Sunday, July 21, 2013

Erev Shabbat Experience

Since roughly October of 2012, I've been on a search for truth.

It started with an inexplicable draw to a Messianic Jewish congregation in my area. Since I was raised primarily in a Pentecostal church, interest in Messianic Judaism was something totally different and unexpected for me. We left our church a few years ago and had not found another "home church" to attend. We had visited a few, but never really found one that fit. My husband (raised Baptist) and I had not discussed it much before I told him one day that I felt like we needed to visit this new church. To my surprise, he agreed, and soon thereafter, we went to a Friday night service.

Everyone was extremely nice to us. From the moment we were greeted at the door with a warm smile and an enthusiastic "Shabbat Shalom" (Peaceful Sabbath), we felt totally welcome. We found that "Shabbat Shalom" was the greeting of choice, and it was quite awkward for us to repeat it back to the many people who offered it to us - especially since, at the time, we weren't sure what it meant. Nonetheless, there was a warmth and sincerity in that place that I'd never felt at any other church I'd been to. I was impressed. We both were.

After we found a seat, a very nice lady came over to speak to us and she asked what brought us there. My husband and I looked at each other, and he told her that he had been thinking about visiting for a while and that I just happened to call him up one day and suggest we go. Her response: "So...God brought you here." I started to cry because, in our 12 years of marriage, we had never been "on the same page" regarding which church we should attend. Ever. I had no idea he had been thinking about it prior to my mentioning it to him. I felt as though we were exactly where God wanted us to be at that particular time. What a great feeling that was!

The service was different, to say the least. It began with what I call a Jewish-style meet and greet. Their small worship band played a joyful "Shabbat Shalom" ditty and everyone came out of the pews, dancing through the aisles, shaking hands, and greeting each other. It was like they truly were one big, happy family.

This was followed by the liturgy and the reading from the Torah (first five books of the Bible), the Haftarah (Prophets) and Brit Hadasha (New Testament)as the congregation stood, listening respectfully and reverently. It struck me how much honor was given to the Word, as it should be. Everyone stood at its reading, and I found throughout the whole service, a lot of it was read and then explained in context of what is written, as well as given in the practical means of life-application. This is contrasted to what I'm used to, which is typically a sermon written around a few key verses to drive home a particular topic - usually slanted toward a particular denominational doctrine.

Then it was time for praise music, singing and dancing, shofar blowing, and flag waving. I had participated in many a praise and worship service, but none like this. It was like the entire congregation broke out into a big party! On the floor in front,on either side of the stage, was a group of people dancing in large circles...adults and children, alike. (Later, I learned this dance is called the Hora) A petite woman dressed in white flowing clothing danced all over the sanctuary, skillfully waving two big, colorful flags above her head. Smaller flags were passed out to those who wanted them. People were clapping and smiling and obviously feeling free to just enjoy the presence of God however they felt led. Everyone was filled with the joy of the Lord. It was so refreshing!

Things calmed a bit after the praise song was over. The children were dismissed to their classes, and worship began. The music was more somber, and the altars were opened for those who wanted to pray. Twenty people or more went to the altars to pray, some wearing prayer shalls over their heads, which was a totally foreign concept to me. They would pray for a while and then one-by-one, quietly trickle back to the pews as they finished.

After a few worship songs, the sermon began. The teaching was straight from the Bible...lots of Scripture...and it was all about Jesus (or, as they call him "Yeshua," which is his actual, Hebrew name). The service was a little long - almost two hours from beginning to end - but for me, that wasn't an issue. For my 16-year-old, fidgety son, it was a different story. Two hours was a little too long for his taste. But they didn't get into a big hurry, which is something I loved about it.

After that visit, my interest in the Messianic faith peaked. I began what would become a six-month study of the Torah - from Genesis to Deuteronomy - every single verse. The more I read and learned of the Torah, the closer I felt to God. I began to look at the Scriptures in a totally new way. The New Testament even made more sense to me after learning what the Old Testament said. Things I'd been taught growing up - things about the Sabbath and holidays and food, for instance - started to look very different through this new lens called the Torah. I could see from the Scriptures how certain things I always believed to be true could have been taken out of context. I'll go so far as to say that I believe in my spirit that some things were, in fact, taken out of context to align with certain doctrines...but I'll leave it at that for now.

I began to question all these new things I was learning, weighing it against things I was taught my whole life, and ultimately, some confusion set in. I felt like God sent my husband and I to this new place of worship for a reason, and He led me to the Torah for a reason. He put the unquenchable desire in me to seek the Truth. At the same time, though, everyone I know and love doesn't seem to know anything about any of this stuff, nor do they seem to care to hear it. Some are open to listen and discuss, others, not so much. I found out how very defensive some Christians can be when you start messing with their holidays. I love Christmas as much as the next person, believe me. But more than my love for Christmas, I love God and I want to know how He feels about Christmas. I want to know the Truth, no matter what.

In any event, new beliefs were developing in my heart from my reading of the Word and these beliefs caused me to wonder what all this meant for me. If I'm not a Pentecostal or a Baptist or a Jew, by virtue of their doctrines, then what was I? Am I a wanna-be Jew as some would suggest?

I struggled with these questions for a while before I realized that I don't need an earthly label to identify me as a child of God. No, I'm not Jewish and I'm not trying to be Jewish. I'm a believer in the Most High God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has placed in me a love for the Jewish people - His people - and He is teaching me what to believe about Him and His people through His Word. I believe He gave us His Word - all of His Word - for a purpose, and not just to give us a history lesson. I believe the whole Bible is true and relevant to us today.

I'm digging deeper and I will share what I find here. That's the purpose for this blog.

Finally, I know.