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I want to first say what an awesome opportunity it is to share with you what G-d has been doing in my life. And the things he has been doing over the last six to nine months have resulted in a completely different outlook on my life, my relationship with G-d and my place within His community. The discoveries I would like to share with you now are a result of two things. First of all I have been seeking intimacy with G-d with a new intensity and searching the Scriptures for clues as to how the prophets and other men and women of G-d developed their intimacy with Him. Secondly, they are a product of struggle and frustration I go through daily, trying to encourage growth within the members of the congregation, observing the communication between individuals in our larger community, interacting with other people of various religious persuasions and attempting to make sense of all of these things in the light of Scripture and covenant.

Natzrim Judaism, as a loosely organized community, has been in existence for several years now, and has roots that go back much farther. It has remained very fractured, although the ideas on which it is based are gaining acceptance and, dare I say it, popularity. Many more Christians are seeking to understand the Judaism crucial to correctly interpreting the Messiah. The Jewish community is continuing to debate our position in their eyes and with a growing number of skilled apologists within the community and an unbending commitment to a Torah faithful lifestyle, it is only a matter of time before we are recognized as part of the larger people of Israel by many. It is time that we took stock of where we are and how to move on to the the next level and put ourselves into position to be used of G-d for great things. To do that we need to step back and look at the larger picture. That requires maturity and it is the development of spiritual maturity individuals within the community, and I say this inclusively, need to concentrate on.

The first of the 'eighteen benedictions' or the Amidah prayer says this; "Blessed are you YHVH our G-d, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzak, and the G-d of Ya'akov......" The Amidah (as were quite a few of the prayers in the siddur) was composed by the 'Great Assembly', a righteous group of men at the end of the prophetic period, an assembly that included the last of the prophets. These men, guided by the ruach, developed these prayers to assist the community in continuing to develop their covenant relationship with the G-d of Israel until the prophesy of Joel would be fulfilled and the 'prophetic spirit' would be widespread once again. Because the community developed these prayers with the assistance of the prophets, we can search out the meaning and intent of the words just as we do the words of Scripture.

So why did they choose the above formula rather than a 'shortened' form like 'the G-d of Avraham, Yitzak and Ya'akov...'? One of the reasons is because the relationship that each one of the fathers had with YHVH was different. It was based on covenant, it had a similar expression but at the same time it was very individual. That is something we need to keep in mind, everyone's relationship with G-d is going to be a little different. My relationship will not be the same as yours, and that is not a bad thing. Too often I have seen, and I will admit my guilt here as well, individuals that believe that unless someone's relationship with G-d is like theirs and it is based on the same knowledge, they do not have a relationship, or it is distorted, or they will be sent to hell, or they are outside the covenant or whatever.

Too often this is a result not only of pride but it is a product of the way we think as western (Greek thinking) people. We have the idea that what we know and have found valuable must be right and if you don't agree, you are wrong, although we may try to be nice about it. Christianity teaches (generally) that one either has a relationship with G-d or one does not and many of us have imported that understanding to our newfound 'faith'. But that is false, even within our own experience. Fifteen years ago when I called myself a Christian, did I have a relationship with G-d? I believe so. It may have not been based on proper understanding and covenant expression but it was still a positive relationship. Even our own lives demonstrate that a relationship with G-d develops on a continuum, it is not either/or. If that is how we developed, and continue to do so, why do we so often refuse to allow others to continue on their own road at their own pace. If we change our attitude about this, we will not be beating people over the head to be just like us but we will be continually encouraging individuals to develop and grow. The world will see us, as individuals and as a group, as positive, loving people that truly have everyone's best interests in mind.

The story of Ya'akov teaches us that the essence of faith is the struggle. It is the seeking. Our Messiah said that we should keep seeking, keep knocking. It is an ongoing process. It is a process that is very individual yet it takes place within the context of a community. The individual is solely responsible for his or her own spiritual growth yet we all walk together and it is also our responsibility to assist one another's development in whatever way we can. We share what we have found to be a blessing and we do so without ego or pride. If someone does not find what we have to offer valuable, we do not look down on them as less spiritual because in actuality, they may have a more intimate relationship with G-d than we do. Or they may not be in a place to utilize our information, but that changes all the time. We should share without expectation, we must open ourselves up to learn by putting aside our spiritual pride.

This helps us to develop a new perspective on the Covenant and traditions that are part of the community of Israel. Torah is the foundation of our relationship with G-d, but how that covenant is expressed in various historical circumstances is the essence of tradition. Tradition is not something that is authoritative first, although that is sometimes necessary. Tradition is an expression of what the community as a whole has found valuable in developing and expressing their relationship with G-d through the covenant of Torah. Those traditions may or may not be meaningful to us, they may or may not assist us in encouraging intimacy with our Creator, but because so many in the community have found them valuable, the four thousand years of tradition developed by the people of Yisrael needs to be respected and individuals need to be encouraged to try to internalize the value in them. So perhaps I have found some traditions valuable and you have found others important in your relationship to G-d. That is ok, we are two unique individuals. And if instead of attacking each other because we do not find the same traditions important, we can seek to learn from one another why we have found the things we have adopted valuable. By doing so we build relationship with one another, we allow ourselves to be open to learn and develop and ask questions and thus take some new steps on the road to spiritual maturity. If we are ever going to be more than just a group of people sitting around trying to convince our fellows of our 'pet theologies', we need to stop majoring in the minors and learn to love and encourage one another. It will be a community dedicated to the weightier matters of Torah, while not neglecting the rest, that will be effective conduits for G-d's spirit in the world.