BYNA Summit: Where do we go from here?

Impactful. Unifying. Hilarious. Informative. Positive. Inspiring. Healing. These are just some of the words that come to mind when I think of the recent B’ney Yosef North America (BYNA) Summit that was held February 12th -14th in Mesa, AZ.

The Summit kicked off in a most unique way, giving weight to a well known word, protocol. Among those who attended this gathering were members of the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh tribes (better known in English as the Pima and Maricopa tribes), indigenous peoples of the American south-west. A time of mutual blessing was offered, gifts were exchanged as a sign of respect for one another, and new friends were most certainly made.

When it was time for the speakers, Al McCarn, executive director of BYNA, had the first slot. Al gave a talk on protocol and also something of a “State of BYNA” address, which by the way, is good (but I will come back to that). Al was followed that evening by BYNA elder and House of Aaron leader, John Conrad, who spoke on giving a good report. John laid out a great case on why speaking the words of life and blessing rather than death and cursing are, in part, what should set us apart from the world around us. The next morning brought about a most unique brother, Dr. Suuqiina of Indigenous Messengers. Dr. Suuqiina blended humor (gut wrenching at times) with what Batya Wooten might call, “Deep theology on a business card.” When you wiped away the tears from laughing, you would hear a one or two line theological point that really left you thinking. The afternoon speaker came to us from the Netherlands, Iris Bouwman. Iris, who leads Judah and Ephraim Ministries with long time friend Janny Holster, shared unique insights pertaining to the gathering of all of Israel, how Benjamin is the bridge, and she also shared pictures and stories from her travels around the world. That night, Hanoch Young (United 2 Restore) shared personal insights and observations as related to the many congregations he has visited in the last 3 ½ years. In many cases his experiences among Ephraimites have been positive, but that has not always the case. Hanoch’s talk was preceded by what may have been the funniest skit of the Parable of the Prodigal Son ever done. And somehow, in the 20 minutes of more gut wrenching laughter, the point was made that Ephraim, the Prodigal Son, has had a pride issue he needs, we need, to address.

The final morning brought us another talk by John Conrad, the singing of Israel’s national anthem (HaTikvah) and a closing prayer by Mark Webb, an elder in both BYNA and Congregation Living Messiah in Mesa. As one would expect, parting from old and new friends alike was difficult.

What stood out to me?

After each session there were round table discussions where all attendees broke up into groups of 8 and addressed various questions that were provided by a group leader, usually a BYNA elder. The general theme of the discussion was centered on who BYNA is and what BYNA might look like as we continue on the path ahead. I believe each person was able to contribute their own observations and understandings to their groups, but for me personally, there was one main repeating picture that kept resurfacing in my mind, namely, the kind of individual it takes to have ten men coming to you because they believe the LORD is with you.

Zechariah 8:23 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”(NKJV)

“Grasp the sleeve” is probably better translated, “seize the corner.” It is fairly well accepted that this is the fringes, the tzitziot, the same that was grabbed on Yeshua in Matthew 9:20. However, when it comes to this Jewish man in Zech. 8:23, there has to be more than just the fringes that drew 10 men to him. The fringes are a sign of God’s will, His instructions or Law, but anyone can wear an article of clothing, there has to be more. What about this man was special? What was it that those ten men “heard” about him that they knew that the LORD was with him? We can surmise that this man was walking the walk, speaking life not death, bearing a good report about those he encounters. But I think in every way he must have been a reflection of the one he served. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:17 that all we do in word or deed should be done, “in the name of,” Yeshua. To do something in the name of another means doing it in a manner consistent with his character, in a way that adds to his reputation, or is done in his authority or power. What Paul is saying is that everything we do should reflect the one we serve. The world around us should actually hear the Lord in our words and see him in our deeds and if they don’t, we are not operating in his name.

I believe the essence of the Jewish man in Zech. 8:23 is that he is operating in the name, reflecting the character of the one he serves. And in my view, how much of an impact BYNA can have is directly tied to how well each of us as Ephraimites can also reflect the one we serve. If we each can speak life and not death, be edifying and not strife filled, bless rather than curse, and above all… exude the fruits of the Spirit of God in everything we say and do – then we will begin to see lives changed on a scale we have only dreamt about. Beyond what I just shared, the difference between the Jewish man in that verse and anyone else is that he leads a set-apart (holy) life and has the inner peace to handle it. Moreover, he is humble… he knows it isn’t about him, it is about the one he serves and everything he says and does testifies to that. The ten men KNEW the Lord was with him!

The state of BYNA is good but there is still a lot of work to do. And most of it is hinged on us better resembling the Jewish man of Zech. 8:23. How much impact we have, how unifying we are, what effect we have on those around us… all intrinsically tied to to the idea that the increasingly dark world around us can and will only get darker, unless we allow the light of God to shine brightly in everything we say and do.

>> Check out the BYNA website in the coming weeks as all the talks and events will be offered for sale on digital download.

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In Search of Peace (Thoughts on the upcoming BYNA Summit)

Last January I traveled down near Nashville, Tennessee for the B’ney Yosef North America (BYNA) Plenary Meeting. I went in with real hope but also with great caution as I so wanted to see a group come together that would be geared around the concept of promoting peace and unity among the quickly expanding Ephraimite community. I was cautious, however, because I had no idea what direction this group had envisioned. There were some ideas shared at that meeting that, quite frankly, would have prevented me from becoming a part of this group. Yet, as we continued to discuss things, pray about them, and work together through them, a theme of reconciliation aimed mainly at the growing Hebraic Christian movement began to emerge. I came out of that meeting with a renewed zeal for the work before us and I found myself committed to helping this process in any manner that God would have me.

Once we left Tennessee, we began the work of planning a “North American Summit” which was to take place barely three months later. We all had work to do, jobs that needed to be done. Mine was to work on the writing committee to bring forth a set of principles we all could agree to. That became manifest in what is now called, “The Articles of Declaration.” Upon arriving in St. Petersburg, Florida, it became clear, very quickly, that most of the people that were present shared the same vision of promoting unity throughout our house first, before moving on to other work.

After almost a couple of thousand years of splits and denominations, the promotion of peace and unity on a body-wide level is truly in its infant stage. With so much division and strife throughout all forms of Christianity, it should be clear to us all that we can’t continue indefinitely using our current model. There is not enough peace throughout our entire body, or “house” if you will, for us to be fully able to touch a holy thing. By that I mean that without sufficient peace within us, we can only profane the holy things we handle. This is a concept that is not comprehended well throughout our house and yet it stands as one of the major problems we have at introducing the well understood ancient teaching of the need to be one in function rather than form. We must develop enough inner peace that we can be surrounded by others that might not see everything as we currently do, and yet, work together without profaning (and destroying) the effort for the good of the whole.

One indisputable truth stands before us all: One day ALL of God’s people will stand together as one! Before that time, before the full restoration of all things has come to pass, we simply will not see eye to eye with everyone who is part of the family. Our mission is made clear in Ezekiel where we see him taking the two sticks (one for Judah and one for Joseph) and is commanded to hold them “near” one to another. He doesn’t make them one he simply brings them close and it is after that time that God will make them one in His hand. If all of God’s people are to be drawn close to one another BEFORE the completion of God’s Torah being written in the mind and heart is accomplished, then we will be among people who might not see God or His word exactly as we do. That is just a fact of life that we need to understand and grow comfortable with. This isn’t a position that condones error or false doctrine, it is simply the recognition that until we are perfected, we will stand among imperfection, ourselves included.

BYNA might very well play a key role in the days ahead, however, success isn’t likely to come through a political process. Instead, success will come through the people who share the same vision and are united, through God, with a common purpose. I believe that purpose, one of working together toward the reconciliation and restoration of all of God’s Israel, was made clear coming out of that first Plenary Meeting. No longer should we view ourselves as independent little groups, and our more autonomous teachers might consider at least loosely joining this effort of promoting peace and unity through a unified face like BYNA. Instead, we all need to start thinking like the community or body we really are, recognizing that we remain a people dispersed among the nations who need to learn how to get along before we can even consider taking any future steps. We are connected through the same God and His Messiah, however, that Messiah is not returning for the same dysfunctional family that were punished with dispersion to begin with. Rather, he is returning for a family who matured enough to be held near, one to another. Therefore, our first job is in this process is to learn how to live and work together in peace for the good of the whole body. A body, whose head, will be who ushers in the Kingdom and brings with him the exiles who have been away from home for far too long.

And so as we head toward the second BYNA Summit which will be held February 12-14th in Mesa, AZ, we find ourselves standing again at a place in history where, like so many moments before us, our direction might very well be steered if ever-so-slightly, into a direction that will, one day, truly change the world. The question is, are we willing to follow God’s lead and work through this process that might last a generation or more… or has our fly-by “in the second” culture gotten the best of us? Can we work within the structure of God’s timetable, or has our society sped up to the point where we can barely even hear that soft, still voice?

I, for one, stand optimistically and believe that we can hear and can work within His timetable and purpose. But we have to be willing to place our desires in the back seat and let God through His Spirit steer this vehicle according to His will. We cannot usher in the Kingdom, but we can actively be part of those two sticks that are drawn close before the Kingdom comes. And in order to do that, our stick must have inner shalom, inner peace or we will continue to profane and disrupt all we are exposed to. The widely shared sense of direction that came out of that first Plenary Meeting in Nashville remains the same today. If we do not correct our mistakes, and join together in the common purpose of unity and the promotion of peace throughout this movement; then we will not take part in the events we all so desire to be part of and witness. The result will be that we wait this out in the wilderness knowing that the next generation will see the Promised Land. Oh Father, help us find that peace!

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A Stick of Many Colors

An awakening is occurring today, a phenomenon wherein non-Jews in uncountable numbers are identifying as part of Israel. When these people read Ezekiel 37 and the two sticks, or Jeremiah 31 and the two houses, they see themselves as being part of the stick of Joseph, part of the House of Israel. This awakening certainly appears to be a work of God as the odds of so many unrelated people coming to this same understanding without collusion appears astronomical.

In general, it has truly been a blessing to stand back and watch as so many have come to a new understanding, a more Hebraic paradigm. Yet this awakening, this new paradigm is not happening without blemish. There are many people who are either polarized or who are polarizing, and varying degrees of division has been the result. The awakening has become a movement that blesses more than it curses, but it continues to curse at unacceptable levels.

Most of the strife, I dare say, is the result of a lack of quality discipleship. When we throw in a spirit of pride and good ole’ human stubbornness into the mix, it becomes clear that unity throughout the movement is understandably unattainable at this time. But things are slowly changing. Individual efforts by many within this awakening are paying off, and many groups (like United 2 Restore) as well as various congregations are taking a very public stance to promote an environment wherein we can work together toward a common goal rather than allowing the minutia we find within certain doctrinal positions to continue to stand as a wall between us. One group in particular, B’ney Yosef North America (BYNA), has even gone as far as putting forth what they call, “Articles of Declaration,” which is a biblically based agreement that is centered purely on behavior, on how we might interact with our families, congregations, and extended community. BYNA is trying to bring peace to chaos, unity to place where division has thrived.

Efforts like these are worthy of our support because they didn’t just recognize problems within the movement, they have gone out on a ledge to address them. They have discerned a lack of harmony in certain areas and have been willing to extend a hand of peace when others have stood back and only watched. But there is yet another area of disharmony, another great divide that is yet to be adequately crossed, racism.

There is no question that we have taken great strides toward ending racism around the world. Yet we still have many issues that need to be addressed. Secularly speaking, our political climate has continued to stir the pot of discord and tensions based on the color of our skin have escalated in some areas. In religious circles, we often find ourselves looking into the secular mirror as division by race remains more common than most probably realize. Though many churches have found a way to blend together and worship in harmony, a great schism continues to be the norm. I know of one street in a North Carolina town where there is a Baptist Church on either side of the road. One of them is a white church, and the other is a black church. At 10:15 on a Sunday morning, the street fills with cars and the African Americans go to their side and the white Americans go to theirs. Most every town in America has a predominately white church and a predominately black church. And, I should add, our history does make this understandable, albeit disheartening.

I propose to you that racial animosity will not depart from this world by anything done by the secularists. If anything, they are who stir this pot and profit politically through our social turmoil. The answer then, to our racial problems, must come through the people of faith. It must come through those who understand that our Heavenly Father has indeed created man in every color we see and that our coming together as brothers and sisters, accepting each other as He created us, is truly His will.

Being “united to restore” is more than just recognizing who the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph are and working toward any future reconciliation. Being united to restore is also recognizing who the many individuals are that make up each stick and standing united with them. Israel will be gathered from every nation, speaking every language, appearing in every color. Since that is true, then being united to restore goes beyond Joseph reaching out to Judah, or Judah reaching out to Joseph, it is Judah and Joseph reaching out to and making peace with ALL who belong to their own stick. The promotion of peace within each stick is necessary before the two sticks can be drawn close as pictured in Ezekiel 37:15-17. Since color remains a dividing issue, then we need to stand up and proactively address this. We must openly and enthusiastically come together to put this lingering wound to bed once and for all. Unless we can stand together in harmony regardless of our skin color, unless our stick can stand as one set apart people with a purpose… we will not see the restoration and reconciliation of the Whole House of Israel happen in our lifetime.

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An Open Letter to the Jewish People (on teshuvah)

Over the last decade or so, my family has been keeping the Sabbath and biblical Holy Days. We’re not Jewish, but we feel drawn to these days for our own reasons. In the process of observance and celebration, we consider ourselves blessed in many ways. As we annually cycle through the Appointed Times, we build upon those things we learned during the previous years. And, as each cycle comes around, I find my focus narrowing on reconciliation and restoration between and for all of the B’ney Yisrael.

Back in early September, as we began the final 40 days that lead to Yom Kippur, I began to see teshuvah in a completely different light. I made a commitment to reach out to those I knew I had wronged, and also, to those I believe I have been wronged by. This has been more than just another learning experience for me, it has been a humbling life lesson. I have stood before and asked forgiveness from those I know I have hurt. I have also stood before others in an attempt to find shalom between us, letting go of any memory that might have related to how poorly they might have treated me. Like I said, this has been a humbling and yet, somehow, oddly rewarding experience.

There is an aspect of teshuvah that I seem unable to satisfy at this time, and sadly, I might never satisfy this weight on my heart. That weight is found squarely on my inability to take the hurt of the Jewish people, a hurt caused by centuries of hostility at the hands of Christians, away. As a man loosely raised as a Christian, I now know that the Jewish people have, for the most part, a very unfavorable view of Christians, Christianity, and Jesus. And why not? Christians over the centuries have treated the Jewish people poorly. Starting early in the second century, various Christian leaders began to shape the paradigm of future Christians by writing about the Jews as if they were Christ killers, deplorable sinners, and a people out of God’s will and without purpose. As time progressed we see a growing lack of respect aimed at the Jewish people coupled with beatings, forced baptisms, and even death. When Hitler came into power, he claimed to be a Christian. Despite him being a poor reflection of the one he claimed to serve, the Jews should not be expected to have to discern who may or may not be reflecting the values of Christianity. Thus, from their perspective, if Hitler claimed to be a Christian, and I claim to be a Christian, then in their eyes, I am not much different than Hitler.

The truth is, I am unlike Hitler in many ways but I have no ability to undo the past. Not only do I lack that ability, I really can’t even make an adequate apology to the Jewish people for the wrongs that have been committed against them by those who have come before me. I can’t make right what others have made wrong, all I can do is take a stand for Israel, for the Jewish people, and attempt to reflect the true values and character of the God we both serve. Judah – your God is my God, and your people are my people. While I can’t undo the past, I can offer my respect and understanding and only hope, and pray, that one day this sentiment becomes mutual. And perhaps, as time progresses, others will come to a similar understanding and, in time, reach that same depth of teshuvah. When that happens, we’ll all taste an aspect of shalom that hasn’t been realized since Solomon.

Avinu Malkeinu, hear my prayer. I have, we all have, sinned before you. Have compassion upon us and our children. Our Father, our King! Return us in complete teshuvah before you. We ask you to bring shalom to chaos and union to areas of division. May a door of communication be opened between all who belong to you, our King. To you alone be the glory! Amen.

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40 Days and Nights

The number 40 is a very intriguing number. It shows up 146 times in Scripture and it seems like it has 40 purposes. Testing, trial, probing, correction, warning, encouraging… it is likely we don’t even know all of God’s reasons behind the repetitive use of this number. For brevity sake, I won’t list every occurrence, but here are a few uses of this number as they appear in Scripture:

~ The rain fell on the earth for 40 days and nights while the family of Noah were safely aboard the Ark.

~ Moses spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in Midian, and then 40 years in the Wilderness. The latter with the rest of the Israelite’s who would not see the Promised Land.

~ The spies spent 40 days investigating the Land promised to Israel.

~ Jonah warned Nineveh for 40 days that their sins would bring about destruction.

~ Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize the sins of Judah.

~ Elijah fasted for 40 days at Horeb while Yeshua (Jesus) fasted for 40 days and nights before his ministry began.

~ Saul, David, and Solomon each ruled for 40 years.

Obviously there are many more examples and one of the most amazing appearances of the number 40 isn’t even found within the text, it is that many believe that 40 different authors were used to write the Tanach (OT) and B’rit Chadashah (NT). That may or may not be true as Moses certainly didn’t record his own death and there are questions about a second author in Isaiah. Regardless, clearly the number 40 has great meaning to the God we serve.

The month of Elul

Friday evening the new moon (Rosh Kodesh) will be visible, and that celestial event, as it does every month, marks the beginning of the new biblical month. According to the Hebrew calendar, that month is called “Elul,” and Elul, a 30 day month, is somewhat of a somber month in that it precedes the holiest time of the year. This is the time of the year when one begins to do some serious introspection, repenting, and drawing closer to both God and to His will for you as an individual and for this nation (Israel) to which we belong. The month of Elul ends on Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets (aka, “Rosh Hashanah”) and that begins what has been traditionally called, “The Days of Awe.”

The Days of Awe are truly the time when one really digs deep within themselves and seeks to have God reveal to them anything that might indicate where they have fallen short of God’s expectations. It is also a time when one might seek to make right any wrongs we have with one another. Pride is set aside and we walk in pure humility before God and neighbor in a true spirit of reconciliation. These 10 days end at the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. This day has always been tied to not only our own sin, but the sins of our nation. It is a time of fasting, prayer, rebuilding, and maturing. It should be that we have been reminded of our sins while being made aware of those things we didn’t realize were sin. We then lay it all out before God cleaning the slate, if you will, before beginning the next annual cycle in our walk.

40 Days and Nights

If you did the math above, Elul being 30 days and the Days of Awe being 10, you realize that Friday evening marks the beginning of 40 days that end on Yom Kippur. I doubt that fact is incidental, in fact, recognizing it now almost seems like a call by God to make use of that time in a manner beneficial to not only us as we walk individually before our God, but also beneficial to our community at large. The closer we draw to God, and the more we walk in humility before Him AND our neighbor, the better our community (or nation) will function as a whole.

In the spirit of being United 2 Restore, I am suggesting that we all take at least some time out of each of the next 40 days to pray, repent, and reconcile so that we might receive not only forgiveness but also direction for the days ahead. All of us setting aside time each day will mean that as a united body we will stand together daily in prayer, lifting each other up. It also means that as we do this as one people, we will start to draw closer together and truly begin resembling a nation. To borrow part of a verse from Esther 4, if we have “come to the kingdom for such a time as this” then it is time that we collectively begin to act like citizens of that Kingdom. Let us take the next 40 days, beginning on Friday evening, Elul 1, to pray, repent, and reconcile to whatever degree we are capable of. May you be blessed and may HE be exalted!

If you are in agreement, I ask you to share this article with others. Shalom to you all!

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Restoration 101: Users Guide

Over the last three years or so, we have been using the phrase, “Revolution for Restoration.” So many people have come to this understanding and are in full agreement that the time is now to draw closer to one another awaiting the day that God makes us one in His hand. But how does one go about a revolution like this? What exactly is expected of each of us? How does this revival of epic proportions even begin?

Well, I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t begin by saying that this great revival begins when it is God’s timing for it to begin. We cannot force God’s hand in anything, He alone is God and He alone will do what he has appointed for Himself to do. With that said, the concept of restoration has become so prevalent throughout those who identify as Israel that perhaps this great gathering is closer than we might think? After all, why would so many have such a strong drive to unite with all of God’s Israel when just 40 years ago or less, this wasn’t even a consideration?

With His timing seemingly within reach, I find myself influenced by many aspects of Scripture as I consider those questions asked above. To address those questions I offer the following three points for consideration. Perhaps we all might glean something that we can use to discern God’s purpose for us in the days ahead?

1. Cycles of Righteousness – The Feasts of God (see Lev. 23) have been called “Cycles of Righteousness” by various teachers throughout time. The reason is that they run in an annual cycle and they each feature various aspects through which we can learn. They teach about the history that each feast was derived from, they carry a meaning that is relevant to the day in which you live, and they also point forward at work that God would do, in general, through His messiah. In doing this, the feasts reveal aspects of God’s heart and desire for His people as they reveal His righteousness. Since they repeat on an annual basis, they have been called, “Cycles of Righteousness.” The repetition of His Holy Days, year after year, helps to drive home the points being made, keep them fresh on our minds, and allow us to build on what we learned the prior year. The learning truly never ends.

For the purposes of this article, I am only going to look at an aspect of the first two fall feasts, Yom Teruah (Trumpets, AKA “Rosh Hashanah”) and Yom Kippur (atonement/ coverture). Yom Teruah is a high Sabbath that marks the beginning of the month of Tishri (generally in September) and traditionally the Jews have viewed this as the anniversary of the first day of Creation. It also marks the first of 10 days known as “the Days of Awe.” It is during these 10 days when one, traditionally, is expected to dig deep into oneself and recall all areas where they might have fallen short not only before God, but before each other. It is also the time when we ask God to reveal those areas where we fell unknowingly short. It is a time to reconcile our differences, repent and go and make peace between one another. We then stand before God at the end of those 10 days, on Yom Kippur, another High Sabbath and perhaps the highest of all, having reconciled any and all differences we had not only with God but with each other. It is a time of individual and national cleansing.

Revival can not come, restoration cannot happen, if we stand at odds with our brothers and sisters. God “hates” division among the brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19) and if we love God then we must love what He loves and hate what He hates. And if God hates division, then we must also hate division. Therefore, if we seek revival and restoration, we must take the Days of Awe very seriously and make peace with those we have wronged while repenting of those things we knew… and didn’t know of… before God.

2. Changing the culture – Our congregation has been following a triennial Torah Portion for the last 4 years or so. Last week we brought the book of Genesis to a close and when we did, a realization came to me. Joseph was able, seemingly single-handedly, to change the entire Egyptian culture. As we consider his time in Egypt, we see him begin as a slave with few personal rights. Yet despite all he had gone through in getting to Egypt, he retained a positive demeanor and managed to continue reflecting the character attributes of God. He impresses Potifer, makes an impact on at least one of his jail-mates, and then wins over Pharaoh to the point of being placed above all of Egypt, save for Pharaoh. His decisions and actions save the Egyptian people and through the entire process the Egyptians go from extreme xenophobia to an all out embracing of not just Joseph, but of Joseph and all the Israelites in that land. This is made obvious when Jacob dies, as all the elders of Egypt, including all the elders of Pharaoh’s house, travel with Joseph and his brothers to Canaan to bury Jacob. We even see that the Egyptians mourned over Jacob’s death for 70 days.

Joseph changed the culture of Egypt, not so much with words but with actions and a godly character. His walk reflected the one He served, which was Pharaoh perhaps in the flesh, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in his soul. Joseph “walked in the name of YHWH.” This means he walked in a manner consistent with the character and reputation of YHWH and it was that, above all else, that changed the Egyptian culture. This is what happens when our walk does the talking. Words are fine, there are times to answer questions and share truths. But nothing speaks louder than a walk that consistently reflects the one we serve. The the world around us sees God in our actions, and even hears Him in our words, lives are changed.

3. Going to your brother – A friend and mentor of mine, Frank Houtz, read Matthew 5:23-24 at our last Sabbath meeting. Like so many verses before this one, I learned that I had been hearing this backwards despite reading it properly. The verses state that if you come to the altar with a gift and then remember that your brother has something against you, that you are supposed to go to him and reconcile this and then come back and offer that gift before God. This verse is not telling me to go apologize and make right something I did wrong to my brother, it is telling me to go and make peace with a brother who has a problem WITH ME. What a humbling realization! This verse is telling me to push the button marked “PRIDE” and go to a brother who might have wronged me, and make peace. This could mean that I have to walk away from that meeting allowing that brother to think he was right and I was wrong the entire time even if I wasn’t. Talk about humility! And do note, these verses are dealing with a “brother,” a fellow believer, not a stranger or enemy. Yet Yeshua’s statement is not unique… we have others like it. The ancient sages once taught that the ones on the receiving end of a wrong-doing have an obligation to present an opportunity for someone to reconcile a wrong they have committed against us. That isn’t us going into that situation saying, “Here I am, I was right, apologize to me,” it is us standing before them in humility hoping they too see the need to make this right and reconcile. We also have 1 John 4:20 which reads, “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

There are more verses like this that extend from loving your neighbor in Lev. 19:18 to Proverbs 25:21 which commands us to feed even our enemies (Paul quotes this in Rom. 12:20). This line of thinking even extends to Yeshua saying, “turn the other cheek” when confronted with an evil person. The theme of these, seemingly; to humble ourselves before all others in a manner that encourages peace. Loving neighbor isn’t exactly the easiest command to follow because sometimes our neighbor isn’t as cooperative as we might like. Yet, God’s will is for us to love them and love is shown, not spoken.

Bringing it all together

Everything that has been shared to this point is dealing with our relationship to not only God but all those we encounter, whether “brethren” or not. Are we willing to humble ourselves before a brother who wronged us for the sake of peace? Can we find it within ourselves to offer food (or meet any other need) to an enemy? Are we able to love a neighbor who abhors us? Is it possible to walk among the strangers without compromising our values or allowing the light of the one we serve to diminish from within us? Can we change the culture we find ourselves in by reflecting the one we serve?

Brothers and sisters, I truly believe we are able to take all the correct steps but I also know it will take great commitment, strength, and humility. It all must begin with us on our knees, daily, in order to address our own shortcomings and repent of those areas we have fallen short in. It will take us reaching out to those we have wronged and making those situations right. But even more, it will take a willingness to reach out to those who have wronged us, making peace on our end while praying that they do the same from theirs. It will mean us truly walking Torah as the spirit of Torah has been revealed to us. It is no longer enough to claim we walk in Torah, it is time to let the world see the Torah in our walk. We know what to do, it is time to do it.

As the fall feasts approach, I encourage you to take this time to seek the face of God like you never have before. This Revival, this “Revolution for Restoration” begins with each one of us getting right with God and each other. We have an opportunity right here, right now… to become part of the answer rather than part of the problem. And as more and more of us accept the challenge to humbly become part of the answer, then we will change the culture in which we find ourselves and bless the nation of Israel at large to which we belong. This house is being rebuilt one stone at a time, and only through love, peace, and mutual understanding will each piece properly fit.

We are all standing at a fork in the road. One path leads to an extended visit in the wilderness while the other leads to the Promised Land. The former really doesn’t take much work, our pride alone almost guarantees a lengthy stay in the wilderness. The latter will take work, it will take great amounts of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In other words, it can no longer be us, me, I… it has to be Him through us or restoration and revival will remain but a dream.

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United 2 Restore: from Concept to Quest

If we will find out tomorrow that the things dividing  us today will not be as important we we currently believe them to be, then perhaps it is time to put them aside and stand United 2 Restore.

I always wonder what each scene was like when the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe, spoke to one of His prophets. Was it a loud thunderous voice or was it a soft-still voice? Was it the prophet’s own voice in his own head, just speaking things that were obviously beyond his ability to speak? Perhaps each time is different? In whatever method God used to speak to the prophet Ezekiel on this particular day, what he heard and recorded in what is now called Ezekiel chapter 37, has ramifications that appear to be relevant to us this very day. What is written in this chapter, and in particular the verses below, have become the foundation for what we call, United 2 Restore.

At some point, two people represented abstractly by two sticks, would become one in the hand of God. This event is one of the most prophesied events in biblical history yet remarkably one of the most misunderstood and over-looked. The two verses below, reveal a work that takes place before God makes the two sticks one in His hand:

37:16 “As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.’ (17) Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand.

We have two sticks, one is for Judah and the other for Joseph. The English translation here has Ezekiel joining them one to another into one stick. However, this doesn’t exactly capture the essence of the underlying Hebrew for this verse. The word translated as “join” is the word קרב ( qârav ) and it means: to bring or draw near, to approach. So instead of the idea that Ezekiel takes the two sticks and joins them so that they are one, it is his job to simply take the two sticks and treat them as if one… holding them close, drawing them near, until God does His work:

37:18 “And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, ‘Will you not show us what you mean by these?’– (19) say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”‘

The picture that should be taken from this is not that Ezekiel will come back from the dead and be the one who brings Judah and Joseph close to one another but rather that those who are part of these two sticks should recognize the need to draw close to one another until God makes the two one in His hand. We don’t make the two one, we don’t usher in the Kingdom… we simply recognize that God is going to do this work and we should accept this whether or not our current theology is in agreement or not. Of course, accepting this, and walking in one accord with those represented by the other stick, is not an easy task when we ponder some of the current theological differences between Judah and Joseph. But before addressing that, we need to make sure we understand the answer to the question, “Who is Judah and Joseph?”

Two Sticks, Two Houses, Two Nations, Two Witnesses, Two People

The glory years of Israel, as a nation, seem to be the years that David was king. When David died and Solomon became king, things were still good but as time went on the light that was the reign of David began to fade and when Solomon died, the nation of Israel divided into two different kingdoms. To the south went the tribe of Judah along with Benjamin and part of Levi. This kingdom was called “Judah” and they continued, more or less, to walk in the statutes and commandments of God. To the north went the remaining tribes and the picture presented by their lives is a stark contrast to Judah. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was seemingly full of corruption and idolatry. As time went on things only got worse and Israel continued to fall away from God. Despite prophetic warning, a rebellious Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was attacked by the Assyrians as punishment for their evil ways. Taken into captivity, and unrepentant, they eventually were scattered from Assyria into the nations as prophesied first in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 but repeated many times throughout the writings of the prophets. Though some returned, the vast majority, perhaps a million or more, did not. History records these Israelites as, “the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”

Judah remained in covenant but would itself taste a time of captivity for their own sins. Taken into Babylon, Judah would ultimately return during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and we know them today as the Jewish people. So if one of the sticks is for Judah, and Judah appears to be the Jewish people, then the Jews are one half of the picture presented by Ezekiel. The question then becomes, “Who is Israel?”

The answer is found in the words of Yeshua, commonly known today as Jesus. He stated in Matthew 15:24, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” In a sense he was doubling down, if you will, on a statement made earlier in Matthew 5 when he said to his disciples, “Go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” To what degree his message of “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17) relates to Judah can be the subject of future discussion. For the purposes of this article it seems clear that Yeshua was placing the weight of his mission on calling those who were still scattered into the nations and already known in that time and culture as “the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” For those who are not Jewish but who have come to see Yeshua as messiah, your identity should be clear. If he came to call the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and we have heard his voice and come in faith and his sheep hear his voice, then are we not the lost sheep of the House of Israel that he said he had come for? Is the other stick in the hand of Ezekiel made up of a group of people almost entirely ignorant of the fact that in the first century their “religion” was seen as a sect of Judaism? Would this also not mean that those who see themselves as “spiritual Israel” have simply lacked a piece or two of the puzzle that would have helped them see that instead of just “spiritual Israel,” they are in fact as much “Israel” as anyone can be? Two sticks, two people… the Jews and the Christians? Two witnesses, a great ones, as they have stood at odds over time yet have each, in their own ways, testified of the same God and the same coming Kingdom.

I realize that today the term “Christian” has a negative light in many circles. To the Jewish person it might represent turmoil considering the history of forced baptisms and in some cases death in the name of Jesus. Even within Christianity, there are certain sub-sects like the Hebrew Roots Movement or even Messianic Judaism which tend to shy away from the word for various reasons. I am not trying to offend by using it, I am simply trying to communicate, to make sure it is understood what is being stated here. The two sticks are two people, unique, separate, and only when God makes them one in HIS hand, do we cease being separate and unique.

Turning a Concept into a Quest

This is where the concept of United 2 Restore was born. In Ezekiel we have two sticks that represent two people. Once they were one, they divided and became two very different people, and one day they will be reunited and no longer so different. The picture that is provided in Ezekiel is one of mutual respect and understanding. You see, if Ezekiel was commanded to make them one, then either Judah becomes Joseph or Joseph becomes Judah… or war breaks out as either side attempts to make the other like themselves. Instead, Ezekiel was told to “draw them near,” not make them one. So, we draw near to one another but remain unique and separate until God makes us one. This means we need to learn to respect one another, get along with one another, knowing that God is going to do a mighty work, again, whether that work agrees with our current understanding and theology or not! It will happen because that is what God has stated will happen.

Yet, being United 2 Restore goes beyond just Judah and Joseph. We have the Samaritans out there who are part of Joseph and are said to be a people of 1000 today but who are likely in the millions and don’t know it because of their years in exile as well. They, as a people, are largely ignored by Judah and all but unknown to the rest of Joseph. But addition to a group like the Samaritans, we have a great obstacle that still, to this day, stands before us… racism!

As we watch the daily news feeds we see people fighting and separating based on the color of their skin. This problem might actually be exasperated by the people of God because we are well aware of the fact that God created all human-kind regardless of skin color. And yet, especially on the side of Joseph, we have congregations that are all black or all white. I know of places where a black Baptist church and a white Baptist church appear on the same street, within 100′ of one another. Between 10:00 and 10:15am on a Sunday morning, 100 cars come down that road, park, and the congregants go their separate ways. We are still segregated and in our holy meeting rooms of all places. Friends, if WE can’t get the racial problem right, how can we expect the world to have a chance at getting it right?

Being United 2 Restore means understanding that God’s plan of reunification is apparently a little larger than our own theological understanding. Though we should each hold on to the essence of what makes us each who and what we are, we should also be able to recognize that God, ultimately, will make two separate groups of people into one. Recognizing this requires us to at least draw near to one another, to acknowledge that, though the eyes of God, we are indeed family. What does draw near look like? Well, that is probably better left up to each individual and their current level of understanding. Still, we are to draw near, draw close, understand the fact that even if today we are separated by seemingly miles of theological points, through the eyes of God, all of His people are the same one family, the same one body, the same one house, the same one nation. To the eternal (timeless) God, this is already a done deal and it is our understanding of this that needs to catch up to God.

Thus being United 2 Restore means sacrificing for the good of the whole. It means that we are to understand that the nation is more important than the individual. It means that obscure doctrinal points (like pronunciations of names for example) are simply not more important than the well being of the community to which we belong. Being United 2 Restore means respecting one another even if we don’t agree on every point of understanding because one day, in God’s timing, we will stand together before Him as one. And friends, the things that we have allowed to divide us today, those things that we have allowed to stand between us and our drawing near as the picture in Ezekiel reveals… will no longer carry the weight that they seem to carry today. And if we will find out tomorrow that the things dividing  us today will not be as important we we currently believe them to be, then perhaps it is time to put them aside and stand United 2 Restore.

We ask you, Israel, whoever and wherever you are, to stand with us, add your voices to ours, become part of a Revolution for Restoration… turn a simple concept presented by a humble prophet into a quest that will one day change the world. Become part of an awakening that was started by God but that currently rests to draw near to all who are His until the glorious day that He makes us one in His hand. Blessed be the day when we are one, and blessed be He that makes us one!

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Heresy

Hypothetically, what they were sharing could have even been the truth, but because they have taken to the position of trying to manipulate others into accepting their belief or practice, they have crossed the line of heresy.

Our western culture is polarized. We are generally raised to see two possible answers to any question, one of them being correct and other being incorrect. We are then trained to choose and in doing so we are pitted against one another when somebody makes a choice that opposes our own. In politics this translates over to conservatives verses liberals, blacks verse whites, literate verse illiterate, rich verse poor, pro-life verse pro-choice and on and on we go through a world full of emotion-based issues we can choose from. Our adversary becomes anyone who doesn’t make the choice we do and we often end up finding ourselves pitted against our neighbor.

Within the scope of religion, we call the person who makes a choice different than our own a heretic. In our religious culture today, the word heretic is defined as “one who disagrees with the mainstream (orthodoxy).” Anyone who does not then agree with the orthodox view, or in a more personal sense, one who does not agree with me, is a heretic. This is why we see so many today throwing around this word with little care. We believe we have truth, and anyone who doesn’t agree is a heretic; there, nice and simple. But rarely is anything as simple as it seems.

The evolution of words

A word is merely a symbol and symbols are used to point to people, places, things or even concepts and ideas. The much overlooked fact about words, however, is that they evolve. What I mean by that is words can have a certain meaning at one time in history and yet carry a different meaning at another. Let me share a few examples of words evolving over time in relation to their meaning.

When the King James Version (KJV) was translated, the word “prevent” meant “to go before,” rather than “to keep from happening,” which is how it is defined today. If you have been in the military or have seen movies depicting squads out on patrol, one man would walk the “point,” out in front of the rest. A few hundred years ago that was the idea of the word prevent. About that same time in history, if I had said to you, “We engaged in gay intercourse,” you would have not thought twice and knew I meant, “pleasant (or happy) discussion.” That doesn’t exactly carry the same meaning today, does it?

While my latter example is an obvious one in regards to the evolution of words, a word like prevent is far more subtle. Yet even a subtle change in meaning can drastically alter the context of what we are reading. For example, in Psalm 59:10 we read, “The God of my mercy shall prevent me: God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies.” One has to wonder how many readers of the KJV truly understand that the first half of that verse means, “The God of mercy shall go before me,” which is how most modern English bibles, rightly, render the Hebrew in that verse.

One thing most all of us do or have done is make an assumption in relation to the bibles we read. We have a word that is common in usage today and it has a certain meaning. We are assuming it has always had that meaning and are applying the definition from today to a work written at a time when the word in question held a different meaning. We do this often. In addition to prevent, for example, there are other words in Scripture that mean one thing today but meant something else entirely when they were first chosen to represent the underlying Hebrew or Greek words in our bibles. The word adoption comes to mind. Today we use that word to describe an orphan, a child without parents. But in the Near East in the first century, the word adoption was used to describe a business owner bringing into his family business one who might even be his own child. We have historical examples of a father adopting his own sons into the family business. So while the idea of being a spiritual orphan adopted by God has a nice picture to it, what this really means for us is that as “adopted sons of God,” we  have been brought into the family of God to do the work of the Father. Thus when we read spiritual orphan into the word adoption in our bibles, we have completely missed the point God was trying to share.

There is another word found in Scripture that has a meaning that so differs from how it was used long ago that we have totally missed the context of our own identity; that word is gentile. Today, most Christians see themselves as gentiles. The online Webster’s dictionary would appear to support this modern conclusion as it defines the word gentile in this manner:

Gentile – often capitalized : a person of a non-Jewish nation or of non-Jewish faith; especially : a Christian as distinguished from a Jew;

However, when the first English bibles were translated and the word gentile was used as one translation for the Hebrew goyim or the Greek ethnos, the meaning was quite different. Here is the Webster’s Dictionary from 1828 to give us an idea of how the word gentile was understood just a couple of hundred years ago:

GEN’TILE, n. [L. gentilis; from L. gens, nation, race; applied to pagans.]

In the scriptures, a pagan; a worshipper of false gods; any person not a Jew or a christian; a heathen. The Hebrews included in the term goim or nations, all the tribes of men who had not received the true faith,and were not circumcised. The christians translated goim by the L. gentes, and imitated the Jews in giving the name gentiles to all nations who were not Jews nor christians. In civil affairs, the denomination was given to all nations who were not Romans.

Today a gentile is a Christian as distinguished from a Jewish person, whereas when the word was first used in our bibles, a gentile was neither a Jew OR a Christian: a gentile was a pagan. Historically speaking, the idea of being a “gentile Christian” is an oxymoron. This is why in Ephesians 2 we see Paul writing about how we were gentiles in the flesh but are now fellow citizens of the Commonwealth of Israel. We clearly need to pay closer attention to definitions because of what a large part of the context definitions are.

Who is a heretic?

Heresy is another word that carried a meaning long ago that has changed today. Having already shared the modern meaning (disagreement with the orthodoxy), allow me to share the Thayer Lexicon entry for the Greek word hairesis, the underlying word for heresy:

Hairesis (G139)

1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city
2) choosing, choice
3) that which is chosen
4) a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party)
4a) of the Sadducees
4b) of the Pharisees
4c) of the Christians
5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims

Within the word we have the concept of disagreement and choice, but also division and sects. Yet the number one definition is dealing with force and manipulation. When Rome was sacked by the Gauls in 387AD after the Battle of the Allia, one could rightly say the action of the Gauls was heresy. Thus the idea of storming a city carries the notion of disagreement because nobody storms a city filled with people they agree with. Yet the word is used in Scripture and not in the context of storming a city, so let’s take a look at one entry:

2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies (G139), even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.

Within the context of the definition of the word heresy, I believe a proper conclusion here is to say that these false prophets and teachers that Peter speaks about have an understanding or perceived truth that they are attempting to force (or manipulate – force by stealth) others to accept. They are attempting to impose their view and their practices on others and in the process are causing division. Hypothetically, what they were sharing could have even been the truth, but because they have taken to the position of trying to manipulate others into accepting their belief or practice, they have crossed the line of heresy. This in part might be why Yeshua said, “he that seeks will find.” One who is not seeking will not find and if we force ourselves on a person not seeking then the results will not be a positive one. When we have to force what we believe on another we almost always end up polarizing them and turning them away from the truth as we understand it. In fact, force is often the reason we see brothers and sisters recoil against anything we have to share. A dear brother used in an recent article the example of Joseph and how he did indeed have a truth given to him by God. But instead of waiting on God’s timing, Joseph went and told his brothers about it. The result is well known, the brothers revolted against the idea that one day they will bow before Joseph and to make sure of it they threw him into a pit only to pull him out and throw him into slavery. Yes God used Joseph’s plight to His glory, but the altercation between him and his brothers stemmed from Joseph pushing a truth on another who was not ready to hear, not yet seeking.

Heresy might be disagreement, it might be a division or sect, but it is also the use of force on one not ready to receive. Secular and religious history depict heretics as those burned at the stake or who have lost their heads on a chopping block. Yet, the true heretics were the ones who gave the order to light the match or swing the axes. One who does not seek will not find; if he does not ask he will not hear the answer. If we do not practice the godly characteristic of patience and wait until that person is seeking before we give them whatever information we think they need to have, then we have entered the realm of heresy. And heresy is a work of the flesh that stands in direct opposition to the fruits of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16  I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (19) Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, (20) idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, (21) envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (24) And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (25) If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

If you’ll notice in the above verses, the fruits of the Spirit of God, the character traits that define His being, stand in direct opposition to works that include heresy which itself seems to be the opposite of self-control. Heresy divides, it disrupts, it robs peace and joy and exalts the heretic as the standard of truth. Most heresy, I admit, comes from being overzealous and while zeal can be good, being overzealous is not. Paul wrote to Titus saying that if a man is a heretic after the first or second admonition, we are to reject him. This divisive nature, heresy, is something God clearly has a strong opinion against. The heretic supplants God because the spiritual well being of another is taken out of hand of God and placed into the hand of the heretic. And that, my dear brothers and sisters, is an unhealthy place to be.

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The Hebrew Roots Dichotomy

The Hebrew Roots Movement might very well stand as one of the greatest examples to date of how man can take something intended as a blessing from God and turn it into a destructive force.

The Bible offers many contrasts through which God is able to declare His will for His people. This dichotomy is one way that God can give cause for man to turn from his fleshly desires toward living a more righteous life that is pleasing to his Creator. One of the more obvious examples is found in Deuteronomy 30:19 which states: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (NKJV) Polar opposites placed before us from which we are able to choose between a path that leads to God’s blessing, or a path that leads away from it.

Christianity as an entity has been quite dichotomous throughout its history. I remember during one of the very first sermons I attended before my adult baptism that the pastor seemed concerned about those Christians who “were saints on Sunday and lived liked hell the rest of the week.” But traits like hypocrisy are easy enough to spot and hypocrisy is certainly not confined to Christianity. Throughout the gospels we read Yeshua’s rebukes toward certain Pharisees who honored God with their lips but denied Him with their actions. Or even others who told the laypeople to do one thing while they themselves went and did another. As one who studies people and how they interact with their surroundings, I sadly conclude that hypocrisy is a trait that all of humanity, for one reason or another, is constantly in battle with. Consider Yeshua’s words in Matthew 7:5, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” I don’t know of one saint who hasn’t, at some point, forgotten to remove a plank from their own eye before trying to correct another.

As children of God we face a daily struggle relating to our personal balance. There is always a choice before us, blessing and cursing, life and death, right and wrong OR… perhaps, a middle ground or third or fourth choice where opposing ideas might find reconciliation? Yet we often do not wait on God or give enough time to allow a thought to develop into something balanced that can answer a question or provide reason for certain actions or conclusions arrived at by ourselves or others. Because of this we often go on the defensive very quickly when confronted with something that is outside of our current understanding. The result is almost always division between, and the polarization of, those around us. The Pew Research Center recently released their findings on the number of Christian denominations and sects around the world. Their claim is that today over 40,000 denominations and sects of the “one body of Yeshua” exist. Even if that number is inflated, hypothetically I will say it is doubled, we would still have entirely too much division between a people who should be united at least in function.

Hebrew Roots: Just another Sect?

In the early 1970’s a Jewish movement began: it became known as the Messianic Movement. Generally speaking, the Messianic Movement was an evangelistic effort by Jewish Christians who were attempting to reach out to their Orthodox brethren. It essentially gave a Jewish feel to the modern Christian message of salvation. This movement had a side effect, in which non-Jewish Christians began to be drawn to these congregations. This happened very slowly over time and, unfortunately, the non-Jewish visitors were frequently not accepted as equals. In some cases, the non-Jews were not allowed to attend the after-service gathering and meal known as Oneg. In almost all cases, no non-Jewish person was allowed to teach or be part of the congregational leadership. Do understand, I am not trying to ascribe an evil intention to the Messianic Jews, I think they were just so keyed on their mission to evangelize the Orthodox that they overlooked an opportunity to expand this more Hebraic flare of the faith to all who believed that Yeshua was Messiah. One result of our Jewish brothers and sisters not seizing this opportunity for fellowship with other believers was the emergence of the Hebrew Roots Movement.

The Hebrew Roots Movement is predominately made up of mainstream Christians who have felt drawn by God to the more Hebraic nature of the faith. This is a paradigm shift, a perspective change, that causes those within this movement to find a little more depth in the Apostolic Writings (NT) than had been realized before. The shift in one’s paradigm coupled with the study of the Torah (Law), Prophets, and Writings (Tanach or OT), which Yeshua said testified of him, brings a fresh context to the NT that had been lacking before. Most who find this path marvel over how “Jewish” early Christianity really was, especially as contrasted with the modern form of the faith that most Christians experience in a traditional church setting. To many, modern Christianity seemingly appears as if a new religion as compared to the form the faith was practiced in the first century. The result has been great blessing for those who take part in practices they once saw as antiquated. Generally the Sabbath and other Feasts, like Passover or Tabernacles, are greatly anticipated by families who have gained greater understanding of Yeshua’s work, by taking part in those things which were designed to point to the many facets of his mission(s).

But there is a problem: man is involved. If we have done anything consistently as a people throughout time, it has been our unique ability to turn into a curse something that God gave as a blessing. In that regard, the Hebrew Roots Movement might very well stand as one of the greatest examples to date of how man can take something intended as a blessing from God and turn it into a destructive force.

The Great Awakening and The Great Deception

After the reign of Solomon, Israel divided into two kingdoms. Judah (made up of Judah and Benjamin) became known as the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom, which was by far the majority of the population, was comprised of Joseph and the other 9 tribes, and it continued to be known as Israel (or in some instances as Ephraim). Roughly 200 years or so later, in 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) was attacked and taken into captivity by Assyria. Well over a million Israelites from the Northern Kingdom were taken from their land and placed into servitude in Assyria, and were ultimately scattered on out into the surrounding nations and regions. This event was first prophesied concisely in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 and was the result of the Northern Kingdom’s downward spiral into idolatry. When Israel was in Assyria, things did not change in that regard and Israel accepted foreign gods and assimilated into that culture. Unrepentant regarding their actions, God further punished them by scattering them from Assyria into the nations, He hid from them any sense of a national identity, and history views them as “The Lost Tribes of Israel.” These “lost sheep” have not returned to the land even to this day. Hosea wrote, “Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel Shall be gathered together, And appoint for themselves one head; And they shall come up out of the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel!” (Hosea 1:11 NKJV) The idea of “one head” is not a secular leader who won the popular vote in a democratically held election. Rather, this is dealing with the idea of a “King” reigning over a Kingdom of a reunited Israel. Since there has been no king over a united Israel since Solomon, we still wait for this day.

Israel, still in the nations and having lost its identity, was cut off from God. And yet a number of prophecies very plainly promised that one day the lost members of Israel would literally be called back home. We see that promise in the previously mentioned Deut. 30:1-6 reference, and also here in Hosea:

“Yet the number of the children of Israel Shall be as the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’  There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’” (Hosea 1:10, NKJV)

Yeshua’s call, in his own words, was to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15:24). Knowing that his sheep hear his voice (John 10:27), then it stands to reason that those who come to him in faith believing, have heard his voice and are part of the lost sheep he came to call. For 2000 years, by the Spirit, we have been turning away from idols, away from foreign gods, and to the God of Israel. So, as we draw near to what seems to be the end of the times of the nations (gentiles), when ultimately Israel will finally be called out of those nations. . . we should expect to see a great awakening. It also appears that we should be expecting a great deception to arise during this period of history as well.

So many have speculated as to what these two “movements” might look like. Oddly, The Hebrew Roots Movement appears to fit the  description for both. Within this one movement we see an awakening to God’s instructions, the blessings of taking part in His feasts, a sense of kinship with Israel as a whole (people, land, etc.), and on the flip side a bitter movement that tends to polarize every one and every thing it comes in contact with. The Hebrew Roots Movement has become a dichotomy in that it has divided into two groups that are in such stark contrast in attitude that the only comparison for understanding what we are seeing might be in going back to God’s words and seeing Him lay out the idea of “life and death, blessing and cursing” so that we have some understanding of this contrast. It is “as if” the Hebrew Roots Movement has been broken into two teams. The captain of one is the Holy Spirit and it functions with patience, love and mercy. The captain of the other is the Adversary himself, and it functions with hatred, malice, division, and strife. Out of one lump comes blessing and cursing; not all that different from something we read about in Romans 9:21:

“Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (NKJV)

The above verse is not speaking about the Hebrew Roots Movement, it is actually talking about the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and it speaks of how their idolatry was cause for dishonor while God’s mercy toward them, despite their idolatrous ways, was a cause for honor. But as a picture this verse provides the perfect view of the current state of the Hebrew Roots Movement. We have a people coming to an understanding of the Torah and its application in today’s world. They are also coming to an understanding they are at least a part of Israel, and they are being drawn to the Land and to the people of the Land. Many of these people understand that this slightly greater depth of understanding is an unmerited gift from God, and they treat it as such. For them this is a humbling experience; one that draws a person even closer to God and to His people. But there are also many who have come to the same understanding but who instead profane the gift (and the gift giver) by using that gift of understanding as something of a self-righteous litmus test by which they attempt to judge all others. If a mainstream Christian lacks understanding in a certain area, this type of Hebrew Roots individual might accuse the mainstream Christian of being in some sort of rebellion against God for not seeing what he does. Sadly, the mainstream Christian is often tabbed by these types of Hebrew Roots adherents as having an evil intent and is engaged in pagan worship. I am now convinced these types of the Hebrew Rooted have no idea what paganism even is! And worse yet, this strain of the Hebrew Roots Movement has those on this path using themselves as the yardstick by which to judge the world around them. This means that anyone who does not dress, think, or act like that person is often looked at in an adversarial way rather than as a brother or sister who might lack a little depth of understanding.

I have cried watching anti-Hebrew Roots videos done by mainstream pastors, but not because of the content (they rarely if ever reveal an understanding of why we do what we do), but rather because I know the video comes as a reaction to how poorly that pastor and/or his congregants have been treated by Hebrew Rooted people who do not reflect the fruits of the Spirit. There is no love in name-calling. There is no peace when we rob another of his peace. There is no joy when we see our mission as being one that requires us to correct the world and make sure all others adhere to our understanding of the bible. That is actually heresy in its true form, despite the modern definition of that word. I have been told more than once that “if he doesn’t accept what I have to say after I have said it three times, I reject them and move on!” That isn’t patience, that is usurping God’s position and forcing your own timetable over and above the timetable of God. It isn’t a work of kindness and there is no goodness in us when we eagerly look for minutia to divide over. Truly, out of one lump (one movement) has come an awakening filled with blessing and also with cursing. The Hebrew Roots movement has within it a great and deeper truth, but it also seems to have characteristics of a great deception. The dividing line is, or at least, should be. . . obvious, and “you will know them by their fruits.” If there is no willingness to extend mercy, if we find it filled with name-calling and condescension, if it attacks mainstream Christians, and if it lacks the fruits of the Spirit, like love, peace, and joy . . . then run!!! God is not in the midst of division; in fact, He made it exceedingly clear that He hates division!

Proverbs 6:16-19 These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: (17) A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, (18) A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, (19) A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

A lack of understanding is not a sign that a person is not a brother or a sister, and knowledge and comprehension are not the litmus test. How feeble-minded are we that we assume everyone else needs to look, think, and act like we do, or we reject them? Yet, that is exactly how many people have been living. God has opened our eyes to certain Scriptural treasures we have not seen before, then we turn around and take that understanding we were given and use it to beat down those who have not YET been given the same blessing. What did we think, God would fold His arms like Barbara Eden or twinkle His nose like Elizabeth Montgomery and just magically put everyone on the same page at the same time? That isn’t how He works; this is an awakening that happens a person at a time, apparently over a great progression of time, rather than overnight. No genie, no witch, just a Holy God who is awakening a people to an understanding they lost over 2700 years ago.

Choose the blessing over the heresy

Despite my obvious frustration with the attitude of many, as well as my disdain for certain actions that have been taken toward others, I do have hope and am more optimistic than ever. We can ensure that this awakening remains the blessing God intended it to be if we do those things we were taught early on in our walk of faith. Namely, to study to show ourselves approved as workmen unto God. To take the time to prove all things by fairly and prayerfully considering all things. But mostly by remaining humble, and cognizant of the fact that we have opened zero hearts and zero minds by our own efforts. It is GOD who opens the heart, GOD who opens the mind . . . and these things are in His timing, not ours. Our job is to live our lives reflecting the God we claim to serve. And, when He can use that to draw a man unto Himself (John 6:44) then we will have the opportunity to teach because we will then have a willing student, rather than a victim of religious abuse.

When we go beyond the realm of teaching a willing student, and enter the arena of forcing and manipulating others, we have entered The Heresy Zone. Most do not realize that the Greek word for heresy (hairesis G139) is defined by Thayer and Liddel-Scott lexicons as: “the act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city.” We have the concept of “choice” within the definition as one does not storm a city filled with people he agrees with. But the modern definition of disagreement is not in line with the Greek meaning of the word as used in the NT. The weight behind the word is “force,” and the Scriptural context would be found in the idea of one being willing to manipulate others into believing or practicing as he does. Earlier I said that the difference between the awakening and the deception was found in whether or not one operated with the fruits of the Spirit of God. That is true, but the lack of walking in a manner that reflects those character traits is manifested in heresy (force). When we see a person who is keyed in on causing another to look, think, or act like him, then that person is a heretic and spreading deception. He is also void of the fruits of the Spirit because his heresy robs the joy of others and causes division among brethren. Consider these words of Yeshua:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Matt. 23:15 NKJV)

I am sorry to say that repenting can no longer be only a personal concern. As Christians we should repent for how we have treated the Jews over the last 2000 years. We have forced baptisms, robbed them of their religious identity, raped and pillaged and even killed them in the name of Jesus. We have been heretics! Yet our corporate repenting must extend beyond that to cover how we have devolved to the point where we treat brothers and sisters in Yeshua, whom we perceive as not being as far along as we are in understanding, as if they are enemies of the faith. The slightly deeper understanding and a somewhat more Hebraic paradigm, which came as a gift – not as something we earned, is not a license to treat our more mainstream Christian brothers and sisters as if they are the Devil incarnate. While I understand that most of you reading this are NOT who I am describing here, if you have been on any form of social media I am certain you know what I am referring to.

We live in a world of choices. We can choose good or evil and we can also choose to edify or destroy. We can build up a person or tear them down. We can wait on the Lord or we can impose our timetable over and above His. The yardstick by which we are to judge is not whether or not another accepts our understanding of the truth. The true yardstick is whether or not we have before us one who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit. One can be in error and prove his Lord is the God of Israel because, despite the error, he walks in love, peace, joy, patience, long-suffering, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. On the other hand, one can have a little truth but if they lack love, are not at peace or disturb the peace of others, take no joy in the Lord or rob other brethren of theirs, have no patience with anyone (etc.), then we will know to whom they belong because they lack the fruits of the Spirit. Yeshua said regarding false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing that we will “know them by their fruit” (Matt. 7:15-16). Those “fruits” were never intended to be the notches we cut into our belts for leading somebody into a repeat-after-me“sinners prayer.” Instead, the fruit we are to be known by and exude before the world are the fruits of the very Spirit that dwells within us.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (1 Cor. 6:19 NKJV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23 NKJV)

In a sense, those two verses combined become our line in the sand. The difference between the great End Time Awakening and the great End Time Deception will not be found in doctrine because until we are perfected, none will walk in perfect understanding. The difference will be found in how we act toward and treat others. Do we mirror the one we call “Lord” and reflect the character traits of God, or do we walk in a manner that stands opposed to those same character traits while drawing attention to ourselves? The Hebrew Roots Movement presents this dichotomy leaving us with an age old choice. Do we choose life or death, blessing or cursing? Do we submit to His authority or do we continue to walk in our own? We have the choice: we can choose wisely and with great care, or poorly treating the gift before us as Esau did his birthright. Most of you reading this have made the choice to submit to His authority and you do indeed extend mercy to those not where you currently are. If this is you, then you are part of the awakening, perhaps you are even something of a forerunner knowing that many, most even, have not yet come to this understanding. You should be ready and willing to receive the masses when they do begin to be drawn to these deeper things that God is now revealing as God, perhaps, has awakened you in advance for this very thing. But for those who have taken this precious gift and profaned it by turning it into a weapon used to get others to fall in line with themselves, these are the deceived. They are false prophets, false teachers, even religious imposters, who are spreading destructive heresies as described in 2 Peter 2:1.

I would be remiss if I did not remind us all that we are not fighting against flesh and blood. Those that I have described as being deceived are not the enemy, some might be but most are brothers and sisters who are simply deceived. They need to be lovingly reached out to and when they are able to receive it, corrected. I doubt any one of them intends to cause division, rather, I see their zeal as having blinded them to the more subtle nuances that pertain to God’s plans making these brothers and sisters perhaps a little more susceptible to adversarial influences? Whatever the true cause, we need to pray like we have never prayed before. If we are at a time in history that includes the “end of the times of the nations,” then we ought to be humbled by what we are witnessing. It becomes imperative that we conform to His will and character choosing life over death, blessing over cursing- the awakening over the deception.

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B’ney Yosef North American Summit

Have you ever stood before a sunset that was so magnificent, so majestic, so vivid, that when you attempted to describe it there were simply no words powerful enough to reproduce what your eyes had beheld? That is exactly how I feel when considering the events of this past weekend. I don’t believe my vocabulary contains the needed words to articulate what I was so blessed to take part in. The B’ney Yosef North American Summit is a potential game changer; there is simply no better way to state that.

Two hundred people, most of which consider themselves to be Ephraimites (by and large, Christians, who identify as part of Israel in the nations), gathered together from all over North America to define an identity and a common purpose. That goal did not fall short.

It began on Friday night the 4th of March, exactly 40 weeks after the first B’ney Yosef meeting in Ariel, Israel held last May. Daniel Holdings and Cindy Wyant acted as MC’s and they handed it off first to Al McCarn who had been acting as interim executive director since the plenary meeting in Nashville just over 6 weeks ago. His key-note address was crisp, to the point, and it set the tone, reminding us all that this event was not intended to be a finish line, but rather a place to start. The evening gathering brought out three speakers any of which could have captured the evening had it not been for the fact that they all spoke on the same night. The first was Batya Wootten, a forerunner in her own right (along with her husband Angus) in terms of sharing insights as related to the restoration of all of Israel. Batya has not spoken publicly for a couple of years due to some health issues but that absence did not affect her ability to communicate her thoughts. In fact, she almost seemed to be storing up a great speech that she unleashed at this Summit. Funny at times, Batya seemed centered most on the work God is now doing in causing us to be drawn to the idea of bringing peace to our house before reaching out to anyone else. The next speaker was Hanoch Young, the co-founder of United 2 Restore. Hanoch was, well, Hanoch. He was funny, engaging, but also when needed, quite serious. The weight of the evening was not lost on Hanoch, as he recalled his walk with Ephraimites that now spans over 20 years. The final speaker(s) was a dynamic duo of sorts, Ephraim and Rimona Frank. The couple, responsible for planning the May meeting in Israel, shared their views on the direction and potential before us while taking a few fun shots at their friend Hanoch. The evening could not have gone better.

Shabbat brought about a number of activities including a time of praise and worship. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Lenny and Varda as well as Steve Manning and those who joined him on many incredible moments of praise. After the music, Mark Webb stood with the 7 other newly appointed elders and shared the qualifications of the elders, how they were vetted, giving us all a better understanding as to why these men (and their wives) are a fine and stable face of B’ney Yosef as we move forward. Next came a Torah teaching by Mike Clayton. Mike’s style brings joy to those he speaks to as he is able to mix depth of knowledge with the right amount of humor. His topic, “Don’t get stuck between the golden calf of your past and the Shekinah Glory filling the completed Temple,” was appreciated by all who attended. Mike was followed by David Altman who put together a web of verses that dealt with proper structure in relation to godly government and being able to see the face of God through a properly run government structure. Barry Philips closed the day session with an assembly-wide hands on practice dealing with personal and corporate boundaries. This was an important practice as it dealt with authority and our need to respect personal boundaries. In a movement so geared toward making others adhere to our own views and practices, this was a refreshing approach to this problem.

Saturday evening began with yours truly speaking on much of what had already been said, that what we are doing is not the finish line and that like any growing group of people, we need to not overly define ourselves so that God can tweak us as we walk. I then read the Articles of Declaration fielding some questions afterward on various aspects of the document. The document is intended to be a foundation, a place to start, something to rally around so that we might promote peace and stability within our house. We then broke for dinner only to come back and affirm the Articles. Now accepted, they will act as a standard for B’ney Yosef North America, a list of principles that should offer consistency in how we interact with others.

Sunday by far was the most emotional day. The signing of the Articles by the elders, the newly appointed executive members, as well as those who worked on the Articles was more or less an impromptu event. Unsure how to even go about this signing at first, it came off as the most meaningful part of the weekend (to me), that is, until the next event. As soon as the last signer penned his signature, Hanoch Young came forward and sang haTikvah, the national anthem of Israel. Singing acapella, Hanoch’s emotional rendition of the song did not leave a dry eye in the house.

It needs to be mentioned that every moment of the Summit, from before the first attendee got there until the time the last one left, was recorded via video and still shots by Ty Towriss, owner of NLX Broadcast Design. He and a team of volunteers conducted interviews, took still shots for a “Faces of Ephraim” promotional campaign, and so much more.  I am not sure they slept, I am also not sure they know how much their efforts are appreciated. But their work will, when it is completed, take these events out to those who couldn’t be there with us.

The weight of what was being done over the weekend fell heavy on all who were present. Every speech, every song, every prayer, seemed to reveal the historic nature of this gathering. The obvious question that follows is, “What’s next?” Well, aside from additional gatherings like the one coming up in Israel in October, the focus is now aimed at promoting peace to our own house first knowing that if we cannot get along with ourselves, we certainly can’t be expected to get along with anyone else. This will all take time, but through prayer and patience, great things are on the horizon. We can be a difference maker, a game changer… but we must first begin to think like a nation and act like an extended community. What happened in Tampa this last weekend was special, but it will become a meaningless memory if we don’t follow it up with action. If we take the spirit of unity and peace with us and out to all we come in contact with, the chaos in our own house will eventually subside, and at some point we will indeed be able to stand next to Judah as a brother. I eagerly wait for that day!

Below is a link to the Article of Declaration.

Articles of Declaration

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