Archive for October, 2009

23
Oct
09

Welcomed to a class at a local synagogue part 2

This is a continuation of my experience of being invited to a local synagogue to address a class of post Bar/Bat mitzvah students studying “Comparative Judaism”.  Several  questions that were asked of me had to do more specifically with Yeshua. One question was why would a Jewish person believe that Jesus is the Messiah? Why would a Jewish person identify themselves as a Messianic Jew. I explained that the reason is directly related to the Messiahship of Yeshua. The motivation for a Jewish person to embrace messianic Judaism is the forgiveness of sins that the Messiah provided via his death and resurrection. I shared my story of being confronted with the claims of the Messiah and realizing that repentance and tzedakah were not enough to have atonement for my sins – according to the Torah. I told the class that I came to believe that only in Yeshua could I truly find atonement for my sins. In other words, I and other Jewish people have come to believe in yeshua because of the spiritual reality of the forgiveness of sins and a unique intimacy with God.  I told everyone that this is very important to us because we believe every word of the Torah. We believe that Moses really lived and that the events of Mt. Sinai truly occurred and that we are accountable to God.  This is why we are in need of atonement that cannot be provided by our observance of Yom Kippur – that only comes by the work of the Messiah. The teacher than said that her observation of us and of Christians is that we seem to be “sin driven.” I said that we are not “sin driven” but that we are “blessing driven.” We desire the blessing God but our sins get in the way. Therefore we emphasize the confession of sin. I said that even though we are forgiven of our sins, we still are quite human and therefore sin.  As a result we continue to confess our sins. However, our services are full of life and this attracts people to come.  I described a typical service consisting of music, traditional prayer, Torah reading and sermon. People who do not embrace Yeshua have come and have been impressed with the atmosphere and content of the service.

 

This led to asking if our concept of the Messiah is the same as the traditional Jewish concept of Messiah. I said that the answer is “yes and no”   We believe that the Messiah will bring peace and spiritual transformation to the world. However, we also believe that he provides atonement for us today. This is why he could not be only a man. We also believe that he is the incarnation God. I said that according to the Bible, God appeared to Abraham, to Hagar, to Joshua and to Manoah the father of Samson to name a few. The text does not infer that these were visions or dreams. In fact in several cases – Hagar and Manoah – they cried out that they had seen God. The highest form of manifestation was the true enfleshment of God that we read about in the New covenant about Yeshua. This is a mystery that cannot be explained completely.

 

Another question was what do we do about the “anti-Semitic” passages in the New testament. I said that these statements are not anti-Semitic. They were directed to people whom the text describes as hypocrites  They are not blanket statements against the Jewish people. I mentioned another statement in the bible      “But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing (Ezek. 16:15). I said that this passage and others like it are found in the Tanakh!  The point of these kinds of statements in both the prophets and the New Testament are designed to get us to respond by repenting of our sins. Just as it was a small minority of people who embraced the words of the prophets so too it is a small group of Jewish people who embrace the Messiah.

 

There were other questions and statements during my visit. I appreciated the dialogue and the spirit in which the questions came. I felt that I was able to explain the very basics of Messianic Judaism which was the purpose of my visit.

21
Oct
09

welcomed to a class at a local synagogue part 1

This past Sunday afternoon I was invited to speak to a group of post Bar/Bat mitzvah young people at a local Refom synagogue.  The name of their class is called “comparative Judaism” and the teacher wanted them to hear about Messianic Judaism. How refreshing to have a seat at the table in a discussion on comparative Judaism!! There were about 10 students in the class as well as the teacher, a parent and another person from the congregation. I received a very warm welcome and I certainly appreciated the opportunity.  Most of the questions came from the teacher and another adult, although there were one or two questions from the students.

 

The teacher asked me to give a brief history of the Messianic Jewish Movement. I explained that if we go all the way back to Yeshua, he and his first followers were Jewish and in those early days, the movement was a Jewish movement. However with the influx of many Gentiles over a period of time, the movement lost its Jewish identity.  Over the past several hundred years, there have been Jewish people who have believed that Jesus is the Messiah but most of these people joined churches and lost their Jewish identity.  Approximately 40 years ago, a spiritual event took place in which many young people embraced Jesus and this included thousands of young Jewish people as well.  As a result, groups of Jewish believers in Yeshua began to meet and express their faith and worship in a Jewish context. Over the years, this congregational movement has grown to the place in which there are messianic Jewish congregations in most cities that have a substantial Jewish population. I went on to explain that the movement has matured over the years and that there are now several organizations that represent many congregations and that we now have educational opportunities for our leaders to be equipped to serve as Rabbis.

 

I was able to dispel a few myths about Messianic Judaism. The teacher asked me if we were the same as “Jews for Jesus.”  I answered by saying that many people think that all messianic Jewish congregations, Jews for Jesus, and other messianic organizations are part of one large entity that is financially well funded by churches. Often this myth includes the perception that we are purposely deceiving the Jewish community by appearing to maintain a Jewish identity in order to attract unsuspecting Jewish people and turn them into Christians. I told them that Jews For Jesus is an organization that hires people to work for them and that their goal is to confront the Jewish people with the claims of Jesus. Their method is designed to make the issue of the messiahship of Jesus a issue that cannot be denied. They are supported by anyone who resonates with their mission and method. We, on the other hand, are communal in our orientation and that while we desire to make our voice heard in the community, we are desirous of building community among those who come to Beth Messiah and we desire to be part of the larger Jewish community.  I went on to say that the only people who support Beth Messiah are the people who consider themselves part of the congregation. I told them that we have no dues and that our finances come from people simply giving to the congregation which includes our congregants and a few others in the community who support us. (This is quite a testimony considering that we own a building on a major street in a nice area of town.)

 

I was asked if the Gentiles that come to Beth Messiah eventually convert to Judaism. I said that while there are some in our movement who selectively do conversions, we do not.  The Gentiles in the congregation are affirmed in their own identity and are welcomed because they desire to identify on some level with the Jewish people – after all the Messiah is the Messiah of Israel and the nations.  This seemed to be the hardest thing for the teacher to understand.  How could people join a synagogue if they are not Jewish? I asked her if there were Gentiles that were part of the synagogue. She said that there were, but that they were not members. I responded by saying that in our congregation there is a wall that is removed between Jews and Gentiles and that we all maintain our own personal and ethnic identities but are co-equal and co-participants in the congregation.  I went on to explain that this is why we attract families of mixed marriages. Each partner is affirmed while at the same time living within a Jewish context.  One of the students asked me  if we celebrate Christmas and Easter. I said that Christmas is a celebration of the miraculous birth of the Messiah and Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of the Messiah. We believe in his miraculous birth and in his resurrection from the dead. However, the celebrations of Christmas and Easter are Gentile expressions of these beliefs. As a messianic Jewish congregation we do not engage in Gentile expressions of faith.  We remember the resurrection of the Messiah when we celebrate Passover. I went on to explain how Passover relates to the death and resurrection of the Messiah.   

The rest of the questions pertained directly to the messianship Yeshua and the New Testament. In the next post I will share how I responded to these questions.

08
Oct
09

Sukkot: feast of provision and hope

This is the week of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths. Last Shabbat at Beth Messiah it was a chilly day but we had our service outdoors. As we waved our lulavs and etrogs in our Sukkah, we reenacted life in the wilderness – at least for a few hours. Sukkot is an agricultural festival celebrating the ingathering of the final harvest of the year. It is a time to give thanks to God for his provision – much like the American holiday called Thanksgiving. However, according to the Torah there is an added dimension. Sukkot is to be celebrated by dwelling in a Sukkah so that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God. (Lev. 23:43). This added dimension makes this agricultural celebration transcend the seasons of the year as well the type of society in which we may dwell – urban or agrarian or technological. Sukkot is a holiday in which we celebrate the provision and protection of the Jewish people throughout history. We are commanded to remember that God did not abandon us in the wilderness but rather that he provided just what we needed in a difficult situation – a “booth” to live in. Similarly, God gave us manna in the wilderness to eat. As Deut. 8:2-3 tells us, the purpose was to teach us that our we live not by bread alone but by whatever God provides for us – that he is the provider and that our security and satisfaction come from him.

There are several important lessons to be reminded of at Sukkot. First, sukkot causes us to appreciate moments of blessing in the midst of difficulty. Lets face it. Life is not easy. But in the midst of everything, there are moments of blessing. Appreciate the small things that bless us. develop an attitude of thanksgiving. A Sukkah is not a permanent, secure home and manna is not a sirloin steak. But when we really experience need we tend to be more thankful to God for our provisions.

Sukkot is a good model for the way to meet our needs. Our ancestors in the wilderness did not just see the sukkah appear before their eyes. They had to build the sukkah. We are not called to simply wait for the blessing to appear before our eyes. We should take whatever we have and use it for the right purpose and we will see God provide. For example, we need to work and we will see God provide. We need to study and we will graduate. We need to pray and we will see provision. In other words, we have the responsibility to use the resources that God has given us regardless of how meager we may think they are.

Sukkot is also a festival of hope. It is a holiday that reminds us that we are on a journey. While the journey may be difficult at times, God gives us moments of blessing on the way. But the goal is to get to the destination. God provided for our people in the wilderness because they had a destiny to reach the promised land. The day will come when our journey ends as well. Either it will be when we die or it will be when the Messiah returns and transforms this world. When we die we will be in the presence of the Lord. There is much discussion about what it means to be in the “presence of the Lord” when we die. One thing we know for sure is that IT IS REALLY GOOD! it is better than we could ever dream. We do have a sense of what it will be like when the Lord returns. It will mean that the journey is over and there is no longer a need that is not met directly by the Lord. Let us press on and celebrate Sukkot, blessings on the journey and let us look forward to the day when we reach the City and …

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:22-27