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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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Monday, October 10, 2005

Walking with God

(The following is a sermon on Parashat Noach given October 5, 2005, at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue. It considers what it means to "walk with God."

"Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God".

We read in today’s parasha that Noah walked with God in his generation—a wicked generation which Torah characterizes as only thinking and doing only evil continually.

What does it take to walk with God? Today I would like to give you a Jewish—a Messianic Jewish answer to this question.

First, you must know deep within you that God exists and operate on the conviction that He rewards those who are diligent in seeing Him. This means simply that you live by the conviction that seeking and serving God is a worthwhile thing to do—that one way or another, sooner or later, it pays off.

Some people think of these rewards for seeking Him in terms of "heavenly rewards." Others think in terms of simply preserving your self-respect. Others, lovers of God, find adequate satisfaction in simply pleasing and honoring the Beloved. Whatever the case, the first thing you need to walk with God is as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: "You must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him diligently."

Believing that he exists is not an intellectual commitment to theism. It is not a philosophical construct. When it comes to making life decisions and facing crossroads in our lives, we will need to search deep within ourselves and ask ourselves honestly: "On the basis of my life experience, all that I have learned and been exposed to, when push comes to shove, do I really think there is a God?" It is only those who can say "Yes" to this who can walk with God through the tough circumstances of life, and who will choose God’s direction when they get to a cross-roads.

The author of the letter also highlights God being " a rewarder of those who diligently seek him." If you or I would walk with God, we can only do so if we have an inner hunch, a conviction, and are willing to bet on the fact that sooner or later, it will become evident that it paid to honor the God of our Bible and tradition. These two convictions—that God exists and that it pays to honor Him, are axiomatic. Without these two residing somewhere in your deepest gut, you cannot and will not walk with God through the tough seasons of life and when vigorous, tailor-made temptation comes against you like a tsunami, as it surely will. (This is what Ephesians six calls "the evil day"—those times when temptation comes against you as a tailor-made onslaught).

The second aspect of walking with God is having a sense of His general will—knowing what He is up to. The Bible says, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" We must know what he is up to, where He is going, what his will is for our time and place, and align ourselves with it. One way we discover this is by studying His Word., and also those voices of our Tradition which originate with people who seem to be acquainted with God and His ways. In other words, we need to learn about God and His ways from Scripture and from others who have known Him, people whom we can ask, "What is God like? What does He like and dislike?"

It is the same as getting to know a human being. We would be foolish to insist on operating only on our own first-hand knowledge when there are others who are well-acquainted with this person. We would be wise to learn from them what God is like, something about His general will and preferences.

I was talking recently with Jon Cline, a young man I am privileged to mentor. Jon goes to a fine church filled with people in their twenties and thirties. The only exposure they get to Scripture is the passages they get in their weekly bulletins. Also, the people of the church have access to a reading schedule which encourages them to read through the Bible during the year.

But even this is not enough. If you would understand the Bible and how its various parts relate to one another and to your own life, you will need a working hypothesis on what the Bible is about. This is one of the reasons we absolutely need theologians, and why you need your rabbi, and I need to teach you from time to time overview lessons about the Bible. This is because if we don’t have a general overview of the Bible, a sense of what the parts are and how they fit together, then many of us are going to be overwhelmed and confused when we read it. It is like walking in on a conversation in the middle. The person who joins the conversation in that manner is always at a disadvantage. They cannot understand what they are hearing until they get some context. Therefore you must get an overview of the general thrust of the Bible, and of the broader contexts of the passages you are reading. You can only understand the parts in relation to the whole.

Therefore be exceedingly careful who you allow to instruct you on what the Bible is really about.

Finally, we walk with God by doing what he says. After all, he is God, and He gets to call the shots. He is not just stronger than we, like a neighbor who is brighter, richer, more intimidating than we, with whom we feel obliged to agree even against our preferences. No, he is Almighty God, the radiant, altogether Holy One, whom we scarcely know anything about. He is Wholly Other—not our Buddy which art in Heaven but the one before whom angels cry aloud and all the heavenly hosts cry "Holy." Obedience is the proof that we have encountered the truth about God. Can you imagine Moses flipping a coin atop Sinai to decide whether he would obey God’s commandments? Whenever we truly encounter God, every molecule of our being cries out, "Adonai, what would you have me to do?" If you say you know God and your life is not characterized by a growing passion for obedience, you are deceiving yourself.

The Bible is not only God’s word to us: it is not only God’s inspired text. It is also a human book, bearing the imprint of the individuality of the authors, their varied perspectives, and the demands of the times in which they lived. Luke was a historian. Part of his agenda in writing the Good News According to Luke and Ma’asei HaShlichim, the Acts of the Apostles, was that he wanted to establish the basis for us to understand how God’s work among the descendants of Jacob and His work among the other nations were different and yet united. He focuses on the good news going out to the Nations, but he also focuses on the distinct difference in how the good news was to be lived out in Jewish communities. In this sense, as religions, Messianic Judaism and Christianity are different religions with the same Savior. A religion is a way of life-and Luke helps us to understand that although the Church from among the Nations and the Congregation in Jerusalem had the same Savior—Yeshua the Messiah—and were united in Him, there is a distinctive way of life that God has given to the Jewish people—even those who believe in Yeshua—which He does not require of the other nations. In other words, Luke helps us to understand what it means for Jewish congregations—for Jewish people—for Messianic Jewish congregations as well—to walk with God.

Two passages to wrap your minds around:

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zecharyah, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aharon, and her name was Elisheva. 6 And they were both righteous before Hashem, walking in all the mitzvot and ordinances of Adonai blameless.

This passage is typical of Luke. Throughout his gospel and the Book of Acts, he stresses the Jewish way of life as a good and G-d-pleasing way of life—and remember, a "religion" is a way of life—(Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back).

But he also describes this way of life, this pattern of behavior, as characteristic of the congregation of Yeshua believers in Yerushalayim in contrast to what God expects of the other nations and other congregations of Yeshua believers.

He describes a trip to Yerushalayim that he took with Paul. He was an eye witness to these things—very significant things.

Acts 21:17And when we had come to Yerushalayim, the brethren Ya’akov, and all the elders were present. 19When he [Sha’ul/Paul] had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have trusted in Yeshua, and they are all zealous for Torah observance; 21but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews in the Diaspora to forsake [the Torah of] Moshe, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep Torah. 25But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality." 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

Notice three things here:

1. The Yeshua believing congregation of Jews in Jerusalem was still Torah observant, about 30 years after Pentecost.

2. Ya’akov asks Paul to go through this traditional Jewish ritual in order to prove that there is no truth to the rumors that people have heard, that he is telling Jews who believe in Yeshua that they can now drop the Jewish way of life—forsake Moses, not circumcise their children and leave off Jewish customs, but that on the contrary, Paul himself, the Apostle to the Gentiles, still walks orderly keeping Torah and the customs of Jewish life.

3. Paul, no passive wimp who is going to do what someone asks just because he does, does exactly that. He participates in the traditional Torah-based halachic ceremonies to demonstrate that he still lives and believes in a halachic life for Jews who believe in Yeshua.

I am well aware that there is much resistance to this idea among some people in our Movement. I want to suggest that one of the reasons for this resistance is that we have imbibed a world-view assumption from our culture that we need to re-examine. This is the assumption that we have a right to autonomy—to doing only what we "feel" we want to do. This is a basic article of faith that has infected the religious consciousness of all of us—but it needs to be reexamined.

Consider these quotations from a group of Reform Jews who themselves have awakened to this problem and how it has affected Reform. This quotations are from the book "Duties of the Heart."

"The problem of Reform mitzvah is not the concept of mitzvah but the repertoire. In Reform Judaism, the repertoire of mitzvot was often very small."

"in the interpretation of lay Reform Jews, obedience is largely a matter of pick-and-choose. We will decide which mitzvot we accept and which one’s we don’t. We are in charge of our own religious lives.

"This, I believe, is the original sin of Reform Judaism. By definition, you cannot freely choose to be commanded. . . If there is a God, there cannot be a fully autonomous human being. . . . How you know God’s will for you, and whether you’re able to do God’s will are difficult question, but they are secondary to the belief that, if you know, when you know, however you know God’s will, there is no choice about performing it. There is only obedience or sin" [Jacob Wolf, in Goldstein and Knobel, Duties of the Sou].

Finally, to walk with God is to follow the example of our Messiah. There are many things this might mean, but for now I would like to focus on one aspect of his walk and that is learning to deal with disappointment, with denying ourselves illicit pleasures, and with dealing with suffering.

In the second chapter of the First Letter of Peter, we read these profound and challenging words. It doesn’t take much to realize how discordant they are with the values that surround is. Very much of what we read here sounds like foolishness. As Paul puts it in one of his letters, "the way of the cross—obedient self-denial and enduring suffering when it is the will of God that we do so" is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. There is something powerful and invincible about being a person who is not for sale—a person who will accept suffering rather than accommodate him or herself to radical ethical and moral compromise.

Look what Peter says her about following Yeshua’s example.

Live as Servants of God
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.d

13 For the Lord's sake accept the authority of every human institution,e whether of the emperor as supreme, 14or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15For it is God's will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16As servantsf of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17Honor everyone. Love the family of believers.g Fear God. Honor the emperor.

18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

22 "He committed no sin,

and no deceit was found in his mouth."

23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,h so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his woundsi you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

The challenge for us is to begin to reconsider what it means for us to walk with God. That means that each of us must learn to do at least these things.

(1) Do whatever you can to settle the issue in your heart as to whether you believe that God is real.

(2) Do whatever you can to settle the issue in your heart as to whether you believe that ultimately, it pays to honor God, or do you believe that those who live in this manner, denying themselves the delicious fruits of compromise are and that those who follow him are a pack of fools.

(3) Do whatever you can to develop a dependable overview of what the Bible is about, but watch where you get it. Not only do some people seek to deceive others on these points, but also, there are good people whose presuppositions will cause them to see the Bible in such a manner as fails to do justice to the unique and holy calling of the people of Israel. There are many for whom this is a dead issue—but not for us, and I would submit, not for God.

(4) Do whatever you can to accept the fact that there are commandments of God appropriate to your station in life and that the healthy and holy life is one lived in quiet submission to the guidelines God sets out for us. The assumption that spiritual freedom means freedom from commandment-keeping needs to be vigorously reconsidered.

(5) Do what you can to come to terms with the inevitability of suffering and self-denial if you would walk with God. There are things you cannot have, things you cannot do, propositions you cannot entertain, mistreatments and revilings you will have to learn to endure, and choices you must make if you would walk with God. As Paul put it, "all who desire to live godly in Messiah Yeshua will suffer" and Yeshua said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?" [From Luke, Chapter nine].

Why should a person bother to do these things? It is because to live otherwise is ultimately be buyable. The Wicked One and his servants would say "Everyone has their price. It is not a question of whether people’s highest convictions are up for sale. It is only a question of determining for how much."

For us the price of our obedience, of our walking with God, has already been paid. The Scripture puts it this way: "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6).

May God help us all to walk with God and be righteous in our generation as Noah was in his. It is only with His help that we will be able to do so.

At 12/15/2005 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

get a book by Christian von Nidda called 'Our Secret Planet'... sets the entire record straight!


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