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?
In recent days my friend Pete Rambo and I have enjoyed a lively email exchange with a Jewish brother. By this time we have identified many of the key differences in our beliefs and the ways we perceive the world. I think it is safe to say we are confident enough in our relationship that we can ask some pointed questions without fear of alienating one another. The good thing is that we are all curious about what we believe, and we genuinely want to know how we each perceive the world. This has been eye-opening on all sides. I have learned that some of the things I thought I knew about Jews and Judaism were not quite right, just as our friend has learned that some of the things he thought he knew about Christians and Messianic believers were not quite right. This is the kind of dialogue that is essential if we are to come to an understanding of one another and begin to cooperate in bringing Messiah and building his kingdom.
What I share here is a response provided to our friend in answer to two questions. The first concerned our celebration of Passover (Pesach) – as in, why do non-Jews celebrate the Feast, and how do we do it? The second question involved our description of ourselves as something other than Christian. In other words, how is it that we believe in Yeshua, or Jesus, as Messiah, but do not consider ourselves Christians (or at least traditional Christians). In the interest of building mutual understanding, here are my answers to those questions.
This year we participated in a Passover seder with friends in Austin, TX, just as we have done for the last three years. All of our friends have come out of the traditional church, but all embrace Yeshua as Messiah and have a heart to learn and live the Torah as he taught it. This year we had ten people around the table, including our youngest daughter. Although she is 22 and about to graduate from the University of Texas, she was still the youngest person there, and it fell to her to ask the traditional questions.
We used a Messianic haggadah from Lion and Lamb Ministries. In years past we have produced a haggadah of our own, but it’s easier to take one from a source we appreciate and modify as we go along. That’s precisely what we did. Since none of us grew up Jewish, we do not know the traditional songs and sayings and prayers. However, we know enough to see where the traditions of Judaism mesh with what we have learned about Yeshua as our Messiah. That is why we are comfortable taking a traditional Jewish seder and inserting Messianic and Christian elements. For example, although we sang a chorus of “Dayeinu”, most of our songs were Christian hymns celebrating the death and resurrection of Yeshua as our Passover Lamb. We had the four cups of wine and we said the traditional prayers in Hebrew (since my wife and I have studied the most, we got to lead the prayers), but we did leave out a few things (such as horseradish – much to my chagrin since I like horseradish).
What do Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the pre-Tribulation rapture have in common? There is probably a joke in there somewhere, but the punch line escapes me. The answer, though, is that all of them are part of mainstream Christian practice (at least in the West), but none of them have much basis in Scripture. When held up to the light of Scripture, the Jolly Elf, the Whimsical Rabbit, and the Get-Out-of-Persecution-Free Card actually belong more in the realm of legend, myth, and wishful thinking.
There is no need to explain to Christians that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny do not exist. Everyone knows that – and it would be better if our children understood it from the start rather than having to face their first crisis of faith when their kindergarten friends expose the truth. What everyone does not know, or does not want to admit, is that the doctrine of Jesus coming back to snatch His people away from the earth before the trials of the Last Days is not consistent with Scripture. The problem up to now is that there has been no comprehensive reference book written to examine this question from a critical point of view.
Until now, that is. Author Michael Snyder has at last filled the void with his latest book, The Rapture Verdict. It is 268 pages of systematic investigation of the subject from a man who simply wants to sort out the truth. His stark conclusion is stated in the first chapter:
Unfortunately, there isn’t going to be a pre-Tribulation rapture. In fact, millions of Christians are going to die waiting for a pre-Tribulation rapture that is never going to happen.
Depending on the reader’s disposition, such a statement will make him or her angry, fearful, or vindicated. Those with the latter reaction would be the ones who grew up learning about the rapture in church, but who could never shake the nagging doubt that the few dozen verses pulled out of context to justify the doctrine leave far too many unanswered questions.
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.
The 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.
What 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?
What to Do When the World Blows Up: A Review of “Know the Time, Change Your World”, by Barry L. Miller
It seems that everyone is expecting the world to change for the worse in September 2015. That, at least, is a prevailing topic of conversation here in the United States. I have been part of such discussions many times over the last few months, and regardless how the discussion begins, it invariably comes down to the question, “What do we do now?”
The people of YHVH should be paying attention to the signs of the times. We are indeed on the brink of major changes to the world system, and these changes likely will involve a combination of economic, military, political, and civil unrest, with a few major natural disasters thrown in for good measure. It is, after all, the end of the Shemitah, the seventh, or sabbatical, year in the seven-year cycle the Lord explained to Moses (Exodus 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-6, 31:9-13). It is also the time of the fourth Blood Moon of the tetrad we have seen at Passover and Tabernacles over these last two years. What, if anything, are we to do about all of this?
Happily, there is someone who has undertaken the task of answering that question in a rational, systematic fashion using principles derived straight from the Bible. We can thank people like Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and Pastor Mark Biltz for bringing the Shemitah cycle to the attention of the world. Now we can thank Barry L. Miller for helping us understand how to live within that cycle. That is the message of his book Know the Time, Change Your World: The Reappearance of the Seven- and Fifty-Year Biblical Cycles.
It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados. Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot? Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance. In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders. It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy. As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop. Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return. And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart. Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot. He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:
Thank you very much indeed for your kindness! I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it. It’s a pity: for I’ve missed a good friend.
Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality. How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten? How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear? And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people? In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.
אַחֲרֵי מוֹת / קְדֹשִׁים
What is this fascination with the possibility of life beyond this planet? Are we so insecure in our human existence that we cannot bear the thought of dwelling on the only inhabited territory in the entire universe? Or is it, perhaps, a deep-seated sense of being incomplete in ourselves? Whatever the reason, since the dawn of human existence we have sought for something, or Someone, beyond ourselves who shares our experience of sentience and can explain it to us.
For over a century the search for the Interstellar Other has found expression in science fiction. Novelists like H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke have made their marks on several generations of impressionable youth, yet the massive explosion of science fiction onto popular consciousness came not with books, but with movies. Clarke’s collaboration with Stanley Kubrick in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey took science fiction movies to a new level. It combined world-class writing with world-class filmmaking to proclaim to audiences that we are not alone, but in so doing left more questions than answers. Ten years later, Steven Spielberg sought to answer some of those questions in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, proposing that the Interstellar Others have been visiting earth for a long, long time, and asserting that humanity had reached a point where these advanced beings could take us into their confidence and educate us further. Movies produced over the next generation investigated different aspects of this question. Some, like M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 thriller, Signs, explored the dark possibility that alien visitors are not friendly. Signs clings to the hope that humanity can defend itself from alien intruders, and that the hostile encounter restores a sense of purpose we did not know we had lost. And then there is Knowing, a 2009 drama in which Dr John Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage, embarks on a search for the meaning behind clues predicting one global disaster after another. He learns at last that he can do nothing about the disasters; they themselves are clues all-knowing alien watchers have tracked through time to warn humanity about the imminent destruction of our planet in a massive solar flare. The aliens have no intention of letting the human race pass into extinction. Their clues guide people like Koestler in gathering children so the aliens can take them to a place of safety where humanity can begin again.
A recurring motif in these science fiction films is the search for meaning behind the evidence of alien presence. In 2001 the evidence is a mysterious monolith, and in Close Encounters it is the connection of unexplainable phenomena across the globe. In Signs it is the appearance of crop circles, and in Knowing it is the incomprehensible code of numbers and letters scratched by a child and left in a time capsule. The story tellers would have us believe that the answers to human existence are all there if we can only decipher the patterns.
The science fiction story tellers are correct in that an Interstellar Other has left patterns for us to decipher. What they have missed is that the Interstellar Other is the Holy One of Israel. His clues are in Torah, and His answers are in the rest of Scripture.
Is the world as we know it about to change? How is it about to change? And when is this change going to happen?
To the first question I respond with an unqualified yes. To the second I can only say, “In ways that no one expects – not even the most careful and prayerful observers.” Regarding the third question, I submit that it is changing even now. As a historian, political scientist, and former military professional, I can assert that the global political, economic, and military system of planet is undergoing a massive realignment such as has not occurred since World War I, and most likely not since the advent of the modern nation-state system in the 17th century. That is the subject of two blog series published by The Barking Fox in 2014 (“When Empires Die: Thoughts on the Centennial of World War I”; and “The Shemitah and the Yovel: Examining the Relevance of God’s Appointed Times”.
One sign of change is that people are now talking more openly about things that until recently were only whispered in secret. For example, in two weeks a gathering of mature, dedicated, sincere followers of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ), along with a number of reputable Jewish colleagues who do not agree with Yeshua’s Messiaship, are meeting in Israel to discuss how the growing Messianic/Hebrew Roots Movement among non-Jewish believers is part of YHVH’s promised restoration of the “Lost Ten Tribes” of Ephraim (Northern Israel). Such a thing would have been laughable a few short years ago, but now there is genuine reason to believe the prophesied restoration of the entire nation of Israel is in motion.
That is a happy example of these changes now discussed openly. A not-so-happy example comes from what would be considered “conspiracy theory”. Is a global conspiracy about to enthrone a totalitarian regime that will bring down the nations of the world, and our personal freedoms as well? If so, what are we to do? Or can we do anything?
I have paid some attention to these rumors of conspiracy over the years in the interest of seeing whether there is any substance to them. Perhaps there is. What is certain is that events in the United States and elsewhere in the world are moving in directions that have brought great concern among people I respect and consider knowledgeable. Recently I have had conversations with family, friends, and associates that indicate they are all watching developments and wondering what it all means. I have no specific answers, but I can pass on something that might help. Bonnie Harvey of Hebrew Nation News has published an article which looks at several streams of reporting on events that seem to point to a culmination point of some kind this coming September. Is there any substance to this? Let the informed and prayerful reader decide.
Recently 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.
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:
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:
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.”
וַיַּקְהֵל / פְקוּדֵיּ
What is the secret of the success of Star Trek? Since 1966 three generations of science fiction fans have followed the adventures of four separate crews on the starship Enterprise, as well as other heroes of Gene Roddenberry’s creation through six TV series and 12 movies. There must be something more to the Star Trek universe than adventure stories, special visual effects, and outlandish aliens. Perhaps it is that Star Trek provides us with an opportunity to imagine, to push the boundaries of what is “real”, at least according to what we encounter in our everyday lives.
Certainly that was a key ingredient in the original series, the popularity of which has long outlived the three short seasons it was on the air. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation picked up the mantle and carried on that boundary-pushing tradition. In “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the fifth episode of its first season, a propulsion expert named Kosinski (Stanley Kamel) comes aboard the USS Enterprise to make modifications to the ship’s engines that will enhance their performance. What we soon learn is that Mr. Kosinski’s equations are meaningless by themselves; the real power behind the modifications is the presence of Kosinski’s assistant, an alien known only as the Traveler (Eric Menyuk). In the first test, the Enterprise moves faster than ever thought possible into a region of space far beyond our galaxy, a result which astonishes not only the ship’s officers, but Kosinski as well. Only young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) notices the Traveler’s role in the proceedings. As the officers argue among themselves, he draws near to the Traveler to learn the truth. Their conversation includes a very interesting bit of dialogue:
Wesley: Is Mister Kosinski like he sounds? A joke?
Traveler: No, that’s too cruel. He has sensed some small part of it.
Wesley: That space and time and thought aren’t the separate things they appear to be? I just thought the formula you were using said something like that.
Later in the episode, the Traveler explains, “You do understand, don’t you that thought is the basis of all reality? The energy of thought, to put it in your terms, is very powerful.” And with that we have an articulation from a fantastic science fiction television show of a profound truth first explained by Moses 3,500 years ago.