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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Being Friends of God

(This message was delivered on Shabbat Naso, June 10, 2006, at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It is a meditation upon our responsibility to be friends of God.)

Do you have friends or relatives you call frequently? If so, you might do well to ponder why you call them so often. Among the answers often given to such a question are, “To stay in touch,” “To find out how they are,” “Because I love them.”

Another reason we maintain close contact with such friends or relatives is that we know ourselves to be part of each other—we share a common life. God forbid, were such persons to die, or the friendship otherwise end, we would be effected as if a portion of ourselves had died as well. We share a common life.

God wants us to have this kind of common life with Him as a people and as individuals. This is also one of the emphases of the Newer Covenant: “They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” and repeatedly in the Scripture, "I will be their God, and they shall be my people, and I will dwell in the midst of them." This knowledge of God is meant to be an intimate knowledge—the kind of intimacy you share with your very best friend.

It is interesting to note that today’s Torah reading begins and ends with references to God speaking to Moses. The very first words and the very last words of the passage name this speaking. Moses and Hashem had a relationship, a friendship.

In Exodus, we read that God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend, and in next week’s parasha, we read that the Holy One spoke with Him “mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the LORD.” Moses and God had a friendship, as did Abraham our ancestor, who is called “the friend of God” [Isa 41:8; James 2:23; 2 Chron 20:7]. And as we learned last week, this kind of intimacy is part of the Newer Covenant and the Shavuot Blessing.

Yeshua and His Father had an even deeper friendship and relationship than did Moses and Hashem. And part of the marvel of Messiainic Judaism is that Messiah Yeshua invites his people into sharing the intimacy He himself experiences with the One whom He called “Abba.” Father.

A story is told.

Once, Rabbi Baruch's grandson Yehiel was playing hide and seek with another boy. Yehiel hid himself well, and waited for his playmate to find him. He waited a long time, and finally decided to emerge from his hiding place. When he did, he saw that the other boy was nowhere in sight, at which point Yehiel realized that the boy had not looked for him. Weeping, he came to his Zayde to complain of his faithless friend. Rabbi Baruch's eyes, too, brimmed over with tears, and he said, "God says the same thing: I hide, but no one wants to seek Me!" (found on line at http://www.narayever.com/rabbi/yk5762.htm)

God wants us to share with him a common life—even as Yeshua speaks of it so deeply in today’s New Covenant passage. This sharing of a common life is very much what our relationship with God is meant to be like in our Union with Messiah Yeshua. Paul spoke of this common life when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me.”

He means that the old sense of self he had, of simply being Paul, the religious Jew, has been upgraded to seeing himself as Paul, an extension of Messiah’s life in the world. In Yeshua's words, "I am the vine, you are the branches."

God invites us to seek Him that we might find Him . . .and not once and for all but over and over and over again.

On the subject of friendship with God, consider the following text from the Newer Testament.

1 "I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 Every branch which is part of me but fails to bear fruit, he cuts off; and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit. 3 Right now, because of the word which I have spoken to you, you are pruned. 4 Stay united with me, as I will with you -- for just as the branch can't put forth fruit by itself apart from the vine, so you can't bear fruit apart from me. 5 "I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who stay united with me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from me you can't do a thing. 6 Unless a person remains united with me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up. 7 "If you remain united with me, and my words with you, then ask whatever you want, and it will happen for you. 8 This is how my Father is glorified -- in your bearing much fruit; this is how you will prove to be my talmidim.

9 "Just as my Father has loved me, I too have loved you; so stay in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will stay in my love -- just as I have kept my Father's commands and stay in his love. 11 I have said this to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy be complete. 12 "This is my command: that you keep on loving each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than a person who lays down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends, if you do what I command you. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a slave doesn't know what his master is about; but I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, I chose you; and I have commissioned you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that whatever you ask from the Father in my name he may give you. 17 This is what I command you: keep loving each other! (John 15:1-17)

In interaction with this text, we may identify at least eight characteristics of that friendship into which God calls us through the Messiah. To make this lesson more memorable, it is helpful to link these characteristics to the word E.M.B.R.A.C.E.S.

Election - Just as people choose to become friends, so God chooses us to be His friends and we must reciprocate. Friendship does not “just happen.” There is an irreplaceable element of choice.

Merging - True friendship involves an intermingling of lives. Yeshua uses this kind of language of Himself and the Father, and of us and Him, more than once. See John 17, for another example. It is not that we lose our identity in that of the Beloved. On the contrary, we add something to our own identity by becoming one with Him--we not only become larger, it is more than that. We become larger by becoming One with the Infinite One.

Betterment - A healthy friendship improves one’s life. Certainly, that is what happens when we live as friends of God. And any human friendship that doesn’t bring betterment should probably be abandoned. Having the right friends is crucial, which is why Psalm 1 comments on the disastrous consequences of associating with the wrong crowd.

Respect – No friendship can endure without proper respect. We need to learn to treat God with proper respect: he is our friend, but not our chum. We must always be mindful of who it is before whom we stand.

Appropriate frequency - Friendships grow stale if not maintained. When I moved to Southern California at the age of 45, I came to realize I was lonely. I called my best friend from High School only to be strongly rebuffed. He rightly wondered why I was contacting him after a hiatus of a quarter of a century, since I had last seen him.

This brings up the question that lies at the core of our lesson today. What kind of friends are we being to God? Usually we are preoccupied with considering what kind of friend he is to us—but today, I want to put the shoe on the other foot.

Are you putting the effort in to maintain your friendship with God, or do you take Him for granted? Are you too busy for maintaining the relationship, suggesting that God understands how busy you are?Remember in this regard also the principle of respect.

Relationship with God can only be maintained if we remember who He is. What priority is your relationship with God . . .your time for God? In the Older Testament, we learn again and again that the God of Israel would not allow Himself to be but one priority among many, or one God among many! By definition, God must be priority one. What priority is He to you?

- There are many kinds of prayer, and ALL are important. Today we are focusing on prayer as conversation with God. No friendship can endure, thrive, or grow without ongoing communication. If we fail to spend time in prayer it like not bothering to call our friends and keep up with the friendship. The quality of the friendship will suffer.

- By engagement I mean commitment. True friendship takes work and commitment. Otherwise you are not and cannot be close friends with anyone, including God.

How committed are you to God, to His concerns, to the things that matter to Him? What does your schedule demonstrate or fail to demonstrate? Giving God His rightful place usually seems to us to be excessive, inconvenient, unnecessary, and fanatical. This is because we are all and every one of us natural born idolaters.

Again. It is a question of priorities, just as with any friendship.

- Yeshua said that the greatest measure of friendship is laying down one’s life for one’s friends. How sacrificial is your friendship with God? If your relationship with God is not sacrificial it can only be superficial.

So how shall we then live, in view of today’s lesson?

We begin to conceive of our relationship with God as a friendship, and evaluate ourselves by criteria such as these as to whether we are or are not being good friends to the Holy One.

In Prayer, in Bible Study, in Obedient action God and we share a common life. We can learn to go into daily life for Him, with Him, partnering with Him moment by moment, in constant conversation as if we had a Blue Tooth device in our ear.

We can be encouraged realizing that extemporaneous prayer is different every day, just as each phone call to a best friend is different, depending upon what is going on, moods, how you you’re doing, common concerns, news, etc.

This kind of prayer is not so much a duty as it is checking in with one’s best friend.

Our day to day life should be an experience of living one’s life in each other’s presence –Yeshua of course did this. So it was that He could say, “he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him,” And “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.”

What are you doing and how are you doing in maintaining your friendship with God?

Psalm 78:1-8 challenges us that we must share this friendship with the next generation as well.

1 O my people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter hidden things, things from of old-
3 what we have heard and known,
what our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD ,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our forefathers
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their forefathers-
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.

What we have to share with the next generation is not only information about God, the stories of His deeds, and His commandments, but also relationship with Him: spirits, hearts, wills hammered out and molded around our friendship with God.

This is more than respectability, theism, or Jewish identity. We can make our children respectable, theistic, and proud to be Jews on a part time basis, as a sideline. But passing on this kind of relationship with God cannot and will not happen that way. It is ever growing depth of relationship and friendship with God. And like all deep friendships it takes work. If we don’t have it, we cannot share it with our children, and our children will not have it either. We must not kid ourselves here—if we set low expectations we will surely meet them. If we set high expectations we may meet them as well, but it cannot be a sideline.

If the Shema means anything, and if the Bible means anything, it means this: God cannot, must not, and will not be treated as a sideline, even an honored sideline. If He is not priority one, then we are simply idolaters with a safety net.

What are we doing to nurture our friendship with God? What are we going to do to nurture our children’s relationships with God? What is to keep these relationships from going stale and becoming inoperative?

These question must be answered: this friendship above all others must be maintained that it might flourish and effect all of life and that the next generation might put their trust in God, having hearts loyal to Him, and spiris faithful to Him.

Can we call ourselves friends of God if we settle for anything less?