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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Toward an Expansive Biblicism

In the conservative Christian evangelical circles familiar to most of us those in positions of power or claiming to be spokespersons often invoke the Bible to set limits and discredit new ideas as "unbibilical." If one will step back for just a moment, one will realize that in such situations the Bible is often invoked to justify an already chosen theological grid or system, a theological camp of cronies. In such cases, it is not Scripture which is the bottom line, because what is being heard is not the voice of Scripture, but the voice of the system. Scripture is but a megaphone. I call this practice restrictive biblicism. The components of restrictive biblicism include firmly held theological commitments, the invocation of proof texts to justify such commitments, and a reflexive dismissal of all other positions and reinterpretation of all texts that vary from the position of choice. The position of choice becomes the non-negotiable.

It is naive to imagine that one can hear the Scripture apart from one's system, one's theological worldview, if you will. To do so would be impossible. Still, I am suggesting that spiritual vitality requires that we be willing to hear the Word afresh in a manner that questions, challenges, refutes, or replaces our own verities.

Two cases in point.

I contend the accusation "Your Jesus is too Small," is a valid one to be leveled at the Western Church. Eager to see Yeshua as "the Lord of the Church," the theological tradition of the West has been unable to see him as also the High Priest to all Israel and the King of the Jews. Their Jesus is too small. This is both the cause and the product of inadequate and stunted theological systems. If the Church and its leaders care about truth, they will need to practice expansive bibiicism leading to a revised theology.

A second example: the evangelical church is fixated on the Great Commission, viewing it as the be-all and end-all of God's will for them. An expansive biblicism would recognize that Paul speaks of a "greater commission," that is other than and greater than the Great Commission. In Romans eleven he says "11Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. *12But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! "* Paul is comparing two people groups, Israel and the nations, and two outcomes: "riches for the world"--the Great Commission and what flows from it, and "greater riches" which he later explains as "life from the dead" [v. 14]. He is saying that the consequences of the fulfilling of that Greater Commission will be greater than the Great Commission--the culmination of all things, what theologians call "the general resurrection."

This is a revolutionary truth about which I speak widely and which I will be covering in a forthcoming book. However, the Church has generally been blind to this. In order to see it and to serve it, they will need to employ an "expansive biblicism" allowing their theologies to be critiqued, challenged and revised due to hearing the voice of Scripture afresh.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Identity Integrity, Pastoral Concern and Messianic Judaism

There are already many gentiles who have bonded with Messianic Jewish congregations. Among these there are a smaller number who really want to bond with Jewish life, Jewish identity, and the Jewish people in a manner dictated by the tradition rather than by their own preferences. In other words, there are some with a profound and sacrificial calling to Jewish life and identity. I am privileged to know a few such people.

But if our movement is to have integrity, we cannot simply have people adopting the status of Jewish identity on their own terms, or using Jewish religious sancta as they choose. A glaring example of this is the yahoos who blow shofars at Messianic Jewish events at their whim, as a means of registering their own excitement. Such people do not realize that this is as offensive as using a cross for a doorstop, or a confession booth as a pay toilet.

But then there are that minority who are not only willing, but eager to pay the price for substantial Jewish identity. For their sake, and in order to protect Messianic Judaism from those prepared to take on the mantle of Jewish identity on their own idiosyncratic terms, we need a conversion process and conversion standards [what standard of practice are these people converting to?], and a rigorous bet din process whereby genuine candidates may be identified and others denied the privilege of conversion.

Some of these are people with some Jewish ancestors generations back, seeking to resolve identity ambiguity, and to wholeheartedly choose communal Jewish life, identity, and responsibility. In addtion, there are those intermarried folks who want to embrace Jewish life and community in its fullness for the sake of family solidarity and out of the free choice to choose Jewish identity as one's new and true self, leaving one's prior identity behind. This is a major and sobering matter. It is not to be undertaken lightly, and involves considerable social cost. But if we are truly a Judaism, then we must have such a process, such standards, and a policing mechanism. Or are we just playing with Jewish things?

Some people oppose the idea of conversion. Their objections need to be heard and responded to. But I believe that many of these are confused due to reading Christian categories into a Jewish process. This is not about "soul salvation": It IS about bonding with integrity to the Jewish way of life, the Jewish people, and the God who spoke to us at Sinai. It is also about pastoral concern, seeking to address the needs of those whose ambiguity of status, sense of call, or station in life makes choosing Jewish identity to be a pressing issue. It is not pastorally responsible to simply ignore such concerns. The time is now for them to be addressed.

Here, edited to preserve the identity of my correspondent, is some material I wrote this week on the subject in correspondence with a Gentile man long involved in the Messianic Jewish movement, but who embraces Jewish life without seeing the need for an identitty integrity process, otherwise called "conversion." I disagree.

This is by no means the last word on the subject, nor is it all I have to say. But still, it addresses some of the issues involved.

My respected friend _______,

I do not have time to write at length, but do want to say this. You hit the nail on the head in speaking of your children. If all we cared about was how are kids are received in our own congregations, it would be one thing. But we owe it to them and to their children and their children's children to give them as normalized an identity as possible. We also need to normalize Messianic Judaism instead of having it be one thing at your congregation and another thing at mine. When my son _______ started going to college . . . . he came to me and said, "Dad, why didn't you ever tell me Messianic Judaism was a fringe group?" In other words, he felt I had not prepared him for how our family identity would be validated/invalidated in the wider world. We owe the same to our children and their descendants.

Yes. I am well aware that some would say, "Well the Jewish community won't accept our conversions anyway." That may or may not be true. But still, it behooves us to do all we can to normalize our status, to clear up ambiguities, and *to set respectable standards for Jewish practice and conversion.* Otherwise, at best, we appear cultic.

I am reminded of an experience I had when in JFJ. There was in Pennsylvania a group called "__________." They "kept the feasts" had their own "apostles." And their wasn't a Jew among them. They were just a few steps this side of snake-handlers. And no matter how doctrinallly pure they thought themselves to be, since they were purely self-authenticating rather than sanely related to standards the wider world could relate to, they were cultish and just plain weird. And in some corners of our movement, we are not far from that territory ourselves, and getting worse all the time. We owe our children more than that. . . .

Another issue is integrity. It is wrong and disrespectful to Jewish sancta for unconverted Gentiles to adopt the trappings of Jewish piety, as for example wearing a tallit. It is hard to find a comparison, but it is a little like a man I met in SF who always wore an army uniform, claiming to be a special forces guy, just back from a tour of duty. In reality he was a psycho street person. It is nothing but wrong for Gentiles to adopt the uniform of Jews without transition into Jewish status, just as it is wrong [and illegal!] for me to wear a policeman's uniform.

I refer here not only to actual garments, but also to the garments of normative Jewish behaviors. If one is going to claim Jewish life as one's own, one ought to claim Jewish status as one's own through substantial processes and respectable rigorous communally agreed upon standards. Gentiles in our movement not wishing to do should be careful to and be required to NOT embrace certain markers of Jewish identity. To do so is fraudulently claim a "uniform" and status that is not rightly theirs.

[In response to my respondent's evocation of imagery from Romans 11]. . .The grafted in branches in Paul's metaphor remain "unnatural branches." They draw nurture from the same root, but the do not masquerade as natural branches. The natural branches on the other hand remain natural branches even when broken off in unbelief. What I am saying is that underlying Paul's text is an assumption of continuing difference. When people seek to ignore these differences or treat them as of no consequence, they err.

Through conversion, one can become a natural branch. But one can still be in the olive tree as one grafted in. And grafting in and conversion are two entirely different things. One involves spiritual conversion and the other involves identity conversion [or what I would call "Identity Integrity."].

Shalom for now. . .


Friday, January 14, 2005

Let My People Go! - Freedom and Worship

(The following is a sermon on Parshat Bo, delivered Shabbat, January 15, 2005 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA).

Repeatedly in the Exodus story we read this refrain: "Let my people go." Without doubt this is one of the most familiar of biblical phrases. Were you to ask the average person, "In what book do we find the statement ‘Let my people go?’" almost everyone would say, "In the Bible," and many would be able to add " I think it’s in Exodus."

The phrase "Let my people go" is repeated ten times in the Exodus story. The first time it is a little different. God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh, "Israel is my first born son. . .let my son go." There are numerous echoes of this phrase throughout the Exodus story, repeating parts of this key phrase: "Israel is my first-born son—let my son go," or "Let my people go."

However, as familiar as it is, "Let my people go" is only part of the story. To misunderstand the full meaning and setting of this phrase is to misinterpret the entire story of the Exodus, and indeed, to misunderstand the entire Torah. More to the point, to miss out on the fuller context and meaning of this phrase is to absolutely misunderstand Judaism and our liturgy. More important still, to misunderstand this passage is to risk misunderstanding the meaning of our own lives as part of the covenant people.

There is a missing element in most people’s quoting of this passage. This missing element is so crucial that we cannot expect to cover it fully today. But we can begin, and we shall begin.

What is that missing element? Just this: God said "Let my people go that they may worship me." Let us take a few minutes to begin exploring this astounding and neglected reality.

1. If we would understand the Bible, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and the meaning of our own lives, we must be prepared to deal with what might be termed the unapologetic ego-centricity of the Holy One. He deserves, expects, and even demands to be worshiped. There are three terms widely used for worship in the Torah: shacha – ‘"to bow down," avad ‘ "to work or serve", and yarah "to be in awe (of someone, or something)", and here that Someone is Hashem. God deserves to be treated as central, surrounded by those who are utterly aware that their highest destiny and ultimate desire is to do His bidding. We serve him like waiters serve customers, but more than that: we bow before Him as subjects do a King. We serve him as lovers do their beloved. But more than that, we serve him as slaves do their master. Standing in awe of His greatness, we utterly, completely, gladly, want nothing else and nothing more than to do His will because He is altogether, incomparably and infinitely worthy And that is what worship is—it is devotion and service born out of the worth-ship, the worthiness of its object.

Since the time of the Exodus, the Jewish people have focused on four aspects of His worthiness: His worthiness as Creator, as Redeemer, as Revealer, and His worthiness of character. He is worthy because He created all that is, He is worthy because He redeemed us from Egypt and ultimately from death, He is worthy because He revealed his ways to Israel through His saving acts as recorded in the Torah and Tanach, and He is worthy because of who He is in Himself (as revealed, for example, in the thirteen attributes declared to Moses on Sinai).

2. If we would understand the Bible, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and the meaning of our own lives, we must be prepared to deal with the idolatrous nature of our own concept of freedom. We have learned to accept the idea that freedom is autonomy, the condition of being uncoerced and unrestricted by anything exterior to ourselves in making our own choices. In other words, we think of freedom as doing what we decide is right—what we choose to do, as long as others are not manifestly injured by our choices. This concept of freedom is pure idolatry, because such a viewpoint assumes that the good life is the life which seems right to me and where I get to do as I please. The Bible disagrees—the good life is doing as God pleases: all else is theft, idolatry and sin. We were freed from Egypt not to pursue and do our own will, but to pursue and do His will. "Let me people go that they may worship [or serve] me" says the Lord, not themselves.

By now you should be uncomfortable. You are uncomfortable because what the Bible teaches, what the Jewish people were made and redeemed for, and what Messianic Judaism rightly understood is all about fundamentally contradicts what we have all assumed in our secret hearts to be true, right, good, and reasonable. Feel the discomfort. That discomfort is probably the most instructive moment you will have this morning.

3. If we would understand the Bible, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and the meaning of our own lives, we must be prepared to deal with the confrontational nature of worship. We should never ever seek to offend people by our worship of God. We should never ever adopt a cavalier "Who cares about them?" attitude, because the Bible specifically prohibits us from doing that, urging that we maintain the kind of proper decorum that takes into account the possible reactions of both those without our repertoire of spiritual experiences and those who do not believe as we do [1 Cor 14:23-40]. But even bearing this in mind, we must bear in mind that our focused worship of Hashem will be resented by others. They will find it offensive. They will be annoyed and angry that you insist on coming to services rather than doing what they think you ought to be doing. To the degree that your ideas about G-d are specific, they will accuse you of thinking you are better than they are. The call to Israel to worship the LORD from out of the midst of Egypt where they had plenty of gods already was deemed to be insulting and excessive as far as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were concerned. The same will be true of us: our dedicated worship of God is an implicit repudiation of what others believe and choose to do.

4. If we would understand the Bible, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and the meaning of our own lives, we must be prepared to deal with the other-directed nature of true worship. The fancy word for this is "heteronomy," meaning "ruled by another," the opposite of "autonomy," ruled by oneself. This means true worship for the descendants of Jacob is directed from outside of us ["heteronomy"] rather than inside of us ["autonomy"]. It is directed by and toward to the God of our ancestors, the God of Sinai, the God who Himself calls the shots. We do not get to shop around for the God-concept we most like. We do not get to choose what is reasonable and not excessive in the worship of Him. The God who has revealed Himself to Israel as the object of worship is the God of the Exodus, the God of Sinai. The God who gives commandments, not suggestions.

5. If we would understand the Bible, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and the meaning of our own lives, we must be prepared to deal with the fact that the worship of Hashem is priority One. Now we are all prepared to pay lipservice to this idea, but probably none of us, myself included, take it seriously enough. It is interesting that when our people came back from the Exile, the first thing they did was build the altar—to worship Hashem in Jerusalem. When Hashem gives declares His covenant to Israel at Sinai, what comes first? "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculpture image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them [two of the key words for worship in Torah—shachah/to bow down; avad/to serve, from which we get the word "avodah" which is the term for sacred service, such as the one we are having this morning]. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God [or more familiarly, 'a jealous God']". We must be prepared to deal with the centrality and priority not merely of worship, not simply of religion, but of the structured worship of this particular God who did these particular things for us and who called us into a covenant with Himself embodying particular responsibilities. Yeshua put it this way, quoting from Deuteronomy: "You shall worship Hashem your God and Him only shall you serve."

6. If we would understand the Bible, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and the meaning of our own lives, we must be prepared to deal with the fact that worshipping Him includes "keeping festival in his honor"—in other words structured communal celebrations of God, who He is, and what He has done. That is why it is good that all of you are here today, and, frankly, why it is sad that some of us come so sporadically if at all. You see, we are here to celebrate Hashem—who He is and what He has done. He deserves and expects that, and anything less indicates that other priorities have won out over Priority One. There is no other justifiable interpretation.

7. If we would understand the Bible, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and the meaning of our own lives, we must be prepared to deal with the fact that God calls the entire community to worship him—not just the religiously fixated, or the superstars. Notice that when Pharaoh is willing to let the men go to worship God, but not the women and children, Moses says that just will not do! We live in the United States, and this is 2005, and not 1400 or 1250 B.C.E. I recognize that what I am saying here is not going to fly with most people. But we should at least be honest enough to say "This is what Torah teaches," and "This is what is meant by Judaism or Messianic Judaism." Hashem was not satisfied that just some of the adults and children should go out and worship Hashem—no, He wanted the entire community to worship Him. All of the descendants of Jacob owe this to Him—that is, if we take the Exodus and the authority of God seriously. The worship of God is for all the people of God and not just for the people we are used to thinking of as "the spiritual ones," whom we term "religious."

Yehudah Ha-Levi, the great medieval Jewish poet, commented on the paradoxical nature of knowing and worshiping God when he said:

"The servants of time are slaves of slaves
The servant of God, he alone is free
Therefore, when each man doth sue for his portion,
‘My portion is God,’ saith my soul."

I mentioned John Donne last week. One of my favorite poets, in one of his Holy Sonnets, he expands upon the paradox extolled by HaLevi, and exposes for our consideration some of the ways that the worship of God goes against what we are accustomed to see as ‘normal’ and ‘reasonable.’ Listen to this poem and feel the paradox [Holy Sonnet XIV]:

"Batter my heart, three personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that not again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

There is no real freedom apart from total abandonment to the worship of God. Most people take a lifetime, actually, an eternity to discover this. It is only when they die that they realize how little they gave to God in their life and how utterly and completely worthy He is. But you have had the opportunity to learn this lesson today, while you are still among the living! What you will do with the knowledge that only those who truly worship God are truly free will determine if you will ever know in this life "the glorious freedom of the children of God."

That freedom is the freedom to serve Him in obedience to His will. Will you accept freedom on His terms—unreserved, unfettered responsiveness to His worthiness? Or do you prefer something less demanding. . .some tailor-made religion?

Yeshua said that the Father is seeking worshipers. It is up to us to determine that he finds such worshipers here. Will you be one of them? Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, the God and Father of Yeshua our Messiah: "Israel is my firstborn son. Let my people go so that they may worship me."

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Serve the Lord With Sadness

(This is a sermon delivered at my synagogue on Shabbat Va'era, wherein one of the passages read is chapter six of Shemot/Exodus, beginning with verse two. In this connection, I had reason to contemplate that too many people have a tendency to bail out on their spiritual commitments when they encounter disappointment and difficulty in their lives. It seems to me that this tendency is due to a prior presupposition that the nature and purpose of a religious commitment is that "God is there to meet my needs [as I see them], and my life will go so much better, and be so much happier if I pursue a religious/spiritual path.'" I contend that such presuppositions misconstrue and misrepresent the nature of what it means to know and serve the God of Israel. Read here to see why I say this.)

A religious Jewish man wakes up in the morning about to davven. But he discovers his teen-age son, who normally joins him, staying in bed. He goes to get his son out of bed, and the son says, "Pop. I’m not going to do it any more. I just can’t say the liturgy anymore. It would be hypocritical."

"What do you mean, son?"

"Well, you know, at the beginning of the service we the liturgy says, ‘Blessed be He who has mercy on all creatures.’ Well, when I look at how so many people are suffering, I just don’t believe that any more. I don’t believe that God has mercy on all creatures."

"I know, son. I have a problem with that too."

"And another thing, Pop. The liturgy says "Happy are those who dwell in your house: they are ever praising Thee." Well, Pop, I dwell in God’s house as much as the next guy I keep kosher, I try to live by Torah in every area of life, I go to synagogue whenever it’s open And I am still miserable too much of the time. I just don’t believe any more, ‘Happy are those who dwell in your house,’ because I know that most of the time I am not happy, even in God’s house.

"I know son. I have a problem with that too."

"And another thing Dad. At the end of the liturgy we pray, ‘May be soul be silent to those who insult me; let my soul be lowly as the dust.’ Well, I don’t really believe that Dad. I don’t want to be some kind of door mat others walk over. So, with all of these problems, I’m just not going to pray any more."

I have problems with all of that too, Son. For a long, long time.

At that point the father begins to put on his own tallis and tefillin on getting ready to pray.

"Wait, Dad! Didn’t you just tell me you have the same objections I do?"

"Yes, son. Every one of them., And more too!"

"So what are you doing?"

"Well, son, we’re Jews and Jews pray!"

What is the point of this story? Simply that, despite whatever faith problems one might be having, one should keep up with one’s spiritual disciplines and responsibilities. Even when we don’t understand what is going on, and when life is tough and even cruel, our calling in life is to serve the Lord—whether in gladness, as Psalm 100 puts it, or in sadness.

Let’s talk about this.

When writing the letter to the Philippians, Paul is in chains. . .certainly a situation which would discourage most of us. But for him this is an opportunity for him to honor God amidst the entire Praetorian Guard, and also a means of emboldening others to be more outspoken about their faith—inspired as they are by Paul’s courageous and confident example.

He has confidence that whatever happens to him is under God’s control, and he is prepared to take the bad with the good. "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Messiah will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" [1:20]. His joy, confidence and faith are not dependent upon how things are going or how they will go, but upon his conviction that God is working out His purposes in, through, around, and beyond the events of Paul’s own life.

Paul knows what his life is about: serving the God of his ancestors by sharing among the nations the news of Yeshua, his death and resurrection, bringing all nations to share in the Kingdom of God with Israel, His people. And he knows this God is with him, come what may.

Paul has a "whatever happens" faith. He reminds the Philippians, "whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the good news of Messiah" [1:27]. This idea burns a hole right through one of the most entrenched misconceptions we have about the spiritual life. Most people embrace a relationship with God because they believe their life "goes better" as a result. There is an implicit and sometimes explicit expectation that if we are following God, our lives will go better, and things will work out for us.

Not necessarily.

In fact, when we have an implicit expectation that things will go better because of our faith in Yeshua, we set ourselves up not only for disappointment but also for crashing and burning. This is because there are sure to come times when that expectation will not be met. There will come times when things go badly, as they did for Paul when he got thrown into prison. People with a "Things go better with Yeshua" kind of faith do not do well when they are unexpectedly thrown into prison, as Paul was. At such times, the tendency will be to jettison our faith commitment, our "walk with God" if you will.. We will instead chuck it all because God is not coming through for us. I have seen too many people do this. . . .unnecessarily.

Today’s message is inspired by one verse in today’s Torah reading. It is helpful and necessary to see this verse in context.

"2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, 'I am Hashem. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My most holy Name. 4 I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. 5 I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6 Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am Hashem. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. 7 And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, Hashem, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I Hashem.' 9 But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage."

One would be hard pressed to find another passage in Torah with so much good news packed into it. Look at verses two to eight and see how good news is piled on top of good news and is topped off with yet more good news.

And yet, what do we read about the reaction of the children of Israel when they heard this message? "But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage."

The question comes to us loud and clear: what is it that is crushing your spirit today? What is it that keeps you from joyfully taking in the good news of God’s provisions and promises for you. What cruel bondage is quenching the fire of faith that should be burning in your heart?

I am convinced that in a congregation like this, there are quite a few people with crushed spirits—people who do not really hear the good news that God has for them. I am equally convinced that there are some here who are suffering from one or the other kind of cruel bondage.

Our Messianic faith proclaims an invincible message of hope to those with a crushed spirit or suffering from any kind of cruel bondage. It is no more God’s will that you have a crushed spirit or be suffering from cruel bondage than it was God’s will that Israel remain in Egypt, so beaten down they couldn’t arouse themselves to believe when Moses reported the very words of God telling them that he had come to deliver them and to fulfill the promises he had made to our ancestors.

The secret for us is the same as it was for Paul, the secret he shared with the Philippians—"4:12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need." You see, his confidence and faith were not at all founded on stability of circumstances. He did not know what life had in store for him. . .but he did know who was going with him into whatever lay ahead. Paul put it this way: " 13 I can do (that is I can endure and handle) all things through him who strengthens me." You see the common denominator in his life was this: not circumstance, but the unfailing and determined presence of God. When God assures us through the Messiah, "I will never leave you nor forsake you. . .whoever comes to me I will in no manner cast out. . . I am with you forever, even until the end of the age,. . ." He means it.

What this means to us is that whatever we face, whatever comes our way, we face within the embrace of this mighty companionship, this everlasting friendship, this faithful commitment of the Almighty.

This is the God who says in the Older Testament to people with crushed spirits, "I live in a high and holy place, and also with whoever is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite". . .a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" [Isaiah 55; Psalm 51].

This is also the God who says seeks to "loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke" [Isaiah 58]. The Messiah is the Divine agent through whom Hashem revives crushed spirits and oppressed people. He said of himself, "The Spirit of Adonai is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the bind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the L-rd’s favor" [Lk 4].

Through Yeshua, Hashem draws nearer than ever to us a Friend, Companion, and the one who sets us free, even in the midst of contrary circumstances.

Paul was in prison in Philippi—but he was totally free. Whatever circumstances or forces have crushed your spirit or oppress you, you can know this freedom too through centering your life in friendship, companionship, to the One we honor and serve, and who stands ready to empower us.

This also means that we must learn to be friends, companions and liberators of one another and all people everywhere. We experience greater freedom as we spread the freedom around—being friends, companions and liberators of all. And we have no business expecting His friendship, companionship, liberation and empowerment if we deny such aid to others, or worse still, crush their spirits or oppress them in some manner

Let’s become friends, companions, and liberators of others—through Him who strengthens us. And when we are glad, let us "Serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with singing" (Psalm 100). When we are sad, let us never bail out on our relationship with him. Instead, let us "Serve the Lord with sadness and come before His presence with sighing," letting him share it with us and bear it with us, like we would do with the best of friends, sharing with that friend the good times and the bad. When life gets tough, don’t close God out, and don’t bail out on the responsibilities and practices through which we honor Him and make room for Him in our lives. The tough times, the sad times, the darkest times are just the kinds of times we ought to be opening the door wider.

Behold—he stands at the door and knocks.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Hashivenu Core Principle #1 - On Messianic Judaism

Hashivenu is an educational foundation established in 1997 by myself and a group of friends. This is the first of seven core principles which help to define those commitments we most deeply hold in common.

Hashivenu Core Principle #1 states: Messianic Judaism is a Judaism and not a cosmetically altered "Jewish style" version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.

This was the great leap which was taken when we changed our self-designation from "Hebrew-Christian" or "Jewish-Christian" to "Messianic Jew." We were saying that we no longer saw ourselves as Christians-Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, etc.-who happened to come from Jewish ethnic backgrounds. Instead, being "Jewish" is, for us, a fundamental religious category. We are those who by birth share in the covenant G-d made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and whose ancestors pledged themselves and their descendants to a particular way of life with G-d at Sinai. Having been born into the covenant, we have also come to recognize Messiah Yeshua as the One sent by G-d to bring the covenant to its appointed goal.

We expressed this reality by switching our worship day from Sunday to Saturday, by celebrating the biblical feasts, by adopting traditional Jewish religious terminology (such as "rabbi" and "synagogue") and traditional Jewish religious customs (such as wearing tallit and kippot, having Torah services, and reciting the Shema), by employing selected Hebrew prayers in our services, by singing in a minor key and dancing Israeli dances. All of this was positive and good, though for the most part, superficial. The surface structure is the easiest to change. Of more importance is the deep structure, and this level has proved more intransigent.

The deep structure of religious life consists of the rooted patterns of thought, speech, action and identification reflected in our daily lives as individuals, families, and congregations. How do we think and talk about G-d, about His involvement with the world and with Israel? What is the actual texture of our daily and weekly religious practice? How is our sense of connection with the Jewish people as a whole expressed?

Too often the deep structure of Messianic Jewish religious life is indistinguishable from that of popular evangelicalism and bears little or no resemblance to any form of Judaism, past or present. When the world is easily divided into the classes of "saved" and "unsaved," when our speech is peppered with casual references to "what G-d just did" and "what G-d just said," when our exclusive mode of prayer is conversational and begins "Father G-d" and ends "in the precious name of Yeshua," when our kids go to Christian schools because the public schools are filled with "satanic influences," when speculation about the end-times is more natural to us than reciting a berachah -- then we know that the deep structure of our religious life is Hebrew Christian and has been untouched by the drastic changes in the surface structure of our movement.

We in Hashivenu believe that the radical innovation initiated in the 70's with the birth of "Messianic Judaism" -- founded on first century precedent but radically "new," nevertheless -- has not yet been brought to its logical conclusion. The deep structure must now be transformed.

When we say that Messianic Judaism is "a Judaism," we are also acknowledging the existence of other "Judaisms." We do not deny their existence, their legitimacy, or their value. We are not the sole valid expression of Judaism with all else a counterfeit. We recognize our kinship with other Judaisms and believe that we have much of profound importance to learn from them, as well as something vitally important to share with them.

Hashivenu Core Principle #2 - On God, Torah and Israel

Hashivenu is an educational foundation established in 1997 by myself and a group of friends. This is the second of seven core principles which help to define those commitments we most deeply hold in common.

Hashivenu Core Principle #2 states: G-d's particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, G-d's unique covenant with the Jewish people.

Within the Messianic movement it is an accepted assertion that the Jewish people have a unique covenant relationship with G-d and a particular vocation in this world. The Pauline affirmation of the irrevocable nature of the promises, gifts, and calling of G-d is axiomatic throughout the movement. While opening up new possibilities for the Gentiles and placing them in a new relationship to Israel, the coming of Yeshua does not obliterate Israel's character as a people set apart with a special destiny.

Neither is the ongoing value of Torah a contentious issue within our ranks. It was the embracing of noteworthy elements of Torah observance, such as Shabbat, the festal calendar, and tzitzit, which distinguished our movement from its inception. Matthew 5:17, with its assurance that Yeshua came to fulfill and not abolish the Torah, is just as foundational for our movement as is Romans 11:29.

It is the connection between these two affirmations that causes some consternation among us. We in Hashivenu believe that the specific observances of the Torah serve as signs of the distinctive character and calling of the Jewish people: "You must keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I HaShem have consecrated you" (Exodus 31:13). It is emphasized time and again throughout Jewish tradition that the Torah is G-d's special gift to the people of Israel: "Blessed are You ... who chose us from all nations and gave us Your Torah."

This is not to say that the Torah is irrelevant to Gentile Christians. Though it addresses a particular people and serves as its national constitution and customs, it also has universal implications. It points prophetically and typologically to the coming of Yeshua and the inclusion of the Gentiles in a covenant relationship with G-d. The specific ordinances of the Torah also reveal principles that apply beyond Israel's collective national life. Nevertheless, in all its particularity, the Torah is G-d's gift of love for one particular people, the people of Israel.

We in Hashivenu believe that this truth requires emphasis within the Messianic Jewish movement. Though Messianic Jews never cease to attack "replacement theology" (usually known outside our movement as "supersessionalism"), we are in danger of failing prey to a more subtle form of the same error. If, in all its ordinances, the Torah addresses Gentiles as much as it does Jews, if it defines the life of the Church as much as it defines the life of the Jewish people, then what remains of Israel's unique character and calling? In the past Jews who entered the church were compelled to surrender Jewish observance and identity and, as a result, they were assimilated and they and their children lost any sense of being Jews. If, contrary to the Apostolic decree and the Pauline injunction, Gentiles in the church are now encouraged to live just like Messianic Jews, will not the same result occur? And what of the Jews who do not believe in Yeshua? What need is there for them? G-d now has a people who are truly keeping his Torah-the Church! We are left with a Messianic Jewish movement without any Jews, a movement that loves Jewish things but not Jewish people.

In our second core value, we express our love for the Jewish people, as rooted in the unique divine love for the Jewish people. We also make known our love for Torah as the divine gift to the Jewish people. Last, but not least, we affirm our conviction that this divine gift to Israel, the Torah, manifests this unique divine love for Israel and is not applicable in the same way to the Gentiles.

Hashivenu Core Principle #3 - On Yeshua, The Fullness of Torah

Hashivenu is an educational foundation established in 1997 by myself and a group of friends. This is the third of seven core principles which help to define those commitments we most deeply hold in common.

Hashivenu Core Principle #3 states: Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.

As long as theological statements have been codified, the Torah has been viewed against Grace. This phenomenon has colored the perception and understanding of many generations of people regarding Torah. People who have seen the world through the Christian worldview have, along with the many advantages, accepted a distorted view of Torah. To them, the Torah is bad, the Gospel is good. Gospel is life and freedom; Torah is seen as slavery and death. With this view as their starting point, it would have been impossible to avoid the inevitability of a negative view of the Law.

With the birth of the Messianic movement, Jewish believers began to have a new self-perception in which their Jewishness was something good and positive and not something to be "saved from." Yet the misperception of Torah persisted as that which was, at best, a "schoolmaster to lead one to Christ" and, at worst, "the temptress who seeks to seduce its victims from salvation by grace through the lure of a salvation of works righteousness."

The real problem with the Torah is not the Torah but the human misunderstanding of Scripture. The Torah was given by G-d at Mt. Sinai. Yeshua was more than a latter born Moshe. He is the Word who was in the Beginning, through whom the world was created. He is the G-d of Israel, the G-d who gave the Torah to the sons of Israel through the hand of Moshe. The commandments of the Torah are Yeshua's commandments, not an arbitrary set of rules or rituals. They are a revelation of the heart of G-d; they are a reflection of Yeshua's heart. They cannot be understood to be G-d's lesser commands. Yeshua's teachings do not permit such a view. Those who wish to be more like Him must follow the Torah's teachings because they are His very heart. This is the true meaning of the Torah as a schoolmaster to lead us to Messiah. The Torah is not a divine introduction service, arranging blind dates, after which its usefulness is completed. It is a schoolmaster, a teacher -- to guide and train us to become more like Him because this was how He lived and what was in His heart.

The Torah is not a lesser revelation of Yeshua, like an uncompleted puzzle. Simply attaching an addendum to a prayer or commandment does not make it any more complete than it was prior to the addendum. The mitzvah is already complete in that it reflects the heart of Yeshua. When a mitzvah is completed as it was intended when given, it reflects the heart of G-d. Our goal should not be to amend every prayer, commandment, and ritual with Messianic nomenclature. Rather, our goal should be to follow Torah, having faith and a desire to connect with G-d through the act of following. Surely, this was the life Yeshua lived and the life He desires His people to live. Every act of observance is an opportunity to connect with Him. He is the fullness of Torah. Our lives should be so

Hashivenu Core Principle #4 - On the Jewish People

Hashivenu is an educational foundation established in 1997 by myself and a group of friends. This is the fourth of seven core principles which help to define those commitments we most deeply hold in common.

Hashivenu Core Principle #4 states: The Jewish people are "us," not "them."

Like a boat that had drifted from its moorings, we were not cognizant of what was happening to us until a key event, conversation, or combination of factors jolted us awake to the realization that we were farther from our Jewish moorings than we had realized.

For most of us, experience in evangelical contexts taught us to look at Jews only as people to whom we ought to witness. For us, the subtext of every family gathering became "How can I bring the subject up?" and the objective in our relationships with Jewish family, friends and acquaintances became "How can I witness to them without their closing the door on the Gospel and on me?" As important as these issues are, we realize now how wrong it was for these evangelistic concerns to be the sole axis of measurement of relationship with other Jews, even our own family members. We became church-culture chameleons, adept at blending in, showing that even though we were Jews, "we weren't like the other Jews": we were real Christians, too. More often than we were prepared to admit, though, we felt ourselves uneasy strangers in a strange land of potluck suppers, hallelujahs, and obligatory right-wing politics. But we had been taught, "You can't go back to what you were. This sense of distance from the Jewish people, Jewish ways, and from family is the cost of discipleship, the cross you are called to gladly bear. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad." One day we discovered that we had become habituated to speaking of the Jewish community in third person. We awoke with a start.

Now we know we can go home again. In fact, we must go home again for, truly, there is no place like home. And home for Jews is Jewish life. No doubt, we will have to remodel that home a bit to properly accommodate Yeshua, our Messiah, but better to remodel our own home than to be a permanent guest at someone else's address.

We dare to believe that among the many mansions prepared for Yeshua's people, some have mezuzot on the doors. We dare to believe that by rediscovering and reclaiming our own identity as Jews, we will be better brothers and sisters to Gentiles who love our Messiah. In all aspects of life, we want to live in a Jewish neighborhood socially, culturally, conceptually so that we and our children and our children's children will not only call Yeshua Lord but also call the Jewish people "our people" and Jewish life "home."

Hashivenu Core Principle #5 - On Rabbinic Tradition

Hashivenu is an educational foundation established in 1997 by myself and a group of friends. This is the fifth of seven core principles which help to define those commitments we most deeply hold in common.

Hashivenu Core Principle #5 states: The richness of the rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.

Although weaned and wooed to believe that our New Covenant faith was based on the Bible and nothing but the Bible, "the only rule of faith and practice," we gradually discovered that living out our faith inevitably had a cultural component. The Bible cannot be understood apart from a community context, which helps one understand its deepest meanings. In this way, obedience might become incarnate in daily life. We realized that having our views shaped entirely by a non-Jewish context was leaving a foreign imprint on our hearts, minds and lives. We wondered if this was the best we could expect.

Many of us had been brought up ignorant of, or even hostile to, the varied voices of Jewish tradition. Some had parents who paid lip-service to the G-d of our fathers, while in reality served the lesser G-ds of assimilation, success, and the unquestioned ideals of a good marriage, a home of their own in a good neighborhood, a comfortable retirement, and a better lifestyle for their children. Although these ideals were not unworthy in themselves, they become a form of idolatry when they get treated as the ultimate good. This form of idolatry can never, in the end, satisfy a people formed by HaShem to show forth His praise. But, we had been taught by omission not to look to Jewish tradition to learn how to live "the good life" in the modern world.

Certainly, our evangelical contexts taught us to distrust the opinions of "the rabbis" whose views on life and faith were perceived as a deceptive and legalistic counterfeit of the more abundant life to be found in Yeshua. After all, we had the Holy Spirit! What could we possibly learn from the rabbis except dead religion? "The letter kills but the Spirit gives life." Eventually, we recognized the superficiality of our judgments. We began to reckon with the fact that the proclaimed polarity between Torah and Spirit distorts the testimony of Scripture. We came to appreciate that New Covenant benefits include the Holy Spirit writing the Torah on our hearts, therefore causing us to walk in the statutes and ordinances of G-d. We began to appreciate the unity of Torah and Spirit.

We also began to appreciate how our own spiritual lives stood to benefit from the fruit of thousands of years of Jewish struggle for understanding. Like Paul, we began to bear witness to the undying flame of Jewish zeal for G-d. We began to lean upon these structural pillars, which stabilize Jewish religious life, understanding that they could help strengthen us and the Messianic Jewish community as well.

And what are these three pillars? The first is Torah, instruction for the good life based on the study of the sacred texts. This practice is helping us become more deliberate and informed in discerning the shape of obedience as we encounter life in all its complexity and particularity. Here, too, we learn afresh of the saving acts of G-d, of His promises, and see a reflection of His face.

The second pillar is avodah, the practice of liturgical prayer, which continues to surprise and delight us in its power to enrich our lives. In daily davvening we take our place with our people in the promises and purposes of G-d, reminded again and again of His irrevocable promises to the Patriarchs. We sing His praises with them at the shore of the Red Sea, celebrating our deliverance, sobered by the righteous judgment that overtook our foes, of which not one was left. We hear again and again, as if for the first time, His promise to gather our people from the four corners of the earth, for not one letter of His word will go unfulfilled. Is He not the Blessed One, who says and performs, who decrees and fulfills? We rediscovered daily the faith-transforming power of the Passages of Praise, the time-honored wisdom of the prayer agenda mapped out in the Amidah, and the stability and challenge encountered as we join our people at the foot of Sinai, listening again to the living word of the one who never stops saying to us, "Shema Yisrael." And we leave His presence reoriented and renewed, having again pledged allegiance to Him in the stirring words of the Alenu.

The pillar of gemilut hasadim, deeds of lovingkindness, supports and informs us as we learn to understand the meaning of "true religion," which one New Covenant writer defined as "visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unspotted by the world." His is a vision totally consonant with this third pillar. The splendid and rich tradition of Jewish ethical writings and discussion of the fine print behind "doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your G-d" never ceases to chasten us, providing teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness, that we might be fully equipped for every good work.

In all these ways and more, we have become informed and transformed by our own heritage. We rejoice at the privilege of drinking from our own wells, the wells from which our fathers, and from which Yeshua and the Apostles also drank and were sustained. Besides these wells we meet with Yeshua today, and here He speaks with us anew.

Hashivenu Core Principle #6 - On Human Decency

Hashivenu is an educational foundation established in 1997 by myself and a group of friends. This is the sixth of seven core principles which help to define those commitments we most deeply hold in common.

Hashivenu Core Principle #6 states: Because all people are created in the image of G-d, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him. Therefore, true piety cannot exist apart from human decency.

In the science fiction saga, Star Trek, there was a planet of people who had a cloaking device for their ships. They were able to fly around the universe while escaping the detection of any other starships. While their cloaking device was in operation, they were able to travel where and when they wanted without opposition from others, and it gave them an advantageous position from which to attack their enemies. In a similar way, people have misused religion as a cloaking device through which they could maneuver through life, escape detection for wrongs committed and even launch attacks on others.

Historically, this misuse of religion can be seen as far back as organized religion itself. All the prophets cried out against this abuse; Yeshua of Nazareth railed against it as well. The Church persecuted the Jewish people for almost two millennia in the name of religion.

Most thinking people would admit it is not fair to blame religion itself for these things. The problem is one of human nature. It is easy to cloak wrong intentions and problems under a cover of religious piety. Karl Marx thought the answer was to ban religion, but communism proved that politics could be just as effective a cloak as religion.

Religion can be affirmed as good and right. Ritual can be affirmed as a valid expression of faith and a means of connecting with G-d. Sadly, wherever the valid expression exists, the corruption of the ritual can also exist.

There are many Jewish people rediscovering their heritage as well as its beautiful practices. This rediscovery enables us to affirm identity as well as pass on our heritage to our children. Unfortunately, there are some who misuse ritual and form as a pretext to gain acceptance and authority. Some have taken to wearing the black hats and clothing of the Ultra-Orthodox. Others have sought to learn the rituals themselves as a means to grasp authority in the congregation. They have taken something that, in and of itself, is good, and have transformed it solely by their wrong intention into something malevolent.

Yeshua did not speak against ritual and tradition but against the wrong attitudes of those who taught and practiced them with improper motives. When people treat people poorly, whether for religious reasons or non-religious reasons, the value of their religious practice becomes nullified.

The parable of the sheep and the goats makes this clear. To the sheep it is said, "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" And He said, "When you did so to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." To the goats it was said, "I was hungry and you gave me nothing. I was thirsty and you let me thirst. I was naked and you did not clothe me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" and He said, "When you did not do so to the least of these my brethren, you didn't do it to me." The only difference between the sheep and the goats was what they did or did not do. Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua, said that pure and undefiled religion is to take care of the needs of widows and orphans. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Yeshua taught the issue is not WHO is our neighbor, but that we are to BE a neighbor, rendering assistance to anyone in need. When an individual becomes a neighbor, a person who seeks to reach out and meet the needs of others, it can be a deeply religious act.

Religious people easily become preoccupied with words, presuming to become the voice of G-d to those around them. But it is far more fulfilling to be the hands of G-d in the world, as Yeshua and the prophets taught. Yeshua stated "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," and "He who wishes to be the greatest among you must become the servant of all."

Long ago people tuned out the many self-proclaimed voices of G-d. It gave them headaches. People need to experience His love through kind actions. They need to feel His hands blessing them. The time is long past where religious pretext can cover up man's inhumanity to man. "Holier than thou" attitudes will prove unprofitable is unacceptable as we approach the next millennium. Actually, they never were acceptable from G-d's point of view. The ability to quote Bible verses or the practice of dressing in religious attire are not acceptable alternative standards of spirituality. All people are created in the image of G-d, therefore, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him. True piety cannot exist apart from human decency. This is the heart of G-d; people need to feel it beating.

Hashivenu Core Principle #7 - On Maturation

Hashivenu is an educational foundation established in 1997 by myself and a group of friends. This is the seventh of seven core principles which help to define those commitments we most deeply hold in common.

Hashivenu Core Principle #7 states: Maturation requires a humble openness to discovery within the context of firmly held convictions.

The heavens declare the glory of G-d;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

The psalmist beheld the vastness of creation and stood in awe of the inscrutable nature of the Eternal Personality who ordered the universe. Though most religious thinkers would give intellectual assent to the abstruseness of both creation and Creator, the human need for certainty has forced most traditional religions to operate as closed systems, tightly bound by a set of immutable presuppositions and dogma. Though we recognize the importance of firm and clearly held convictions, we consider the cultivation of supple hearts and minds essential if the Messianic Jewish community is to move on to maturity.

With the blessings of the information age, new challenges have arisen. The sheer volume of new and continual discovery has been coupled with the nearly unlimited potential to disseminate and receive information and insight. The result is a new climate, which affects how we view Messianic Judaism, our role, our past, our future and the world about us. Our social, theological and philosophical paradigms have become subject to both new and old thought, which may have previously been ignored, if at all considered. Rather than retreat into the safe and sure fortresses of our immediate past, we must courageously, yet wisely, engage and interact with our dramatically changing world.

Hashivenu affirms the titanic contributions and complementary relationship of the historical Church and the Synagogue to the ennoblement and advancement of the human enterprise. We therefore encourage the Messianic Jewish community to avail itself of the insights of both institutions while critically evaluating the usefulness of such insights as we pursue maturation. We also recognize the tremendous value offered by contemporary cross-disciplinary scholarship. Since truth may be found in surprising places, the over- worn categorization of liberal and conservative will not, in our opinion, serve the best interest of an emerging Messianic Judaism.

Toward a New Paradigm of Messianic Jewish Outreach

[This is an expansion of a presentation I gave as a contributor to a panel discussion on Messianic Jewish Outreach, held at the 2004 UMJC National Conference, at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, July of 2004. In it I am calling for a rethinking of our concept of outreach, suggesting that the approaches that have prevailed until now are expiring, inadequate, and too narrow in their understanding of Scripture. I suggest that Scripture is calling us to broader and more challenging paradigm, and that we need to revise the shape of our obedience. It is designed to challenge those who wrongly assume that those of us who are calling for a return to Jewish life are "unbiblical." On the contrary, I suggest that it is the approaches which have formerly prevailed that have been insufficiently biblical.]

At the 2004 Delegates Meeting [of the UMJC] held in Boston, just before the UMJC Annual Conference, one delegate remarked on "living in wonderful times when prophecy is being fulfilled and our people are returning to the Land."

Such rhetoric is common in our movement. I myself really love the Bible, and am going through a refreshing of my zeal for reading Scripture. But I fear that despite how Scripture pertaining to the return to the Land is bandied about in our circles, we are failing to pay sufficient attention to the wider context of these references. These scriptures frequently also speak of the return being accompanied by a supernatural Jewish return to covenant faithfulness--a return of our people to honoring God though embracing a life ordered by Torah.

Although most agree that our people will "return to the Lord" in the latter days, we have forgotten to ask "What shape will this return take?" And Scripture is clear: that return will be evidenced in a return to Torah-based covenant faithfulness.

What I am suggesting today is a paradigm shift: a fundamental change in viewpoint that generates new questions and new answers, resulting in the expiration of formerly prevailing paradigms.

This paradigm shift includes fundamental changes in perspective in what we mean by effective outreach.

Among these expiring paradigms is the one which conceives of outreach as primarily a matter of making the sale, or closing the deal. In our evangelicalized culture, we are too wedded to a sales model of outreach. We make our pitch to the person we are "witnessing" to, who is called a "contact." We know we have closed the "sale" when the "contact" prays to "accept Messiah as their personal savior." Forgive me, but this sounds too much like a person signing on the dotted line.

Another inadequate concept of outreach sees it primarily in terms of increasing the size of our congregational population. Outreach then becomes not so much a matter of sales, as a matter of advertising. This model is similar to various communications approaches to "witnessing." Here again, the emphasis is on numbers, on statistics, on the bottom line.

Confrontational approaches are hardly more satisfactory. These seem to vitiate the very nature of the kingdom message, robbing it of its relational spirit. Such approaches are overly message-centered while treating respectful and real relationships as secondary or purely utilitarian. I remember a woman telling me that she could always expect a phone call from "her missionary" on Thursday night, because Friday was the day when statistical reports had to be handed in to mission officials. This kind of utilitarian approach which cares about the message, while treating the recipients as a means to other ends, is far from satisfactory. We recognize that this kind of approach does violence to the deeply relational nature of the God who is altogether good and His good news. This too is an approach that is expiring, and deservedly so.

All of these approaches are inadequate because they are products of our Western market mentality--they are not transcendent but limited cultural artifacts.

What then am I proposing? What is a better paradigm for effective Messianic Jewish outreach? And equally to the point, what kind of paradigm can we find that does greater justice to Scripture's foundations for an understanding of Messianic Jewish outreach?

I am proposing that at the very least we need a new definition such as this one: Messianic Jewish outreach is the remnant of Israel being what it should be, and doing what it should do with respect to God's consummating purposes for the descendants of Jacob.

We are used to thinking of ourselves as the remnant of Israel. However, I wonder how many of us have given attention to the responsibilities of the remnant? Those responsibilities include at least the following.

(1) The remnant is supposed to serve as a sign that God has a continuing purpose for the Jewish people.
(2) The remnant is supposed to be a demonstration of that purpose - a proleptic preview, a sort of "preview of coming attractions.
(3) The remnant is supposed to be a catalyst assisting greater Israel toward that Divine purpose.

If effective Messianic Jewish outreach is ineluctably rooted in God's consummating purposes for the descendants of Jacob, then, if we would be effective in outreach, our first order of business is to root out and attend to the God-given cues, especially in Scripture, of this ultimate purpose. How else can we be a sign of that purpose, a demonstration of that purpose, and a catalyst toward that purpose if we don't know what it is?

What does Scripture say about God's consummating purpose for the descendants of Jacob?

Repeatedly and often Scripture portrays God's ultimate purpose for Israel in terms of a national return to covenant faithfulness as manifest in Torah obedience. And often, this return to covenant faithfulness is linked to the return of our people to the Land. Time permits mentioning only a few passages of Scripture which portray this connection between a Jewish return to the Land, and our return to the Lord as expressed in Torah-based covenant-faithfulness

One example is the thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy. Notice the repeated linkage of return to the Lord, return to the Land, and return to the Law, that is, Torah obedience.

30:1"Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, 2and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you. . . 6And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. . . . 8And you will again obey the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you today. 9The LORD your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand. . . 10if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

Another example is the very familiar and central Messianic Jewish text, Jeremiah 31:31 ff., where again, renewal of the people is expressed in a return to Torah obedience.

Jeremiah 31:31 "The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

Perhaps the strongest prophetic text on this end-time return to the Lord, to the Land, and to the Law, is found in Ezekiel 36, beginning at verse 24. This text reads like a checklist which we need to ratify in all aspects if we would be true to Scripture.

Ezekiel 36:24"For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land." (Regathering: We are all prepared to say "Amen" to this: Hallelujah, we believe in the regathering of our people to the Land). 36:25 "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols." (Renewal: We are all prepared to say "Amen" to this national spiritual renewal as well). 36:26 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (We say "Hallelujah" to this as well: national regeneration. . .a new heart of stone instead of a heart of flesh). But then things get "difficult"--at least for some of us wedded to an old and expiring paradigm. Read on.

36:27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them." (Here is where we have for too long applied our brakes. But it is clear that this return to the Lord, this return to the Land, is evidenced and accompanied by a return to the commandments God gave to our people. This is all signed, sealed, and delivered through an "inclusio," a verse ending this section which echoes what was said at the beginning of the section). 36:28 "Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God."

Nothing could be clearer: return to the Lord, return to the Land and return to the Law of God are all joined in Scripture. (And yes, I am well aware that it is reductionist to refer to the commandments, statutes and ordinances of Scripture, and to Torah in general as "Law." But let's face it, it makes for good alliteration).

In the Newer Testament, Romans 11 further explores aspects of this consummating purpose for the descendants of Jacob. Romans 9-11 ends in a doxology of astonishment. Paul is awestruck and astonished at the surprising outworking of God's consummating purposes Who would have guessed that the people of Israel would turn down their Messiah when God sent Him? And who would have guessed that the nations of the world would come to a living relationship with the God of Israel without having to become Jews first? And who would have guessed that at the end of history, God would bring the Jewish people back to Himself in covenant faithfulness through this same Messiah--with the Jews returning to God in the context of Jewish life, in the power of the Spirit, and through the very same Messiah through whom the Nations of the world turned to this same God--while not having been required to embrace Jewish life?. How astounding! How miraculous! How unexpected and uniquely the work of God!

Is it not clear that this is what is astonishing the Apostle? Or do we imagine that the best God can pull off at the end of history, when "all Israel will be saved," is that massive numbers of Jews will become Baptists, Pentecostals, or Presbyterians?

To just ask the question is to answer it.

We must remember that in Romans 11, Paul is contrasting the Jews and the nations as aggregates. He is not speaking of Gentile and Jewish individuals, but of these respective groups, the same dyad as is found throughout the Older Testament: Israel and the nations.

God's final act toward the Jews will be directed to us as a people--he will bring the Jewish people to covenant faithfulness to Himself through the one despised by the nation [Isaiah 49; Zech 12; Isaiah 53].

Therefore, as part of the remnant of Israel, our responsibility is as follows:

1. Our outreach is accomplished as we serve as a sign that God has a continuing purpose for the Jews, a consummating purpose of a national turning to renewed covenant faithfulness in obedience to Torah in the power of the Spirit through Yeshua the Messiah.

2. Our outreach is accomplished as we demonstrate communally that we are a demonstration of that purpose - an anticipation, a preview of that covenant faithfulness which will one day be true of all Israel: a return to Torah-living in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to the honor of Yeshua the Messiah

3. Our outreach is accomplished as we catalyze and assist greater Israel toward that Divine purpose.

If this analysis of Scripture is true, what will be the results for how we pursue outreach?

First, outreach would no longer be adversarial and confrontational. We would commend all religious Jewish efforts toward Torah-based covenant faithfulness. For example, when religious Jews come to our conferences to oppose what we stand for, we would commend them for their attempt to honor God in the context of Torah obedience, while still differing with them in their disparagement of faith in Yeshua. In our communities, we would seek to assist and applaud all efforts by religious Jews to honor God in the context of Torah. We would not feel obliged to adopt some sort of adversarial posture.

Second, we ourselves would form communities committed to this kind of Torah-based covenant faithfulness, for we could not be faithful to our remnant responsibility unless we served as a sign, demonstration and catalyst of this kind of faithfulness with respect to God's consummating purpose for all Israel. But our Torah faithfulness would be unique to ourselves in some ways due to the impact of Yeshua and the Emissaries on our halacha, our honoring of Yeshua, and our experience of the Spirit.

Third, our mission to the wider religious Jewish world would be to advocate faith in Yeshua and the power of the Spirit as Divine means toward their own greater covenant faithfulness. This moves outreach beyond simply individual soul salvation. While not discounting this, it would be bigger, and also true to the sweep of Scripture. We would be seeking to take the wider Jewish religious world further in the direction in which they are already heading--in the power of the Spirit and through Yeshua the Messiah.

Fourth, in addition to affirming and yet further catalyzing and challenging religious Jews, our ministry to secularized Jews would be very strong: a call back to the God of our ancestors and the ways of our ancestors, and a call back to Jewish community through Yeshua the Messiah in the power of the Spirit.

Fifth, the support of church people for our efforts would involve their applauding us for being fully Jewish rather than wooing us to be more like themselves. They would realize that moving deeper into Jewish life is our Divine destiny and our remnant responsibility.

Sixth, we would be returning to a communal concept of outreach rather than an individualistic one

All of this is crucially important for a number of reasons: (1) It is important because it better aligns Messianic Jewish outreach with the revealed purposes of God for the Jewish people. (2) It is important because it is an antidote to culturally determined and limited sales-oriented approaches to the task. (3) It is important because it instantly neutralizes the adversarial posture that we have inherited from generations past which ill-serves the greater purposes of God. (4) It is important because it calls us also to a return to Jewish covenant faithfulness. (5) It is important because it challenges us to expand and reevaluate the role of the Holy Spirit's presence in our congregations and our Union. And finally, (6) it is important because it addresses the biggest problem, the biggest obstacle, in Messianic Jewish outreach.

The biggest obstacle in Messianic Jewish outreach is the widespread assimilation of Jewish believers. The Jewish community has a right to assume that when the Messiah comes, he will make Jewish people into better Jews. When the perceived effect of the faith in Yeshua is that Jewish believers become assimilated and indifferent to Jewish life and community, the Jewish community has a right to say: "Don't be ridiculous! Put your Bibles away and don't waste your time trying to convince us! How could this Yeshua be the Messiah if he makes Jews into goyim?" This objection has all the truth in the world behind it. But our own return to Jewish covenant faithfulness, which is the will of G-d for the remnant and for all Israel, has the added benefit of making this objection null and void.

Is God's final act in history going to involve making millions of Jews into Baptists or does Scripture rather affirm that God is going to trigger a massive return of His people to Him in Jewish covenantal faithfulness, where he will write the Torah of Moses on their hearts, through Yeshua the Messiah and in the power of the Spirit?

What kind of paradigm shift in Messianic Jewish outreach is this analysis calling us to? What is supposed to be the shape of Jewish faithfulness to God? And what does it mean for us to be the faithful remnant? What is the shape of this remnant faithfulness?

If we really care about Messianic Jewish outreach, if we are really the remnant of Israel, if we are serious about Scripture, shouldn't we at least be giving deep consideration to what I have proposed by way of a fundamental change in perspective, a paradigm shift?

What is the remnant supposed to do? Can we as a movement be faithful to God without rightly answering this question?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

When Calamity Strikes - A Sermon on Exodus 1-5

(This sermon was delivered at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue the first shabbat after the Asian tsunami catastrophe.)

It is productive to view the Bible as the amazing, complex, romantic and exciting saga of God’s relationship with Israel for her sake and for the sake of the nations and the cosmos. With this in mind, the book of B’reishit/Genesis establishes the setting and background for the heart of the drama—the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and her entering into covenant relationship with Hashem at Sinai.

In this sense, Genesis is Scene One. As the curtain comes down on that scene, Jacob, his sons, and their families are well-situated and well-fixed. They have come down to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph, who is Vice Regent of Egypt. They have the blessing of Joseph, the blessing of Pharaoh and the blessing of God.

The music underlying this scene would be soaring, inspiring and triumphant.

As Scene Two opens, the theme of blessing and well-being is reprised. Jacob and his sons are named, their entire generation referenced, and their times in Egypt characterized by the narrator, saying "the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them." Life is good.

But not for long. The music changes in the second paragraph of this "Scene Two." And in this, the story of Israel in Egypt is paradigmatic of the entire Jewish historical experience. In locale after locale, city after city, region after region, one century after another, Israel prospers and gets settled—only to be attacked, cruelly uprooted, and persecuted by powers bent on destruction.

This template of Jewish reality is spelled out for us in our text, and the kinds of calamities that befell our ancestors in Egypt have been replicated many times since.

"8 A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. 10 Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground." 11 So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites 14 the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field."

So many aspects of the Jewish experience are foreshadowed here, The paranoia of a ruler, the resentment of the Israelites as outsiders, resentment of their success, governmental edicts to restrict and subjugate the Jews—all are here, and all have been seen throughout the Jewish experience. For example, the Jewish people lived through a Golden Age in Spain, growing prosperous, numerous, influential. But then government shifted, paranoia manifested, Inquisitors stoked their fires and oiled their racks, and in 1492, approximately 180,000 Jews were shoved out of Spain onto an inhospitable ocean, heading for who knows where.

A century and a half earlier, an even greater tragedy had been visited upon the Jews of Spain and wider Europe. Christians blamed Jews for causing the epidemic of the bubonic plague, which suddenly and inexplicably killed about 25 million people in Europe. By the fall of 1348 the rumor was current that these deaths were due to an international conspiracy of Jewry to poison Christendom. It was reported that the leaders in the Jewish metropolis of Toledo had initiated the plot and that one of the chief conspirators had dispatched his poisoners to France, Switzerland, and Italy.

In response to these rumors, even in areas where the plague had not yet taken a toll, mobs took matters into their own hands. Thousands of Jews, in at least two hundred towns and hamlets, were butchered and burnt. The sheer loss of numbers, the disappearance of their wealth, and the growing hatred of the Christians brought German Jewry to a catastrophic downfall. It now began to decline and did not again play an important part in German life for three centuries.

During the Reformation, the Jews didn’t fare any better. The Cossack rebellion in Poland, also known as 'the Deluge' of 1648-58, resulted in hundreds of thousands of Jewish deaths. This totaled more killings than the Crusades and the Black Death pogroms combined. From 160,000 to 200,000 Jews were killed under the leadership of the Cossack "Patriot" Bogdan Chmielnizki. They were killed by being torn limb from limb [tied to horses running in opposite directions], and pregnant woman were cut open with live cats then sown up in their bellies to claw themselves out.

Lest you think this is ancient history, be advised that the father of one of congregants saw with his own eyes Cossacks tearing a Jew limb from limb in just this way in the village of his European childhood, and he hid in a cupboard in his kitchen and while his own mother and father were hacked to death by Cossacks proclaiming them "Christ killers."

And the words of Torah could just as easily be applied to the Jewish situation in Nazi Europe: "A new Chancellor arose over Germany. . ." with his own paranoia about the Jews, his own script of how the Jews were a fifth column in their midst, apt to side with their enemies and thus spell the ruin of the glorious Aryan civilization. The century changes, the names are different, but it is really the same story. . .over and again.

In the midst of seeming security, tranquility and peace, calamity rose up to engulf the people of God.

And matters got even worse for Israel in our Sedra as Pharaoh implemented a policy of genocide.

"15 The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 saying, "When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live."

When the midwives proved unreliable and established measures inadequate, Pharaoh tried new measures.

"22 Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, "Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live."

One is reminded of the "progress" of the Final Solution. Originally, Jews were gassed with carbon monoxide in the back of specially dispatched trucks. . .but this proved too unreliable and inefficient, and the Germans just couldn’t tolerate inefficiency! What was needed was a new approach. Perhaps gas chambers would work better! And so it was done.

This sedra is especially timely at this time as our hearts and minds are filled with images and thoughts, or perhaps more often, our hearts and minds are preoccupied with the effort to avoid images and thoughts of the sudden catastrophe that overtook nearly two hundred thousand people this week in Asia. Mothers, fathers, lovers, teenagers, children, babies, grandpas and grandmas, tourists and natives, rich and poor, young and old. One minute carrying on with normal life, laughing, chatting, working, sleeping, walking, riding, standing still. . .the next minute, snatched from the land of the living by a cruel, overpowering, watery hand.

Suddenly, irrevocably gone.

What often happens in times of calamity, whether natural calamity—as in the case of tsunamis—or moral calamities—as in the case of pogroms and the Holocaust, is that many people will ask "Where was God?" or, "Why did God allow this?"

More often than not, what is happening here is that we compensate for our sense of terror, of things being out of control, by looking for someone to blame—someone who was supposed to be in control and let things slip. In this way, we distance ourselves from the threat, imagining that this was some sort of Divine slip-up, and that if we complain loud enough, or take other measures to compensate for His negligence, we will be protected against such terrible things ever happening to us.

Another way some of us protect ourselves in times like these is that we look for something in the victims which makes them responsible for what happened to them. For example, one person pointed out to me how the people to whom this happened were overwhelmingly Buddhist, as if Buddhists were on God’s hit list this week! In this way, since we comfort ourselves that we are not like the victims, we can feel safe because, after all, we are not the kind of people such things happen to.

From reading Scripture, it seems there are at least three principles we need to keep in mind at such a time as this.

(1) God has created a universe in which natural laws like gravity, for example, work "on their own." Gravity is an aspect of creation which has been set in motion because of the nature of the created order. When someone falls out of a window and is killed because of the effects of the force of gravity, it is not God who did this to them. Rather, they failed to take proper precautions, and gravity functioned in its normal manner. Not everything that happens in our lives is caused by God: God has created a universe full of natural causes.

(2) When we ask God, "Why did you create the universe this way?" or, "Why didn’t you intervene?", or, "What are you going to do about it?," God chooses to not respond, as is illustrated in the masterpiece, the Book of Job.

(3) The question that confronts us as moral beings in God’s universe is this one: "What are we going to do about this?" It is not enough to look around for someone to blame. To do so is an exercise in self-protection, a way of making the horror go away by putting it on someone else’s doorstep. Instead, the mature response is for each and all of us to ask "What is my responsibility here?" When we fail to honestly deal with this question, we are being as irresponsible as God is in the minds of his accusers.

Today’s readings do give us a repertoire of responses—of things to do when calamity strikes. Let’s look at a few of these together.

The first thing to do is to not cooperate with evil, but rather to find effective ways to resist it and thwart evil’s designs. We see this in the behavior of the Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Puah, who cleverly played dumb with Pharaoh but who were anything but dumb in their thwarting of his evil plans.

"17 The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this thing, letting the boys live?" 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous. Before the midwife can come to them, they have given birth." 20 And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and increased greatly. 21 And because the midwives feared God, He established households for them."

It is interesting to note how God rewarded those who would not cooperate with evil.

"21 And because the midwives feared God, He established households for them."

The second thing to do is to carry on with life as normally as possible. We see this in how Moses’ parents decided to marry and to bear children even though the times were so chaotic, and Pharaoh had issued his murderous edicts.

"1 A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son;"

I am reminded of a friend whose wife’s mother died of Huntington’s Chorea, a debilitating and eventually fatal disease of the nervous system. Genetically, there was a fifty percent chance that the gene was transmitted from his mother in law to his wife, an a fifty percent chance that the gene would be tranmitted to their own children if she was a carrier. Nevertheless they decided to marry and had five children. They decided "You can’t live life with our eye on the rear view mirror. You must take life as it comes and live the best life you can, can, come what may. This is the attitude demonstrated by Moses’ parents as well.

The third thing to do, with faith in God, is to do what you can to preserve life and curtail disaster. We see this in the amazing provisions Moses’ mother made for his survival when she could no longer keep him hidden.

"and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. 4 And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him. 5The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. 6 When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, "This must be a Hebrew child." 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?" 8 And Pharaoh's daughter answered, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother. 9 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, who made him her son. She named him Moses, explaining, 'I drew him out of the water.'"

Here too it is interesting to see how taking steps to do what one could to preserve life in the midst of calamity was deeply rewarded: Moses’ mother ended up getting paid for raising and nursing her own son!

Moses developed into a young man very much in the mold of his mother. He too sought to do what he could to preserve life in the midst of calamity. Of course the rewards for his intervention were not immediate. But God DID reward him by making him to be the deliverer of all Israel.

"11 Some time after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. 12 He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand 13 When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting; so he said to the offender, "Why do you strike your fellow?" 14 He retorted, "Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Moses was frightened, and thought: Then the matter is known! 15 When Pharaoh learned of the matter, he sought to kill Moses; but Moses fled from Pharaoh. He arrived in the land of Midian, and sat down beside a well."

The fourth thing to do is to realize that real calamity does happen to the people of God—do not be surprised by this. And sometimes things get worse before they get better. We see this illustrated by what happens when Moses goes to Pharaoh with the message, "Let my people go!" Notice how things get worse!

'6 That same day Pharaoh charged the taskmasters and foremen of the people, saying, 7 "You shall no longer provide the people with straw for making bricks as heretofore; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But impose upon them the same quota of bricks as they have been making heretofore; do not reduce it, for they are shirkers; that is why they cry, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God!' 9 Let heavier work be laid upon the men; let them keep at it and not pay attention to deceitful promises. 10 So the taskmasters and foremen of the people went out and said to the people, "Thus says Pharaoh: I will not give you any straw. 11 You must go and get the straw yourselves wherever you can find it; but there shall be no decrease whatever in your work." 12 Then the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 And the taskmasters pressed them, saying, "You must complete the same work assignment each day as when you had straw." 14 And the foremen of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, were beaten. "Why," they were asked, 'did you not complete the prescribed amount of bricks, either yesterday or today, as you did before?' 15 Then the foremen of the Israelites came to Pharaoh and cried: "Why do you deal thus with your servants? 16 No straw is issued to your servants, yet they demand of us: Make bricks! Thus your servants are being beaten, when the fault is with your own people." 17 He replied, "You are shirkers, shirkers! That is why you say, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.' 18 Be off now to your work! No straw shall be issued to you, but you must produce your quota of bricks!" 19 Now the foremen of the Israelites found themselves in trouble because of the order, "You must not reduce your daily quantity of bricks." 20 As they left Pharaoh's presence, they came upon Moses and Aaron standing in their path, 21 and they said to them, "May the Lord look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers — putting a sword in their hands to slay us."'

The fifth thing to do is to keep the long view in mind and to remember the promises of God. God had told Abraham that his descendants would be oppressed as slaves for four hundred years in a land not theirs and that afterward they would leave with great wealth and return to the Land of Promise. With the long view in mind, one needs to realize that even if we suffer and die in calamitous times, the purposes of God for His people continue and will triumph. We should adopt the attitude: "What happens to me is not so important. What is important is the progress of God’s plans for His people. What can I do to further those plans?"

The sixth thing to do is to cry out to God. He does hear the cry of his people—although the answer may be a long time in coming.

"23 A long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God. 24 God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them."

Let us join together in prayer this morning, crying out to God for the victims of the tsunami calamity, asking that God might look upon their affliction and take notice of them. And let us do what we can to be of help.