When was the last time you were ministered to?

When was the last time you were ministered to?

I mean, when was the last time -- and be honest with yourself at least! -- God used other people to build you up, strengthen you, encourage you?

Or is your religious life composed primarily of telling other people how wrong they are, chiding people for incorrect theology, and complaining about how better things could be if only people adopted your view of things?

I help run a Messianic congregation and it can be tiring. I am grateful to God for the opportunity to minister to others, I consider it an honor to lead people in worshiping God, to encourage other people in service to the Lord, to spur people on to have a growing edge of Messiah faith.

But ministry for years and years is draining! And sometimes, you need to be ministered to. Sometimes you need receive ministry. I love leading other people in worshiping God at my congregation, but sometimes I want someone else to lead. Sometimes I want to worry less about what chords I'm playing next, and focus more on performing a full brain- and heart-dump to God. (I'm sure there's a more sophisticated theological term than ‘heart-dump’, but I digress. :-))

Occasionally, I want to not worry about planning music, teachings, sending out congregation emails, planning events and booking guest speakers, handling rent and donations and congregation website and responding to emails and hosting gatherings and all the things that come with running a congregation. Sometimes I want to receive ministry, too.

I was ministered to at Beth Immanuel last night

That's what happened last night. I was ministered to, and it felt great. It was like a refueling of the soul. I visited Beth Immanuel during a Wednesday night service and I was ministered to as my buddies Troy Mitchell and Simon de la Pena sang some old Christian songs for the Lord.

(For the uninitiated, Beth Immanuel is the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) congregation; their leaders work for FFOZ, and FFOZ holds their annual conferences at Beth Immanuel.)

Daniel Lancaster, the leader, spoke about Messiah's ascension – traditionally taking place on this day, the 40th day of counting the omer – encouraging us with the knowledge that Yeshua has ascended to the right hand of God, and we too will be raised up with him and seated with the Lord.

Armed with this knowledge, and knowing that God is causing everything – peoples, theologies, ideas, philosophies, nations – to come under submission to Israel's Messiah per Psalm 110 – with this knowledge, we the disciples of Yeshua have little to fear or be discouraged about. After all, we will be seated with the Maker of All Things, the Creator and Divine Engineer, the Master. From that perspective, the troubles of life are small beans.

After the service, we shared some food and drinks, spoke with a few folks in their community. I got a chance to speak with Aaron Eby, which is always a pleasure. Aaron's a sharp Messianic mind. He explained his upcoming teaching on halachic theory and worldview, the things which drive our Torah practice. We talked about the 10 commandments, Dennis Prager, and congregation life. Aaron and I share a love of technology, so of course we talked some software nerd crap. Smile

Meanwhile Troy Mitchell played some niggunim and old Jewish tunes in the room while we were eating. Soon, the whole room was thumping on tables, clapping, stomping feet, singing loud with one voice. HINEH MAH TOV U'MA NAIM! It was so loud at one point, my ears actually hurt from the loud voices singing in unison in the small side room.

Just then, Aaron stood up and announced a special guest who arrived rather unexpectedly: Rabbi Joshua Brumbach of Ahavat Zion, one of the oldest Messianic congregations in the United States. The rabbi was passing through Minneapolis, his flight was delayed, so he took an Uber ride to join us for the night. Ha! A divine appointment. Brumbach said a few words to the group, and later that night, he asked if anyone could drive him back to his hotel.

I volunteered, as it was on the way home. But really, I wanted a chance to chat him up. Smile We had spoken over our blogs for the last several years – often times, speaking for myself, via barbed discussions over our differences in Messianic theology – but we had never met in person. This would be an interesting car ride. Smile

Well, I drove him back to his hotel and we chatted about life, the ups and downs of running a congregation, our wives, humanitarian efforts, Israel, and even a little technology. Turns out, Rabbi Brumbach is a really down-to-earth sort of guy. I regret wasting so much time arguing with him over the years.

I have come to realize the FFOZ guys and the UMJC guys aren't my competition. They have a different calling, and I don't see eye-to-eye with them, sure. (Particularly regarding gentiles and Torah.) But they aren't my competition. They are my brothers who love Messiah and love Torah. And they're doing the best they can. I can learn from them. They can learn from me. My congregation is not in competition with Beth Immanuel. We are two instruments in an ensemble playing a single holy symphony, each a different sound complementing the other. Together, it brings glory to God. Speaking with Rabbi Brumbach, he agreed there was a need for both our roles and voices in the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots worlds.

After all of this, I got home around 1am. I should be tired right now, but instead I woke up this morning feeling refreshed. A bit of spiritual renewal is good for the soul. I feel strengthened, built-up, encouraged. It is good to be ministered to. And now, this shabbat, I will pass that ministering and that encouragement on to my congregation.

Being ministered to is good for your spiritual wellbeing. When was the last time you were ministered to?

A Messianic perspective on the 4 cups of Passover

Shalom fine Kineti reader, and chag sameach. Here are some notes I jotted tonight for the significance of the 4 cups of Passover for Messianic believers. I hope you enjoy!

-Judah

imageWhy do we drink the 4 cups of Passover?

The Jewish people have several traditions around the 4 cups. One prominent tradition is that the 4 cups correspond to the 4 “I will…” statements of Exodus 6:

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will save you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.  I will take you to be my people

We take these 4 cups remembering the works of God, aspects of his saving Israel, facets of his salvation:

  1. “I will bring you out” – sanctification
  2. “I will save you” – deliverance
  3. “I will redeem you” – redemption
  4. “I will take you as My people” – restoration

We also take these 4 cups in remembrance of Messiah. At Passover, Messiah commands us to “do this in remembrance of Me” – but what are we remembering about Messiah?

  1. Messiah calls us to be holy – sanctification – by living the life of a disciple.
  2. Messiah has saved us from sin – deliverance – through the shedding of his blood.
  3. Messiah has redeemed mankind, as the prophet Isaiah spoke “the righteous one, my servant, shall make many accounted righteous, because he poured out his soul to death and bore the sin of many.” Through Messiah pouring out his blood, God redeemed from every nation a people for himself.
  4. The coming Messianic Era, the Kingdom of Heaven, is the restoration of the world, in which there is only one nation – the Kingdom of God – with one king, the Messiah.

Cup 1: Sanctification

“I will take you out…”

With this first cup we remember God pulling Israel out of the nations and setting them apart from the world.

We remember how God took a bunch of nobody slaves and called them to be distinct from the nation they were living in. He took people that were suffering and dissolving and disappearing, he listened to their cries for help, and responded to their cries, “I will take you out!”

This separate-ness – called sanctification – is why God blessed Israel but judged Egypt. This separate-ness is why God sent plagues on idolaters, but peace and safety to His people. This separateness is why God killed the firstborn of Egypt, but gave life and deliverance to his people Israel.

When we drink this cup of sanctification, we remember the Messiah, who called us to the difficult and life-long path of a disciple: separate from the world, distinct from sinful people, a higher calling of discipline and obedience and service to God.

We remember that Messiah has taken us out of the world, as it’s written, “Do not love the world, or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes are not of the Father, but of the world. And the world and all of these lusts are passing away. But the one that does the will of God abides forever and ever.”

God has called each person in this room to live a holy life. Not one that is so like the world, that we’re indistinguishable from unbelievers. But a life marked by holiness, characterized by shalom, distinguished by obedience to God’s commandments, filled up with the fruit of the Spirit and producing good works for God and the Messiah who sanctifies us.

Cup 2: Deliverance

“I will save you…”

Have you ever experienced a difficult time in your life? Maybe you’re struggling with depression, battling addictions, barely surviving a fight-filled marriage?

In such times, we call out to God for help. We’re at the end of what we can humanely do. We don’t know how else to fix the situation. “God, help me, I don’t know what else to do!”

This is what the people of Israel did in Egypt. Being worked to death in a burning desert for hundreds of years, people were losing hope. At that point, all of God’s promises must have seemed ridiculous. That old promise that God would make them into a great nation must have seemed entirely laughable, a fairy tales you tell to children, but not a tangible reality.

Then, God intervened. Then, God performed a divine reversal. Instead of a forgotten people dying in a desert, God puts on a show of divine power, his right arm bared for everyone to see, miracles worked one after another, judgment brought on the captors, release and favor on the captives. This was the salvation of Israel that was to be remembered for generations to come, this was the deliverance of God’s people that became etched throughout the Scriptures, ingrained even in the 10 commandments which begin, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, and delivered you from the land of slavery.”

Had God not delivered them at that time, there would have been no Exodus from Egypt, no commandments given to Israel, no land of Israel, no prophets of Israel, no books of the Bible, no kings of Israel, no King David, and if not David, then no son of David, the Messiah, and if no Messiah, no disciples, no disciples, and we wouldn’t be here today.

As we drink this cup of deliverance, let’s remember that God came through, he didn’t disappoint, and made good on his promise to deliver Israel. Let’s remember that God sent the Messiah, his own Son, who delivers us from sin; we no longer need to be slaves to sin, because we have repentance leading to forgiveness of sin in Yeshua’s name. We will overcome even the difficult circumstances because God will deliver us, as Messiah encouraged us saying, “Have no fear, have no fear, I have overcome the world!”

Let’s remember and trust and believe that every man who puts his trust in the Lord will not be disappointed, but will see in his own life God’s complete and total deliverance.

Cup 3: Redemption

“I will redeem you…”

The idea of redemption is foreign to us in the 21st century. We might redeem a coupon code, or talk about a person’s sole redeeming quality, but we otherwise don’t deal in redemption.

To redeem something is to regain it in exchange for payment. To buy back something. To repurchase or win back something.

God is in the redemption business. God is called the Redeemer of Israel repeatedly in the Torah and in the psalms and in the in the prophets. In this 3rd Passover cup, the cup of redemption, we remember that God redeemed Israel from slavery, reclaiming his people for himself through what the Scriptures call an outstretched arm – God’s power on display through repeated miracles for Israel and plagues against Egypt.”

This 3rd cup is the cup that our Master Yeshua also said, “This is the cup of the b’rit hachadasha (new covenant, new agreement, new deal), ratified by my blood, which is poured out for you.”

This new covenant, this new deal was an agreement in which God agreed that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, spared from sin and death and judgment.

Yeshua said this 3rd cup, the cup of redemption, is the cup of the new covenant, the cup of his blood poured out for humanity.

His blood being poured out was what made this new deal possible. Isaiah spoke in advance of Messiah’s coming, foretelling that God’s righteous servant – the Messiah – will justify many people before God. This new deal was made possible by God laying on Messiah the guilt of humanity, that by his being beaten, bruised, and whipped, and speared, and nailed to a tree, Messiah’s shed blood will redeem mankind. This is the blood of the new covenant, the cup of redemption that we are about to drink.

The book of Hebrews puts it this way: the priests in the Temple offering sacrifices and appearing before God’s presence is an earthly shadow of a heavenly reality: Messiah shedding his perfect blood, cleaning us of our sin and appearing before God on our behalf. Through Messiah’s shed blood, he took on himself the sins of many, becoming God’s Salvation and God’s Redemption.

And because of this Messiah, we are all here today. Because of the merit of Messiah’s life and the pouring out of his blood, God has purchased from all nations a people for himself, a people who once were not a people. We, the billions of believers who call on the name of the God of Israel, have been redeemed by God, purchased through the precious blood of his own son, the spotless Passover lamb, to him be the glory forever!

Cup 4: Restoration

“I will take you as My own people…”

The hope we have as disciples of Yeshua is the hope promised in the Scriptures: God is restoring all things to their pristine state, turning evil on its head, rewarding the righteous, setting things straight.

Are you distraught at how wicked and sinful people are today? Don’t worry, God will bring every evil act of men into judgment. Do you see confusion among secular people, in the media, and even in the church? God promises he will seal up the deceiver, cast him in the lake of fire, and Satan will no longer be able to deceive the nations. Are you ill? God has promised that when the Kingdom of Heaven arrives, disease will be taken away. Are you suffering? God will wipe every tear from your eye, remove pain and suffering. Are you old and frail? God will raise you up in the last day, give you a new immortal body, and you will reign with him from Jerusalem.

In this final cup of Passover, the cup of Restoration, we remember that God kept his promise to restore Israel. It was seemingly impossible – the sons of Abraham to whom God has promised a nation and a great people had been reduced to a lowly group of slaves subject to a harsh master, a disorganized and bickering people dying through forced labor in the desert.

God came through and restored the people to the glory he promised them. Abraham’s seed, the Jewish people, saw God at work, restoring his people to their honored state as kings and priests of God, making a reality his promise of a great nation through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. That nation and that people are still alive today as a testament to God’s faithfulness.

It’s important we remember this restoration! In the 1800s, even many of the Jewish people forgot that God is serious about restoration. After nearly 2000 years of being a disorganized, disunited people outside of the land God promised, one of the major branches of Judaism decided God wouldn’t restore the land after all; the Jewish people would never return to the land of Israel, never again to be a nation. That branch of Judaism decided to remove from the siddur all prayers mentioning Israel, Zion, Jerusalem.

The Christian world, too, discarded God’s promise of restoration, with one Vatican official writing in the early 1920s that God has “forever cursed the Jewish people to be nomads without a homeland.”

But, to the surprise of even the religious, God didn’t forget his promise of restoration. On May 14th of 1948, the nation of Israel was reborn, the Jewish exile ended, the land of Israel brought forth fruit again, and the Hebrew language was restored.

God is in the business of restoration, even in the modern age, yes, even in this generation.

In the last 20 years, we have seen a renaissance of disciples of Yeshua who love the Torah, look at God’s commandments as holy and good and righteous. That you are here today, celebrating Passover on the other side of the planet from where Messiah lived, 2000 years after his day – this too is a testament to God at work, God restoring what once was and what will soon be in the Messianic Era.

This final cup of Passover Yeshua our master did not drink. He said, “I will not drink of this cup until it finds its fullness in the Kingdom of Heaven”, that day when God wipes every tear from our eyes, when he takes away suffering and pain, causes death itself to die, resurrects his loved ones, all of his holy, faithful children reigning with him, bringing to earth a new earth, a new heaven and a new Jerusalem. Then Messiah’s name Immanuel – God with us – will have its full meaning when God dwells with mankind and restores creation itself, making all things new.

Chag sameach!

Purim: 5 unusual lessons for Yeshua's disciples

Classic repost: I wrote this article just prior to Purim 2014 while examining the book of Esther. Enjoy!

Mordechai in the streets of Persia

Purim is here this weekend, and it's good to remember and celebrate God's deliverance of Israel. Some obvious ones: It’s intriguing to see anti-Semitism's deep roots in humanity, going back to 450 years before Messiah. It's interesting to note how God is not mentioned by name – yet is entirely present – in Esther.

But these things we’ve heard before.

What I want to you show you today is 5 unusual things that stood out to me as I read Esther this morning. Deeper things worthy of amplifying to Yeshua’s disciples.

The Jewish people are still central in God's plans

The book of Esther at first saw resistance from joining the Christian Bible as canon. Some saw it as "too Judaizing." Martin Luther, too, found he could never reconcile with this book. Esther amplifies the Jewish people to a point that made the Church fathers uncomfortable.

The amplification of the Jewish people is unmistakably present in Esther. Even Mordechai's famous plea to Esther drips in saturation with this theme, his statements thoroughly certain of divine protection for the Jewish people:

"If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

As a follower of Israel's Messiah, I believe that Jews and non-Jews have equal access to God and are joined together in the family of Israel.

Even so, it does not and cannot erase the special calling God has for the Jewish people, the natural branches of Israel. This should be evident in Paul's declaration that if Israel has experienced a temporary hardening of heart towards Messiah, with the result of the salvation of the nations, the Jewish people's return to the Jewish Messiah will be like life from the dead.

Let me repeat that so that you don’t skim over it as religious jargon: The Jewish people returning to the Jewish Messiah will be like life from the dead, and no amount of gentiles coming to faith in Israel’s God will change that.

Even Messiah's own words count Jerusalem and the Jewish people as the gatekeepers of Messiah, his arrival hinging on Israel's acceptance of "Baruch haba b'shem Adonai!”

For those of us in the Hebrew Roots world, we must be cognizant of this reality. Gentiles grafting into the commonwealth of Israel does not negate the special promises God has for the Jewish people. It doesn’t mean gentiles are worse than Jews, but rather, God has a distinct plan for the salvation of the Jewish people.

Those who joined Israel became Jews

This is a particularly controversial thing to say in light of the state of the modern Messianic movement. One group believes they join to Israel through loving Israel's God, Messiah, and Torah. Another group says one must undergo ritual circumcision, at which point, one is a Jew. Yet another group believes it is part of the lost tribes of Israel.

In Esther, towards the end of the book, we read something often omitted from modern Esther retellings. In those days, when the Jewish people were granted this divine reversal of fortunes, "many people from all nationalities joined them and became Jews."

We are not told what "becoming a Jew" in the 4th century BC entailed. But we do know that these people who joined the Jews became Jews themselves. The Biblical command mandating the celebration of Purim mentions this people:

The Jews resolved and took upon themselves, their descendants and all who might join them that without fail they would observe these two days [Purim] in accordance with what was written in [this book] and at the appointed time, every year; and that these days would be remembered and observed throughout every generation...

It reminds me of the Exodus, in which a multitude of non-Israelites joined Israel and identified with her. Hebrew Roots and Messianic gentiles are in this same boat: joining to the Jewish people and standing with Israel.

Does this mean Messiah-following gentiles should convert to Judaism and become Jews? I don’t think so. God's intention isn't for everyone to be a Jew. God has plans for gentiles, too, plans that in their fruition have seen billions of non-Jews turn to Israel’s God through Israel’s Messiah. (Hallelu!)

But it does suggest that joining Israel is a deeper thing than many in the Messiah-following world make it out to be. It is more than Torah observance. It is more than love for Israel's God through Israel's Messiah. It is more than love for Jewish people. At the very least, it is helping and supporting the natural branches of Israel in physical and tangible ways. Aligning oneself with Israel in thought and deed.

Are we really joined to Israel? I don’t think so, not in tangible ways that Jews recognize. That needs to be fixed.

God can use people with pagan names

It feels silly to have to say something that should be so obviously true. And yet, I have to say it because of silliness in our religion.

Artist's rendition of EstherThe name Esther likely comes from the name of a pagan goddess. (The same one that Easter comes from.)

Mordechai likely comes from the phrase, "follower of Marduk", also a pagan god.

While these names were likely given to these Jews by their captors, you don't see Esther and Mordechai waxing indignant over it. There were bigger fish to fry.

So many in the Messianic and Hebrew Roots world concern themselves -- perhaps too much --  with perceived pagan influences. Still others are caught up in names, especially names for God. Some people refuse to worship God unless a particular name is (or isn’t) used. (Can Hebrew Roots folks worship when we adore ‘HaShem’? Can Messianic Judaism folks agree when ‘Yahweh’ is praised and thanked? I can already sense your panties getting bunched up.)

And some religious friends change their given name in order to appear more religious, or to reflect their identity.

I understand why, and yet, here we have Esther and Mordechai, two names of likely pagan origin, and yet names are of little concern in Esther. There were bigger issues to tackle then, and so it is now.

It should be obvious to us that God uses people even if they don't have religious names.

And yes, God can use people even if their names are pagan in origin.

God can use people who do not fit the religious mold

Many of the pioneers and founders of the modern state of Israel were secular, agnostic, or even atheist.

Photo of Theodore HerzlTheodore Herzl, the 19th century founder of Zionism, was agnostic. His opposition? The religious.

Herzl visited many nations and diplomats in hopes to garner support for a Jewish state in Palestine. When he approached the Pope and the Catholic Church, the Pope refused, saying that unless Jews converted to Christianity, the Church would not support a Jewish state.

Herzl saw opposition even among his own people. Certain European Orthodox Jewish communities opposed Herzl and his plan for a Jewish state in Palestine. They erroneously believed that only messiah could restore the Jewish people to Israel.

Religious people stood in the way of God's plans for the creation of the modern State of Israel.

Photo of Eliezer Ben YehudaAnd in that same generation, Eliezer Ben Yehuda moved to Israel nearly a century before its founding and pushed for the resurrection of the Hebrew language. His major opponent? Jerusalem's ultra-Orthdox community. They opposed Ben Yehuda's Hebrew-only newspaper, HaZvi, eventually shutting it down after a year of fierce opposition. Restoring the holy language to a common tongue was a grave sin, you see.

Again, it was religious people who stood in the way of divine mandate.

Photo of David Ben GurionIsrael's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, was by most accounts an agnostic or Jewish atheist. It was through his leadership Israel survived its first decade, a perilous decade characterized by repeated invasions from the Islamic world, motivated by the same anti-Semitic spirit that motivated Haman.

Ben Gurion received little help from the ultra-religious. While the nascent Jewish state was fighting for its very existence, the ultra-religious sought exemption from military service in order to continue religious school. (A decision that is being overturned as I write this post.)

I tell you all these things to drive a point back to Esther and Mordechai.

In the book of Esther, like the founding of the State of Israel, God is hidden, and yet thoroughly present. And his work is accomplished through means religious people do not expect. Sometimes, it is religious people who are opposing God. Perhaps God used secular people because their ears were not so clogged by theology and dogma.

We view Esther and Mordechai as righteous individuals today, even though we know little about their faith life. And what we do know of them isn't exactly a perfect picture of religious life. Both were engaged with a pagan nation, working in the government of an idolatrous imperial power, eating at treif banquets held by a pagan king.

Heck, Esther was wed to a pagan gentile! And if that weren't enough, she was a WOMAN! You know, those people that Judaism restricts from singing, wearing tallits, or carrying Torah scrolls at the Western Wall.

(And – be honest – how many of us religious people would balk at the idea of our daughter marrying a pagan leader? Perhaps it was for this reason Esther was an orphan!)

Religious people balk at such things, and yet God accomplished his purposes despite the circumstances. Sometimes, religion can get in the way of us seeing clearly the divine plan.

As Messiah’s disciples, let us be opened to the possibility that God is at work outside our niche, and can work through people who don’t fit the religious mold.

Revelation of truth in its due time

When Esther was to marry the king, she did not reveal her true identity as a daughter of Abraham. Had Esther strolled into the King's court announcing she was a Jewess, perhaps she may never have wed the king, and in return, never had the opportunity to save Israel.

Messiah's disciples can learn something from this. First, many of Yeshua's disciples wear their faith on their sleeve. I understand why, but sometimes it is a turn-off for people. If we instead showed kindness and service -- did good works without expectation of return -- and without worrying about pushing our belief in Messiah, it can yield good fruit.

Esther did reveal herself to the King -- but only when the time was right. This is an example for us as Yeshua's disciples. "Preach Messiah always, and if necessary, use words."

Lessons learned from Esther

  1. The Jewish people are still central to God’s plans. We can say with Mordechai’s boldness and confidence, “relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise”, regardless of the theological forecasts of the religious.
  2. Like in the days of Esther, many will attach themselves to Israel, and yet, God’s promises to the Jewish people are not cancelled.
  3. God works through unlikely people. Esther and Mordechai both took on names from the pagan world, worked and lived in a pagan culture, and yet God used them for good.
  4. God works in ways that often confounds the religious. Esther was not a model religious figure, and yet God used this unlikely soul to accomplish salvation for Israel.
  5. God’s timing is not our own. Religious people can often be blustering, impatient, angry, indignant…but Esther’s example is one of patience, fasting, quiet trusting. In this end, this is what swayed the pagan king.

Take in these lessons from Esther, fine Kineti reader, as you remember God’s faithfulness this Purim.