Tekoa is One

Well, we had Tekoa’s first birthday party Saturday after the Shabbat gathering (which went particularly well this week).  At the end of the evening, Nana and Grampa called and sang her Happy Birthday. The picture below is Tekoa listening to them on the speakerphone.  Praise the Lord for wonderful memories.

Tekoa is One

And in case you’re wondering, yes that is a new outfit she’s wearing!  Thanks to Uncle Tim and Aunt Corinna.

Who Was Yeshua?

It has often been posited on the web that we ought to be following Yeshua as our Rebbe. I absolutely agree. However, who exactly was Yeshua? Was he a Pharisee? Was he an Essene? Was he something else all together?

I seriously doubt Yeshua was a Pharisee.

Of course, just to make that statement is an anachronism–well, sort of. If Prof. David Flusser (of blessed memory) can be believed (and I think he can), there was no such thing as “Pharisees”; rather, the term was one of derision used by the adversaries of the Sages and their disciples. The one exception to this being that when writing in Greek, it seems that they did use the term “Pharisee” (witness, the writings of Josephus and Rav Shaul) to refer to themselves.

“This was the time [referring to the rise of the Karaites ] when the Rabbis began to identify with the Pharisees, without realizing that the word “Pharisees” never appears in the Talmudic sources as a general designation of the Sages (except when used by their opponents).” – Flusser, David. Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p 27.

In other words, in the 2nd Temple period there was no monolithic, codified halacha, nor a single homogeneous group that rendered authoritative halachic decisions. Yeshua was not a part of the political party who rose to dominance in the wake of Salome Alexandra and John Hyrcanus. However, it is reality that the Pharisees heavily influenced the Sanhedrin and the general populace. As a result, Yeshua would have practiced halacha that was at times so intertwined with so-called Pharasaic halacha as to be indistinguishable.

We must be very careful when attempting to re-construct who Yeshua “aligned with” not to project historical attempts at categorization into the reality that Yeshua actually lived, breathed, ate, slept and walked in. At the end of the day, the line between assuming present day orthodox halacha as a norm and what I am calling for is a very fine distinction. However, I’m unrelenting on this issue, because that fine line is such an important one to observe.

The difference will be a deciding factor in whether our movement slides into legalism. It will be a deciding factor in whether our movement imitates our Master or those who rejected Him. Are we beit Yeshua or beit ben Zakkai ?

This is why I’ve been emphasizing maturity. The temptation to slide into a norm unless it obviously contradicts Scripture is so strong, yet deceptively non-confrontational. But that mistake would lead us down a path we don’t want to follow, just as Christianity has gone down a path of compromise one slight acceptance at a time.

The process of weighing and creating our own halacha as we carefully attempt to interpret Yeshua’s way of walking is a difficult but enormously healthy practice. And that practice ought to be re-worked every generation or two, lest it become codified tradition that the then current generation doesn’t internalize nor truly comprehend.

Some may say, we just need to teach our children to study the halacha that we form. But that ignores basic human nature. Ask yourself what has driven your own passionate re-evaluation of Scripture, of Yeshua, of all things associated with “Christianity”, “Judaism” and the Bible. It was exactly the situation that resulted from generations of believers who didn’t know why the traditions that surrounded them existed.

Let’s commit ourselves to passionately pursuing the imitation of Yeshua and His talmidim. Let’s commit to becoming His talmidim in our own right. But let’s always remember that there is no unbroken chain of custody from His direct talmidim, and hold our decisions regarding what it looks like to follow him in an open hand. Let’s model for our children the process of constantly weighing what the truths of Scripture mean about walking in the dust that Yeshua is stirring up on today’s highways.

Let me also admit here and now that this post is an overly simplistic attempt to address this seriously complex issue. However, hopefully this post will at least prompt positive questions and discussion, because the issue itself needs several books engaged in an ongoing conversation.

Continuing the Conversation

Nate: I just hung up with one of the brothers from the Stepping Stone Farm. Man, the spirit those folks have is just amazing!

Friend: What do you mean?

Nate: what do I mean about what?

Friend: about the spirit of those folks?

Nate: it seems to be the Spirit…there is an amazing sense of longing that I feel very keenly when I am with them or talk to them, and I don’t recall ever having experienced it before. and it feels…pure

Friend: Let me ask you something that may seem somewhat unrelated to the major decision that you’re facing right now, but I assure you it is related…”Do you have a vision for your family, and if so, what is it?”

Nate: That is so on target. Yes, I have a finely developed sense of vision for my family…and it looks (with a few minor variations) like the 12 Tribes look. Actually living, moment by moment, hour by hour, as if eternity and the spiritual kingdom is what matters most

Friend: As a father, husband and man of God, will that vision be totally fulfilled with the 12 tribes? Will you be able to practice the gifts that God has graciously given within that context?

Nate: If I could answer that question with crystal certainty, I would be in the process of moving all ready. My answer today is that it seems as if I would be able to do so ever so much more so than now. What is plaguing me these days is that the theology that developed into their walk and the theology that developed my vision of a walk for my family are not the same on some issues. However, the rubber to the road is the same.

Friend: I can see that is where you’re struggling. I struggle with that issue myself in many areas. For me though, I guess that I’m still young and brash enough to think that God might use me to bring balance to our movement in that regard….

Nate: Your comment “I’m still young and brash enough to think…” that describes my dream for the last 3 years to a “T”. Two things have happened over the past 6 months: 1) I’m increasingly overwhelmed with the number of things I really don’t know when it comes to deciding what Scripture means, but at the same time more and more convinced about the importance of what I do understand means about how we ought to be living, and 2) there is a line in one of the 12 Tribes songs that has impacted me greatly. It says, “Come just as you are, leave your goals behind.”

Friend: is that song beckoning you to a life with the 12 tribes, or a life of devotion to the Master?

Nate: When I first heard that it made the hair on the back of my neck bristle. But as I listened to it over a matter of weeks, I began to see that even though my goals are all good, they really are still all wrapped up in me. But Yeshua said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I’m all ready living and have been living what our movement would consider sold out devotion to the Master.

Friend: I would challenge you not to exchange our movement’s ideals of sold out discipleship for another movement’s ideals.

Nate: I’m not. I’m comparing our movement’s ideals to my conviction regarding what sold-out discipleship is. And to my understanding of what a 1st century talmid looked like. Because that, after all, is what Yeshua commanded us, to raise up many talmidim, teaching them to observe all that he commanded.

Friend: I know that we discussed it in our first chat on the subject, but I don’t remember many of the answers. How are they impacting the world for eternity?

Nate: They live a life (as many of us have theorized) that draws the “sick” (to use Yeshua’s term) to them. It is absolutely unbelievable to witness, but there is a constant stream of visitors to their communities. As if that weren’t enough, every one one of their industries is geared around being able to touch people in the execution of their labors to make a living. Finally, they also engage in specific projects like bus tours, a huge festival that they threw in Washington D.C., etc. specifically geared to provide opportunities for their lives to intersect with the seeking.

Friend: I suppose that one of the things that really concerns me about the 12 tribes approach is that I perceive (big emphasis on that…I perceive…I could be way wrong) that if you don’t sell everything (just a step above monastacy) then you are not a true follower of the Master.

Nate: I really should allow them to respond to that rather than me. But let me just say that what I have been able to ascertain of their beliefs (and I was asking questions of that nature tonight) that is not the case.

Friend: In their understanding, what is the gospel?

Nate: I don’t know. I haven’t asked that succinct of a question. I will though.

Friend: so, let me ask this. Based what you’ve experienced, what is my eternal destiny if I don’t join their group?

Nate: You would be one of the righteous who has eternal life and lives in the Messianic Kingdom, then the Eternal Age. You just wouldn’t be one of those ruling and reigning with Messiah. But let me ask you this. Let’s assume they’re wrong about this. What difference does that make?

Friend: that’s a good question…and off the cuff, I would have to say that it really doesn’t make a difference. What are the main theological issues that you have?

Nate: that and the idea that they are the Body of Messiah. “Christianity” is where most of those who are being drawn to Messiah are, but unless they join the Body (the 12 Tribes) then they are the righteous not the holy. But then again I have to ask myself, what difference does that make if they are living a holy and righteous life, in a manner like no else that I have ever run across, and in a manner consistent with what I have envisioned as a biblical lifestyle for my family.

Nate: I asked tonight, if I started an intentional community here in Fort Wayne, that lived just like they do, but didn’t think of ourselves as exclusively the Body of Messiah (and was producing fruit) what would the difference between that community and them be. The answer was if that theoretical community was being led by the Spirit, then there would be no division between us and them!

Friend: the exclusive part is the main thing that concerns me…

Nate: did you catch that last comment though…

Friend: there might not be division, but their take that they are THE Body is pretty narrow in scope. In my mind it takes away from the work of God in all of the Nations.

Nate: When you have more time, let’s talk about that.

Friend: alright. I’ll hold you to it. I’m gonna take off for now. I’m praying for you, and trusting that the Father will guide you as He wills. Blessings and Shalom to you, my brother!

Will You?

What does salvation mean to you?

“The eclipse of the biblical God…has led also to an eclipse of the biblical understanding of what it means to receive salvation. In the Bible, talk about salvation refers primarily to God and God’s victory over all the powers that resist and distort God’s gracious purposes for the world….For North Americans, by contrast, salvation is more focused upon how God meets our needs.” p 32*

What is the central purpose of your life?

“What’s wrong with the idea that God meets our needs? We North Americans tend to think of meeting our needs as not just one good thing among many other aspects of life. We tend to think of meeting our needs as the central purpose of our lives. We regard it as a kind of moral mandate that precedes all other duties and responsibilities we might have. We have accepted the notion that the great drama of human life is the challenge to get one’s needs met.” p 33*

Ecclesiastes 12:13 says:

“fear God and observe His commandments, for this is the whole purpose of man.”

Can you find any truth in that statement, or does it ring hollow to you?

Which lists of realities consumes you?

A:

  • God’s life is stronger than death
  • God’s righteousness is deeper than sin
  • God’s faithfulness outlasts human rebellion
  • God’s peace is more enduring than human violence

B:

  • God overcomes my guilt
  • God solves my problems
  • God gives meaning to my existence
  • God makes me feel loved and included

If you’re anything like me, list B takes up more mental real estate than you would like to admit. Why is this? It’s because we North Americans are bombarded daily by the message that we are primarily consumers. We can’t escape this message; it’s on our TV, on the radio, in our magazines, at PTA meetings, and unfortunately, in our churches.

Is your church gathering comprised of people determined to lift up their lives and their voices as offerings to an eternal, loving, faithful and just God or people desperate to re-gain that feeling of connectedness? When was the last time you heard someone say, “I just didn’t give enough of myself in our worship gathering today.” On the other hand, how long has it been since you heard, “The music really didn’t minister to me this morning…”

What are we willing to do about this problem? I hope you’ve admitted that it is a society-wrecking problem of epidemic proportions by now. Can we reform our churches? How connected to our society are the gatherings of “believers” that most of us call “church”? Do you think they would survive if unplugged from seemingly innocent activities like primetime TV, soccer, gymnastics, working out at the gym, listening to the radio, etc.? Why does the idea of abandoning such trivial and eternally insignificant things seem so radical?

How many Christians that you know really even understand what it meant to be a disciple in the 1st century? And if they have some idea, how many do you know that are actually dedicated to zealously imitating their rabbi in all things?

Would you sell all your possessions and follow your rabbi if Yeshua walked up to you and said, “Come, follow me.” ?

Oh, wait; He did.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (ESV)

* Brownson, James V., et al. StormFront: The Good News of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

Who I Serve (and Wrestle)

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” (Isaiah 41:13 ESV)

There are several things in my life that are plaguing me these days. In many ways it seems that what I thought I “knew” Scripture said has been turned topsy-turvy. I feel enormous pressure to get things “figured out”; to know what God has in store for me, and why.

I suspect that Moses received a vision from God of what he was to accomplish as a young man (before age 40). Exodus 2:11 says that when Moses “had grown up” he went out to his people and observed their burdens. What a pregnant phrase! It seems to convey, a vision for “his people”, a recognition that he was in a place to “do something about it”, and perhaps even an awareness that HaShem had destined him for something significant. However, Moses attempts to take action himself, clearly–it turns out–before it was God’s timing.

What is particularly perplexing is that it takes another 40 years before God makes good on the vision that He had apparently awakened in Moses! Ah, God save me from such a divine timeline! (Uh, Dear God, I take that back, by the way, just in case my reluctance mean I need to experience such a thing.)

Anyway, I guess my point is that 1) I need to be patient, as just because God has revealed something about the future doesn’t mean that He is ready for me to put my foot on that path as of yet, and 2) that it is, after all, the LORD, who holds my right hand, and it is the Redeemer of Israel who helps me.

Keep me in your way, O Lord, let me not turn my foot aside from Your path, lead me in the way everlasting and guide me.

The 12 Tribes

Many of you have been asking me about my thoughts after visiting the 12 Tribes community in Weableau, MO. I’ve been struggling to get them on paper, but today a friend messaged me and the answers seemed to form well. I thought I would just share the record of that conversation for those who are interested.

Friend: how was the trip to the 12 tribes community?

Nate: asking a lot of questions right now…the trip was awesome…the questions it raises, not so easy to decipher. They have some theological quirks that give me more than a little pause, but they were living the way we ought to be living. Plus, I had an experience with the Ruach that seemed pretty clear, but that I’m having a difficult time coming to terms with intellectually.

Friend: let me know what conclusions you draw. I am anxious to hear more about them.

Nate: to tell you the truth, I don’t know how to come to a conclusion. We are going to go visit another one of their communities at the end of the month. To see an in town as opposed to a country/farm version, and to see if the same impressions hold true in another location with a different group of people. Also, it will enable us to keep our children out of the world while “Halloween” is happening.

Friend: Good for you! I would be interested in that as well. Is the community totally isolated from interaction with unbelievers?

Nate: No, they are very connected with seeking individuals, and amazingly evangelistically minded, although not at all like we would think of evangelism when we ponder the evangelical or fundamental American church

Friend: evangelism based on relationship, and living holy lives, as opposed to ‘here’s a track, hopefully we’ll see you in church next Sunday and you can get saved?’

Nate: we were on a farm in the middle of nowhere! yet in the 4 day we were there, at least 4 (perhaps 5) visitors or groups of visitors showed up.

Friend: wow, that’s cool

Nate: we were welcomed with open arms, yet nothing about their beliefs was shared without us asking, although they did create opportunities for us to ask questions

Nate: read some of their freepapers and you will quickly see that they interpret Scripture literally without theological frameworks. They also balance doing what Scripture says with seeking the Ruach’s guidance on every matter of adoption. It seems a good way to find balance between Scripture and tradition.

Friend: That’s cool. I’m REALLY wrestling with that right now. I like Jewish tradition, but what you said a couple of weeks ago about unleashing creativity in God’s people has really stuck with me.

Nate: Read 3 Eternal Destinies of Man and you will see how problematic it is to those of us with a traditional theological approach to soteriology, for example. Yet I cannot argue that the passages they use to support their views do say what they claim they say. For example, the passage about the Great White Throne judgement does say that the sheep and the goats will be separated on the basis of their deeds.

Friend: i’m curious…what is the deal w/ the headbands, and also…do the guys wear tzitzit?

Nate: they do not wear tzitzit. I asked them about this and the response was that God gave that to the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts. Their hearts are not hard and they are seeking daily to live out the commandments. And indeed, I have never been in an environment where it is a daily encouragement/accountability to keep God’s commands. They also said, however, that God may show them differently at any time.

Friend: hmm….interesting… their approach is refreshing to say the least

Nate: The headbands, they refer to as “diadems”, which historically were worn by princes/kings to support the metal crown. They are woven of linen (interestingly) and they seem to imbue them with all the significance and symbolism that you and I would give to tzitzit. There are some additional references however, for example to the passage in Revelations that says the beloved will be clothed in fine white linen. Intriguingly, I guess the more that pure linen is worn and washed the whiter it becomes

Friend: wow… Sounds like it was quite an experience. What is their approach to modern technology, i.e. computers and internet and the like?

Nate: they utilize all the modern conveniences like electricity, cell phones, etc., but they are very careful to limit how computers are used. They don’t use them unless there is a need to do so, and nothing, hobby or otherwise, must come between relationships with others in the community.

Nate: For example, my wife asked about making picture albums, and the response was absolutely as long as it doesn’t pull you away from the rest of the folks in the community.

Friend: that’s very cool…I like the emphasis on community.

Nate: back to computers, however, that doesn’t mean they aren’t savvy. They are writing what sounds like a cross between a CRM and inventory system in Access to use for their produce selling business, for example.

Friend: wow. how large is the group internationally?

Nate: I don’t know what their international numbers are. However, I think that I may have heard something like 2500 around the world…but I could easily be confusing that with something else

Friend: and they name each community after a tribe in the Torah, right?

Nate: No, each community is a clan within a Tribe

Friend: ahh, I see

Nate: and each clan has a shepherd, each tribe a council, and then an inter-tribal council

Nate: actually each clan has a couple shepherds, but one that seems to be the elder. The farm had 19 people living there. The community in Warsaw, MO has 55 if I remember correctly.

Friend: are the shepherds appointed, or elected?

Nate: appointed as the Spirit leads; perhaps selected would be a better term

Friend: wow…i’m gonna have to do some reading up on this.

Nate: if you’re into terms of government it is definitely seems to be an oligarchy

Friend: cool

Nate: here’s one gotcha. They would view you (and me) as *not* being “in Messiah”. We would be considered part of the “righteous”, but not the “holy”

Friend: and why is that? Not because we wear tzitzit?

Nate: because they view themselves as the remnant of disciples, and until you truly take up your cross, give up your possessions, follow Yahshua, and covenant to become a part of their body, your one of the righteous, but not one of the true disciples (overcomers/ holy, etc.)

Friend: Obviously, I have issues with that.

Nate: I’m a bit sketchy on this, as I’m just trying to figure it out. 3 Eternal Destinies of Man, will help make sense of this. Me too. However, while like I said, intellectually I would initially at least totally reject this idea. I’m having a real struggle with what I experienced. The Ruach definitely broke in upon me Yom Kippur morning, and the message that seemed crystal clear at the time was that I needed to be a part of them. I’m doubting that message now, but trying to figure why I would, since it was so clear then and completely uninfluenced by them.

Nate: they were having their regular morning gathering, focused on them worshipping HaShem, I was simply a bystander. I left the meeting when it happened and they let me go. But it became clear upon my return that the shepherd, Naboth, was available to talk if I wanted, although he did not suggest it. Only upon reflection did I realize that he was up in his room, doing nothing, basically it seems waiting to see if I would seek him out, and making sure he was available if I did. He listened a lot, spoke rarely. It was the total opposite of “being recruited”

Nate: I would love it, if you would also investigate their writings, and perhaps even visit them also.

Friend: I will definitely read their stuff. I am VERY interested in knowing more about them, and B’H, we’ll check them out in more detail.

Nate: One of the things that I’ve thought is 1) one what if they’re right?, and 2) what if they’re wrong? If they’re right, then I need to be there, because everything that spoke to my spirit about how much more whole I would be living in community is definitely true. If they’re wrong about who God decides is “in” or who attains what status…what does that really matter? God decides anyway, and there is a lot of Scripture that I certainly wouldn’t claim to be able to definitely say, “this is what it means”. But in the meantime, they truly are living out a biblical lifestyle. So what is to lose?

Friend: what happens if you don’t buy into their theology, but still wish to participate in the community? What then?

Nate: I don’t know all the details. However, there was a gentleman who has been living among them off and on since 1986. He participates fully except for a few details. I’m assuming you can live with them and contribute to the community without having taken the covenant relationship with them and Yeshua. However, I don’t know how they would work out details of monetary possessions, etc., in the meantime.

Friend: so EVERYTHING is communal? as far as possessions and everything? In other words, if you join, you no longer own anything, the community owns it all?

Nate: My impression is that they welcome anyone who wants to join, and then it is between that person or persons and Yeshua when they become convinced and want to join. However, in conversation it was relayed to me that two or three weeks is the norm for people to make that decision. There is a guy who took 3 months and that was unusual. Obviously, this guy that has taken years is the extreme exception.

Nate: Yes, you give up everything. I mean you keep personal mementos like pictures, your wedding rings, etc., but your car is either sold or becomes the community’s, etc. although at one point, they all decided to sell their wedding rings in order to pay the significant debt of one member.

Friend: do you cut off family ties?

Nate: no

Friend: are you able to travel outside the community whenever you want?

Nate: I don’t know how that works. I know it happens and is allowed, but it is a different way of thinking. For example, if you want to go visit family, how is that going to be paid for?

Nate: Here’s another example: if you and/or your wife wanted to give birth in a hospital that is allowed. But what you have to think of is, are you going to want to do that, because that means the community is taking on the burden of paying for that because of your decision. Explaining this part would take a long conversation, and frankly I don’t understand it all myself. You have the right to make your own decisions, however we are so individualistic that it is hard to explain how that works in a true community.

Friend: so, socially speaking, it is very communist? (based on what I know of communism)

Nate: No, while communism is very similar it produces a drastically different vibe. The only way I can explain it is the Acts 2 community. No one has any individual possessions, but no one is in need.

Friend: what did your wife think of all of this?

Nate: She loved the people, loved much of the idea. Has a hard time with some of the particulars that she views as extreme. Like, Elisa doesn’t like a lot of the organic food they eat, and doesn’t like the mate tea that they drink a lot of. However, that having been said, she is very on board with going to see them again at the end of this month, and even seems to be preparing for what she views as the very real possibility that we will eventually be joining them. Elisa is very different from me. She expresses herself in actions more than in words. So some frustration with how different it would be and wondering if it really needs to be *that* different came out in words, but in action she thinks it was the real deal.

Friend: how do they view the Jews, or do I need to read that paper?

Nate: That is complex. At first you will begin to wonder if they practice replacement theology. However, after digging further it becomes apparent that they don’t, but in some ways it comes very close. I’m still struggling to understand how they view it. They are not fans of Jewish tradition, however.

Nate: In other words, they are coming to the same conclusions our movement has, but they are coming from a very different point of origin. I told Elisa that if a godly lifestyle is the top of a triangle, then the two legs are their movement and ours. Both heading to the same place, but originating in very different places. And they have some illumination that we are missing and we have some that they are missing. …in my estimation. However, the key for me was that they are very much still learning and growing and changing, and that they readily admit they have things which are wrong, and they are looking for HaShem to teach them.

Friend: do they have to wait for some “decision from the top” concerning right and wrong beliefs before they change their minds?

Nate: it’s not a decision from the top, it’s an agreement among the community

Friend: majority rules, or unanimous?

Nate: not like that; can’t explain it

Friend: k, no worries

Nate: it is not a democracy, but I don’t think it has to be unanimous either. basically it becomes clear that the Spirit is affirming something in their hearts according to His word, so it probably is unanimous, but it’s not like that is why or that it has to be…I haven’t actually seen that in action, so I can’t speak to it further. It is something I don’t think you and I have experienced but it strikes me as the way it is supposed to be.