Sunday, February 14, 2021

I Am My Beloved's

 Happy Valentine's Day!

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I made a batch of Valentine's challah on Friday.  If you missed it, here's a pic, pre-second rise and baking!


So, today, in honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I'd post a little ode to my Grandma Arliene. She’s actually a perfect person to think of on Valentine’s Day, because her wedding ring was a beautiful gold band carved into a Hebrew verse about love.

The verse from the Song of Songs – or Song of Solomon – was: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Verse 6:3*

That's why talking about Grandma and her ring is perfect for Valentine’s Day!

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

At first look, this verse is just a poetic glimpse of mutual love and of oneness: I belong to you, and you belong to me.  A lot of people actually know and recite this verse even if they don’t know much about the rest of the book. Or about the Bible at all.

Now, interestingly, back in Chapter Two, the bride had said the very same thing, but in reverse order: My beloved is mine, and I am his. She was stressed and insecure and therefore possessive. 

But in the chapters that follow, as she put things in the right order, she recognized that, first and foremost, she is his. And then, it follows that he is hers as well. Once her identity came first, she grew in assurance and peace. She knew she belonged, and so then, the fact that he was also hers was a sweet gift she could savor. 

The same should be true of us in our relationships. I love how David Guzik puts it: 

“Perhaps she found it was a more wonderful thing for her to belong to him, than for her to ‘have’ him.” 

If both people in a relationship have that attitude, then we are in a position to first seek the good of the other, and to protect our oneness, instead of being possessive and concerned more with ourselves and what we're getting - or not getting - from the relationship.

But this verse is about a lot more than just a love story between two people. It's also an allegory of the love story between us and God. 

In fact, as I was looking into this verse this week, I discovered something new, that seemed a little surprising. Going back to ancient times, on the first evening of Passover, it was customary to read the Song of Solomon. Publicly. Which seems a little racy for such a holy day!  But here’s the context.

In Jewish tradition, the Song of Songs reflects the words that God spoke to Israel at the Red Sea, and then at Sinai and then at the Tent of Meeting. So really, it makes perfect sense that it would be read at Passover - the commemoration of the Exodus - because the Song of Songs recounts and reflects the love and intimacy between God and Israel, and of God’s history of continually redeeming His people.

Redeeming them over and over and over. In fact, one rabbi wrote that the Song of Songs, as it relates to these two lovers, is marked by cycles of absence and presence. Which, once again, is a powerful picture of the relationship between God and His people. Of God and us. You and me. This back and forth of walking together and then space growing in between. And God’s continual pursuit and redemption of us.

And this brings us to a powerful intersection of the Old and the New. 

Remember, on Passover, people read this Song of Songs as they were celebrating God’s Exodus redemption through the blood of a lamb. They read this song that served as a reminder that the whole reason God redeemed them from Egypt - and from every oppressor since then - was because of His deep love of them.

And on the last Passover that Jesus celebrated on earth, He didn't just tell them, He showed them – and us – His redeeming and pursuing love, through His journey from that Last Supper Passover table to the Cross.

The Bread of Life redeeming us Himself, with His own blood, as the ultimate expression of love. The ultimate way to unite us to God, to be one with Him.

“this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD…I will be their God, and they will be my people.…” Hebrews 8:10

I will be their God and they will be my people.

    I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.

        I in you, and you in me.

            We are God’s beloved. And He is ours. Mine. Yours.

But what does that look like, practically, for you and me today?

Let me go back to the changing dynamic in those verses from the Song of Songs. How the woman moved from “My beloved is mine,” to “I am my beloved's.”

If my first thought is that “my beloved is mine” – that God is mine – then I become focused on what God does for me and what He gives me - or what He's not doing or giving. My relationship with God becomes all about me and what I get out of it.

But if my first thought is “I am my beloved's” – that I am God's - then I am focused on my identity, first and foremost. I can rest, knowing that I am secure simply because I, am, His. And therefore, I don’t need to by worried or concerned or consumed with what He can do for me, or give to me.

Because He's already done everything. He's given me Himself. His living, dying, resurrected, eternal self. Ever present. Ever pursuing. Ever loving. 

And so I rest in knowing that the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe holds me in His hands and in His heart. I can be content simply in my identity as God’s beloved.

“I am my Beloved’s. I am God’s. And He, is mine.

And so, on this Valentine's Day, this day of love, I pray that you, too, will be able to rest in simply knowing that you are His.

You are God's beloved, and He wants to be yours...

*To hear me say this verse in Hebrew, or here this fleshed out a little differently, check out the vid cast on YouTube or audio "Challah Day" podcast on Spotify/Apple Podcasts)

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Ordinary {Sacred} Things

I've been reading the Exodus account for longer than I can remember. 

I've been reciting the ten plagues since before I could actually read. Dipping my little pinky finger in wine ten times, touching my Passover plate after each dip. Making little blood-red drops as we recounted each plague together. 

And one of the first songs I ever learned to sing was written by Moses, retelling God's miracles at the Red Sea, chanting with my family Moses' rhetorical lyric, "Who is like you, O Lord?" (Exodus 15:11)

But I saw something this morning that I'd never noticed before. I had to get out my Hebrew bible commentary to make sure the English translation wasn't leading me astray. And it wasn't.

As Moses spoke with God by the glow of the burning bush, he protested that he wasn't equipped to lead a rescue of more than two million slaves from Pharoah's grip. {One of his many, repeated protestations.}

So God asked Moses what he was holding in his hand. This old thing? It's a staff.  That's when God told Moses to throw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake. This was just the first of many signs God graciously shared with this stubborn doubter. {Thomas was in good company, no?}

After several more protests from Moses and signs from God, Moses finally packed up his family and headed for his old Egyptian stomping grounds. 

"And Moses took the rod of God with him." Exodus 4:20

And this is where my daily, bible-in-a-year reading came to a full stop this morning. 

Somewhere between the burning bush and Moses' march toward the pyramids, his ordinary staff became the "rod of God."

And it struck me (no pun intended) that when we offer our ordinary things to God, He turns them into divine instruments in our hands, in our lives. Sacred things to do His work. To rescue the oppressed. To encourage the weary. To reveal truth to doubters. To part waters for the frightened. To bring forth water for the parched. 

And so today, I'm sitting here at my kitchen table, literally holding out my hands to God, and asking Him to take my ordinary things, my ordinary life, and do His work in the lives of others. I'm literally  naming all the things around me - our kitchen chairs, the snoring dogs, coffee in the cabinet, books on the shelves - everything.

And that I would let Him take them. That I would really, finally get it that what's mine is really His, and that I would offer it all - even the ordinary "staffs" that I lean on - back to Him. That I would let God use me, through these ordinary things, to do sacred things.

I don't know what that will look like each day. But neither did Moses. And that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Helping God Out... (i.e., What Was Rebekah Thinking?)

To say that this has been a hard couple of weeks would be the understatement of the year. Of course, we're less than three weeks into the new year, so I'm not sure what that says about the rest of 2021...

Helplessness and grief and anger seem to be all too familiar feelings for people over these last ten months, for all sorts of reasons and in varying proportions on various days. But God met me in my especially tender place on Saturday morning, January 9, with fresh perspective. 

I sat therecurled up in my pjs with a cup of coffee, numb from two days of doom scrolling. I opened my one-year Bible, hoping to escape from it all to a better place. {Except that's really not the right reason for spending time in God's Word. Using the Bible to escape from the world is actually the opposite of its purpose! But I digress...}

Anyway, I picked up in the Genesis narrative right after Isaac's and Rebekah's short but sweet love-at-first-sight moment and marriage. Reading the next recorded moments of their history, gave me some perspective on this present one. 

The passage started out with the account of barren Rebekah becoming pregnant with twins. Twins that seemed to be fighting inside her before they even saw the light of day. So what did troubled Rebekah do? The exact right thing: she asked God what in the world was going on inside her.

The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." When it came time for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb.  Genesis 25:22-23 NIV

God explained that these battling babies would one day grow from boys to men who would live at odds with one another. {A mother's sadness before they were even born...sigh.} God further revealed that the older son would serve the younger one, which was totally against the culture, even though their age difference would only be a matter of minutes.

Now, we don't have any window into what Esau's and Jacob's childhood looked like. Except that their father favored Esau (the older twin), because apparently Esau was a great hunter and Isaac had a thing for roasted mutton. Their mother, on the other hand, favored Jacob, the younger brother. Maybe because she knew God's special plans for him, or maybe because apparently he was a homebody who spent most of his time hanging out among the tents with his mom.

Whatever the reasons and whatever these relationships looked like, their dysfunctional family dynamic reached its boiling point when Isaac was 100 and his twin sons were 40. You probably know the story well. Isaac was now blind, and thought he was about to die. So he summoned Esau to pronounce his fatherly blessing on the firstborn (this was different from the birthright inheritance that Esau had already given away to Jacob over a bowl of stew). 

On account of his taste for wild game, Isaac asked Esau to go hunting way out in the open country and then roast his kill. Isaac would then bestow his blessing on Esau while he enjoyed his meal. (What is it with these guys making blunders over food?)

So, at long last, I'm getting to my point.

Rebekah eavesdropped on this conversation. Now, this is purely conjecture, but I'm guessing that her internal narrative was something like, "Hey, God? You said that Esau was going to serve Jacob, not the other way around. But if that husband you gave me blesses Esau with the firstborn blessing, it will wreck Your plan."

Now here is where I wish she would have asked God to explain this unsettling situation, just like she'd done forty years earlier. But she didn't. Instead, her internal narrative probably continued on like this, based on what ended up happening:

"Okay, God. Since this isn't the way your plan is supposed to go, I'm going to honor You by helping You out. What's that? Ummm, sure, I'll be lying and stealing and teaching my younger son the art of deception, but it's all for the sake of upholding your plan, right?"

And so Rebekah concocted a plan that would force God's promise into fruition. One that would trample relationships left and right.

While Esau was out hunting dinner as his dad had instructed, Rebekah ordered Jacob to grab a couple goats from the flock outside the tent and bring them to her to cook. She then gave Esau's best clothes to Jacob and told him to disguise himself as Esau. To dress from head to toe like his hairy older brother, including wrapping his hands and neck with goat skin.  And then, pretending to be Esau, Jacob was to present his father with his mama's roasted meal. Just like she knew Daddy liked it.

By the time Esau arrived at Isaac's bedside, accompanied by the aroma of his freshly roasted game, his little brother was long gone. The firstborn blessings of wealth and power and family dominance had already been pronounced over Jacob, adding to Esau's double inheritance that was already secured in Jacob's pocket.

The relational wreckage that this deception caused cannot be ignored. 

  • Esau was murderously angry, vowing to kill Jacob once their father died (which, by the way, didn't happen for another eighty years - a long time for bitterness to fester). 
  • Because of Esau's threats, Rebekah hurriedly sent Jacob far away, for his protection, to her homeland to to live with her brother's family. 
  • In the meantime, to assuage his anger while he waited to kill his brother, Esau went off and married Uncle Ishmael's daughter because he knew how angry that would make his dad. {You know, the whole Isaac/Ishmael/Sarah/Hagar fiasco...}
  • Jacob would soon get a taste of his own medicine, when dear Uncle Laban tricked him by disguising his older daughter as the younger, letting Jacob exchange marriage vows with the wrong sister, leading to decades of woundedness for all mothers and children involved.
  • Jacob would become a passive father whose own sons would do lots of damage {you know, lying, killing, trafficking one of their own brothers...}  
  • Esau's descendants would become enemies of Israel and of God.  
  • And we can only begin to imagine the marital fallout that ensued.
It must, of course, be said that God ultimately redeemed all this brokenness in different ways, over the generations, cultimating in the Exodus and ultimately the Cross.

But. All of this relational, generational wreckage could have been avoided if Rebekah had said, "Lord, I don't understand how your promises are going to happen, but I'll leave that to you, because it's way above my pay grade. In the meantime, I will focus my energy on loving well the ones you have placed before me: my husband, my children, my employees, the strangers I meet along the way."

It's when Rebecca decided to "help" God with His plan that things went awry.

And so, last Saturday morning, I thought about all the angst in our nation. And in the church.  All the relational wreckage between family and friends.

And I thought about Jesus' declaration that the greatest command was to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And that the second was as important as the first: to love our neighbor as ourselves. (see Mark 12 and Matthew 22)

Those red-letter commands. Red-letter commands that were taken from the Torah.  Commands that weren't new to Jesus' hearers. They were foundational, daily prayers that God's people had been praying since the desert wilderness. The Shema.

And I thought about how lots of us claim to be "helping" God, while trampling other image bearers in the process. In both the physical and virtual public square. With both weapons and words. Words as weapons.

And it breaks my heart.

And so, I am asking God to help me not act like Rebekah. To not take matters - big or small - into my own hands. To put Him and other image bearers first. And put everything else a very distant second.

It isn't always easy. In fact, it usually isn't. 

But if loving my neighbors - both inside and outside the body, friends and enemies alike - is what He's called us to do, I cannot turn away. 

And so I will cling to God's Truth and His promises, trusting Him to bring them to fruition, while I do my best to love well the image bearers He places in my path.

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
Exhale. 

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.

Hallelujah!

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 👑