Tag Archives: mission

Returning to the Tent of David: Notes from an Emissary

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

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

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

Part of the Returning to the Tent of David series

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

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

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

-ibid

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

And that’s not easy.

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

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

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

-ibid, pg 19

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

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

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

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

-ibid, pg 22

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

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

-ibid, pg 24

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

Who will show the institutional church its blind spot?

-ibid, pg 26

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

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

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

-John Sloat, A Handbook for Heretics

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

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

-Boaz, pg 26

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

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

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

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

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

-Pirkei Avot 2:21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crossing the Ford of the Jabbok

PrayingHear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no man living is righteous. For the enemy has persecuted my soul; He has crushed my life to the ground; He has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead. Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart is appalled within me. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands. I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Selah.

Psalm 143:1-6 (NASB)

Part of the Returning to the Tent of David series

This is the “flip side” to this morning’s meditation, The Christianization of Acts 15. Every couple of weeks or so, I have coffee and conversation with a friend who is smarter and wiser than I am. Certainly, his spirit is far closer to God than mine. I often tell him of my thoughts and feelings and he is direct and forthright in his response.

This is a continuation of my Returning to the Tent of David series since it has a direct connection to my reacquaintance with the church and how I have been conducting myself within its walls.

Apparently, I haven’t been doing so well.

I spend a fair amount of time expressing my point of view on this blog. I guess that’s OK since, after all, it is my blog, my platform for talking about my experiences as they occur. But I also air out my opinions of and frustrations with the church and its members on occasion. I commented to my friend that I felt my Sunday school teacher is rather dogmatic in how he presents his lessons. And the instant the words left my lips, I knew what he was going to say.

So am I, just with a different point of view.

I’ve been spending a lot of time presenting and expressing my opinions. But what about God? That is, who is expending the effort here and whose purpose is being served, mine or God’s? In my friend’s view, it’s the former, totally.

No, he isn’t being too hard on me and in fact, I have every reason to believe he speaks not only with an honest heart, but from the heart of God. I’ve been studying and using what I’ve learned as a sword or a club to “go after” those with whom I disagree, and without the slightest concern about God’s desires. I guess I assumed that if I was doing this, it must be what God wants, but that was arrogant presumption on my part. I never even considered the possibility that I wasn’t in the right spiritual frame from which to conduct such activities.

No, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop going to church, attending Sunday school, or meeting with my Pastor (unless none of them will have me anymore). It does mean I need to take a step backward and start “preparing” for these actions in a different way.

Yes, studying the Bible is good. Studying intelligent and informative commentaries is good. But is it the mind and will of God that makes change, not the efforts of mere men.

There’s little doubt that my Pastor and I, in meeting together, are each trying to help the other change in a particular direction. Of course, I learn a great deal from these conversations, but I’m also hoping to impart something as well. But so far, I’m the only one doing the imparting. Has God been in my voice? Am I even aware of His presence in the Pastor’s office? For that matter, am I aware of God’s presence in the chapel during services or in the classroom during Sunday school?

Man aloneThe vast majority of the time, I must say “no.”

My friend keeps suggesting I “meditate” on the Bible, but the word “meditate” seems indistinct to me. He says it’s matter of considering a portion of scripture and mulling it over. What does it mean? What does it mean to me? What can it tell me about God and about myself? What scripture should I choose?

I meditate on all Your doings;
I muse on the work of Your hands.

I read books, including the Bible, as fast as I can, as if I’m in some sort of race to cover the maximum amount of territory in the least amount of time. I’m only mortal and my span on this sphere is exceptionally limited. God is infinite and forever. He can afford to take His time. After all, it is His time; He made it. Time exists only within His will and should He desire, time would cease to exist and scurry back to the nothingness from whence it came.

“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David,
And wall up its breaches;
I will also raise up its ruins
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom
And all the nations who are called by My name,”
Declares the Lord who does this.

Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)

I keep coming back to these verses because they define my purpose within a “Hebraic” and “Messianic” context. I say “my purpose” but it’s really the purpose of any non-Jewish disciple of Messiah, “the nations who are called by My Name,” says the Lord. It’s the “job description” for Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah who perceive that they are operating within a Jewish religious and spiritual context and not necessarily inside of “goyishe Christianity.”

I’m not trying to be insulting, but consider who our King is and from where he will reign. Can there be any doubt that Moshiach our King is and will be King of Israel, King of the Jews, and only out of all that is he King of the World?

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Humility is something I didn’t think far from my grasp, but a guess I am farther from its sheltering arms than I imagined. This isn’t my battle. I didn’t come here to fight. I came here to serve God. What an interesting thought, since it never occurred to me to say it that way before. I always thought, harkening back to Boaz’s book, that I returned to the church to help breach the gap between the traditional fundamental and evangelical perspective on Jesus, the Bible, and everything and how it all should be seen within the Jewish context, using Jewish terms, Hebrew language, and especially removing the paint from “Joseph’s” alien face (Genesis 45:4) to reveal the son of Jacob or more to the point, the son of David…the Jewish son and firstborn of Israel. The son of God.

man-without-a-coatIf this is how you want me to serve you God, then I have to admit I haven’t been doing such a good job. If this isn’t what you’ve wanted me to do, then I’ve been doing an even worse job than I thought.

How can I promote any form of healing at all by “banging heads” with other people or by beating my head against a wall? When Jacob wrestled the Divine, in midrash, it is said that Jacob wrestled with his doubts, or his evil inclination, or his own dark angel. He had to conquer something in himself before he could take the next steps back into the Land his descendants would one day inherit, the Land of Promise. Is that my mission as well, to conquer something within myself?

That I should slow down, take time with scripture, mull and turn over the Word in my mind and heart, meditate on His wisdom day and night is all worthy and right, and I’ve been in too much of a hurry to actually do it. Where will my spirit and the Spirit of God find a common meeting ground? Jacob arose at night, crossed the ford of the Jabbok and was left alone. There he encountered God. Jacob wrestled for the rest of the night and when the sun began to dawn, the battle was still raging. Jacob’s “companion,” seeing he had not prevailed, injured Jacob, permanently disabling him (see Genesis 32:22-32). But Jacob also received a blessing, a new name, and a mission to form a dynasty; to  ultimately become the father of a mighty nation that belongs only to God.

I seriously doubt my destiny is such a great thing in God’s eyes or in man’s. And yet there must be some reason for my existence, else God would have long since extinguished me, like I might blow out a candle. Not that I’m such a great light or even a small one. Who can glory in their own light when confronted with the blazing inferno of an Everlasting God? Only a fool. I pray that I am no fool, though I know I’ve been foolish.

God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love.

-Richard Wurmbrand

Whatever God wants me to do could easily fail if it was all up to me. Having launched myself in a particular direction for nearly a year, I haven’t looked back and I haven’t checked the map. I just figured if I went in a nice, straight line, I’d end up where I’m supposed to be. But there are no nice straight lines in my terrain, only back alleys, narrow corridors, dark tunnels, and labyrinthine passages. Getting lost if I am the only navigator is a foregone conclusion.

…but whatever your original intentions, you have become truly lost.

-Ducard (played by Liam Neeson)
Batman Begins (2005)

extinguished_candleIs that me? Maybe. Or maybe it’s what I’m on my way to becoming. But according to my friend, it’s not too late. I can slow down the horse, so to speak, take stock of my surroundings, renew my connection to God, through the Bible, through meditation on His Word, through prayer, through sincere repentance. Like a watchman on the walls of the city at night, I rely on the Presence of God as I await the dawn, considering His mighty deeds, recalling Days of Old, meditating upon Him in my heart.

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.
When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old,
The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders…

Psalm 77:1-6 (NASB)

And my spirit ponders…as I cross the ford of the Jabbok and am left alone in the dark…waiting.

20 Days: Nosce te ipsum

jewish-t-shirtA convert who converted while among the gentiles.

-Shabbos 68b

Our Gemara introduces the concept of a convert who became Jewish on his own accord, without being informed of the mitzvah of Shabbos. We must understand, though, in what way can we consider this person to be a Jew, and responsible to bring a sin-offering for his unintentional violation of Shabbos, when he has no knowledge of mitzvos? How is this conversion valid?

Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin points out that we see from here that one’s basic identity as a Jew comes from his being known as “a Jew”. The verse (Yeshayahu 44:5) states: “This one will say I belong to Hashem…and he will refer to himself as Yisroel”. The very connotation of being called a Jew is tantamount to being associated with belonging to Hashem.

Accordingly, Reb Tzadok notes that if one is forced to accept Islam, he must resist to the supreme degree of יהרג ואל יעבור Even though we might not consider Islam as being avoda zara, being that their basic belief is monotheistic, nevertheless the very fact that the Jew is being coerced to abandon his identity as being called a Jew is enough of a reason to resist, even if the consequences are severe (see Radva”z, Vol. 4 #92). Even in earlier generations, when a Jew would compromise his mitzvah observance, he nevertheless maintained his distinctive identity as being Jewish.

The verse (Hoshea 4:17) describes this condition, as we find, “Even as Ephraim is bound up…and he follows idols, let him alone.” From here we learn that because they remained bound up with the nation, and they did not assimilate with the surrounding nations, this saved them despite the fact that they were involved with idols.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“What is a Jew?”
Commentary on Shabbos 68b

I’m not writing this to try to answer the question “What is a Jew” but to illustrate how difficult it is to even address such a question from a Christian point of view. As I make my attempt to “assimilate” back into a more traditional Christian context, I discover that I may never understand the answer to questions like the one posed regarding Shabbos 68b. The discussion of Jewish identity involves the concept of a Jew who is Tinok SheNishbeh (Hebrew: תינוק שנשבה, literally, “captured infant”) which, according to Wikipedia, “is a Talmudical term that refers to a Jewish individual who sins inadvertently as a result of having been raised without an appreciation for the thought and practices of Judaism. Its status is widely applied in contemporary Orthodox Judaism to unaffiliated Jews today.

This naturally leads me to thinking about the Chabad and their primary mission to attract “unaffiliated Jews” and make them more familiar with Jewish thought and practices. Whatever else you may think of the Chabad (and like any other community, they have their faults, some of them significant), they are “out there,” extending themselves, reaching out to Jews who might otherwise completely assimilate and disappear into the surrounding Gentile culture and environment.

In today’s morning meditation, I addressed the issue of Christian evangelism and how the church, in spite of the many faults we may find in it, is doing all of the “heavy lifting” in terms of reaching out to the would around it and introducing that world to the teachings and grace of Jesus Christ. One of the comments I received is that “spreading the Good News” isn’t really what Jesus had in mind, but rather making disciples of the nations, which is a more involved, intricate, and in-depth process and relationship.

And I agree.

public-menorah-lightingUnfortunately, Christianity and Judaism tend to collide rather disastrously relative to these two imperatives. I liked Tsvi Sadan’s “solution” to this problem as he presented it in his article “You Have Not Obeyed Me in Proclaiming Liberty” (written for Messiah Journal) by using the concept of keruv to bring the Jewish people closer…

…to God and to one another, first and foremost through familiarity with their own religion and tradition…the Jewish people, as taught by Jesus, cannot comprehend his message apart from Moses (John 5:46)…Keruv is all about reassuring the Jewish people that Jesus came to reinforce the hope for Jews as a people under a unique covenant.”

As I learned recently, it may take me a good deal longer than I originally anticipated to make even the tiniest headway into the church. If I’m to make a go of it, I may have to dedicate myself to the “long haul” of “going to church” at the cost of just about everything else. How am I to begin to “understand church” and yet remain on my current educational trajectory relative to Jewish learning and education (such as it is since I’m pretty much self-taught)?

There’s this idea in some churches as well as within Judaism that requires one to acquire a “mentor.” I’ve previously mentioned how difficult it is just to find someone to talk to in the church beyond the simple “hi” and “bye.” Acquiring a mentor seems like an insurmountable task. And yet acquiring a mentor within a church context means necessarily setting aside any learning one might consider “Jewish.” Can I travel in two (apparently) opposite directions at the same time?

I ask that question with a certain sense of irony. Although my Jewish family is anything but strictly observant, my wife and daughter have been diligent to light the Chanukah candles, say the blessings, and to at least play some Chanukah music on each night. It reminds me of how we used to light the Shabbos candles, pray the prayers and sing songs of joy, welcoming the “Queen” into our home. It’s the most “Jewish” experience I’ve had in our house for a long, long time. Man, did that feel good.

And yet here I am, boarding a ship, and sailing the seas toward a “Christian” destination.

I know that my friend Boaz Michael has told me on more than one occasion that the Torah is taught in the church, and we can learn its lessons if only we are open to it. I guess he should know since he and his wife Tikvah attend a church in a small town in Missouri every Sunday that Boaz isn’t traveling.

And yet he and his family still keep Shabbos, keep kosher, and observe the other mitzvot.

But (as far as I know) they’re not intermarried and I’m not Jewish so I have to go somewhere and do something.

Frankly, as much as synagogue life would be alien to me at this point, I’d still rather go to shul with my wife on Shabbos than to church alone on Sunday if I felt I had a choice. But I won’t embarrass my wife by suggesting that she try to find a way to introduce me to her Jewish friends under those circumstances.

lost-in-an-angry-seaThe rationale of returning to church, at least in part, is defined by Boaz’s soon to be released book, Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile. I’ve been speaking of “mission work” for the past few days. According to Boaz and relative to his new book…

Mission is broader than theology and stronger than a personal identity. Mission allows one to stay focused on the goal while facing challenges, needing to be flexible, and always showing love. A deep and shared sense of mission and kingdom identity allows one to be shaped by their spiritual growth, gifts, desires, etc. yet stay focused on the greater goal.

I don’t know that I have a “mission” or even a purpose in going to church, particularly since at this church, the Pastor seems sufficiently aware of the Christian’s need to support the Jewish people. But here I am because I feel like I shouldn’t be alone and that I might actually have something to share belong a daily blog posting.

I feel like a person in a lifeboat somewhere out in the ocean. The waves lift me up and the waves dip me back down. I have higher days and lower days (today being “lower”). Do I want to invest a year just to explore the possibility that I might fit into a church and that I might have something to offer besides a few dollars in the donation plate and adding my body heat to a chair in the sanctuary?

Well, in spite of what I want, is it worthwhile? Is it what God wants? How do I know what God wants? I know what “feels” better to me and what doesn’t, but that’s hardly a litmus test that yields reliable results. 20 days and counting. The clock is ticking.

43 Days: Dust and Ashes in My Own Universe

I am but dust and ashes.

Genesis 18:27

Everyone must say, “The world was created for my sake.”

-Sanhedrin 37a

Rabbi Bunim of Pshis’cha said that everyone should have two pockets; one to contain, “I am but dust and ashes,” and the other to contain, “The world was created for my sake.” At certain times, we must reach into one pocket; at other times, into the other. The secret of correct living comes from knowing when to reach into which.

Humility is the finest of all virtues and is the source of all admirable character traits. Yet, if a person considers himself to be utterly insignificant, he may not care about his actions. He may think, “What is so important about what I do? It makes no difference, so long as I do not harm anyone.” Such feelings of insignificance can cause immoral behavior.

When a person does not feel that his actions are significant, he either allows impulses to dominate his behavior or slouches into inactivity. At such a time, he must reach into the pocket of personal grandeur and read: “I am specially created by God. He has a mission for me, that only I can achieve. Since this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment.”

When presidents and premiers delegate missions to their officials, those officials feel a profound sense of responsibility to carry out the mission in the best possible manner. How much more so when we are commissioned by God!

Today I shall…

keep in mind both the humbleness and the grandeur of the human being.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 1”
Aish.com

I guess that answer a query I made recently.

Is it arrogant and self-centered to believe that God has a plan for my one, small, individual life? After all, there are billions of people who live on Earth today. Untold trillions and trillions of human beings have been born, lived, and died all throughout the history of the human race. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of them have been mentioned in the Bible (or any other holy book), and of those people, we sometimes don’t know which ones we can take as literally being real humans who lived real lives, vs. some unknown scribe somewhere writing an allegory about someone named “Job” to make a moral point.

Not only is it incorrect to consider ourselves to be insignificant as individuals, it could actually be sinful. Faith and trust in God includes the belief that we are not only significant, but possibly very important since we have been commissioned to perform deeds in the plan of God.

There’s a certain amount of “mysticism” in the statement, “[s]ince this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment.” At least from a human point of view, it is extraordinarily unlikely that the entire universe was created just for me to do whatever God put me here to do. I suppose if we start winding down the road of some serious metaphysics, it might be seen otherwise, but I don’t think my brain can bend in that direction.

So here we are (I am) performing a balancing act, again. Running on the edge of a razor blade, trying to keep my balance and avoid being sliced to ribbons (by concepts, consciousness, or other people). Is that too dramatic? Maybe not, if I’m trying to assess and moderate equal portions of humility and being an agent on a “Divine mission.”

But that may explain our different experiences when at times, nothing seems to go right, and at others, when nothing seems to go wrong. Paul’s infamous “thorn” in his side (2 Corinthians 12:7) was what balanced him out and we know that he really did have a Divine mission (see Acts 9). We have the Bible to tell us all about the details Paul’s mission and for a Christian, it’s almost “old news.” However, for the rest of us, our particular “mission” can seem like something of a mystery.

Oh, it gets worse.

How many Christians “feel” as if they have a mission. A lot of the time, it’s to go into the ministry. We Christians sometimes get this weird idea that only Ministers can minister. But what do we do that doesn’t minister if we’re doing God’s will?

Well, right now I know why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because enough people have told me it matters to them that I do this. If that’s also the voice of God, I’m fine with that, too.

That’s how I summed up my response to the question I asked myself the other day: “Why am I doing this?”

I suppose I could just need constant reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, but that’s no way to run a “ministry” let alone a life. There will always be times when there will be no reassurance, when it seems as if the whole world is against your (and my) Christian faith, and you (I) have to depend on whatever internal moral compass God has provided to continue the journey so that we are (I am) walking in the right direction.

Not that the right direction is always easy.

In 2008, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg were among 200 people killed when terrorists attacked Mumbai, India. The Holtzbergs selflessly ran the Chabad house, a beacon of hope and kindness in a city filled with poverty and despair.

Day in Jewish History: Kislev 1
Aish.com

Most of us won’t have to face death in the service of God. Most of us won’t have to face the death of loved ones in the service of God. Most of us won’t have to raise grandchildren because our children died in the service of God.

But it does give you pause. I mean, there’s no promise intrinsic to our faith and trust that limits how much God will ask of you (or me). Especially in the western nations, people of faith aren’t used to working really, really hard in the service of God, at least not most of the time. Sure, we may go on the occasional mission trip to a “third world country” and for a week or two, live in conditions that are a far cry from our comfortable homes in our middle-class suburbs.

But as you may have noticed recently, just being a Jew and living in or visiting Israel can be very dangerous. One of the horrible ironies of this latest terrorist attack was this:

The names of the three people who were killed Thursday by a rocket attack in Kiryat Malachi have been published, and one of whom, it was just discovered, was an emissary of Chabad involved in outreach in India, and was in Israel on a short visit in order to give birth and pay respects to the Chabad victims of the Mumbai terror attack in 2008.

Mirah (nee Cohen) Scharf, the 26-year-old victim of today’s attack, was a “shlucha (female emissary)” to New Dehli, India, visiting Israel for the memorial service of Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries who were victims of the Mumbai terror attack. The Hebrew anniversary of their brutal murder is today.

-Annie Lubin
“Mirah Scharf, Killed by Missile, Laid to Rest”
IsraelNationalNews.com

God, please be merciful to the injured and dying of your people Israel. Be merciful to those who live in harm’s way. Be merciful to the children who wake up every morning wondering if today they will be killed, and go to sleep each night fearing that they will be murdered in their sleep.

There were periods of time when R. Yekusiel Liepler, a chassid of the Alter Rebbe, davened Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv one right after the other; there was no time for intervals.

“Today’s Day”
Sunday, Kislev 1, Rosh Chodesh, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Compared to that, the uncertainty in attending a local church and sometimes being criticized for it doesn’t seem so intimidating.

Blessings upon Israel and her people, the children of Abraham, and of Issac, and of Jacob.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

Psalm 137:5-6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Longing for the Dawn

Moses at SinaiA song of ascents. From the depths I called You, Hashem. O Lord, hear my voice, may Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas. If Your preserve iniquities, O God, O Lord, who could survive? For with You is forgiveness, that You may be feared. I put confidence in Hashem, my soul put confidence, and I hoped for His word, My soul [yearns] for the Lord, among those longing for the dawn, those longing for the dawn. Let Israel hope for Hashem, for with Hashem is kindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.Psalm 130 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

It’s been almost six months since I started this experiment. I feel as if I’m no closer to what I’ve been looking for than when I made this life transition last May. I’m not getting any younger, God.

On the other hand, how long did Abraham and Sarah wait before the birth of Isaac? How long did Isaac wait before the coming of Rebecca, his bride? How long did Jacob wait before he could marry Rachel? How long has every Jew who ever lived waited for the coming of the Messiah? Christians continue to wait for the return of Jesus. How long, O Lord, how long must we wait?

Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s just how life works.

We’ve all been so busy lately. My wife returned to work and she is hardly at home these days. I can’t remember the last time she was able to help out in the library at the Reform shul or with an event at Chabad, let alone the last time she or my daughter went to worship at synagogue. It seems like we’re all running around to this place or that, doing one thing or another. To confess, even Shabbat barely seems like any sort of break in activity compared to the rest of the week (I know you must all think I’m terrible).

The NIV Bible translates Psalm 130:6 as:

I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

lost-in-the-mistAs strange as it may sound to most of you reading these words, my journey of faith has been mostly in darkness or at best, in a half-light. I seem to see what I’m looking for, but I can only picture it dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12), as if I’m straining to see the light of a lamp sitting on the window sill of a home away in the distance. The fog has rolled in and night is upon me. I am chilled to the bone and walk the trail in the darkness alone, with miles before me until my goal, and only the strange ebony sky and unfamiliar territory are my companions.

But more than the watchman at the walls of a besieged city, surrounded by foes and death, do I wait for the morning. “My soul yearns for the Lord, among those longing for the dawn.”

It’s only been six months. Abraham waited for decades for his “miracle” and even after Isaac was born, there were many challenges such as the Akedah and the death of his beloved Sarah. Finally, “Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin” (Genesis 25:8 JPS Tanakh) and another generation picked up the banner, and then another, and another, and…

But I am here now and I am waiting like a watchman in the night. I’m not even sure what I’m waiting for or what it will look like when it arrives (assuming it will ever arrive). I suppose I could say, like any other Christian, that I’m waiting for Jesus to return, but I’m waiting for something else before that. What it is, I cannot say, but I do know that it has not come yet and the longing is still here. Is it belonging? Is it illumination? Is it clarity of purpose? I don’t know.

Maybe I’m just waiting for God to tell me what I’m waiting for. Whatever comes out of this will probably end up being very different from what I’d planned. But then it is His will and not my will that must prevail.

Until I reach whatever God has sent to find me, like a soldier preparing for battle or a watchman at the walls of his city at night, I stare into the darkness and pray for even the faintest sign that there will come the dawn.

nightsky1