Sunday, November 29, 2020

Bubble Mowers & Psalm 146

It's the Sunday after Thanksgiving and I haven’t been able to sleep.

A peek at my study of Psalm 146
Maybe it's from three days of rich food {there’s lots of leftovers when you prepare a full Thanksgiving feast for only four people}. Maybe it's because I miss being with extended family for the holiday. Maybe it's because I have kids who have problems I need to solve. Even though they don't realize they have problems. Maybe I'm creating problems. Maybe I'm the problem. 

Yeah. It's because of all that. And, you know, also that we're living in the middle of a pandemic.

Anyhoo. Instead of stewing in my thoughts, I decided to get up and read the psalm that my small group will be studying together this week (bundled up and distanced outside).

And, as He always does, God met me in Psalm 146 with balm for my anxious, angry, helpless self.

This psalm literally begins and ends with a Hallelujah. There is so much praise in this psalm

The psalmist calls us to praise so many times, because there are so many things to praise God for. Here's the psalmist's list:

  • He made heaven and earth
  • He keeps faith forever
  • He brings about justice for the oppressed
  • He feeds the hungry
  • He sets prisoners free
  • He opens the eyes of the blind
  • He lifts up people who are bowed down
  • He guards strangers
  • He upholds widows and orphans 

What a compassionate, powerful, personal God we have! He has and is and will continue to be all of these things to me and to you and to us as we walk, run or stumble through life...

As I read through this list a few times, it eventually  occurred to me that these are not only things that God does abundantly, but they are also all things God calls us to do, throughout Scripture, too. Me.

I'm supposed to work, and have faith, and do justice. God tells me to feed the hungry, set prisoners free and bring light to people's darkness. He tells me to help people who are oppressed or depressed. To stand up for immigrants and care for widows and orphans. God tells me - us - to do all of these things.

But, what about when I can't? Or don't? Or we won'tWhich is where so much pain and hurt and anger and helplessness sweep in, no matter who we are. Because none of us does these things all the time, or very well at that.

And so I backed up and started reading again. And I realized that a verse I'd considered to be a separate thought from the praises, is actually inextricably tied to them.

This recounting of everything God does - and that He commands us to do throughout  Scripture - is preceded by a warning to not put our trust in mortals. 

The juxtaposition in my head between God’s ability and reliability to do these things and mine,  reminded me of when God repeatedly tells His people to "Be holy, for I am holy." Which is absolutely, metaphysically, impossible.

And that is precisely why we cannot put our hope and trust in the ability of mortals - me or you or anyone else - to ultimately pull these things off. Because:

    • Only His work is perfect
    • Only His faith is perfect
    • Only His justice is perfect
    • Only His sustenance is perfect
    • Only His rescue is perfect
    • Only His revelation is perfect
    • Only His lifting up is perfect
    • Only His love is perfect
    • Only His guarding is perfect
    • Only His advocacy is perfect

And that is exactly why we praise Him! He is and does everything that we are not and cannot.

Which is why the psalmist warns us to not trust in mere mortals. We will hurt each other. Disappoint each other. Anger each other. We will hurt, disappoint and anger ourselves, for Pete's sake. And, if 2020 is any indication, we will relentlessly tear one another apart in our zealousness to prove that everyone else falls short of God's perfection and His call.  

And there's the rub. On one hand, I must be passionate about these things. I am, after all, created in the image of the One who does them perfectly. So my very being should be straining to pour myself out in all these ways. And so should yours.

Yet, on the other hand, all of my attempts to love my neighbors in these ways - even the ones under my very own roof - are imperfect at best. Deeply flawed and selfish at worst. 

As I wrestled with this in my heart, the Spirit whispered a verse in my head:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as children dearly loved." Ephesians 5:1

We are imitators. I am an imitator. I am not the real thing. I can and must aspire to imitate the ways God works and loves, but I will never act on any of these things perfectly. And neither will you, this side of heaven. Expecting myself or anyone else - my spouse, my friends, my government, my church - to do so is...idolatry, really.

from the Fisher-Price online bubble mower game

Then, after giving me a verse, the Spirit gave me a mental picture. Did you ever have a bubble mower? Well, that’s the image that came. 

Because, like a small child pushing a bubble mower next to a parent who is pushing the real thing, I can stick close to the expert. I can look up, and be inspired and energized. I can follow His gaze and see all the yuck around me, and I can work my hardest to help smooth the rough edges of people’s lives, to spur growth, to bring beauty. And all the while, I can maneuver in tandem with the Expert, glad that He's invited me to join in the work, and growing with every step I take with Him. 

And, then, in those {frequent} moments when I realize that my plastic blade fails to leave perfectly crisp diagonal swaths like God's blade does, I will not berate myself for my humanity, but will instead praise Him for His perfection all the more.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Crown the King!

Crown the King! It’s Rosh Hashanah / The Feast of Trumpets, and we eat round challah to celebrate the King in our midst as He opens the Books of Life and Death.

I love making this six-strand braided challah “crown” because it reminds me:
  • God created for six days (six strands)
  • He is King of all creation, to the four corners of the earth (four sides/corners)
  • The Old Covenant nation was made of twelve tribes, the New Covenant people began with twelve disciples, and the New Jerusalem will be built on twelve foundations with twelve gates (twelve strand ends)
  • Our Triune God is in all and holds all things together (three strands braided on each side)
  • Our Messiah God is the Bread of Life, Who nourishes and sustains us all with His spirit and His Word
Happy {round} Challah Day 👑 

Friday, September 4, 2020

The King is in the Field

Today, we're exactly in the middle of the Jewish month of Elul.  It's a quiet month.  No official feasts or fasts. 

So all eyes and hearts rest quietly while looking forward, to the first day of next month. 

When the blast of the ram's horn will shatter the silence on Rosh Hashanah.

When those startling blasts will propel us into ten days of repentance leading up to the Day of Atonement.

And when we will close that most holy day on the calendar by praying to be written in God's Book of Life. 

It is a powerful, weighty time. 

So Elul, in its peaceful repose, sits in quiet contrast.

Rabbis teach that during this tranquil month, God is like an ancient king, who would walk through the fields on his way into the city, receiving anyone who would like to approach him before he re-entered the palace. They teach that this is a time when God makes Himself fully accessible, greeting any and all with kindness and compassion before returning to His throne, from which He will dispense judgment and mercy on the High Holy Days. 

It's a beautiful parable, inspired by God's thirteen attributes of mercy toward us, which He shared with Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. And it is undergirded by the understanding that God Most High initiates a relationship with His people. Pursues His people. All of his people.  Even us ordinary workers in the fields.

Then he passed in front of Moses, calling out, “The Lord, the Lord, a compassionate and merciful God, patient, always faithful and ready to forgive. He continues to show his love to thousands of generations, forgiving wrongdoing, disobedience, and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a GW*

As a Jewish believer in Jesus, I love this parable all the more, because it paints such a beautiful and perfect picture of the Messiah.  Who left His throne and came to walk the fields of the earth with us. To welcome any and all who wished to approach Him, no matter what field they called home. To show the way of mercy.

For the believer, every month is the month of Elul. Because the King is still in the field. Greeting anyone and everyone with kindness and compassion through His Spirit. Drawing anyone and everyone to Himself while He may be found. Lingering in the fields, until that final day. Not wanting anyone to miss their moment to join Him. To enter the sanctuary eternal by His side.

“Your procession, God, has come into view, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.” Psalm 68:24 niv

The King is in the field. With welcoming arms and kind eyes. Whispering words of life. 

*Learn more about God's 13 Attributes of Mercy

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Working or Feasting?

I'm writing here at the dining room table these days, having been displaced by remote learning.  And the truth is, I like it.

Here, I am surrounded by: 

Candlesticks from my grandmother.

China from my husband's great-grandmother.

A pomegranate-embroidered table runner I bought in Jerusalem's Old City with family.

A coffee mug connecting me to a very dear friend. 

A chandelier, hung by my handy husband. 

Wedgwood wall plaques from my father-in-law's parents. 

The table itself, a gift from my very special aunt-in-law. 

And the bible given to me by my "adoptive spiritual parents."

I no longer feel displaced. I feel like I am at home. Feasting on God's Word at a table set by love. 


Monday, August 31, 2020

My Challah Fail

No pretty picture of a golden, braided challah. No delivery of warm loaves to friends. No handfuls of soft, pillowy goodness at sundown.

Here's the "after" photo of this week's challah fail...

Nope. Friday's challah was a fail. Not just a "looks lumpy and weird" fail.  Not a "baked too long and burnt on the bottom" fail.  No. Those are all salvageable fails. This was not. And the reason is that it wasn't really a challah fail at all.  

It was a sabbath fail. 

The reason I started making challah every Friday back in the pre-pandemic spring was to incorporate a ritual of rest and worship.  To really sabbath.

But this past Friday, my challah fail revealed a deeper problem: making the challah had become routine and religious, not restful and reverent.

I am no longer making challah in the wee hours of the morning, when all is still. I am no longer reading scripture and praying in the dark while the dough does its rising. 

Instead, I've been snatching an extra bit of sleep and then squeezing in the baking process later in the day. Which is like playing Jenga, really:  timing the mixing and rising and kneading and braiding and rising and baking in between running and shopping and cleaning and laundering and virtual-school-assisting and dog-momming and also {hopefully} writing. Hoping it doesn't all topple over. It's dizzying just reading it, let alone living it.

So this past Friday, when the timer on my wrist let me know the rise was done, I distractedly dismissed it while finishing a chore. And completely forgot to turn out the dough for punching and kneading and braiding. For a very long time. When I finally dashed into the kitchen, the dough was bubbly and fermenting. And not in a good, Prosecco kind of way.

I decided to bake it just for grins - heat fixes all sorts of things, right? Wrong. Even my always-affirming husband, who gives me great latitude in my cooking {because I'm notorious for burning things}, took one bite of the warm, mangled mess and said, "Nope." 

And so, as I texted my friends to let them know their personal bread delivery was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances, I realized that the circumstances should have been foreseen.  I realized that we - I - are all in danger of turning the most worshipful of rituals into rote routine. That we - I - are all at risk of transforming what is meant to be restorative into something that is depleting.

What is your challah? What practice do you practice that is now just practice - or performance - instead of worship? 

But I do have something against you! And it is this: You don't have as much love as you used to. Think about where you have fallen from, and then turn back and do as you did at first.  Revelation 2:4-5a CEV

I encourage you to return to your first love, to rediscover the joy and passion and worship and rest that prompted that practice in the first place. To reignite it. Fan it into faith-full flames with a tender heart to receive God in the way you used to. 

Or even better than you used to, knowing that His love has never grown rote, that He continues to call you to His bountiful table, no matter how burnt or mangled or unappetizing you've made the offering. 

After all, the Bread of Heaven can, and does, make all things new...