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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What the Heck is an Omer and Why Count 50 Days of Them?

The Days of the Omer (omer is a biblical measurement of grain) are so awesome but so many followers of Yeshua seem unaware of this awesomeness. Perhaps they are unaware because they have never heard of the Days of the Omer. Perhaps they are unaware because they include these days in their theology that teaches these things have been replaced by something new.  Perhaps they are unaware because they have never noticed these days in their Bibles.  
The Days of the Omer are commanded in the Torah as a period of fifty days that we count between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost).  In Leviticus 23:15-22 we find one of several places that give instruction for these important days.  They are a part of the harvest celebrations which include Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall).  Each of these holidays celebrate different parts of the harvest that God has given His people.   Most followers of Yeshua have heard of Passover and have participated in some kind of Passover Seder but many have never heard of Shavuot or Sukkot.  It is an interesting phenomenon because all three are so important in Scripture.  
Often it is said that Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is the most important day on the Jewish calendar but this is simply not true.  The most important day on the Jewish calendar happens to fall once a week and is called Shabbat.  Following Shabbat the three harvest festivals are the only holy days which require a visit to Jerusalem to bring an offering of thanks to the Lord.  Then comes Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
The importance of Pesach and Shavuot is underscored by all that God has done for His people during these days.  Pesach is all about freedom: freedom from Egypt -- freedom from sin and death.  In the Torah, the exodus of Israel from Egypt takes place during Pesach. In the New Testament, the death and resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) takes place during Pesach. 
Following Pesach and during the counting of the Days of the Omer, there are so many wonderful events: the parting of the sea of reeds, the giving of manna from heaven and the providing of quail from the East. Yeshua appears resurrected to His disciples during these same days. He appears to Peter, Thomas, John and over 500 witnesses that saw Him alive after He was put to death (a period of forty days, Acts 1:3).  One of the most important days on the Jewish calendar (and most unrecognized) is the fortieth day of Omer. This is the day that our Messiah Yeshua ascended into heaven to take His place at the right hand of God! This is the day that Yeshua, Who humbled Himself by coming lower than the angels and in a human body, takes His sacrifice to the real Holy of Holies. The real Holy of Holies that the Tabernacle and Temple were only copies or "shadows" of.  This is the day that Yeshua took His place as victor over sin and death, as King of Kings and as Lord of Lords.  The fortieth day of Omer is an awesome day!
All through the fifty days of Omer all of Judaism prepares itself for the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai on Shavuot.  As a Messianic community we are also preparing for the receiving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) given on the very same day, Shavuot, as recorded in Acts 2. What is typically understood as the start of the "church" is actually a bunch of Jewish people following the commandment to be in Jerusalem to bring free will offerings to the Temple on Shavuot thanking God for all that He has done! 
When I have attended churches and listen to Pastors preach through podcasts, so many say things like "we need to focus on Jesus" and "we need to be more like Jesus".  It seems to me that the fastest way to be like Jesus is to do what He did: to not ignore these days but celebrate them just like He did; to recognize all the awesome things God has done during these important days because He wants relationship with us and to give Him the glory that only He deserves because He is awesome!
There is no greater time on the calendar to celebrate all that God has done for His people than during Pesach, the fifty days of Omer, and Shavuot! These days are awesome because the God of Israel is awesome.  These days are awesome because we need reminders in our lives that there is no one as awesome as our God!  These days are awesome because they remind us of the awesomeness of Who God is and the awesomeness of all that He has done for those who call on His name!

For more on Shavuot read: Why I Don't Eat Dairy on Shavuot!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The latent antisemitism of "Hebrew Roots"

The term "Hebrew Roots" is used by various Messianic groups and Christian "Hebrew Roots" churches.  It can mean a variety of things and each group does not define the term the same way. Some "Hebrew Roots" congregations, while seemingly well meaning, have within them latent antisemitism.  I use the word latent because I do not think the antisemitism is intentional but nonetheless between the lines it is there.
For years now the main stream Messianic Jewish Movement has been fighting against "replacement theology" in Christianity.  Replacement theology broadly defined is the idea that the Gentile Church has replaced Israel and the Jewish people as the people of God.  This is a destructive theology because it misrepresents the intentions of God to save the world through our Messiah Yeshua and the responsibility of His Jewish followers to share the Jewish message of the Jewish Messiah with Israel and the nations.
In many cases, not all, "Hebrew Roots" proponents replace Israel in a different way.  That is to say not that the Church replaces Israel but that all Gentiles are Jews through the tribe of Ephraim.  It takes away the distinctiveness of the Jewish people which was given to us by God.  God called Abraham out of the nations to make a new nation that would lead the way in understanding and following the Creator of the universe.  All through the book of the prophet Isaiah, he calls the Jewish people to be a light to the nations -- not to convert them to Judaism but to show them the God of Israel.  In attempting to take away Israel's distinctiveness, some Hebrew Roots teachers are leading people into latent antisemitism and teaching Gentiles to cleanse themselves from being a Gentile. 
The Apostle Paul directly speaks to this in his first letter to the Corinthians : "Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him (1 Corinthians 7:17-20).
In my experience in ministry many Jews and Gentiles misunderstand the word Gentile.  It is not a curse word or something bad.  It simply means "nations" and God's desire is to bring all people back to himself (what we call the "model of return").  In Revelation John writes concerning Yeshua, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:9-10, italics mine).  Wow! Every tribe, language, people and nation. How could John recognize all of these different peoples and nations if they all looked the same and all came from one nation. Being from the nations (a Gentile) should be celebrated and honored not treated as a curse word or something to run away from.  Yes, often the scriptures tell the Jewish people to not be like the Gentiles around them.  But, what if those Gentiles turned to the God of Israel? This is not about Gentiles becoming Jews it is about the nations (Gentiles) turning to the one true God.
For me, the issue is identity.  No one should be telling Jews to become Gentiles or Gentiles to become Jews.  God didn't make a mistake when He birthed you in your particular family and with your particular background.  When we mess with identity we mess with God’s design.  All of us, Jews and Gentiles, were made in the image of God and our stories and the families we come from are a part of His plan and design. 
In teaching the New Testament we should not use the term Hebrew roots because the whole message is Jewish. Not just the roots. The idea that the world needs a savior, a sacrifice for sin, and an anointed one (Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek) is Jewish.  When a Jewish person believes in Yeshua we remain Jewish.  When Gentiles believe in Yeshua they remain Gentile.  Together we form the body of Messiah, one olive tree (Romans 9-11) held together by the Messiah Himself.  The tree is Jewish with both natural Jewish and grafted-in Gentile branches.  Gentiles who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel but do not become Jews.  Jews who believe in Yeshua remain in Israel and maintain their Jewishness (for an amazing discussion on this see David H. Stern's book "Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel").
The latent antisemitism is signaled when a Hebrew Roots group uses language like "uniting the two houses of Israel" and makes statements like "for two thousand years we have been taught that Israel is the Jewish people and that the Jewish people are Israel. This misunderstanding has crippled our ability to glean the scriptures." Friends, there is no misunderstanding. Israel is the Jewish people. The Jewish people are Israel.  Gentiles are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-16) without becoming Jews. They remain Gentiles.
According to the decision made by the original disciples of Yeshua at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), Gentile observance of the Torah is different than that of their Jewish counterparts.  In God’s eyes there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. Both are only saved by faith in Yeshua.  After salvation, the moment of accepting Yeshua, our lives look slightly different in terms of how we observe scripture.  Yet, our stories are similar because we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and we all need Yeshua to gain eternal life.  Then, together, we fight for the whole world, all Jews and all Gentiles, to see the awesomeness of God and what He has accomplished for us in the death and resurrection of His son, Yeshua.
If you are a Jewish believer in Yeshua, don't give up your Jewishness.  If you a Gentile believer in Yeshua, don't give up being a Gentile.  Don't be fooled by the destructive teaching of some of these "Hebrew Roots" groups that want to confuse your identity and claim it is in search of the truth. Don't buy into the teachings of some "Hebrew Roots" groups because their production is beautiful and the presentation is pretty.  Dig in. Search it out.  Make sure the teachings are not trying to turn you into something God didn't create you to be. Don't buy into any theology that tries to take away the distinctiveness of the Jewish people or any people.
The truth is that God made you with an awesome plan for you.  If you don't know who you are and you accept ideas that make you think you are something you are not, then you will accomplish nothing.  Find your value in who you are! Your family background and your family heritage ought to be celebrated when you come face to face with the God of Israel.  He doesn't make mistakes and He didn't make one with you!