New Beginnings … Again
I knew I would write something today but I really struggled with what that would be. In fact, i have started this ‘blog
four five times already.
What can I say? I feel compelled both because it is Rosh Hashanah (often called “Jewish New Year,” the Biblical Feast Of Trumpets) and it is the twelfth anniversary of accepting Yeshua as my Savior and King.
I know Messianic Judaism is peculiar thing to most people. Jews dislike it because, regardless of your ethnicity or supreme respect for Torah and tradition, if you believe in Jesus you’re a goy. You’re kicked out of the tribe, as it were. Christianity views our faith as suspect because there is the perception that you are placing prerequesites on salvation. You’re accused of being a legalist. That is ridiculous, of course, as my strong Calvinistic leanings should signify, but people start getting nervous if you imply that HaShem may actually expect you to do something.
Most people don’t know that I was actually raised irreligious and later came to know Him through a Christian Church. I grew up “believing in God” (as all good Southerners do) but I didn’t think about Him much. As a teenager, I had a strong distaste for religion. I wasn’t exposed to many people of a non-Christian faith and most Christians I knew were colossal assholes. Hypocrites. They would be smoking dope and blowing each other in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Saturday night and then be singing in front of their Church on Sunday morning. You know the clichés. Stereotypes are usually stereotypes for a reason.
I toyed with atheism. Church was obviously a sham so what evidence was there of His existence? My spiritual urges were much too strong so I recognized there was something deeper to life. Was I agnostic? I studied the occult and Eastern mysticism. I knew there was something there but couldn’t tell you what it was. Nothing made sense. Nothing fit.
I talked to Mormon missionaries early in the year 2000. I really liked them and agreed to visit their Church. Unfortunately, the service creeped the hell out of me and I never went back. I had never joined a cult before and had no intention of doing so at that point. I really hated that I felt that way because they were all excruciating nice and represented a lot of what I respected about people of faith.
A neighbor invited me to their Church (a Southern Baptist Church, something more “normal”) and I thought “Why the hell not?” I had basically tried everything else. The pastor was a dynamic speaker, highly intelligent, and pragmatic. What he said made a lot of sense. This wasn’t backwoods ignorance. It was presented in a way that was logical and easily applicable. I requested a meeting with him so I could pick his brain. I wasn’t completely satisfied with his answers but was intrigued enough to keep going.
I requested a second meeting and then a third. I was a man of many questions and I hurled every accusation I could muster. It was all a sham. It was largely symbolic, meant to make people act right. There was no way a man could live 969 years. (My Mom had often described people as being “as old as Methuselah” but I had no idea what it meant until later in life.) Finally, Dr. Hal Warren looked at me and asked a simple question. “Daniel, why did you come here today?”
“Well, I just had a bunch of questions and thought that was your job, to answer them.”
“Nope. You came here today because you know that if you died right now you would go to Hell.” Well, wow. That was a good way to piss me off. Can you believe the nerve of that guy? I walked out, vowing never to return. I went home and thought about what he said.
He was right.
Spirituality is a journey. We are all works in progress. There are comforting truths and there are hard truths. That was a hard truth. It confirmed much of what I had been feeling over the last couple of years. God had hooked me and was reeling me in and I never had any idea. I suspect that Dr. Warren read the situation and knew that I would only react to the most extreme of statements. Getting to know him over the next couple of years I never knew him to be so blunt or uncouth. But it worked on me.
On September 17, 2000, I submitted to the things that I knew to be true and accepted Jesus as my God and King. The story does not end there, though. Something was still missing. I was only working with half of the story.
I was flipping channels and came across a gentleman named Zola Levitt. He was dressed in the traditional priestly clothing of the Old Testament and was teaching about the various pieces. I’m always a sucker for the whole History Channel/Discover Channel type stuff so I kept watching. It was toward the end of the show that I realized what I was watching. This was a Jew … who believed in Jesus. Huh. Apparently, that was a thing. I knew I had Jewish heritage but I thought when you believed in Jesus you became a Christian. People like Zola would have you believe that the most Jewish thing you could do is follow the Jewish Messiah. A Jew who accepts his King does not leave Biblical Judaism. He becomes a better Jew.
I was a dry bone made flesh. I was a lost sheep of the House of Israel who had returned home.
I won’t bore you with the details of my study or the various doctrinal differences between mainstream Christianity and Messianic Judaism. I will just say that I found something that finally fit and made sense to me. Yeshua (“Jesus” being an Anglicized version of the Greek Iesous, a transliteration of Messiah’s Name) did not necessarily match the picture painted by Gentile Churches but the underlying message was the same: God demands perfection. We consistently fall short. In His mercy and grace, He sacrificed His own Son for our benefit. All who take faith in Him will have His perfection credited to us on the Day of Judgment. I can argue doctrine and philosophy all day (and often do) but, at the very core, that is the message.
And that is what made me fall absolutely in love with Him twelve years ago.
Of course, as lovers go, I’m quite the harlot. I constantly put other things in front of Him. I often chase other desires and give in to my selfish inclinations. I’m not very good at “being good.” That is why Rosh Hashanah is such an inspiring thing to me. The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur) highlight God’s mercy and grace. According to Jewish tradition, on this day HaShem judges us and records all that will happen to us in the coming year based on our previous actions. We then have the period leading up to Yom Kippur to perform good deeds to change His mind.
Now, I don’t believe that, of course. I think it does paint a lovely picture of our relationship with Him. He gives second chances. He gives third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chances. As long as there is breath in your body you have the opportunity to change what you’re doing and return to Him. I need that. I screw up A LOT. I need to know that His mercy is renewed every morning. I need to know that, as long as I’m willing to return, He will be willing to accept me back. And I am more grateful for that than anything.