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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Passover: The Season of Our Freedom

It's about that time again.  Spring is coming.  New life springs up.  Flowers bloom. The sun shines (only for a few days in Seattle).  And Passover arrives.  It has always been my favorite time of year (except when Passover falls on my birthday and I can't have cake)!  Of course Passover is the retelling of Israel's exodus from Egypt; it is about freedom from slavery and oppression. Passover is also a reminder every year that God's promise to never leave or forsake His people, Israel, remains intact. 
One of the traditional names for Passover in the Hagaddah is z’man cheruteinu, the “season of our freedom.”  I love the word "our".  Judaism is very much about "us" not "I". It is about "we" not "me".  What God does for one, He does for all.  What God offers His people, He offers to Kalal Yisrael (all of Israel).  The focus is on the corporate experience of the people and the God we call "Our God".  Traditionally we are encouraged to treat Passover and the exodus from Egypt as our having personally been there.  For us, it is not just something that happened in the past.  But it is about freedom that we have been given and that has been experienced by "us", together.  As we left Egypt together, we also followed the very presence of God, a cloud by day and fire by night, through the wilderness, together.  
This season of freedom is a concept heard in Exodus 6:6-8 when God promises to free us from Egyptian slavery:
6 “Therefore, say to the people of Isra’el: ‘I am Adonai. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians, rescue you from their oppression, and redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am Adonai your God, who freed you from the forced labor of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya‘akov — I will give it to you as your inheritance. I am Adonai.’” (CJB)
During our seder (meal/celebration) we say a blessing over four different cups (one cup, filled four times).  The four cups come from verses six and seven:
  • The Cup of Sanctification – based on, “I will free you”
  • The Cup of Plagues (Deliverance) - based on, “I will rescue you”
  • The Cup of Redemption – based on, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm”
  • The Cup of Praise – based on God’s statement, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” 

As a Messianic Rabbi and Jewish follower of Yeshua (Jesus), these four statements are seen with deeper significance in light of all that Yeshua did during Passover when He was thirty-three years old.  As an observant Jew Himself, Yeshua was in Jerusalem for Passover.  It is during this "season of our freedom" that Yeshua has a meal with His disciples (a Passover seder). He is betrayed, arrested, put on trial, sentenced, put to death, and rises from the dead.  All of this is during the preparation for and the celebration of Passover! 
Of course, none of this is a replacement of the original context of Passover; rather it is an amplification of how awesome the God of Israel is!  God is so invested in our freedom and in giving us new life that He has done everything He can to clear the way for us.  It is why God's name receives an addition following the story of Passover.  In the giving of the ten commandments at Mt Sinai (exodus 20:1), the first commandment is "I am Adonai your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery."  God freeing us from physical slavery and bondage becomes a part of His actual name.  In the rest of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), God refers to Himself as "The God who brought you out of the land of Egypt." What He did becomes a part of Who He is or at least how His people recognize Him.  
In the same way, John says of Yeshua, "Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes:
"Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor. 5:6-8, NIV)
In Yeshua, Who God is and what He has done are one in the same.  During this awesome season of freedom God has given us the opportunity to be free from sin and death itself.  And this not just for the Jewish people, but it is for everyone and anyone who calls on the name of Yeshua our Messiah.  For Yeshua, our Passover Lamb, offered Himself freely as a sacrifice so that we can live with Him forever -- even past this life on earth and into the rest of eternity.  That is a free gift that should not be passed over!

Chag Pesach Sameach! (Happy Passover!) May you come to know the One who formed you in your mother’s womb so that you could experience the freedom that only knowing Him brings!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I Should Be Ashamed of Myself

I am embarrassed of myself.  Many of my issues in my youth came from the fact that I never experienced embarrassment. When dared to do something, I would simply do it. And most of the time I was never embarrassed. And seriously, in many cases, I really should have been.

At 35 years old, I am embarrassed by some behavior, thoughts, actions and speech that I find in myself. I have written before about what God is doing with me in terms of no longer believing that my version of Messianic Judaism is the right one. I used to believe that everyone should live like me. I used to believe that if people really understood the Bible they would see it the way I do. I have realized that there is so much more to agree on than disagree on and that a lot of the issues I thought were non-negotiable are actually negotiable. So, I have moved from the realization of these attitudes in my own life to a place of embarrassment. 

I am not saying there are not things that are right. Truth is truth and there are some issues of theology and belief that should be agreed upon for those who say they love the God of Israel and the Bible.  The Bible is the perfect, inspired, final authority of God. There is only One God. The One God is the creator and sustainer of everything that exists.  The One God exists in three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God made promises to Israel (a.k.a., the Jewish people) that He will never break. Yeshua, the son, is both fully man and fully God. Yeshua physically died, in our place, for our sins. Yeshua physically rose from dead after three days. Yeshua is the judge of the living and the dead. Apart from believing in Yeshua there is no salvation only eternal judgement. Yeshua will return to earth for those who trust in Him. Jewish people are born a part of the family of God but need Yeshua to live with God into eternity. Gentiles join the family of God by believing in Yeshua and equally need Yeshua to live with God into eternity. These are non-negotiable.

Scripture is careful to point out what is clean and unclean, sin and not sin, holy and profane.  These issues are considered non-negotiable as well. There is so much more that is negotiable and can vary depending on interpretations.  How we interpret certain texts of the Bible should not keep us from treating people who believe the same non-negotiable’s as brothers and sisters.  Yet, we fight, argue, divide and become embarrassed by some family members who read scriptures with a different interpretation. If fact, we don’t even want to claim some people as family members at all because they are so embarrassing.  We don’t want people to think we are like them. We believe they give “us” a bad name because of their choices.  We believe that the people we are trying to reach with the message of Yeshua will not turn to Yeshua if they are exposed to these people.

The Truth is no one has cornered the market on Truth. I am embarrassed that it has taken me so long to not think so highly of myself and that other peoples interpretations failed to match mine in importance. I love Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries and Jewish Voice Ministries International. I love the other Messianic congregations in Seattle, Beit Tikvah and Beit HaShofar and their Rabbis. I love the MJAA, and the UMJC. I love FFOZ and Lederer. I love Jewish believers who are a part of churches rather than Messianic synagogues. I love what makes us all different and yet all the same. I love the Church too. I love North Seattle Alliance Church, Cedar Park Church, Mars Hill Church and The City Church. I love Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Jud Wilhite, Mark Driscoll, and Judah Smith. I love Catalyst and The Global Leadership Summit.  I love that I am a part of something so much bigger than myself. We are not in competition with other Messianic synagogues or churches in Seattle. We are all working toward the same goal: to see Yeshua glorified and worshiped the way He deserves in our City. God uses all kinds of crazy things, events, conversations and people to reach all kinds of people!

I want the Lord to take away my embarrassment and give me a sense of awe and joy because I belong to the family of God. The One God who created the heavens and the earth knows my name. He is not embarrassed of me or my brothers and sisters in the family of God. There is so much more at stake than me and my reputation. I am not the defender of Messianic Judaism, Christianity, the Church, Israel or the body of Messiah. It’s God's reputation that matters. And my embarrassment of my brothers and sisters in Yeshua only hurts His reputation and I want to make Him famous!

For more on this listen to my message called Connect from the series The Reality of Restoration.

Restoration has it's own app for smartphone's. Download it here for iOS, Droid, and Windows.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Rabbi Who Loved The Noah Movie

I love movies.  The only kind of movie I don’t love are horror movies because they scare me.  A great epic is  at the top of my list and that's what the Noah Movie is: Epic! I loved it. It's ok with me if you didn't love it. I just hope your reason for not loving it is better than "it wasn't Biblically literal."

Of course it is not Biblically accurate. Everyone knows that by now. In so many ways the director made some really interesting choices regarding the interpretation of the Biblical text. Some of those choices left me wondering what the heck he was thinking.  So many religious (I mean that in a good way) people have posted many opinions about the movie and that my friends, is really the point.  Talking, discussion, relationship. There are not many things out there these days that give us a wide open door to share God with people.  The Noah Movie is a great opportunity for discussion with those in your life who are often not that interested in things regarding the Bible or God. 

I have never been one to shy away from what other followers of God condemn; particularly those who condemn movies (books, articles, preachers, etc.) that they have not even seen. I like to read and see for myself and then form an opinion.  If you are looking for a literal biblical Noah story this probably isn’t your jam.  Speaking of "literal", I have never seen the Ark look so awesome and well, literal. I have also never seen the brutality and horror of the judgment of God played out for what it actually was. Scary. Sad. Unsettling. Just.

God is love, most people know that. But, He is also full of wrath and judges justly, as the Bible says. Noah shows that for real. Underneath all of the weird choices and odd things (yes the rock monsters) I think the underlying concept of the story of Noah comes through the movie. The core question of the movie is this, "is mankind worth saving?" To which God's answer is "Yes!" The fact that he decided to start over with Noah, his family, and all the animals is mercy, love, grace, hope and restoration all wrapped up in one story. 

The end of all things, according to the Bible, will not be so different than the re-creation of the Noah story. Love is real but wrath is real too. God didn't just leave us to be judged in His wrath. He did something about it. He gives us a choice. Trust Him or not. They both come with consequences in this world and in the world to come. 

People who hate religion love to point to Noah as a story of a nasty, mean, unloving creator. Many followers of God have condemned the movie because the writers messed up the story or worse were blasphemous. The real Bible story and the movie present a God who judges and loves this complex creation he created and loves to give people another chance.

See the movie. Talk about it with people. Read the real story in the Bible, Genesis chapters 5-9. Talk about it with people and not to make a point about what you liked or didn't like about a movie, but to point people to the God of all creation who loves His creation and more importantly loves you.

And I'm pretty sure God loves movies, too!