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I am committed to a life provoking the invasion of The Coming Kingdom through: human service, ecstatic prayer, halakhic observation, community building, nurturing hope, and drawing down abiding faith...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Empowered Torah

From tomorrow (6/16) evening until 6/29 I will be engaging in an experiment that will require me to step outside of "computer land," cell phone reception, and the continent. This experiment is commonly known as "Vacation," and I am looking forward to learning A LOT about it!

With that said, I wanted to leave a small thought behind with hopes to read others thoughts and questions upon my return if anyone is so inclined:

How does a maturing Messianic Jewish k'hilah become more of an empowered community?

The tagline of Hashivenu is "towards a mature Messianic Judaism." Though this is crucial, and an ongoing process, it seems worth noting that maturity is not an end in and of itself. Maturity is the attitudinal quality that will empower us to properly partner with God in this world. It would seem that God's will for us is to carry crosses, do greater works than Yeshua, make disciples, and generally lay a smack-down on sin and chaos...SO....

It seems like higher education is not going to take care of this one for us. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the higher education. In fact, It is vital that we be an educated community. I just want to suggest that it would behoove us to be about our Father's business and at some point that means stepping outside of our classrooms/meetings/conferences into the world...And we're not handing out those tracts again!

What are we going to do with all this education? What are we going to do with all this yiddishkeit? What are we going to do to let the whole world know what it means for Messiah Yeshua to be ALIVE and moving in power as the King of Israel?

Whatever it is...
It needs to look humble, not timid.
It needs to carry Fear of God that empowers rather than petrifies the will.
It needs to be bold without being stupid
It needs to be rooted in relationship with God
It needs to demonstrate God's power

I am grateful for all of the work that many are doing in this movement that is taking us in this direction. There is much more to be done on all fronts. With that said, "vision" would seem to require not settling for what seems immediately available, but entering a realm that expects far greater things. Hashivenu is teaching us to move towards maturity; What will be next to guide us toward an empowered Messianic Judaism?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mussar, Middot, and a re-Minder

There is much to contemplate, live, and share as a Jewish follower of Yeshua. As such there is much discussion on Messianic blogs across the globe discussing Jewish ritual practice, what equity between Jew and Gentile looks like (or doesn't), Rabbinic tradition, Yeshua's deity, and so on. I find these to be noble and important topics, but have (for the most part) decided to leave them to those individuals who have already done an excellent job in addressing them. I suggest the links and book list on the right for anyone interested in knowing the general hashkafah (philosophy) I align myself with on such matters...

In starting this blog it has been my hope to fan the flames on various aspects of Messianic Jewish faith and practice that I feel could get more attention than they currently are(at least in my generation, if not beyond). The topic of this post has to do with one such area...

Yeshua focused very much on growing the middot (character traits) of those he encountered. He spoke more about how we ought to carry ourselves while wearing tefillin than teaching how to put them on. He reminded us why we wear tzitzit more than telling us how they are to be tied. I am utterly convinced he would instruct us on the details if we asked, but that was not his primary function. He came to Fill-Full the Torah with all its richness and power. He came to implant it deep within our hearts by teaching us how to cleave to him in Truth. He told us that we oughtn't even look with lustful/hateful eyes, let alone behave lustfully/hatefully. Many of us didn't grow up engaged in Torah, so we're busy learning the "dos" and "donts," as well as the "hows." I would like to re-Mind us that Yeshua wants to give us the inner level AND the external, he wants to give us the TOTALITY of Torah. He wants to clean us from the inside out, he wants us to LIVE from the inside out.

Thankfully his core values find expression in his words to us, in the words of many others, and in our ongoing relationship with him. I would like to encourage us all to start engaging in Mussar (ethical/cognitive/spiritual growth) even more. There are many ways this can be done:

1. Find a partner and learn the Sermon on the Mount together. Each time you learn together, question and encourage one another in the topics you're learning. Ask, "Which aspects of Yeshua's teaching are most difficult?" and discuss ways to improve.

2. Find a partner to learn a book on Middot or general improvement (I personally reccomend Rav Kook for Mussar, Rebbe Nachman for devotional material, The Apostolic Letters).

3. Learn any of these on your own.

4. Don't daven ONLY with the Siddur. The Siddur is so beautiful and powerful, but don't let it replace time with you and God ALONE...No accessories necessary.

5. Don't be afraid to ask friends and people you trust in your communities how you're doing in particular areas. We needn't be afraid to involve one another in our processes. In fact, it's vital that we do so. This is the only way p'rat (individual) growth can advance into k'lal (communal) growth.

6. Get thee a Rav! Find someone who is a leader that you trust and respect and ask for advice on particular issues or just share what's going on.

7. Know that the effort you're putting in is not to serve your needs alone, but is a participation in the colletctive t'shuvah (re-Turning) of Israel, all Humanity, and all Creation.

I personally reccomend all of these. It burns so deeply in my heart to share the vital importance of taking observance and faith into levels beyond our own limited visions of what we are capable of. Pure hearts and minds are not promises left for some other world. We are promised access to COMPLETE T'SHUVAH NOW. It will not happen if each of us is doing this alone. All of us need to be doing it, and we all need to be sharing it with one another. We have a purpose as the Body of Messiah...Let's grow together.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tammuz: Broken Torah, Broken Walls, and Broken Hearts

So....One would think after a wild first quarter of a year we (The Jewish People) would be rearing to go deeper and deeper into holiness and unity. After all, the triad/trilogy of Nisan-Iyyar-Sivan sets us up for it. We have had wild revelation and redemption leading into a period of growth and preparation to receive the very thing that will keep us free and redeemed forever (Torah and Ruach).


Not so fast. After receiving the wildest revelation at Sinai, what did we do? We built a Golden Calf. Not only did we build this thing, but we rejoiced over it!

Our tradition has it that the month of Tammuz is the month in which we built this idol. The 17th of Tammuz is the day in which the walls of Jerusalem were breached (Commemoration of this day begins a three week period of mourning until the remembrance of the destroyed Temple). Tradition ALSO says that this very day that the walls were broken was the day Moshe broke the original tablets inscribed with the Aseret Dibrot.

There is deep significance in Moshe's breaking these tablets. Moshe does this after his conversation with HaShem in which he argues with HaShem that he should not destroy the people. HaShem was ready to wipe us all out, but Moshe intercedes. Now, upon coming down the mountain Moshe sees with his own eyes what has happened. It is clear that he was angry, but I would not be so quick to suggest that he broke these tablets out of anger alone. When he strikes a rock to pour out water out of anger, instead of speaking to it, HaShem declares him unfit to enter Eretz Yisrael. One would think that breaking the tablets inscribed with the very finger of the Holy One, Blessed BE He, would yield a significant punishment! But, what does HaShem actually do? HaShem has Moshe make a new set...Therefore, Moshe must have thought this through a little more carefully.

The Torah on its own doesn't really make too much space for T'shuvah. Most of the time, if you sin, you pay for it severely. There needed to be a way for T'shuvah because Am Yisrael is a broken group, humanity is broken. Moshe did the unthinkable, he made the Torah as broken as Am Yisrael was. Only through a broken Torah that can be made whole again is there a possibility that the Torah can be available to us, in our brokenness, so that we may be made whole again.

This is the connection between the breaking of the tablets and the breaching of the walls. Both events wereresults of our own inability to be faithful to HaShem. Our own denial of HaShem leads to the breaking of those things that keep us close to him.


This is not permanent. In fact, the Torah is broken only to be made whole again, and the walls are breached only to be built again. This is the "deeper magic" of God. This is what Yeshua did. He was broken in order to be made whole again so that we would do the same.


Back to Tammuz 5770. This is a month to face our own brokenness, but it is also a month to face what was done for us so that we could be made whole again and accept that renewal. This is the beginning of our process of T'shuvah. T'shuvah doesn't begin in Elul, it begins now. The problem is that most of us wait until Elul before we start. This year I pray that all of us members of Am Yisrael, especially those who are Hasidei Yeshua, would begin our T'shuvah now. Maybe this is the year that Av can become the month of Mashiach...more on that next month...Chodesh Tov...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Living life by the Jewish Calendar

We live in a world of deadlines. Our everyday calendars tell us when bills are due, when meetings are scheduled, how much (or little) vacation we will have. We have national holidays (often associated with their own deadlines of expected behavior)...

Then there are birthdays and anniversary's. These are times when we celebrate events of our lives. In the midst of cycles of work, finance, and social norms there are moments when we stop to acknowledge events. This “mode of being” is the key point of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s discussion of the Sabbath. For Heschel, the Sabbath reminds the Jewish people (as well as all of humanity) of the value of events, moments in time. Heschel goes on to illustrate that Judaism is a religion of time. Time is the setting of Israel’s relationship with God, and the feature of human existence that Israel is meant to elevate. This is in keeping with much of hasidic practice which sees the Jewish year as a journey of the growth and refinement of the Jewish person. The key is to tap into this cycle. The holidays and unique mitzvot within each month send signals as to the energy of the month. Each month is an opportunity to be carried into deeper relationship with God. In many hasidic circles, this is the work of hastening messianic redemption, to whatever extent we are able.
As Messianic Jews in America, we do not normally live by the Jewish calendar. Some of us may check and glance at the beginning of the Gregorian month to figure out what holidays are coming up, but we do not really live by the Jewish calendar. We expect our synagogue leadership to know for us. We expect the spiritual and communal depth of the holidays to come to us, or we don’t expect anything at all. The holidays come to us by surprise, and the average Messianic Jew (or any Jew for that matter) would tell you that Hanukkah is in December at some point, as opposed to the 25th of Kislev.
What would happen if we were a community who even attempted to know the number of days between today and the next chag as much as we know the due date for our taxes?
What would happen if we attempted to find the life of Yeshua embedded in the cycle of life of our people?
What might happen if we lived lives that allowed the holiness of time infuse our lives with meaning?
What if we awaited our holidays with anxious excitement like a child knowing his/her birthday is only a few days away?

I have the privelege of teaching a monthly series on this topic for my Synagogue. I began in the month of Nissan, and at the completion of our year I will be publishing a small handout as a resource. After this is completed, I will post on the blog what I have written for each month. In the meantime, I will be picking up on the same theme here on the blog. It is my hope that the discussions here will compliment the class at my Synagogue and serve to make the publication better than it would've been otherwise (and serve as a continued resource for discussion here).

There is another, and more important purpose...

I hope this will be an encouragement and challenge to all of us who are members of Am Yisrael "according to the flesh" to take at least a few steps (if not many leaps) forward in our connection to the calendar of our souls. I hope to offer suggestions and share ideas that can serve as tools to connect more deeply to the Jewish months and holydays. I pray that, with God’s help, this conversation can inspire our souls to draw nearer to our Lord. May we all find ourselves changed and more deeply connected as we journey together through the year.

In My Name

“Amain, amain, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you” (Yohanan 16:23).

How could Yeshua say that anything that was asked in his name would be answered in the affirmative? What an extreme and out of balance statement to make! He doesn't address the issue of humans selfish motivations...He doesn't address the issue of human desire for control...He doesn't address the fact that even his own prayer to the Father in Gethsemane wouldn't be answered. Didn't he know the spiritual and theological dilemmas that would arise from the words he spoke to his friends that night? My guess is that he didn't care, and I am fairly certain Yohanan didn't either. In all of Yeshua's life, death, and resurrection there was only one thing he couldn't do for us-the most important thing he asked of us: That we would believe in him and within that faith be given the authority to do what he did. He was not able to make the world trust him, love him, or obey him. Some did, but even those who tried their hardest experienced failure. This is the key to Yeshua’s most unbelievable promise: Asking in his name means receiving him fully. Receiving Yeshua is knowing and accepting Him. Asking in his name means asking for what is in accordance with his will, his purposes. In this way we align ourselves with who he is and all that we ask will be given.

It is the responsibility of Yeshua's body, the people of God, to live according to his promises. To quote Pastor Bill Johnson, "His standard is the only one worth aiming for." Living in this frame of mind is not so easy, nor is it enough to protect us from the suffering of the world. This is another common misconception of Yeshua’s promise. Yeshua tells his talmidim, "You will weep and mourn but the world will be joyful. You will be grieved but your grief will turn to joy" (Yohanan 16:20, Barnstone). Yeshua does not promise a life without pain, but he does promise: dawn after night, birth after labor pain, and life after death.

What is the prerequisite for the promise? That we receive it with love and that we share it with others. He asks nothing else of us. As a devoted Jew speaking to other devoted Jews there would be a problem with this answer. "We have to observe Torah"...this is True. As a devoted follower of Yeshua speaking to other followers of Yeshua there would a problem with this answer: "We have to repent of our sins, declare his name, and be baptized"...this is True. While personal holiness is a most exquisite goal it is not a pre-requisite; it is a RESPONSE. We keep to God's standards of holiness as a response to his love that was so profoundly given to us through Yeshua. Nearly 2,000 years ago a group of men who were about to abandon the Son of God only hours later to were told of their betrayal before they even knew and were also told: "In the world you have pain. Courage. I have conquered the world" (Yohanan 16:33, Barnstone). A love that is expressed this undeservedly is the only kind of love congruent with the life giving power it is meant to unleash. It is a love that demands our acceptance and use of every single treasure given us: The gift to observe His laws, the gift to repent of our sins, the gift to proclaim his name, and the gift to heal the sick and raise the dead.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Brother Would Not Have Died

“…The fear of death...yells I, I, I and wants to hear nothing of a deflection of the fear…For man does not at all want to escape from some chain; he wants to stay, he wants to live.”
~Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, p. 9

Yeshua heard the cry of human suffering when Marta greeted him, saying : “Sir, if you had been here my brother would not have died” (Barnstone, Yohanan 11:21). In response, he speaks of his power, his purpose, and his identity:

“I am the resurrection [and the life]. Those who believe in me even if they die will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will not die into eternity” (Barnstone, Yohanan 11: 25-26).

Marta expresses her belief in this. I can’t help but wonder if Yeshua was going to leave it at that. Marta and Yeshua’s encounter was a perfect example of undying faith, filled with hope and assurance, but there was still a man in a grave. So Miryam comes out and says the same words first uttered by Marta: “Sir, if you had been here my brother would not have died” (Barnstone, Yohanan 11:32). Marta and Miryam share these words. These are not words of eschatological hope, or proof of undying faithfulness to the God who will one day etc, etc, etc…These are words born of the pain of loss that says where God is, death cannot stand…My brother would not have died.

“When Yeshua saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her were weeping, he raged at his own spirit…Yeshua wept. Then the Jews were saying, ‘See how he loved him.’ But some of them said, ‘Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so this man wouldn’t die?’ Yeshua again raged inwardly and went to the tomb” (Barnstone, Yohanan 11:33-38, emphasis mine).

Why did Yeshua rage inwardly, why did he weep? Was it some lack of faith? Marta and Miryam seemed to have plenty. Did he not know what was coming next? Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he knew he would only do this for one man before it would be himself. Maybe he raged and wept because death comes before resurrection, of necessity. Maybe he knew this would not be done for every man. How often have many of us said, in the wake of floods and earthquakes, in a world of murder and hate, in our mourning over the inevitable death of people we love: “If you had only been here…”
Are the words of Marta and Miryam figurative? Are they platitudes? How are we to hold them? How can we say them? Can Yeshua ever not be here?
We don’t know all the answers, but there is at least one: Death may be inevitable, but it need not be permanent. This is why Yeshua can show up late, rage, and weep and with a powerful voice cry out: “Elazar, come out” (Barnstone, Yohanan 11:43). Though death causes weeping and rage in God and us, it will not have say over the God of the living. This does not remove death’s sting, nor am I convinced it ought to. It does however mean that I can look forward to the day that I look in Yeshua’s eyes and say the words, “Because you are here my brothers and sisters will never die again.”

This is the Sabbath He Desires

The captivity of illness is far from restful. Illness has the capacity to trap people within their own bodies-to make the ailing feel just as stuck as those who are left feeling helpless to ease their pain. At many times it can feel like bondage, like slavery. The role of the suffering servant is to release Israel from slavery to their illnesses, just as God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. Messiah Yeshua came to renew the covenant between God and God’s people. Messiah came to bring about a second redemption; a redemption not primarily from human oppression, but from illness and death itself. His healing power was meant to be a sign to the people that redemption was drawing near. His healing presence was destined to shape the way Israel would relate to her Torah. Yeshua reveals this to many of Am Yisrael in Yochanan 7:

“If a man receives circumcision on Shabbat
In order not to break the law of Moshe,
Are you angry with me for making
A man’s whole body healthy on Shabbat?
Do not judge by appearance
But with the judgment of justice.”
(Yohanan 7:23-24, Barnstone)

Shabbat is an eternal covenant between Israel and God, but so is the b’rit milah. Because of this, circumcisions can be performed, according to halakha, on Shabbat. That action which marks the sealing of God’s covenant can be performed on the holiest of days. When the man Yeshua had healed was seen carrying his bed on Shabbat it could have appeared to be a breaking of halakha. However, this appearance does not take into account what it meant for this man to have carried his bed. He had just been healed from an impairment that enslaved him for most of his life. What Yeshua did was mark this man for reception of a renewed b’rit. Carrying is forbidden, but carrying as a sign of renewed life is another covenant sign with equal value as that of b’rit milah and Shabbat. For those who may have found this dissonant with the meaning of Shabbat, Yeshua concludes with reference to one of the other aspects of the mitzvah of Shabbat. Shabbat includes the release of all servants from their labors. Shabbat is also about releasing the bound; it is a day of Justice for those with heavy burdens. This is precisely what Yeshua has come to enact. It is also what he calls all of us to participate in.

The characteristics of Yeshua’s piety on Shabbat have implications that touch our lives on all days. Yeshua reminds us to walk on a path of observance that is difficult for most. This is not a path where we “sometimes observe and other times break out of observance,” but rather that in the way we observe we challenge the safety of predictable religious life. This is a walk characterized by submission to norms with expectation of new revelation; a life of holiness made manifest in the holding of law and the breaking of chains.