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Friday, February 25, 2011

take it off. take it all off!

I am in the middle of a social experiment.  I have almost entirely given up on wearing ties and "dressing up."  Don't get me wrong.  There are occasions when it is necessary like meeting the President of the United States or officiating a black-tie wedding (Shooster wedding in June!).  Other than a few occasions, I find dressing up to be exhausting.  Wearing a shirt tucked in and a tie is simply not comfortable and I like to be comfortable.  Yes, that includes Shabbat!

Some of you may be thinking, but aren't you a rabbi?  Don't rabbi's have to dress up?  To which I answer, why do rabbi's have to dress up?  It is been said to me often, "We offer our best to God and that's why we dress up on Shabbat."  To which I answer, "Why is my best a suit and tie?" And why does the idea that we must offer our best mean how we dress.

I once had a discussion with a congregant who did not believe in tithing from his paycheck to the synagogue but believed (deeply) that everyone should "offer their best" with what they wear to synagogue.  Similarly, recently I was told by someone that I was not a good example to his teenage son because I wear jeans on Shabbat.  I said to this man, sarcastically, "You're right, I love God and am serving Him with my whole life, I love my wife and my children and I am doing my best to love people. I think your ideas of what is a good example are pretty messed up."

Some say that dressing down is just a gimmick, but for me it is not a gimmick, it is an ideology.  In our everyday life we often face extra-biblical concepts that are not biblical at all.  The old saying "cleanliness is next to godliness" is a great example.  These words are not in the Bible but you would be surprised how many people treat the saying as if it is from God.  Truthfully, some things are just quotes from our mothers!  I don't believe God is more honored when we show up to synagogue in our best.  Not to mention, who's to say that jeans, a t-shirt, and chucks are not our best!?

Some of my friends in ministry have said to me recently, "Seattle is the perfect place for you because everyone dresses down."  True.  It does make the experiment easier, but I don't think the city matters.  People matter, and in my generation I think there is a desire for deep authenticity.  I am not saying no one should dress up ever again.  I am saying it is not for me.  I think I represent myself better when I am just being me and being me means I am a little different than your average rabbi.

I have also been told that "dressing down will not work in Jewish ministry."  And here is where the social experiment comes in to play.  I am not sure wether that statement is true or not but I am determined to figure it out.  Some have said, "dressing down works in the church but not in the synagogue" and I see this statement as a challenge.  Forty years ago it didn't work for the church either.  It took a few leaders who challenged the idea that dressing up and ministry are synonymous, and they challenged that idea and now there are thousands of "dress down" churches reaching millions of people with the Jewish Messiah.

"But Matt," you say, "being a Rabbi is a profession and dressing up means you are a professional."  Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and plenty of others have handled this kind of statement in their spheres of influence.  Titles and the way we dress does not make someone "professional."  I believe that I am good at what I do (improvement is always the goal).  The work should speak for itself.

It takes all kinds of people to reach all kinds of people.  Those who dress up will reach those who dress up.  Those who dress down will reach those who dress down.  I believe there are plenty of Jewish people who are hungry for the truth of God's word that are not interested in wearing ties or dressing up.  I believe there is a place in this world for rabbi's and synagogues that dress down.  Not as a gimmick.  Not based on location.  But, based on a desire to see people from all kinds of backgrounds return back to their creator: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In Messianic circles our leaders are often talking about reaching the next generation and growing leaders from the next generation.  I think dressing down speaks to my generation and I believe that my generation is full of awesome, God-loving men and women who are ready to do awesome things for the kingdom of God.  I also believe that there are many in the generations ahead of us who are holding young people back because we don't look like them.  I know there are leaders out there that embrace young people for who they are but our movement is in desperate need of more leaders that will let us lead along side of them.  Even leaders that will allow young people to lead them (jeans and all)!

It is the responsibility of each generation to translate the Jewish message of our Jewish Messiah into the generation of which they are a part.  We should not force one generation to look like the other (which is why I am NOT saying that older Rabbi's should dress down or that every young rabbi should either).  We should be able to work, dream, accomplish and share stages together so that we can do the work of presenting the message of Yeshua our Messiah with compassion, love, grace and truth.  That translates to all people of every generation.

Just remember, "cleanliness is next to godliness!"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Presence of God

This past Shabbat my sermon was not recorded :(  The following blog is taken from my sermon notes.  I hope it is helpful and inspiring to those who are interested.


In Exodus 19 (from a few weeks ago), Moses and the children of Israel meet God at Mt Sinai.  It is a huge mountain and there is fire, smoke, a loud Shofar blast (that grows louder and louder), earthquakes, and lightning.  It is a fear-filled event for the children of Israel.  Not to mention that Moses went up there!  He is gone for 40 days and nobody knows how he could ever come down from there.  Yet, for Moses, it is quiet and calm as he sits in the presence of a mighty God.  It is much like a hurricane.  The outside is treacherous; but if you can find the "eye of the storm" there is calmness and peace.

In Matthew 17, Yeshua takes three of his disciples and reveals to them His divinity.  The event is similar to Mt Sinai in that there is smoke (a cloud), fire, and a loud voice (of God speaking).  Peter, James and John find themselves just as afraid as the children of Israel were at Mt Sinai.  Even Moses is there! along with Elijah!  Yeshua encourages his disciples to "not be afraid."

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The presence of God is a scary, frightening place on the outside; but, if we choose to live in the presence of God, then the Lord will provide everything that we need.  We have the opportunity to “go boldly before the throne of grace.” God’s presence is the place of rest, the eye of the storm, the place of safety in the this time of fear and turmoil.  But the fire, and the cloud and the earthquakes make us afraid to enter the presence of God.  Once we step in though, it is the safest and most fulfilling place to be.  There is always craziness in my life.  And when the craziness comes, that is when I need His presence most.  God invites us not just to enjoy His presence when it is necessary; but to make our residence there and live in His presence all of the time. 

In this weeks Torah Portion (Terumah) God says, “They are to make me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them.” (Exodus 25:8) and that  “You are to make it according to everything I show you — the design of the tabernacle and the design of its furnishings. This is how you are to make it.” (vs 9)  The design is important because He wants us to understand a few things.

The deeper one goes into the tabernacle, the more precious the material and stones. Why?  Because God wants us to value His presence.  The word Mishkan (tabernacle in Hebrew) and the word for Glory (Sheckinah) come from the same root word.  Because the Tabernacle is where God's glory rests. 

In the Messianic Writings, Hebrews 8:5, the writer reminds us, "But what they are serving is only a copy and shadow of the heavenly original; for when Moshe was about to erect the Tent, God warned him, “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern you were shown on the mountain.”  Some people take the words "copy" and "shadow" to mean "no longer needed."  But, they miss the importance of the progressive revelation of the God of Israel.  We can't enter into God's presence without blood.  Without a sacrifice we cannot enter into God's presence.  Not because God is afraid of us or because God's presence can't handle us.  But because we, as sinners, cannot stand in the presence of God.  His presence eradicates darkness.   It is only by the blood of our Messiah that we can enter in.  

What is so amazing about Yeshua is that He is all three parts of the sacrificial system in one.  The God (whom we offer sacrifice to), the High priest (who offers the sacrifice), and the sacrifice (whose blood brings atonement).  Yeshua is pretty awesome!  In John 1:14, the scripture literally says that Yeshua came “to dwell in a tent with us”.  He "tabernacled" among us.  He came to live in our presence so we could understand how to live in His.

In Revelation 21:3, John writes, "I heard a loud voice from the throne say, 'See! God’s Sh’khinah is with mankind, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and He Himself, God-with-them, will be their God.'"  God came to live with us so that we could understand how to live with Him!  And so we could understand that He wants to live in us and work through us!

Like Yeshua said to His disciples, I say to you, "do not be afraid!"  The presence of God is a scary place on the outside but through the blood of Yeshua we can get through the scary stuff and right into the eye of the storm.  We have the opportunity to “go boldly before the throne of grace” everyday because of the sacrifice of Yeshua.

So enter into God’s presence and stay there!! LIVE THERE!!  His desire is to live among us and to make it our desire to live with Him!!  There is no better place for anyone to be!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

love what you do!

I have been apart of what we call "The Messianic Movement" my entire life.  When I was five weeks old my parents, along with my older brother (three years old), drove across the country from Ashland, Oregon to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  We drove across the country to participate in one of the few Messianic Jewish Congregations in the whole world, Beth Yeshua.

Back in February of 2010 I came out to Seattle to find an apartment for my family as we began the process of moving from Maryland to Washington State.  At Thirty years old I took my family on a journey across the country to follow God where He was leading us.  On this particular trip I went to a Bar Mitzvah in San Diego first.  So, on my way to Seattle I had to stop in San Francisco.  Because of this particular path I found myself flying over Oregon on my way to Seattle.  I saw Mt. Hood and Crater Lake (I even took pictures from the plane with my iPhone).

It struck me as I was flying that God was doing an awesome thing for me as His child.  I realized that God was in our move and that God was with us because I could have never planned that at Thirty years old God would bring me back to the northwest.  At around the same age that my parents were when they left.  With children around the same age that my brother and I as we drove.  Passing the place that my parents have told me about my whole life but I had not seen with my own eyes.  Not as a baby (in a basket in the back of a station wagon) but as a grown man.  Not as a son, but as a dad.  Not without purpose, but to grow a Messianic Synagogue.

Since about the age of ten I have wanted to be a Messianic Rabbi.  I was a Rabbi in New York for a few years and then in Maryland for ten months.  As I approach a year of being in Seattle, I am really excited for all that God is doing in me and at Beit Messiah.  My heart is full, my eyes are set on the goal of reaching my people and my feet are hitting the ground doing the work of my heart and eyes.

I am convinced that God is doing awesome things here in Seattle!  I am in such an amazing place because my dreams are coming true and the purposes that God put on my heart when I was a boy are becoming reality.  I am entirely passionate about my job.  I am excited to participate in God's plan for my life.  I love what I do, I love my family, I love my Synagogue.  I can't wait to look back on these years and talk of all the awesome things God did!

Do you love what you do?
Are you passionate about your job?
Are you where God wants you?

If your answer to these questions are yes? Praise God!
If your answer to these questions is no?
maybe you should consider stopping what you are doing and going after the things God has called you too.  hard? yes. scary? you better believe it.  worth it? see above :)

His plans for you are good.  He wants you to love and be passionate about what you are doing with your life.  Find Him and let Him bring you into your purpose!