You have seen their pictures in the newspaper or on television. Still wearing army fatigues, they are encamped in the jungles" of Northern California or Oregon, or wandering, homeless, on the streets of New York or Los Angeles. They speak in apocalyptic terms of firefights with the enemy, battles fought against unseen foes. For them the war continues with battle lines on every side. The backfire of an automobile may be mortar fire from "Charlie." Planes taking off and arriving at the nearby airport—are they friend or foe?
They are victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome. For them, whether they are veterans of the Vietnam War, Desert Storm or some other war—the battle continues. They can't adjust to the reality of ordinary life. They continue fighting battles in their minds that were long ago decided. These people, many of whom performed valiantly in combat, are now losing a war of a different kind—one they are not even aware they are fighting. It is a sad and peculiar phenomenon.
As believers in Y'shua this can happen to us in the spiritual realm.
The normal life of the believer is a warfare. At times we feel as if we are fighting one battle after another. Yet our greatest danger is not when we are in the thick of battle. It is our failure to recognize that one battle is over and another has begun. If we fail to take stock of where we are, the nature of the struggle, who is for us, who is against us and how the battle is going, we may suffer our own form of spiritual post-traumatic delusions.
Elijah, the prophet on Mount Carmel, fought idolatry in Israel and won a great victory against the prophets of Baal. Following that victory, Elijah spun into a profound depression. He failed to reorient himself to the new realities, to adjust to the end of one battle and the beginning of another. As a result, with his own loneliness and self-absorption, he accomplished what the priests of Baal could not. He was reduced (albeit temporarily) to a whining, self-deluded state of cowardice.
David was always at his best in the midst of battle. He shone when Saul was seeking his life in the Judean wilderness; David emerged the moral victor because he would not return evil for evil in his dealings with the mad king. He was courageous in battle, no matter how outnumbered he was by the enemies of God. After his great victories David returned to the palace, while his soldiers conducted a mop-up operation to deal with the remaining Philistines. It was then that David's eye wandered toward Bathsheba and he plunged into sin.
The times when we are tempted the most are not in the midst of the battle, but are often after a substantial victory. That is when you are most likely to let down the spiritual force field around your heart. In the midst of the battle the opportunity to sin does not present itself so strongly because your energies are focused on that struggle. You are more likely to be depending on God's power, moving forward. The mistake most people make is that, after struggling and winning some battles, they fail to adjust to the ordinariness of their life apart from the struggle. They continue to fight the old battles, and as a result they lose the battle on other fronts. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). How can we take heed?
Recognize when a victory has been won
When we recognize our victories we can avoid being defeated in the areas where the battle still rages. We can reinforce the wall and support the troops to avoid losing the battle that is current.
We have won some important victories in the messianic movement during the last twenty years. We need to assess those victories and ask ourselves how the battle is going and where the battle is going. We have to be encouraged by the victories. We need to take the energy we have from the earlier struggle and reapportion it in order to have a proper stance for the future.
Focus on the fact that we have come a long way in the messianic community. Things are not what they used to be. There really was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Jewish community that began during the time of the "Jesus revolution." It was a different kind of revival than what people are talking about today. It wasn't a harvest, it was a windfall. No one climbed the trees to get the fruit. We didn't reach up to pick it. We stooped to pick up what the Holy Spirit had shaken from the trees. That which we did not plant or cultivate grew to fruition. It was an extraordinary act of the Ruach Ha Kodesh.
Having grown up in a messianic Jewish home it is obvious to me that we've had an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit, because I remember the way things used to be. Most of the Jewish believers I was acquainted with were all of an older generation. The Jewish community could assert fairly confidently that Jews do not believe in Jesus because there was not much evidence to the contrary.
Then suddenly, Jewish people of all ages and backgrounds began coming to the Lord. Twenty years ago it was commonly said that Jews don't believe in Jesus. Now the party line is, "Jews who believe in Jesus aren't Jewish anymore." This is not only feeble in terms of Halakah, but absurd in light of the many Jewish people who either believe everything under the sun, or nothing in particular…and are still considered Jews.
Note this victory: The entire Jewish community has changed its stance because they cannot say that Jews don't believe in Jesus anymore. As a result, they have to re-define what is a Jew to exclude believers in Jesus. Some in the messianic community may be dismayed by the opposition we are getting, by the proliferation of anti-missionary groups attending conferences and speaking out against us. In reality it is evidence that we have won a great victory. The Jewish community must now grapple with what they could once dismiss out of hand.
We can acknowledge another great victory—and here again, this is the power of God at work—with respect to the kind of people who are coming to faith in the Messiah. Paul's words to the Corinthian church could easily have been written to messianic Jews of twenty years ago: "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble…" (1 Corinthians 1:26).
Many might conclude that there still isn't much by way of wisdom and nobility in our ranks today! But, once again, I recall my experiences with the Bible studies and fellowship meetings of Jewish believers back in the sixties. It's not just that there weren't many wise or noble among us. There was a time when an outsider who visited messianic meetings would report that there were many there who were not playing with a full deck.
A recent article in the Detroit Jewish Press shows that some segments of the Jewish community have recognized a change, as the Jewish reporter observed of the local messianic congregation: "No longer the fringe. They have advanced academic degrees, high-paying jobs, Hebrew school and a 'good Jewish background.' Now they have Jesus" (Detroit Jewish Press, July 5, 1991).
God has given us victory. In the last two decades, a large percentage of Jewish people who have accepted Y'shua are communicators. This has translated into an upsurge in the quality of music and literature that express our movement as messianic Jews.
In the decade prior to 1968 most of the gospel tracts for Jewish people had been written in the 1930s. Of those tracts, no more than ten enjoyed a wider distribution than 1,000. Hundreds of pamphlets and tracts have been written in the last ten years, and several dozen have been distributed to hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. The literature that is available today is superb by comparison (though more still needs to be done).
During the days of King Jehoshaphat, the sons of Moab and Ammon came up against our people to fight. Jehoshaphat assembled an army to battle, placing at the head of the battle "those who sang to the Lord and those who praised in holy attire" (2 Chronicles 20:21). It was the musicians and dancers who led our people on to a great victory. Likewise, we can see that a victory has been won in the messianic movement by virtue of the quality of music and dance and other creative arts so prevalent today.
Twenty years ago the only distinctive "messianic music" was Christian hymns that had Yiddish lyrics set to the music. Messianic dance and art were unheard of, yet in the past twenty years there have been more than fifty messianic albums produced. Groups like Lamb, the Liberated Wailing Wall, Kol Simcha and Israel's Hope (to name just a few) have been around long enough that we sometimes take these things for granted. We continue to see people such as Marty Goetz (who was recently featured at the largest ever Billy Graham rally in Central Park) finding a welcome spot in the ranks of messianic musicians. Artists and albums continue to flourish.
A third victory is the opportunities for fellowship and worship that abound today. In earlier days the only opportunity for Jewish believers to meet one another on a national or regional level was the Hebrew Christian Alliance. Attenders were fairly few in number, and many of the "regulars" there were professional missionaries.
When we realize how things were twenty years ago and we see where they are today we cannot help but recognize that we have won a great victory.
The congregational movement is a result of this victory, as well as being a victory in itself. It gained momentum and validity by discipling those who had been won, as well as further developing the expression of worship and fellowship for Jews who believe in Jesus. And the congregational movement has steadily gained credibility through the institutions that represent it: the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, the International Association of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues, and the Fellowship of Messianic Congregations.
In the middle of a struggle, you don't know whether or not you are a winner. We need to recognize that we have victoriously broken through many barriers. From there we need to move on.
Prepare for what lies ahead
If we don't move on, we are in danger of losing important battles that are now upon us. We have had a spiritual "high." Unfortunately, many of us never settled with the ordinariness that must follow every high. Instead, we have wanted every high to be higher. Like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, we have veiled our faces. It is not that the shekinah would blind the people who look at us, but that we have not been able to face the fact that after we have come down from the mountain (where we couldn't have lived anyway), our faces are no longer shining with the same intensity.
We must readjust to our current situation. If we continue to speak as though we are fighting the same battles; if we continue to act as though our faces are shining, the veil we place over our own eyes will only blind us to where the current battle is. We will roam around in circles instead of advancing. There has to be a transition when we come down off the mountain, otherwise we will begin to lose.
Where will we lose? We will lose if we fail to recognize the difference between the mountain top and the ordinary path. Yes, there has been a revival in the past, but are we having a revival now? Are we seeing the move of God's Spirit among our Jewish people the way we did fifteen to twenty years ago? We will lose the battle if we fail to recognize the difference, if we make the mistake of pumping up our own reports and expectations instead of taking stock of where we really are today.
If we fail to recognize that an era has closed, our hearts will be attacked by self-deceit and we will be too feeble, too busy nursing our pride to notice what God is doing right now. Let's stop talking about the thousands who are being saved when in reality there are handfuls here and there.
This kind of attitude is not unique to us as Jewish believers. Many ministries and mission groups talk about winning the world-class cities or winning the world by the year 2000. Not only does this triumphalism fail to correspond with present-day realities, it also ignores the statements of Scripture with regard to the kind of responses we can expect in a world that is hurtling into greater and greater wickedness.
Let's rejoice in what is actually happening rather than inflating ourselves with wishful thinking.
Our emphasis ought to be on building individuals rather than our own empires and institutions. This is reality! We will lose if we place more value on institutions than we do on individuals. If we remember the value of the individual we will not need to trumpet the hundreds of thousands. We will be spared the peril of "sanctified hyperbole." We will be able to rejoice in the one here and the family there that have truly come to put their trust in the Messiah. We will spend enough time with them so that they grow strong enough to win another one here and another one there.
We may also be in danger of losing the battle in terms of our relevance. Twenty years ago it was crucial for us to emphasize the Jewishness of our faith in Jesus. We were countering the claim that Jews don't believe in Jesus. We had to promote our Jewishness as part of our testimony because no one believed that Jews could choose Jesus. We have won that victory. Now we can allow our jewish identity to be much more of a natural expression of who we are, rather than a publicly promoted fact to counter a claim that has been already disproven. When we continue to fight for recognition as Jews who believe in Jesus, we are fighting a battle we have already won. We risk ethnic delusions, and we risk proving our identity in an unnatural or fabricated manner.
Worse yet, some are in danger of promoting our "Jewishness" and neglecting our "Jesusness"—as though somehow our message is that we are Jewish instead of that Jesus is the Messiah. We must maintain our relevance.
Our quickly-changing world leaves a constant trail of outdated slogans in the dust of irrelevance. I recently drove past a synagogue in Southern California where the sign out front read, "Free Soviet Jewry." There is no longer a Soviet Union from which to free them! Even when Jews from Russia emigrate we tend to call them "Soviet Jews," though they left Russia because they did not want to be under a Soviet government. We become irrelevant by virtue of our language.
Likewise we talk about Zionism and the Zionist ideal without recognizing that we have as much of an exodus from the Land as to the Land. Of those who did go to Israel, many went to find a better life. Now, a "better life" is more possible outside the Land. Thousands upon thousands of Israelis are living in the United States. People have turned their backs on Zionism, yet some of us are behaving like we just discovered it.
It is fine for messianic believers to move to Israel so long as plans to do so are well rooted in reality and not romanticism. But to say that we must move there because the Bible says Jews belong in Israel is to disregard what the Bible really does say: the Diaspora will continue until God Himself brings the Jewish people back. If God calls you to move to Israel, by all means, go! Each of us should be ready to respond to God's call wherever He may lead us. Just don't go thinking that you are fulfilling a Zionist ideal at a time when most Jews have abandoned the Zionist ideal. Let's keep our relevance. Whatever is true, whatever glorifies God and focuses attention on Him is relevant.
We must fight for our unity.
It seems as though the battles that we are all too often fighting are those amongst ourselves. Is this really where we want to establish the front lines of the battle? How can we know when we are fighting the right battles against the forces God has ordained us to overcome? By checking our arsenal. What kind of weapons are we using? The ones God provides are useless in a civil war!
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:13-18)
These weapons, with which we are to "be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (verse 10), are in strong contrast to weapons of self-righteousness, sarcasm, cynicism or worse yet, sanctimonious spiritual one-upmanship which we can use to undermine and tear down rather than support and build one another.
The battle we are engaged in now, whether or not we choose to realize it, is the struggle to live up to who we say we are. Are we truly the fellowship of the redeemed—the people of God who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light? Then we need to reflect that light in our character and conduct.
The image of Don Quixote jousting windmills is whimsical and quaint, but there is nothing quaint about us fighting imaginary battles when a real enemy threatens to tear us apart. The battle for unity is one we cannot afford to lose. The fighting and squabbling that goes on between individuals, congregations and institutions must surely grieve the Lord. Chalk one up for the devil!
Where are the front lines of the battles that we should be fighting? Not at the doors of our congregations! Not within the various unions and alliances which are meant to prevent division! Not between evangelistic societies that need to encourage one another to continue on the cutting edge of gospel proclamation! Can we really afford to draw battle lines within our own camp? Such battles we can never win; such battles are fruitless for us to fight.
The front lines are the very gates of hell which—if we are really fighting with the Lord's help and His arsenal—will not withstand us. We must continue to fight against the old nature that tempts and lays siege against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). We must continue to fight the world's standard of ungodliness, refusing to join in rebellion against the kingdom of Messiah (1 John 2:15-17). We must continue to battle against the powers of the devil, who is committed to making us spiritual cripples (Ephesians 6:12).
If we take a good look at today's battles and see those areas where we have failed to fight the good fight, perhaps God will visit us with a spirit of repentance. Perhaps He will once again visit us with the kind of revival that we talk about but are not really seeing. Then, truly, the gates of hell will not prevail against us.