Archive for August, 2009

28
Aug
09

Psalm 27: coming with confidence to God

During the month of Elul we read Psalm 27 every day in order to prepare for the High Holy Days. But why this particular Psalm? Perhaps it is because psalm 27 reflects our lives as we approach the Days of Awe. The Psalm begins with words of great confidence: the Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear?  The first three verses exude trust and confidence in God. The writer is saying that no matter what my circumstances might be, God will be with me and he will guide me and he will deliver me.  However, in verse 9 the writer seems to have a different attitude: Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation!

He pleads with God not to hide his face from him; not to abandon him; not to be angry with him. What has happened to the confidence?  I think that the key is in the last verse which reads: Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes wait for the Lord. 

 Confidence is not independance. Confidence is not self righteousness. When we have confidence in the Lord we identify with him.  This means that we have such intimacy with God that we can say that the light that I have is the light of the Lord. He does not only provide deliverance for me but he himself is the deliverance. This unique unity with God causes us to face every challenge; every relationship; every thing and every situation with God as the mediator. As followers of the Messiah of Israel, we know that he is the mediator between God and ourselves but he is also the mediator in everything else.  Yeshua comes between us and every situation. He comes between us and every relationship. Everything is mediated through him.    In the midst of a problem we cry to God as a child cries to his father. A child runs to his father because he knows that he can count on him. He runs to his father – not to try to convince him to help   – but because he is assured of his help. This is what it means to be dependant on God. this is what it means to be identified with God – to be “in Messiah.”  When we “wait on the Lord” we are waiting with confidence for his deliverance in whatever form it might come.  During the days of preparation in this season of repentance, we are confident of the forgiveness of God because of the atonement for our sins made by the Messiah. Yet at the same time we come before him knowing that we have sinned and   that we are fallen people.  As king David wrote in Psalm 51 “my sin is ever before me.”  Let us come with confidence to the Lord that he will not reject us; he will not forsake us. Rather he will cleanse us and make us whole and new again.  as the writer of Hebrews says, 

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;  Heb. 10:19-22

 

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27
Aug
09

Immersion

During this month of Elul we have a tradition at Beth Messiah of immersing people in water who have professed faith in Yeshua the Messiah. In the New Covenant Yeshua said to go and make disciples and to immerse  them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The word for immerse in most bibles is the word “baptize.”  The word “baptize” or  “baptism” is a foreign word to Jewish people.  Not only is it a foreign word but it has quite a negative connotation for many of us.  Baptism has often been identified with the persecution of the Jewish people in the Middle Ages. For many of us it conjures up the notion of conversion and the loss of Jewish identity.   The word “baptize” is a Greek word that is transliterated in the English bible but not translated. The word itself means to immerse under water.  It is used in ancient literature of a ship sinking or of material being placed under liquid.  One common usage of the word in the ancient world was to describe material being dipped into dye. In this sense there is an aspect of identification with the usage of the word.  The material coming out is identified with the dye into which it was immersed.  

 The rite of immersion is first depicted in the New Covenant in Matthew chapter 3 where we find John  baptizing (immersing) people as they confessed their sins.  This rite of being dipped in water is the Jewish rite of mikveh.  Mikveh is a Jewish custom that is practiced today.  It is used for purposes of ritual cleansing as well as for conversion.  Aryeh Kaplan, in his book, Waters of Eden  describes miveh as entering into the womb and being born. He also depicts it as entering the grave and rising from the dead. The idea is that entering the waters of Mikveh depicts a person staring new and being cleansed before God.

 John’s mikveh or immersion was a mikveh of repentance.  When we embrace Yeshua s Messiah we participate in a mikveh of testimony. We are publicly declaring that we believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and we publicly repent of our sins and promise to live a life of godliness as we follow Yeshua, the way of righteousness. This year, we used a service that was created by Dr. Mark Kinzer, rabbi of Zera Avraham Congregation in Ann Arbor Michigan.  After a communal confession of sins, I asked each participant three questions: “Do you renounce all evil and seek a life of kedusha – of study, worship and deeds of loving-kindness?”  “Do you believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and the Son of God?”  and “Will you follow Yeshua and live as his disciple?”  It was similar to taking marriage vows – a public declaration of covenant love and fidelity.  After their answer to the questions and prayer, each was immersed in water.

 This rite is an outward expression of what happens to us inwardly when we embrace Yeshua.  We are immersed into Yeshua when we believe that he is the Messiah and Lord. The promise is in Ezek. 36:24-27    

“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.  25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

 We read about the fulfillment in   in Romans 6:3-4  

Or do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Messiah Yeshua have been immersed  into His death?  4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through immersion into death, so that as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

 In our identification with Yeshua we have been cleansed from sin. The Ruach Ha’Kodesh dwells within us and we are empowered to live godly lives. the rite of immersion testified of this inward truth.

 We had 5 men immersed. Two of them are Jewish men who have come to be followers of the Messiah of Israel. May this month of Elul be a time of committing ourselves once again to covenant faithfulness.  

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21
Aug
09

preparing for the high holy days

Forty days is a significant period of time in the Scriptures. The flood lasted for forty days. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights. The Spies in the wilderness returned after 40 days.  Yeshua fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. Yeshua appeared to his disciples for 40 days after He rose from the dead.  so it should not surprise us that Jewish tradition gives us 40 days to prepare for Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. The first day of the month of Elul begins the forty days of preparation.  During this time, the shofar is blown at the end of the morning Shacharit weekday services to remind us of the call to repentance. In addition Psalm 27 is read every day to prepare for the season of repentance.  As a messianic Jewish community we recognize that God always desires repentance and contrition.  A season of repentance is a healthy discipline for all of us. In addition, these traditions and the biblical observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are corporate in nature. They pertain to us as a people and not simply as individuals. Therefore as the remnant of Israel, we have a responsibility to participate with the rest of the Jewish community in the corporate contrition and confession of sins. During this season we confess sins and we intercede on behalf of our people. It is also a time for us to take  personal inventory of our lives and of the life of our community.  I find this time of year to be rich in meaning in my our spiritual journey and in the life of our congregation.  

 

In a little book called The Way of God, Martin Buber relates a Chasidic story that is a good beginning place for our journey of repentance and restoration. Rabbi Shneur Zalman was confronted by someone who challenged him with a question about how God could be all knowing yet still ask Adam: “where are you?” here is the discussion as Buber retells it:

Man: how are we to understand that God the all-knowing, said to Adam: “Where art thou?”

Rabbi: do you believe that the Scriptures are eternal and that every generation and every man is included in them?

Man: I believe

Rabbi: Well then, in every era, God calls to every man: “Where are you in your world? So many years and days of those allotted to you have passed, and how far have you gotten in your world?” God says something like this, “You have lived forty-six years. How far along are you?”

 

Buber explains that the purpose of the question that God poses is to evoke a response in us that causes us to ask ourselves the same question: “Where are you?”   He says that we are like Adam – we hide from the face of God by turning our existence into a series of hideouts.  Buber writes, “The question is designed to awaken man and destroy his system of hideouts; it is to show man to what pass he has come and to awake in him the great will to get out of it.”

 

As messiah followers, we began our journey by coming out from our hiding places, repenting of our sins and embracing Yeshua. The Messiah leads us on the path of righteousness.  However,  we sometimes stray from the path.  We continue to hide in a variety of ways rather than being confronted by God with our sin. We may come to services, be active in our congregation, sing in the music group or teach the Scriptures but we continue to hide behind these things rather than confront our sins.  God continues to call us. It is when we hear the “whisper” of God and come out from hiding that we can begin walking on the right road again.   But sometimes we can hear a voice of condemnation (Buber calls this the voice of Esau) and continually torture ourselves with the guilt of our sin but when it is the voice of God it will lead to repentance and a renewal of our walk with God.  

 

In the New Covenant, when Paul writes about the reception of his first letter to the Corinthians, we read, I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

 

 

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) In Yeshua we find forgiveness of sins and an abundant life. During these days of introspection may we hear the whisper of God and   come out from hiding   and find forgiveness and cleansing and a new beginning in our walk with the Lord.

 

 

 

12
Aug
09

Theology Doctrine and Life

When the Jewish people were about to enter the land of Canaan, Moses prepared them with an exhortation to listen to God (Hear O Israel!) and follow his commandments in order to live successfully in the land. The message is as relevant today as it was when the Jewish people were on the plains of Moab waiting to enter the Promised Land.  It seems simple enough – follow the ways of God and you will experience security. Later in Deuteronomy our people are exhorted to “choose life!”  Why is it that our ancestors – and us – find it so hard to heed this message?  There are many answers that one could give but I want to talk about one reason in this post. It has to do with the difference between theology, doctrine and the way of God.    Theology refers to our study of things pertaining to God and the Scriptures. Theology is an ongoing conversation. We study and we learn and we gain new insights. Theology in certain respects is akin to cooking a meal. As time goes on we may add ingredients, we continue to stir and  cook. Our doctrine is the cooked food. Doctrine is what we believe. It is what we hold as true.   We study theology to understand more and more about what we believe.  For example we believe in the deity of Yeshua. That is doctrine. However, over time as we study theology we learn more and more about what the deity of Yeshua means. This is good. In fact it is very good. We all should be life long learners when it comes to biblical studies. However, it becomes problematic when we define our relationship with God in terms of our theology and doctrine. Theology and doctrine should undergird our relationship with God; our life in Messiah.  If we are asked what it means to be a follower of Yeshua, we might answer with a statement of what we believe. We might give an explanation about Messianic Judaism. This is a good thing because we need to understand what we believe and we need to communicate it to others. However, this does not define our own relationship with God and it does not necessarily give a compelling reason for someone to follow Yeshua. It reminds me of a scene in a movie I saw years ago called Hardcore which is about a very religious man whose daughter has run away from home and his journey to find his daughter. The scene is conveniently retold by Richard Mouw in a book called Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport: Making Connections in Today’s World, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan (2004). The following excerpt comes from  http://www.adherents.com/people/ps/Paul_Schrader.html

  Jake Van Dorn, a pious Calvinist elder played by George C. Scott, is sitting in the Las Vegas airport with a thoroughly pagan young woman named Niki. Jake’s teenage daughter has run away to California and gotten involved in the pornography business, and he has set out to find her. His initial efforts thus far have failed, but he has managed to enlist the help of Niki, a young prostitute who knows his daughter. They have just followed a lead in Las Vegas, but having discovered that the wayward daughter is no longer there, they are moving on in their search.

CONVERSATION IN THE LAS VEGAS AIRPORT

As they are sitting in the boarding area, waiting for their plane, Niki informs Jake that she considers him to have a very negative outlook on life, and it is obviously connected, she thinks, to his religious beliefs. “What kind of church do you belong to?” she asks. “It’s a Dutch Reformed denomination,” he responds, “–a group that believes in TULIP.” The conversation continues:

Niki: What the c**p?

Jake: It’s an acronym. It comes from the Canons of Dordt. Every letter stands for a different belief, like–Are you sure you want to hear this?

Niki: Yeah, yeah. Please go on. I’m a Venusian myself.

Jake: Well, T stands for “total depravity”: all men through original sin are totally evil and incapable of good. All my works are as filthy rags in the sight of the Lord.

Niki: That’s what the Venusians call negative moral attitudes.

Jake: Be that as it may, U stands for “unconditional election”: God has chosen a certain number of people to be saved, the elect, and he’s chosen them from the beginning of time. L is for “limited atonement”: only a limited number of people will be atoned and go to heaven. I is for “irresistible grace”: God’s grace cannot be resisted or denied. And P is for the “perseverance of the saints”: once you’re in grace, you cannot fall from the numbers of the elect. That’s it.

Niki: Before you can become saved, God already knows who you are?

Jake: Oh yes, he’d have to. That’s predestination. I mean, if God is omniscient, if he already knows everything–and he wouldn’t be God if he didn’t–then he must have known, even before the creation of the world, the names of those who would be saved.

Niki: Well, then, it’s all worked out, huh? It’s fixed.

Jake: More or less.

Niki: I thought I was (messed) up.

Jake: Well, I admit it’s a little confusing when you look at it from the outside. You have to try to look at it from the inside.

While the scene is humorous it points out a serious flaw that many of us suffer. We  understand and communicate our relationship with God via theological positions and doctrinal statements. These are important and necessary but they should not define us. Yeshua should define us. If theology is the process of cooking   and doctrine is the cooked food then what is left but eating the meal!  When we eat the meal, we are filled with nutrition and we are healthy and people can see it.  (this is a perfect time to say “the proof is in the pudding!”). Life in Messiah is eating the meal.

When God called Abraham to be in covenant relationship, he told him to go to a land that he would show him.  When Yeshua called out his disciples, he said “Follow Me”.  He did not hand Abraham a map and he did not hand the disciples a doctrinal statement.  As in the case of both Abraham and the disciples of Yeshua, each one’s relationship with God was defined by following him. This should be true of us as well.  Individually and communally we should be identified by Yeshua’s life.   This means embracing Yeshua and living in the power of the Ruach Ha’Kodesh. It means walking in the ways of God   and  being willing to go wherever he leads us.    It means living a life of self surrender.  It means following the commands of God. it means living an “incarnational life”. This is what Yeshua was conveying to  the rich young ruler and the lawyer who both came to Yeshua and asked what they needed to do to inherit eternal life.  To the rich young ruler he said go and sell all that you have. To the lawyer he said “love your neighbor as yourself.” The response of the rich young ruler was to walk away and the response of the lawyer was to ask another question.  Each of them was more interested in theology than in obedience and surrender and loving God with all of his heart. The result for each was to  miss the point.  This is our danger as well.  Yes, let us study and learn.   But let us not hide behind our learning and miss the point and miss out on the abundant life of following Yeshua, of obeying the commandments of God. Theology and doctrine undergird us and are necessary. But may Yeshua himself be our life as we follow him.

07
Aug
09

UMJC Conference address

this was my address to the delegates at the recent UMJC Conference. I have deleted all names.

Introduction

It is an honor to serve as president of the UMJC. This year has been a learning experience for me.   I appreciate very much our Executive Committee  and of course  our Executive Director who lends continuity to what we do. 

What is the UMJC?

This year I have spend much time speaking to leaders in the union – not all and I apologize for that.  But many, and I ask the question:  what is the UMJC. I have received a variety excellent   responses.    We are a coalition or network of congregations bound together by  particular core values, definitions  and beliefs.  Our broadest bond but yet very foundational is our first core value which states: The UMJC represents diverse congregations united in our recognition of the authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God and our commitment to the centrality of yeshua as lord and messiah. Deference and respect are key elements.

We place high value on our collegiality, mutual accountability; mutual deference; our delegate structure. These are values to be protected.

More specifically we are bound together by our emphasis on community and our understanding of what messianic community means- our definition statement of messianic Judaism.

We  embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant. Messianic Jewish groups may also include those from non-Jewish backgrounds who have a confirmed call to participate fully in the life and destiny of the Jewish people.  

 As an organization of congregations our vision is to grow

  vibrant, healthy messianic Jewish congregations where Jewish people are believing in the Messiah and that promote Yeshua centered Jewish life.  

Our mission is to strengthen, and build messianic Jewish congregations in Jewish communities, and planting them in cities with Jewish populations.

 We do this by:

Creating and promoting varieties of  resources that reflect  the congregations that make up the UMJC.   

I am referring to:

-educational  materials for the varieties of needs of congregational life.   As a response to the interest that was created on the forum , we are developing materials for congregational membership.

-Worship materials that span the range of our congregations styles. Marni Esposito who   will be our new worship committee chair is very excited about producing some worship resources.

-Outreach materials that communicate not only who we are – but also the Good News of yeshua with our people.  Yeshua said to make disciples.   So we have a mandate to make disciples – and sustain them in community. Unless all of our young messianic Jewish couples promise to have at least 10 children each where will the Jewish people come from to make up these communities unless we make disciples?   

 Something else we do as a congregational organization is to promote messianic Jewish community standards that are guidelines  – not rules for us.  

We have done it in the past with majority and minority views on topics such as conversion, female leadership and Torah that appeal to the broad base. Although it may be difficult, it builds consensus.

Something else that a congregational organization does is to promote retreats and special seminars for  lay leaders; one of our roles is to empower our congregations. How empowering would it for our board members, elders, Shamashim  to be delegates and make decisions in the union?

 Not only lay leaders but young congregational leaders. We have done a fantastic job of raising up young scholars and we need scholars – in fact outside of the UMJC there are not too many young messianic Jewish scholars.  But we have not done enough to raise up and empower young leaders. We have begun to do so with the young leaders weekend that beth messiah in Houston hosted. Nine young leaders in the movement converged in Houston and by all accounts they connected and were encouraged. They spent time with older leaders and connected themselves.  I believe that the next young leaders retreat is being scheduled for 2010. It is young leaders – people who motivate and cast the vision for people, who lead people – to keep the movement moving.

 Something else we can do as a congregational organization  is to work  with other organizations who are generally recognized as part of the messianic Jewish movement. This includes sub organizations of the UMJC as well as other  organizations that may serve our endeavors. These are organizations that have some expertise in areas that help us as congregations. We are desirous of our young people connecting.   Many organizations have young people who attend events that never come together because of barriers that we have built. While we do not all resonate with all other messianic Jewish organizations most have something to offer.

 The UMJC can serve and does to an extent as a voice of the Messianic Jewish movement in the arena of social issues and issues that affect Israel and the Jewish people. as well as issues that uniquely effect Messianic Jews. In other words issues that  affect our congregations.

 Finally, the UMJC can strengthen ties with congregations in Israel  which we have done and will I trust continue to do.

 In order to move forward and bring to pass this mission, we must wear our UMJC hats.  We must ask, What is best for the Union?  If we are looking for fault we will indeed find it – if we are looking for cracks in the armor we will indeed find it;  but can we challenge ourselves to look beyond that – to look for the good and the right and something to learn from one another. The UMJC is a marketplace of ideas and creativity. Look who is in this room. I myself have used the best materials that  _________have presented and the best of _________ when it comes to innovative liturgy as well as the    music and teaching of ________.    This is how ultimately we find a new model – taking the best of one another and shaping it into something new.

We need to listen and hear each other. We are people who believe in congregational life – or community life. We are people who have courageously experimented with different forms that community life can take.   We are the people not looking for sizzle as much as we   look for steak.  are thinkers and we are doers. We do not settle for the way things have always been or what is expected of us. We are pioneers – we are entrepreneurs; we do not settle for the status quo. We are not affected by position – we are not hierarchical – I am excited when I think about what is here – let us not lose the opportunity to move forward in our thinking. Let us listen to our young colleagues who have taken the best of what we have done and are changing it and making it new.  We are builders.  It takes a bulldozer to build.   I once heard someone talking about being a bulldozer  or a bulwark.   A bulwark is a safety wall – used for defense. A bulldozer is used to build. If we see our selves as a bulwark – we set up a defensive position. We are defending ourselves; we are defending our positions; we build barriers to protect ourselves. It does not work in personal relationships and it does not work in organizations. It only tears apart and destroys. It also does not work as an organization. We have to be careful not to build barriers between ourselves and other organizations. We must guard against being a bulwark in our relationship with the wider jewish community as well. And it goes fro the wider chistian community. we are builders. We want therefore to be the bulldozer. A bulldozer tears down barriers and prepares the way to build. We build among one another by not moving away but by flowing in – by cultivating our passions within the umjc and interacting with one another. If we are bulldozers we are being influencers. As we pour ourselves into each other; into the Jewish community into the wider messianic world and the world at large let us tear down barriers and make a difference.    It is easy to only have relationship with people that we agree with. But while it is difficult sometimes we can learn much from one another. I have learned much form many in this room – people whom I resonate with on different levels. God has gifted many in different ways. Some have strengths in worship; some are in tradition; some are in the bible teaching.

Challenges of the UMJC

Our challenge is to guard the relationships; relationships are in a sense the bond that really holds us all together. we must build and maintain  trust.  If we do not trust; if we are not in relationship no matter what we desire to do we will fail. perhaps the key to it all is in the building and maintaining of relationships in messiah Yeshua.

So, our belief in the centrality of yeshua and the authority of the word of God; our understanding of messianic Jewish community and maintaining good relationships bind us together so we can move forward in our misson of strengthening and building congregations achieve the vision of  

Jewish communities full of people flowing with the milk and honey of relationship, vitality, acceptance, intellectual stimulation, satisfaction and delight centered in messiah yeshua. A vision of a place where all of our people recognize yeshua as the messiah and are living that abundant Jewish life that is promised.

 Ecclesiastes 4:9-12  Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

May God bless the umjc.