Not Satisfied with Half the Picture: My Quest for Truth Beyond Tradition

In April 2017, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler sent out invitations to participate in a book project with the working title, Ten From The Nations: Exploring the Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews. Her motivation is to increase awareness of the fact that we are witnessing the gradual fulfillment of Zechariah 8:23. She did so by compiling testimonies from non-Jews who have experienced a Torah awakening of some sort, and from Jews who are actively building relationships with those who are stepping forward from the nations. Her book includes the voices of Christian Zionists, Bnei Noach, Ephraimites, Gerim and more.
It is an honor to be one of those invited to submit a testimony. What follows is the story of my journey into an appreciation of Torah and the Hebraic roots of my Christian faith.
For more information on Ten From The Nations, visit http://www.tenfromthenations.com/.

For the first few years of my life, people fell into one of two categories:  white, or black.  Then the rules changed and the world got complicated.

Scenes of my formative years. Left: going to church in Pensacola, Florida, with my father and older sister in 1962. Right: Dawson Memorial Baptist Church (with Pastor Edgar M. Arendall) and Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama.

The world into which I was born was white, Southern, and Baptist.  That was in 1961, when the requirements of my father’s career in insurance caused my parents to depart from their native Alabama and take up temporary residence in Pensacola, Florida.  As we moved back to Alabama in 1963, the Civil Rights Movement entered its most active stage.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, sit-ins and marches defied segregationist strongholds, and the Federal Government took steps to correct a longstanding injustice.  Little of this turmoil impacted me until 1968, when a Federal judge ordered the desegregation of Birmingham’s public schools.  One day I went to school with my all-white third grade class of about 20 students; the next day the class had swelled to over forty, half of whom were black.

I cannot say whether the addition of so many new playmates of color caused any trauma to myself, but I know that it shook my parents to their core.  At the end of that academic year, they removed my brother and me from the public school, opting to make the financial sacrifice of placing us in the sanctuary of a Christian academy where we could receive a better education.  It also had the advantage in their eyes of being an all-white school.

Well, almost.  What may have escaped their notice was that Briarwood Christian School had a non-discrimination admissions policy.  That explains the presence of one black child in the kindergarten – the only black child enrolled there during my years at Briarwood.  My education was hardly interracial, and yet this turn of events triggered inexorable alterations to my worldview.  By the age of 8, I learned that the antiseptic white society into which I had been born was less utopian than I had been taught.  There was a world of color awaiting my exploration, and a host of questions that the scripted answers could not begin to satisfy.

What I had been taught was not all wrong.  Much of it was right, but it was incomplete.  So was the worldview of my black counterparts –much of it quite right, but incomplete.  Our combined worldviews formed a far more complete picture, with the white perspective filling gaps in the black perspective, and vice versa.  Thus my education proceeded along two parallel tracks:  a formal track provided by the teachers and preachers at school and church; and an informal track hidden in the recesses of my heart and soul and mind.  The hidden track evaluated everything presented to it, often reaching conclusions at odds with the accepted norms.  Hence the reason it remained hidden.

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The “Official” Snarky Guide To The Differences Between Christmas and Hannukah – Jeff Dunetz

bfb161220-hanukkah-harryIt is that time of year that Christians celebrate Christmas and Jews celebrate Hannukah, and all of us Messianic and Hebrew Roots folks are somewhere in the middle.

Actually, we’re not really in the middle.  Most of us have opted out of Christmas and opted into Hannukah.  Not because we have rejected Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ), mind you.  We understand that His birth happened in the fall, most likely at the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah in modern Jewish practice) rather than in December.  We also understand that all the Feasts of the Lord presented in Leviticus 23 are connected to Messiah’s redemptive and restorative work for the nation of Israel and all the world. 

The fact is, we celebrate Passover (Pesach), Unleavened Bread (Matzot), Firstfruits (Yom Habikkurim), Pentecost (Shavuot), Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) because God established them and called on His people to observe them “as a statute forever”.  That’s different from Christmas, which is a human tradition rather than a Divine decree.  Christmas is a Christianization of the old festivals our ancestors celebrated in honor of other gods before they learned about the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We have learned that our Messiah is Jewish, which is why we prefer to follow His example rather than the traditions which overshadowed and obscured His Jewishness and the Hebraic origins of our faith.

One might argue that Hannukah is a tradition as well.  Indeed it is, but it is rooted firmly in history as a tale of our God’s salvation of His people in a time of great distress.  Why is it not in the Bible?  Well, it is, in some canons.  The Catholic Bible still has 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the books that tell the Hannukah story.  There is also a mention of it in the New Testament:  John 10:22 tells us that Yeshua was in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication, which is another name for Hannukah.  The point is, the origin of Hannukah is no less real and no less miraculous than the origin of Purim as recorded in the book of Esther.  Our Jewish brethren established both feasts to commemorate the provision of the Almighty and His faithfulness to His covenant.  Is there a better reason to celebrate?

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7 Ways to Share Your Faith With Your Friends & Family – Kayte Abaffy

One of the most significant developments in the Hebrew Roots movement this past year has is the production of a movie that explains this phenomenon.  Those who have seen The Way:  A Documentary know that it is a quality production that imparts an entertaining, moving, and reasonably balanced presentation of the Torah Awakening among Christians.  This debut work by young filmmakers Luke and Kayte Abaffy has had an expanding impact since its release in August 2016, and likely will receive international attention thanks to a recent screening at the Second B’ney Yosef National Congress in Israel.

In this article, originally published in Torah Sisters Magazine, producer Kayte Abaffy shares her experience and idea on how to present this Torah walk to the people we care about the most – and who often are not very receptive to this message.  Perhaps it is not the message that is the problem, but the manner and timing of the presentation.  That is a central point Kayte makes in this honest and delightful piece.


bfb161106-seven-ways-to-shareOriginally published on Torah Sisters Magazine

Two years ago, I was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway with my husband, sparkling blue ocean to our left and golden mountains to our right, coming home to Los Angeles from a transformative conference in San Diego.  Torah keepers had gathered for a weekend of learning stuff and worshipping and hanging out by the pool till 2am sharing our stories.  And that weekend wasn’t just an awesome conference – it was the start of us filming for The Way documentary, and our first real deep dive into the experiences of people walking in The Way.

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Even after we’d only interviewed our first handful of people, something had already become clear: sharing your new walk with friends and family is … well … a thing.  When we asked interview subjects how people reacted to their new walk (siblings, children, spouses, parents, pastors, lifelong friends), lots of interesting body language things would happen – eyes would well up with tears or dart to the floor, or there’d be a great big sigh, or laughter, or a look of searching for the right words to make a tough situation sound positive.

Of course, some people’s families or friends had taken instant interest, or tried hard to understand what their loved one was learning in the Word.  And some even quickly came to the same understanding.  But for lots of others, the reactions ranged from cold shoulders to confusion, awkwardness to outright hostility.

So how do you share your walk (and enthusiasm for the Torah) with people you love, when there seems to be so much baggage surrounding a conversation that hasn’t even begun yet?

One thought that’s really helped me is to make the fruit of your life available to people who’re actually hungry.  Trees that throw their apples at people are scary, like in The Wizard of Oz.  But in life, a person walks by and picks an apple from the tree when they’re hungry.

So often we try to jam a feast down the throat of a person who’s perfectly full.  And then we’re frustrated when they don’t receive it and wonder why they resent us.  But God works with hunger.  And we should too.  Remember what Yeshua said?  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  It’s hard to convince someone of how great the solution you’ve found is, when they don’t even think there’s a problem.  But the great news is that there are plenty of hungry people out there, we just need to be there to minister to them!

Here are a few other ideas I’ve come up with to share Yeshua and your walk with others, as I’ve marinated on this question over the last two years:

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When Brothers Don’t Get Along

On December 4, 2015, the B’Ney Yosef Region 35 Conference convened at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, for the purpose of bringing together people in the central part of the United States to seek YHVH’s direction about His Kingdom work at this time.  The initial concept was to continue in the spirit of the First B’Ney Yosef National Congress in the interest of building Ephraimite (Israelite) identity among believers in Messiah Yeshua.  The Holy Spirit quickly expanded that concept into a call for repentance within the Hebrew Roots/Two House movement and reconciliation with other parts of the body of Messiah, particularly with our Christian brethren.  That was the motivation for this address which opened the conference.

BFB151204 MNF-IThe best boss I ever had was the man under whose supervision I served the last time I was in Iraq.  He was also the most profane man I have ever met.  The name of Jesus Christ was for him but one weapon in a formidable arsenal of expletives.  Not a single day passed that some outrage did not fall from his lips, causing my ears to burn and my heart to wonder how long I would have to endure such offense.  And yet I continued in his service, not merely because I had no choice (both of us, after all, were soldiers assigned to serve together), but because God gave me grace to look beyond the offense to see and benefit from the substantial qualities he possessed.  Those qualities included an encyclopedic knowledge of intelligence functions and procedures based on decades of hard experience.  He possessed as well a dogged determination to persevere through all opposition and achieve success in whatever goal he or his superiors established.  That determination sprang from his undying loyalty to the United States of America, and to his belief in the ultimate good of our mission in Iraq.  Yet none of that would have mattered in the least had this man lacked the greatest quality of all:  he regarded every person as having intrinsic value, and as a potential ally in achieving the goals set before him.  He may have spoken roughly, and even in private moments vented his frustration and anger, but he never diminished the value of the human beings in his charge, nor of those under whom he served.

We had occasion to work with military and civilian officials from a number of services and agencies.  Whether they were Army like us, or Marines, Air Force, or Navy, they were all “great Americans” in my boss’s opinion – if for no other reason than because they had volunteered to wear the uniform and be deployed to a Middle Eastern war zone.  He could not call our British, Australian, and German colleagues “great Americans”, but he did hold them in high esteem – while at the same time recognizing that the highest priorities for each of them were the interests of their own nations, not those of the United States.  The true professionals among us, regardless of nationality, recognized this.  We knew that at times there would be questions we could not ask and answers we could not give, but whenever and wherever possible we helped one another.

That “great American” description did extend to the civilian intelligence professionals we encountered.  Those men and women represented nearly all of the 16 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  The ones you would expect were all there:  each of the agencies of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department.  Our office dealt mostly with the CIA, whom my boss lovingly called, “Klingons”.  Like our foreign counterparts, they, and all the other intelligence agencies, had their own priorities which were not necessarily the same as ours in the Department of Defense.  Their vision of how to support the national interests of the United States sometimes clashed with ours, and the means and resources at their disposal often put them at an advantage over us.  We had much reason to distrust them, but we had even more reason to work with them – just as the Start Trek heroes found reason to cooperate with the Klingons to defeat their common enemies.

We laugh at the description of the CIA as Klingons, but long before I arrived in Iraq I understood exactly what my boss meant.  Early in my tenure in Washington, DC, I had occasion to work with the CIA on a joint project.  Most of the people with whom I worked were intelligence analysts, people not very different from myself.  They were well educated, often from privileged backgrounds, highly academic (a reflection of the CIA culture), and professionally courteous.  As part of our project we had to consult with a different type of CIA employee.  This person was not an analyst.  Intelligence analysts look at information from various sources and put it together in different ways to understand what it means.  They are the friendly face of the CIA.  There is another face, however, and it is not very friendly.  That face belongs to the operators, the men and women who go about the difficult business of collecting the information.  They are consummate professionals, very good at what they do, but they are not the kind of people you would want in your social circle.  Quite often the name by which they introduce themselves is not the name their parents gave them at birth.  In the course of their duties they will have to do some questionable things, and perhaps even some very unpleasant things, to acquire information their agency has commissioned them to gain.

This was the kind of person with whom we met in that office on the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia long ago.  He was an impressive man, and one whom I admired for his courage and devotion to his country.  I could tell without asking that he had suffered much personal loss in service to the nation, and that my own poor service paled in comparison to his.  Yet we could not be friends, and we would have difficulty working together as colleagues.  His world was one I could not enter, and my world was one he would not find comfortable.  Nevertheless, my work could not continue without him, and without me his work would have no meaning.  That is why I have never forgotten the man, although our paths have never crossed since that day.

BFB151204 US Intelligence CommunityWhat would happen if this vast intelligence community in the service of the United States of America ceased to function as designed?  What if the various individuals and organizations within it forgot that they were all Americans, and instead placed their own personal agendas, or the name and reputation of their own agencies and services, above the interests of the country?  That is not a rhetorical question; I can tell you what would happen.  I have seen it.  What happens is a fragmentation of the national intelligence establishment. 

For the most part that establishment consists of good, honest people trying to do the best they can with limited resources and time.  They have a tendency to focus exclusively on the work right in front of them, whether it is office administration, counterterrorism analysis, national technical means of information collection, the number of tanks in the Russian Far Eastern Military District, or poppy production in Afghanistan.  They forget that there is a wider world out there, and that their work is but one small piece in a very, very big puzzle.  It does not take much to convince them that their piece is the most important.  Once convinced, it is but a small step toward competing with others to gain a greater share of attention and resources.  Having entered that arena, it is nothing to begin pushing others aside in ever more aggressive ways, taking resources and people away from them so that one’s own piece of the puzzle grows in size and importance, and the competitors’ pieces shrink, or disappear altogether.  In time the picture that emerges is distorted at best, magnifying certain things to the extreme, diminishing others, and ignoring important bits that would otherwise tie together the seemingly contradictory reports from various sources.  That is the picture which goes before high level decision makers like the commanders of our forces in the Middle East, and even the President himself.  Is it any wonder, therefore, that we have national disasters such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

My lesson from this should be clear.  National defense is a team effort.  I know my part of the effort, and my job is to do it to the best of my ability.  I do not know most of the millions of others involved in the effort, nor do I understand what they do.  I could not do what most of them do, nor could most of them do what I do.  Very few of them could be considered my friends, and most of them would probably never want to associate with me anyway.  Nevertheless, we need each other:  every warrior, every clerk, every mechanic, every technician, every lawyer, every cook, every aviator, every logistician, every sanitation worker.  If we do not find a way to cooperate, then this living, breathing organism we call the National Defense Establishment will fail, and with its failure the United States of America fails.

Is this any different from the living, breathing organism known as the Body of Messiah?

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Comment on Peter Vest’s Review of Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell

BFB150428 Orthodox Messianic Judaism - Mt SinaiRecently Peter Vest, author of Orthodox Messianic Judaism, reviewed my book, Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell.  His is the first critical review of which I am aware.  Critical, that is, but not scathing.  His perspective provides ample opportunity for discussion and refinement of our understanding, and much room for agreement.  Peter invited me to comment on his review, and I am glad to accept the invitation in hope of advancing a very useful dialogue.  Here is his review.  My comments follow.


My Review and Response to McCarn’s “Give Me a Place Where I May Dwell”

Posted on Orthodox Messianic Judaism, April 19, 2015

by Peter Vest

I just finished reading a book that is attempting to do for the Ephraimite Movement what Theodor Herzl’s book “Der Judenstaat” did for Zionism.  Some of what it says is good…other portions are very troubling indeed.

First, here’s the author, Albert McCarn:

110811 AJM DA Photo

As you can see, he is a well-decorated ex-military officer.  And we can all be very thankful for his many years of service to our country.

Here’s the book which, you will note, displays a proposed national flag for the Ephraimite Nation:

Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell is a meticulously researched book that makes a compelling biblical and contemporary case for building a global consciousness among Hebrew Roots believers—and eventually finding a homeland for these Ephraimites in Israel.

So let’s get into it.

Every book is about a problem and a proposed solution.  This book frames the problem something like this:

You very well could be a descendant of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel which means that you’re living in exile from your homeland (the tribal territories of the Northern Tribes of Israel), deprived of a sense of national community with your people–the Ephraimites, suffering from the onslaught of increasingly hostile, anti-Biblical culture in your host country or even outright oppression.

But there is hope for you to rejoin your lost community and reclaim your birthright to the Northern Tribal Territory of Israel:

You can help restore national consciousness to Ephraim by (1) envisioning the kinship you share with other Ephraimites all over the world and (2) joining many others in a mass exodus from all of their various host countries as they embark on an epic quest to reclaim the “land of the fathers.”

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