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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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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Judaism and New Testament Faith: Evaluating Mark Kinzer's "Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism"

Derek Leman is a young non-Jewish man of exemplary character and sharp intellect. He is a member of the Lausanne Task Force for Jewish Evangelism, a confederation of people involved in representing Jesus to Jewish people, mostly proponents of what I term on these pages "the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm." Derek is one of those people who cannot seem to see the truth without honoring it and conforming to it. As a result, he has been gradually modifying his position on a number of issues, even though not everyone is happy with him for doing so.

At the most recent annual meeting of the North American wing of the Task Force, he gave a courageous, lengthy and perceptive review of Mark Kinzer's book, "Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People." In the process, he frankly critiqued certain commonly held assumptions and practices of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm.

Although I would say things differenly on a number of of points, I am in substantial agreement with his presentation, and more than that, I admire his integrity for speaking up for this newer paradigm, even though doing so didn't win accolades from some listening to him. As you read this, realize that it was delivered to an audience including people who strongly disagreed.

Derek: ya done good!

Judaism and New Testament Faith
Evaluating Mark Kinzer’s Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism
Derek Leman, Hope of David Messianic Congregation

A Chapter by Chapter Summary of Kinzer’s Argument


There are three convictions that require a fourth idea to hold together. The first is that Yeshua is the sole mediator between God and man. The second is that the church jointly participates with Israel in God’s blessing. The third is that Israel has a continuing place in God’s plan in spite of their majority rejection of Yeshua. Something seems to be missing when we look at church history if these three ideas are all true. The only way to hold these puzzle pieces together is a post-missionary form of Messianic Judaism—that is, a Messianic Judaism that lets Jews be Jews, respects Judaism, and has the blessing of the church as a link between both parts of the people of God.

Chapter 1: Ecclesiology and Biblical Interpretation
The Bible, like all written communication, is ambiguous in many ways. Interpreting the text based on historical, grammatical, and contextual data has certainly limited the range of meaning to fewer possibilities, but has not eliminated ambiguity. Texts can be read authentically in multiple ways. Regarding the Bible’s teaching about Israel and the church, this ambiguity can be greatly helped by looking at history subsequent to the Bible. God has been at work in history since the Bible was written and it is possible that history may clarify ambiguous ideas. Six areas in particular impact our interpretation of ecclesiology and Israel: 1. The loss of a visible Jewish presence in the ekklesia, 2. The survival of Judaism apart from Yeshua, 3. Christian anti-Judaism, 4. The Holocaust, 5. The rebirth of Israel as a nation, and 6. The reintroduction of a Jewish presence in the ekklesia through the birth of Messianic Judaism.

Chapter 2: The New Testament and Jewish Practice
The New Testament does not explicitly address God’s requirement of Jews to continue observing distinctive practices of Biblical law such as Sabbath and dietary regulation. This is because the New Testament assumes it. Several New Testament texts show that Torah observance was expected of Jews. Jesus’ own teaching nowhere contradicts and in some cases confirms Jewish Torah faithfulness. Most clearly, Acts 15 assumes that continued Jewish Torah observance is a non-issue—for it is only the Gentiles’ relation to Torah that is an issue there.

Chapter 3: The New Testament and the Jewish People

A communal presence of the Jewish people is part of God’s purpose in the world. Believing Jews have not been able to meet this requirement since their presence has been small and sporadic. It would seem, therefore, that the Jewish people as a whole have fulfilled this purpose of God in the world. The New Testament confirms this. From Matthew’s “lost sheep of the house of Israel” to Paul’s “all Israel,” the New Testament affirms the role of Jewish people—all Israel, not just the believing remnant—in God’s continuing plan. The apostles call the God of Judaism the “God of our ancestors” and call Jews “brothers.” These and other texts imply Israel’s role in God’s dealing with humankind.

Chapter 4: Bilateral Ecclesiology in Solidarity with Israel

Since the New Testament assumes that Jews in the Yeshua movement will continue to live as Torah observant Jews, and since such observance requires communal support, it is necessary for Yeshua-believing Jews to remain in distinct communities in fellowship with the whole Jewish community. This demands a pluriform ecclesiology so that Jewish Yeshua-believers can remain distinct. A Jewish wing of the larger ekklesia is called for. Much of Paul’s ecclesiology was specifically directed to the Gentile wing of the ekklesia and did not specifically address the needs of the Jewish wing. Nonetheless, nothing in Paul contradicts the idea that a Jewish wing of the ekklesia should exist to support Jewish life amongst the Jewish believers. Paul’s “one new man,” for example, is one new man “out of the two” not “in place of the two.” Distinction and unity can and do co-exist, just as a man and wife are distinct, yet called by God one flesh.

Chapter 5: The Christian No to Israel

The tradition of the church has almost uniformly been supersessionist. The church fathers spoke in supersessionist ways almost exclusively when addressing Israel. Recent scholars such as Oscar Skarsaune have deduced from this that Jewish expressions of Yeshua-faith actually continued longer and with more influence than previous models of church history surmised. That Israel and Torah-observance were obsolete was assumed and debate was over exact parameters. For example, Jerome argued that Paul faked Torah observance to win Jews, a view still held by many in Jewish evangelism today. Augustine countered that Paul was no fake, but that he merely was Torah observant to show that it had been fitting under the previous dispensation and as a transition into the next. Jews who were told to believe in Christ were told they had to turn their back on God’s commandments and their Jewishness, without exception. The church lost its solidarity with Israel.

Chapter 6: Jewish Tradition and the Christological Test
In spite of their apparent rejection of Yeshua, Judaism is not outside of God’s plan and purpose for the people of God. Judaism is very much needed in God’s plan for the Jewish remnant because it is Judaism, even with the rejection of Yeshua, that forms the communal support structures needed by Yeshua-believing Jews. Only rabbinic Judaism preserved Jewish identity and Torah faithfulness within Israel and in preserving these, the rabbis were doing God’s will. If the validity of rabbinic Judaism is denied, then the validity of Israel is being questioned, because it is only rabbinic Judaism that has maintained Israel in history. Yet we must also see that the legitimacy of Judaism cannot bypass Yeshua, so we must be able to see Yeshua in the midst of Judaism. As David Stern has said, “Yeshua is in union not only with the church, but also with the Jewish people.” Indeed, the gospel writers show Yeshua as Israel, as representative or ideal Israel, embodying in his own life the suffering and resurrection of the nation. Yeshua is mystically present in Judaism. Also just as Yeshua’s own body is a Jewish body, so the ekklesia—the Body of Messiah—exists only in relation to the Jewish people.

Chapter 7: Jewish Tradition and the Biblical Test
Is rabbinic Judaism consistent with the teaching of the New Testament in terms of a way of life? This is not to ask if rabbinic Judaism is seamlessly continuous with the religion of the Hebrew Bible or to claim that rejection of Yeshua is compatible with the New Testament. There is biblical precedent for something like the Oral Torah. Namely, God established the elders and priests of Israel to judge Israel’s observance of the law. Implied in this is a certain concept of Oral Torah, judged by the community leaders to establish communal norms about how to keep the Written Torah. Matthew is a good case in point. A solid case can be made that Matthew was in favor of Pharisaic precepts, but opposed to the specifically corrupt Pharisees of his day. Yeshua in Matthew says that the teaching of the Pharisees should be followed, in spite of corruption, except where such teachings contradict written scripture (Matt. 23:2-3 and 15:3). The New Testament upholds Jewish distinction, including the practice of Sabbath, dietary law, and circumcision. Nothing in the New Testament argues against the thesis that rabbinic Judaism has been God’s ordained way of preserving Israel and Jewish identity.

Chapter 8: From Missionary to Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism
The missionary posture toward Judaism may be defined as the desire to get Jews to renounce the errors of Judaism and accept the superior truth of Christianity. Missionary does not mean the desire to spread the name of Yeshua in appropriate ways to the Jewish community. Some early pioneers in the Hebrew Christian movement foresaw the development of post-missionary Messianic Judaism. Isak Lichtenstein, for example, refused baptism because of its association with membership in denominations and its implied separation of a person from Judaism. Joseph Rabinowitz received baptism from a group of men rather than a specific church for the same reason. The majority of Hebrew Christianity and the later Jews For Jesus movement, however, saw Jewish identity within the established churches as the norm and resisted any sense of Jewish obligation to observe the Torah. As Messianic Judaism emerged, theology and practice largely remained in the fashion of the established churches, but in recent years a sharpening of that ideology has been occurring. The UMJC in particular has defined Messianic Judaism in solidarity with the church and with Judaism. The UMJC has embraced Torah faithfulness as an obligation for Yeshua-believing Jews and not merely a missionary scheme. A Messianic Judaism that is pro-Judaism and pro-Yeshua is emerging and this is what a post-missionary Messianic Judaism should be.

Chapter 9: Healing the Schism

The restored Jewish ekklesia will see Judaism as a nationality and a religion and will find Yeshua mystically within Judaism. Yet it will also bear witness to Yeshua within Judaism, not hiding Yeshua or refusing to speak of him. Judaism and Christianity can heal their schism when Christianity recognizes the validity of Judaism in spite of disagreement about Yeshua. Also, for the schism to be healed, Judaism must recognize the Jewish ekklesia as part of Judaism proper. Three steps on the part of the church will help heal the schism: 1. The church should educate its people to respect Judaism, 2. The church should treat Jews in their churches as Jews and encourage them to live as such, and 3. The church must dialogue with Messianic Judaism.


I think we can all agree in LCJE that supersessionism is not biblical. God has a continuing place for Israel. He is not only planning in the future to restore Israel, but even in the present we would say that Israel is God’s Chosen People. He has not rejected his people.

Good theology integrates all of the facts and causes them to work together. A good theology of Israel and the Church would need to take seriously all of the Bible’s teaching about the subject. Integration is what is generally lacking in theological writing.

I believe Dr. Kinzer has achieved integration. Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism forces us to think about some key questions regarding Israel and the Church.

Last year, someone here in LCJE proposed a statement for us to consider. In that statement, he said, “We deny that Messianic Judaism is anything other than a cultural expression of our faith.” Messianic Judaism, he proposed, has no more significance or distinction than Korean Christianity or Romanian Christianity.

I think this demonstrates that supersessionism is still in our thinking. That we could propose such an idea shows that we have not grasped the continuing role of Israel in God’s plan. Did God make a covenant with Koreans or Romanians or Americans or Brits? Did he call them a treasured people, priests to the world? This is not a question of relative importance, as if God loves Jews more than Romanians. It is a question of roles and distinctions.

For me, Dr. Kinzer’s book has carried my thinking to another step. I was guilty of making an error. I agreed that the Jewish people were set apart as God’s Chosen People. Yet to me Jewish was a broadly definable word. I tried to limit Jewish to its ethnic meaning. I ignored sociological realities—Jewish life apart from Judaism the religion has no enduring value.

Who are these Jewish people that God is still working through? Who are these Jewish people whom God has not rejected and will someday restore? Who are these Jewish people who are beloved for the sake of the patriarchs and for whom Paul longed to see their salvation?

Dr. Kinzer has helped me to see that they are people whose identity has been preserved, not by lox and bagels, but by a religion—Judaism.

Many in LCJE are still infected with anti-Judaism while at the same time being pro-Jewish. It is as if we imagine you can love Jews and oppose the religion that has preserved Jewish identity. It is Judaism that has held Jewish people together, even though many do not practice it. Judaism the religion is what led to the succession of Brit Milahs through the ages, entering Jewish boys into the covenant of God. It is Judaism that led Jews to marry other Jews and not assimilate into the surrounding cultures. It is Judaism that has caused Jewish people to remain distinct, keeping Sabbath and dietary law as God commanded in the Bible. Without Judaism there would clearly be no Jewish people.

Thus, when God tells us, “All Israel will be saved,” we should ask, “Who is Israel?” If our generation is the one that receives the promise, how will God define Israel? If it is a generation hundreds of years from now, how will God define Israel? The only answer consistent through history since the time Jesus wept over Jerusalem and Paul declared that all Israel would be saved is rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is God’s ordained instrument to preserve Israel for the last days and God’s restoration.

Seen in that light, rabbinic Judaism is not quite the enemy many of us have made it out to be. Ought we not to work with God and not against him? Should our methods encourage Jews to abandon the distinctives of rabbinic Judaism?

In case you think this point is merely historical reasoning, I do not agree. I believe there is at least one place where Jesus made a similar point. Of course there are many texts to consider in this question, but given limited time and space, let’s consider just one: Matthew 23:2-3.

Matthew 23:2-3
"The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

There is a sort of minimalist interpretation of this passage. That is, Yeshua is not saying that the scribes and Pharisees are valid religious authorities. He is merely saying that they have God-ordained governmental power analogous to the power of Rome and the Roman governor, Pilate. Yeshua is here merely making a similar point to Paul in Romans 13. The people should obey their governing authorities even if they are corrupt, as indeed Yeshua says the Pharisees and scribes of his day are corrupt.

Those in tune with Second Temple politics ought to raise an eyebrow at Yeshua choosing the scribes and Pharisees instead of someone else. The Roman-ordained authority over the daily life of the people was the Sanhedrin, not the scribes and Pharisees. And there is good evidence that the Sadducees dominated the Sanhedrin and not the Pharisees or scribes.

N.T. Wright, for example, notes that Paul, a prominent Pharisee, had to go to the chief priests for permission to persecute Yeshua-followers in Antioch. Before the temple was destroyed, it would seem that the Sadducees held the majority of the power in Israel. And it was the Sanhedrin that Rome authorized, not the Pharisees and scribes.

If the Romans authorized the Sanhedrin, why would Yeshua authorize the Pharisees and scribes rather than the Sanhedrin or the Sadducees? This raises an interesting possibility: it was the halakhah and not the courts or governance that Yeshua was authorizing.

In other words, it was the work the Pharisees and scribes were doing, making communally accepted standards for Torah observance, that Yeshua authorized. This had nothing to do with governmental authority. It had to do with a body of elders in Israel, like the seventy elders of Moses’ time and the judges of Deuteronomy 17:10, defining for the people the details of Torah faithfulness in everyday life.

God ordained Torah scholars in Israel to define and preserve the practice of Torah for the people. In spite of corruption, just as God-ordained governments also have corruption, Yeshua authorized the work of the Pharisees and scribes where it did not contradict the written word of God. Yeshua did not authorize their writings as infallible or on the level of scripture, but merely as a human institution for preserving Israel’s Torah faithfulness. Therefore, this is not a wholesale authorization of the entire Talmudic and midrashic corpus that followed, but of accepted halakhah as a communal standard for Israel.

This interpretation of Matthew 23 surely raises many questions. But it establishes one basic point: rabbinic Judaism, heir to the scribes and Pharisees, is God’s ordained institution to preserve Israel.


I believe Dr. Kinzer has clearly and with well-integrated theological writing taken our rejection of supersessionism to its logical conclusion. He has also attempted to address how Jewish rejection of Yeshua can possibly fit into the idea of Judaism as a God-ordained institution. If he is right, then to reject Judaism is to reject Israel. To regard Judaism as a false religion is to regard Israel as false.

This is not to say that Judaism is uniform in opinion or even close to infallible. But if you will think about it, neither is Christianity. Many criticisms of Judaism could be equally applied to the various forms of Christianity that populate our world.

In short, Dr. Kinzer is calling for us to stop converting Jewish people out of Judaism and into Christianity. Rather, we need to be leading Jewish people to Messiah within Judaism and within an observant Jewish lifestyle. I couldn’t agree more.

This is what Dr. Kinzer means by post-missionary Messianic Judaism. I only hope we will listen.

Excursus: Acts 15 and Jewish Torah Faithfulness

Another key text for considering the continuing role of Israel and Torah is Acts 15. Reformed, Dispensational, Lutheran, and other traditional views of Torah deny the continuing validity of all or part of the Torah. Acts 15 seems to operate under the opposite assumption: Torah is and always will remain the law for the Jewish people. Acts 15 assumes that Jews, unlike Gentiles, are expected by God to circumcise their sons and thereby remain faithful to the Torah, including such distinctives as Sabbath observance and dietary laws.
Consider what happened in Acts 15 and how it was assumed that Torah observance was incumbent upon Jews, but not Gentiles:

1. A group of Pharisees amongst the early believers stood up in the council and said that everyone who was to be in the Yeshua-movement had to be circumcised and observe the Torah of Moses.
2. James, Paul, and the other leaders did not rebuke these brothers for being Pharisees or for being Torah-observant. In fact, James was famous for his Torah faithfulness as can be seen in Josephus. Paul was a Pharisee himself.
3. It was Paul’s report of the good things happening among Gentiles that stirred these Pharisees to speak up. They were alarmed to hear of people entering the movement without conversion to Judaism.
4. Immediately Peter began speaking about his experience with Gentiles and the Holy Spirit. Nothing was said about the Torah of Moses being obsolete. It would seem that this would have been the time. Rather, Peter assumed that these Pharisees were correct about the necessity of Torah observance. The only issue was Gentile inclusion.
5. Peter goes on to affirm that Torah observance has never been complete in Israel and that salvation is based upon faith, not Torah observance. He does not say that Torah observance is a wrong way to live, nor does he condone Torah-breaking. He merely keeps Torah in its legitimate place—as a way of life, not a way of salvation.
6. James renders a judgment for the council based upon an interpretation of a prophetic text, Amos 9. James interprets Amos 9 to say that God would in the last days accept the Gentiles as Gentiles and not require them to convert into Israel. Thus, James rules, Gentiles do not have to circumcise and take the full yoke of Torah upon themselves.
7. James comes up with a list of four things he wants Gentiles in the Yeshua movement to be careful to observe. James does not limit Israel’s relation to Torah in any way.
8. Acts 15 makes no sense if Jews were, just like Gentiles, free to break the Sabbath and dietary laws to to refrain from circumcising their sons.

There is no sense whatsoever in Acts 15 that Jews should only circumcise their sons in order to win Jews to Yeshua. Missionary expediency is not an issue. That Jews will circumcise and obey Moses is rather seen as a given.
This has radical implications for Jewish outreach. Many of the Jews we reach out to are not observant of the Sabbath and dietary law. It would seem from Acts 15 that Peter, Paul, and James would not approve of Jewish Torah-breaking. Rather, as Paul had Timothy circumcised, and we know that Paul was never a hypocrite, so we could model our mission on Paul. We could and should help Jews who find Yeshua also find their Jewish identity, which is rooted in Mt. Sinai where Israel was set apart.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Attitudes - A Sermon for Parashat Shemini

This sermon, presented Shabbat Sh'mini, April 22, 2006, at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue concerns the respective roles of right attitude and right action in the paths of the just, as it is written, "Therefore walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just. 21 For the upright will abide in the land, and the innocent will remain in it; 22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it" [Proverbs 2].

There are two extremes I wish to explore with you today, two extremes which must both be avoided. It is like walking on a narrow bridge: if you lean too far to either side, you will fall off. The trick is to maintain your balance.

The two extremes are the extremes of practice and of attitude. It is possible to do the right thing, but for it to be all wrong, because of the attitudes associated with the action. This is why the Apostle Paul can say truthfully, “I may give away everything that I own, I may even hand over my body to be burned; but if I lack love, I gain nothing.” This is most crucial to see—you can do the right thing, but without the right attitude there can be something very wrong about it.

But on the other side of the equation, there are the people who are so obsessed with feelings, that they delay right action or excuse inaction or wrong action because they did not feel up to it, their feelings were not ready, or right, or words to this effect. And then there are those who think their good feelings are an adequate substitute for right actions. We read of such people in Ya’akov/James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So here are the two poles:-right feelings and right actions. If we lean too far in either direction, so that we forsake the opposite pole, we lose our balance, we fall off the narrow bridge upon which we walk through life, and we cause injury to ourselves and to others. When we go to either extreme, for the time being at least, we lose our bearings and wander from the paths of righteousness.

Wrong attitudes can destablize and corrupt the good that one is seeking to do. Even doing the right thing with a lousy attitude is less than righteous, even if helpful. We are aiming not only for right behavior, but righteousness. “Ge ye holy as I am holy” And this means we must look beyond outward appearance. As Samuel the Prophet reminds us, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”
Our Scripture readings today focus on people with wrong attitudes. Let’s see what we can learn from them.

In our Torah reading, Nadab and Abihu do something very wrong and suffer severe consequences. Apparently, they had seen the holy fireworks that attended the dedication of the priests and the altar, and decided they wanted to make that happen too. From the instructions God gives in Vayikra 10:8-11, it appears that they may have been drunk when they did this, but that is not the point. The point is, they had a presumptuous attitude that resulted in their being judged by God. How did their presumption show? This way: They tried to use their knowledge of God’s ways to manipulate him and make him do something spectacular.

1) Do you think we ever try to use our knowledge of God to manipulate him?
2) What does this lesson have to teach us about the wisdom of doing so?
3) What proper attitude ought we to nurture instead?
4) How does Aaron demonstrate a right attitude in verse 10:3? Why do you think Torah points out Aaron’s silence?
5) Are there times in your life with God when it would be wise for you to be silent? Is it possible to say too much to God? [See Psalm 73, especially verse 15].
6) Notice verses 8-11. What do these have to teach us all about the connection between our calling and our priorities?

You can see here that if you know you have a certain calling from God [their’s was to be priests], this means there are certain disciplines, attitudes, practices, that must be nurtured and others that need to be guarded against.

But my major point is this: right attitudes lead to right actions; and wrong attitudes lead to wrong actions. The Bible puts it this way: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it springs the issues of life.” Torah, in Deut 29, says it this way:

18 It may be that there is among you a man or woman, or a family or tribe, whose heart is already turning away from the Lord our God to serve the gods of those nations. It may be that there is among you a root sprouting poisonous and bitter growth. 19 All who hear the words of this oath and bless themselves, thinking in their hearts, "We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways" (thus bringing disaster on moist and dry alike)- 20 the Lord will be unwilling to pardon them, for the Lord's anger and passion will smoke against them. All the curses written in this book will descend on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. 21 The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this book of the law.

There is more we could find in today’s Torah reading on the subject of bad attitudes leading to bad actions. But I want to nuance the insight a bit before we move on to our Haftarah. I want to point this out.

My point is not simply that inappropriate attitudes lead to inappropriate actions. My point is larger than that.. We ought to repeatedly contemplate that the point of life is to present every relationship and aspect of our lives as a living sacrifice to the Holy One.

The phrase which comes to mind is this one from 2 Cor 7:1—“let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete purity because we fear God.” Some older translations put it this way: "perfecting holiness in the fear of God." You see, it wasn’t only Nadab and Abihu who were priests bringing offerings to God.

It is us too. And our attitudes can defile our sacrifices, something we ought never to do. We need to cultivate right attitudes not only because right attitudes lead to right action. We need to cultivate right attitudes because they make doing so makes our sacrifices to God a sweet smelling savour rather than a stench in his nostrils [See Isaiah 65:1-5].

Our Haftarah provides another glaring example of right and wrong attitudes. [David and Michal]. It is a familiar story. When David the King was bringing the ark of God up to the City of David, he danced with abandon before the Ark, rejoicing in the God of Israel. But not everyone was pleased. We read the following in 2 Samuel 6:

16 As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul [and David’s wife] looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. . . .
20 David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, "How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself !" 21David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the LORD, that I have danced before the LORD. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor." 23And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Two attitudes are contrasted here: David’s is exemplary. He is prepared to be a complete fool in the eyes of his people and himself for the sake of the honor of God, and knows that people with good judgment, even lowly people, will respect him for it. Michal, however, is contemptuous of him and of others. Here is just another example attitudes and their relationship to righteous, holy living.

There is always a danger for us that we will watch what we do, but will assume that our attitudes are our own business. This attitude is both dangerous and in error. It is dangerous because harboring a bad attitude inevitably leads to bad actions. It is in error because our bad attitudes make the sacrifices we offer to God to be a stench in His nostrils.

In Philippians chapter 4, we read of the Apostle Paul, who had every right to a bad attitude, and we read of his advice about attitude to the people in Philippi. He begins here by referring to two women in the fellowship who were having difficulty getting along with each other.

2 I beg Evodia and I beg Syntyche to agree with each other in union with the Lord. 3 I also request you, loyal Syzygus, to help these women; for they have worked hard proclaiming the Good News with me, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow-workers whose names are in the Book of Life. 4 Rejoice in union with the Lord always! I will say it again: rejoice! 5 Let everyone see how reasonable and gentle you are. The Lord is near! 6 Don't worry about anything; on the contrary, make your requests known to God by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. 7 Then God's shalom, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with the Messiah Yeshua. 8 In conclusion, brothers, focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy. 9 Keep doing what you have learned and received from me, what you have heard and seen me doing; then the God who gives shalom will be with you.

He asks Syzygus to intervene, to help them as they work hard for the Kingdom, thus relieving some of their pressure, and he begs them to remember their unity together in Messiah and to live in peace with each other. Then he goes on to encourage the congregation in the realm of attitudes—attitutudes of rejoicing, of reasonableness, gentleness and fobearance, of not worrying, and the famous passage about habitually focusing one’s thoughts on what is “what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy.“ It is obvious that for Paul, right attitude is crucial to walking life’s narrow bridge in uprightness and holiness.

Like a tightrope walker himself, going on before the congregation, with them walking behind him, he says “Keep doing what you have learned and received from me, what you have heard and seen me doing; then the God who gives shalom will be with you.” We maintain our balance by imitating others who walk in that balance.

He then goes on to speak of matters that could have caused him to lose his own balance, and of how he maintained his walk nevertheless. He was in prison at this time, and had been for a while—dependent upon the congregations he had nurtured to remember him there and to send gifts to him to help make his incarceration less arduous. Imagine what kind of attitude you would have if you were in prison and felt that those in whom you had invested your life had forgotten you. But instead, he writes them to thank them for having at last remembered to do right by him. Here is what he says. Notice his gracious attitude and his reference to the equanimity in which he lives. And notice how frank he is about how this congregation is the only one in all of Macedonia that has stood by him in this trial and others.

10 In union with the Lord I greatly rejoice that now, after this long time, you have let your concern for me express itself again. Of course, you were concerned for me all along, but you had no opportunity to express it. 11 Not that I am saying this to call attention to any need of mine; since, as far as I am concerned, I have learned to be content regardless of circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in want, and I know what it is to have more than enough - in everything and in every way I have learned the secret of being full and being hungry, of having abundance and being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who gives me power. 14 Nevertheless, it was good of you to share in my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the early days of my work spreading the Good News, when I left Macedonia, not a single congregation shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving - only you. 16 Indeed, in Thessalonica when I needed it, you sent me aid twice. 17 I am not seeking the gift; rather, I am looking for what will increase the credit balance of your account. 18 I have been more than paid in full: I have been filled, since I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent - they are a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, one that pleases God well. 19 Moreover, my God will fill every need of yours according to his glorious wealth, in union with the Messiah Yeshua.

Notice as well how he himself ties in such righteous living, such holy giving, with the metaphor of sacrifice: “they are a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, one that pleases God well.” Indeed, how we live and how we treat others is our priestly service to God—either an aroma or a stench,

Of course, earlier in Philippians, in chapter two, in the matter of personal relationships, Paul holds out Yeshua as the prime example, and focuses on one particular attitude above others that he exemplified, which we need to imitate if we would walk rightly with one another.

3 Do nothing out of rivalry or vanity; but, in humility, regard each other as better than yourselves - 4 look out for each other's interests and not just for your own. 5 Let your attitude toward one another be governed by your being in union with the Messiah Yeshua: 6 Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force. 7 On the contrary, he emptied himself, in that he took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when he appeared as a human being, 8 he humbled himself still more by becoming obedient even to death - death on a stake as a criminal! 9 Therefore God raised him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow - in heaven, on earth and under the earth 11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord - to the glory of God the Father.

In conclusion then, what shall we say?

Don’t imagine that the meaning of life with God is just believing the right things and repeating the right words. This is a gross distortion of everything the Bible teaches.

Like Nadab and Abihu, all of us are priests, either good ones or bad ones, neglectful ones or diligent ones, rebellious ones or obedient ones.

If we truly love God, we will want to bring Him the most perfect sacrifices we can. We will makea David’s prayer our own: “May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer [Psalm 19:14].”

“Tend your heart with all diligence; for from it spring the issues of life [Prov 4:23].”

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said this: “kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar me’od, ve-ha-ikar lo lefached klal,” “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; and the key is not to be afraid at all.”

Don’t be afraid as you walk the narrow bridge, don’t live in terror of falling off one side or the other. It is the Holy One who holds your hand [see Hosea 12:1-4].

But do be careful to maintain your balance between right actions and right attitudes.

Remember to always reach out in prayer that God might help you to maintain your balance. Remember to live constantly orient yourself to His word, His commandments, the lessons of Scripture, and the example of Yeshua and those who follow Him well. These will all help you maintain your correct orientation toward the horizon toward which we are all walking, standing straight instead of leaning too far in one direction or the other.

Remember what our liturgy says to us, in the prayer one says after putting on the tallit: “Extend your kindness to those who fear you, and your righteousness to those who are upright in heart.” It is in walking in the fear of God that our hearts are upright, and we can therefore maintain our balance on the narrow bridge of life.

And let’s remember that we, as a congregation, walk the bridge together.

We can and should help each other to maintain our balance.

Let’s do it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Missiology, Mission, Missio Dei, and Shlichut

I am reading another book by Newbigin, "The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission." Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

The term "mission" is, for most Jewish people, hardly a warm word, but this need not be the case. I have also been reading the remarkable collection of essays, "For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity," by Irving Greenberg (Philadelphia: JPS, 2004), who reminds us of the good Jewish term "shlichut," which pertains to the God-given mission of a people. One could in fact say that missiology is the study of what it is that we believe God has sent us as a people to be, to do, to say--our mission from God.

Concerning Yeshua as the One sent from God, Newbigin says this about His mission:

We begin with what Mark calls "the beginning of the gospel.” Jesus came into Galilee "Announcing the good news of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, the reign of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news'"(Mark 1:14-15).

The announcement concerns the reign of God—God who is the creator, sustainer, and consummator of all that is. We are not talking about one sector of human affairs, one strand out of the whole fabric of world history; we are talking about the reign and the sovereignty of God over all that is, and therefore we are talking about the origin, meaning, and end of the universe and of all human history within the history of the universe. We are not dealing with a local and temporary disturbance in the current of cosmic happenings, but with the source and goal of the cosmos” [1995:30].

His reminder is crucial for those considering or rejecting the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and for church people inclined to see the church as ultimate. The missio Dei [the mission of God, what He is up to in the world] is bigger than the mission of the Church [missio ecclesiarum]. Johannes Verkuyl speaks to this issue in his classic, Contemporary Missiology, where he states the following:

The discussion about missio Dei has focused too little on the question of how God’s acts in history can be discerned and how the missio ecclesiarum (the mission of the church) is related to this process of discerning his acts.

. . . Even the nonecclesiastical activity of people in society [missio hominum], as long as it counters any type of evil and is purposefully performed in ways that help and heal, is connected either knowingly or unknowingly with the missio Dei in the world [Verkuyl, Johannes. Contemporary Missiology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978:4].

Greenberg would tie all of these, missio Dei, missio hominum, missio ecclesiarum and missio Israelum [pardon me if my Latin is poor; it is NOT one of my languages!], all of these Greenberg would tie together under the rubric tikkun olam, not a bad concept to factor into the mix.

Verkuyl, although speaking of course from within the conceptual heart of Christendom, helps clarify our thinking here by indicating that the Church’s mission is not the sum total of what God is doing in the world, in history, in and with his cosmos. And, although he does not speak here of it, what God is doing among His people Israel is also part of the missio Dei even though, when, and if it is not an extension of the agenda or vision of missio ecclesiarum, the mission of the Church.

This accords completely with the perspective of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and with the insights of R.K. Soulen who speaks of “an economy of mutual blessing” between Israel and the Church under the good hand of God, working out his consummating purposes which are bigger than the vision and mission of the Church.

Yet, the Church and Israel are not meant to be essentially separate, but are rather two currently estranged sides of God’s Holy people, living in a state of schism not meant to be permanent.

In conceiving of that greater People of God, which we might best term "The Entire Covenant Peoples of God" (see discussion below), what the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm highlights in addition to all of the above is that there is a Remnant within Israel of Yeshua believing Jews who are meant to live as Jews and in submission to Israel’s covenantal responsibilities, and thereby act as a connecting point for the Church from among the nations to become part of the Commonwealth of Israel.

With the discovery of a new paradigm comes the need for new terminology. Perhaps the term we need to begin using is “The Entire Covenant Peoples of God,” being an entity comprised of the fullness of Israel and the fullness of the nations. Contrary to supersessionist assumptions, the Church is not the entire people of God—Israel is part of that people. More than that, Israel is the foundational people of God, and the Gentiles, the Church from among the nations, becomes, through Christ, part of the Commonwealth of Israel. They do not usurp Israel, but rather join with Israel.

On this matter, Carl Kinbar makes the following helpful contribution:

The word translated commonwealth (politeia) means... commonwealth, like the British Commonwealth. As you know, back then, citizens of Roman cities throughout the Empire were considered Roman citizens, but the cities themselves were not within Rome, but within the politeia of Rome. Likewise today, although citizens of Australia are commonwealth citizens, with certain privileges inuring to them, but Australia is not within Britain. I think that politeia is a very precise term here. If I'm right, then believers from among the nations (perhaps as part of ethnic believing communities) become part of the commonwealth of Israel but the Church does not become part of Israel [Carl Kinbar, in a private email, April 18, 2006].

There is a both and going on here. God is at work in the Church, and he is at work in Israel. He is at work in the wider world as well, in what Verkuyl calls "mission homimum" and " missio politica ecumenica." Clearly, the missio Dei is greater than the missio ecclesiarum. As bearers of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, we see as well that God is at work crafting a people for His name’s sake in Messiah Yeshua, comprised of both the Yeshua believing Remnant within Israel and the Church from among the nations. In the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, we call this the ekklesia, but this term may need to be retired, as it is too easily seen as the restricted to the Church, making the people of God synonymous with the Church, while in fact, the people of God is a larger category, whom I am provisionally calling here “The Entire Covenant Peoples of God.” I have little doubt that I will continue tinkering with terminology. For now, at least, it seems best to refer to "The Entire Covenant Peoples of God," especially since, as the NRSV rightly translates Revelation 21:3, the eternal state will be such that:

See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them.

We need to think of the people [better, "peoples"] of God as those joined to each other and to God through the Person and Work of Christ by Divine choice, that is "election." It is only when we make explicit faith in Christ to be the sole criterion of being part of the people(s) of God that we encounter difficulties. We hold that the peoples of God is a larger category than those who believe in Christ as Lord. Although it is right to call the latter part of the peoples of God, we do not have the right to call them the complete people of God. Instead of this fideistic category, we leave to God (of course) His completee freedom of choice, and with that, the right to determine on what bases individuals or groups are beneficiaries of Yeshua’s saving work. Those who believe in Him? Certainly. But only those?

For us, this question becomes especially complicated when thinking of the Jewish people who have been the elect covenant people of God for four thousand years, and whose general unbelief in Christ was divinely ordained, salvific, and, by divine design, destined to be temporary. And, among the pious of Israel, the expectation of the coming of Messiah is a linchpin of their faith. Must we treat their covenant faithfulness and expectation of the Messiah as of no import? Hardly!

We are not arguing here about so-called Anonymous Christians, because our concern is not with sincere religionists throughout the world and throughout history. Our concern is with the elect covenant people of the True and Living God, the people of Israel. Our concern is to reframe missiological thinking in a non-supersessionist manner, paying due heed to the election and covenant status of the Jewish people and also to the judicial nature of their hardening and blindness in respect to Christ, which Scripture says was salvific for the Gentiles, and temporary for Israel. Furthermore, Scripture is clear that when that hardening is reversed, this will be a culminating and consummating act of God for Israel, the nations, and the cosmos! In other words, if the full inclusion of the people of Israel is intrinsic to the missio Dei, dare we assume that the Jewish people, the elect covenant people of God, necessarily dropped off His map when he temporarily blinded them?

Israel is a special case. All concerned to better understand why should read Michael Wyschogrod's "The Body of Faith," and his collection of essays, edited by R. K. Soulen, "Abraham's Promise." Also of note, Soulen's "The God of Israel and Christian Theology," and relevant materials in the writings of Karl Barth. In combination with the foregoing, of course and always, each should read the Bible afresh, not for confirmation of entrenched positions, which is the inclination of all of us, but for fresh air and new light.

And there is yet more. There always is.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

On Not Being Parrots, and Not Being Silent

I have been reading another of Lesslie Newbigin’s books, “The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission.” (Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995). His writing affords me excellent opportunities to reflect on the current condition of the Messianic Jewish Movement, and the challenges we must face if we would move forward toward our destiny and play our part for the benefit of the entire people of God.

Newbigin says the following:

The church now exists as a global fellowship present in almost every part of the world, and is increasingly conscious of its international character . . . The ‘home base’ of missions is now nothing less than the worldwide community, and every proposed expression of the church’s missionary outreach must be tested by asking whether it can be accepted by the whole ecumenical family as an authentic expression of the gospel [Newbigin 1995:7].

Of course this statement is looked upon as heresy by some cultural and theological circles for whom the very word “ecumenical” is deemed heretical. But of course, Newbigin must be right that European and/or American missions are no longer the power base around which all other mission enterprises revolve, and are no longer the people to make and approve or reject all definitions and statements. Despite the humbling difficulty of dealing with this, the power brokers of the Western mission establishment must accept the authority of non-Western Christians to offer their opinions as to what is an authentic and culturally non-intrusive concept of the gospel. Or ought the West reserve for itself the perennial right of being the arbiter of any and all theological and missiological orthodoxy?

There are significant parallels and lessons here for the Emerging Paradigm of the Messianic Jewish Movement.

Isn’t now a good time for the Jewish component of the Body of Messiah to be heard and respected, or is our voice only to be heard to the extent that we parrot what the Church has historically said? It seems clear, to me at least, there are those not only in the Christian world, but more especially in the Jewish missions world, who view as heretical any attempt to contribute new understandings or formulations theologically, missiologically, or ecclesiologically. For example, I know for a fact that some in that world represent as non-evangelical, non=orthodox, and out of bounds people like Mark Kinzer and myself, who advocate an enduring distinction for the Jewish component of the ekklesia. Their categorical dismissal of our position seems to me to be reactionary and difficult to justify.

One need only recall what Paul says in Romans and in Ephesians, where he himself draws a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, even those who are in the ekklesia. Jews remain natural branches whether believing in Yeshua or not, and Gentiles remain wild branches, whether grafted in or not! And for Paul, it is Gentiles [in this context, pagans] who were once without hope and without God in the world, being strangers to the covenants of promise and aliens form the Commonwealth of Israel. It is Paul who draws a distinction applicable to the Jews—that their advantages are much in every way. And of course it is Paul who speaks of the Remnant of Israel, a category he does not extend to the other nations of the world. He sees distinctions everywhere! But some in the missions culture, and those influenced by them, deplore and denounce any such distinction, misrepresenting it as postulating a separation within the Body of Messiah, which proponents of this view have declared emphatically and explicitly to not be the case.

Separation implies distance; distinction means simply that there are characteristics that identify some entity as uniquely itself, while implying no distancing from other entitites with which it may be affiliated or in unity. As another example from the world of theology, consider the historical discussion of the Trinity, where it is explicitly stated that the Persons of the Trinity are distinct but NOT separate. Clearly, some have no difficulty making such semantic distinctions which some detractors of the Messianic Jewish paradigm doggedly obscure. There are some in the Jewish missions culture who have no compunction against labeling those who hold for a Jewish distinction within the Body of Messiah as being heretical and dangerous. But it is clear that Paul himself made a distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia! Ought not those who categorically deny and decry our position reconsider their strident statements?

Messianic Judaism is meant by God to bring a unique and necessary contribution to the ekklesia, the community of the people of God united in Messiah. Surely this purpose is ill-served if Messianic Jews require themselves or are required by others to remain in a paternalized state if they would prove their theological orthodoxy. Must we imitate the example of some who feel obliged to view the Church as our new parent, our new community of reference, to the eclipsing of our kinship with the Jewish people (which kinship the Newer Testament clearly affirms), and to the forfeiture of our right to speak up for the distinct theological perspective and distinctive God has entrusted to us?

R.K, Soulen rightly speaks of the Divine design that there be an economy of mutual blessing, whereby benefit is distributed through the other, males being a blessing to females, and vice versa, and Israel and the Church from among the nations being the source of blessing to one another. In this regard, the Messianic Movement has a divine destiny, and a role to play not only in action but also in helping all concerned to attain clarity on the unfolding purposes and manifest glory of God.

My Messianic Jewish friends. Please, let us not be confused. Let us not be mentally and spiritually lazy or uninformed. For God’s sake, let us not be silent. And let us choose rather to be prophets than parrots!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Being Ethically Prophetic

(The following is a sermon preached on Shabbat Tsav/Hagadol, April 8, 2006, at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It concerns certain ethical imperatives we often ignore, but which Hashem emphasizes).

4 Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of yore and in the years of old. 5 But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me: Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the Lord of Hosts.

I remember a joke of Steve Martin’s which a friend of mine related to me. Martin said, “I believe in eight of the ten commandments.” My friend laughed about this as he told me, saying, “You end up wondering, which two did he leave out?”

Come to think of it, all of us have our favorite lists of sins—the sins we consider to be big ones, and the sins we consider to be little ones. In Jewish tradition, there is much discussion about this, and even Yeshua was asked by someone, Teacher? Which is the greatest commandment in the Torah?” This question, in Jewish terms, inquired as to which commandment or commandments constituted the foundation for all the others.

In today’s Haftarah, there is a list of seven sins, some of which we are apt to consider “hot,” grievous and fundamental sins, and some which we are apt to consider “cold,” less grievous and less fundamental sins.

1) Those who practice sorcery

2) Those who commit adultery

3) Those who swear falsely [taking God’s name in an oath which is deceptive]

4) Those who cheat laborers of their hire

5) Those who subvert the cause of the widow

6) Those who subvert the cause of the orphan

7) Those who subvert the cause of the stranger

Recently, we have been hearing about the issues involving undocumented aliens. Now I am not going to preach on this subject, nor tell you how to vote or what action to take. Instead, I simply want to address one question. On the basis of this text from Malachi, and many others like it from both Testaments, should issues of justice and rights due to laborers, and to the socially displaced [widows, orphans, outsiders], play a significant role in our individual and communal lives? In the words of the prophet Micah, does God still care that we “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?”

Before answering that question, recognize as well that God speaks of Himself in our Malachi reading as judging his people by these standards, of being a “swift witness” against them. These are legal words, these are words of the Divine court, these are words of indictment.

The questions before us today are threefold.

Does God still care about these things?

Do we have adequate reason to suppose that some of these things are important and other less so?

Why not just ignore this stuff?

The only other proviso I would add in here is to say that it is clear that the standard of judgment is the Law of God, the Torah. This is why the text says in v. 7, “Since the days of your forefathers you have veered away from My laws and you nave not observed them, Return to Me and I will return to you.” And this is at almost the very end of the chapter we read. “Remember the Torah of Moses My servant, which I commanded Him for all of Israel—its decrees and its statutes” [3:22].

I have begun reading in a book by Mary Alice Mulligan and Rufus Burrow, Jr., titled, “Daring to Speak in God’s Name: Ethical Prophecy in Ministry,” which addresses issues such as those being raised in today’s text.

The authors suggest that the burden of the prophets on the question of ethics is best summarized in the words of the Prophet Micah, who asked “What does the Lord require of you, but to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Indeed, these three characteristics when working in harmony, with none omitted, seem to direct us in how to stay on the pathways of holiness. We must seek justice, but that justice must be tempered by mercy, if we would walk humbly with our God. But also, if we would walk humbly with our God, we must never simply love mercy while forsaking justice. All three—seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God must go together.

One chapter of this book is devoted to Abraham Joshua Heschel, whom the authors offer as a contemporary example of one who dared to speak and act in God’s name—in a manner which embodied seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, speaking out against any and all oppression and injustice toward the needy and the marginalized. This is what the authors call “ethical prophecy.”

Mulligan and Burrow, and I believe the Prophets of the Bible as well as Abraham Joshua Heschel, call us all to a stance where we are always prepared to declare and to embody God’s compassionate care for all, especially the weak, defenseless, the marginalized and the victimized. Ethically prophetic people live convinced of the divine expectation that we respond in merciful action to injustices we see around us.

Today’s kind of lesson makes some people uncomfortable. Thinking, “Well, Yeshua paid it all,” they imagine that because Messiah died for us, we are all off the hook. Such a view imagines that are really no demands upon us, and lessons like this which perhaps make us feel bad about ourselves, well, such lessons are suspect, because, after all, isn't it supposed to be about feeling good about ourselves? Even though I think all of us are more mature than that, still, many are apt to imagine that the Newer Covenant Scriptures cut us a big break in these matters, and leave things essentially up to us as a matter of personal discretion. But is that so?? Is the Newer Covenant more lenient and laissez-faire on the matter of being ethically prophetic?

Before returning to our list of seven sins, let’s first look for a moment at today’s Newer Covenant readings. The first few all come from the Letter of Ya’akov (James):

The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world. [James 1:27]

1 My brothers, practice the faith of our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah, without showing favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your synagogue wearing gold rings and fancy clothes, and also a poor man comes in dressed in rags. 3 If you show more respect to the man wearing the fancy clothes and say to him, “Have this good seat here,” while to the poor man you say, “You, stand over there,” or, “Sit down on the floor by my feet,” 4 then aren’t you creating distinctions among yourselves, and haven’t you made yourselves into judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my dear brothers, hasn’t God chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith and to receive the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? 6 But you despise the poor! Aren’t the rich the ones who oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name of Him to whom you belong? [2:1-7]; 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such “faith” able to save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, 16 and someone says to him, “Shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!” without giving him what he needs, what good does it do? 17 Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead. [2:14-17]

1 Next, a word for the rich: weep and wail over the hardships coming upon you! 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes have become moth-eaten; 3 your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat up your flesh like fire! This is the acharit-hayamim, and you have been storing up wealth! 4 Listen! The wages you have fraudulently withheld from the workers who mowed your fields are calling out against you, and the outcries of those who harvested have reached the ears of ADONAI-Tzva’ot. 5 You have led a life of luxury and self-indulgence here on earth - in a time of slaughter, you have gone on eating to your heart’s content. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the innocent; they have not withstood you. 7 So, brothers, be patient until the Lord returns. See how the farmer waits for the precious “fruit of the earth” - he is patient over it until it receives the fall and spring rains. i 8 You too, be patient; keep up your courage; for the Lord’s return is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers, so that you won’t come under condemnation - look! the Judge is standing at the door! 10 As an example of suffering mistreatment and being patient, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of ADONAI. 11 Look, we regard those who persevered as blessed. You have heard of the perseverance of Iyov, and you know what the purpose of ADONAI was, that ADONAI is very compassionate and merciful.[5:1-11].

It is a abundantly clear, isn’t it, that the values found in our Haftarah, which are fundamental to the righteousness to which Torah calls us, are not reserved for the Tanach alone. Those who imagine that the Newer Covenant Scriptures afford us a place to hide from the uncomfortable imperatives of how we deal with the poor, victimized, powerless and marginalized, will find no hiding place in the Newer Covenant.

So, let’s return to our list of seven sins:

1) Those who practice sorcery

2) Those who commit adultery

3) Those who swear falsely [taking God’s name in an oath which is deceptive]

4) Those who cheat laborers of their hire

5) Those who subvert the cause of the widow

6) Those who subvert the cause of the orphan

7) Those who subvert the cause of the stranger

Does God still care about these things? Apparently he does.

Do we have adequate reason to suppose that some of these things are important and others less so? No rule of thumb is given which would let us off the hook in any manner.

Why not just ignore this stuff? We should not ignore this stuff because instruction in these matters is linked to hard and unambiguous teachings about God's judgment and our awesome accountability to Him.

Both the Malachi Haftarah and the passages from Ya’akov/James make it clear that we will be judged by God by these very criteria.

Although this will sound strange to the ears of people who imagine that judgment is only a matter of faith, which in most people’s minds involves being judged by our religious convictions or opinions, the Newer Testament will not simply let us retreat to that position. No less an authority than Yeshua the Messiah settles this issue for us, in his Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, found in Mattityahu/Matthew 25. His words on these matters could not be more direct. And it is clear that for Yeshua, as for Ya’akov, Malachi, and Torah, these issues relate directly to our standing accountable before the throne of the Holy One.

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, accompanied by all the angels, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. 33 The `sheep' he will place at his right hand and the `goats' at his left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your guest, 36 I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' 37 Then the people who have done what God wants will reply, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and make you our guest, or needing clothes and provide them? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' 40 The King will say to them, `Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!' 41 "Then he will also speak to those on his left, saying, `Get away from me, you who are cursed! Go off into the fire prepared for the Adversary and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 a stranger and you did not welcome me, needing clothes and you did not give them to me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they too will reply, `Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needing clothes, sick or in prison, and not take care of you?' 45 And he will answer them, `Yes! I tell you that whenever you refused to do it for the least important of these people, you refused to do it for me!' 46 They will go off to eternal punishment, but those who have done what God wants will go to eternal life.

I suspect that this lesson has left all of us convinced that we have work to do, that we need a reshuffling of our priorities.

Heschel himself went through such a process. We close this lesson with a quotation from one of his essays, “The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement.” Notice what he says about how he moved beyond religious preoccupation to ethical involvement. Perhaps his process could become a template for your own.

For many years I lived by the conviction that my destiny is to serve in the realm of privacy, to be concerned with the ultimate issues and involved in attempting to clarify them in thought and word. Loneliness was both a burden and a blessing, and above all indispensable for achieving a kind of stillness in which perplexities could be faced without fear.

Three events changed my attitude. One was the countless onslaughts upon my inner life, depriving me of the ability to sustain inner stillness. The second efent was the discovery that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself. Even the high worth of reflection in the cultivation of inner truth cannot justify remaining calm in the face of cruelties that make the hope of effectiveness of pure intellectual endeavors seem grotesque. Isolationism is frequently an unconscious pretext for carelessness, whether among statesmen or among scholars.

The most wicked men must be regarded as great teachers, for they often set forth precisely an example of that which is unqualifiedly evil. Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) and his implied negative response must regarded among the great fundamental evil maxims of the world.

The third event that changed my attitude was my study of the prophets of ancient Israel, a study on which I worked for several years until its publication in 1962. From them I learned the niggardliness of our moral comprehension, the incapacity to sense the depth of misery caused by our own failures. It became clear to me that while our eyes are witness to the callousness and cruelty of man, our heart tries to obliterate the memories, to calm the nerves, and to silence our conscience.

There is immense silent agony in the world, and the task of man is to be a voice for the plundered poor, to prevent the desecration of the soul and the violation of our dream of honesty.

The easiest and most reflexive, natural way to avoid the possible discomfort and inconvenience of a message like this is to take exception to my couching the lesson in terms of the undocumented aliens issue or Heschel’s choice to involve himself in the Peace Movement during the 1970’s. One could easily say, “I don’t agree with these issues,” and then simply comfort oneself with one’s exceptions concerning the issues.

This will not do. There is really only one issue. “What does the Lord require of you, but to seek justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” That Scripture often couches this imperative in terms of our conduct toward the poor, the powerless, the marginalized and needy, cannot be avoided.

For this reason, I am seeking to develop a Committee of Conscience in our congregation, to be called “Kamocha” ["as yourself," from “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”]. This committee will keep before us all the imperative to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This will result in various of us taking group action on various social issues. Not all of us will agree on all of the issues raised, nor the actions taken. That is all right. We are adults here, and we don’t have to agree on everything.

But one thing we can and should agree upon. The only thing we may not do is nothing. God has not allowed us that alternative, has he?

Shabbat shalom.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Follow-up on "What's Wrong With This Picture?"


This is my response to the quotation I referenced in my previous blog entry, "What's Wrong With This Picture."

I have posted this as the fifth comment on the previous blog entry, but am reprinting it here for easy access.

Thanks for reading and for caring.

I will not pretend to be comprehensive in my comments, but will restrict myself to those errors of fact, faith, or feeling that especially disturb me. I am sure I will be referencing this offensive quotation in my future career as an horrific example of wrongs that must be addressed. But for now, a more short-hand approach is in order.

One of his earliest glaring statements is his reference to “the Jewish faith” as “enemy territory.” The term “enemy” is commonly used as a euphemism for Satan, and most likely this is behind his terminology. There are those in the Jewish mission culture who have spoken of Judaism as “a false religion,” and there are certainly others who would say so again, and more as well, and since such people view all false religions as doctrines of demons, etc., the result is what you see here. From his comments later on John 8:44, it is a virtual certainty that this author sees Judaism as satanic.

What shall we say to this appalling canard? Suffice it to say at this point, that even Paul the Apostle speaks of those who practice Judaism as “earnestly serving God night and day.” And it is he who represents the pagan world as being “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” It is the Jewish people in the context of their spiritual inheritance, the hub of “the commonwealth of Israel,” who constitute home base for the people of God. But after 2000 years of anti-Judaism and supersessionism, people such as our author have come to speak of the Jewish people as if they are godless pagans, rather than God’s root people, with all their inheritance as having passed to the Church.

Something else that jumps out at me, alarms me, but does not really surprise me. is his statement, “Judaism clung tenaciously to the law and summarily rejected Jesus as either Christ or Lord.” Notice the assumption that clinging tenaciously to the Law [Torah] is somehow spiritually deleterious, and that, in fact, Jewish people need to choose between Christ and Torah, God forbid. This is the legacy of a misshapen and erroneous supersessionist Christian consensus. Although, in our day, this consensus is by no means universal among Christians, still, the assumption that the Law is a negative and that fealty to it is an obstacle to real spirituality and relationship with God is by no means extinct.

In contrast to the author being critiqued here, proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm applaud all Jewish efforts to “cling to the Law.” Furthermore, we in no sense see this as antithetical to Yeshua faith, and indeed, see Scripture clearly calling Yeshua believing Jews to lives of Torah obedience. But our author will have none of that. For him the Law is antithetical to the gospel, and loyalty to that law might just lead to rejection of the Messiah.

His mischaracterization of modern Judaism’s Reform, Conservative and Orthodox practitioners is at best hilarious. I dare say there are no readers of this blog unaware that atheism, agnosticism, and faithfulness to the rites and traditions of Judaism may be found in any of the branches he names, and that his mischaracterization of the Jewish community betrays an ignorance that could only have been nurtured in isolation from the very communities he seeks to describe. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are talking about!”

He is appalling in his explicit and implicit polarized presentation of religious Judaism and its leaders as being “implacably at enmity with Jesus as the promised Christ or Messiah. The rejection of that identification is what motivated the Jewish leaders to seek Jesus’ death in the first place.” So here we have it: the Jews are anti-Christ and in fact Christ killers. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?

I am sixty-one, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a mixed neighborhood [Jews and non-Jews]. I dare say there are not many men of my age and background who missed being beaten up and/or insulted as Christ killers. And of course, in the European Jewish experience, the words were soaked in blood and buried in ash. This legacy of contempt, what shall we say about it? We can never say enough.

Suffice it to say, that despite his earlier paragraph decrying anti-Semitism, these references to Jewish leaders’ implacable hostility to Christ and their having him killed, this monolithic polarized portrayal of the Jews as hostile to Christ, and enemies of the gospel, is downright medieval. As with Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck and his report of how he would feel bone weary when in the presence of deep evil, I find myself weary as I write this. This position is dark and depressing.

Although I have chosen to not identify the author of these canards, I can tell you that he is highly educated and has held the highest positions in his theological world. For that reason I am especially astounded at his blatant misuse of Scripture.

While it is true that Paul, in describing his own biography, mentions how zealous he had been for the traditions of his fathers, nowhere in his writings or in all of the Newer Testament do find an indication that he had abandoned that way of life. In fact, he takes explicit steps to indicate the contrary when he makes his trip to Jerusalem recorded in Acts 21.

Our author is projecting here. Although Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles included his opposition of their taking on Torah obedience and Jewish piety as a means of communal inclusion in the people of God, arguing that the work of Messiah on their behalf was sufficient in that regard, Paul never hints in teaching or in living that Jews should live anything but Jewish lives. Because the author we are examining considers the Jewish way of life and the traditions of the Jewish people to be valueless and indeed spiritually obstructing, he assumes that the same was for Paul. He is writing about himself, not Paul.

The author continues to project his opinions, assuming and stating that Yochanan ben Zakkai had “hatred for Jesus,” and that this hatred persists to this day in the Jewish religious establishment. Where shall we begin here? First of all, there is not a scintilla of evidence that ben Zakkai had a personal hatred for Jesus. There is dispute as to whether the birkat ha-minim was aimed explicitly at Messianic Jews or not more widely at all those judged “sectarians” at a time when Judaism was regrouping after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. But even if that were not the case, our author personalizes the matter. Rather than seeing ben Zakkai as operating out of a desire to preserve Jewish communal cohesion in a time of almost unprecedented national crisis, he instead personalizes the matter and makes ben Zakkai and all of religious Jewish leadership to be Jesus haters.

That this is the way he sees all Jewish leaders and religious Jews is clear from his anecdote about his 1968 encounter with a New York rabbi at the Western Wall. When this rabbi walks away and says, “We Jews will never consider that man,” our author takes it as evidence of persisting Jewish antipathy to Christ. He has no sense of context, and finds it noteworthy that the man walked away “irritated.” Well, Mr Author, if the Jews had spent two thousand years claiming that the Christians killed Moses, [!!!], killing, pillaging, persecuting Christians, driving them from place to place, and eventually into the ovens of Auschwitz, Mr Author, is it possible you too might be a trifle “irritated”?

His reference to John 8:44 is a study in superficiality, such as the people who say, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” I counsel all of us to do a Google search of “John 8:44” “anti-Judaism,” both terms together, to begin to wade through just some of the debate and nuance surrounding this text and its context. For our author to simply take this as prima facie evidence of Jesus’ verdict that the Jews are Satan’s children is chilling in the extreme. No, it is downright scary. I would counsel all of us to immerse ourselves in a protracted study of the polemical contexts from which the Johannine literature emerged.

In talking with a world class Johannine scholar on these matters, she indicated to me that she is still struggling with how to rightly understand these texts in their own context and their application to our own. Too bad our author knows of no such reticence and interpretive struggle.

For those who might think I am too hard on our author, you may be right. I am a very quick on the trigger and reactive person. On the other hand, I find his quotation from Romans 11:28 to be confirmatory of all I have said in this posting. He evokes Paul as agreeing with his portrayal of Jesus’ alleged condemnatory verdict about the Jewish people, God forbid, and in doing so quotes half of a verse, grossly misinterpreting it, and pointedly omitting the second half of the verse which contradicts his misinterpretation!

Romans 11:28, the whole verse, says, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” The very next verse gives the true intent of the quote, which he likewise omits: "For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

Instead of taking this opportunity to affirm God’s love for and enduring calling upon the Jewish people, our author takes half of a verse and focuses on the Jews being enemies of the gospel. In Paul’s argument, this “enemy” status is mysterious and functional, it is the outworking of God’s overall saving love for Israel and also for the nations, for God has consigned all to disobedience that He might have mercy on all.

I will close then with this quotation from the end of the eleventh chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which contradicts and contrasts sharply with the dark picture painted by our miscreant author. May we instead walk in the light of Paul’s words, which begin by chiding his Gentile recipients concerning the anti-Jewish theological assumptions which our author has apparently failed to avoid:

25 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, 26 and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; 27 "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." 28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What's Wrong With This Picture?

My M.A. and PhD are in Intercultural Studies, which takes us into the realm of missiology--dealing with all things related to how one best deposits the leaven of the Kingdom of God as confirmed in Yeshua the Messiah into the dough of various cultures without abusing those cultures in any manner. Since I am currently writing a Messianic Jewish missiology text, it is probably important to demonstrate why we need one of our own, rather than the many that have already been written.

The reasons as very numerous indeed, and many of the postings on this blog touch upon some of the issues involved.

While browsing in a bookstore the other day, I came across a new missiology text by a prominent figure, who, for reasons soon to become obvious, shall remain nameless. Opening to the index, I looked for "Jews" and "Judaism" as is my wont. Finding a reference in the index, I opened to the corresponding pages in the book.

What I found was so appalling I have not let myself process the emotions that were kindled within me. I'll give you a hint: one of those emotions is rage.

Below is the entirety of the text on the Jews taken from this book. As when you were children, play this game: What is wrong with this picture? Find as many errors in fact about the Jews as you can , as many appalling statements about the Jews as you can, as many misinterpretatins of Scripture as you can. Detect an innuendo or two while you are at it. Then, if you care to, write a comment on this blog about what you found, indicating what you found to be wrong and why.

I will chime in with my own perceptions on Sunday, or later, depending on our traffic level.

Have at it!

Judaism as a term dates to Hellenistic times. It is used in only one passage in Scripture. In Galatians 1:14, Paul says that he was so zealous for the “traditions of his fathers” that he was advancing in Judaism above others of a similar age. The word Judaism (Ioudaismos) was comparatively new, but its “traditions” were old and its “faith” even older.

As Christians we owe so much to our Jewish forbears that it is hard to contemplate the idea that the Jewish faith constitutes enemy territory. Such an idea smacks of anti-Semitism, and there is not the slightest bit of room for that in biblical Christianity. As a follower of Christ, Paul says that to his Israelite kinsmen belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs. From their race, according to the flesh, came the Christ (Rom. 9:4-5).

But it is at the person of Christ that we part company. Later in the same chapter (Rom. 9:32-33) Paul quotes Isaiah and says that they "stumbled over the stumbling stone" (i.e., Christ). Judaism clung tenaciously to the law and summarily rejected Jesus as either Christ or Lord.

Judaism has changed markedly throughout the past two centuries. Today’s Jews are divided into groupings ranging from the outspoken atheists of Reform Judaism and uncommitted agnostics of Conservative Judaism to Orthodox Jews who are faithful to Jewish rites and rituals. Within this wide-ranging set of belief opinions, all are recognized as Jews. The only belief that brings exclusion from the Jewish community is that Jesus is the Messiah and Lord.

There are historical reasons for this insistence that Messianic believers must be pushed from the family but the chief reason is that the religious establishment has from the start been implacably at enmity with Jesus as the promised Christ or Messiah. The rejection of that identification is what motivated the Jewish leaders to seek Jesus’ death in the first place. Paul faced enmity because his gospel did not make room for the "traditions" (Gal. 1:14). By "traditions" he probably meant the additions to and interpretations of the law that would be collected and edited as the Mishna in about the year 200.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, opposition to Christians became intense due to the teachings of Yochanan ben Zakkai, a disciple of Rabbi Hillel. Gamaliel, who taught Paul, would have studied under Hillel at about the same time as Zakkai, who by all accounts lived to an extraordinarily old age of well over a hundred years and therefore exerted a long-lasting influence. Zakkai was leader of the first Jewish revelot and helped save Judaism from disintegrating by his efforts and the influence of his school in Jamnia.

Zakkai’s hatred for Jesus remains, reinforced by many centuries of mutual hostility and violence committed in the name of Christ. There is today a concerted effort to dispel the claims of Christ from serious consideration among the Jewish people [and here, parenthetically the author references Aryeh Kaplan, et al, “The Real Messiah,” and the pop-theology, Late Great Planet Earth type book by Philip N, Moore, “The End of History: The Messiah Conspiracy, Volume 1]. Never will I forget the response of an otherwise affable Jewish rabbi from New York as we conversed at the Western Wall in 1968. When the conversation turned to a consideration of the messiahship of Jesus, he suddenly became irritated. As he walked away angry he muttered, “We Jews will never considser that man!”

Any evangelism among Jews means an invasion of alien territory. Jesus said so when he faced Jewish leaders who laid claim to being Abraham’s children while rejecting Jesus himself. In one of his “hard sayings,” he said, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). Paul said something similar when writing to the Romans. He wrote, "As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake” (Rom. 11:28).

That’s bad news. But there is good news too. The unbelief of the Jews resulted in the gospel being preached to the Gentiles. And the acceptance of the gospel by Gentiles will someday eventuate in the salvation of all the Jews (Rom.11:11-12).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Centraility of Israel's God

(This is a a Sermon for Shabbat Vayikra presented April 1, 2005 Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It concerns a fundamental paradigm shift to which Scripture calls us, a shift in perpsective that changes everything).

It would do all of us a lot of good just take a few hours to go somewhere and sit and think about what it means to know God and to grow in the knowledge of the Holy One. I am not speaking here of thinking of theology alone. Rather, I am speaking of experience. But not that alone. I am speaking of how do we know that God is, and how do we know that we know Him? The problem is, of course, it doesn’t generally occur to most of us to make time for such an endeavor. We don’t know much about ourselves, nor do we live in a culture that encourages us to think about our relationship with God. So we trundle along with a bundle of half-formed or misshapen assumptions.

Today’s haftarah is striking, stunning, and instructive. In fact, it could change your life. At least it could change the way you look at your life. Today’s passage calls us all to a paradigm shift—to a quantum leap into an entirely new perspective—a perspective most of us have never before experienced.

This perspective is a world-view assumption in the Bible, but something we 21st century post-modern, post-Enlightenment people are apt to miss entirely. For want of a better explanation, “Post Enlightenment” refers to that mentality which began to spread in the 17th century, which sees man as the measure of all things. One of its major figures is Rene Descartes who, seeking to find a dependable still point at which to begin thinking, said, he could be sure of one thing: “cogito ergo sum”—I think, therefore I am. In other words, come what may, I can be sure of this—I am thinking at this moment and that means that there is a me doing the thinking. Therefore everything begins with the thinking person

But the perspective of the Bible is different—and this passage is striking for how it peels back the curtain and shows us this different biblical perspective. To the extent that we make it our own, this perspective changes absolutely everything we think and experience in all of life.

Before looking at this perspective, or rather, before beginning to look at everything else from this perspective, there is something that must be said. What is being offered us here is not simply a novel way of looking at things, if we have the time and inclination to do so. Rather, from the perspective of the Bible, this shift is a necessary revolution in our thinking: until we begin to see things from this perspective, we will both miss and misunderstand what life is all about.

So prepare yourself to consider something that wants to unseat your entire way of looking at things. And if this passage is right, then most all of us here are wrong about life most of the time—and we likely have been wrong in our perspective all of our lives, or very nearly so.

This perspectival change, this paradigm shift is simply this: we need to learn to see all of life from the vantage point of God being at the center. This means the center is not us, not our concerns, not our family, not our business, not our career, not our feelings or spirituality, not our thoughts, not even our salvation, not our faith, nor even our service to God. None of these things deserve to be central in our lives. Only God does. Only God deserves to be central in our lives.

The people I formed for Myself
That they might declare my praise
(Isaiah 43:21)

God formed Israel for Himself. That, in itself, is jarring. God did not form Israel just to bless us, because he wanted us to enjoy ourselves, because in his kindness he wanted to form a people, set them free, and watch them go run and play as he benevolently looked down on them from heaven’s window, nursing a Chai Tea Latte. We were created to serve a purpose identified by God: we were created to declare His praise. This is very self-centered of God. And whenever and however we fail to live for God’s pleasure, and fail to declare His praise—His praiseworthiness—to that extent, our lives are an exercise in thievery and misappropriation. Our lives become one massive embezzlement. And most people are like that. I know I am.

Isaiah continues reporting God’s indictment of Israel for the sin of making themselves central instead of Him.

Isaiah 42:22 But you have not worshiped Me, O Jacob,
That you should be weary of Me, O Israel.
23 You have not brought Me your sheep for burnt offerings,
Nor honored Me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with meal offerings,
Nor wearied you about frankincense.
24 You have not bought Me fragrant reed with money,
Nor sated Me with the fat of your sacrifices.

His point is a little complex. First of all, he says that the people’s inattentiveness to matters of worship is a symptom of their self-centeredness and the failure to give God his due. There is no way of getting around this. From God’s point of view, being too busy to get around to worshipping him is, dare I say it?—criminal, indictable, and narcissistic. It is a failure to give God his due, and a symptom of spiritual malaise.

Instead, you have burdened Me with your sins,
You have wearied Me with your iniquities.

Here is another symptom of our self-centeredness and failure to give God his due—our moral lives, our values, the way we think, act, live. When we live our lives without God at the center, our off-center lives weary God. Scripture also speaks of God being disgusted with us, nauseated by us, and eventually needing to chastise us with severe consequences. And all of these are the result of our self-centered living and failure to give unto the Lord the honor due His Name.

Such lives are inauthentic, off center, and a continual cheat.

But God is not only meant to be central in our living, thinking, and doing. From the point of view of the Bible, he is the central actor—the One who takes the initiatives that need to be taken. Read on.

25 It is I, I who — for My own sake —
Wipe your transgressions away
And remember your sins no more.
26 Help me remember!
Let us join in argument,
Tell your version,
That you may be vindicated.
27 Your earliest ancestor sinned,
And your spokesmen transgressed against Me.
28 So I profaned the holy princes;
I abandoned Jacob to proscription
And Israel to mockery.

Here it is Israel’s God who takes the initiative in dealing with our sins—in atoning for them, and in making us aware of them.

While we go blissfully along, unaware and uncaring that our lives are a monstrosity of self-serving inauthenticity, God takes care of business and helps clean up our mess. The Newer Covenant expresses it this way: “God commends his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners—and thus narcissistic rebels against God’s centrality—Messiah died for us. God gives His absolutely best to the absolute limit for his absolutely infuriating people.

The text goes on to report that this God, the God of Israel, not only accomplishes our redemption, but also our renewal—our restoration and refreshment.

Chapter 44
1 But hear, now, O Jacob My servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus said the Lord, your Maker,
Your Creator who has helped you since birth:
Fear not, My servant Jacob,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen,
3 Even as I pour water on thirsty soil,
And rain upon dry ground,
So will I pour My spirit on your offspring,
My blessing upon your posterity.
4 And they shall sprout like grass,
Like willows by watercourses.
5 One shall say, "I am the Lord's,"
Another shall use the name of "Jacob,"
Another shall mark his arm "of the Lord"
And adopt the name of "Israel."

And finally, the text goes on to make an extended comparison between God and idols—how the God of Israel is the unique one, the central one who takes the initiative. As we read this extended meditation on his uniqueness, his centrality, and his initiatives, consider this one question: What ought is our appropriate response?

6 Thus said the Lord, the King of Israel,
Their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts:
I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no god but Me.
7 Who like Me can announce,
Can foretell it — and match Me thereby?
Even as I told the future to an ancient people,
So let him foretell coming events to them.
8 Do not be frightened, do not be shaken!
Have I not from of old predicted to you?
I foretold, and you are My witnesses.
Is there any god, then, but Me?
"There is no other rock; I know none!"

9 The makers of idols
All work to no purpose;
And the things they treasure
Can do no good,
As they themselves can testify.
They neither look nor think,
And so they shall be shamed.

10 Who would fashion a god
Or cast a statue
That can do no good?
11 Lo, all its adherents shall be shamed;
They are craftsmen, are merely human.
Let them all assemble and stand up!
They shall be cowed, and they shall be shamed.

12 The craftsman in iron, with his tools,
Works it over charcoal
And fashions it by hammering,
Working with the strength of his arm.
Should he go hungry, his strength would ebb;
Should he drink no water, he would grow faint.

13 The craftsman in wood measures with a line
And marks out a shape with a stylus;
He forms it with scraping tools,
Marking it out with a compass.
He gives it a human form,
The beauty of a man, to dwell in a shrine.
14 For his use he cuts down cedars;
He chooses plane trees and oaks.
He sets aside trees of the forest;
Or plants firs, and the rain makes them grow.
15 All this serves man for fuel:
He takes some to warm himself,
And he builds a fire and bakes bread.
He also makes a god of it and worships it,
Fashions an idol and bows down to it!
16 Part of it he burns in a fire:
On that part he roasts meat,
He eats the roast and is sated;
He also warms himself and cries, "Ah,
I am warm! I can feel the heat!"
17 Of the rest he makes a god — his own carving!
He bows down to it, worships it;
He prays to it and cries,
"Save me, for you are my god!"

18 They have no wit or judgment:
Their eyes are besmeared, and they see not;
Their minds, and they cannot think.
19 They do not give thought,
They lack the wit and judgment to say:
"Part of it I burned in a fire;
I also baked bread on the coals,
I roasted meat and ate it —
Should I make the rest an abhorrence?
Should I bow to a block of wood?"
20 He pursues ashes!
A deluded mind has led him astray,
And he cannot save himself;
He never says to himself,
"The thing in my hand is a fraud!"

21 Remember these things, O Jacob
For you, O Israel, are My servant:
I fashioned you, you are My servant —
O Israel, never forget Me.
22 I wipe away your sins like a cloud,
Your transgressions like mist —
Come back to Me, for I redeem you.

23 Shout, O heavens, for the Lord has acted;
Shout aloud, O depths of the earth!
Shout for joy, O mountains,
O forests with all your trees!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
Has glorified Himself through Israel.

Our response ought to be at least the following:

Our first response ought to be to be reassured. God comforts us with the knowledge that He’s got things under control. He can and does take care of the things that concern us. Especially, in the matter of our sins—he knows all about our stuff and he has done what is necessary to take care of it out of gracious, generous, omnipotent love.

Our second response is to be grateful.

Our third response is to return to Him, to give to Him the centrality in our lives that he deserves. “Come back to Me, for I redeem you!”

Our fourth response should be worship—to give to the Lord the glory due His name. To worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. He is the God who created all, who chose us, who revealed Himself to Israel in His world, who spoke before times the things that were to be. He is incomparable, and deserves to have his worthiness admired and extolled. This is worship.

Our fifth response is a revolution of life—to live our lives from this new and true center. To cut out our narcissistic, self-centered living, to live instead with the biblical God at the center, by his rules, by His values, to live to please Him, to live to bring honor to Him and a smile to His face. In the words of the prophet—to be His servants.

On a moment by moment, day by day, decision by decision basis, what us central in your life? And when are you going to let God’s adequacy be your undeniable security?

And finally, notice today's passage from the Newer Covenant, Matthew 4:1-11. Notice how Yeshua got this precisely right, how, in this encounter with the Evil One, he doggedly stayed oriented to the centrality of God. Considering Isaiah's admonition, and Yeshua's example, how can we justify doing anything else and any less?

1 Then the Spirit led Yeshua up into the wilderness to be tempted by the Adversary. 2 After Yeshua had fasted forty days and nights, he was hungry. 3 The Tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, order these stones to become bread." 4 But he answered, "The Tanakh says, `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of ADONAI'" 5 Then the Adversary took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the Temple. 6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "jump! For the Tanakh says, `He will order his angels to be responsible for you. . . . They will support you with their hands, so that you will not hurt your feet on the stones.'" 7 Yeshua replied to him, "But it also says, `Do not put ADONAI your God to the test.'"h 8 Once more, the Adversary took him up to the summit of a very high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their glory, 9 and said to him, "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me." 10 "Away with you, Satan!" Yeshua told him, "For the Tanakh says, `Worship ADONAI your God, and serve only him.'" 11 Then the Adversary let him alone, and angels came and took care of him.