“We Are in the People Business . . .”

I first heard these words in Dallas, Texas, while I was attending Bible college when one of my favorite professors, the former Dr. Eric Belcher, sounded this advice to his students. Over the years I’ve come to realize that these words were and remain to be some of the best words of advice that I’ve ever heard.

 

I’ve been in the ministry now for some 21 years, which has included full-time, part-time, and volunteer work and my ministry has covered everything from children and youth to adults, both Christian and Jewish people. During this time, at the expense of almost losing those closest to me—my wife and children; my marriage—I kept from seeing the greatness of these words. Pastoral ministry remains to be one of the most physical, mental, and emotional professions I’ve ever experienced. However, it also has its rewards, gleaned from both having successful and unsuccessful happenstances in the ministry. Any pastor reading this can understand the sincerity of these words, but the reality remains: Regardless of the joys and sorrows of pastoral ministry, we are, indeed, in the people business because, and here’s the cliffhanger, God is in the people business.

 

Therefore, what does this mean? In a world of “me, me, me” Christendom we find many ministers who appear to be all about themselves. I, too, can appear to fall into this category having the name of my ministry titled, Adrian Bernal Ministries. However, I can assure you that the ministry I am personally involved in is not about me but about people, both Jewish and non-Jewish people, for whom Yeshua died. I serve as a co-pastor, worship leader, traveling speaker, and biblical counselor, for which I receive minimal reimbursement or adequate compensation for the amount of work and education that I have; yet, this doesn’t seem to bother me as much as my monthly bills. (A slight approach at humor.) Other ministers, however, that I’ve had the warm privilege of knowing who hold similar degrees and are well educated, rarely speak for nothing or labor in the Messiah without adequate compensation. Curious. Interesting, to say the least.

 

Sure, I’m not some super-Christian, Revivalist, well-known theologian, or scholar, but has our faith become the work of only those whom hold such positions? Are people only willing to listen to the super, well-known speakers that ride the circuits for ministry opportunities? Not that I haven’t had the privilege of speaking before hundreds of people and leading many to the gracious freedoms found in the Messiah, but what causes us to want to employ and listen only to the heroes of our time? Yes, success has its merits, and we are drawn to those who succeed in all walks of life, so I’m sure that even I, your humble believer, would rather listen to someone like Dr. Michael Brown expound on the intricacies of the Jewishness of New Testament theology than the pastor down the street who ministers to a church of 20 people. Yet, the richness of the knowledge of those whom have labored in the Messiah for countless of years in small congregations, for minimal pay, oftentimes being blamed for all sorts of things by church-hoppers, do they have anything less to offer than the super heroes of our times?

 

The admiration of bi-vocational pastors and ministers and their long-time dedication to the Body of Messiah without a retirement, without their due respect—oftentimes being told by their own parishioners, “I like the sermons of . . .” or “I listen to . . .” or “I watch so and so all the time,” and are never given a gift or recognition during pastor appreciation month—and without their name being known is something to stand back and take note. They truly know the meaning of, “we’re in the people business.” They understand the heartaches, the in-your-face failures for which the whole community takes note, and the countless of hours counseling couples that have already made up their minds to divorce. Yes, all of these things and more are experienced by mega-church pastors and large ministries as well, so I’m not disowning those or making light of them while I exalt smaller ministries, but can anyone say that smaller ministries and ministers offer anything less than those well-known  ministries and ministers? Perhaps.

 

People are messy and so are small ministries, but the greatness of the rewards for never losing focus and keeping the faith while ministering to, at times, the ugliness of people’s actions is a stark reminder that those whom are not well known may be the very heroes in our society that we lack and that we need to listen to. This does not mean, however, that they are suffering for Jesus, if indeed they are making horrendous mistakes in ministry and becoming self-martyrs for the sake of the ministry—even smaller congregations can experience the joy of multi-leadership (5-fold) ministry. So, the “woe-is-me-mentality” is not what I’m praising, but, rather, the pastors and ministers who labor and serve the Messiah all because they understand that they are, indeed, in the people business because God is in the people business. To you we raise our hearts in thankfulness to Yeshua, and to you we say, fight the good fight and keep the faith because you are in the greatest enterprise the world has ever known . . . the people business.

 

Shalom and blessings,

 

Dr. Adrian A. Bernal

 

By Adrian A. Bernal © 2014, All Rights Reserved

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MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Conference

I’ve been asked by many about my stance regarding Cessationism and MacArthur’s views on charismatics. Simply, without diverging to far from my typical, messianic Jewish posts, I want to render a quick response.

Cessationism is, in simplest terms, a belief in the operation of the gifts ceasing to exist beyond the foundations of the Church’s establishment. Meaning, that the gifts were needed to form the Church during the times of the apostles, but since the perfection came (the canonized Scriptures) the need for the gifts have ceased. I realize there’s more to the meaning than this; however, this should suffice for the purpose of this argument.

MacArthur states, “. . . this is a movement made up largely of non-Christians . . .”[1] and when asked about his conference being divisive, he states:

“I would agree with that. Truth by its very nature is divisive. It’s why Jesus said I came to bring a sword, to divide people, families. Truth by its very nature is separated from error. And it is far more important to be divided by the truth than united by error . . .”[2]

There comes a time when one has to ask the obvious question: Who determines the eternal destination of another? Yes, we will recognize them by their fruit. Yes, there are false doctrines out there and wolves in sheep’s clothing. But, overall, how can one really know the eternal outcome of another’s soul?

What Cessationism boils down to in a nutshell is this: Those people are weird (speaking about Charismatics) and I don’t want to be identified as one of them; I’m nervous about speaking in tongues; I don’t know if I can explain these miraculous things happening around me, etc. It is essentially, uncomfortable, which is why in my opinion we have cessationists in the first place. Not to mention, “I don’t want to look like an idiot to the outside world” mentality.

On the other hand, within the charismatic movement there are strange things that even I am uncomfortable with; however, is this means to dismiss the entirety of it? By no means! We are called to discern, test, and prove the correctness of the gifts, and frankly, the modus operandi of them and those who walk in them.

Dr. Michael L. Brown posted an excerpt from A.W. Tozer about this very thing on his Facebook page, which I then reposted on my FB page at, https://www.facebook.com/adrian.bernal (http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/41471-an-open-letter-to-john-macarthur-from-a-w-tozer-he-being-dead-yet-speaketh)for those of you interested. And, since Tozer did a better job than I can ever do, I’ll leave it up to him to make many of the same points I would have written about.

Where my concern rests in is this: From where does this cessation movement come from? Like many other church doctrines, this idea about the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit ceasing after the formation of the church comes from a lack of knowledge of First-Century Judaism; specifically, what I call Messianic Judaism instead of Early Christianity, because the “early church” was, indeed, Jewish in more ways than naught.

What do I mean? Well, like many Christian theologies, the Jewishness of the New Testament is lost and read from a Western perspective, not an Eastern or first-century Jewish perspective. The fullness of the gospel has not gone out into all the world, the Jews (overall) have not come to the saving grace through faith in the Messiah, the reign of Christ during the millennial reign has not begun, etc.; thus, the need for the Holy Spirit is greater than ever.

Shema, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all of your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NIV). The last time I checked this command was not spiritualized, nor was it diminished when Yeshua came; rather, it was, is, and still is meant to be upheld. The problem with cessationists is that they want to understand the entirety of the Scriptures with their minds only and then replace Scriptures to their world views outside of emotion and experience. This doesn’t work when you factor in several things: (1) God is still God; thus, Yeshua and the Holy Spirit are still very much alive and factored in. (2) There are still Jews; therefore, unfulfilled promises specifically to them are still in effect until fulfilled. Yes, the promises are there for non-Jews too, but the non-Jews have not replaced the Jews. This is a common error among American Christians; especially, among the Baptists. Sorry, guys, you haven’t replaced us, nor do I ever think you ever will, nor does the Bible teach this. And, (3) the Body of Messiah is not completed, nor perfected.

These are merely three logical factors as to why the Charismatic movement is alive and why it is needed. On the other hand, MacArthur and the like are playing with fire. Maybe not the “Strange Fire” they are addressing, but the greater, more grave fire that is set aside for the ungodly. If you ask me, that’s not a fire I want to play with, nor have I got enough fire-fighting skills to quench those flames.

Shavuah Tov,

Adrian


[1]See, Adrian Warnock, “Strange Fire – A Charismatic Response to John MacArthur,” by Adrian Warnock, October, 19, 2013 <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2013/10/strange-fire-a-charismatic-response-to-john-macarthur/> (accessed 23 October, 2013).

[2]Ibid.

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The Ministry Leadership Gifts from a Messianic Jewish Perspective

The Ministry Leadership Gifts from a Messianic Jewish Perspective

Introduction

 The ministry leadership gifts found in Ephesians chapter four are often understood and applied to modern-church government from a post-Nicaea (A.D. 325) perspective. However, the apostles and early believers would have understood the leadership model of Ephesians four from a Jewish perspective, and most certainly would have patterned leadership and congregational liturgies after their cultural understandings. In essence, early Messianic Judaism would have established congregational governments patterned after the concepts of shepherds (elders) and post-exilic leaders (priestly families still available after the destruction of the first temple, synagogue leaders, and rabbis) instead of Hellenistic patterns.

The dilemma, however, was for Jewish leaders like the Apostle Paul and the Jerusalem Council to establish a religious government that was inclusive to both Jews and non-Jews. At the same time, they had to recognize God’s calling for non-Jews to join in on the commonwealth of Israel without undergoing forced conversions to the known Judaisms at that time. Furthermore, considering leadership models, one cannot ignore the Hellenistic influences, which were replete among Judaism and even towards the apostle Paul who was more so under Roman rule by being born in Tarsus. However, one must not dismiss the apostle’s Jewish upbringing like many other Jewish families in the Diaspora, which is often the case among Christian scholarship. Although Roman ruled and influenced by Hellenism, his family remained Jewish. Paul’s credentials attest to his Jewish rearing, including being chosen by Rabbi Gamaliel as one of his disciples and being trained in Jerusalem as a Pharisee. His list of credentials are impressive: “circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel; from the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the Torah, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting Messiah’s community; as for Torah righteousness, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6).[1] Therefore, it is a logical presumption that Paul established congregations across the Roman world with that Jewish perspective in mind, not necessarily the possible Hellenistic influences.

The new challenge for the Apostle Paul and others, then, was how to create a form of religious government, which allowed for the observance of the Torah to a culture of people who were ignorant to the Torah and, for the most part, to the beliefs of the Jewish people. Essentially, the leaders within the messianic movement had to form a government where polytheism was eradicated and monotheism was practiced by faith under the lordship of a Jewish messiah in a Roman-ruled world. Thankfully, the Jewish believers were up for the challenge because they believed, rather, they accepted their responsibilities within the greater calling that all the nations of the earth would be blessed, and that Jesus (Yeshua) was not only the Messiah to the Jewish people but the Messiah to all the nations under the New Covenant (Psalm 45:18[17]).

Looking at the surface to New Testament government established by the apostles and the Jerusalem Council, it is evident that newly formed congregations remained within the scope of already established Jewish patterns. For example, the early believers remained faithful to temple cult practices (daily prayers, holy days, etc.) (Acts 2:42ff; 3:1), worshiped with fellow Jews in local synagogues and homes (Acts 5:42), gathered for weekly Havdalah services, which separated the Sabbath from the remainder of the week (Acts 20:7-12), collected tzedakah (charity) for the weekly distribution of food to the poor (Acts 6:1-7, et al.), remained kosher to the times (Acts 15), and listened to the teachings of the Torah (Acts 2:42). These are all in line with the traditions of Judaism during antiquity, and they remained that way for many years if not for several centuries among the Jewish believers. However, below the surface, the leadership model of Ephesians four emerges: “He Himself gave some to be shlichim [apostles], some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers—to equip the kedoshim [holy ones] for the work of service, for building up the body of Messiah” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Thus, questions now arise as to why and how these leadership gifts emerged within the apparent Jewish congregational model: Primarily, were they already conceived in the Jewish leadership model of synagogues and rabbis, or were they created out of necessity, similar to that of Jethro’s advice to Moses (Exodus 18:14ff)?

This paper will primarily concern itself with modern messianic congregations and its leadership model for such congregations; however, modern churches will also have to concern themselves with similar questions. Is the typical pattern of one pastor per congregation the preferred model? Does a plurality of leaders make more sense? And, if so, then does a church take on a more modern approach by mimicking any successful multi-leader church? Regardless, the model for leadership as outlined in the books of Acts and Ephesians must work for both messianic congregations and modern churches, because the evidence seen in those books (et al.) has already attested to its success among Jews and Gentiles during antiquity. Therefore, a closer look at how the leadership gifts in Ephesians works within the established perimeters of messianic congregations is where this paper rests. Furthermore, due to limited space, this paper will not encompass a conclusive approach to this leadership model, but will, hopefully, start the discussion anew and help formulate healthier congregations throughout the world’s messianic communities.

The Ministry Leadership Gifts from a Messianic Jewish Perspective

During the second Temple period, rabbis were already beginning to receive primary recognition for being teachers of the Torah with the leading rabbis of the Pharisaical sect enacting oral traditions (oral laws) as binding halakhic[2] rulings for the common Jewish person’s observance. And, although other rabbinical sects denied the authority of the Oral Law (Sadducees and Essenes of Qumran), the Pharisees had the favor of the majority of the Judean people.[3] The Sadducees rejected the Oral Traditions, and argued solely for the written, recognized canon of the Jewish people at the time.[4] The Essenes rejected the temple and its ruling bodies completely—that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, collectively, the Sanhedrin—believing that those bodies were bought by Rome.[5] As such, the Essenes saw themselves as the only viable sect of God’s people; thus, they considered themselves the “Sons of Zadok” (The high priest of King David), and followed the teachings of the “Teacher of Righteousness,” whose identity has never been established among modern scholarship, despite the attempts to do so.[6]

The gospel accounts reveal that Yeshua recognized the established Jewish hierarchy and the established temple; he recognized the rabbis and their beliefs; he submitted to the ruling Sanhedrin; he observed the temple rites and customs of the day; and, he recognized the seat of authority in which the rabbis sat.[7] The majority of the time he taught in public places and oftentimes corrected the misinterpretations behind the leading schools of Jewish thought, which reveals that he was well versed in the oral traditions despite his disagreements with many of those interpretations. Furthermore, Yeshua was well educated and respected as a rabbi among the ruling rabbis, which reveals that he was not simply a carpenter with elementary training in the Torah until his bar mitzvah,[8] like he is so often depicted; rather, he grew in both stature and wisdom and obtained favor with both God and men (Luke 2:52). Therefore, he was a learned man of the Torah, the culture, and the common practices of the Judean people.

Prior to establishing the ideal leadership model for messianic congregations, however, the character and role of a leader needs to be addressed. Although, the New Testament presents the character of the leader, this model neglects the role of an elder for by which the Tanakh gives many examples. 1 Timothy gives a clear picture of what the character of a leader is. It states:

An overseer, then, must be beyond criticism—the husband of one wife, clear-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, not violent but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money, managing his own household well, keeping his children under control with all respectfulness. (But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s community?) He must not be a new believer or he may become puffed up and fall into the same judgment as the devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation with those outside, so that he will not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.

Shammashim [Servants-Deacons] likewise must be dignified, not double-speaking, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Also, let them first be tested—then let those who are blameless serve as shammashim. Women likewise must be dignified, not backbiting; clear-minded, trustworthy in every respect. Let shammashim be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who have served well as shammashim gain for themselves a good standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Messiah Yeshua (1 Timothy 3:2-13, et al.).

Even though there are other New Testament passages which speaks to the office of an overseer, and do not need to be referenced at this time, there are two primary passages, which give insight into the role or the work of an overseer; simply, he shepherds the flock of God. The first passage is seen when the Apostle Paul calls for a meeting of the elders of the Ephesus congregation and then instructs them to, “take care of yourselves and all the flock of which the Ruach ha-Kodesh has made you overseers, to shepherd the community of God—which He obtained with the blood of His own” (Acts 20:28). The second passage is found in 1 Peter where Peter not only identifies with them as a fellow elder but also as a witness and fellow partaker of the glory about to be revealed; thus, he instructs them to: “shepherd God’s flock among you. Watch over it not under compulsion but willingly before God, nor for dishonest gain but eagerly. Don’t lord it over those apportioned to you, but become examples to the flock. When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Thus, the work of an overseer is to first recognize that the sheep (God’s flock) was bought with the Chief Shepherd’s blood; therefore, the sheep do not belong to the under shepherd, but to the Chief Shepherd, Yeshua. Therefore, an under shepherd is one who serves the people at the request and will of the Chief Shepherd, not on his own authority but God’s. The under shepherd must take heed to the heavy responsibility that he has been given; he is not to be a controlling shepherd, but a training shepherd (Ephesians 4:11). Second, under shepherds are to set good examples for the sheep, not out of compulsion but out of an eagerness to serve. In doing so, the elders of the flock of God partake in the glory about to be revealed and are fellow witnesses to that fact. The under shepherds, then, are not to instruct only, but set outward examples of excellence in serving the flock.

Shepherds in the Tanakh were the way of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses, being raised in royalty, had to be groomed as a shepherd under the authority of his father-in-law for forty years before he was entrusted by God to care for the flock of Israel. Shepherds were the first to see the Messiah after hearing the herald of angels’s praises. God’s heart is bent toward the shepherd, because only shepherds in return will have hearts for the sheep of God. Shepherds understand that they have to serve (service) the sheep with many provisions for the sheep to thrive and survive; therefore, what better personality types to govern the work of congregational leadership but shepherds.

According to Jeremiah, God makes a promise to his people by saying, “. . . and I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:14-15). It is not enough that a person desires to be in leadership, but that he is willing to be used as a servant so that God will establish him as a shepherd. The apostle Paul makes this clear when he writes to Timothy, “If any man aspires to the office of overseer [shepherd, pastor, elder, bishop, church leader, etc], he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1b). This good work can also be translated as a noble task. It is good and noble because it is not for those who want the elite status or the pay or the recognition; rather, for those whom must set examples for those entrusted to them.

In his book, Shepherds after My own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, Timothy S. Laniak states, regarding the promise of shepherds in Jeremiah, “This short promise also speaks of a capacity to care for God’s flock with self-sacrificing diligence and compassion. It is not just ‘heart’, [sic] however, but ‘after my own heart’ that matters. A good shepherd is one who sees what the Owner sees and does what the Owner does. He is a follower before he is a leader. He is a leader because he is a follower.”[9] Laniak further states, “The shepherds whom God judges in the Bible are those who forget that the people in their care are not their own.[10] Therefore, shepherds are the ideal personalities for biblical leaders from both the Old and New Testament perspectives.

Shepherds protect their sheep from wolves, which according to the Gospel of John 10:1-21, are false shepherds—not the devil—but false shepherds. Therefore, shepherds must work together in ministry to guard the sheep and make sure they are protected from false teachers, doctrines, and worldly influences. This is where the categories of shepherds come to fruition regarding the leadership gifts in Ephesians chapter four. Not only are shepherds (pastors) responsible for the protection of the sheep, but they are called to serve through utilizing their gifts, which brings to light the need for more than the standard, Western church model of one pastor or one congregational leader or one messianic rabbi. Even then, it is debatable labeling the leaders or pastors as senior, associate, or the like; rather, the biblical model seems appropriate for the task to simply call them elders (shepherds or pastors as well).

Out of the five under shepherds called to train and equip the body of believers (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) (Ephesians 4:11), although all are elders, one is doubly anointed or pointed out as an “elder-shepherd.” Meaning, that although this person is an elder he is more so an elder-shepherd or pastor, having a strong, leading desire to shepherd the flock of God under his care. In his book, Effective Keys to Successful Leadership: Wisdom and insight for God’s Set Man and the Ministry Leadership Team, Frank Damazio refers to this person as the Set Man.[11]

Damazio defines this Set Man as:

A helmsman who stands in his leadership position to direct and manage the church in all areas of spiritual life and vision. He steers the ship according to his God-given gift to lead, his biblical knowledge of the God-given vision and his proven character. He has the ability to raise up leaders and work in a team-like manner in order to equip the church for their God-given task. The Set Man is the senior pastor of the local church, or the key leader in any organization.[12]

As this Set Man works with the other elders they form what is modernly called the, local congregational (church) government; therefore, this “form of church government clearly established in Scripture is theocratic in nature.[13] Thus, Damazio adds:

It is not autocratic, governed by one man. It is not bureaucratic, governed by a few. It is not democratic, governed by the people. In a theocracy, God chooses, calls, and equips certain persons to be leaders and rulers for His people. He delegates a measure of authority to them, according to His will. New Testament local church leaders are identified as elders.[14]

However, denominations have taken the place of local congregational governments by already having certain polities in place, which do the governing over the local congregation. For example, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (ICFG) is a pastor-led organization with the Set Man or Senior Pastor as the main leader of the local congregation. He is not required by the ICFG bylaws to establish elders but he may do so if he chooses; even then, the elders merely play an advisory role.[15] He may also hire supporting staff and leaders for ministerial tasks, but the senior pastor is the only one specifically held responsible for the local church at the denominational level. If issues were to arise between the elders and the pastor, the pastor can simply dismiss the elders and continue on in ministry. However, the caveat to this government is that one person may feel he is the only one who can hear from God to lead the local congregation; albeit, an elder or the senior pastor.

Therefore, denominations can appear to take on the role of a modern Sanhedrin, but rarely are their roles designed to do so; rather, they, too, take on an advisory role only dealing with major church issues. Typically, they are called in to help orchestrate pastoral searches, church discipline, and other issues like finances, but they are removed from spear-heading any local ministry decisions, which rests on the shoulders of the pastor; typically, one pastor.

On the other hand, there are organizations more so in-line with the biblical model such as Tikkun International, which exists to be a modern-type of Sanhedrin for messianic congregations and messianic ministries which are not governed by denominations. Their overview of ministry states, “Tikkun International is a Messianic Jewish umbrella organization for an apostolic network of leaders, congregations and ministries in covenantal relationship for mutual accountability, support and equipping to extend the Kingdom of God in America, Israel, and throughout the world.[16] Thus, they form a group of emissaries or apostolic ministers for the care of globally-scattered messianic congregations.

Again, regarding local congregations, elders are merely what the Tanakh describes as shepherds. Therefore, the idea that the five-fold ministry for local messianic synagogues has to be made up of super-leaders from super-Bible-colleges is a misnomer; rather, it should be made up of super-servants who qualify accordingly, but nevertheless, servants first, then knowledgeable students of the Scriptures. Furthermore, super-servants (elders) or ministerial department heads (eldership roles) listed in Ephesians must be made up of qualified, servant-shepherds according to the litmus test outlined in 1 Timothy, and then function within those ministry gifts listed in Ephesians: apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and able to teach. This is vital for any healthy gathering of God’s people regardless of whether these leaders are called shepherds, rabbis, pastors, bishops, etc.

Where the modern-day congregational structure has been misled, is that it looks to tradition first and then biblical mandate. For example, most congregations are led by a pastor or a messianic rabbi and most synagogues have a ruling rabbi. The average pastorate lasts approximately 3.6 years while the average rabbinate lasts 8 years.[17] Although the differences between tenures may simply be contractual processes, the reality is that profession and tradition guide the shepherds of most congregations. Pastors are usually appointed or voted in while rabbis are typically chosen and then given a contract to sign with different timeframes. Pastors and rabbis are typically discouraged after their tenures if they are the sole ministers of their congregations, which, in turn, leave discouraged parishioners.

Oftentimes, in their letters, when the apostles addressed the leaders of any congregation, they always greeted a plurality of elders or shepherds. Furthermore, they would, at times, call out elders that were causing trouble and hardships or were teaching false doctrines, (e.g., 1 Timothy 1:3-7). Additionally, New Testament passages seem to refrain from addressing just one leader per congregation; but rather, it addresses several within a congregation and charges them with watchful shepherding.

Answering the previously mentioned questions as to why and how these leadership gifts in the Ephesians model emerged into New Testament congregational governments are: Yes to both. Yes, these leadership models were primarily conceived in the Jewish leadership model of synagogues and rabbis, and yes, they were they created out of necessity, similar to that of Jethro’s advice to Moses. What seemed easy for the Jewish people’s way of thinking—elders, priests, Levities, and rabbis—seemed strange to a culture of people who considered being servants in worship to a deity substandard to human dignity. Despite the common “worship” of polytheistic gods, the Greek culture would not have succumbed to the servant-hood of the gods in the same way the Jews would have subjected themselves to YHWH of the Tanakh. In his book regarding slaves or redeemed slaves (servants), Don N. Howell states:

The Greeks placed great value on personal autonomy, that is, freedom from subjection to the will of someone or something outside of oneself. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, and Philo all employ the doulos [doulos, slave]- group in a derogatory sense, as the forfeiture of opportunity for self-determination that is at the heart of meaningful existence. To be subject to the will of another is to be stripped of one’s dignity and is thus a condition that is contemptible.[18]

Understanding that the Greeks used two distinct words: one word for slaves (doulos), and another word for servants (diakonos) will bring illumination as to why the Jewish authors of the Septuagint used therapon or doulos instead of diakonos (the New Testament usage of the word servant) when describing Moses and King David as the servants of the Lord (Joshua 1:2; 1 Kings 11:13). The Jewish authors understood that serving YHWH was not compared to being slaves as they were forcefully employed to do so in Egypt under the Pharaohs, but it was a privilege to serve YHWH or it was their free-will duty to be a slave in the sense of a beloved servant.

During the second temple period, the Jews saw themselves as redeemed slaves while the Greeks saw a distinction between being a slave, a house-servant, or a freedman able to choose. This, in no way, dismisses the fact that there were slaves in the Greco-Roman culture and that they did not believe in the usage of them. Indeed, they believed in using slaves for all sorts of manual labor; however, the idea of what a slave was in the Greco-Roman world was viewed differently among the Jewish people during the same period. Therefore, when considering the ministry gifts of Ephesians four, one has to consider the cultural differences to completely understand that being a servant for the Lord in service to his people was not only a privilege and a duty, but a responsibility. The antithesis to this privilege is, of course, having an earned status where leaders are expected to be the elite rather than the lowly, serving humbly as under shepherds to the greater Shepherd, God and ultimately his son.

CONCLUSION

The leadership model found in Ephesians chapter four is not only the desired model but it is the essential model for local messianic congregations; frankly, the health of the congregation depends on this model being established at the local level. Without such a model, the congregation is partially equipped despite attempts from rabbis and pastors claiming several callings in two or more categories of being an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher. The five-fold-ministry model emerged prior to the birth of the Jewish believers in and throughout the scattered synagogues of antiquity, and then continued as the preferred model for Jewish believers, even after gentiles were installed into those existing congregations.

These leaders should consist of servant-elders first, and then qualified-elders according to the litmus test in 1 Timothy. These elders were also knowledgeable, and Torah equipped, which would have been the standard for many Jewish believers because of their culture in raising up and training disciples. The Jewish people considered study in the Torah the greatest of all endeavors to fulfill the commandments; however, Jewish believers also understood the necessity for servant-leaders, because they recognized the hypocrisy of the non-believing Pharisees and Sadducees, witnessing the Messiah’s disapproval with their abuse of authority over the common people (Matthew 12:1-14).

Elders in the local congregation are responsible for the culture of Messiah in and out of the synagogue; thus, their roles are vital for the health of the growing messianic community. Apostolic-elders are responsible for the approach to the commandments and how they are observed according to their customs among the Jewish people as believers in the Jewish Messiah (halakhot). Prophetic-elders are responsible for the reality of the Scriptures and the presence of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) within the ministry of the local congregation and how they apply to everyday life for the individual as well as the whole community. Evangelistic-elders are responsible for training and equipping the believers to carry out the gospel message to the all the people, Jew and Gentile. Pastoral-elders care and feed the sheep with love, prayer, comfort, and discipline; making sure all the sheep are being cared for. And, although all of these roles are to be defined in elders, this shepherd-elder, more so than the rest, has a heart for the sheep like that of God for his people. Finally, the teaching-elders are responsible for all aspects of teaching. Their focus is assuring that the Torah of both the Tanakh and New Covenant as New Covenant believers and its application to modern-day hermeneutics is carried out to both children and adults. Again, these ministries are a must in the local messianic congregation.

Collectively, these elders are respectfully accountable to one another as they are further accountable to the overall Jewish community, locally and nationally. Furthermore, ministries like Tikkun International give the local congregation a place for accountability through all of these ministries in a Sanhedrin-style approach, offering qualified apostolic ministers to help care for the local congregation in more than an advisory role. This “Sanhedrin” group actually confronts, discusses, interprets, and applies proper halakhic methods and mandates, albeit, prayerfully and carefully under the guidance of the Ruach HaKodesh for messianic worship. This is not unlike the Jerusalem Council in the book of Acts (15:1-35). This method of ministerial approach differs from denominations, which are oftentimes inventors of smaller, clone-like churches holding to the doctrinal stances of the greater denomination. If the denomination, for example, forbids speaking in tongues, then the organizational congregations hold to the same doctrine, unless, of course, they are no longer a part of that denomination.

This suggested messianic approach to New Testament leadership or government argued in this paper will challenge many, if not most, patterned models found in both messianic Jewish congregations and Christian churches. However, it is one that can be considered a balanced approach for both Jew and non-Jew to worship and learn together while remaining distinct in cultural differences, and yet unified in similarities to their faith: having one God as one redeemed people, Jew and Greek. The key to this approach, then, is how the ministry gifts function at the local level and the greater levels respectively. Changing from traditional methods to biblical methods can become overwhelming; however, the more traditional approach continues to offer status quo ministries and burnt-out leaders. And, although, the limited space available in a small term paper cannot be an exhaustive work on the subject, it can facilitate a dialogue among Messianic and Christian leaders for a better, more biblical model to congregational leadership. Simply doing a Google search on “Christian denominations,” one will discover that by mid-2013, based on current trends, there will be approximately forty-four thousand Christian denominations worldwide.[19] This trend should concern every leader of God’s kingdom. Denominations are not the answer. Proper, biblical leadership as servants first, then working in harmony and submission towards one another is what the world needs.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

REFERENCE WORKS

Messianic Jewish Shared Heritage Bible, JPS-TLV. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2012.

Neusner, Jacob., general editor. The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1st Edition, 2011.

Neusner, Jacob. The Mishnah: A New Translation, electronic edition. New Haven, CT; London, England: Yale University Press, 1988.

Soukhanov, Anne H., executive editor, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “halakhah,” electronic edition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2011-2013.

Whiston, William. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, electronic edition, includes index. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1987. Antiquities XVIII, i 2, i 5.

BOOKS

Damazio, Frank. Effective Keys to Successful Leadership: Wisdom and Insight for God’s Set Man and the Ministry Leadership Team. Portland, OR: City Bible Publishing, 1993.

Howell Jr., Don N. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.

Laniak, Timothy S. Shepherds after My own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology 20. Downers Grove, IL: Apollos, InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Levy, Raphael. “’First Dead Sea Scroll’: Found in Egypt Fifty Years Before the Qumran Discoveries,” in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeology Review, Shanks, Hershel, ed. New York, NY: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 1992.

Vermes, Geza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. London, England: Penguin Classics, revised edition, 2004.

WEBSITES

TikkunInternational.org, “About Us.” Overview [article on-line]; available from, http://tikkuninternational.org/aboutus.php; Internet; accessed 3 September 2013.

Churchmusictoday.wordpress,com, Three Point Six: The Tenure of Ministry, Part One of Two [article on-line]; available from, http://churchmusictoday.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/three-point-six-the-tenure-of-ministry-part-one-of-two/; Internet; accessed 20 August 2013.

Foursquare.org, Handbook for the Operation of Foursquare Churches, “16.1 Local Church Officers,” s.v. “D. Other Officers and Offices-Appointed (Bylaws, Article 16.2),” [article on-line]; available from, http://www.foursquare.org/handbook/english.pdf; Internet; accessed 4 September 2013.

Gordonconwell.edu, “Documents,” Status of Global Mission, 2013, in the Context of AD 1800-2025 [article on-line]; available from, http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pdf; Internet; accessed 4 Spetember 2013.


                [1]Messianic Jewish Shared Heritage Bible, JPS-TLV (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2012). All Scriptural quotations will be used from the MJSHB unless otherwise noted. Furthermore, because this Bible uses the Jewish Publication Society’s numbering system in its version of the Old Testament, this paper will follow that system; however, the Christian numbering system will be in brackets if there are any discrepancies.

                [2]The, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, executive editor

Anne H. Soukhanov, s.v. “halakhah,” electronic edition (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2011-2013) defines halakhah as: The legal part of Talmudic literature, and interpretation of the laws of the Scriptures. No page is given.

                [3]The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, translated by William Whiston, electronic edition, includes index (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1987), Antiquities XVIII, i 2.

                [4]The Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy), the Prophets, and the Writings, commonly referred to as the Tanakh.

                [5]Josephus, XVIII, i 5.

                [6] Raphael Levy, “’First Dead Sea Scroll’: Found in Egypt Fifty Years Before the Qumran Discoveries,” in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeology Review, Hershel Shanks, ed. (New York, NY: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 1992), pp. 63-79.

                [7]There are recent discussions about this passage and its meaning (Matthew 23:1-4). The majority-held position is that Yeshua was endorsing the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, while rejecting the teachings of the Sadducees. The less argued position is that the experts in the law and the Pharisees had to make legal rulings pertaining to civil matters and other binding rules like marriage, divorce, property rights, and disputes outside of the Sanhedrin’s scope. Although both positions can be supported in the Biblical texts, the latter position appears to be more in line with the other teachings in the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. See Exodus 18, specifically verses 13-16; Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17; and Nehemia Gordon, The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus: New Light on the Seat of Moses from Shem Tov’s Matthew (Hilkiah press, 2005).

                [8]Although the bar mitzvah may be different today, there was what the rabbis considered the stages of a man’s life: See Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation, electronic edition (New Haven, CT., and London England: Yale University Press, 1988), Pirkei Aboth 5:21 A.

                [9]Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology 20 (Downers Grove, IL: Apollos, InterVarsity Press, 2006), p. 22.

                [10]Ibid.

                [11]Frank Damazio, Effective Keys to Successful Leadership: Wisdom and Insight for God’s Set Man and the Ministry Leadership Team (Portland, OR: City Bible Publishing, 1993).

                [12]Ibid, p. xv.

                [13]Ibid., p. 3.

                [14]Ibid.

                [15]International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Handbook for the Operation of Foursquare Churches, “16.1 Local Church Officers,” s.v. “D. Other Officers and Offices-Appointed (Bylaws, Article 16.2),” June, 2013 < http://www.foursquare.org/handbook/english.pdf> (4 September 2013).

                [16]Tikkun International, About Us, “Overview, <http://tikkuninternational.org/aboutus.php> (3 September 2013).

                [17]Church Music Today, “Three Point Six: The Tenure of Ministry,” (Part One of Two), by Dennis Cook, July 18, 2011 <http://churchmusictoday.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/three-point-six-the-tenure-of-ministry-part-one-of-two/> (20 August 2013).

                [18]Don N. Howell Jr., Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003), p. 11.

                [19]See <http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pdf> for more information.

By Adrian A. Bernal, Copy Right 2013, All Rights Reserved

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Yeshua’s Prescription to Placing God Above Money

Most Christians can’t make sense of the following passage simply because they refuse to look at the New Testament through first-century Jewish eyes. As long as Christians continue to rely solely on the Greek language to decipher the New Testament, then passages like Matthew 6:19-24 won’t be seen in the true light of Yeshua’s teachings.

Scholars such as David Bivin, Lois Tverberg, David Flusser, Robert Lindsey and many others (including myself)[1] adhere to the original texts of the New Testament as being written or orally transmitted in Hebrew first. Eventually, and rather quickly, the Writings of the Apostles (NT) were written down in Greek and communicated in such a way that gentiles were able to adhere to the teachings of the Tanakh through Yeshua’s and his disciples’ instructions (Matthew 28:16-20).

The reason why Aramaic was not the original language of the Bible is because within the first century, the language among the Jews of Judea was primarily Hebrew. (I used to believe that Aramaic was the original language as well; however, I was convinced by the evidence that Hebrew had to be the language of Yeshua and the disciples during antiquity.) Yes, Aramaic, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew were all spoken, and many in Judea were bi-and even trilingual or quad-lingual; but, most likely the Aramaic words used were loaned words. For example, in Israel today there are English-loaned words such as telephone and Internet, which makes for easier understanding. In America, we too use borrowed words from other countries. Take, for example, the Japanese word karaoke. Although we pronounce it as, “Care-ee-Oh-KEE,” the proper way would be more like, “KAH-rah-oh-KAY.” Regardless, karaoke is a loan word from Japan that we have taken full advantage of to where it is now an American word as well.

According to Bivin and others, there is less than 1% of the entire Bible, including the NT, which was written in Aramaic.[2] Furthermore, when calculated, the complete Bible consists of more than 92% of its language written in Hebrew. This would consist of all the referenced scriptures of the OT in the NT as well. Not to mention, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which consisted of more than 90% of the scrolls being written in Hebrew, it’s not hard to see that 2 plus 2 equals 4. Nevertheless, the debate will continue. That being the case, I’ll stick with the premise that Hebrew was the primary language spoken by Yeshua and his disciples in this teaching.

The book of Matthew records Yeshua as saying:

6:19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 6:20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 6:23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[3]

In this passage, there is no saying in Greek, which can properly translate the words, “eye is healthy” (i.e., good eye), or “eye is diseased” (i.e., bad eye) without leaving the message of Yeshua lost. Therefore, because of this, Greek translators are left to translating this passage in various ways that just don’t seem to make sense to its proper meaning. However, what is being missed by most translators (who ascribe wholly to Greek primacy) is what is known as a Hebraism or Jewish idiom, which was used during the first century. An idiom is a saying which does not make sense in its translated language regardless of how it is broken up. For example, we use American idioms today, which other cultures, without the knowledge of our idioms, could not make sense of, despite how deeply they would break apart the individual words in English. A good American idiom would be, “kick-the-bucket.” Without having knowledge of our culture, a tribesman from Africa, let’s say, would have no idea what you and I were talking about; however, those Americans reading this would have no doubt that kick-the-bucket simply means “to die”; thus, if I were to say . . . tomorrow I’m going to kick-the-bucket, you would conclude that tomorrow I was going to die. (God forbid!)

 Anyhow, in the above translation of Matthew, the passage doesn’t make sense in the Greek because if I were to take its meaning at face-value, I might ask, what is a diseased eye? Does this mean that if I had one, blind eye, then the light in me is somewhat dark! Or, how about having just one, healthy eye? Does this mean that if only one eye is healthy, our whole body will be full of light? Again, this doesn’t make sense! The Greek cannot make sense of Yeshua’s teaching because this is obviously a Hebraism of the first century. Now, if the Greek translators would have recognized this, then the passage (vv. 22-23) could have been translated as such: “. . . Generosity is the lamp of the body. If then you are generous, everything you do and have you’ll be generous with, which represents my presence in your life. However, if you are a stingy person, you’ll be stingy with everything you do and have. If so, then how deep down in your spirit does that stinginess go! . . .” (Adrian’s translation).

Giving the knowledge of this being a Jewish idiom of the first century, then this passage now comes alive in a whole, new way. Yeshua is not taking about some mysterious “eye” that is healthy, whole, or good. Nor is he talking about how diseased, unhealthy, or bad your mysterious eye is. Rather, he is giving the prescription on how to be enslaved to God rather than money.

 In verses 19-21 Yeshua is relating that doing tzedakah (giving righteously) to those within and outside of the kingdom of God, without their knowledge, is storing up treasure in heaven, which cannot be destroyed. Furthermore, by doing righteous deeds or giving righteously (doing tzedakah) your heart is in obedience and in alignment with God’s word. Thus, with vv. 22-23 now being added to vv. 19-21, it is clear to see how Yeshua is prescribing to his followers how to love God and not be mastered by money (v. 24), which brings to light the following teaching from this entire passage in Matthew:

Righteous, generous giving through the spirit (storing up treasure in heaven) with everything a person has, will give that person tremendous, divine power over material possessions and lusting over money. By being generous, that person will represent the presence of God in such a way, that others will glorify God for his tzedakah and undeniably recognize God’s presence in and through him.

 By Adrian A. Bernal © 2012, All Rights Reserved.

[1]Although I have never referred to myself as a scholar, others have addressed me as both a scholar and theologian. This, however, has been very troubling and humbling for me, since I have not sought such recognition.
[2]See David Bivin and Roy Blizzard Jr., Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights From a Hebraic Perspective, revised (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 1994), et al.
[3]The NET Bible First Edition (Biblical Studies Press, 2006).
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When Religion Binds

Some might argue that all religion binds, which they may have a point; however, I am using religion here in the sense of having the ability and freedom to practice religion. Religion becomes binding when it forces upon its adherents a set of rules that must be followed. However, this idea, too, is sketchy at best because in all walks of society, rules must be followed to secure right boundaries. The Ten Commandments, for example, are a set of rules that when practiced protects the individual whom is practicing it as well as others within a community. “You shall not murder” is a law (rule), or standard, that brings freedom and order to an unruly society. If there was no rule to keep someone from murdering, then the practices of murder would be acceptable. However, having the law state that one must not murder actually brings freedom to live in society where you can feel safe while walking down the street in hopes of not being murdered. Now, this doesn’t keep you from being murdered by an unlawful citizen, but it does bring to light that if this rule is broken, there are consequences that will follow. Thus, bringing justice for your family if such an event was to arise—God forbid! Ergo, not all rules are binding, as not all religion is binding, but in many cases rules bring freedom. This holds true regardless of whether or not it involves “Church” or “State.” The ideas of rules are for our benefit; it’s when certain rules bind individuals from common sense and personal responsibility all for the “sake of religion” is when religion crosses the line.

 

Recently, in an article by an online newspaper, Israel Hayom (Israel Today), it’s been reported that there’s been some controversy over ultra-Orthodox soldiers being obligated to attend military events where women are asked to sing.[1] Because of this, the chief rabbi of the Israeli Air force, Lt. Moshe Ravad, resigned stating, “[The] new regulation hinders religious soldiers’ ability to serve.” Prior to this obligation, ultra-Orthodox men could remain observant while serving in the military under the Shahar Project, which allowed for their absences from official military events where women were singing. However, it is now mandatory for all military personnel to attend official events where women sing; including, the mandate that women will sing at all military events. Of course, observant, orthodox military men don’t have to attend recreational events, but all official events, they are now obligated. So, is this where religion hinders or brings bondage?

Simply put, yes! Now, for those of you who are wondering about this controversy, apparently, according to the article, the Talmud states, “a woman’s voice is her nakedness.” Additionally, the article states, “Some ultra-Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law [the Talmud] forbid men from listening to women as it could be sexually arousing” (emphasis mine). Therefore, with this interpretation by some ultra-Orthodox groups, those military men who belong to them are exempt from attending any events, which have women singing. Now, although I searched for this in the Talmud, I didn’t find it; however, my research skills in the Talmud are limited. I did, however, find references to David’s lust over Bathsheba, which caused him to sin. But even then I would blame David not Bathsheba.

In the New Covenant there’s a passage in Galatians, which speaks about the fruits of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law” (5:22-23). That being stated, I guess what some of the ultra-Orthodox men are missing is the power and presence of the Ruach HaKodesh to walk out in the Spirit of self-control. Yes, women are required, according to the Scriptures, to watch how they dress because they don’t want to be a stumbling block to men. And, yes, women throughout history have aided in the down-fall of some of the greatest men the planet has ever known. But, besides that and in spite of that, men are required to be men of self-control and to take responsibility for their actions.

Over the years I have proven to be lacking in self-control when it comes to becoming easily-angered, my thought life, and my patience. However, I have no one to blame but myself. A lack of discipline in spiritual matters causes us to become weak, and in time we become susceptible to all sorts of evils within; yet, we are still responsible for our own behaviors. And, in my weaknesses, I must seek God for the strength that is required to honor him in all of the fruits of the Spirit; not just me alone, but every man and woman must do the same. To expect society to do this for you is denying the fact that even governments, once given over to the power of governing, rarely dismiss laws but add to them to the point where lives are controlled by their lust for power.

I couldn’t help but to reflect on the idea that as these ultra-Orthodox men continue to believe that God’s law teaches that men are not to be in the presence of women when they sing or they’ll become sexually aroused, the more I see how severely we’re a lost people and how little we’ve progressed from the original sin of the Fall.

Adam blamed Chavah (Eve), she blamed the serpent, the serpent blames God and us, and now some men blame the voices of women for the lack of self-control. This interpretation of the Talmud breeds slavery. Men are enslaved to women’s voices, women are enslaved to their own voices; thus, not being able to sing in the presence of men. (Talk about degrading women!) The Democrats blame the Republicans—just look at how the Obama administration has blamed G.W. Bush for his own inabilities to carry this nation to a greater state—the Republicans blame the Democrats, husbands blames their wives, and wives blame their husbands. Actually, I blame all of you for all my inabilities too! Heck, why not!? Since everyone else is blaming someone else for his problems, I might as well join the club; let’s call it the I.B.S.S. (I Blame Society Syndrome).

There comes a point in society where the righteous must stand up and be righteous, which means more than being born-again, saved, and freed-from-sin; rather, to act righteous, take personal responsibility, and minister to those whom are widowed, poor, and fatherless—for that is true religion; everything else is secondary, and most things are immaterial. Sure, we are saved by grace, but now what? Along with that grace, comes covenantal relationship with God and personal responsibility to do your part. It doesn’t happen on its own.

I can honestly say about my wife that she is an incredible singer, and that I love to hear her sing; however, I have never, once been seduced by her singing. That belongs in Greek mythology with seductions of Medusa. Sorry ultra-Orthodox brothers, but you might want to reconsider your interpretation.

By, Adrian A. Bernal © 2012, All Rights Reserved


[1]See, Yehuda Shlezinger, Lilach Shoval and Gideon Allon, “IDF Rabbi Resigns Post Over Regulation on Singing by Women,” 04 January 2012; article online at: <http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=2508> accessed 04 January 2012.

When Religion Binds

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From Generation to Generation (L’dor v’dor)

I realize it’s been a long time since my last post; however, I assure you I haven’t fallen off the planet. However, I’ve written so many previous posts that you could literally spend hours upon hours of reading while keeping yourself busy, so I’m sure I haven’t been missed to badly. Regardless, I now have something to write about, so get a cup of coffee, find a comfortable sitting spot, and brace yourself for a fun and exciting post.

Although this is not as spiritual as some of my previous posts, it does, however, have a great message. I’ve titled this, “LeDor vaDor” or “L’dor v’dor.” The meaning is quite simple, but profound: From Generation to Generation. The scriptural passage is found in Psalm 103:31, which reads, “. . . And that was counted to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever” (ESV). The idea is that Phinehas’ decision to act on behalf of Israel’s sin stayed (held back) the plague that was due them and it was to be considered a righteous act forever (vv. 29-30).

Now, here’s the cool part: Regardless if Phinehas had majorly stumbled or sinned in the future or did something so bad that his name was removed from the people of Israel, his action that day stood, and still stands as a righteous act and it’s accredited to Phinehas. Phinehas could have messed up for the rest of his life, but he would still be known as the man who acted righteously and because of him, the children of Israel escaped a plague and the wrath of God. (Talk about retirement!)

Anyhow, I’m sure you get the idea of what “from generation to generation forever” means by now, right? Well, this past weekend I went to, what some would call, “the armpit of hell“–Rawlins, WY.–for a family reunion. And, yeah, I’m sure I’ve used that phrase from time-to-time too, but overall I have some sweet, fond memories of the place; especially, spending time with family and friends when I was younger. Rawlins may look like a pile of cow-pooh from Interstate-80, but I assure you there are some quality people and places to visit in Rawlins. What’s comical is that almost always when Rawlins comes up in conversations I’m having, their responses are the same, “Oh, I know of Rawlins . . . I once got stuck there in a snow storm because they had to close down the interstate.” (I can’t tell you how many times this has happened, but it’s been a lot.)

Anyhow, back to the story! During our reunion, I got to meet some new cousins (2nd and 3rd) which I’ve never met. I also got to see aunts and uncles and other relatives I haven’t seen in 20 plus years! (We don’t get together as often as we should.) Actually, it was 21 years ago when we last gathered for the funeral of my grandmother, the matriarch of the Bernal clan. Joseph and Maria  Bernal (my grandparents) had 12 children–6 boys, 6 girls–excluding one child who died at birth. Out of these remaining 12 children came hundreds of siblings. And, what’s amazing is that all 12 of these children are still alive! If all the Bernals produced from these 12 were to come to the reunion we would have increased the population of Rawlins by 15%! Well, not actually, but you get the picture.

When the biblical Yosef (Joseph) sent for his father Jacob (Israel), there were 70 in all that settled in Egypt. After 400+ years of hard labor and slavery, they left victoriously free with approximately 1.2 million people. This simple fact left me bewildered during our reunion when I looked at cousins I knew when I was a child, but would have never recognized them if I saw them at the mall.

What I also reflected on was the blessings that continue to follow the Bernal’s from generation to generation. While growing up, I was always put into feats of competition whether it was in boxing, swimming, basketball, baseball, wrestling, football, or whatever, and more often than not the final round or match or battle came down to cousin-a-cousin (mano-a-mano). It’s a little surprising that most of us didn’t become professional athletes; however, it’s not surprising that many of us competed at the collegiate level. We were driven to excel in everything and many of us did and continue to do so, whether it’s in raising our children or cheering on the next generation–we do it without apology.

So, what’s this got to do with  l’dor v’dor? Well, as I looked at a newer generation–all great basketball players–and others that were good at golf, baseball, and other sports (including the collegiate level), I couldn’t help but to reflect on previous generations that must have set this into motion: the Bernal’s of the Pre-Inquisition peariod. They must have been strong and powerful swordsmen, loyal to their families, and champions of strength and confidence. And, just as the patriarch Abraham blessed his son Isaac, and Isaac blessed his son Jacob, and Jacob blessed his twelve children–all the while having God keeping His promises to each and every one of them–so my family has been blessed through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3). Not just them, but the many generations that followed including the Bernal’s of Spain. Yes, every family has skeletons-in-the-closet including my family, but so did Abraham and his children. They had lied and deceived others at times; however, God used them and He kept His promises with them and to them.

Reflecting on this, however far removed our Jewish heritage is, we are a family of rich heritage from Spain and Israel. Our name goes back to the pre-Spanish Inquisition period (Most likely during the Diaspora at the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 A.D., or during the Second Jewish revolt in 133-135 A.D.) and it means “Strong As A Bear.” Although we are average in height to many families, we have some that tower over others and many of us continue to express that name’s meaning whether it’s through physical strength, emotional strength, or mental strength (gently speaking, we are a strong-willed people). Our family shield(s) have three symbols to it, which one is the capital “T” or the “Torch” which stands for, “Champions of Tournaments!

Another symbol is that of the “Greyhound Dog.” Its meaning is simply, “loyalty.” What’s amazing is that although we’ve gone 21 years without a family reunion, the loyalty to the family and the family name was great to see. And, finally, the last symbol is that of a “Castle,” which basically augments the Bernal name and its meaning; that being, “fortitude, strength, and strong shelter.”

As mentioned above, regardless of how Phinehas lived his life, he was accredited as being a righteous person for standing up for his people when they didn’t deserve it. Thus, however far removed the Bernal’s are from the family shield and name, including our rich Jewish and Spanish heritage, we are, nonetheless, recipients of the blessings that have been placed upon a man (Abraham), a people (his grandchildren), a nation (Israel), and a culture (Spanish/Jewish), including other nations and families where God’s blessings have flowed (Spain, America, and now down to the Bernal family).

My desire is that all my family will see this great and rich heritage that we’ve received and that we as a people (family) can embrace the greatest blessing of all, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) in a very real, and personal way from generation to generation, ledor vador.

Furthermore, may your family be as blessed as mine has been, is, and continues to be.

Shalom, shalom,

Adrian Bernal

Posted in Religion | 4 Comments

And Moses Wrote Down All that YHWH Said

It’s interesting that in the book of Exodus we read, “Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord [YHWH] and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the Lord [YHWH] has spoken we will do.’ And, Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord [YHWH]” (bold and italics mine, Exodus 24:3-4a, ESV). Yet, the struggle remains among Jews and Christians as to what YHWH said, and what YHWH meant? Go figure!

Earlier in Exodus, just a view verses above, YHWH says,”Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20). Furthermore, in the verses following, we are instructed to pay close attention to Him, for He will not pardon our transgressions if we rebel against Him (v. 3); also, YHWH’s name is in Him. And, for the remainder of the chapter, we read of the consequences for not following Him and the blessings behind obeying Him. This, however, is not a complete list, but it is so that the people return, “All the words YHWH has spoken we will do” (Ex. 24:3b).

What is it about us that we become so transformed by the power of God and His word to only quickly forget and rebel? Is it only me? I sure hope not! It appears to be obvious that YHWH’s angel is none other than the “Commander of YHWH’s army” (Yehoshua 5:13ff), where Yehoshua (Joshua) recognizes as someone greater than simply an angel. So much so that Joshua bows down and worships Him. Yikes! Where’s the thunder and lightning? Why didn’t Yehoshua die? I’m sure Joshua remembered the words, “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared . . .” (Exodus 23:20). So, what’s going on here!? We are told that Moses wrote everything down, that YHWH would send an angel to bring us to the place He prepared, and we are to pay close attention to Him (the Angel). Well, it’s also obvious that this angel is none other than the manifestation of the Mashiyach. This “Angel” tells Yehoshua the same thing that He told Moses, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:15).

Now, the place isn’t necessarily what is “holy” but it was transformed into becoming holy because of the presence of the Commander of YHWH’s army. It’s just like the bush that appeared to be burning; we don’t worship the bush or the ground, we worship the Almighty in His glorious splendor. Now, just to blow-your-mind, in chapter 6 of Joshua, we hear the description of the Commander: “And the Lord (YHWH) speaks to Joshua . . .” (Joshua 6:2ff). Unholy Cow! What’s going on here? We have a voice within the burning bush telling Moses to take off his sandals, and now an angel with a sword telling Joshua the same thing. Now, if that’s not hard enough to imagine, what do we do with the fact that the Bible tells us that these figures are YHWH? They didn’t deliver the word of God like other angels, which speak in the third person like the angel which spoke to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). No, the Angel who spoke to Abraham, Moses, and now Joshua spoke as YHWH himself.

Although Jews for Judaism and other opponents to Yeshua being the Messiah can twist and defend messianic prophecies found throughout almost every book of the Tanakh, they can’t blame, however, “bad translation” for the fact that in almost every page of the Bible there is some sort of revelation of the Mashiyach. He’s the “Angel” that Abraham had a cheeseburger with (Asher Intrader’s words), He’s the one who spoke through the flames within the bush to Moses, He’s the one who led the captives out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, He’s the one who parted the Red Sea and took off the wheels of the chariots of Pharaohs army, and He’s the one who spoke from the mountain of God and the one with whom the children of Israel said they would obey. He’s YHWH; He’s Yeshua! He’s not the embodiment of Yeshua, because he had not yet been born through a woman as prophesied in Genesis 3:15 when God spoke to the serpent “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Both Jewish and Christian theologians consider this to be a messianic passage, because of the singular reference found here between he and you, meaning Yeshua and the Great Serpent, Satan.

Additionally, what does it mean when YHWH says “for my name will be in him” (italic mine, Exodus 23:21)? The term used here for “in him” gives the idea of branding. Once a rancher brands his livestock with his signature or brand, that animal belongs to him. So, here YHWH is saying that his name will be branded in Him. Basically, YHWH’s DNA will be in the Messiah. When YHWH reveals His name to Moses he says, “tell the people ‘eheyeh ‘asher ‘eheyeh (I AM WHO I AM, or I AM THAT I AM) has sent you to them.” The Hebrew also gives the meaning as “He who causes things to be; He who makes things happen.” Michael L. Brown, who has a Ph.D. in Semitic Languages suggests that the word Yahweh is a causative form of the root “to be.” And, the word Yahweh is an obvious word play with ‘eheyeh, which is from the same root “to be.”[1] So, how’s does this relate to Yeshua? When questioned about his nature in the New Covenant Yeshua responds “I AM HE” (John 18:5-6). Furthermore, when the Samaritan woman suggested that the Messiah will come and “tell us all things,” Yeshua responds, “I who speak to you, am He” (italics and bold mine, John 4:25-26). And, finally, when the leaders of the Jewish people were questioning the paraplegic as to who healed him on the Shabbat, he told them that it was Yeshua. Thus, “this is why the Jews [Jewish leaders] were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath [according to their laws and views—oral traditions and customs], but He was even calling God his own father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). There are many more references to Yeshua being the Messiah, including his ownership of the title and having equality with God. You cannot conclude otherwise. Yeshua is the Messiah and the only one who can be. He is the Great I AM, and He is the one who spoke to Abraham, Moses, and Joshua—and He speaks still to us today.

Conclusion: When Moses wrote down all the words and all the rules, it behooves us to become obedient to those words. The Messiah is seen throughout the Tanakh, not just in known messianic prophecies; he is practically revealed on every page—for He is the target of Torah. Not only does Torah mean: the instructions of God, but it comes from the root yara meaning to cast or throw having the idea as to an arrow or a stone being thrown towards a target. Thus, the Torah—God’s Instructions are to be directed towards the target. Who or What is the target? It’s the Messiah; for all Torah points to Him. Now, when we miss the target and get off on things that are extra biblical, such as rabbinical mandates and church theologies, which add  to all the words that Moses recorded, then that is what takes us away from the target. The Greek word, hamartia (ham-ar-tee-ah), is the Greek word for the English word, sin; and to sin means to err and or to miss the mark. Wow! Do you see the connection? What does it mean to miss the mark? Who’s the mark; who’s the target? Well, the answer is obvious: Yeshua the Messiah is the Mark or Target of YHWH, which all Torah leads to, and to err from Torah is to miss the target.

Through YHWH’s grace and faith in Yeshua we are no longer under the law, but we are drawn to YHWH through the Messiah’s lead to the obedience of Torah through the New Covenant of His Torah written upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31ff). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Messiah Yeshua, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25a). The last time I looked, it’s as much a sin for Christians to commit murder, lie, steal, and hate as it is for a Jew, whether he is a Jewish believer or not. So, what do we do? “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31). How, you may ask? By hitting or throwing the stone or shooting the arrow towards the Target. We uphold the Torah through Yeshua, being obedient even unto death.

In His grace,

Adrian


[1]Michael L. Brown, What Do Jewish People Think about Jesus? And Other Questions Christians Ask about Jewish Beliefs, Practices, and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2007), p. 63.

Posted in Religion | 4 Comments