Tag Archives: Christianity

In Our Time: The Church & Judaism

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“Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham, are called to be a blessing for the world …” – Pope John Paul II 

As someone, sometime, somewhere has famously said, “Timing is everything”. As I post this today, the timing is not lost on me. It’s the beginning of Holy Week for Christians and today is Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the traditional day on the Christian calendar in which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds waived palm branches and shouted “Hosanna in the highest”. According to the Gospels, this event happened a few days before the Passover festival was to begin in Jerusalem. Passover starts in just over a month. This is one example of a calendar difference, an issue of timing between Christianity and Judaism, but that’s another subject for another time. Today I want to share and highlight some of the not oft shared similarities between the two faith traditions as espoused in a recent document released by the Catholic Church. I highly encourage you to read the official document here.

Messiah Journal 122

 

 -Credit Where Credit is Due-

This post I’m sharing today was inspired by the Messiah Journal 122 article titled “The Vatican’s New Perspective on Judaism: New attitudes inspire hope for reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity” written by D. Thomas Lancaster and published by First Fruits of Zion, Winter 2016/5776. Order here.

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Nostre Aetate is Latin for In Our Time. Nostre Aetate was the theologically revolutionary Catholic Church document released by the Vatican II Council in 1965. Nostre Aetate had at its core an objective to work towards repairing and strengthening the spiritual kinship shared by Christianity & Judaism. The document renounced anti-Semitism, the charge of deicide (killing God) and challenged the assumptions of replacement theology (the Church as Israel’s replacement in Gods plan). The effects of Nostre Aetate have remained increasingly relevant to Jewish & Christian relations since its release and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nostre Aetate, the Vatican released a new theological document, based on Romans 11:29, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable”. The new paper released by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, revisits, clarifies and updates the intentions of Nostre Aetate.

In the Preface for “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable”, the stated aim is to explore theological topics “such as the relevance of revelation, the relationship between the Old and the New Covenant, the relationship between the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ and the affirmation that the covenant of God with Israel has never been revoked, and the Church’s mandate to evangelize in relation to Judaism. This document presents Catholic reflections on these questions, placing them in a theological context, in order that their significance may be deepened for members of both faith traditions.” 

I first read about the new Catholic document “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable” a few weeks ago and I was immediately impressed with its progressive ideas, powerful statements and sound theology according to my estimation. I guess I was largely surprised by this because I was largely unaware of Nostre Aetate and the work that has been done in the past 50 years to bridge the gap between Christianity and Judaism by the Catholic Church. I’ve been on record with this blog in the past as someone who has been critical of Catholic doctrine and traditions and this new reflection is in no way an endorsement of Catholic theology as a whole. But reading this new paper from a Messianic Jewish perspective I was blown away by the succinct language employed by the Vatican to communicate Biblical and historical truths that have been neglected for millennia. Especially since the Church was the very reason why suspect theology beget such an unfortunate history towards the Jewish people in the first place. The FFOZ article highlighted the work that has been done by Messianic Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer, through him being a key participant in the Helsinki Consultation, which is an ecumenical forum that is focused on the relationship between the Church, the Jewish people, and the Messiah. Rabbi Kinzer discovered Jesus while in a Catholic setting and recently published a book ‘Searching Her Own Mystery’ which calls on the Church to consider its Jewish origins, close affinity and rootedness within the framework of Israel.

The new Vatican document speaks of the special theological status of Jewish-Christian dialogue of the two distinct and yet mutually related faith traditions. With that end in mind, I will share just a small sampling (way too many to include in a short post) of some of the direct quotes I found most stimulating. I urge you not just to blow through these statements but to really comprehend and think on what they’re saying and their implications. I cannot overstate that from a Messianic Jewish theological perspective this is fascinating stuff coming from a Catholic committee.

-On the Jewish Roots of Christianity-

“Jesus was a Jew, was at home in the Jewish tradition of his time, and was decisively shaped by this religious milieu. His first disciples gathered around him, had the same heritage and were defined by the same Jewish tradition in their everyday life.”

“One cannot understand Jesus’ teaching or that of his disciples without situating it within the Jewish horizon in the context of the living tradition of Israel; one would understand his teachings even less so if they were seen in opposition to this tradition.”

“Fully and completely human, a Jew of his time, descendant of Abraham, son of David, shaped by the whole tradition of Israel, heir of the prophets, Jesus stands in continuity with his people and its history.”

“From a theological perspective, Christians need to refer to the Judaism of Jesus’ time and to a degree also the Judaism that developed from it over the ages for their own self-understanding. Given Jesus’ Jewish origins, coming to terms with Judaism in one way or another is indispensable for Christians.”

“The soil that nurtured both Jews and Christians is the Judaism of Jesus’ time, which not only brought forth Christianity but also, after the destruction of the temple in the year 70, post-biblical rabbinical Judaism.”

“Thus Jews and Christians have the same mother and can be seen, as it were, as two siblings who – as is the normal course of events for siblings – have developed in different directions.”

“The first Christians were Jews; as a matter of course they gathered as apart of the community in the synagogue, they observed the dietary laws, the Sabbath, and the requirement of circumcision, while at the same time confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah sent by God for the salvation of Israel and the entire human race.”

“The separation of the Church from the Synagogue does not take place abruptly however and, according to some recent insights, may not have been complete until well into the third or fourth centuries. This means that many Jewish Christians of the first period did not perceive any contradiction between living in accordance with some aspects of the Jewish tradition and yet confessing Jesus as the Christ.”

-On Replacement Theology or Supersessionism-

“While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ, the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel. A replacement or supersession theology which sets against one another two separate entities, a Church of the Gentiles and the rejected Synagogue whose place it takes, is deprived of its foundations.”

“There have often been attempts to identify this replacement theory in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This Epistle, however, is not directed to the Jews but rather to the Christians of Jewish background who have become weary and uncertain. Its purpose is to strengthen their faith and to encourage them to persevere, by pointing to Christ Jesus as the true and ultimate high priest, the mediator of the new covenant.”

“At issue in the Epistle to the Hebrews is not the contrast of the Old and New Covenants as we understand them today, nor a contrast between the church and Judaism. Rather, the contrast is between the eternal heavenly priesthood of Christ and the transitory earthly priesthood.”

-On Salvation and Evangelism-

“Nevertheless, from the theological perspective the dialogue with Judaism has a completely different character and is on a different level in comparison with the other world religions. The faith of the Jews testified to in the Bible, found in the Old Testament, is not for Christians another religion but the foundation of their own faith, although clearly the figure of Jesus is the sole key for the Christian interpretation of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The cornerstone of the Christian faith is Jesus.”

“Therefore there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression “Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ”. Christian faith proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is universal and involves all mankind. God’s word is one single and undivided reality which takes concrete form in each respective historical context.”

“Since God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel, there cannot be different paths or approaches to God’s salvation. The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith. Confessing the universal and therefore also exclusive mediation of salvation through Jesus Christ belongs to the core of Christian faith.”

“It is the belief of the Church that Christ is the Savior for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation, therefore, since Christ is also the Redeemer of the Jews in addition to the Gentiles.”

“While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.”

My hope and prayer is that this Jewish-Christian dialogue continues to move forward with God speed in a real and tangible way and it reaches the masses and lay people of both faith traditions. It will be a mutual blessing and its end will be eternal riches in Messiah and the World to Come for all of God’s people. Amen & Amen!

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33

 

 


Bring Back The King

*Attention: This is not a post about Elvis, Michael Jackson, or even that goofy looking character from the Burger King commercials.*

This post is about a hope and a prayer, that I pray and hope will turn into a plea by Yeshua’s (Jesus’) brothers and sisters according to the flesh (i.e. The Jewish People) really soon in the coming days. Amen! These thoughts are primarily drawn out of the 16th Chapter entitled Life from the Dead in Michael Brown’s book Our Hands Are Stained With Blood.

For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:39 ESV)

Yeshua (Jesus) spoke these words in sadness to Jerusalem not too long before his death. These words come after a long litany of warnings to the oppressive and unbelieving leadership of the Jewish people in Yeshua’s day. Yeshua’s words as recorded here in Matthew are insightful and indeed prophetic. These words are magnificent and the implications are probably beyond our full scope of understanding until they become the reality that will usher in the Age to Come. And yet with clarity, there is an aspect and an event in view that all believer’s should understand right now in this present age – The Jewish People play an integral part in the 2nd Coming of Yeshua!

Ever since I can remember, in my lifetime, there has always been talk of the Lord’s return to this earth. This is popularly known as the 2nd Advent or 2nd Coming. This desire and speculation of Yeshua’s return has not just recently become the hot topic of believers, but it is true of my parent’s and grandparent’s generation as well. In fact, the imminent expectation of Yeshua’s return goes all the way back through every generation of the last two thousand years, even to the very generation(s) in which the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) were written. But, have we really had genuine reason to believe that He could return at anytime? I suppose that each and every generation could validate and give “evidence” for His return in some form or fashion. Some of the “evidences” of our modern times (most of which I agree with) are the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish control of Jerusalem for the first time in almost 2,500 years in 1967, Tens of thousands of Jewish people coming to faith in Yeshua in the last 40-50 years, the increased frequency of natural disasters, the increased frequency of wars and rumors of wars, the explosion of knowledge and technology, etc, etc. Yeshua talked about many of these things being a “sign of the end”, but there is still a caveat, there is still something else that must happen before his return – Yeshua said so, very plainly, himself. As Brown makes note of  in his book “He will remain in heaven until Jerusalem welcomes Him back. That is how it must be!”.

So it is with this caveat in mind that I write this post; that Yeshua will not return until his own people, the Jews, welcome him back as Melech Mashiach (King Messiah).

Brown brings up a portion of Scripture from 2 Samuel, having to do with King David, in which he suggests is prophetic in light of Yeshua’s words in Matthew 23. At this point in David’s life, he had been on the run after his son Absalom had stolen his throne. David had previously left Jerusalem out of fear for his life, but now his son Absalom has been killed and David was ready to return and resume his kingship from the City of the King. After hearing of Absalom’s death, the Israelites argued amongst themselves saying;

“The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?” (2 Samuel 19:9-10 ESV)

King David took their sentiments a bit further and went right to the source of contention. He sent a message straight to the leadership in Israel at the time and said;

“Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ (2 Samuel 19:11-12 ESV)

“You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ These words could easily reflect the attitude of Yeshua to his brothers and sisters in the flesh. All the nations of the world are represented in wanting to bring back the King (including Messianic Jews), but until Jerusalem (represented by Israel and the Jewish People as a whole) receive and welcome Him back – He will not return!

So this is one of the great challenges and opportunities we face! Some might say Mission Impossible, it can’t be done or it won’t be done until Yeshua comes back, but wait, according to Yeshua’s own words it must happen before He returns – not after! Many Christians might be surprised to learn that religious Jew’s pray for their Messiah’s return daily, as well as it being a central tenet to their faith (though currently they reject Yeshua as this Messiah).

The 15th blessing of the Amidah (daily standing prayer) is called The Kingdom of David and it appeals to God to bring the Messianic King to sit on David’s throne:

May the seed of David thy servant flourish speedily and may You exalt in Your salvation. For in Your salvation do we hope all the day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who brings forth the horn of our salvation.

The 12th principle in Maimonides 13 principles of Jewish faith states; the belief in the coming of Messiah and the Messianic era.

How can we challenge and change the status quo of long-held assumptions about who the Messiah is? What part can you play in this Divine objective?

For starters, we can all join in prayer a la Psalm 122:6; Pray for the Peace and Salvation of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will not experience true and lasting peace and salvation without her true Messiah, Yeshua.

Second, we must understand Paul’s words in Romans 11 and keep them continually on our heart and in focus:

Christians (non-Jewish believers from among the nations) must understand that it is only in part to Israel’s stumbling that we are able to proclaim God’s amazing grace as grateful believers today.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11 ESV)

To me, this is also one of the lost callings of the Church and Christianity in general. We have hardly provoked Israel to jealousy by showering them with the love of Christ, but instead, historically speaking, we have persecuted them in Jesus’ name as Christ killers! All believers everywhere must repent for ourselves and our ancestors in the faith. We must take a stand against and denounce all anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic behavior and theology. 

Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Romans 11:12 ESV)

I believe that many Christians are eternally thankful to God for “calling them out of the darkness and into His marvelous light”. “For O’ the depths and heights” of God’s blessings that he has bestowed upon us and yet this is only a taste of the mutually universal blessing that will be showered upon all believer’s once Israel is brought back into the fold under her Messiah.

For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 ESV)

This portion of Scripture penned by Paul through the Holy Spirit is astounding! Israel’s rejection enabled all the nations of the world, you and I, to be brought into a personal and corporate relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The I AM who spoke to Moses, the God of Israel, the Tetragrammaton – YHVH! Meditate upon this, all of this was done because of Israel’s (temporary) rejection! We should hardly be able to contain ourselves at the thought of Israel’s future acceptance and welcome message back to her King “Baruch Haba B’Shem Adonai”, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”! For this message is about one of our primary and eternal hopes – The Resurrection!

The Resurrection is a central tenet to the theology of Christianity and Judaism and is something in which we are all eternally hopeful. Again, from Maimonides 13 principles of Jewish faith; #13 – the belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Finally, I believe that it is to this end that the modern Messianic Jewish movement has arisen in these last days. I believe that Messianic Judaism will be the great bridge of reconciliation between Christianity and normative Judaism. I believe that it is the high calling of the Messianic Jewish movement to prepare the remnant of Israel with all believers from the nations alongside her in love and prayer to proclaim the message “Bring Back The King”!

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

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Between Miracles

 “Do you believe in miracles?”

– asks Matisyahu in the song Miracle. This will also be my over-arching question and theme for this post.

Last week I wrote about some of my views and shared a bit of my personal journey on whether or not you could have a Chanukah and a kosher Christmas celebration if you were either a Messianic Jew, a Messianic Gentile, or a Judaically informed Christian. I share my perspective as a Christian (The word Messianic is a synonymous term) who has been influenced and continues to be informed by Judaism and it’s philosophy and traditions. Since Hanukkah and Christmas intersect this year, I wanted to continue to explore a thematic parallel that is shared between the two holidays.

I originally sat down to write this post with a working title called Festivals of Light. I was going to look at how the Festivals of Light could describe both Chanukah and Christmas and how they relate to God and His Word, Messiah and His Disciples, plus customs and traditions associated with the Light of both festivals. But, like what happens so many times, inspiration strikes from out of nowhere (or somewhere) it seems and the next thing you know you’re being led into a direction that you hadn’t prepared for but amazingly ideas are flowing like a proverbial river. Ok, so I don’t know if this happens to everyone but it happens to myself enough for me to think it might be a common occurence that leads to creativity for everyone else.

Yesterday, my wife and I officially became members and a part of the mishpacha (family) at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue. For the last 4 months we have been reading through 3 required books and attending a weekly class for membership. So, after a 4 month hiatus, this morning I picked up God In Search Of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel. I haven’t had the time to continue reading and studying through God In Search Of Man due to our membership class requirements with Baruch HaShem. I have posted multiple times in the past about this book and I started thinking again of what Heschel had to say about the mystery, wonder, awe, amazement and glory of God. One of the reasons that led me to Heschel and God In Search Of Man today, was a Facebook comment that a friend of mine posted last week about the death of one of his hero’s and fellow atheists Christopher Hitchens. In addition to that, I heard through song and movies a few references to miracles this past week. When I sat down to write this blog originally about the Festivals of Light, all these various thoughts from the last few days led me to start thinking about miracles and the shared miracle theme of Hanukkah and Christmas.

It is common to hear stories about miracles during Hanukkah and Christmas.

For Hanukkah, probably the most traditional and well-known story of a miracle has to do with the Miracle of the oil for the Temple Menorah. In the Talmud in tractate Shabbat 21, it is said that when the Maccabees defeated the evil Antiochus Epiphanies and his Greek army, they took back control of Jerusalem and the Temple. Upon doing this though, they found only enough oil to light the Temple Menorah (that should burn continually in representation of God’s presence) for one night and that it would take a total of 8 days to consecrate new oil that is fit to be burned in the Temple. Miraculously, the one night of oil lasted for 8 nights and hence God provided the miracle in order to create new oil and we have the 8 nights of Hanukkah. This is a great story and the primary event that the holiday commemorates. Perhaps though, a more historical and even more miraculous event to happen that led to Hanukkah being celebrated, is when the outnumbered and outsourced band of guerilla fighters led by Mattathias and Judah Maccabee overcame all odds and adversity to defeat the larger, better trained and more equipped Greek army. After the Jewish victory in about 165 BCE, on the 25th of Kislev, the Temple and Altar were cleansed and re-dedicated (this is what the word Hanukkah means) back to God. At this time, an 8 day festival was proclaimed with much feasting, song and sacrifice and is thought by many scholars and historians to be a belated festival of Sukkot (which last 8 days). This is also alluded to in 2 Maccabees 1:18. The Jews had been unable to properly celebrate the feasts during the years preceding the victory and Sukkot was the most recently missed holiday. I know of at least two other miracle stories which are interesting that relate to Hanukkah as well:

  1. 2 Maccabees 1:18-36 also says that the reason that the 25 of Kislev was chosen for the day of Hanukkah (re-dedication) was that, that was the same day that God had miraculously caused the fire for the sacrifice of the Altar to be re-lit by those priests, who had preserved in the Persian exile, the elements of the former fire of the Temple Altar.
  2. It is thought by some in the Messianic and Jewish Roots movement that Yeshua was born in the fall, perhaps during one of the fall feasts. If this was the case, then if we were to rewind the clock back 9 months, one would come to the approximate time of Hanukkah. This is all merely speculative, but it would be very interesting to suppose that the Light of the World could have been conceived during the Festival of Lights. That would be yet another miraculous event indeed!

For Christmas, it is often said (in the movies at least) that something that happens out of the ordinary or that cannot be explained easily at this time of year is a “Christmas miracle”. Many times this is probably thought of in the secular and general sense of the “spirit” of Christmas creating these “miracles”. I equate this type of “miracle” thinking to the kind of “miracle” of the mythical Santa Claus figure who can fly around (through flying deer who pull his sleigh) the world in a single night and drop gifts off at all the good little boys and girls homes. This is what I would call the fairy tale “miracle”. But for many who might proclaim witness to a “Christmas miracle” there is another source. A Source and Reality that is hidden and yet more real and evidenced than many would like to admit or contemplate. A miracle that has a deep-seated mystery about it and causes a wonder and amazement that is beyond belief, yet in some glorious way is believable. There is one such “Christmas miracle” that is proclaimed by many at this time that is one of the most miraculous events to ever happen in the history of the universe……a birth of a baby boy by a young women. What? What in the world is so miraculous about that? Absolutely nothing! That is, unless you believe, that the child (Yeshua) was born of a virgin (Miriam) who had been conceived by God (The Holy Spirit) and that the child who was born had been with God in the beginning before there was the concept of creation and time and that this child was in fact God Himself who had left His exalted position to take on flesh and literally became Immanuel (God is with us), the Author, Perfector, and Sustainer of our faith! That is the greatest miracle I have ever encountered!!!

What of these miracles of the past you might ask? What about the here and now? How do we really believe in miracles today?

In the book, God In Search Of Man, Heschel talks about the sense of wonder and miracles being the “source of prayer”. Heschel mentions that the religious Jew will pray 3 times a day: “We thank You……For Your miracles are with us daily, For Your continual marvels….”

As I sit typing this post about miracles, at this very minute I just received a text from a good friend of mine who lives in Georgia. My friend’s dad has been critically ill while waiting for a heart transplant and has spent the past few weeks in the ICU of the hospital. The last update I had from him was on Thanksgiving, Nov 24th. The text reads verbatim “Thanks everyone for all your support and prayers. There is a heart match and my dad goes into heart transplant surgery in an hour.” Praise God!!! I would ask that you keep this friend of mine and his dad in your prayers for a speedy and strong recovery. I would even ask for a miraculous recovery!

Heschel says that in all things, no matter how great or small, good or bad we perceive them to be we must remain aware of God’s wonder and miracles. We must seek and learn to invoke His great name and our awareness of Him continually.

“There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living.”

Heschel says that one of the goals to the Jewish way of living is “to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.”

According to Heschel, you might say that daily, we are constantly between miracles. Living life each day from one miracle to the next.

“Do you believe in Miracles?”

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!
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Chanukah and a kosher Christmas?

(My 4-year-old daughter approved the picture for this post because she thought it represented the title well….I couldn’t agree more, nice job mija!)

I’ve read many different blogs and articles in respect to these holidays over the past couple of weeks. Feelings run the gamut of excitement to loathing, from celebratory to critical. I’ve seen many Facebook posts and Twitter tweets with healthy doses of “hot” holiday opinions and “scholarly”comments. So, I thought to myself, self, since I have a computer with some online “space”, I might as well share IMHO as well.

Conventional wisdom (along with the majority of my family, friends and just about everyone else I know :-)) would say that these two holidays wouldn’t mix and match well, unless that is;

A. You’re a retailer who could benefit from the dual marketing schemes and crafty advertising to create a shopping frenzy that is even grossly above the one that we see today. This would skyrocket the revenue from tapping into the commercialism of both holidays or………

B. You’re a kid who gets not only one day to reap the proverbial harvest but an additional eight nights to flood your bedroom with things you will be tired of in three weeks, which will lead to your parents to constantly remind you to clean up your mess until they give up and just start to do it themselves or……….

C. You could combine both A & B, plus order in, or eat out Chinese food and go watch a movie on the big screen.

On the other hand, we could all save ourselves lots of money, headaches and arguments and just celebrate Festivus! No? What do you mean it was just made up for tv? Ok, ok, enough of my bad seasonal holiday humor. On with the subject at hand!

What about these two holidays from a traditional Christian and Jewish religious perspective? For the majority of Christians and Jews this is a non-issue. “Christmas is for Christians and Chanukah is for Jews.” A significant part of Christian history has rejected “all things” Jewish and in turn Judaism on a whole has rejected the Messianic claims of Yeshua (Jesus) espoused by Christianity. “The religions, less alone the holidays clearly don’t belong together!” this is an unfortunate, but common sentiment shared by followers of both. [As Morning Meditations blogger James states in the comments below; apart from the time of year, Chanukah and Christmas “really have nothing to do with each other”. On some levels this is true. As James notes, Christmas is a major holiday for Christianity and Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday for Judaism. They are also not equivalent in the sense that you could interchange either one culturally and basically end up with the same holiday, i.e. Chanukah would not be the “Jewish Christmas”. For additional response to these thoughts see the comments below.]

But for those of us involved with the Messianic movement in some form or fashion, it isn’t always so simple. I know some inter-married couples (where one spouse is Jewish and the other Christian) who struggle at this time a year with their extended family tugging on their coat-tails to focus on Chanukah and non-assimilation this or Christmas and Joy to the World that. I have non-Jewish friends and family who avoid “all things” Christmas and others who “redeem” all things Christmas. And still I know of others in the Messianic realm that won’t have anything to do with either holiday because it’s not a “biblical” holiday.

On this topic I could think of many questions that would be worthy of discussion:

  • As a Messianic Jew, could you or should you for that matter, celebrate Christmas as a legitimate expression of your faith in Messiah?
  • As a Christian informed by Judaism, what reasons or benefit could there be in celebrating Chanukah in respect to the Christ?
  • What about celebrating Christmas in solidarity with Christendom?
  • What about celebrating Chanukah in solidarity with Israel?
  • What is their shared history, themes and theology?
  • What about the pagan/secular influences of both?
  • Does pagan mean it’s inherently evil and unable to be given the right theology?

I’m probably not going to directly answer any of these ?’s in this post and even if I did it would not likely please anyone on this topic. Instead, I primarily want to share some of my journey and where I am now in respect to these two winter celebrations.

***Disclaimer*** I’ll answer a question I usually get when talking about anything “Jewish” related; “Are you Jewish?” No, the simple answer is No. The main problem with this answer is that it doesn’t set the heart of the person asking the question at ease. If my answer was “Of course I’m Jewish”, then everything would make sense and all things in the world would be right (sigh). We could at the least move on to whatever else we wanted to discuss in peace. But when I say “No” to the “Are you Jewish?” question, confusion abounds and further explanation must be given in a way that communicates “Why in the world would you do that for if you’re not Jewish?”. I digress………..

Last year I wrote A Christmas Conversation, which was a brief look at my personal history and some thoughts as it relates to Christmas. I was brought up in what I would consider to be a typical “Christian” household in Small Town, USA. I had a loving family and for the most part everything was good. I have fond memories of Christmas growing up as a kid. Since I was a child there has always seemed to be something a bit magical and mysterious about Christmas and this season in general. As I mentioned in A Christmas Conversation, I was shocked when my parents came to me at 18 or 19 years old and said that we weren’t going to do Christmas anymore but we were going to celebrate Chanukah!

Chanukah O’ Chanukah?

As mentioned above, I’m not Jewish. I also didn’t have any friends as a child who were Jewish, I didn’t know any of my parents friends who were Jewish and I didn’t date anyone that I knew of who was Jewish either that would have influenced me. So how did I end up celebrating Chanukah?

It started somewhere around 1999 or 2000. My parents had been introduced to the Jewish roots of Christianity by a Bible teacher and I think my parents originally thought of Chanukah as a nice Jewish alternative to Christmas. It was a holiday that was celebrated around the same time of year, but without the Pagan influences of Christmas. It was also not nearly as commercialized and had less pomp and circumstance about it. I was 20 years old and I couldn’t even spell Chanukah (I came to find out later it could also be spelled Hanukkah) and the only thing I knew about Chanukah at the time were the things I had learned from the Adam Sandler song.

So for the next few years I was a bit confused to say the least when it came to this time of year. I couldn’t give up Christmas cold turkey after almost 20 years, it was all I had ever known and yet I didn’t have a problem including Chanukah, but early on I didn’t really have the slightest idea of how to truly make it meaningful. It was mostly this type of struggle for me until 2007. That year was a watershed year for my faith. I was young in my walk with God and Yeshua (Jesus) and I begin to study for the first time on my own accord the pagan influences of Christianity in general but Christmas and Easter in particular. At this same time I was also introduced to Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue and began to study the Jewish roots of Christianity. In the beginning of learning both the Jewish roots as well as the Paganism of Christianity I was shocked at first and then I became angry. It was like I went through the 5 stages of grief in relation to this:

  1. Denial – This can’t be true! Say it ain’t so. Has this really happened.
  2. Anger – I was angry at the Church for suppressing this info and angry towards others who didn’t understand my new-found knowledge.
  3. Bargaining – I wanted to share with anyone who would listen and try to have them understand my position so I would feel understood and justified.
  4. Depression – Nobody cares about this. Everyone is right in their on mind and theology. I’m one of the few who knows the truth and that is a lonely position.
  5. Acceptance – I continued to research and ask ?’s year after year and begin to get a broader perspective and a greater understanding and depth of what is truth.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t exactly the same, but I could relate to that model. Thankfully God in his rich grace, hasn’t left me to that same level of anger, confusion and pride that I had a few years ago in relation to this subject.

After a couple of years like that, in 2009 I begin to have a new perspective on both Chanukah and Christmas that continues to be reflective and thoughtful to this day. I don’t go into anything blindly accepting everything that has been told or shown to me and I don’t expect you to either. Below are some additional thoughts of mine and some links to blogs and articles that I found to be helpful on the Chanukah and Christmas quest for balance and truthfulness:

Chanukah for Christians? Here is a link to a blog I wrote last year called Consider Christ, Chanukah!

Also see, A Bissell of Hanukkah How-To’s and Inspiration, MJ Style by Rabbi Derek Leman.

A kosher Christmas? As far as my ghosts of recent Christmas past are concerned, they don’t haunt me the way they used to anymore. I think it was a blessing that I was able to learn the intricate history of Christmas and struggle for a few years with its implications. This is a healthy and necessary practice and process to keep integrity in our faith expressions. I should do more of this and so should you. Here are a few thoughts on what I’ve learned and where I am now:

  • The birth of Yeshua (Jesus) by the virgin Miriam (Mary) is historical.
  • The Bible gives details about the birth of Yeshua but doesn’t call it Christmas.
  • Christmas is a man-made holiday by Christians for Yeshua.
  • The Bible doesn’t prohibit celebrating Yeshua’s birth.
  • The Bible emphasizes and makes much of Yeshua’s death.
  • The Bible contains many God ordained festivals that reveal Yeshua.
  • Most scholars put Yeshua’s birth in the Spring or Fall and not the Winter.
  • Celebration of Yeshua’s birth most likely began in the late 2nd Century.
  • His birth became wide-spread and official by the Church in the 4th Century.
  • This was likely done to combat paganism, not to conform to it.
  • Most Biblical Festivals have almost identical practices that predate them.
  • The Winter solstice has been celebrated since before Yeshua was born.
  • Many Christmas customs seem to have their origins in non-biblical religions.
  • Some practices and customs can be redeemed, some can’t. Use discernment.
  • All of creation is good and from God but mankind can form into idols.
  • Trees in the Bible were used as decoration and symbolism by God’s people.
  • Trees in the Bible were made into idols and used in false worship by pagans.
  • God created light and He is the Light of the World. We are to be His reflection.
  • Christmas music can be worshipful, uplifting, inspiring and theological.
  • Peace, Joy and Goodwill for all men is a disciples goal and Messianic ideal.
  • Giving gifts and helping others is a good, fun and Christ-like thing to do.
  • Excessive consumerism is a sin.
  • Santa Claus is not real and we shouldn’t lie to children about him being real.
  • Santa Claus did start as a historical figure in the person of St. Nicholas.
  • It’s good to see churches and believers emphasizing Advent vs commercialism.

Here is a link to a very interesting article that was written in 1910 by the early 20th Century Messianic Jew Chaim Yedidah Theophilis (Lucky) called “Hanukkah or Christmas?”.

For some additional Jewish background to the Biblical “Christmas” story go to Yeshua In Context and watch the three recent videos Bethlehem Shepherds, Bethlehem Star, and Magi’s Gifts.

I’m of the opinion that if you are a Christian who identifies with Judaism and gleans from its rich tradition or if you are a Messianic Jew and find depth and beauty in a Messiah centered Christian tradition, you can (gasp) definitely celebrate both Chanukah and a kosher Christmas. What does that look like? It will vary on the individual level and from family to family. For my family, we put the emphasis on Chanukah in our home. We make use of Chanukah’s light and miracle themes and relate them to God, Yeshua and His people. We tell the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil. We light the menorah on all eight nights, bless God, give gifts, play driedel and texas driedel (for the adults), and eat latkes and donuts. For Christmas in our home, you won’t find any of the traditional decorations that you might expect. One of the primary reasons we do this is that for us and our kids, in the culture of America, we have no shortage of exposure to Christmas in its many forms. When we walk out the door of our house, it’s all over our neighborhoods, shopping places, work, school, etc. Chanukah on the other hand is harder to find, it’s less exposed and that to us makes it even more special and intimate. It is primarily limited to our house, a few friends, family and our synagogue.

Chanukah begins on the evening of December 20th this year and as I write this post that is only 9 days away. I think we all know when Christmas is.

I pray that this year your heart is warmed by God’s mercy and provision in your lives and you carry that glow or spark into the new year and I hope that the embers of His Spirit would grow day upon day into a full-fledged wildfire for Him and His ways. May He lead all of us to do mighty works for His Name and Glory!

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

The Bond Family 2011

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A Subject So Heavy

“Hatred of the Jew has been humanity’s greatest hatred. While hatred of other groups has always existed, no hatred has been as universal, as deep, or as permanent as antisemitism.” 

Quote by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin from the book Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism

Just recently I started reading Our Hands Are Stained With Blood by Dr. Michael L. Brown. This book is part of the required reading material in the membership class, as a prerequisite to membership, at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue. For starters, this book is a hard read, very hard. Not in its style, but in its content and history. The subtitle is The Tragic Story of The “Church” and the Jewish People. I’m only a few chapters in and the detail of hate, persecution, and murder along with the graphic images that come to ones mind are almost inconceivable and unbearable to even imagine the horrors that have been prevalent for centuries upon centuries between the “Church” and the Jewish People. To be sure, Brown does relate many horrors perpetrated by the “Church” against the Jews, but also broadens the spectrum and discusses Anti-Semitism around the world, in various cultures, in the media, and even reviews the claim that the New Testament itself and even Jesus himself make anti-semitic remarks.

“The challenge for the modern-day Christian reader confronting such a history is not only to absorb and own that history, but also to examine current Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism.”  The Rev. Phil Windsor

“The vast majority of Christians, even well-educated, are all but totally ignorant of what happened to Jews in history….and the involvement of the Church.”  Edward Flannery – Catholic Scholar

Michael Brown states emphatically that “The Church must know!” It is long over due that the Church universal, from the top down must be made aware of its history and dealings with the Jewish people. Brown states “Whether Catholic or Protestant – there is blood on our fathers’ hands.” Every last ounce of anti-semitic thought, theology and action must be dealt with, rooted out and repented from in order to bring the reconciliation that is so desperately needed between the Church and the Jewish people. Brown states “It is the Church’s tears of repentance that will wash away the stain of blood.” Brown’s primary subject is the “Church”, which is mostly placed in quotation marks to make the reader aware that the true Church, the biblical Church, wouldn’t have anything to do with anti-Semitism, at least not for the most part, for we know that sometimes whats lurking in the depths of the sub-conscience can betray its counterpart.

Many people may not think that anti-Semitism is prevalent and a part of mainstream society in the world today, at least not in the west. We might have the tendency to relegate it to the pages of history books about Hitler and the Holocaust. Others know that anti-Semitism rages in the middle east with leaders such as Iran’s Ahmadinejad and the Palestinian conflict and yet those same people might still not think that anti-semitic thought is a problem in the west, other than the outer fringes of society which includes those such as the neo-nazis and other white-supremacist groups.

Think again. In the almost seven decades since WWII and the tragedy of the Holocaust, anti-semitism hasn’t just went away or faded into the pages of history books. As maybe most would like to think, our post modern society with all of its technological advances and increased knowledge is not above those of past millenia in morality or its mutual hatred of the Jews. It seems that the past 2,500 years worth of generations seem to have at least this in common – on some level they all blame the Jews for theirs and the world’s problems. As the two articles quoted below indicate, anti-semitism is as prevalent today as its ever been and in fact appears to be on the rise at this very moment.

In a blog post at The Podium from the Boston Globe on November 7, 2011: The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism  By Abraham H. Foxman

Anti-Semitism has been resurging around the world over the last decade. The combination of anxiety over terrorism, concerns about financial stability, campaigns against Israel, and the diminution of the long felt shame after Auschwitz about exhibiting anti-Semitism have led to this resurgence. In other words, anti-Semitism is not a history lesson, it is a current event.

In a post at Communities from The Washington Times on November 5, 2011: Wall Street protest: Is the problem greed, envy, or anti-Semitism?  by Bob Siegel

Communism isn’t the only birth child of revolutions spawned by bitter envy. Hitler also used class warfare to bring about a different form of socialism, not global (as Marx preferred), but national. It was called, National Socialism. That’s NAZI for short, kids. And who were the horrible, devil-horned rich people according to the National Socialists? Jews of course!

Yes, that was the past but it was only a matter of time before such villain casting caught up with America. Once the rich are effectively demonized, sooner or later somebody “connects the dots” equating the term rich with the term Jew.

In New York, the repetitious shout, “Jews control Wall Street” can now be heard. Not to be out done by yelling, protesters’ signs say creative things such as “Google: (1) Wall Street Jews; (2) Jewish Billionaires; (3) Jews & Fed Rsrv Bank,” and  “Gaza Supports The Occupation of Wall Street,” (FRONTPAGEMAG.COM, October 26, 2011).

These two posts are just a highlight and small sample of what you can read in the mainstream news everyday in regards to this subject that is so heavy or should be so heavy on the hearts and minds of all those who put thier trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel. I plan to devote more than a few posts to some of the various subject nature found in Brown’s Our Hands Are Stained With Blood. In the meantime and going forward from now on I pray that our hearts, especially those of believers and followers of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) may meditate upon these verses of Scripture:

 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3 ESV)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you! (Psalm 122:6 ESV)

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:3 ESV)

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

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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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