world. And the present wears him down. His soul becomes sick. He “unsticks” in time but there is too much of him that needs the world that isn’t the past but the world that should have been…and Jeffty dies.

new-heartThat story broke my heart too, but it’s fiction. Jeffty couldn’t live when his world encountered what you and I call “the real world.” But the world of God and the human world intersect all the time, and in experiencing the world of harshness intersecting with one of holiness, I’m heartbroken.

If only you’d come into the world I lived in last week. If only you’d pray with us, sing with us, listen to Torah with us. If only you’d eat with us, drink wine with us, sing songs with us…

…then maybe you’d understand. Then maybe you could let your heart be broken too by a man who has become unstuck in time and a woman in a party dress. Maybe you could stop being critical and start being human. Maybe you’d realize that we’re human too. Because if we don’t each become heartbroken, then it’s God’s heart we are breaking. What sacrifice would be too great for us to make for the sake of God and for each other?

For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:16-17 (NRSV)

There are a lot of other stories I experienced at the conference that are woven from the sincere fabric of the lives and spirits of many other people I met last week. I’ll write about this in more detail in a few days, but a wise and kind man named Carl Kinbar told a story about building the House of God. One of the most essential materials required to build God’s House is a broken and contrite heart, not just broken for God, but for each other.

It is only when we bleed and when we cry for the sake of not only our families and our friends, but for strangers and even “enemies,” that the sacrifices we offer up to God are accepted. Only then will we be able to build His house using living, crying, bleeding stones.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18 (NRSV)

128 days.

Gifts of the Spirit: Don’t Change a Thing

baal-shem-tov2“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Matthew 6:31-34 (NRSV)

Where do I begin? As I write this it’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve been back home for a few hours having returned from the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) annual Shavuot conference. This year’s theme was Gifts of the Spirit and the event, which was held in Hudson, Wisconsin from last Tuesday through last Saturday, was emotionally, spiritually, and educationally dense with content and meaning.

I’ve got enough material in my notes to blog for the next week or two, but not having gotten a lot of sleep last night, where do I begin so there’s a “morning mediation” for Monday? How about beginning at the end?

The very last presentation on Saturday, which was given by Boaz Michael, included a summary of the entire conference including an extensive question and answer series. We were all rather tired by that point, and I think it helped to generate some recall of the main points that were presented by all of the esteemed speakers. Here are just a few of the things that I recall at the moment. My notes are kind of “scribbly” and my thoughts are rather “fuzzy” right now, so I can’t promise that my quotes are exactly word for word.

One who focuses on and romanticizes Judaism is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.

-Troy Mitchell as related by Boaz Michael

I’ll revisit Troy’s “midrash” in subsequent blog posts because there are so many applications for this piece of wisdom that could be useful. This connects to something Boaz presented about our faith in general, whether we call it Christianity, Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots or anything else. Most believing communities tend to focus primarily on one of three things, usually at the cost of the other two:

  1. The Gospel Message/Gospel of the Kingdom
  2. The Torah/Bible
  3. The Holy Spirit/Spiritual Gifts

I know that many churches emphasize the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which isn’t such a bad thing, but they usually miss what the Gospel really means (I’ll get to that in a later blog post). I know that my own church tends to be Bible-based, which again, isn’t such a bad thing, but then we tend to not rely so much on the movement of the Spirit of God. Also, both Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots have focused heavily on the Torah, sometimes all but ignoring the Messiah and certainly the Gospel message of the Kingdom and the Holy Spirit. Charismatic/Pentecostal churches (which were discussed at length, and often in a complimentary fashion…I’ll get to that too in another blog post) have a main emphasis on “gifts of the Spirit,” often at the expense of the Bible and much of what Jesus actually taught.

Now imagine these three elements are each a leg on a three-legged stool and they are all that is holding up your faith and your congregation. If you have only one or at best two legs, you’re not going to be “on the level,” so to speak. If you try to rest your faith (or your tuchas) on it, you’ll fall to the floor.

My good friend Tom once told me, “Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism, but seek an encounter with God.” He probably got the point of the conference long before the conference was ever held. We can all have our pet emphasis within the faith and be so involved in what we think is so important that we miss what God thinks is so important.

I want to tell a really long story. I’m doing this from memory and I don’t know the original source. This wasn’t even part of the “official” conference. It’s a story told by a guy named Yoshi one evening after one of the meals.

As it turns out, Shavuot is the yahrzeit of the Baal Shem Tov. There have been many “interesting” and inspiring Hasidic Tales about the Baal Shem Tov.

There was once a very simple but honorable and devout Jew who lived in a small town in central Europe. He desired to pray sincerely and fervently to God but did not know how to use his siddur. During prayers at his synagogue, he only knew how to pray starting at the front of the siddur and working his way, page by page, all the way to the back.

As you might imagine, this took a great deal of time.

He appealed to other Jews in his community but either they knew little more about the matter than he did or they didn’t seem to have the time to help him.

This left this devout Jewish man very frustrated.

Then one day, the Baal Shem Tov visited his community. The man thought to himself:

Surely the Baal Shem Tov can teach me to pray.

The man appealed to the Baal Shem Tov to help him understand how to pray using his siddur. Having pity on the man and seeing how sincere his desire to honor God was, the Baal Shem Tov placed many notes and bookmarks in the siddur, designed to guide the man on how to perform the different daily prayers as well as festival prayers and prayers for other occasions.

The man thanked the Baal Shem Tov profusely and began to daven to God with all his heart, using the sequence of prayer marked out in his siddur by the Baal Shem Tov.

A few months passed by and the simple and devout Jew was so happy that he was honoring God by properly praying from his siddur in a manner correct for each of the daily prayers and prayers for special occasions.

During one prayer service, the man accidentally dropped his siddur and all of the loose bookmarks and notes fell out.

The poor man was devastated. He had no idea how to arrange the notes and bookmarks back into their proper order. Sad but determined, the man did the only thing he knew how to do…start praying from the beginning of his siddur, and work his way, page by page, to the end of the siddur.

baal-shem-tov3As he was davening, he noticed that the Baal Shem Tov was visiting his shul again. Everyone else had finished praying, but he was still in the middle of his prayers and in the middle of his siddur. The man thought that as soon as he finished his prayers…and the siddur…he could ask the Baal Shem Tov to put all of the notes and bookmarks back into his siddur again.

But before he was finished praying, the Baal Shem Tov left the synagogue. The man was frantic, but he couldn’t go after the Baal Shem Tov until he finished praying.

He prayed and prayed and prayed as fast as he could and finally finished.

He rushed out of the synagogue, but the Baal Shem Tov was nowhere to be seen. He asked different people he encountered if they’d seen which way the Baal Shem Tov went. One man had seen him take the south road out of the town on foot. The man thought if he ran fast enough, he could catch up and ask the Baal Shem Tov to replace the notes and bookmarks into his siddur.

He ran and ran and finally saw the Baal Shem Tov in the distance at the edge of a river. There was no bridge at that place, so the man thought he could surely catch up to the Baal Shem Tov. But before this could happen, he saw the Baal Shem Tov take a handkerchief out of his pocket and spread it out on the river. The handkerchief grew and grew and grew until it became big enough to make a bridge across the river. The Baal Shem Tov walked across, then picked up his handkerchief, which shrank back to normal size, and then proceeded on his way.

The man got to the river and was frantic. He just had to find the Baal Shem Tov. Then he remembered that he too had a handkerchief. Taking it from his pocket he thought:

If it worked for the Baal Shem Tov, it should work for me.

The man opened the handkerchief, which immediately expanded across the river, just as the Baal Shem Tov’s handkerchief had done. The man walked across, picked up his handkerchief, and then continued to run after the Baal Shem Tov.

As the man was catching up to him, in the distance, he saw that the Baal Shem Tov had come to the edge of a large canyon. There was no bridge across the canyon at that spot, so the man thought he could surely catch up to the Baal Shem Tov this time.

But this was not to be. Once again, the Baal Shem Tov took his handkerchief, spread it out across the canyon, and walked across.

By the time the man got to the edge of the canyon, the Baal Shem Tov was gone again. Remembering his own handkerchief and his experience at the river, the man thought:

If it worked for the Baal Shem Tov, it should work for me.

He spread out his handkerchief, just as the Baal Shem Tov had done, and it expanded to form a bridge across the canyon. The man ran across, retrieved his handkerchief, and ran after the Baal Shem Tov once again.

He finally saw that the Baal Shem Tov was climbing a steep mountain trail. The Baal Shem Tov was no longer a young man and was proceeding rather slowly. This gave the heroic young Jewish man the time he needed to catch up to him.

Out of breath and barely able to speak, the man gasped out his story to the Baal Shem Tov about how he had dropped his siddur causing all of the notes and bookmarks placed there by the Baal Shem Tov to fall out. The man went to his knees and begged the Baal Shem Tov to replace them.

But the Baal Shem Tov was puzzled:

When you were following me, did you not see me at the river?

The man replied:

Yes, Baal Shem Tov.

The Sage asked:

Then how did you cross the river to follow me?

The man answered:

I did what you did, placing my handkerchief over the river so I could walk across.

The Baal Shem Tov pondered for a moment and then asked:

Did you not see me at the edge of the canyon?

The man replied in the affirmative, and the Baal Shem Tov asked how he managed to cross the canyon.

The man said:

I did what you did, placing my handkerchief over the canyon so I could walk across.

The man again pleaded with the Baal Shem Tov to teach him how to pray by replacing all of the notes and bookmarks he had originally created.

The Baal Shem Tov placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder and replied:

You do not need me to teach you how to pray. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll be fine.

The Ba'al Shem TovI know that was a very lengthy tale, but it speaks to what you read earlier, both from Matthew 6 and from Troy’s “midrash.”

It matters less how you pray or what sort of rituals you use than the state of your heart when you are seeking God. Even the simplest of men can do great miracles and draw close to God if he seeks first to build the Kingdom of God by the Spirit rather than just focusing on and romanticizing the hammer.

I’ll present a more organized series of reports about the FFOZ Shavuot conference after a good night’s sleep and further reflection.

128 days.