We don’t fit here anymore. What now?

We weren't created to be lone wolves, but to live in community.

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
Leviticus 19:2

Jeff & Barb’s Story

When Jeff first began to believe that he should be keeping the Sabbath the way that God instructed, on the seventh day of the week instead of the first, he did what many good Christians do: he asked his pastor for advice. Jeff’s pastor told him what he had been taught: Jesus canceled the Sabbath so we didn’t need to keep it anymore, and the Apostles moved the Sabbath to Sunday, the Lord’s Day, in honor of Jesus’ resurrection. When Jeff asked where that was in the Bible, his pastor could only point to where Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees about how to keep the Sabbath and where the first century believers consistently gathered on the first day of the week. He couldn’t point to any verse that plainly stated Jesus canceled the Sabbath or that the Apostles changed the day, nor why the Apostles would change the day of an observance that Jesus had canceled.

Unsurprisingly, Jeff wasn’t convinced.

The pastor asked him to keep these concerns between just the two of them, but the unanswered questions accumulated, and they came to frequently derail the intended course of discussions in the small group where he and his wife, Barb, met with other church members on Thursday nights. Some of the other members in that group also began to ask questions. Then there was a shouting match.

Jeff and his family began lighting Shabbat candles just before sunset on Friday evening, and spending Saturdays together at home. Although they frequently helped clean up after services on Sunday, they stopped participating in Saturday work projects.

They began feeling like outsiders in the church they had attended for many years. They no longer believed the same as everyone else on some significant issues. They couldn’t participate in some Friday night and Saturday events. Their attendance at Bible study was sometimes fractious and always resented by a few. Barb had begun asking awkward questions about every dish at church pot luck dinners.

“Is there pork in that meatloaf?”
“Do you know what kind of sausage that is?”

When the pastor called and asked them to meet with him again, he didn’t say what it was about, but Jeff and Barb both knew. They would either be asked to leave or to stop asking questions. Jeff wasn’t sure which would be worse. For both of them, the heartache started before they even got in the car.

Their church wasn’t their home anymore.

God is calling people all over the world to return to his instructions, to keep his Sabbaths, his appointed feast days, his rules for living, speaking, and loving. Some of those people call themselves Messianic Jews, some Hebrew Roots, Sabbath Keepers, or some other label. Most, like me, don’t fit cleanly into any of these groups. They only know that the churches are missing some vital aspects of the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles, and all of the Scriptures, and they’re trying their best to find those pieces and put them back into the puzzle where they belong.

But in following God’s call to repentance, they face two major challenges:

  • The loss of old relationships
  • The lack of new relationships

Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue regular fellowship with those who have not yet heard the call or who have heard and rejected it without deafening oneself. To speak is to bring strife, but to remain silent seems like complicity in a lie.

This degree to which this is a problem varies from one church to another. Some churches are little more than social clubs, and others barely make a pretense of Biblical doctrine. Jeff and Barb probably wouldn’t have lasted so long at one of those churches. Some are much better–and therefore much harder to leave–and a few are very good, even to the point of openly tolerating us Hebraic misfits.

If you find yourself in a situation like Jeff’s, I can’t tell you what you should do–every situation is different–but eventually, you will either have to transform your church or exchange it for something else.

Becoming a spiritual hermit isn’t a viable option. People without community tend to lose their grounding. Without the balance of other believers and guidance of more knowledgeable teachers, their spiritual pursuits often become dominated by shiny object syndrome. They jump from one fringe idea to another with nobody to keep them anchored to reasonableness. Their understanding of Scripture becomes unbalanced, and their spiritual lives either stagnate or get lost in irrelevancy. We need community to be healthy by every conceivable metric. Internet teachings and live streams just don’t cut it.

Finding a Home

When you look for a congregation (I write “congregation” rather than “church” because many of them will use some other word.) that both recognizes Jesus as Messiah and keeps God’s Law, you might find a variety of options, or you might find nothing at all. Let me give you a brief rundown of what’s available.

    • Seventh Day churches of various denominations. You’ve probably heard of the Seventh Day Adventist church, but there are also Baptists, Church of God, and even LDS (aka Mormon) churches which keep a seventh day Sabbath. If you are serious about keeping God’s instructions, these will come up short in time. They keep the Sabbath and the Biblical feasts to varying degrees, but usually stop there. They also tend to come with an amount of baggage related to false prophecies and extra-Biblical scriptures.
    • Messianic Jewish. Technically, Messianic Jews are Jewish people who believe that Jesus (aka Yeshua) is the Messiah. They will call their meeting place a “synagogue”, and their services and operation range from Jewish to liturgical Christian.
    • Other. These are the Hebrew Roots congregations, non-denoms, upstarts, rebels, and flakes. Since neither you nor I have the time to list every possible variation, I am forced to dump all that remains, good and bad, into a single category. Here you will find home fellowships, Black Hebrew Israelites, Torah-observant Christians, Sacred-Namers, and just about anything else that you could imagine. They will range from the outstanding to the diabolical, and it can be very confusing to sort through them. Here are a few warning signs to watch out for. Only the last one would be a total deal-killer for me. Your mileage might vary.
      • The pastor/rabbi/leader has changed his name to sound more Hebrew or otherwise ethnic.
      • They use bizarre spellings of commonly known Hebrew words, especially if it’s really important to them.*
      • They rely heavily on extra-Biblical writings, such as the Talmud, Books of Enoch, or Kabbalah.
      • They keep a lunar Sabbath (a weekly Sabbath that drifts through the days of the week because it’s calculated from the new moon, not the historic 7 day week that the rest of the world uses).
      • They believe the earth is flat. Run, do not walk, to the nearest fire escape.

You will never find a perfect congregation nor meet another human being who agrees with you on every point. If you did, you probably shouldn’t be friends with them. Like many fruit trees need winter freezes, we need an amount of conflict and disagreement in our lives to be healthy.

Identify what’s really important, and therefore what isn’t. A church or synagogue that promotes behavior God abhors, can be easily eliminated. If they calculate God’s feast days by the sighting of the new moon in Jerusalem instead of the astronomically calculated calendar used by the mainstream Jewish calendar, that might not be such a big deal. You’ll have to decide what your priorities are, as well as what they should be, and then act accordingly.

The one thing you should not do is go it alone. God made us to be communal creatures. His Law teaches us how to love, but only within the context of community. If a Methodist or an Assemblies of God church is the best option available in your area, don’t dismiss it.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

Go to church if that’s what God has provided, and then consider starting something new. Maybe God has placed you where you are for just that purpose.


A Note on Names

* I hate that I have to bring this up, but there is actually a lot of disagreement about how to spell and pronounce the Hebrew name of God and Jesus, and some people get very intense about it. I think these arguments are mostly wastes of time, but since they are out there, they need to be addressed, however briefly. The table below presents the various ways I have seen the names spelled. Those in the “Good” column are conventional and widely accepted by most historians and linguists. Those in the “Iffy” column are less likely to be accurate, but aren’t terribly unreasonable. Those in the “Nope” column are almost certainly wrong, and people who insist on them probably have much more serious problems. I strongly recommend avoiding congregations that insist there is one, and only one possible correct spelling or pronunciation of the divine names, and anyone who doesn’t use their version is a heretic.

English Good Iffy Nope
LORD
God
Jehovah
YHVH
YHWH
Yahweh
Yahovah
Yehovah
Yahuah
Yahawah
Ahyah
Jesus Yeshua
Yehoshua
Y’shua
Yahshua Yahawashi
Yahusha
Yashaya
Yahuwshuwa

God Hates His People

God hates his people.

Or at least that’s what many churches teach. They quote Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in which he said, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30) Then they quote Yeshua’s statements along the lines of “You have heard it said thus, but I tell you differently.” And they conclude that God’s Law no longer applies and at least partly consisted of God winking at sin all along. The Law was incomplete and Jesus fixed it. Or worse, that God played Keep-Away with eternal salvation by setting the Jews up with an impossible standard even while he told them that it wasn’t that hard.

God loves his people! His word is true! Obedience brings Life! God never changes!Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s not hyperbole. They literally don’t understand what they’re saying. I have to wonder if those theologians have ever actually read their proof texts. Neither Yeshua nor Paul was addressing the Law of God in those passages. Yeshua was correcting traditions of men, which misrepresented the Law, and Paul was speaking of total ignorance of the Law, which, for the sake of your faith in him, God overlooks until you are able to learn it.

The idea that God deliberately hobbled his Law by “winking” at certain sins or hobbled his people by making them dependent on an impossible standard for their salvation means that God hates the very people whom he claims to love.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall always rebuke your neighbor, and not allow sin on him. (Leviticus 19:17)

If God compromised his Law in deference to the prevailing culture (you know, that Egyptian culture of idolatry and incestuous marriage), then, by his own standards, he hated Israel even while he proclaimed his love. If the church is right, that God established sin in his Law or lied about his real expectations, then God is a liar and a hater of mankind.

What man is there of you, if his son asks a loaf, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks a fish, will he give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him? (Matthew 7:9-11)

Which, of course, means that Yeshua was also a liar and evil. His execution was deserved, and we have no hope of salvation.

Ever.

The entire history of God’s interaction with man has been a long, cruel joke. The manna was poisoned, and the Passover lamb was infested with parasites.

But I don’t believe any of that!

I believe that David knew of what he spoke when he said that “The Law of YHWH is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of YHWH is sure, making the simple wise. The Precepts of YHWH are right, rejoicing the heart; the Commandments of YHWH are pure, giving light to the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8) I believe that when Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” he meant all of his commandments, and not only the ones that he had to tell us twice.

I believe that God loves his people, that his Word is true, that obedience to his Word brings life, and that he never changes. What was a sin three thousand years ago remains a sin today. What was not a sin three thousand years ago is still not a sin today.

Because God is love, and a loving Father doesn’t give his son a stone when he asks for bread. (Matthew 7:9)

When Love Requires Violence

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-45a,48)

In Matthew 5, Yeshua corrected a number of man-made doctrines and misunderstandings of Biblical principles. Although Leviticus 19:18 says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, there is no command in Scripture to “hate your enemy”. It’s easy to see where they would get such an idea, though. In Psalm 139, David wrote,

Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21-22)

This sounds at first like David hated his enemies, but that’s not what he said. David hated “those who rise up against” God and also counted them as his own enemies. He didn’t say that he hated his own enemies, most especially those who merely hated God in their hearts–which is bad enough–but only those who took action on their hatred, who rose up against God in open rebellion, attempting to bring others into their error.

On the national level, the Tanakh (the Old Testament) records numerous instances of God commanding Israel to attack those who had made themselves enemies of God either by attacking God’s people directly or by attempting to lead them into sin through which they could be cursed and defeated.

This is exactly the strategy that Balaam taught Moab and Midian to use against Israel. By attacking Israel, those nations became God’s enemies. If they had attacked Israel only in self-defense, they would still be Israel’s enemies, but not necessarily God’s, and Israel would be in the wrong. But they didn’t attack Israel in self-defense. They didn’t even attack because they hated Israel, but because they hated God who had chosen Israel instead of them.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.” (Numbers 25:16-18)

There is no instance of God commanding Israel to attack or hate anyone simply because they were rivals or enemies of Israel. Edom also hated Israel, but unlike Midian and the various Canaanite nations, they didn’t rise up against God. Despite centuries of conflict between the rival kingdoms, God commanded Israel to respect the boundaries of Edom until they were both conquered by Babylon.

The same principle holds true for interpersonal relationships, especially between brothers among God’s people. In Matthew 5:43-48, Yeshua drew on the broader context of the original source of “love your neighbor as yourself”, Leviticus 19:1-30. This passage is structured as a chiasm (see here for more information on chiasms) in which commands to refrain from hateful behavior are sandwiched between instructions on sacrifice, refraining from idolatry, and reverencing parents, Tabernacle, and Sabbath.

  • v3 – Reverence for parents & Sabbath
    • v4 – Idolatry/paganism
      • v5-10 – Sacrifice and food
        • v11-20 – Fraud, oppression, hatred, mixtures, sexual abuse
      • v21-26a – Sacrifice and food
    • v26b-29 – Idolatry/paganism
  • v30 – Reverence for Tabernacle & Sabbath

A chiasm in Leviticus 19:3-30 that equates hatred with idolatry.This is very similar to another, much larger, chiastic structure in Exodus 25-40. In that instance, the idolatry of the golden calf, after which God commanded the faithful of Israel to kill their own brothers, is set between the stone tablets, Sabbath, and instructions for the Tabernacle. See more details on that chiasm here.

God’s intent in this arrangement appears to be to equate unjust hatred for one’s brothers with idolatry, or hatred of God himself. To paraphrase God’s message…

Don’t steal from or lie to one another. Don’t oppress the powerless. Don’t hold hatred in your heart for your brother. Don’t speak ill of one another. Respect the boundaries I have created. Just like you, your brothers are created in my image and if you abuse them, it is like you are abusing me. My true worshiper not only offers sacrifices and reverences his parents, my sanctuary, and my Sabbath, but reverences his brothers, even those who have done him wrong.

Mercy is always God’s default position. He loves all mankind and doesn’t want even a single person to be lost. But for reasons of his own, he has created us able to reject him and each other. We are fully capable of theft, rape, and murder, and God doesn’t stop us from committing whatever wicked act comes into our hearts.

Just as he has empowered us to do evil, he has empowered and even commanded us to correct injustices. We are required to execute murderers and adulterers and to exact punishment and restitution where applicable.

The punishment of criminals and the destruction of entire nations who have sworn enmity against God is not counter to Yeshua’s instructions to love one another. It is impossible to love everyone equally as some are willing oppressors while others are innocently oppressed. To destroy the one is to love the other and God’s word is consistently in favor of the oppressed.*

Usually love means being kind and merciful, but sometimes love also requires violence.

*And by oppressed I don’t mean poor or uneducated. Those are conditions that might be the result of oppression, but they might as easily be the result of natural disasters or poor personal decisions. I mean people who are actively being oppressed by someone else and who are unable to defend themselves.

Update: Here’s a little more detail on that chiasm. The chiasm itself is actually one and one-half segments of a triple parallelism.

  • V3 – Reverence (Mother, Father, Sabbath)
    • V4 – Idolatry
      • V5-10 – Sacrifices and food
        • V11-12 – Fraud
        • V13-15 – Oppression
        • V16-18 – Hatred
        • V19 – Mixtures
        • V20 – Oppression/sexual immorality
      • V21-26a – Sacrifices and food
    • V26b-29 – Idolatry/paganism
  • V30 – Reverence (Sabbath, sanctuary)
    • V31 – Idolatry/paganism
  • V32 – Reverence (Elders)
    • V33-36 – Oppression & Fraud

Nobody’s Perfect, So Don’t Even Try

Does James 2:10 mean that Christians shouldn't try to keep God's law? In Paul's words, Heaven forbid!

Someone once tried to tell me…

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

Good luck trying to become righteous before God through the law…I wish you the best.

This person was equating “righteous” with “saved”, which isn’t entirely wrong. It’s just irrelevant. Whether or not a Christian is obligated to keep God’s Law has nothing at all to do with whether or not it makes a person sufficiently righteous to merit salvation. Abstaining from murder doesn’t make one righteous in this sense either, but no one believes Christians are therefore free to commit murder.

This person is essentially saying, “You can’t keep the Law perfectly, so don’t even try,” which is precisely the opposite of what James was trying to say. Just three verses earlier, he quoted Torah (the Law) from Leviticus 19:18, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” Does it really make sense to interpret James as saying “If you’re trying to keep the Law, you’re doing a good thing, but since you can’t keep all of it, don’t try to keep any of it”? How absurd!

No, James was saying, “It’s great if you love your neighbor, but don’t forget about all the rest of it.”

Nobody’s perfect. We’re all going to fall short of God’s standards (aka Torah). That’s why Yeshua’s sacrifice was necessary. But don’t take inevitable failure as permission to fail. It’s not.