Archive for December, 2009

27
Dec
09

Christmas

What do we do with Christmas? Christmas is a traditional celebration of the birth of the Messiah. The key word is traditional. Because the tradition is not a Jewish one, Messianic Jews have a variety of opinions on its observance. In our congregation, we do not observe the holiday because we desire to provide a Jewish environment for our congregational life and to maintain our own identity as Jews. We celebrate our faith in a Jewish context because Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel.  Therefore, our reason is ethnic more than spiritual.    It is no secret that many people who attend messianic congregations are not Jewish or are  in mixed marriages. Some celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas and others attend family Christmas celebrations.  Most of the families that I know in which both partners are Jewish do not observe Christmas at all. I know that the origins of Christmas are pagan and therefore some people do not celebrate it for that reason.    Our relationship to Christmas helps to understand why we do not refer to ourselves as “Christians” and why we do not display a cross or engage in other symbols, holidays and traditions are usually identified with belief in Yeshua.  Many symbols, holidays and traditions were developed over a long period of time and reflect a gentile cultural expression of a theological truth.  We believe in the Scriptures, both the Tanach and the New Covenant. We believe  in the virgin birth of Yeshua and the triunity of God  Culturally we live out our faith in a Jewish way. We find prayers in the Siddur to enhance our faith; we observe Jewish holidays and celebrations because we recognize both their theological and cultural meaning for us.

We are still evolving in our understanding of exactly how that works out. Some might ask, why bother with a Jewish way of life if we believe in Jesus – the one we refer to as Yeshua. The reason is because we believe in our calling as the remnant of Israel. We agree with the first followers of Yeshua who said,    “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote– Yeshua of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

13
Dec
09

Sybil or Saul of Tarsus?

Remember Sybil, the story of a woman with 16 different personalities?  Well it seems that we have here another Sybil – someone who comments on this blog using a variety of pseudonyms. I noticed that all of these names originate from the same place.  

so it may seem that many people are commenting with abusive or inflammatory statements  but it is really only one person. Here is the list of names that “Sybil” has used on this blog:

Phil fil

anne arkie

Loren Neiermeier

Anonymous

Elmer

Roger D. 

Eric Yoffe

Mary philbin

Ron meisner

McKinley Harris

Z. bop

Annabell Lee

Dune Bug

Chico maria …

Chris Goldberg

Bert Zeeland

Helen Ista

Marna Finklestein

Mark Bumgarner (this is a person who has commented in the past but whose name was hijacked by “Sybil”)

 Sybil sometimes writes intelligent comments but unfortunately will sometimes resort to derogatory and inflammatory statements.  I have no problem with disagreement or even vehement disagreement. But inflammatory rhetoric has caused me to delete comments.

I have investigated what might be the correct protocol for abusive comments – do I leave them or delete them? I have found a mixed bag of results. Some people delete and others keep them on their blogs. Up until now I have chosen to delete certain comments. You will notice that there are a number of comments from a variety of Sybil’s personalities that I have left up. I have deleted a few.

But now I have changed my mind. I have decided to keep all comments up and will delete nothing. However if I see that comments from different people are coming from the same place I will simply make it known to the readers.  As they say, the only bad publicity is no publicity at all.

I appreciate Sybil. Sybil reminds me of Saul of Tarsus. He was a persecutor of the early Jewish followers of Yeshua. His motivation was not hatred but covenant fidelity.  He was against the Jewish followers of yeshua for pretty much the same reasons as Sybil is against us. Sybil thinks that we have left our people and our customs and our Torah to follow pagan idolatry. Sybil thinks that it is impossible to be Jewish and live in the Jewish world and be a follower of Yeshua. Therefore we must be resorting to trickery or the slight of hand or playacting to purport to be Jewish and quote Jewish sources as followers of yeshua. Sybil thinks that we are fishing for unsuspecting Jewish people to snare.  I was once there and I understand it. May the day come when Sybil will – like Saul of Tarsus – have an experience with God that will turn Sybil’s – or Saul’s  heart to Yeshua the Messiah and experience the joy unspeakable of life in Messiah and the hope of the resurrection.     

happy chanukah

10
Dec
09

Chanukah Values

 Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over their Greco-Syrian oppressors around 165-164 BCE. The Greco-Syrians had enacted laws disallowing our people to practice a Jewish way of life and they desecrated the Temple, thus making it unusable for sacrifices.  The Jewish people, led by Judah Maccabee revolted against this forced assimilation. They recaptured the temple; they cleansed the temple and they dedicated it  for the purposes that God had intended. Two reasons are given for the length of the celebration being eight days long. According to the Talmud the cruse of oil lasted for eight days. According to 2 Maccabees, our ancestors used the dedication of the Temple as an opportunity to celebrate Sukkoth, a joyous holiday that they had not been able to celebration while under the oppressive rule of their enemies.

 Like other holidays there is a set of traditions that we engage in during this festive season. We eat potato pancakes called latkes; we play a game called dreidel; we give gifts to children and most importantly we light the Chanukah menorah.  The holiday of Chanukah, is prophesied in the pages of the Book of Daniel and in the New Covenant, we read in John chapter 10 that Yeshua was at the temple on Chanukah. John 10:22-23 reads, At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Yeshua  was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.

There are many lessons for us to learn from the celebration of Chanukah. I will briefly mention  just four important lessons – or perhaps we should say four important values of Chanukah.  The first one is that we value the role of God in this story. The “theme verse” of Chanukah is found in Zechariah 4:6     Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. It is God who gave victory to the Maccabees.  The New Covenant  says… but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 15:57).

 The second value is Jewish heritage. The period of the Maccabees was a crossroads for the Jewish people. If the truth be told, the story of the Maccabees was a civil war as well as a war against a foreign enemy. There were Jewish people who succumbed to the temptation to assimilate. The Maccabees valued Jewish heritage and fought for the right to live a Jewish life. The celebration of Chanukah is a celebration of the value of Jewish heritage.  This was also a value of Paul. In the book of Acts we read, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

 The third value is the value of light. According to the Talmud, the holiday is eight days because the cruse of oil lased for eight days the light represented the presence of God. Yeshua himself is the very presence of God. Yeshua said, “I am the light of the World”. Light is a metaphor for truth. we value the truth that God has revealed through the Scripures and manifested in Yeshua the Messiah.

The fourth value is the willingness to suffer for the faith.  There is a story told in the context of Chanukah about Hannah and her seven sons. Each son was killed in front of his brothers and his mother. They were killed for not bowing to the demands of the enemy to eat non-kosher food. The story is told in graphic detain in 2 Maccabees chapter 7.  Hannah and the sons are portrayed as willing  servants who had no issue with dying for the sake of God and his word and Jewish identity.  Throughout history the Jewish people have suffered greatly for being Jewish and living Jewishly.   The New covenant tells us, For to you it has been granted for Messiah’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.  As a messianic Jewish community we  pay a price for standing for Yeshua  We live in a culture that does not value one taking a stand on issues.  Chanukah teaches us that there are values worth fighting for.

When you put all of this together, we learn from chanukah that there is value to stand up for our people – for culture and tradition of Judaism and within the Jewish world there is value for standing for our belief that Yeshua is the Messiah.

 We would do well to evaluate our lives and the life of our local congregation  to see if we measure up to Chanukah Values.  Hag Sameach!

01
Dec
09

Jacob’s reputation

 I have been thinking about the recent Torah portions about Jacob.  According to conventional wisdom, Jacob was a “scoundrel” and selfish man whose life whom God chose despite himself. The understanding is that he tricked Esau into selling him the birthright and he tricked his father into giving him a blessing that was reserved for Esau.

Then when he goes to Laban to look for a wife he gets what he deserves by being tricked into marrying Leah when he thought he was marrying Rachael. While this may be conventional wisdom, it is not exactly how the text portrays him. In fact it is not the way the entire bible portrays Jacob! For example, the key to understanding the narrative of the purchase of the birthright by Jacob is in these words: thus Esau despised his birthright (Gen. 25:34). The birthright was an inheritance given to the firstborn of a family which included a double portion of land. The text wants us to understand that the story is about the attitude of Esau toward his inheritance which can be perceived to be a negative attitude regarding his family and the importance of the land and the promise of God.

In the next episode, we find Rebekah urging her son to pretend that he is Esau in order to receive a blessing from his father. The way the story is presented, Jacob is a reluctant participant, who initially objects to this rouse but who eventually does comply with his mother’s wishes and receives the blessing.   Remember that when she was pregnant,  God told Rebekah that the older would serve the younger. Rashi suggests that Rebekah did not tell Isaac of her encounter with God when she was pregnant and that she is trying to keep Isaac from blessing the wrong son.    At no time in these stories is Jacob chastised by God for his actions. It is out of the mouth of Esau that we read Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times?  Haven’t we all heard this from preachers and teachers about Jacob? It is not an assessment from God but rather out of the mouth of the one who despised his birthright!   

It seems clear to me that the text wants us to see Esau as uncaring about the birthright but desirous of personal blessing. While it is true that Jacob does deceive Isaac  we learn that Jacob is the child of promise – he is the son of election.  Regardless of the process, Jacob, the younger son receives the blessing and will be the father of the Jewish people. The promise given to Rebekah in the womb comes to pass.

 In the New Covenant, the very actions that Jacob is often scolded for is called an act of faith in future things on the part of Isaac. By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come Hebrews 11:20) What we learn here is that these narratives are not only about the men and women involved but about the destiny of Israel and the nations.

In Romans 11:28-29 we read From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers;  29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

How sad it is that the story of Jacob has been used by many as fodder for anti-Jewish attitudes. (Oh, those sons of Jacob!) But what do we make of the deceit of Jacob – regardless of how sympathetic we might be toward him?  When we look at the big picture of the book of Genesis we find that God brings about his will using people – imperfect people sometimes making imperfect choices to accomplish the task.  Even in the rejection of Yeshua – the greatest error of our people – the love of God for Israel and the calling of the Jewish people has not changed. Yes we as individuals need our sins forgiven through the blood of Yeshua but the destiny of Israel as an elected people has not changed. As the prophet says about the destiny of Jacob,     “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob;  3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness. (Mal. 1:2-3)

Let us take another look at Jacob and appreciate the hand of God upon the Jewish people and upon the Messianic Jewish Movement. The Messianic Jewish Movement is filled with imperfect people sometimes making imperfect choices. It is vital that we see the big picture of the purpose of our movement – to be a visible authentic Jewish testimony of Yeshua the Messiah.  God has raised up this movement for his purposes and despite our failings He continues to guide and direct us. May we be sensitive to his leading and accomplish the task of being a light to our people in a way that maintains our identity and is pleasing to Him.