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 reminder to me 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