Monthly Archives: August 2011

Beyond the Mystery

“The theology of fate knows only a one-sided dependence upon the ultimate power. That power has neither concern for man nor need of him.”

In Chapter 6 of God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel discusses why The Enigma is Not Solved. Read related posts in this series; Being is Mysterious,  A Legacy of Wonder, The Sublime, Ways to His Presence, Philosophy and Religion and God in Search of Man Part I.

“He lowered heaven and came down with thick darkness under his feet. 10 He rode on a keruv; he flew, swooping down on the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness his hiding-place, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. 12 From the brightness before him, there broke through his thick clouds hailstones and fiery coals.” (Psalm 18:9-12)

Oftentimes God is hidden. As the Psalmist quoted above says “He made darkness His hiding place”. “Where can God be found when disaster strikes?” asks not only the scoffer but also the grieving mother, father, son, daughter, neighbor, friend, community or even country after the unexplainable loss of a loved one or the unimaginable loss of thousands upon thousands of loved ones due to a circumstance deemed “an act of God”. The reality of nature’s destruction and history’s lack of compassion is a stumbling block for many people seeking answers to universal mysteries. Yet Heschel says “The extreme hiddeness of God is a fact of constant awareness”.

“God thunders wonderfully with his voice, he does great things beyond our understanding.” (Job 37:5)

Scripture, along with the Biblical man is not silent on these matters. Both Scripture and the Biblical man agree that God is hard to find sometimes and that He offers answers that are beyond our capacity of comprehension. But what about God’s perfect justice and righteousness? The skeptic might also ask “if His judgment is true, then why all of the innocent suffering?”.

“Wake up, Adonai! Why are you asleep? Rouse yourself! Don’t thrust us off forever. 24 Why are you turning your face away, forgetting our pain and misery?” (Psalm 44:23-24)

“For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

The verse’s above are good places to start in answering the above questions. For starters, we have a very finite perspective on why things happen the way they do. To put it simply, our lack of ultimate perspective and knowledge should cause all of us to pause when making determinations of God’s perceived inconsistent attributes, as well as declarations of  God’s lack of existence.

Heschel talks about God’s mercy beyond the mystery and circumstances of this world. God’s concern, guidance, will, and commandments are all revealed to man through His Word (Scripture) and capable of being experienced by him. Heschel says that man “is called to responsible living and to be a partner of God in the redemption of the world”. In Judaism this is called “tikkun o’lam” which is “repairing the world“.

Heschel brings up two events in Israel’s experience to show that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is unique in comparison to all of the other so-called gods that have been presented through-out the history of the world:

  1. When God descended upon Mount Sinai and His voice spoke clearly to all the people what did it disclose? The mysteries and enigmas of the universe? No. The condition of departed souls? No. Information about demons, angels or heaven? No. When the voice of God became audible it said: Remember the Sabbath…..Honor your Father and Mother…….Don’t murder, steal, cheat or lie….
  2. When Moses asked God to reveal to him who He was, did He say? I am the all-wise, perfect and most beautiful? No. He said I am full of love and compassion……..Where in the history of religion prior to God’s revelation to Moses, was the Supreme Being celebrated for  His being sensitive to the suffering of man?

In Judaism, history with all of its ups and downs, joy and suffering, is determined by the covenant: God desires relationship with man. The ultimate is not the Law but the Judge over the Law, not an arbitrary power figure but a fair and just Father.

“The ideas of religion are an answer, when the mystery is a problem…….the certainty that there is meaning beyond the mystery is the reason for ultimate rejoicing”.

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!


Journey into the Unknown

My wife and I have just started something new. Something that has been on our minds with intentions to do for the past couple of years has just begun. It was just over a year ago that we finalized the difficult decision to leave the church that had been our spiritual home for the past 7 years. A place that we had been attending before we met, a place that we became members, went through pre-marital counseling, was married by one of the Pastors, had our daughter dedicated, I was baptized, we were challenged theologically, accepted in grace and love, grew in sanctification and met and became friends with many faithful servants of our Lord and Savior Yeshua (Jesus). That place was The Village Church.

So why the difficult move? Why change something that wasn’t broke but in fact was working quite well? Why? Why? Why? Are the questions that we asked ourselves for months upon months and went back and forth about, feeling kind of like a tennis tournament with no game point. Sure there were disagreements along the way and frustration about various matters with The Village, but that’s life here on earth, you know, this place we live that is short of perfect.

During our time at The Village we were introduced (outside of The Village) to the Jewish roots of Christianity with its emphasis on the continuity of both “testaments”, a focus on historical and linguistic interpretational methods as well as historical, sociological and relational aspects between the Jewish people, Judaism and Israel et large along with greater Christianity. At least that’s how I view it now a few years later. I hope that makes a little sense and if not ask me for clarification. To put it simply, we had a paradigm shift both theologically and philosophically that we wrestled with for a few years about its implications (this process is not done but we’ve come a long way since day 1:-).  There was something about looking at our faith (Christianity) through the eyes of Judaism that resonated within us. We didn’t have a logical explanation for why we were drawn to it but we were; it didn’t make a lot of sense and yet at the same time it did.

So that brief look back brings us to the present. This past week we started the next phase in our journey into the unknown. A journey that we didn’t completely choose ourselves to take and one that we are unsure where it will all lead. This is a mystery. As Heschel says “we are all a part of the Mystery”. The Mystery is not God, but the mystery is His creation and our existence in it. He is the Who and What that is beyond all mysteries. It is by Him that we move and interact with it all.

So what is it that we have started? The process to become members at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue.

So you might be thinking “why is that such a big deal?” or “why become a member of any religious organization?” or “a synagogue???? people there don’t believe in Jesus do they?”. Ok, so maybe you thought none of those things and it was just all in my head, and that’s fair. So I will give you (or myself) the short answer.

What’s the big deal? For us (my family) it’s all those things we talked about above. It’s about taking that first step into the uncomfortable position of submission and accountability to a faith community again. It’s aligning ourselves with an expression of faith that is many times socially awkward and inconvenient (you can’t say, think or do anything and everything you want to, but in a twist of Divine irony there is freedom in those “perceived” limitations). It’s always having to be ready to give an answer and defense of your “religion” almost everyday (this is not a bad thing and is in fact Biblical to talk about the “hope within us” but the flip side can be both tiring and worrisome at times).

Does Scripture speak to congregational membership or community accountability? To put it simply, Yes it does. Maybe not in the terms we would like to see such as spelled out in CAPS LOCKS and BOLD LETTERS, but Scripture is based on community and covenantial fidelity. Unique individuals with specific roles and talents in unity that make up a community is woven into the very fabric of the Bible’s directives and objectives. To quote Matt Chandler from The Village “It is how God designed life to work best”. In Scripture, a Covenant is an agreement of terms between God Himself, God and man, and mankind with each other. Biblically there are many Covenants and they are all built up from the previous one and support each other. Through Covenantial fidelity is the only way we can serve the One True God and each other in a faithful love based relationship.

Do people in synagogues believe in Jesus? This is a little more complex than you might think. To begin with Jesus is Jewish (was, is and will come back as a Jew) and was often found in a synagogue with the rest of his people. His religion is Jewish. For the first 10-20 years after the Resurrection, virtually all believers in Jesus were also Jewish (naturally or converted). So with that, yes, a segment (remnant) of the Jewish people have always had faith in Jesus as the Messiah. On the other hand, for the most part in modern terms as it relates to the Jewish community through-out the world the answer is, no. The Jewish people on a whole have rejected Jesus as the Messiah and there are many reasons for this including a supernatural blinding by God and some major sins on behalf of the Church. The word “messianic” means a follower of the Messiah. A “messianic” synagogue does affirm Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah of Israel and the Nations. A “messianic” synagogue should consist of Jews and Gentiles serving God according to the manner in which they were called and serving one another together in Messiah Yeshua as One New Man.

So there you have it, a quick summation of our continuing on this Journey into the Unknown. This is a journey that we’re all on whether aware or not and that’s a little scary, but exciting! Would you have it any other way?

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!

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Whole Lotta Love

The title of this post comes from a Led Zeppelin song of the same name. Other than sharing the title, this post has nothing to do with Led Zeppelin or that song (though I was a huge Zeppelin fan in high school and will occasionally still crank them up in the car when the kids are not sleeping, my wife is in a good mood and I can do no wrong:-).

Today’s Torah portion Va’etchanan (I pleaded) comes from Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11. At this point in Scripture, Moses has led the children of Israel to the threshold of crossing over the Jordan into the Promised Land and is at the end of his life when he begins expounding upon and retelling the Israelites journey from Egypt, the miracles and faithfulness of God along the way, and the stern warning and admonishment to be obedient to the One who has called them out to be His special treasure. This summation of events from the previous 40 years is important because now standing before Moses is a new generation. This is not the same generation who experienced the Exodus from Egypt or God on the mountain at Sinai as adults. So with this second generation on up to ours today and for future generations, Deuteronomy remains a kind of quick “how to” manual for God’s people. To paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, that these things took place as an example to all of those who would follow that first generation as a warning to guard our hearts, minds and actions so that we might endure until the end and reach our goal.

This portion of Scripture contains what might be the most famous of all passages for Judaism and one that should carry equal weight in Christianity as well. I’m talking about the S’hema Israel! from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which reads “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [1] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” This is a scripture that by the Second Temple Period had become one of the most prominent in Jewish Theology and Religion. We see this bore out in the New Covenant writings when Yeshua (Jesus) is asked what the greatest commandment is? He replied with “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” Yeshua also said that there was another commandment that was like the S’hema which is that “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

If you notice closely there is a slight variation in Yeshua’s quoting of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 withmind and strength (or might)”. David Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary says that this variation might have been added by the translator of Mark’s Gospel to “convey the full sense of the commandment” in the Greco-Roman context. Also in David Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible, he translates “might” from Deuteronomy 6:5 to “resources which makes it a more concrete term and definitely adds to the meaning of the verse in our present day society.

This should cause questions, basic questions:

  1. How do we really love God with everything we have?
  2. How can we love our neighbor, if we don’t know how to love ourself?
  3. Where can I begin practically trying to fulfill these commandments?

In discussing these verses today as a part of his message, Rabbi Marty Waldman relayed a “love” story from the Talmud about a King and his servants that went something like this; there was a King whose servants came to him on behalf of the people and asked “what they could do to please the king and show their love for him?” The King replied that they would please and show love to the king by being obedient citizens and serving and loving one another in his kingdom. If they did that they would be showing their faithful love to the king. For believers this story should sound familiar, not because we are versed in the Talmud or the Jewish Sages but because our King (Yeshua) has commanded the same thing. Yeshua has given us the answers to the questions above and more importantly the examples on how to begin and follow him in love for God and each other. The verses from John’s Gospel below sums everything up quite nicely in the words of our Master:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  (John 15:9-12)

I’ve been reading D. Thomas Lancaster’s new book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians which is a commentary on the book of Galatians. In Galatians 5:14 Paul quotes Leviticus 19:18 by saying “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul also said in Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Lancaster says that “love is the defining, fundamental principle of Yeshua’s approach to Torah. The Torah of Messiah is love for God and love for neighbor”.

Getting back to some practical aspects of “loving our neighbor” which is in turn obedience to Yeshua and “loving God”, Lancaster gives some additional biblical examples that are prevalent opportunities to “love one another” in our world today: “By citing this commandment first, Paul pointed his Gentile readers to a whole sphere of moral, ethical, interpersonal commandments of the Torah. In essence, he bound all of the “do unto others” commandments upon the God-fearing Gentiles. All those commandments hang upon the command to love one’s neighbor, whether honoring one’s parents, not charging a brother interest on a loan, giving to the poor, leaving the corner of the field, caring for orphans and widows, matters of tort law, justice, mercy, fairness-the vast majority of the Torah’s commandments hang upon this one command to love your neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and that which is hateful to you do not do unto others.”

The Apostle James, the brother of Yeshua also agrees when he says “If you really fulfill the royal law (Torah) according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.” (James 2:8)

To quote Rabbi Marty again from today’s message, “now that is a whole lot of love”.

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah!

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