This past week, I had the opportunity to represent First Fruits of Zion at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Catalyst is an event that seeks to unify, equip, and challenge Christian leaders.
At this conference, God blessed us with many opportunities to talk to Christian leaders from all over the country about the importance of the Jewish roots of Christianity and how First Fruits of Zion can help them to grow in this area. Catalyst identifies itself as a “community of change makers.” Our presence at this venue was a great opportunity for us to interact with many high-impact Christians.
The busiest times at the conference were during the breaks. Catalyst brings in some of the top Christian speakers in the world such as Brian Houston of Hillsong, Andy Stanley, and Craig Groeschel. At the end of each session, the attendees flood the concourses and this is when the booths get good traffic. During these times, I had opportunities to speak with many pastors and Christian leaders about First Fruits of Zion. This might surprise you…but I met only one person over the three-day conference that had ever heard of First Fruits of Zion. That was surprising to me. On the one hand I was happy that we were there to meet all these people who had never heard of us. On the other hand, it made me realize how much work we have to do.
As folks approached our booth, the normal question from them was, “So tell me about what you guys do?” My answer was,
We are a Messianic Jewish education, vision, and resource ministry that helps believers in Jesus understand Jesus from a Jewish perspective. Our goal is to help people to know Jesus better, and we feel that in order to do that, it is important to understand and see Jesus on his terms. Jesus was Jewish and he practiced Judaism. So if we are going to see him rightly, we have to look at him with Jewish eyes. And that’s the goal…to see him better so that we can follow him better.
That’s how I introduced folks to FFOZ. From there, some would sign up to receive our free book and Messiah Magazine offer. This was wonderful. But probably the most enjoyable part of the conference for me was the number of leaders who stayed at the booth for extended of periods of time to talk. Many of them wanted me to explain what Messianic Judaism was all about. One leader even came up to me, in a non-hostile fashion, and said, “Hey, can you tell me why you are wearing a yarmulke [kippah]?” For the leaders who wanted to go deeper, I typically started the conversation with what I consider a key to talking to Christians about Messianic Judaism.” Here’s a sample conversation:
Christian Leader: So, help me to understand Messianic Judaism. What is it that you guys believe and how are you different from Christianity?
My Answer: That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. Let me begin by getting this on the table—plain and clear. We are not talking about salvation. Salvation is in Jesus alone. We are saved by grace through faith. Period. That’s non-negotiable. So, I wanted to make sure that you understand that this conversation has nothing to do with salvation. Salvation is in Jesus alone. Are you following me?
Christian Leader: Okay, got it. That’s good to hear. I wasn’t sure. Thanks for clarifying that.
My Answer: Here’s what we are talking about. The passion of First Fruits of Zion is to help folks to understand Jesus as someone within Judaism, not outside of it. And the same goes for Paul. We don’t think either of them sought to start a new religion. In fact, if you asked Paul, or Peter, or James, or John, or any of the disciples what their religion was as they were writing the New Testament, I think they would have told you that their religion was Judaism, and that within Judaism Jesus was their Messiah, King, and Redeemer. In other words, these guys were basically living out a “Jesus-centered Judaism.” Does that make sense?
Christian Leader: Actually, yes, that makes a lot of sense. This is interesting. I have been curious about this topic, but I’ve never really connected with anyone like you guys to explore it.
My Answer: Well, it is a pleasure to connect with you. And we want to help you with this process however we can. That’s why we are here. We really think that knowing Jesus and the entire Bible within its Jewish context is critical for us as the body of Christ if we are going to move forward. Our goal is to help the church to re-think some of these issues in a respectful way so that we can all move closer and closer to what Yeshua had in mind when he talked about the “kingdom of heaven.”
Some conversations went on from there as this topic served as a “catalyst” for all kinds of questions in the minds of many of these leaders. One awesome highlight was after the conference when two young leaders from out of state actually came to my synagogue in Atlanta on Shabbat because we met at the FFOZ booth! For the first time ever, they got a taste of Messianic Judaism. And they loved it and want more. In fact, they want to come back to Atlanta in a few months when we have a special seminar at my synagogue on the book of Revelation featuring Daniel Lancaster. Exciting stuff!
I want to sum up this article with a few points:
- When introducing Christians to Messianic Judaism and/or the Jewish roots, it is important and helpful to clarify that you are not talking about salvation. We are in agreement that salvation is in Jesus alone. What we are talking about is how to live as disciples of Jesus as redeemed people, with Jesus as our Rabbi and King and the Torah serving its rightful place in the role of discipleship. If you don’t make this clear at the outset, many Christians are going to think that you are talking about earning your salvation and they may not really hear anything else you are saying.
- There are many Christian leaders out there who are looking for a connection to a solid source for Messianic Jewish teaching. But we can’t wait for them to find us. We have to go find them. This makes it all the more important for First Fruits of Zion to be at venues like Catalyst.
- For those of you who are FFOZ Friends, it is your financial support that makes it possible for us to be at events like Catalyst. I want to thank you for standing with us. And for those of you who are not FFOZ Friends, please consider becoming one. Our FFOZ Friends are helping us to do many things including carrying our vision forward into new frontiers such as we did at the Catalyst Conference. Also, FFOZ Friends receive many outstanding benefits and resources that enrich their lives as disciples of Yeshua.