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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

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Reaching Your Spiritual Potential - A Presentation to the 20's Group at the Annual Conference of the UMJC

In this presentation, we are going to examine what spiritual practices enable one to cultivate godly character. As we examine this issue, we should be careful to avoid a certain kind of Greek concept of “godly character,” as if godly character were simply a set of ideal characteristics. To look at godly character as a set of characteristics is inadequate because, from the perspective of our tradition and our scriptures, godly character is relational and must be seen not simply in what we are in ourselves but in who and what we are in our relationships with God and with society. A person’s godliness is evaluated not in isolation, but in how he or she relates to God and to others.

The Hebrew word to bear in mind is Hesed. Gordon Freeman has described hesed as “reciprocity…a value that goes beyond the minimum utilitarian aspect of living together in society…Its purpose is to lead to greater cohesiveness between people.” (Elazar and Freeman in Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and Its Contemporary Uses, ed. Daniel Elazar, 1983)

In other words, to act in hesed toward one another is to be social glue strengthening the bond of our covenantal relationship with each other and as a soothing salve for the community’s wounds. We need to be superglue, and super friends, and not sulfuric acid.

Godly character is not some Greek ideal of perfection, like a breathtaking statue. Character is not something that takes our breath away, but rather, something that must live and breathe itself. Our godly character will demonstrate its reality in our relationships with others, with ourselves, and with the God in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

As a model for godliness there can be no better example than Yeshua, our righteous Messiah. Therefore, today we will focus the early chapters of Luke, where we have opportunity to observe some of the spiritual perspectives and practices that shaped and sustained the One who is our model in all things.

We will be taking matters not in priority order but in canonical chronological order as they appear in the early chapters of Luke. We will see practices as related to perspectives, and perspectives as related to practices as we consider Yeshua and how he lived, moved, and had his being in hesed relationships with God and humanity.

1. Monitor a balanced and dialectical relationship between your role as your parent’s child, as an heir of a tradition, and as a child of God interfacing with the wider world.

In Luke 2, we read:

41 Every year Yeshua's parents went to Yerushalayim for the festival of Pesach. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up for the festival, as custom required. 43 But after the festival was over, when his parents returned, Yeshua remained in Yerushalayim. They didn't realize this; 44 supposing that he was somewhere in the caravan, they spent a whole day on the road before they began searching for him among their relatives and friends. 45 Failing to find him, they returned to Yerushalayim to look for him. 46 On the third day they found him -- he was sitting in the Temple court among the rabbis, not only listening to them but questioning what they said; 47 and everyone who heard him was astonished at his insight and his responses. 48 When his parents saw him, they were shocked; and his mother said to him, "Son! Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried looking for you!" 49 He said to them, "Why did you have to look for me? Didn't you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father's affairs?" 50 But they didn't understand what he meant. 51 So he went with them to Natzeret and was obedient to them. But his mother stored up all these things in her heart. 52 And Yeshua grew both in wisdom and in stature, gaining favor both with other people and with God.

Here we see Yeshua in his context. A traditional Jewish family, honoring tradition himself. His self-awareness is growing, and as an adolescent going through a life cycle change, he redraws and feels out anew the contours of his relationship to three authorities: the tradition, his parents, and God above. So will it be for you as young people. Especially in adolescence [which extends beyond the teen-age years, and for man can extend to about the age of thirty] this is a constant process and a constant challenge. You will need to honor all of these relationships, but also must mature in an understanding of what it means to honor your relationship to the tradition, to your parents, and to God, and this will be a recurring process. What all these three have in common is they are all authorities in your life—and maturing as young people requires of you that you mature in how you respond to the authority of God, of tradition, of parents. If you are growing as a person you will grow in these areas, and if you don’t change, it will be an indicator and a cause of stunted growth. Here is a rule of thumb: children react—adults respond. So monitor how you are dealing with these authorities—don’t just be reactive. Many of us need advice and help in this area, so don’t be afraid to ask help of counselors, clergy, trusted friends and mentors.

2. Cultivate an internal honesty, vulnerability, and intimacy with God – being filled with the Spirit.

We read also of Yeshua that when he was immersed by Yochanan in the Jordan River, the Spirit of God descended upon Him, and that he went forth into the wilderness, Filled with the Spirit.

If you would mature in your relationship with God, you must cultivate intimacy with the Spirit, whom I term “the in the meantime God.” Yeshua said that it would be to our advantage that he went away, for he would then send the Holy Spirit to be with us as an adequate compensation for the physical absence of Yeshua “in the meantime.” Cultivating intimacy with the Divine Presence requires of us that we cultivate an internal honesty with Him, and a vulnerability to his searching, probing authority. Only thus can we expect to function in linkage with Him and thus, be filled with the Spirit. This is not something that happens once for all, but is meant to be a continually renewed penetration of the Spirit into our deepest seat of feeling, planning, longing and being.

3. Learn about fasting and other enhancement disciplines. Experiment with them, learn how things are done, and the value of these various disciplines. How you will learn these things involves not simply reading, but being mentored, and I will have more to say about this soon.

In the case of Yeshua we learn that when he went into the Wilderness to be tempted by the Evil one, “During that time he ate nothing, and afterwards he was hungry.” I used to think that this fast was for the purpose of weakening Yeshua to the max, so that his resistance to the Temptation was to be that much more impressive. But actually, he fasted to fortify himself—to prepare himself for the onslaught he was about to undergo. So with us, there will be times when we will want to fast because of something we are facing or about to face, or to otherwise draw nearer to God in a special way for some special reason. You will need to learn about this practice and others like it, not only from books, but from others who have practiced this holy discipline and whom you can trust for their excellent counsel.

4. Cultivate discernment and learn how to borrow it from others. Yeshua demonstrated astounding discernment in his confrontation with the Evil One, who, with characteristic subtlety and cunning, sought to use Scripture to detour Yeshua from the trajectory of God's will. You too will need to cultivate discernment. This is especially important as young people, because there are many people out there who think they know what is good for your life, and will seek to influence you directly or indirectly—in other words, you may not even know they are trying to influence you. In addition, younger people, imagining that the possibilities are endless, can be prone to making unwise and short-sighted choices in life. For such reasons, you will need to develop discernment—the ability to rightly weigh and choose among alternatives. And there is nothing wrong, and much that is right, about aseeking the counsel of trusted advisors.

5. Make the study of Scripture foundationally, and of our holy tradition generally, the bedrock of your life.

When tempted by the Evil One in the Wilderness, Yeshua had not scriptures with him—no scrolls, certainly no books—but what he did have was what he had memorized though a lifetime of intimacy and study of Scripture. This is something which is still true of religious Jews in our day—the habit of Talmud Torah lishma—the study of sacred lore for its own sake. One of the profound weaknesses of the Messianic Jewish movement is the comparative lack of Scripturally knowledgeable, learned laity. This is a shameful lack and a profound weakness in our movement.

Learned Jewish scholars are looked upon as repositories of treasure in the Jewish world—which of you you young people will set yourselves on a path to becoming that kind of treasure for our community, a repository of learning that glorifies God and brings honor to the community? This is not a matter of vocation, by the way. There are plenty of Jewish lawyers, doctors, business people, for whom sacred learning in a daily part of their lives. What about you?

And when temptation and testing comes your way, as it did for Yeshua, will you be deeply equipped from a lifelong habit of diligent study?

6. Make it a habit to participate fully in public worship along with the people of whom God has made you a part—Jewish worship. We read in Luke 4, "16 Now when he went to Natzeret, where he had been brought up, on Shabbat he went to the synagogue as usual." It was Yeshua's life-habit to go to synagogue. Why? To learn [he was after all a human being, who had to "increase in wisdom and stature" as we are told in Luke 2]. He also went to celebrate the acts of His Father in the the life of Israel and to honor His Father in the place of prayer. He went as well to be with His people, Israel. And now, it is we who must join with Yeshua, our Great High Priest and the Great High Priest of all Israel, honoring and giving thanks to His Father in the midst of His people. This is our calling and privilege as part of a holy nation and a royal priesthood. It is also our unique calling as Messianic Jews—for we are the salt on the sacrifice of Israel’s prayers. As all sacrifices were seasoned with salt, so, as we mingle our prayers with those of our people, we render them more acceptable before the throne of heaven.

Priests had a job to do, and this is part of our job. Will you play your part?

7. Learn what it means to function in your area of giftedness - “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” This is what Yeshua said in his inaugural sermon, there in the synagogue in Natzeret. And since God had anointed Him for that, that is what he did. And for what has God anointed you?

There is a direct relationship between gifts and calling, and it is as we serve our gifts and calling that we mature and read our spiritual potential. I advise you first, to seek to discover what your gifts are—what is it that builds up the community of believers which you do with greater ease, effectiveness and joy than others? What is it that you habitually do that others in the community of faith have told you is a blessing to them? What sorts of gifted people are you habitually drawn to? Answering questions like these will help you to discover your gifts. And when you do, it is your task to repeatedly and continually seek our contexts where those gifts will be employed and developed. And the older you get, the more you should restrict yourself to functioning in those areas of giftedness.

By the way, there is such a thing as a “giftedness set.” This term, coined by Bobby Clinton, refers to the symbiotic combination of spiritual gifts, natural abilities, and acquired skills you have. He also speaks of a focal point—that area where your giftedness set focuses. For some people, their focal point is natural abilities—they are by nature gifted speakers, and that natural ability is empowered by their spiritual gifts and honed by the acquires skills. Others, like myself, are spiritually gifted teachers [I was a lousy school teacher, but have been very effective as a teacher of the things of God]. I also collect and read books on public speaking, to improve my game, so to speak, and am always critiquing my presentations to see how they might have been done better.

So learn about yourself and find ways to employ and develop the best that is in you for the progress of the Kingdom of Heaven.

8. Learn the ins and outs of exercising delegated spiritual authority - healing, the demonic. Obviously, this is what Yeshua did, and this is what he sent his disciples forth to do.

I am a person who has always loved books. The first birthday present I can recall asking for as a child was a Hebrew English dictionary! I realized some years ago that most of the catalytic ideas I have learned in my life have come through books. But books can only take you so far. As our next point will remind us, we all need mentors as well—people to bring us along, to teach us new things, to guide us into and through new experiences.

This was my experience with one of my mentors in graduate school who had developed sub-specialties of praying for the sick and the demonized. In the course of time, he invited me alongside to learn some things through guided hands on participation. This was preceded by and accompanied with my going through some paradigm shifts regarding what I believed about the immanence of God and the degree to which we are invited to interface with the spiritual realm.

Yeshua’s first disciples learned in this way—through observing Him in action, through being given assignments to “do the stuff,” through debriefings after such ministry excursions. The point is, he sent them forth not only to teach, and to spread the good news. He sent them forth to heal as well. And in a sense, healing is no big deal: although some are gifted in this area, with a better track record than others, all of us are called upon to be links in a chain of divine causality in praying for the healing of others. This is similar to the issue of evangelism. Some people have the gift to do so: they are markedly effective in this area. But all of us are called upon to do so, even those not so gifted. So with healing and casting out demons [sounds weird I know, but it happens and for many of us should be something we learn about in the fullness of time].

9. You will need to be mentored, do cultivate mentoree eyes.

Cultivating “mentoree eyes” means learning to look for and recognize mentors.

Bobby Clinton was one of my mentors in my graduate and post-graduate education. He is a world-class expert on mentoring. One of his most helpful teachings in this area is that each of us should seek out mentors in specific areas of life. There may be one person you know who is a masterful student of the Scriptures, another who appears to have a deep and nurturing prayer life, a third who has great skill in relating to people, yet another who stays organized and productive no matter how busy life gets. Each of these persons have something to teach you—knowledge to pass on, a skill to develop, a pathway to personal growth. Sometimes, these people are literary or historical mentors, by the way. For example, David Allen, in his book “Getting Things Done” has taught me more about getting organized and staying that way than anyone else in all of my life. And Ronald Reagan is one of my mentors in public speaking—I read about how he constructed his radio talks and speeches, how he delivered them, etc. I never met David Allen or Ronald Reagan, but they have mentored me nonetheless.

But of course there are also contemporary potential mentors whom you know in your social system, people who have something to teach you in certain areas of life. Learn to look for such persons, and to link up with them for season of learning, advice, apprenticeship, or what have you.

In this regard, find what resources you can by Bobby Clinton on the subject of mentoring. He has much to teach us all about how to make the best use of mentors, and how to mentor others as well.

10. Cultivate the habit of a private life of prayer to sustain you, to help you stay moored to your particular place in the world—to help you honor right priorities.
In Luke 5:16, we read of Yeshua, " . . . he made a practice of withdrawing to remote places in order to pray." Despite the fact that his daily life was draining, and that there were crushing demands made upon his time and energies, he would often withdraw, a great while before daybreak, and even spend nights in prayer. Why? I am convinced he needed His Father's guidance and needed the replenishment that comes from deep prayer. Private prayer is something you also will want to return to again and again. It is home base—it is the hub of your life.

11. The root of all of this is threefold - Torah, Avodah, G’milut Hasadim • Torah - fullbodied, communally grounded sacred instruction, rooted in scripture, tempered in tradition, processed in community. • Avodah - a multi-style life of prayer – “with all kinds of prayers” – liturgical, extemporaneous, praying in the Spirit with tongues, if this is a gift you have. Prayer as the hub of your life to which you return again and again and from which you depart to the rest of your life. Prayer is not simply something you do, like a merit badge or component of a respectable religious life or a module of a godly character—prayer is the oxygen of the Spirit. • Gemilut Hasadim - Remember what we said about Hesed earlier: it is “reciprocity…a value that goes beyond the minimum utilitarian aspect of living together in society…Its purpose is to lead to greater cohesiveness between people.” I would suggest that we should no longer think of “gemilut hasadim” as “deeds of lovingkindness,” but rather as “actions of covenantal maturity that make real the relationship we claim to have with each other.”

Just this week, a friend sent me a very recent article from Arutz Sheva, concerning the human cost of the current battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The article, by Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson, perfectly illustrates the spirit of gemilut hasadim. In his article he was extolling the sacrifice being made by Jewish soliders fighting for the well-being of all of Israel. Here is part of what he said.

At such times, the entire nation must be mobilized. Mobilization means not only giving money; mobilization is directing ones essence to accomplish a single goal: achieving victory over a ruthless enemy seeking the obliteration of our people. Just as our soldiers are currently battling with all their heart and soul, so too must we increase our spiritual warfare, through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvos; through prayer, charity and acts of goodness; through expressing solidarity without reservation. . . .

“Expressing solidarity without reservation.”
That is something we in the Messianic Jewish Movement sorely need, and something we sorely lack—solidarity with each other across the divides in our movement, and solidarity with the Jewish people as a whole. We have a God-given mission in the world at a time when God is doing something new and eschatological among our people. And surely one of the practices we all need to undertake is “expressing solidarity without reservation” through gemilut hasadim, “actions of covenantal maturity that make real the relationship we claim to have with each other.” In this regard, the offerings our Union have given to the state of Israel have been splendid acts of gemilut hasadim. But there are small actions as well that demonstrate this value. Each of you should look for ways to strengthen and express your solidarity with the rest of the Messianic Jewish movement, with the Jewish people as a whole, and with the wider people of God.

12. I would add as well, that the full orb of Jewish ritual life is indispensable in keeping alive within us and among us a sense of covenantal connection to our people Israel across time.
I am reminded of the time that I stood in the Ukraine where I had gone on a humanitarian mission with our friend Michael Schiffman. As I put on my tallis and tefillin and prayed from the siddur, I realized with goose pimples that I was at that moment far closer than I had ever stood to where my father, and his father, and his father’s ancestors had stood. As I bound the tefillin on my arm. I realized I was bound not only to God, but also to a chain of Jewish continuity in which I was either going to be a strong link, or a break in the chain.

Ritual reminds us of the covenantal connection in which g’milut hasadim have their reality “expressing solidarity without reservation” through “actions of covenantal maturity that make real the relationship we claim to have with each other.”

13. Finally, remember the admonition to young people with which Solomon closes the Book of Ecclesiastes- “The end of all matters is this fear God, and keep his mitzvot; this is what being human is all about.” And this is what being godly is all about. Let’s get on with it.