Sanctifying God’s Name

Boro ParkWhen I was in New York recently, I stopped by Eichler’s — a Jewish institution and bookstore in Boro Park. I was good and did not buy any books(!) but I did buy the magazine Jewish Action. This is the official magazine of the Orthodox Union and I found it fascinating and perhaps worthy of a subscription.

The president’s article “Pursuing Spirituality — Measuring Success” was both intriguing and sad because it displayed an intense desire to know God better but a complete unawareness of HOW to do it. He spoke of the need to “mekadesh Shem Shamayim” (sanctify God’s name) but how can he when the concept is beyond his theological grasp.

For example, his understanding of spirituality is adequate — “an experience is spiritual when it enhances the relationship between our neshamah, our soul, and God.” However, his understanding of doing this is centered around works (mitzvah observance). When did “good deeds” ever enhance our spirituality? The Epistle of James tells us that our good actions are proof of our relationship with God and not the cause of it. This is what is heartbreaking about the Rabbinical Jewish understanding of God — they think they have to earn their way to God instead of recognizing the promise of Jeremiah 31 and the reality of Messiah Jesus. We must share this hope with them. We must, yes, #GiveMessiahBack to the Jewish people today.

In this same article, the president of the Orthodox Union writes this insightful statement but without true understanding (i.e., Romans 10:1-4) — “Can Orthodoxy survive without a genuine deepening and intensification of our relationship with God?” The answer is NO. And how can they discover this relationship unless we who know Messiah Jesus tell them … Romans 10:14-16.


Missionary Methodology from the Middle Ages Raymond Lull (1232-1315/16)

In many regards, the primary missionary methodology of the Middle Ages was simply this one phrase – “Convert or Die.” 

A horrible approach that is not only unbiblical but has brought reproach, recriminations and retribution upon true Christians even to this day. However, there were occasional glimpses and glimmers of true missionary lights in the darkness of the Middle Ages that still can teach us valuable lessons in the 21st century. Lessons even in the area of Jewish evangelism — believe it or not!

One of these glimmering lights was a Majorcan reprobate who came to true faith in Messiah Jesus at the age of 30, Raymond Lull (1232-1315/16) and soon sought to change the way missions was done in the darkest period of Church history. He also had a true salvation burden for both children of Abraham – the Muslims and the Jews – during a time when the leaders of the Church proper was more interested in “Convert or Die but Please Just Die” than anything else. 

Without going into a lengthy historical treatise/explanation of Lull’s adventures that lasted nearly 50 years, his approach can be summarized in 3 points:

  1. Sociological – learn everything you can about the people even if it means abandoning OUR comfort zone
  2. Apological – learn all the arguments and the counter-arguments and the counter-counter arguments of the people so one can answer with a 1 Peter 3:15 response 
  3. Sacrifical – learn the heart of the Messiah even if it costs you everything

I will propose that many times today that we might be successful at one or two of these items but we struggle with achieving all three. And this is where we struggle in where as missions. 
For example:  We might learn #1 but we want to hold onto to our ways and life or we so immerse ourselves that we cease to be effective of showing a New Way (i.e., Torah Observance as being required). We might learn ALL the arguments of #2 but the humbleness of 1 Peter 3:15 is another thing. The idea of true sacrifice (#3) is too hard and too much and therefore we are not truly effective. 

Would we go back to Raymond Lull and learn again from his example. Perhaps we would be more effective. 

Joseph Soloveitchik … Partially Correct

If you read the title and didn’t immediately move on to the next blog, had one of the three responses …

  • Who in the world was/is Joseph Solevethcik?
  • Has Tzedakah Ministries moved to the other side?
  • Huh … Why should I bother reading this one?

Let me answer in reverse order: (1) Give it a few paragraphs before you move on; (2) No … simple enough for you; and (3) A very important Orthodox rabbi who said something both insulting and somewhat partially correct about the Christian faith.

Joseph Solevetchik was a leading Orthodox Jewish rabbi in the 20th century and scholar at Yeshiva University in New York University until he passed away in 1993. He was friendly with the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and had little use for Reform and Conservative Judaism as he felt they compromised on the Jewish Rabbinic traditions. Yes, I know this is not much of a biography but this is not the main point of the blog.

The main point of this blog is what Rabbi Solevetchik said in reference to his understanding of the Christian view of atonement and in some regards he is partially correct … even if you could argue that he meant it in a derogatory way.

For the Christian theologian teshuvah [repentance] is a transcendent act dependent upon the grace of God who is all-merciful and benevolent. The erasure of man’s sins is, from the rational standpoint, incomprehensible. Only the supernatural, miraculous intercession of God on behalf of the sinner may effectuate this cleansing. The task of the sinner is to repent, to mortify himself, to practice castigation, to cry and implore for divine mercy and pity. The convert, according to this concept, is a passive, pitiful creature who begs for and attains divine grace.

As you read through this definition of Rabbi Solevetchik, and putting aside any preconceptions of Calvinism v. Arminianism for those of you who argue such issues, where is the rabbi substantially wrong? I will nitpick in a moment but let’s examine where he is correct for just a moment…

  1. We who believe in Messiah Jesus do recognize that we are dependent upon the grace of an all-merciful and benevolent God;
  2. Only the miraculous intercession of God via the Incarnation made repentance possible for any of us because it is Jesus who effectuates this cleansing;
  3. Our only job is to repent of our sins and ask for forgiveness who then receives grace that we do not deserve and could never receive on our own.

Now I will argue with some of the rabbi’s word choices — “mortify himself,” “practice castigation,” “cry and implore for … pity,” and “begs.” However, I think it is because the rabbi cannot imagine that teshuvah/repentance could be so simple and he says so when he uses the words that it is all “from a rational standpoint, incomprehensible.”

But you know what … salvation and/or atonement ultimately is from a human perspective incomprehensible and that is why it is spiritual atonement. The God of the universe knew that we could know achieve our own salvation and thus He did it for us. That is incomprehensible love. That is incomprehensible majesty. That is incomprehensible forgiveness.

And that is why sadly Rabbi Joseph Solevetchik was only partially correct. But you don’t have to be that way. You can discover the incomprehensible and majestic forgiving atonement that God accomplished for us through Messiah Jesus…

Contact us at Explore Messiah…? or Tzedakah Ministries.

Vacuum of Leadership 

The other day while the chaos of Charlottesville was in the height of its disruption, I went to Twitter to see what some of the “failed” presidential candidates were saying about the issue of the day. For we all know they had to be thinking one of two things — “glad I am not having to deal with this mess” or “I could do better than you know who.”

Former 2016 Republican candidate Carly Fiorina did not have a Tweet about Charlottesville but she did have the above meme from 7/31/17 that I thought was outstanding. FYI – she still has not tweeted about Charlottesville and you can make of that what you will. However, I do believe she is right about the fact many people are great in the role of middle-management but few people strive to break the bonds of the status quo and seek to be leaders. 

Never is this more true in the bastion we call the American church and American Christianity. We have grown comfortable. We have grown lazy. We have grown complacent. And without realizing it, America has become a post-Christian nation. 

Do you doubt me? Exhibit A:

If American Christianity is not ashamed of this headline and these pictures and words, then we have reached “the point of no return.” If, however, there is a modicum, a sliver of remorse there still might be some hope for us yet. 

But for this hope to be fanned from a flicker into a flame, we need Christian leaders to step up from the mediocrity of middle-management complacency and say as Robert F. Kennedy once said while George Bernard Shaw quoting, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”

And so while Tzedakah Ministries might be a smaller ministry, we dream/visualize large goals for Jewish evangelism because … Why not? We plan on doing impossible things for God because … Why not? We seek to do the outlandish for Messiah Jesus because … Why not? Because Why … That is what leadership does. 

Melanin & the Imago Dei

The racial strife which has erupted around the United States over the last few months is heartbreaking. Watching the scenes of protests and counter-protests over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, are something that I thought impossible in this country in the 21st century. However, and alas, our nation appears to be at a tipping point with both ends of the spectrum seeking to pull apart the frayed ropes which have held this country together since 1865. 

Heartbreaking is the only word that I can use but it seems so inadequate because this is so unnecessary. If we would just turn away from our tendency towards moral equivalency which is nothing more than immorality in fancy language. And if we would just turn away from any sinful preconception that racism cloaked in whatever terminology is justified rather than what it is … sinful rhetoric which brings shame to the order of God’s creation. 
Why do I say this so empathically? Because Scripture itself is so empathic … we all are created in the Imago Dei (the image of God – Genesis 1:26).  Each human has a soul and each human needs to have that soul enveloped by the presence of the Holy Spirit. An enveloping only possible via a relationship with Messiah Jesus.

So … as the Children’s church of yesteryear used to proclaim “red or yellow, black or white,” you are indeed precious and special in the sight of God. You are a representation of the Imago Dei … even if you still require a salvific moment in your life because you are “dead in your trespasses and sin” (Colossians 2:13). 

So … what is the definable difference in creation between people? It is simply melanin and here is the definition. 

The pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color. Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin than light-skinned people have. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes. It provides some protection again skin damage from the sun, and the melanocytes increase their production of melanin in response to sun exposure. 

That’s it. And as for me, melanin is not worth protesting over. Melanin is not worth dividing over. Melanin is definitely not worth a claim of superiority, which is nothing more than a lie of Satanic proportions. 

May God forgive us for the sin of racism in our country and help us be united for the cause of evangelism. The only -ism that matters. 

A Spiritual Dunkirk…

Today I went to see the movie Dunkirk. A movie that while not perfect as either as cinema or history will shake you to the core with its recounting of courage, heartbreak and the beginning of ultimate victory against the Nazis in World War II. For while most Americans know little of this battle (unless they go to see the movie or are history nerds like myself), I required my former American History college students to KNOW of this penultimate battle of WW2 even though it occurred a little over 18 months BEFORE Pearl Harbor in May-June 1940. 

It ended any hope that Hitler might have had of fighting a one-front war against the Russians. It probably delayed Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the USSR) just enough so the Germans were forced to fight both the stalwart Russians and a brutal winter at Leningrad/Stalingrad and prevented the capture of Moscow. And it also encourages both the British to continue to fight with their “stiff upper lip” during the bombing raids that shortly began and forced FDR to continue the Lend-Lease program with Britain and the Soviet Union until we joined the fracas after 12/7/1941. 

But enough actual history because I was also overwhelmed by the spiritual parallels I saw on the screen today. Each of the characters represented for me an example an individual in the spiritual battle of the Christian life. 

Please note I am trying to include no spoilers … go see the movie.

  • The “shell-shocked” survivor who wants to return to England even when the civilian boat captain keeps plowing towards Dunkirk
  • The lone survivor soldier who tries to run from the battle only to find himself constantly drawn back into it
  • The young civilian ill-equipped for what he is about to face but who wants to do one great thing with his life
  • The stoic commander desperate to have the 400,000 British soldiers rescued but at a loss as to how because all his resources are gone
  • The thousands of troops who just want to go home but have come to believe that defeat is inevitable in this world because the Nazis appear to be invincible

However, there are two characters that I most connected with … the civilian boat captain and the third RAF pilot. 

The civilian boat captain reminded us all that fighting the Nazis was a battle that everyone was called to fight not just the “professionals” because if not … they would soon invade literally the land of England. He sailed straight ahead towards Dunkirk. He never looked back. His eye was on the French shore were the battle was fierce and death was possible because defeat was not optional. The soldiers had to be rescued. 

The third RAF pilot was one of the “professionals” who was called to serve and even when other pilots were shot down around him … he kept flying. He kept firing against the enemy even though the men on the beach were wondering and angry that more RAF pilots were not coming. He did his job not expecting to return because the German planes had to be stopped. They were sinking too many ships. They were killing too many soldiers. Dead or alive or captured was of no concern to him. His mission was simple – fight until there were no more bullets, gasoline, plane or himself to go on. 

And we as believers in Jesus whether “professional” or civilian are called to either be the boat captain or the RAF pilot today. For we are fighting a spiritual Dunkirk in 2017 and we might lose the battle as the British technically did in 1940 but the WAR is greater than one battle as the Nazis discovered in May 1945.

For while we all have moments in which we feel like the other characters in the movie – Choose to be the Boat Captain or the RAF Pilot. The battle is strong and you are needed!

Jayden K. Smith & the American Church

By now you have heard about the “Jayden K. Smith Hoax” that has “infected” (pardon the pun) Facebook. There was a widespread rumor that if you accepted a friend request from “Jayden K. Smith” that your Facebook account would be hacked and all sorts of horrible things would happen. This was all a lie! You can be friends with individuals named Jayden K. Smith and I truly feel sorry for who has been inflicted with this monikor.

However, I have been thinking about how these rumors and ostracism occurs quite often in American churches/congregations today. Will you allow me to give you a few examples? And I am going to use Jayden’s name as an example … SORRY!

  • Perhaps Jayden shows up wearing dirty clothes, smelly clothes, “inappropriate” clothes, etc. Would he be welcome? Or would you be afraid that he might “infect” and “hack” your church and therefore he needed to be shunned?
  • Perhaps Jayden shows up and he is obviously drunk and/or high? Would you allow him into the “Worship Center”?
  • Perhaps Jayden shows up and he is with his homosexual partner? What if you even thought he might be homosexual? How would you respond?
  • Perhaps Jayden shows up and he is with someone of a different ethnicity? And they have children? Where would you seat them?
  • Perhaps Jayden shows up and he is homeless and/or with his probation officer and the only seat left is by the best tither in the church. Would you seat Jayden by Brother and Sister Big Bucks?

If I haven’t made you uncomfortable yet … let me go a step further because I am going to change Jayden’s name now. What if Jayden’s name was …

Judah K. Klein

Jamal K. Muhammad

Jung K. Kim

If you believe I have a legitimate point … please feel free to share. If you think I am pushing the envelope … please feel to comment below. If you think I am blowing smoke … consider these words …

Matthew 25:34-46 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

3d human with red stop sign

Why Are We Afraid of the Word … HELL?

I buried a precious, dear, sweet friend today. She lived to an advanced age. She was surrounded by children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. She was also a Holocaust survivor. 

She had survived hell on earth when a train car took her to the gates of Auschwitz. However, I just don’t know where she is now… 

I along with others shared the Gospel of Messiah Jesus with her. I feel as if I literally fought to the gates of hell for her soul. However, the eternal condition of her soul was not in my hands but in her own. I can only pray and hope that in the last days and moments of her life, my friend and Jesus took care of her eternity. Because otherwise … and the thought of that word takes my breath away. 

And it is THAT word that we hesitate ever saying. It is THAT word that we are afraid to admit is real. It is THAT word that we avoid discussing in polite company. But is THAT word that we must confront if we want to be honest and real in our evangelism. 

The word is … HELL. 

Bad people go there when they die. Good people go there when they die. Mean people. Nice people. Sweet. Sour. Anyone who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus as Messiah goes there when they die – John 14:6.

There is no second chance. There are no mulligans. There is no reincarnation – Hebrews 9:27. 

Does this make God mean? Does this make God unfair? NO – because God demands holiness and He gave himself to be our holy sacrifice because we couldn’t cut it ourselves. Read the books of Leviticus and Hebrews. 

So we must face the word HELL. We must say the word HELL. Because the world is going to HELL while we avoid facing it. 

Blessed with a Burden

There is a scene in the movie Freedom Writers that sticks with me. A father is talking to his teacher daughter and says to her, “You have been blessed with a burden.” 

The imperfect movie is based upon the imperfect life of an imperfect teacher who sought to do the impossible – teach inner-city high school students that there was more to life than drugs, gangs, and death. And she did. The imperfect Erin Gruwell somehow did the impossible. For those students made it out of Long Beach and made it to college, a career and a life that everyone believe impossible. 

The infinitely imperfect Amy Downey has been blessed with a burden that has also been called impossible – to share Messiah Jesus with the Jewish people and the sometimes seemingly even more impossible task of asking Christians/churches to come alongside on the journey. It is a blessing filled with indescribable moments of joy. It is a burden filled with periods of spiritual warfare that I can only express to God alone. However, it is something I must do because I have blessed with a burden – Romans 9:1-3 and Acts 20:24. This is my manifesto. This is my declaration. This is my truth. 

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