Friday, December 25, 2015

Behind the Lights

I've always loved Christmas lights. 
Christmas lights in Greensboro, NC

Even as a young Jewish girl who had no desire to celebrate Christmas, I still loved the lights. White lights and multicolored lights. Blinking bulbs and steady strands. Simple lines and extravagant displays.

When I came to faith in Jesus as my Messiah, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy the lights while celebrating the Light. In fact, I was baptized in December, with the whole town lit up!

Now in my forties, I still love Christmas lights. And I recently discovered a new kind. They are huge outdoor ornaments - the size of basketballs - that light up in a vast array of colors and patterns. Maybe they've been around for awhile, but I'd never seen them before. Until one evening, driving home from one of my son's basketball games. Seemingly suspended in mid-air, these beautiful lights literally took my breath away.

I was entranced. I thought about those beautiful ornaments all week. I began comparing all other displays to these sparkly new lights. None came even remotely close.

The next week, I drove by that house again, this time during the daytime. And once again, I caught my breath. But not in a good way. In the mid-day sun, instead of a brilliant display of sparkling orbs, all I saw was a tangled mess of ropes and extension cords. The mystique was shattered. The magic gone. Behind all the beauty was an ugly mess.

As I mulled over my disillusionment, it struck me that our lives are just like those ornaments. We may try to make people think otherwise, but our lives are often a jumbled mess. They are filled with the pain of broken relationships and broken bodies.

Ornament ball lights by day...
Yet somehow, someway, God is able to bind up our fractures in ways that bring blessing. Blessing for us as we walk through our brokenness with Him by our side, and blessing for others as they watch us put one persevering foot in front of the other.
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Corinthians 4:6-9 NIV
The truth is, without the jumbled mess of ropes and extension cords, there would have been no Christmas lights to entrance me in the first place. It's not beauty in spite of the mess, it is beauty because of the mess.  

The painful twists and knots of life are what ultimately make our lights shine so beautifully and so uniquely.  And so, as you move toward a place of restoration and beauty, you will not - and should not - forget the heartbreaks that have woven you into the person you are.  

The key is to not get tangled up along the way. To know that there is more than what we can see. To trust that God will ultimately weave the pain and frustration and brokenness together with His marvelous light to produce the most unique and brilliant displays.

And one more thing. If you - like me - often look at someone else's beautiful, shiny, perfect life and assume that they must have no idea what deep pain and disappointment feels like, consider this: behind their bright smile is probably a web of scars that have woven them into the person you see today.
"Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish" said Isaiah the prophet. "In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction..." Isaiah 38:17 NIV
Maybe this year was a year of messy, ugly cords for you. Maybe you're still knotted up. Or perhaps God has fully redeemed your time of crisis, and now you are able to shine unhindered. Wherever you are in the midst of life's tangles and knots, know that ultimately - whether you have a chance to see it on this side of heaven or not - God is weaving it all together to make a breathtakingly beautiful display.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NRS

I pray that as you and I walk through the disappointments and afflictions of this life, we will fix our eyes on the Light at the end. And that we will never forget that the wounds of our past are what make each of us uniquely beautiful.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Apples and Honey and Trumpets, Oh My!

This year's Rosh Hashanah snack,
complete with honey from Israel!
Some of my sweetest childhood memories are of gathering downstairs in the synagogue, feasting on apples drenched in honey.  We were celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just as countless Jews are beginning to do around the globe tonight.  This apples and honey tradition, which follows the worship service, is meant to celebrate the year behind and usher in a sweet year to come.

You see, honey is symbolic of God's Promised Land, which He said would be flowing with milk and honey.  It also reminds us of God's sustenance to the Israelites during their journey to that Promised Land, because Moses said the manna from heaven tasted like honey wafers.  And so, as the congregation partakes of this sweet snack, we are reminded of God's sustenance in years past, and look forward to a new year of sweet fellowship in the promised land of His Presence.

The congregation prays together, "May it be Thy will, O Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that you renew us for a good and sweet year."  

On the eve of such rejoicing, however, there is also the anticipation of mourning. Because, as the sun sets on Rosh Hashanah tomorrow night, all eyes and hearts will look forward ten days, toward Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Hence, the trumpets.
"On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.  It is a day for you to sound the trumpets."  Numbers 29:1 NIV
The biblical name of the sweet new year holiday is Yom Teruah: the Day of the Trumpet Blasts, or the Feast of Trumpets.  Over the course of the sacred assembly - even today - the ram's horn is blown 100 times.

The trumpet blast serves as a call to repentance as the Day of Atonement approaches.  It remains the holiest day on the Jewish, Old Testament calendar.  Yom Kippur was the one day on which the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, under cover of thick incense, to offer atonement for the sins of the entire nation.*

And so, during the Rosh Hashanah assembly ten days beforehand, the ram's horn is blown.  Over and over and over again.  And as the ram's horn pierces the air, it proclaims three things.  Literally.

The three "words" spoken by the ram's horn - based on three different words God uses to describe the trumpet blast in the Old Testament - are Tekia, Shevarim and Teru'ah.
Tekia is a single, long blast.  This trumpet sound was used to announce a king.  So, on the Feast of Trumpets, this sound announced the coming of the Heavenly King to pronounce judgment.
Shevarim refers to three short sounds that are an ancient, auditory picture of wailing.  It calls God's people to recognize and mourn their sin before Him. 
Teru'ah is a series of nine quick blasts.  It served as an alarm.  With the first two proclamations in mind, this alarm alerts people to wake up and make things right with God and with the people around them.
From the holy hill of Jerusalem, the Rosh Hashanah trumpet blasts prepared the hearts of God's people to receive His coming forgiveness on Yom Kippur, which would be based on the atoning blood of a perfect lamb.  

Those three cries of the ram's horn also proclaimed a vivid picture of our Triune God, including the nature of the coming Messiah, the atoning blood of the perfect Lamb of God. 
Tekia!  All hail!  The Heavenly King, the Father, is coming!
Shevarim!  Mourn!  The Messiah, the Son, will take our place in death.
Teru'ah!  Wake up from your mourning!  The Holy Spirit has raised Christ from the grave!  And He will rouse and prompt and guide you until the day He raises you from yours as well.
There's no sweeter news I can possibly think of than the salvation proclamation of the ram's horn on this holy day!  So grab some apples and honey and celebrate our King, our Savior and our ever-present Holy Spirit.

Taste and see that the Lord is good!


*To learn more about the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and other Jewish feasts, read Tammy's past blog entries and/or written resources (www.beginningwithmoses.com) 
 
 
 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Welcome the Lamb

Prepare your heart for Easter with this downloadable devotional for Passion Week!
Welcome the Lamb

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Am New York. And So Are You.

Apparently, the hospital where I
was born has been converted into
top-dollar condos...
We just returned from a family trip to New York City, my birthplace. I absolutely love going back. And I absolutely hate going back. 

You see, New York City is such a place of extreme contradictions. If you've been there, you know what I mean. 

There is vitality and beauty and light and good-natured boisterousness. There is also anger and muck and darkness and rude vulgarity. 

One moment your nostrils are filled with tantalizing aromas wafting from a five-star grill.  Then with the very next step you're overtaken by indescribable stench.  The panoramic views from the Top of the Rock are breathtaking. The sights off the Square can make you recoil.

And then there's the subway. The intricate system of comings and goings for workers and dreamers alike. The guts of the city that never see the light of day.  The subway stations are lined with beautifully intricate mosaic walls, framed up by rusty beams and grimy floors.  

Whenever I visit the city, I vacillate between wanting to stay there forever, and wanting to hop the next train back to JFK.  On this trip, as I felt that familiar ambivalence, it occurred to me that I am New York City.  And so are you.  

I am blessed in countless, beautiful ways.  I've been given talents that I love to use.  And I have some great qualities, at least that's what the people who love me say.  My life looks shiny and beautiful and vibrant.  Sometimes.  

At other times, it is wounded and dark and unreliable and selfish.  Just like the subway system running under the city, I have both glittery dreams and yucky thoughts.  

New York City is the human condition.  Gilded, as my son described it.  Shiny exterior for everyone to see, with a mess of brokenness on the inside.  

Interestingly, Manhattan has some of the most beautiful old buildings you could ever hope to see.  Designs engraved on doorhandles that someone toiled over lovingly, for who knows how long.  Stone carvings around windows that tell inspiring stories.  

And yet, there is always a construction crane outside your hotel window.  New York is a continuous work in progress.  

And so are we.  No matter how glorious our past, no matter how beautiful our gifts, there is much that needs improving.  But when we are found in Christ, when we abide in His perfection and allow His pruning, He lovingly shines up the good - which He gave us in the first place - and scrapes away at the hidden - and not so hidden - muck.  

You and I are a tangled mess of contradictions, just like New York City.  But, through the working of the Holy Spirit, we are also a continual work in progress.
 And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.  Philippians 1:6 AMP

It reminds me of an old children's song:


God's still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars,
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be, He's still working on me!
There really ought to be a sign upon my heart,
"Don't judge me yet, there's an unfinished part."
But I'll be perfect, just according to His plan,
Fashioned by the Master's loving hand.
In the mirror of His Word, reflections that I see
Make me wonder why He never gave up on me.
He loves me as I am, and helps me when I pray,
Remember He's the Potter, I'm the clay.

So give Him access to the grime and to the shine in your life - He can work wonders with both.  And be patient with the other NYC's in your life...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

God is a Hamantashen!

One of my hamantashen batches for Purim 2015
Jews can use food to teach just about anything! From matzah on Passover, to latkes on Hanukkah, to cheese blintzes on Shavuot (Pentecost), we love to tell stories with food. 

Last week was no exception. Thursday was Purim,* a festival celebrating the inspiring lives of Esther and Mordechai, as well as the hidden Hand of God that saved His people through Esther's famous "such a time as this."

I celebrated with a wonderful gathering of ladies, teaching them about Esther's moments in the presence of her king, and what they show us about entering the Presence of our Heavenly King.

I decided to bring a sweet treat to the event: hamantashen: triangle-shaped cookies bearing the villain's name. Literally "Haman pockets," these plain cookies with sweetness hidden inside are a portrayal of Haman, the king's right-hand man who sought to line his pockets with power by destroying Mordechai and all of God's people.  

If you don't know the story, here it is in a nutshell - in a hamantashen , if you will...!

Persian king throws two decadent banquets totaling 187 days. Tipsy king asks queen to strut her stuff in front of guests. Queen refuses. Queen is banished. Beauty contest held to replace her. Jewish girl living in exile (Esther) wins crown. No one in palace knows she's Jewish. King's right-hand man feels threatened by Jewish man rising in ranks. Tricks king into ordering execution of the man and all Jews. Doesn't know queen is his nemesis' cousin. Queen breaks protocol and risks life to intervene. Bad guy exposed, executed.  Queen's cousin promoted. Jewish people saved.

The life of Esther is like a drama written for the stage.  There is love and hatred, loyalty and betrayal, condemnation and redemption.  Yet it wasn't written for the stage, it was written in the king's annals.  It's the dramatic account of two faithful Jews who God used to save His children in exile.

And we use hamantashen to help tell the story.  Yes, the cookies remind us that seemingly ordinary Haman had hidden secrets and agendas.

But as I've studied Esther over the years, hamantashen have also reminded me of our heroine: an orphan girl living in exile, whose ordinary exterior concealed a treasure inside, the treasure of strong, determined faith.

But most of all, the sweet treat of Purim reminds me of the real hero of this rescue. The rescuer whose name is never mentioned in the entire Book of Esther.  I'm talking about God Himself.

While His Name is remarkably absent, God's Presence is powerfully present throughout the account.  His divine Hand aligned a succession of "ordinary" circumstances into a divine tapestry so that Esther was in the right place at the right time "for such a time as this."  Sweet redemption framed up by plain human relationships.

But it's more than that.  Hamantashen, that three-sided cookie, is a picture of our three-in-one Redeemer. Who came to earth looking completely ordinary on the outside, but - when people choose to partake of Him - unleashes the sweet treasure of fellowship with the King Himself, and the fruit of the Spirit.

God is a hamantashen!  My King who rules in righteousness and abounds in lovingkindness!  The Spirit, who guides in all truth and comforts hurting hearts!  And my Savior, the ordinary-on-the-outside-but-divine-on-the-inside god-man.

God is a hamantashen!  Hmmm. I think I'm going to go bake another batch...



Lord, I praise you as the three-in-one God! My Father, the King, who rules in righteousness and abounds in lovingkindness. The Spirit, who guides in all truth and comforts my hurting heart. And my Savior, who came as a helpless baby, a humble carpenter, yet reveals sweet freedom. Help me to never be blinded by the ordinary so that I miss Your divine Presence.  Amen

Purim means "lots," as in the lots Haman cast to determine the date of the Jews' annihilation.
Mordechai = more-deh-kye
Haman = hay-man
Hamantashen = hah-men-tah-shen