Archive for May, 2009

28
May
09

the Irony of Shavuot

It is Shavuot! Get out the fancy tablecloth! All of the relatives are coming for dinner!      

It is Shavuot!  Stores and schools will be closed                                                                  

It is Shavuot! Memories of childhood Shavuot family celebrations!                                   

It is Shavuot! I hope I get lots of presents!                                                                          

It is Shavuot! Time for new clothes!

If you know Shavuot – then you know that these are not usually the thoughts associated with this holiday. For most Jewish people, Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, is a holiday that receives little attention. We could say that Shavuot is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of Jewish holidays.  Shavuot does not get the respect it deserves. In its original context, Shavuot is the offering of the late spring harvest to the Lord. After the destruction of the Second Temple  this agricultural festivals was losing its significance. Shavuot came to be identified as the commemoration of the reception of the Torah by the Jewish people. This gave Shavuot tremendous meaning. At Passover our people were redeemed from the slavery of Egypt. We count 50 days from the early spring harvest to Shavuot. This intermediate period of counting the omer  represents the journey from Egypt to Sinai. Shavuot is the culmination of this whole period of time – just as Sinai was the culmination of the redemption from Egypt. One would think that this meaning would catapult Shavuot to the head of the line of significant Jewish holidays. But it doesn’t. Shavuot is still a holiday that is celebrated only in limited way.  Here is the irony of Shavuot. The holiday commemorates the most important event in Jewish history!

For those who embrace Yeshua as Messiah, Shavuot is also an irony. Most followers of Messiah Yeshua do not acknowledge Shavuot. Even in the Messianic Jewish Movement, Shavuot does not get its due. Let’s take a look and see the tremendous significance of Shavuot for followers of Yeshua. In Leviticus 23, we read that Shavuot takes place seven Sabbaths and one day after the early spring harvest – 50 days.  It is significant that just two chapters later in Leviticus 25 that the year of jubilee takes place every seven Sabbaths of years plus one year or 50 years. During this year, there is a release  to all of the inhabitants of the land.  In Isaiah chapter 61 we read that this release points to the ultimate redemption when the Messiah comes. In the New Covenant, it was on Shavuot, called Pentecost, that the “promise of the fathers” or the Ruach Hakodesh was poured out. you can read about it in Acts chapter 2.  When Peter began to preach, he noted that this is what the prophet Joel was referring to – the restoration of Israel. It is on this date, that the 50th day and the 50th  year come together. On the 50th day, the meaning of  the 50th year finds the beginning of its fulfillment. When we celebrate Shavuot we are celebrating the favorable year of the Lord. We are celebrating the Jubilee. We are celebrating the moment when God brought release or freedom to captives. We are celebrating the return of people to the Garden of Eden. Shavuot is a celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; the first fruits of the restoration of Israel. We should be celebrating Shavuot with much thanksgiving and praise! This is  a good time to take a spiritual inventory of our lives and ask ourselves if we are exhibiting restoration – the Fruit of the Spirit. What will you be doing on Shavuot? I will be reading and studying the Ten Commandments tonight (Thursday); attend a Shavuot service at a local synagogue on Friday morning; have some blintzes with family and then celebrate Shavuot this Shabbat morning with joyful praise and thanksgiving. We will be joined by Steve and Kirsten Schneider who will be sharing via song and testimony about the victories of God.

Make much of Shavuot, the celebration of the Ruach HaKodesh1

24
May
09

Toward A Messianic Jewish Imagination (part 2)

A Messianic Jewish Imagination is the way we think teach and describe the ideal messianic Jewish experience. I have borrowed the term “imagination” from Walter Brueggemann who uses this word to describe the way clergy should communicate the alternative reality of the Good News. He describes preaching as “…the ready, steady, surprising proposal that in the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age.” (Finally Comes The Poet p.3)  I am applying this way of thinking to Messianic Judaism.    I enjoy praying with the Siddur, living Jewishly and participating in the Jewish community. However, the Messianic Jewish Imagination must move beyond Judaism as we know it today.  It must move beyond Judaism plus Yeshua. The Messianic Jewish Imagination must envision a transformed Jewish experience the way it is described by the prophet Isaiah. He speaks of Good News for Israel that includes a complete restoration of relationship between God and the Jewish people that includes peace, happiness and salvation. This transformed Jewish experience takes the richness of Jewish life and transports it to a new reality of life in Messiah. We could call it an Incarnational Messianic Judaism in which the life of messiah is lived out in a visible way. I do not exactly know what this looks like, but the New Covenant in Acts 2:42-47 gives us a glimpse of how the earliest Messiah Followers lived in this new reality. They met together for study, prayer and meals. They met the needs of one another and they experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a very new and real way. They also went to the Temple which means they continued to relate to the rest of the Jewish community. The text also tells us that “God was adding to their number day by day.”  While the book of Acts is descriptive and not always prescriptive, it does give us food for thought. How do we take this description and apply it to the 21st century?  How do we relate to the Jewish community? How do we experience the radical hospitality and radical spirituality and radical love of an Incarnational Messianic Judaism while maintaining   continuity with Jewish worship today.  How do we do “synagogue” in a way that reflects the radical New Covenant reality of life in Yeshua.    This summer, at the UMJC Conference there will be  a track called Welcoming the Ruach In Jewish Space. I am looking forward to hearing how others are exploring this vital aspect of an Incarnational Messianic Jewish experience.    As we articulate a Messianic Jewish Imagination may we move ever closer to that reality and may our people taste the heavenly gift and be drawn to Yeshua.

17
May
09

Toward A Messianic Jewish Imagination

I am in Hartford Connecticut, attending a UMJC Northeast Shabbaton. It was held at Shalom Company, the new home of Shuvah Yisrael Messianic Synagogue.  Shalom Company is the vision of Rabbi Paul Saal.   It is an outreach designed for people to encounter Yeshua in a welcoming and accepting environment. When you enter, you are at Shalom Cafe which is open daily for coffee and shmoozing. Once a week there is an “open mike night” and they periodically host a variety of cultural events.    The offices, sanctuary and classrooms are in the back. This is an innovative approach that brings Yeshua to people in a way that is open and welcoming. 

Notice that I said that the appraoch of the Shalom Company is to bring Yeshua to the people.  This past week’s Torah portion included Leviticus 25 which is about the Sabbatical for the land and the Year of Jubilee. The laws associated with these Sabbaths teach us some important lessons about  an “incarnational” approach to our mission of introducing our people to Yeshua. By “incarnational” I mean   an approach in which Yeshua is manifested in our interactions with people. For example, an incarnational approach would include interacting with people in the neighborhood; developing relataionships at community events or atthe JCC or Hillel. Meeting people where they are and manifesting Yeshua in conversation and action.  In this way, people encounter Yeshua  via the  life we live. In other words, it goes beyond simply sharing information about Yeshua.    The passage asserts that God cares deeply   for the land of Israel and for the Jewish people. God cares for the land because it belongs to him. He cares about the Jewish people  becasue he redeemed them out of Egypt. Thus he has purchased them and therefore they belong to him. God desires to bless that which belongs to him.  The year of Jubilee was to occur every 50 years. At that time, debts were to be forgiven and people returned to the land that God had assigned to each tribe. In this passage we see economic equality, dignity and care for the people. If a person fell on hard times and had to sell a portion of his land,  a near relative would buy it back for him. If he had to sell all of his property, the creditor was to take him in as hired help – not treating him like a slave. If he received a loan, it was to be a no interest. If he fell on such hard times that he became a slave of a foreigner, a near relative was to redeem him. If he was still a debtor at the Jubilee year, he would be freed at that time and he would receive his original alotment of land.  The big idea here is that  the debtor experiences the redemption of God through the redeeming acts of fellow Israelites. The creditor or near relative is acting in an incarnational way to bring redemption to people. This meant that there was radical concern for one another. it required radical trust in God and it was a curb against greed and coventing.

 The Prophet Isaiah took this passage and applied it to the ultimate redemption of the land and the people – the coming of the Messiah. When Yeshua began his ministry, he himself read a portion of this Isaiah passage (Luke 4:16).  Yeshua was identifying himself as the promised redeemer who frees all who embrace him. As his followers, we are called to engage in this ministry of redemption -relieving the debt of people.  Notice how “debt” is used in Matt. 6:12; Matt. 18: 23-35; Col. 2:13-14.  Just as our ancestors were called to a radical trust, a radical equality and radical redemption so we are called to a radical holiness that includes such things as radical hospitality, radical forgiveness, radical love. In these ways, we are bringing Yeshua to people. When we live a radical lifestyle, people experience Yeshua through our lives.  We emulate the life of Yeshua who emptied himself takeing on the form of a bond servant and dying on the tree and being raised from the dead. He came into this world and identified with lost humanity. he came to sesrve and not to be served. He reached out to this world. he went to places that the rightous people would not go. We are called to go to where the people are and  “be like yeshua”. 

We may be thinking that this kind of radical “Yeshua life” is not realisitc.  It is too costly. We may wonder if the jubilee year was wever enacted. That is not the point. The point is that this is the description of the life of redeemed people. We  must view life through the lens of spiritual transformation. What does a messianic Community look like when we live like Yeshua – when we engage in redemptive acts? Can we learn any lessons from Leviticus 25?      I used the word “imagination” in the title of this post. When we read a passage such as Leviticus 25 and see the application to Yeshua  can we articulate what this radical redemptive life would look like in a messianic community? How would Yeshua be manifested within our congrational family? What would a person experience in a messianic community that would different from a traditional synagogue?   How would a Jewish person see Yeshua and be attracted to him in our interactions with people in the community?   The world?  How do we bring Yeshua to the people in an “incarnational” way in a jewish context?  What role does traditon  play in living out the life of Yeshua?  These  are important questions to ponder.

12
May
09

Happy Lag B’Omer!

Beginning on the second day of Passover the Torah tells us to count fifty days to Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks.  Each day we are commanded to bring an omer of grain to the Temple. Since there is no Temple today, the tradition is to count off each day with specific blessings. The counting of the days are called “counting the omer. ”  During this fifty day period there are to be no weddings, parties or other happy occassions in rememberance  of a plague that killed 24,000 people during the counting of the omer in the days of Rabbi Akiva. However on the 33rd day of counting the omer there is a reprieve because it is  believed that on the 33rd day no one died of the plague.   In addition it is believed that on the 33rd day of the omer,  Shimon Bar Yochai died. Shimon Bar Yochai was a disciple of Akiva and   a Jewish mystic who revealed secrets of the Torah and who was the author of the Zohar, a kabbalisitic writing.   The tradition is  that on the day of his death much secret knowledge of Torah was revealed. To celebrate the life of Shimon Bar Yochai and the reprieve of the plague, the 33rd day of the omer is a day of celebration. There are weddings, festivals, bonfires, parades and other celebratory events. The biggest event of all is the pilgrimage that thousands of people make to the grave of Shimon Bar Yochai. This year, about 400,000 people are expected to make the journey. The day is called Lag b’Omer because in Hebrew the letters “lamed” and gimel” make the number 33 – hence l-g b’Omer.  This year, Lag b’Omer is on May 12th. 

What is striking about Lag b’Omer is the  the stature and veneration of the ancient Sages of Israel. Akiva and Yochai are just two great Sages whose lives are remembered and who embody the love of the Jewish people and the love of Torah. If you visit Israel you can visit the tombs of many Sages. You will find people always present, from young children to aged men and women. They are singing and  praying and willing to tell anyone who will listen about the wonders  of the Sage.  The fervent devotion to these Sages who died many years ago comes from the understanding that  they were like living Torah scrolls – they embodied the meaning of Torah.   Jacob Neusner describes the ancient Sage as a scroll of the Torah. Neusner writes, “…what the Sages did had the status of law; the Sage was a model of the law…enjoyed the standing of the embodiment of the Torah. Since the Sage excercised supernatural power as a kind of living Torah, his very deeds served to reveal law as much as his words expressed revelation. that is…another way of saying that the Torah was incarnated in the person of the Sage.” (The Talmud: What it is and what it Says, by Jacob Neusner, published by Rowman and Littlefield, 2006 p. 121)

A Sage was a man of wisdom. In fact the hebrew word for Sage is Chocham – a wise man.   Yeshua functioned as a Sage of Israel. The difference between the Messiah and the other Sages is that while the other Sages are depicted as the incarnation of Torah, Yeshua truly is the incarnation of Torah. He is the wisdom of God. It was not only his teachings but it was his very life that revealed the wisdom of God. For example, Yeshua demonstrated the meaning of Shabbat by the way he lived on Shabbat. Yeshua spoke in parables because his life was a parable. Yeshua did not only tell the truth – he is the truth.  As the Bible says, For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Yeshua the Messiah. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (Jn. 1:17-18).  While people such as Akiva and Yochai gave forth teaching, only Yeshua was the true realization of Torah in the flesh.  The above text uses two words that show the unique nature of Yeshua. He realized the grace and truth of God and he has expained him. The word “realize” means “to come into being” or to “happen” and the word “explained” means to “to interpret” or to “make known”.  Yeshua is the incarnation of truth. He brings the truth to life. In his life, Yeshua explains and interprets God for us. Yeshua is the incarnation or enfleshment of God – the greatest Sage of all. He is the true living Torah. He not only gave the message – he was in himself the message of salvation. He not only preached about salvation he became salvation. In his own death and resurrection he gives life to all who believe.  How fortunate we are to be talmidim of Yeshua. May we be zealous to show him glory and magnify his name and make Talmidim for Yeshua. We do not need to go to his grave to be close to him. He is alive, the first fruits of the resurrection. On this Lag b’omer may we make much of Yeshua  and tell someone about the greatest Sage of all.

 

08
May
09

Shabbat: Dwelling in the Abode of God

It is late on Friday afternoon and soon it will be Shabbat. In the last post, I wrote about the importance of preserving Jewish identity as the Remnant of Israel. There is no greater mark of Jewish identity than the observance of Shabbat.  As someone once said “More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people.” This is similar to the statement of Yeshua when he said that the Sabbath is made  for man and not man for the Sabbath.  As Messianic Jews who are always in danger of assimilation and as Gentiles who are called to the Messianic Jewish community Shabbat is our anchor. Shabbat keeps us moored to the Jewish world. We may “float” in a variety of places but the anchor brings us back each week. There are many commands in Torah to keep the Sabbath – including this week’s Torah portion. However in Exodus 31 we are told that Shabbat is more than an observance – it is a sign of covenant relationship between Israel and God. It reminds us of our calling as Jews, Messianic Jews and as anyone called to messianic Jewish community.  While there are many commands to keep Shabbat there are only a few places in the entire Bible that explain exactly how to keep Shabbat.  We read that we are not to kindle a fire, (Exodus 35:3); carry a load, (Jeremiah 17:27) or conduct business as we read in Nehemiah 13.  Overall, the command to observe Shabbat is to refrain from work and to rest. There is much rabbinic discussion about what defines “work” on Shabbat. There are 39 categories of work that the Sages derived from the description of building the Tabernacle.  No one knows exactly when Shabbat observance included gathering together for services. Perhaps it was in the time of Ezra. We have a hint that it was quite early because Psalm 92 is called a “Song for the Sabbath Day”.  The New Covenant describes Jewish people   gathering together for Shabbat Services (Luke 4:16, 31; Luke 6:6; Luke 13:10; Acts 15:21; 18:4).  These texts reveal that people came together to sing praises to God, to read the Torah and the Prophets and to give a d’rash. Shabbat is a wonderful time to enjoy what God has made and what he has done. It is a time to enjoy family, friends, nature and God himself.  In the midst of choppy waters, Shabbat is an island of time that in its most perfect setting is a glimpse of what life will be like in the world to come.  We profane Shabbat when we make it “common” when we engage in the activity that we do on the other days of the week, such as our livelihood. We make the day holy when we separate it from the other  days.  But it is more that simply engaging in different activity. It is experiencing the day differently. The prophet Amos (Amos 8:5-6) reminds us that it is our attitude on Shabbat that matters most.   Abraham Joshua Heschel expressed this well in the introduction to his book called The Sabbath. He describes the   importance of Shabbat as the essence of the day – not the activities of the day nor the place where we spend the day. It is the time of Shabbat that is holy. What is the essence of Shabbat? It is that on Shabbat we dwell in the abode of God. The nature of Shabbat is dwelling in His presence. Wherever we may be, we dwell with him on Shabbat.  He writes, “The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn.”(p.8). He refers to the traditions and activities of Shabbat as the “architecture of time”(p.8).  No matter where we may be, what our situation in life may be, even if we must work on Shabbat – when we realize that it is the day of Shabbat we can experience the essence of the day.  We can think differently on Shabbat. We can take Shabbat with us wherever we are.  In the New Covenant book of Hebrews we read that in Messiah we experience the essence of Shabbat perpetually. In Messiah we dwell in the abode of God all the time. It is always Shabbat. This should make the weekly Shabbat even more meaningful as we gather with the rest of the Jewish community in  remembering, observing and rejoicing in all that God has done and for us as a people and as a messianic Jewish community rejoicing in Yeshua the Messiah and the unique fellowship we have with God and with one another. Well the sun is setting and it is time to welcome Shabbat.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

05
May
09

Reconciling the Jewish Christian Divide: Lessons From the Early Centuries with Dr. Oskar Skarsaune

imgp8028-rotThe Messianic Studies Institute just completed its annual Visiting Scholar Symposium with Dr. Oskar Skarsaune as its Visiting Scholar. Oskar Skarsaune is a world class biblical scholar who is an expert in the subject of the Jewish origins of Christianity and the history of Jewish believers in Jesus. Among his published works include Incarnation:Myth or Fact; In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity and Jewish Believers in Jesus. The subject of the Sympsoium was Reconciling the Jewish Christian Divide: Lessons From the Early Centuries.

First I must share how impressed I was with Dr. Skarsaune himself.  He is from Oslo Norway and travelled all the way to Columbus Ohio to be with us for a weekend.   He is a humble man and a nuanced thinker who sees past existing paradigms and cares deeply about the Jewish people and the relationship between Jews and Christians.   His lectures were not only interesting and filled with fresh ideas, but the way he communicated spoke volumes. He said many things. To understand all of it is like peeling an onion. Each layer reveals a little bit more.  Here are some of the main points:    

 

1. The traditional view that Yeshua came to do away with the Jewish way of life and “corrupt doctrine” in order to usher in a new faith and new people of God is untrue.   

2. The initial divide was two fold:   

     between Jews who believed in Yeshua and Jews who did not.

     between Yeshua Followers who allowed/practiced Jewish way of life and those who did not.

3. There was a sharing of ideas, concepts and traditions between the Jewish world and Yeshua Followers.

4.  Gentile Yeshua Followers were perceived as having a “hybrid” identity (not pagans and not Jews – who were they?)  which created a need for them to identify themselves clearly – which meant separating themselves from the Jewish world and then from Jewish believers as well.

5. This process of securing an identity as believers resulted in Gentile Yeshua Followers demanding that Jewish believers should assimilate themselves into a “normative” way of living for Messiah – the Gentile way

6. There were dissenting voices among church leaders that in the long run fell on deaf ears. 

7. Rabbinic Judaism jettisoned concepts and catagories thatfollowers of Messiah applied to Yeshua that previously existed in the Jewish world thus isolating Jewish believers and distancing the Jewish world from Yeshua followers.

8. The original divide between Jewish Yeshua Followers and non- believers and the divide among Yeshua followers mentioned above morphed into a divide between the Jewish world and Yeshua Followers – the latter being undestood as Gentiles or assimilated Jews.

9. Today there is a need to reclaim the Jewishness of Yeshua; affirm God’s election of Israel; reclaim the legitimacy of Jewish lifestyle for Jewish believers.; appreciate Jewish heritage.

it was quite meaningful to hear these words from Dr. Skarsaune  Of course Skarsaune is by no means the lone voice in this new paradigm. Daniel Boyarin champions this view in his writings as well as others. I found this Symposium to be quite affirming because Skarsaune was saying that we, the Messianic Jewish movement have a historic precedent and validity – and it is not just us who is saying it!  We learned that in the early centuries there were all kinds of Jewish Yeshua Followers – those who identified more with Jewish practice and others who identified more with Gentile believers and vice versa. Sound familiar? there is much we can learn from the early centuries.

Besides affirmation, may I suggest several practical lessons that we can learn   from this Symposium that can move us forward in our thinking, and practice as a Messianic Jewish Community.

1.     The Jewish Remnant  needs to be nurtured, strengthened and empowered.  The early Jewish yeshua Followers were involved in two worlds and two divides. In both cases the Messianic Jews were the losers – isolated from the Jewish world and forced to assimilate in the community of Gentile Yeshua Followers. The result was that the community of Jewish Messiah Followers faded away. The Remnant was no longer visible.  This is a huge issue but I will comment briefly. The Remnant of Israel are the Jewish Yeshua Followers. The Remnant plays a unique role in the overall plan of God. Messianic Jewish Congregations are the place where the Remnant can express itself; it is the place where Jewish believers can live jewishly; it is the place where the Remnant can fufill its calling in this world of being a visible light to the world and a testimony to our Jewish people.  In a church setting it is impossible for the Jewish Remnant to function as  a visible testimony. The messianic community is necessary for this purpose. 

2. Gentile Yeshua Followers can have an identity in a Messianic Jewish Community.   Gentile Yeshua Followers in a Messianic Jewish Community   are a blessing to the Jewish believers because they  protect the Remnant from assimilation by coming as Gentiles and allowing the Jewish Yeshua Followers  to be distinct in their calling and identity.   By identifying with the Jewish believers they are in effect saying “I have heard that God is with you.” This allows the Remanat to function a light to the nations.   In addition, Gentiles participating in a Messianic Jewish Community are blessed because they can share in the blessings of Israel.    It is like inviting someone over to your house and allowing them to be at home and to share in what you have. This does not mean that they take on your identity and own what is yours.   – but they can share them and enjoy them and be blessed by them. In doing so Gentile believers help Jewish believers maintain their unique identity.  The problem comes when there is identity confusion – when Gentile believers are not sure of their own identiy. This requires good teaching and clear vision. 

A good question to ask is this: If Gentile believers have their own identity   in a Messianic Jewish Congregation how can the Jewish believers truly maintain  their own identity and testimony and authenticity? After all, almost all congregations have many more Gentiles than Jews.    Here is the problem.  There are not enough Jews in most Messianic Jewish Congregations!!  I know that at Beth Messiah in Columbus  all of the Gentiles are appreciated immenselyand I know that all of us desire   that more Jewish people would come to the congregation. it is our calling and our desire. If our movement is to survive we need more Jewish people to come to know the Messiah; more Jewish believers to come to Messianic Jewish Congregations.  more Jewish people, period.  We can build all of the infrastructure that we want and raise up new leaders – but without more Jewish people what will become of the Messianic Jewish Movement? God raised up the first messianic Jewish community thousands of years ago. A generation ago He raised up another messianc Jewish community.  Let us learn to create new ways of communicating the Good News of Messiah with Jewish people; let us have open borders so Jewish people can come and explore Messianic Judaism; let us be inviting to Jewish believers who have never been part of a messianc Jewish community; let us create new paradigms for how we “do” messianic Jewish congregation. let us remember to pray. it is God who raises up and it is God who tears down. May He raise up a new generation of Messianic Jews to be a testimony of faith in Yeshua to the Jewish Community and a light to the nations.  

3. The Messianic Jewish Community should lead the way in reconciling the Divide.  On the surface,  this sounds almost absurd! How can a movement that is still divided from the mainstream Jewish world and somewhat marginalized by the Christian world be the bridge?  First, let us not underestimate the power of Yeshua who is our peace; reconciler and unifier. We should be the testimony of unity between Jews and Gentiles.    Messianic Jewish Communities should the the avenue of introdcution of Judaism to Gentiles and the avenue of introduction to Yeshua Faith for Jewish people. but more on that later.

In the UMJC we discuss and explore and experimentwith new ideas about how we can function best as messianic Jewish Communities.  We need to exhibit   mutual respect for one another as  we continue on this journey. may we learn from the past as we forge a new future for the Messianic Jewish Movement.

01
May
09

Kabbetz HaEsrim: Encouraging a New Generation of Leaders

Last weekend Beth Messiah Congregation hosted the UMJC midwest 20’s conference called Kabbetz HaEsrim.  Approximately 50 people converged on Columbus for a weekend of worship, study and fellowship. J. David, our 20’s committee chair and Shaletha Riggs, from Beth Messiah,  a 20’s committee member and local coordinator,  did a great job of making it a successful weekend.  The  Amidah was the subject of the teachings   The theme verse for the weekend was Psalm 51:15  O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise.  David was praying that God would remove the obstacles that kept him from opening his lips in praise.  The men and women attending the conference were challenged to think about the obstacles that keep them from “opening their lips”   and to come to God in prayer asking him to remove the impediments. We need to raise up leaders who not only have a good education and are knowledgeable in Jewish practice but who have cultivated a committed life to Yeshua and abide in Him. As a messianic community, this kind of life is partially reflected in the context of Jewish prayer.  Engaging the Siddur in prayer can be a pipeline to a deeper walk with God in Yeshua when prayer comes from the heart and we are filled with the Ruach Hakodesh. It is interesting that in Eph. 5:18-19 the text says that evidence of being filled with the Spirit is singing psalms hymns and spiritual songs. Well…the Siddur is filled with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs! Jewish prayer gives us discipline in our expression of praise and causes us to enter a communal experience with the rest of the Jewish community.    At the same time it gives us a communal experience with other followers of Messiah Yeshua because we are praying in the power of the Ruach.  What I am saying is that Jewish prayer is not an end in itself. It can be  an avenue to spiritual growth in Yeshua.  The great Sages of Israel taught that prayer must come from the heart and that it is an way to deeper relationship with God. but in Yeshua we experience the “promise of the fathers” or as Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 1 in Messiah we have “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.” We experience New Covenant blessings as believers in Yeshua which include a unique intimacy with God.  This truth makes Yeshua the very center – the core of messianic life – not just a part of it.  It is also a compelling reason to bring Yeshua to our people. I encourage us all to use the Siddur in  personal prayer time as well as in our services. At Beth Messiah we use a messianic siddur but a traditional one is ok too. Many people do not read hebrew so a good English translation in the Siddur is essential.  I like to use the Siddur each day in my persoanl prayer but i do not feel bound to singing the entire Shachrit morning service. I tailor it to my own life. However, the Amida and Shema are the core of daily Jewish prayer. This is in addition to bible reading and spontaneous prayer.

Speaking to a a 20’s group is speaking to  the potential future leaders of the Messianic Movement.  I spoke to them not only about a vital prayer life but i also encouraged them  to be pro-active in communicating to the leadershp of the UMJC about new ideas and paradigms;  to help craft the future of the UMJC.  When Job had his ills, his friends spoke to him, sharing what we might call “conventional wisdom” of the day. After the friends were done speaking, we read of a fourth person who speaks to Job. His name is Elihu.  He was a young man who waited for his elders to finish speaking and then he took his turn.    Our young people have waited for their turn to speak. Now is the time for them to speak up with new and creative ways of living out a Messianic Jewish life and new ways of communicating the message of salvation to our people.   When Elihu had his turn he says this

 Job 32:6-20 “I am young in years and you are old; Therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think. 7 “I thought age should speak, And increased years should teach wisdom. 8 “But it is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding. 9 “The abundant in years may not be wise, Nor may elders understand justice. 10 “So I say, ‘Listen to me, I too will tell what I think.’ 11“Behold, I waited for your words, I listened to your reasonings, While you pondered what to say. 12 “I even paid close attention to you; Indeed, there was no one who refuted Job, Not one of you who answered his words. 13 “Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom; God will rout him, not man.’ 14 “For he has not arranged his words against me, Nor will I reply to him with your arguments. 15 “They are dismayed, they no longer answer; Words have failed them. 16 “Shall I wait, because they do not speak, Because they stop and no longer answer? 17 “I too will answer my share, I also will tell my opinion. 18 “For I am full of words; The spirit within me constrains me. 19“Behold, my belly is like unvented wine, Like new wineskins it is about to burst. 20 “Let me speak that I may get relief; Let me open my lips and answer. 

Notice that he “opens his lips”  the same phrase as in Psalm 51.  it is a euphanism for speaing.  May our young people have Yeshua as their center of their lives and may God open their lips to sing praise to God and may God also open their lips with   creative new ways that will advance the kingdom of God and bring new life to the UMJC.

I am listening.