How do we teach a generation of children to go against the flow? How do we as believers, raise them to be at peace with their apparently conflicting identities: both “in the world” and also “not of it?” In our case they must learn to be both Jewish and also followers of Yeshua. This means going against the flow of their peers all the way from nursery school through army service and into college and the work force. We see many who complete their army service and leave the faith, stolen in their prime.
As I look at Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, I can’t help but notice that the closer he gets to Jerusalem, the more he is confronted with a similar Jewish vs. Yeshua conflict. And when I return to Israel from teaching in different nations, I also feel like Paul getting “closer to Jerusalem” (Acts 20 & 21). I am once again face to face with the religious Jewish community and its approach to Torah. These were part of my upbringing and identity as a Jew, and by God’s grace I am able to stand in the midst of both camps – maintaining my identity both as a Jew and as a follower of Yeshua.
In Paul’s time there were two camps: the Jews and the Gentiles. Through Paul, God chose that the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe (Acts 15:7). To accomplish this Paul had to cross geographical borders as well as borders of tradition and custom. He entered the homes of Gentiles and helped awaken them to faith. Even as he traveled, preached and visited congregations, he remained a Jew in the way he worshiped God. Only by God’s grace was Paul able to carry out this stereotype-breaking lifestyle.
Gentile believers came from a background of idol worship. Their “worship culture” was not the same as that of the Jews. Jewish believers looked at the Gentile believers from a Jewish perspective and were put off by what they saw as pagan Greek or Hellenistic influences in their faith. There was a big argument among the apostles concerning which of the commandments the Gentiles should be required to follow (Acts 15:19-21).
Paul knew how to stand in the midst of both camps while maintaining the integrity of his identity. Acts 21:20 describes that in addition to him, there were tens of thousands of Jews who believed in Yeshua and remained “zealous for the law”. I look at all of the above and consider it in the light of modern Israeli life. I find myself considering Paul’s thoughts in Galatians 2:1-5. Like him, I want to be sure not to “run my race in vain.” What do I mean by that? I want to see the next generation able to live boldly as Israeli Jews and as followers of Yeshua.
We are raising our children to believe in Yeshua yet they are living in a Jewish society which identifies Him with a religion that has persecuted and killed them throughout history. Our children, youth and young adults do not want to lose their Jewish identity and connectivity, but our faith can put a distance between us and the rest of our society. Many in the Jewish community still perceive accepting Yeshua as worshiping “another God” and betraying our people. There is little to no understanding of Yeshua and Messianic Judaism, particularly among school age children, which makes it particularly difficult for our kids to express their faith among their peers.
This generation is encountering the same challenges that Paul, the apostles and the first century believers in Yeshua faced. May God give us the wisdom to do all we can so they will not feel alone, so that they will feel loved and accepted while maintaining their Jewish identity and growing in understanding and acceptance of Yeshua.
And may we, around the world, all join together standing in faith intercession for the water of God’s Spirit to flow in accordance with generational promises applicable to all of us:
“… Fear not, O Jacob My servant
… whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,
And floods on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit on your descendants,
And My blessing on your offspring.”
This article originally appeared in Israel’s Restoration Newsletter, April 2016.