KEEP IN TOUCH !
Dan Juster and Tikkun Staff Writers
Yeshua is our Messiah, our Redeemer, our Fortress and the Rock of our soul. He is Immanuel - God with us. Because of Yeshua we are cleansed from our sin and free to serve God. He is the very passion of our inner being and we cannot imagine life without Him.
How is it, then, that believers lose their faith? Isn't it shocking when someone who seems so firm and tenacious in their belief suddenly crumbles and renounces their life in Yeshua or joins a cult? This is especially so when the person has a public ministry of some standing or duration. While such people may give many different reasons for their change of mind, there is usually only one basic issue involved: losing their connection. This article highlights ways in which we can all keep in touch and avoid dropping out of faith.
By making sure that we address the key issues of
we can not only keep our faith alive, but help our brothers and sisters in the faith to keep theirs, preventing people from falling away.
The first key to staying in touch is, funnily enough, to stay in touch. Staying in touch means spending time with other believers, worshipping with other believers, praying with other believers, studying with other believers, laughing with other believers. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it: "Do not neglect meeting together as some have done." (Heb 10:25) It isn't that we need to live in each other's pockets, but frequent fellowship with those of the same faith, lifestyle and outlook will encourage us all to stand firm together and maintain our standards of faith and practice - in technical terms, our orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
Looking back, the history of sociology and anthropology shows just how people conform to their primary social fellowship. A century ago, anthropologists went to primitive tribes and lived among them with no outside communication in order to avoid distraction or contamination of the society they were studying. Some stayed and joined the tribe! Without outside communication and fellowship, they became like the very people they studied. Maintaining adequate outside communication became compulsory for such researchers after this!
Congregational life not only means staying in touch with our own local congregation on a regular basis, but also being in fellowship with other individual believers and other congregations. As a family of congregations, Tikkun places great importance on opportunities for congregations to worship and fellowship together. With our annual Family Advance, regional training days throughout the year, and regular less formal arrangements between individual congregations, we not only build up life together in the body of Messiah, but strengthen the bonds between leaders and congregants alike.
Moreover, in the case of Messianic Jewish congregations, congregational life should contain high levels of Jewish life and identity. There should be connections to the larger Jewish community. They should be places where Jewish believers feel comfortable and 'at home' in Jewish space. Cultural deprivation is an issue for some Messianic Jews, facing isolation from family and friends following their decision for Yeshua. Sufficient Jewish content is a "must" to ensure that Jewish people are not alienated in their own congregations.
Focus on Yeshua
The second key to maintaining our faith is stay closely focused on Yeshua. We need to know Him, to spend time with Him, to read His word, to talk to Him, to listen to Him, to relax with Him - and yes, to laugh with Him as well. It cannot be over-emphasized that He is the one in whom "we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) Without Him, our lives fall apart for He is our lives.
Each of us is apprenticed to Yeshua. We are bound to Him by a contract sealed in His blood, and paid for by His death on the stake. In past times, when a boy became apprenticed to a master, he became a part of the master's household: he ate in the master's house, he slept in the master's house - very often even underneath the workbench - and spent all his waking hours learning the trade or craft that his master had undertaken to teach him. In exchange for his labor, the master promised to feed and clothe the apprentice, to teach him the trade and introduce him to the head of the trade guild as a qualified journeyman. The master would inspect all the apprentice's work and guide his hands as he learned the rudiments of the craft. The apprentice would watch every move carefully, repeat them many times until he was perfect in copying the master's art and then be allowed to produce work in the master's name. We have many examples of work done by apprentices that is almost indistinguishable from their master's style, but quite distinct from that of another master - the great art schools of the Renaissance period are a classic case.
Does this sound a familiar process? It should, because that is how our lives and relationships with Yeshua are supposed to work. He is the master and He has promised never to leave us or forsake us in the process of "conforming us to His image so that He may be the firstborn among many brethren." (Rom 8:29)
The third key to staying in touch is faithfulness Put another way: endurance. In order to last, relationships need to be worked on and kept alive by constant effort. Our relationships with Yeshua and each other are no exception. Time needs to be set aside to be spent in our own devotional life with Yeshua. We need to be constant to our word and keep our commitments, carrying them out in a good spirit, doing everything "as to the Lord." (Eph 6:7)
When one's experience begins to fade and one's heart grows cold, one can become subject to error and a more legal approach to religion. Many believers in Yeshua come to know Him in very dramatic experiences. If we recall our early days of passionate love, we can often see that a drift has slowly taken place. However, if we maintain this passion by pursuit of the Lord, the realities of the New Covenant remain so vivid that we cannot accept their replacement even by something that is good but in reality, much less. We cannot and must not settle for second best.
Our faithfulness, our endurance, our persistence in holding fast to "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) will prevent us both from falling away from Yeshua and from any false religious proselytizing, so that we don't lose connection with "the Head, from whom the whole body is supported and held together." (Eph 4:15-16) When one is rightly connected to the Head, Yeshua, one realizes that pre-New Covenant or cultish ministry is like a candle light in comparison to the light of the Sun, so great is the superceding glory of the New Covenant. "For what was glorious has no glory in comparison with the surpassing glory." (2 Cor 3:10)
Maintaining the right orientation here is the key to all else and the most important defense for people against abandoning Yeshua. One's primary identity as a new creation in the Messiah is crucial to not having an identity crisis which seeks to find greater importance in ethnicity or in cult group identity.
The fourth key to staying in touch is accountability. When questioned as to whereabouts of his brother Hevel, Kayin asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9) and the simple answer is "Yes!" The Bible clearly teaches that leaders are accountable for their congregations, that people are to be accountable to their leaders that God has placed them in relationship with, and that accountability is a key strength of the body. This is not misuse of authority - Tikkun stresses both personal and congregational autonomy where conscience is led by the Spirit - but accountability is the mechanism that God uses to provide everyone with a sounding board and a method of evaluating their own decisions and progress.
When there is willing accountability to a scripturally sound leadership, great freedom is released among the people. People know that someone is watching their backs for them, that someone cares enough to invest the time to meet and talk on a regular basis and even to challenge ideas or actions that may get an individual into difficulties.
The person who is not submitted to wise elders and strikes out in an independent way that is often unfairly critical of the Church or the Messianic Jewish Congregations is heading for trouble. They will not grow and maintain their faith without deep and lasting fellowship among those who share like faith. They need accountability to elders for spiritual development, they need mentors to warn them of dangers, and they need to live lives in openness before them. This is God's order. People leave accountable fellowship usually a long time before they finally abandon Yeshua.
The fifth key to staying in touch is discernment. Each of us needs to exercise discernment in the reading and study material that we spend time on or allow to have influence in our lives. Congregational leaders need to equip their people in "correctly dividing the word of G-d" (2 Tim 2:15) so that they will not be prey to the misinterpretations characteristic of cults or of some aspects of Orthodox Judaism. It is sad to know that some individuals who once fellowshipped with us are now praying to the saints or following an Orthodox rabbi.
Concerning the Messianic Jewish environment, there is much in Jewish tradition that is both good and beautiful. Messianic Jewish believers should be exploring and reclaiming the heritage that is rightly theirs (Rom 3:2; 9:4-5) but processing it through the filter of our faith in Messiah Yeshua.
How is this to be done? Congregational leaders, who are themselves knowledgeable, should provide classes and other learning opportunities (such as tutoring and small discussion groups) where they or other knowledgeable teachers can steer less experienced learners as they connect and engage with the classic texts. It is neither enough or responsible for people to study on their own: an experienced teacher and guide is often essential in order to understand the background and context of complex material.
On the other hand, it is also essential for Messianic believers to connect with the larger Jewish community. Mature leaders who are already connected should bring small groups to events in the community such as concerts, Jewish community center events and classes, and open synagogue events.
There is now considerable anti-missionary [so called because they contend that all those who preach the gospel to Jews are missionaries] and cult activity [such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Traditional Catholics] and literature. The arguments presented are mostly stereotypical and often foolish:
These kinds of material are designed to persuade Jewish believers to abandon Yeshua and return to the fold of Orthodox Judaism, or to twist the gospel of grace so that the Christian will join a cult group that is based on authoritarianism and false doctrine. As such, all their claims and argumentation should be regarded as highly suspect.
Today's leaders have the responsibility to guide their people away from damaging and deliberately misleading material. It is not that this material is difficult to refute, but leaders must take a firm stand in ensuring that every believer has the necessary basic training to exercise discernment, to recognize this class of writing for what it is and be able to easily thwart its design.
In summary, remember the folk saying, "birds of a feather flock together." When a coal falls out of the grate, and sits by itself it rapidly grows cold and ceases to burn. The key to maintaining a lively and on-fire faith is to ensure that our connections with our Lord, Yeshua, and His people stay open and free from obstruction.
For God "delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible ... all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together ... He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything." (Col 1:13-18 selected)
First place in everything - let it be so!