Etz Chayim – reaching for the Tree of Life

It has been almost a full year since I last posted on this blog. Much has happened. After almost 7 years of ‘wilderness wandering’, we finally have our own home again and are settled, albeit out in the rural wilds of north Cornwall, far away from any kind of Messianic fellowship or congregation. I am so thankful, so surprised with joy to receive such good fortune when we thought all was lost. But still I am terribly isolated and lonely and effectively alone in terms of religious fellowship.

I may have mentioned that I had been in search of some fellowship – any kind, really, but it was a very mixed bag of good and bad experiences.

I really liked the Anglican for its freedom of conscience, although there seemed to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish side of the faith and I had the particular bad fortune of being under a priest who had a real bee in his bonnet about evangelicals. The fact that I was verging on being an ‘ex-evangelical’ seemed not to temper his ire. As far as he seemed to be concerned, I was an idiot for ever countenancing such ideas. If anything, his attitude pushed me back into the fundamentalism I was trying to leave. (Freedom of conscience didn’t extend to evangelicals, as far as he was concerned.)

We also tried an independent Pentecostal group who said they were pro-Israel, but they turned out to be extremely negative, narrow-minded and fundamentalist in every way, and the Pentecostal displays of worship put some of my children off church entirely. After everything we have been through, I can hardly blame them.

In the end, I started going to a Salvation Army while my mother was living with us (only for 6 months as it turned out) and I have continued there although it’s far from ideal. Again, there seems to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish roots of Christianity, and the occasional anti-semitic sermon is never a surprise. It takes a lot of energy to keep looking, so for now I am staying put. I can’t say that I am entirely happy, but they do at least put Christianity in action and reach out to the poorest of the poor.

I had wondered recently in what way I can still claim to be ‘Messianic’ – without fellowship or a believing husband to encourage me, the feasts and fasts and even a proper observation of Shabbat has fallen by the wayside. I wonder if I can ever get it back again.

I have made a very good friend online with a woman who had a very different experience of the Messianic movement, having first converted to Orthodox Judaism and come into Messianic Judaism from there rather than as I did, through evangelicalism. We disagree on many things, but her lack of Christian fundamentalism has been an eye-opener for me.

I also have a very good real-life friend who is not a believer, but who was raised in Orthodox Judaism. We have a surprising amount of experiences in common, and her friendship has been a real balm to my soul.

I have started thinking though in terms of abandoning the trappings of religious tradition entirely and instead reaching out for and trying to find the ‘Etz Chayim’, that is the Jesus/ Yeshua who embodies the Tree of Life, and ‘Ha Derek’, the Way itself, Himself.

Coming out of fundamentalism is a very emotional and difficult thing, and in a way I am having to start again and weigh everything up to see what is good and what is bad. That’s probably not a bad thing in itself.

I am trying to get to know the ‘real’ Yeshua from a different perspective now.

I am still at home, muddling through being a wife and homemaker/ housewife, still home educating my youngest.

So what is the future of this blog?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t want to lose my Messianic identity, and I would love to be able to start again from scratch and incorporate more of the Jewish feasts and traditions into my life.

What I don’t want to do, however, is to fall back into the trap of legalism or fundamentalism. It wasn’t life-giving, it was a bottomless pit of darkness that I slipped into gradually without even realising I was doing it, and it nearly ate me up whole before I realised. What I need now is to find the good path, and the Tree of Life.

Preparing for Passover

Cleaning is not really my forte. As much as I’d like to be domesticated, it doesn’t come naturally at all.

I’m also slightly drowning in stuff and boxes after moving house, and wondering whether I will ever get on top of it.

But thankfully, Passover is about more than cleaning. I can’t help feeling that preparing spiritually is just as important as, if not more important than the practical side of preparing by removing the physical chametz.

If there’s one thing I have learnt over the years of being Messianic, it is that I cannot remove the chametz – the leaven, representing sin – myself. That is the real point of Passover though from a New Covenant perspective – Yeshua came to take the leaven away because our efforts always fail to bridge the gap. I’m mixing metaphors in there, I know – the metaphors aren’t perfect, they’re just supposed to be pictures to help us understand the spiritual realities.

How do you get ready for passover?

Preparing for Passover

Ten Steps to Preparing for Pesach

Preparing Spiritually for Passover

 

Messianic Distinctives

I have been thinking recently about what it means to be Messianic. For three years now I have had no Messianic fellowship at all – there is simply nothing available in this part of the world – and so, after being completely isolated for so long (and even without internet fellowship) I have started again to look for Christian fellowship, and have had to determine where I can be in agreement, and where I must draw the line.

So what does Messianic mean?

Messianic Judaism, or the Messianic faith is far from homogenous – there is a broad spectrum ranging from something which to all intents and purposes resembles mainstream Christianity, right through to something which resembles something more like Orthodox Judaism.I wrote this basic list in around 2007 in an attempt to formulate some `distinctives’ (differences from mainstream Christianity) to which all Messianics would be able to agree.
[1] We fully identify ourselves with the Jewish people: For those of us who are of a Jewish background and heritage, we remain Jews. For those of us who are of a gentile background and heritage, we see ourselves as ‘grafted in’ to the Covenant People, Israel. We do not remain `gentiles’ in the sense of ‘pagan’ (although the Hebrew word ‘goyim’ also carries the meaning ‘Nations’). We do not stop being English / French / African / Australian or whatever, and we do not become `Jews’.
To be fair though, even this is not without contention. Most Jewish congregations do not accept non-Jews as part of Israel, denoting this whole idea as ‘replacement theology’ and saying that non-Jews can be part of the ‘commonwealth’ but never properly part of Israel. I don’t personally think that is a fair criticism.  We are supposed to be ‘One New Man’, the Body of Christ. Read Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. What if a Jewish Messianic marries a non-Jewish Messianic? Are their children Jewish? No, I am convinced that these distinctions should not be perpetuated indefinitely. There is to be neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. But as with other race problems in the Church at large, we’re not there yet.
[2] We seek to recover the lost heritage of the essential `Jewishness’ of the ‘faith’ – that is the ‘Christian’ faith, the original Messianic faith in Yeshua (Jesus), and perhaps emphasising the Jewishness of the early church by including the use of Hebrew names, and a movement away from pagan-derived non-Hebrew religious names and vocabulary. (This is much more prevalent in the Sacred Names movement, which is connected to but perhaps a somewhat separate branch to Messianic Judaism.)
[3] We celebrate the Scriptural and Jewish Feasts, including Sabbath, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach/ Passover, FirstFruits/ Omer/ Shavuot (`Pentecost’ in Greek) as well as Hanukkah and Purim in preference to `Christian-ised’ pagan-derived feasts such as Christmas and Easter. (The more Christian branch of Messianic spectrum, that formerly called itself Hebrew or Jewish Christians, tends to retain all the Christian festivals, and tends not to view any possible pagan connections as a problem.)
Additionally, some adopt a kosher diet – abstaining from pork and shellfish – understanding that Paul’s vision was a metaphor for welcoming non-Jewish people into the faith and not, as Christians understand it, abandoning the food laws themselves.
[4] We have a reverence for Torah in its entirety, not just the `ten commandments’, as “inspired, profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness”. (Not to earn salvation, as the Messianic movement is often accused of)
There is an unfortunate tendency to get stuck in the minutiae of the Feasts without going on to searching out the ‘Weightier Matters of the Law’. I have been down that path myself, and I have seen good people disappear into an abyss of rules and regulations, losing their love and compassion along the way. It’s not a pretty picture.
The weightier matters of the Law are pretty clear from scripture – they include Justice (justice for the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the widow, the orphan, the imprisoned, the victim), Mercy and Love.
For those reasons, the church with which I have involved myself recently – although it  may not seem an obvious choice, given their love of Christmas – is The Salvation Army. Obviously we differ on the significance of the sabbath and the festivals; and I am pretty sure it is a denomination that tends towards replacement theology. I am pretty sure we differ theologically. I’m also pretty sure that it wouldn’t be the most comfortable place for a Messianic believer.
But ultimately, I feel that as a single, isolated believer, I am doing no good, but as part of an extended body, despite theological differences, we can achieve some good. And when you look at Christianity as a whole, what denomination is doing more towards Tikkun Olam? (Healing the World)
The Messianic view of the Law, Torah, is quite different from mainstream Christianity – it is not a burdensome, undesirable curse of a thing that you would want to get rid of. Instead, it is viewed as a gift. A beautiful, restful, peaceful haven of safety. Torah is viewed as freedom, not something we need to be freed from.
The Salvation Army, perhaps alone in having the ‘liberal’ values of wanting to help the poor and disadvantaged, tends to be fairly conservative theologically in terms of valuing ‘holiness’. Although they divide the Law into the classic ‘Moral, Civil and Ceremonial’ categories, rejecting the ‘Civil’ and ‘Ceremonial’, they do at least continue to believe that the Law is a good thing.
I was thinking today that, if I were asked to ‘work’ on Shabbat (in terms of Salvation Army work), for instance, I would struggle, I would certainly wrestle with whether or not I could or should ‘work’. But it occurred to me to wonder what constitutes Biblical ‘work’ – I generally wouldn’t cook or shop on the sabbath, but what about healing the sick? feeding the hungry? rescuing the endangered? At this point, I haven’t been asked to do anything that would make me struggle or question.
But I think that it would be possible to retain integrity as a Messianic believer at the same time as giving up the gift of the sabbath to do good. After all, isn’t that what Yeshua himself did?

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