Tag Archives: missionary

Will Our Children Have Faith?

It may seem strange to consider Judaism a missionary religion. Yet the Pharisees are described as “compass[ing] sea and land to make one proselyte.” (Matthew 23:15) Rabbinic Judaism, the product of these Pharisees, saw in Abraham and Sarah the models for those who converted non-Jews to Judaism, speaking of them as “making souls.” (Cf. Gen. 12:5)

The proselyte was viewed with special favor. Unlike the Israelites at Sinai the proselyte had come under the wings of the Divine Presence without the impetus of thunder and lightning. Conversionary activity, however, diminished as Christianity gained power and proscribed conversion to Judaism. Even so, there were notable conversions to Judaism in the medieval period.

In the modern period with the advent of “Outreach” in the Reform Jewish community, there is renewed interest in presenting Judaism as an attractive option to those outside of Judaism who might be interested.

-Leonard Kravitz and Kerry M. Olitzky
“Judaism as a Missionary Religion,” p.14
Chapter One: At Sinai Moses Received the Torah
Pirke Avot: A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics

This isn’t the only time in the first fourteen pages of this book that the authors quoted from the Apostolic Scriptures (favorably), which is something of a surprise in a (non-Messianic) Jewish publication. I’ve also read similar commentaries in the past on the historic and arguably modern interpretation of Judaism as “missionary.”

Of course, it’s well-known that the Chabad have a very active and even aggressive outreach process, but this is usually directed at non-observant or minimally observant Jews. They aren’t actively trying to convert Gentiles to Judaism although, on occasion, they will encourage non-Jews to observe the seven Noahide Laws.

I’ve been thinking about Messianic Judaism across multiple generations, especially as applied to non-Jewish members or adherents otherwise known as “Messianic Gentiles.” I’ve read a couple of blog posts over the past few days, both written by “Hebrew Roots Gentiles,” discussing the desire to pass their beliefs on to the next generation.

This is really difficult to do.

Even in modern Judaism and Christianity, there is no guarantee that your children will follow in your footsteps. Sure, it’s more likely in Orthodox Judaism for your children to continue in an Orthodox lifestyle, but in Reform Judaism, it’s not such a big step from there to becoming completely secular and even assimilated. There are also plenty of Christians whose children leave the faith. It can be truly said that God has no grandchildren. We each negotiate our own relationship with our Creator, regardless of who our parents are or what they believe and practice.

OK, that’s not exactly true for Jewish people. Even a secular and assimilated Jew is still a Jew. Jewish people are the only population to ever exist who are born into a covenant relationship with God, whether they want to be or not. I believe at the end of the age, each Jew who chose not to respond to the covenants will have to give an accounting to God.

Yes, the rest of us will too will have to give an account, but it won’t be the same since no non-Jew is born automatically having a specific set of obligations to God based on a set of covenants made thousands of years ago.

And in Messianic and Hebrew Roots communities, the problem is compounded.

A few years back I attended the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel in Hudson, Wisconsin. There were a number of families there, both Jewish and Gentile, who were discussing matchmaking. That is, they were concerned about who their children were going to marry.

This wasn’t idle chatter. Some of the younger generation present at the event were approaching or already at marriageable age. There were even suggestions being made as to which two young people to match up (much to the discomfort of the young people present who were being discussed).

There are just tons and tons of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues of various denominations and branches available almost everywhere on Earth. A Christian desiring to marry a Christian companion might not have any more difficult a time at finding an appropriate mate than any given atheist. For Jews it is probably the same, given access to a sufficiently large Jewish population (here in Idaho, it would definitely be more of a chore).

learning hebrewBut what about Messianic Jews and Gentiles? At least in the U.S. and Canada, there aren’t that many communities to choose a proper companion from. Do you marry a Christian and call it good? Do you marry a (non-Messianic) Jew and give up your faith in Yeshua (Jesus)?

I’ve known more than a few young adults, Jewish and Gentile, who are Messianic and who either took many years to finally find a good match or who are still waiting for him or her to come along.

Messianic Judaism is a missionary religion but with a twist. It’s main focus is or should be to spread the good news of Messiah to other Jews.

For instance, on the main page of the Tikvat Israel website, it states:

Where Jewish people and their families & friends can experience a Jewish service & community while believing Yeshua (Jesus) is Messiah.

Gentiles are hardly excluded but the outreach and call to faith is definitely directed “to the Jew first,” so to speak.

I think many “Messianic Gentiles” self-select our way of life. I’ve heard endless stories from people who used to go to church saying that what they were being taught from the pulpit just wasn’t satisfying and didn’t seem to match up with what the Bible actually says. I think we’re all attracted to a more Jewish interpretation of the scriptures for a variety of reasons. Many of us are intermarried with Jewish spouses and so are exposed to religious and cultural Judaism as a matter of course. And many “Hebrew Christians” have returned to the Torah by way of Messianic Judaism and brought their non-Jewish family members with them into the movement.

But while children don’t have much say about which church or synagogue their parents take them to, as these young people grow into adulthood, they have plenty of say over their lives.

I know in my own experience, as soon as I was old enough to tell my parents I wasn’t going to church anymore, I did, and I didn’t see the inside of a church as a worshiper for decades.

My own children went through a series of religious “encounters” starting with church, then a Hebrew Roots group, and then the local Reform/Conservative shul. They all eventually exited out of Yeshua-belief and then just about anything that resembles Jewish observance. Except for some approach to keeping Biblically (but not halachically) kosher and ethnically identifying as Jewish, they have no relationship with God as Jews.

I don’t doubt that Gentile and Jewish believers will continue to be drawn from their churches to Messianic Judaism and/or Hebrew Roots. Thus generation after generation of adults will enter these movements and learn something about some “Hebraic” method of interpreting scripture, gaining a more Jewish apprehension of the Messiah, the Gospel message, and the function of the New Covenant. But what about our children?

I don’t have a solution, but I do have a joke:

Three rabbis were talking over regular Sunday morning breakfast get-together.

Rabbi Ginsberg says, “Oy! We have such a problem with mice at our schul. The shammos set out all kinds of baited traps but them keep coming back. Do either of you learned men know how I can get rid of these vermin?”.

The second rabbi, Rabbi Cohen replied, “We have the same problem at our synagogue, we’ve spent all kinds of gelt on exterminators but the problem still persists. Any suggestions?”.

The third rabbi, Rabbi Slosberg looked at Rabbi Ginsberg and Rabbi Cohen and told the following story. “Rabbis’, we had the same problem with mice at our synagogue, we tried traps, exterminators, even prayers; nothing worked.”

three rabbis“Then one Shabbos after services were over a brilliant idea came into my mind. The next shabbos I went to the synagogue about and hour before services started. I brought big wheel of yellow cheese and placed in the center of the bima. Well, soon tens of mice appeared on the bima and headed for the cheese. While they were feasting on the cheese I Bar-mitzvahed all of them.

I never saw them in Schul again!

The reason that’s funny is because it’s tragically true. As much as you as parents try to teach your values to your children, someday, they have to make a decision as adults whether to make your values their values. Sometimes they decide “yes,” but they can also say “no” and choose their own path. The only way a person is truly drawn to God is by God.

Mission to the Church

Question:

I read on Aish.com that “Every Jew is equally important to our mission.” Pardon my question, but exactly what is our mission?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

No need to apologize. The only bad question is one that remains unasked.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l wrote an article for Israel’s 50th anniversary, which was published in Azure magazine. There he writes:

“Tikkun Olam” is the basis of what drives the Jewish people to greatness. It all started back with Abraham. His business was to go out and teach what it means to be “created in the image of God.” He demonstrated how a human being has to take responsibility for the world. Abraham’s undertaking was the first progressive, liberal movement the world had ever seen. And look how it succeeded!

Tikkun Olam is the Jewish legacy. In looking back at the first 3,000 years of Jewish history, we don’t recall the names of any great entertainers or athletes or corporate executives. We recall the great teachers of the Jewish message: Moses, King David, Maimonides, the Vilna Gaon. That is the essential Jewish legacy. The message was engrained in our souls at Mount Sinai and it is the single defining characteristic of our people.

Torah methodology is universal – for Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, Israel and the diaspora, left and right. The Torah is alive and relevant for today. And for the Jewish people, the ability to effectively communicate this message is our single most important undertaking.

I hope this helps answer your question. Though this raises a whole new question: What are you going to do about it?!

-from “Jewish Mission”
Aish.com

We don’t often think of Jews as “missionaries.” In fact, except for arguably the Chabad, religious Judaism doesn’t really practice anything we’d call “outreach. And yet we see in the above-quoted text that the Aish Rabbi, referencing Rabbi Noah Weinberg, not only believes that the “Torah methodology is universal – for Jews and non-Jews,” but that the “Torah is alive and relevant for today,” and like Abraham, it should be used to teach everyone that we were all “created in the image of God” as a responsibility the Jewish people have to the entire world.

About a year ago, Rabbi David Rudolph delivered a sermon to his congregation Tikvat Israel called Our Mission in which he outlined the specific mission for his synagogue to reach out to the larger Jewish community in Richmond, Virginia.

Others objected after listening to the recorded sermon, stating that R. Rudolph was being exclusionary and that the mission of any Messianic Jewish group should be equally to Jews and Gentiles. Interestingly enough, I find R. Rudolph’s approach to be quite Pauline in nature (Acts 3:26, 19:8-10, Romans 1:16, 2:9). Rudolph’s complementary sermon is called ”We Need Each Other” (find it by going to Sermons and then scroll down and look under the “Unity” category) illustrating that Jewish and Gentile disciples in Messiah need really do need each other.

I chronicled all of this in two blog posts: Twoness and Oneness: From the Sermons of David Rudolph and Oneness, Twoness, and Three Converts. In a sense, this mirrors the larger normative Judaisms of our day in that the mission of religious Judaism is to bring secular Jews back to the Torah and to reach out to the people of the nations of the world, teaching them (us) the lessons of ethical monotheism and our responsibilities to the world as beings created in God’s image.

new heartI’ve been thinking of my own “mission” (so-called) to the Christian Church to share the “good news” of the Messiah, that all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), that the Gentiles who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12) will come alongside Israel to raise the fallen tent of David, that the Temple will be called a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7), but only if we will take hold of the tzitzit of a Jewish man (Zechariah 8:23) who I believe is a very specific Jewish man, Messiah, Son of David, whom the Church calls Jesus Christ.

It hasn’t gone so well and frankly, I’m concerned that any sort of effectiveness I may have once experienced is rapidly waning. I guess good news for the Jewish people doesn’t sound so good to Christians who are used to sitting in the Catbird seat, so to speak.

I recently read an objection to the Noahide laws that religious Judaism applies to the rest of the world as the minimum standards by which the nations are expected to live. I also recall a story Pastor Randy told me about his time in Israel. He noticed a Jewish man would sit just outside a Christian church or seminary (I can’t remember which one) and after engaging the man in conversation, Pastor realized this man was trying to live out his “mission” to be a light to the nations. I think my friend Gene Shlomovich is trying to do the same thing and for pretty much the same reason. From their point of view, the Noahide laws are incumbent for all of humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. And if we are to take the Aish Rabbi at his word, Torah, in some manner or fashion is also applicable on all of humanity, not just the Jewish people.

But it depends on what you call Torah or instruction, and it depends on how you want to apply the specifics of all those instructions on the Jewish people vs. the rest of the world.

Actually, as far as people go, the Noahide laws aren’t a bad place to start. They are expressed as a list of (mostly) “negative commandments,” that is, a list of “don’t” but could easily be rephrased to be the opposite. Here’s how they’re listed at AskNoah.org:

  1. Do Not Worship a False Deity
  2. Do Not Commit Blasphemy
  3. Do Not Commit Murder or Injury
  4. Do Not Have Forbidden Sexual Relations
  5. Do Not Commit Theft
  6. Do Not Eat Meat Taken from a Live Animal
  7. Establish Laws and Courts of Justice

That actually doesn’t sound bad at all. Click the link I provided just above this list to read all of the explanatory text accompanying those commandments and you’ll see there’s more to them than meets the eye (the origin of the Noahide laws can be found in Genesis 9).

Here’s the list again, reworked to a list of positive commandments:

  1. Worship the One, true God and obey Him only.
  2. Sanctify the Name of God and bless Him.
  3. Preserve and sanctify human life.
  4. Cleave to and honor your spouse, forsaking all others.
  5. Only that which is yours may you use and consume.
  6. Treat the lesser beasts with compassion, committing no cruelty to them.
  7. Establish just laws and courts in judging your fellows because your God is lawful and just in judging mankind.

wrapping paperBefore complaining that you don’t have enough of God’s laws to obey, check and make sure you’re meeting even the minimum standard I’ve just listed here.

If you’ve been paying attention, you should have noticed that each of these laws is quite Biblical and expresses the desires and will of God. They read like a condensation of the laws of the Torah and each of these laws can be unpackaged to produce a lot of detail.

For instance, it would be difficult for a single individual to establish an entire court system for his or her nation, but we can take that commandment to also mean that we should treat other people in a just manner. In fact, part of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4) includes the phrase “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” implying (or outright saying) that God will forgive our transgressions in the same manner as we forgive those who have sinned against us. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

If this is a large part of the mission of the Jewish people to the rest of the world, it’s not so bad at all. In fact, you can see the Noahide laws as the place where Jesus was starting with the non-Jewish people, principally through Paul but ultimately through all of the apostles, and then trying to elevate us, first with the four Acts 15 particulars, and then ultimately in defining how the Torah of Moses is applied to Gentile believers.

God entrusted Noah with a basic set of laws that were to be applied to all humanity. This was in the days before Abraham, and thus mankind knew or should have known what God expected of them…of us. Then, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and through Jacob’s children, the twelve tribes, the Israelites, the Jewish people, were entrusted to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:7-8 (NRSV)

lightAs you can see, Israel was to be a light to the nations from the very beginning. It is true that Israel has had great difficulty in fulfilling that mission. The Tanakh (Old Testament) is a litany of blessings and curses God has heaped upon Israel for cycle after cycle of obedience and disobedience. And yet as we’ve seen from D. Thomas Lancaster’s New Covenant lecture series, the intent of the New Covenant was not to change the Law and how it was applied, it was and is intended to change people so that we will be able to obey the law God has given us as applied to Jews and to the Gentiles called by His Name.

Jesus was the ultimate example of Israel’s “light to the world”:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (NRSV)

And he transmitted or rather, reaffirmed Israel’s mission to be a light to the world to his Jewish disciples:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)

And that light was to be shown to everyone by the Jewish disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

The Master selected Paul as a special emissary to take this “good news” to the Gentiles as well as to Israel:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel…”

Acts 9:15

And it was first revealed to Peter that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit and be saved:

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Acts 10:44-48 (NRSV)

Unfortunately, the actual “good news” of the New Covenant blessings to the Gentiles has become rather warped in its meaning and in many cases, that it is good news to the Jew first has become forgotten, even though it is plain in the Biblical text (Romans 1:16 for example).

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsThe Jewish mission is to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) by returning the secular Jew to the Torah and to be a light to the nations, informing us of the good news of God. From a Messianic Jewish perspective (a viewpoint I have adopted), the perfect example of the “world repairer” is Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus). He assigned his disciples to be a light to the Jewish people and to the nations, and particularly Paul was to both return the Jewish people to a more specific observance of Torah (this was illustrated in articles written by Derek Leman and David Matthews at AncientBible.net) and to illuminate the Gentiles in the diaspora with the light of Messiah.

But while the Christian Church has done much good in the world (and sadly in its history, also great evil), it is currently suffering from mission drift and is in desperate need of what you might call a Messianic Reformation. I think that was Boaz Michael’s intent in writing Tent of David and subsequently traveling back and forth across America giving Tent Builders seminars.

And so it is now up to we Messianic Gentiles inhabiting our churches to carry that light back into the Christian community. But history teaches that we won’t always be successful and that some will reject our offer of good news, substituting what they already believe they have for what Jesus intended apostles like Paul to teach. We know from Paul’s own history that he received “mixed reviews” and that while some eagerly accepted the gospel of Messiah, others vehemently rejected it.

And so it is with us. All we can do…all I can do, is to be a voice in the wilderness, a small ship on a vast and turbulent sea, crying out, raising my sails, hoping someone will have ears to hear and eyes to see, and for those who do, it is wonderful. For those who don’t, may God send another emissary who may gain better “traction,” and if He chooses not to (for did he send someone after Paul to all those who rejected Paul?), then may he forgive me for my failure and may he forgive all of us who do not or have not listened, as the Master taught, “forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Not all Christians are going to help raise the tent of David. Sometimes, they’ll let it fall.

Addendum: since writing and publishing this blog post, I revisited something I wrote almost a year ago called Conquering Wrong with Right. It was not so much a record of my own dissonance with normative Christianity but the Church as seen through the eyes of a millennial blogger; a young woman who doesn’t want to give up on the Church but who doesn’t see Christians living up to the ideal of Christ. I thought it was a fit addition to the current message.

Acting for the Messiah

acts_isaac_maryThe Torah of Moses and the instructions of our Master Yeshua instruct us to open our hands to the poor and not hold back from providing for the needy. As disciples of the Master, it is our duty to fulfill these obligations to the best of our ability and to meet the need where it is greatest. Tororo, Uganda, like many other locations around the world, is subject to harsh poverty, low quality of life, and often a dangerous environment to live in, especially for the young.

-from the A.C.T.S. for Messiah website.

I know I said I wasn’t going to discuss the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference anymore, but there is one important aspect I forgot to mention. During the conference, there were two meals not covered by the conference registration. They were fundraisers for a missionary effort called A.C.T.S. for Messiah, which according to their About page:

…is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the orphaned, widows, poor and needy in Africa. This Messianic Jewish mission is based in the East African nation of Uganda where Emily Dwyer brings the Gospel of Yeshua to remote villages, teaches discipleship, feeds the hungry and cares for a group of orphaned children. Our ministry is based in the village of Tororo, Uganda.

One thing I know about the Christian church is that they’re very good at sending compassionate missions outside of their own walls, to destinations ranging from different cities in the U.S., to the towns, villages and refuge camps where ever they are found across far-flung corners of the Earth. Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, not so much. Traditionally, Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots have focused their attention and resources on establishing their movements and the primacy of the Torah. But Messianic Judaism, thanks in part to the aforementioned Shavuot Conference, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) as an educational ministry, and other Messianic organizations, that viewpoint is becoming more balanced, resting upon (if I can “borrow” from the conference again) Torah, the Good News of Messiah, and the Holy Spirit.

I first encountered A.C.T.S. (the acronym means “Action, Compassion, Teaching and Service”) during last year’s conference. Fortunately this year, they accepted credit cards as well as cash, so I didn’t have to depend on the kindness of strangers (I don’t like traveling with cash) when I wanted to participate.

I’m incredibly pleased to see Messianic Judaism embrace this long-established function of the church in extending itself to uphold this principle of Torah and ancient Judaism. I think it means the movement is maturing beyond its “start-up” stage and is becoming a more holistically functioning expression of the Messiah’s love in the world.

And while you may think that such compassion is primarily Christian/Messianic, I just want to remind you that modern Judaism is an abundant source of love for others.

Dr. Rick Hodes concluded his May 19, 2013 commencement address at Brandeis University this way (the link above leads to the entire content of the article which includes many examples of Jewish compassion to the disadvantaged, the sick, and the dying):

You now start a lifelong link with a great name – Brandeis. What can we learn from Louis Brandeis? He was described as “the disturbing element in any gentleman’s club,” he owned a canoe, not a yacht, he angered clients by trying to be fair to both sides; the judge who succeeded him, called him “a militant crusader for social justice… dangerous because he was incorruptible.” Live up to his legacy.

Spread kindness. You are here because a lot of people helped you along the way. Maybe it was your 10th-grade math teacher who gave you a second chance, maybe it was someone who inspired you in a summer job.

This week, buy beautiful cards and send out four or five, to people who’ve helped you. Let them know you’ve just graduated from Brandeis and they were important to you. They’re going to feel great, and they’ll do it again for others.

Remember this: Run to do good. Create a momentum in the right direction. Get your hands dirty. Wear out your shoes. Don’t try to get too comfortable, please!

Now I imagine the start of a horse race and the bell rings. But you don’t need to race against each other. Whatever horse you choose, and whatever path you follow, I wish you great success and great happiness.

I wish you a lot more than luck, and may God bless you all.

syrian-refugeesThe Pastor of my church was raised by missionary parents and he became a missionary himself. The church I attend aggressively supports multiple missionary efforts around the globe. Many people who attend the church volunteer their time to travel to other countries to pray, encourage, support, build, teach, and do whatever else it takes to feed the hungry, heal the sick and injured, and show the love of Jesus Christ to whoever they may encounter.

A video news story was shown at the beginning of last Sunday’s worship service at my church (found online at CBN.com). It was a Skype interview of a missionary in Syria whose group is providing shelter, food, and support to anyone in need, Christian, Muslim, or anyone else. My words fail dismally to describe what this almost four-minute long video illustrates (I’ve posted the video from YouTube at the bottom of this blog post). The devastation of life is just ghastly, but one courageous group of Christians work to help just because God so loved the world, not just the Christian world, not just the white world, not just the American world, but every man, woman, and child who were created in the image of God.

In other words, everyone.

Part of why I’m writing this is to show that Messianic Judaism is indeed following the will of the Master and the teachings of the Torah, as is much of the traditional Christian church. Another part of why I’m writing this is to ask you to care. Yes, some of you really do care. Some of you give generously, work endlessly, pray fervently for those in need. But more of you…of us need to do the same. Love and worship is more than just showing up to the church on time for Sunday services and going to Sunday school afterwards, strolling through the Bible while drinking coffee and munching on muffins.

Love and caring means giving of whatever you have to give and sharing whatever God has given you to share.

Oh people, look around you
The signs are everywhere
You’ve left it for somebody other than you
To be the one to care
You’re lost inside your houses
There’s no time to find you now
Your walls are burning and your towers are turning
I’m going to leave you here and try to get down to the sea somehow

-Jackson Browne
Rock Me On The Water (1972)

Feed the hungry, take care of the widow and orphan, provide medical care for the sick, make a difference.

Act now.

111 days.