Israel the Man, Jews the People and Jesus the Contradiction

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Israel is a man.

The Israelites, now called Jews, all came from Israel, the man whose name was changed from Jacob, to whom God promised a land.

Jews have been termed as everything from an ethnicity and a race to a religion and a culture. Jews have been defined by actions ranging from laughing at Yiddish jokes and eating matzoh balls to teaching their children about the Scriptures and praying three times a day. In an attempt to save our dying people from the brink of extinction, a great many things are allowed now that would previously have resulted in swift excommunication from our ranks. I say “our” and “we” as if I have not already committed one of the few remaining sins.

You can be a Jew and reject all evidence of your Judaism in an attempt to blend better with your peers. You can be a Jew and hate the land that was promised to you as your inheritance in the covenant that defined your ethnic label. You can be a Jew and practice all manner of eastern religious rituals, believe in all manner of pagan ideology and worship all manner of modern idols. You can be a Jew and not believe in the Scriptures which legitimize the word “Jewish” as a description of any substance. You can be a Jew and not believe in the God of Israel referenced in the first commandment as the one true God.

The great and obvious irony is that the genesis of Judaism, in whatever form you choose to define it, is God. Without God and the Words He has given us about our heritage, the title “Jew” is worthless. There can be no Jews without God because He tells us who we are. What use is there in calling yourself by a name which ties you to words spoken by One in Whom you do not believe? Without the calling God placed on us and the land He promised us and the name He calls us by, the word “Jewish” means nothing more than a bloodline which traces us back to a character named in a mythical book. It is a mark of stigma and death. Why carry it at all?

This brings up bigger questions in the increasingly Godless Jewish world, especially for those of us in the diaspora outside of Israel. Who are the Jews? Why is it relevant that Jews be defined at all?

“Jewish” was the most definitive adjective I applied to myself for most of my life. Until I married a Brazilian, it had never occurred to me that I was even an “American”. The fact that I am Jewish had defined me more than being a woman, being “white,”  and being born in the United States. Nothing had ever defined me as thoroughly as being Jewish had.

Although each of my grandparents comes from a different country as a first-generation American, I have always identified most strongly with my Israeli grandmother’s heritage. For most of my life I romanticized the idea of being a sabra, a Jew born in Israel, and was very proud of where we came from. We are descendents of the Baal Shem Tov and our family helped found the Israeli city of Sefad. I learned Hebrew from Israelis in a small Chabad school in which many of the pupils were children of two local rabbis. My grandmother’s older siblings returned to Israel, as did her mother, and I have many cousins there now who were born in the land.

I grew up feeling like an alien most of the time. As Moses said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22). This was my concept of the world around me. The fact that I did not belong was a fixed point in my mind.

I went from the conservative Hebrew school to a small Chabad “Academy” when I was 5. We attended a conservative synagogue until I was 7, then we switched to Chabad. My Zayde, my father’s father, was an Orthodox rabbi in New York, but my father’s practices were not the same as Chabad although they were closer than conservative Judaism. Even among those who were supposed to be “mine,” I never fit. Aside from the rabbi’s children, I was the most orthodox of any of my friends and my knowledge of anything related to Judaism usually exceeded my peers. Being Jewish was never something I had to convince myself of or prove. It was intrinsic, inextricable and plainly evident.

Vividly, I remember two defining marks in my life as a Jew.

My head was resting on the doorhandle of the car on the way home from synagogue on a Saturday morning. We drove, although my father had grown up walking, because the synagogue was 20 minutes away. There was tall grass growing on the side of intersection and I felt a sense of pure incredulity as I processed a phrase. The light was red. I don’t remember the context. These words left my mouth: “How can you be a Jew for Jesus? That makes no sense. If you believe in Jesus, you’re not a Jew anymore.” I could not have been older than 10.

At 16 years old, I had been devouring everything I could get my hands on by Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Something in me profoundly resonated with the slavery and the systematic stripping of identity these women wrote about. This was my people. We were once slaves in Egypt and now we are free. “But what if they came for us…” Suspended before me sat this familiar fear. Well-instilled and firmly rooted was the knowledge that in recent history we had been exterminated. As quickly as it presented itself, it was answered. “If I wanted to, I could pass for something else. The color of my skin would not betray me as it did these women.” Yet, even as I knew this was true, I knew this was not an option. If I ceased to be Jewish to save myself, I would be lost. They could take my skin, but they could not take what made me a Jew out of me.

I not ashamed to say I am Jewish. I do not renounce the adjective because it is dangerous or inconvenient, although both are true. Because I call a Jewish Man who was born and died in Israel my Messiah, there are many who would say the word is no longer applicable to me. I am neither offended nor deterred by their opinion. Pledging my allegiance to this Name has not won me any acceptance or decreased my exposure to scorn, quite the contrary.

There are others like me. You may be surprised to know that the most conservative estimates of Jewish believers in Jesus in Israel now number us at 20 thousand. More recent estimates suggest the number is closer to 30 thousand.* The number of Jewish believers worldwide is around 350 thousand.** Whether or not we are called Jewish is irrelevant. God knows us. He knows the songs in our hearts and the blood in our veins. We are the growing “problem” in the Jewish world. We are the hushed words on everyone’s lips. We are the paradox whose explanation threatens the current understanding of Judaism itself. Whatever you want to call us, we are here.

I long for a land I have never lived in. I wait for a world I have never seen. I bleed the blood of a people who have disowned me. I carry the soul of a sojourner as I walk in my hometown. Rife with apparent contradictions and against all odds, I am a Jew and I serve the God of my fathers.

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Stars and Smoke: Yom HaShoah

I was not born in a war-torn country. My childhood was not marked with minefields. My ears have never actually heard the whistle of a bomb . My feet do not know what it is to run for shelter at the sound of a siren. My lungs have not held poison. My eyes have not been seared with the last view of my loved ones. I have not buried my own dead. I am fortunate.

Being born a Jew in Florida in the 1980’s, I was very fortunate indeed. My family hails from Russia, Hungary, Austria and Israel. Those in Israel yet live, although under constant threat of attack. The other branches of my family tree come to a blunt end. They were burnt off, or perhaps, suffocated. Maybe they were murdered in a firing squad. Maybe they found death beneath the bodies of their friends, having survived the blows meant to kill them. I will not know this side of eternity how they were taken, but I know they are gone.

The fear of “again” became an inextricable part of my fabric when I was very young. In ways I will never be able to fully verbalize, I learned to look over my shoulder. At some point in my early childhood, I realized my father’s Austrian surname could be mistaken for a Gentile as easily as it could be recognized as a Jew. After my husband and I had chosen my son’s name, I had a very clear moment of thinking, “When they come for us, his name could easily be taken for Gentile’s.” A simple mispronunciation of the Hebrew would change its origin entirely.

When I was twelve, I had one summer during which I read a mountain of books about the holocaust. One of them my mother took from me midway because she was concerned about my nightmares. A few years later at seventeen, I read nearly everything written by Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. The morbid thought came to me that I could choose to hide more easily than a “black” woman who couldn’t change the color of her skin. As a Jew in the United States, I could pass for something else.

Yet, even as I considered these things, I knew I could never deny who I was. Even now that my people say I no longer belong to them, I know who I am. If they came for us, a daughter of Israel I would yet be. I don’t wish it on him, but if my son is anything like me, he too would not hide.

In most parts of the world being a Christian is just as dangerous as being a Jew, if not more so. Contrary to the belief that conversion is an act motivated by the desire to “fit in,” my faith in Jesus actually adds a target to my back. Paradoxically, this new mark of my choosing speaks courage to my soul rather than dread. When I see through His eyes, I realize the hereafter’s permanence will erase this life’s temporal suffering. The hell on earth I risk for the sake of His Name is nothing compared to hell eternal.

I would be a liar if I said the terror does not still come. No longer my constant companion, when it strikes, it’s all the more piercing. It stands my hair on end and turns on the fight in me. I rarely feel rage, yet it’s easily found when faced with the devil’s work. Smoke rises and fades as we all do, but God sees the carnage. He doesn’t need stars to mark them. He knows their names.

Look at people and see their humanity. We were all cut from the same cloth. Being Jewish does not entitle me to more pity or refuge than any other human being. There are hundreds, thousands, probably millions, in need of rescue at this very moment. Genocide is not unique to our people. As long as humans fear the foreign and delight in division, we will see war, murder and strife. There is no antidote among our kind that will end it.

With more surety than fear, I can say there will be another slaughter. We have not seen the last of hatred. Men, women and children in every stage of life will again meet their end at the hands of one who currently holds more power and believes his cause more just. This is the way of the world. This is the way of humankind. Anyone who has seen war will tell you that mercy is not man’s default. Kill or be killed. We live by the law of survival.

Man will not save himself, but God will. True followers of the Jewish man, Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus Christ, do not kill, they save. No amount of twisted doctrine or vitriolic appropriation will change what Christ Himself did or said. Those in the Garden of the Righteous are true representations of Messiah on earth. Those who died to save life, those who braved danger to rescue the helpless, those who chose morality over complacency, those are the cities on a hill.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” – 1 Peter 3:14 ESV

Someday, there will be peace. It will not come from our own hands. Until that day, we are called to remember this world is fleeting and our actions here echo through eternity. Let us not fear death. Let us stand for life. Let us be who God has called us to be and follow Him fearlessly.

Submission and #NoFeels

I wanted to take a moment to share some powerful truth God has been teaching me. It’s life-changing and liberating. It’s simple and impossible without God. It’s the beginning of restoration and the realization of God’s promises in my life.

My submission has nothing to do with anyone else.

Did you catch that? I didn’t on the first pass. But I’m starting to and it’s creating a tsunami in my walk with God.

As a woman, a wife, a member of Church leadership, a daughter, a follower of Jesus (the list goes on, but lets end here) submission is a way of life for me. I am commanded by God in nearly every area of my life to submit to other humans. The order of said submission is sometimes blurry and the hierarchy I submit to is occasionally out-of-order, but that I am under human authority is ceaselessly relevant in my daily life.

Submission has meant many things to me, but what has marked my journey into submission more than anything else is frustration. Frustration that I cannot make all my own decisions. Frustration that although I’m an intelligent, capable person whose skills are readily called upon to make other’s lives easier, I’m somehow less intelligent and capable when it comes to taking counsel on decisions that will affect me and those around me. Frustration that no matter how I try, I never seem to be submitting well enough or properly enough or often enough. You see, I’m not very good at submitting at all.

Without getting into the finer details of my childhood, let’s just say that surrender was never my strong suit. Never. Meeting expectations for the purpose of furthering my own agenda? Yes. Oh, I excelled at that. I was also a master of quiet rebellion and a Machiavellian manipulator. But submission? The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person? No. Absolutely not.

You see my conundrum? How does one who has never submitted to authority of any kind without simultaneously scheming a way to get around it learn to yield? The Holy Spirit. As my sister and I say with all the sincerity in the world, “You slap some Jesus on that.”

I have recently stumbled into one of the most fundamental truths in the Gospel. If you have already found it, I’m sorry to have led you on so far. It’s quite elementary.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. – James 4:7a ESV

Let me back it up a few books to show you just what an “aha!” moment this should not have been for a Jew who grew up in Hebrew school.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.  – Exodus 20:2-3 ESV

The Jew within me scolds myself, “Were you paying any attention in synagogue!?”

It’s so simple, friends. When I submit to the Holy Spirit, truly accept and surrender to what He tells me to do, I am not in submission to man. I am in submission to God.

Don’t fret! It’s not heresy.

True submission is the seamless intermingling of several profound truths: I am an undeserving sinner. God’s grace saves me when I accept that Jesus died for my sins. I deserve nothing and have no qualifications to lead my own life. Without God’s wisdom and direction, I have no chance of doing what I ought. Yet, I will give an account to God for my days. All I thought, spoke, and did will appear before the courts of heaven and I will give an account for it. I am responsible for me regardless of what was occurring around me while I thought, said and did. There will be a reckoning. There will be no excuses. Jesus’ Blood will cover my sins, but the point at which I start in heaven will never be moved. I cannot redo my entry into eternity. Bearing all that in mind, I am aware of one obvious thing.

I better slap some Jesus on that.

If I live my life in submission to the Holy Spirit, I will rightly submit to everyone in my life whom I ought to. Furthermore, when things go wrong in my life, I can rest in knowing God has my back and I did what I was supposed to do. Not to mention, it lifts a huge burden in my relationships with those in authority around me and allows me to see them more as people, less like task-masters. God is my master. God is their master. My mastery of this life is dependent on my submission to Him. The same is true of my earthly “masters,” so to speak. We’re all in this together. Blame becomes less important. Guilt becomes a thing of the past. Feelings become immaterial.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:22 ESV

Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. – Colossions 3:22-24 ESV

Submission to God leads to submission to men where it is right. It may also lead to taking authority of things you had let go of out of comfort or convenience. Submitting to the Holy Spirit isn’t easy or low-maintenance, but it’s life-giving. Furthermore, if I am in submission to the Holy Spirit, my feelings hold no sway over me. Why would I listen to my feelings, which often have no basis in fact and distract me from where I would rather focus my energy, if I can hear the voice of God? I am so done with all of my feelings right now. I say goodbye to them and their accompanying roller-coasters with nary a qualm.

When the Spirit of Truth is leading me in all righteousness it doesn’t matter what feelings I have, they are rendered inactive by the power of His sovereignty. The actions of others have little to no effect on mine. Feelings become significantly less ascendant in light of all the above. Who even invited feelings?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

I’m in a world of chaos. My life seems to be constructed on minutiae. The more I listen, the clearer it all gets. Will I still mess up? Yes. Welcome to humanity. We live here. It’s messy. There’s only one ticket out and you better be ready for a heart-to-heart when you leave, so let’s start the conversation now. Who better to teach You than the Master Himself?

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13 ESV

Choose I a burden? With delight, I do. This cross is mine to bear and, with Him, my load is light.

Follow me here on my adventures!

An Island I Am Not

I have been taking stock of my daily routine as of late. More commitments are continually getting shoved into my stack of to-do lists. I find myself constantly running. I am also perpetually hungry or thinking about food, though I rarely get to it. I live in the vacillation between dopamine highs of task completion and soul-sucking lows of finding one-more-thing I forgot to do. All this is lived in a relative state of sleep deprivation and self-depletion. Right now, while my husband is working out of the state, it’s also done alone.

No, it is not healthy. No, it’s not pleasant. No, it’s not permanent. This is a season. This is a long, educational, find-your-bootstraps, lean-on-God’s-strength, learn-you-are-not-self-sufficient season.

No man is an island. In case you thought being a woman exempted you from that statement, go read your Bible.

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. – Romans 14:7

One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment. – Proverbs 18:1 

As my 4-year old son would say, “I don’t like that!” Yet, here I find myself like the middle line of the preschool song Bear Hunt, “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it!” I’m so much less enthusiastic than those preschoolers.

Three and some years ago, before we moved to Florida, before my life was flipped on its head, back when I had some illusion of stability in my life, I received a word from God. I should not have needed a man to come up to my husband at a conference and tell him, “I don’t know your wife, but this is for her.” It’s in His Word. Even now, I know better, though I struggle with its practice.

Apply your anxious energy toward prayer.

 

Mind-blowing, right? I’ll pause so you can soak up the full effect of this obvious, self-evident fact. I think they teach this on the first day of Sunday School. Anyways, turning off the sarcasm…

 

When I am in the mire, it’s hard to imagine there’s something in existence besides me and my muck. Yet, God says so simply, “Just look up, child.” It’s that simple. When I insist on looking at the mud, all I can say is, “Why is there so much mud!? Why are you like this?!” God does not intend for me to live there and it’s amazing what He can do with my willingness to look away from me.

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah.  – Psalm 3:3-4

Whether you find yourself in the muck or the hamster wheel, remember He’s there by your side. Jesus promised He would send us a better helper. He’s here. Look up and bring your burdens to God! He is your defender. He is your steadfast. He is the One Who acts on your behalf. And when you are too tired to lift up your head, ask Him and even that, He will do for you.

The magic is it’s really not about you. As much as you think you’re accomplishing something by driving in rubber-screeching figure 8’s around your life, you’re not. Take a minute to breathe today. Bring your burdens to God. Realize it’s not all about you. Heaven won’t be any more pleasant because you hyperventilated the whole way there.

 

Hurricane Irma Can’t Take This From Me

I walked into my room and grabbed the black duffel bag in the middle of the floor. I breathed in more uncertainty than oxygen. After joking with my sister the whole week about whether we would leave our makeup collections behind, I had reached reality. It burned my throat as I swallowed. It clouded my eyes as I closed them. In the past, I may have allowed myself to fall apart, but I did not have time to sweep up the pieces. So, I breathed. I believed.

God is good. God is here. God is all I need.

I want to say I steeled myself. My proud flesh wants to say I buckled down and did what needed to be done. That is not what happened. I was carried. God has carried me this last week and it was sweet.

Tears don’t scare me. Breaking down doesn’t scare me. Feeling alone doesn’t scare me. Being alone is daunting, but it is not what I most fear. I can say confidently after this last week, losing everything doesn’t scare me. Losing God does.

There are a lot of dreams I have held on to. There are prophecies and promises I have clung to with white-knuckled hands. I have dug my nails into my palms until they bled, but I didn’t let them go. I have carried them while He has carried me. He’s brought me this far and He’s going nowhere.

My greatest fear is losing Him the way a mother loses her husband when she forgets she’s a wife. Sometimes circumstances dictate priorities, but we pay a high price for losing sight of Jesus. He is closer than a spouse. He knows me better than any human could. I don’t want to lose Him. I don’t want to lose what I have with Him. If I had locked my mother’s house and come home to nothing, He would have been there. He would have been everything out of necessity, not out of choice.

So, I choose. I choose God. I choose my One Thing. Jesus Who saved me, You are my One Thing. Holy Spirit, Who never leaves me, nor forsakes me, You are my One Thing. Abba, Father Who gives good things, God, You are my One Thing.

There are more hurricanes in the Gulf. There are a thousand other circumstances that could separate me from my family, friends, dreams, life… There is nothing that can separate me from God except my choice.

Choose the uncertainty that surrounds Jesus and you choose a life of adventurous, unshakable love. The world can make you no such promises. The uncertainty of the world is cold and unforgiving. The uncertainty I live in today is persistent. It is, at times, overwhelming. But I am not uncertain of God.

For now, things are quiet. I am back to my routine, as normal as I can make it. Others are still suffering. Others were suffering before the hurricane and the world will continue to contain vast amounts of suffering until Jesus returns. But God is still good. God is still here. I still choose Him.

 

Parenting Blog #1: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

Who hasn’t heard this age-old adage? Even non-believers know what it means and dispute about it, although they probably don’t know its origin. It should be no surprise to Word-reading followers of Christ that it comes straight out of the Bible. Or does it?

No, I’m not about to launch into a rant about the merits of various forms of punishment. Go ahead and exhale. I want to address the fact that this little maxim, like most Biblical tidbits that make it into culture’s collective consciousness, is a half-truth. Before I go any further, here is the actual verse in its entirety.

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. – Proverbs 13:24 ESV

Why am I starting here? Well, I’ll tell you where I didn’t start. I did not post the page and a half rant I had in Microsoft Word before I arrived at this verse. I did not begin by painting broad, sweeping generalizations all over my parenthood canvas – although that is exactly what I felt like doing when I put finger to key. I did not put down the very first thoughts that came into my head a month ago when I first toyed with the idea of delving into this most tenuous of subjects. I have been mulling them over, handing them back and forth to the Holy Spirit, asking why I felt like doing this. What am I trying to accomplish by writing one more (because, for real, they are everywhere) blog about raising children?

I am trying to get us to slow down and look up.

I don’t want you to follow your heart as you read this. Our hearts are sick and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). I don’t want you do feel bad or good about the job you’re doing as a parent. We have one standard by which we are to measure ourselves, it’s the will of God, not our feelings (Romans 12:2). I would like us, as parents, to think about what we are doing and be honest with ourselves about this work and how we should do it. We have one source of wisdom (Proverbs 2:6), let’s use it.

When people say, “spare the rod, spoil the child,” they got it wrong. Revelations 22:19 tells us we better not be taking things out of the Word of God, so if you’re going to quote the Bible, you better quote the whole thing. The verse says, “he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” This verse is about love.

How I parent my child should directly and accurately reflect how God parents His children. Let me repeat that. My behavior and, more importantly, my heart attitude as a parent should mirror God’s relationship as a Father with His children. Maybe you read that and thought, “Of course, it is.” This is a widely accepted truth among Christians, but, in my observation, not a widely applied truth.

I’ll give you an example. Parents often talk about the rewards of parenthood as the reasons why they do what they do. When a list of #realtruths about being a mother or father are laid out, they are usually followed by a statement that goes something along the lines of, “but it’s all worth it when they say I love you,” or, “when I see them succeed,” or, “when I feel like a good mom.” That last one is one of less commonly written-out-loud ones, but it’s often there between the lines. In reality, there is only one reason why God does what He does with us: Love.

There are children that are more difficult to parent than others. This is absolutely true. There are sometimes long stretches of time when you will not get any of the so-called “rewards” that make parenting worth it. There are moments when you cannot muster up enough warm-and-fuzzy feelings or feel-good-as-a-mom thoughts to propel yourself through the grueling fight for your child’s well-being.

Love, pure and unadulterated, is the only reason to do this and it’s the only way to get it done right. And I’m not talking about your finite, conditional love. I am talking about the love that flows directly from a personal relationship with God the Father through the Blood of Jesus Christ, ministered to your heart through the Holy Spirit. If you are not plugged into the source of infinite, eternal, whole love, then you and I are not talking about the same thing. True love has a Name, and it sure as heck is not Disney.

Almost all the mentions the Bible makes to parenting are in regards to either love or correction. Most of the time, the two are bound up as they are in this verse. It’s not as if you could misconstrue what God is saying here. To love is to correct. To correct is to love. To be a son is to be loved and corrected. To be a daughter is to be corrected because she is loved. God doesn’t correct us while he thinks about the perks or pros, i.e. because occasionally we say, “thank you,” or “I love you.” God disciplines those He loves.

For the LORD reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:12 ESV

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. – Hebrews 12:6 ESV

I am not perfect. I get things wrong and I make mistakes. I am not writing from a place of, “Hey guys, since I got this parenting thing down, you should listen to me.” I am opening up the Word of God for an honest exploration of what it means to be a Godly parent. God sees my work here and He is the one who will give the final judgement on what I did – not my feelings, not my peers, and definitely not my child. This is not about self-righteousness or self-esteem. In fact, this is not about self at all. We do this for our children, yes, we do. But more important, we do this for God. These are His children and we are raising them for Him.

I challenge you today to find a few minutes and ask God to speak to you about His love. Ask Him to show you something new about how He loves you. Ask Him to give you more of His love. Remember, love is not a feeling, love is a lifestyle. (That is a whole other blog.) If you don’t yet believe in Jesus, I ask you to start there. Ask God to show you something about Who His Son, Yeshua (in Hebrew), is. Let us start in love.

God bless you, fellow builders. With God anything is possible.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/child-rose-flower-red-smel-1152068/

Wherever you go, there you are

One time in Barnes & Noble, my sister-in-law burst into hysterical laughter over the title of a book on display, Wherever You Go, There You Are. As ironic as I had always found the spine of this book as it had stared at me from my father’s bookshelf, it is becoming increasingly less funny as it increasingly describes my life.

On another more recent foray with her, I bought a small canvas which says, “Home is where our adventure begins.” At the time, I was about four months into my musical houses adventure. I arrived in the Sunshine state in June and am now preparing for my husband to return to Minnesota again for work. By the time he comes back, I will have been floating here for a year.

What I have learned is the following… Wherever you go, there you are. I’m not talking about being mindful, at least not in the sense that the book meant it. Then again, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit does require a kind of mindfulness, a willingness to be still and listen.

The Spirit of God hovered over the kitchen sink in my former house. I know, it sounds silly, but I tell you, that is where I’ve heard most clearly from Him. The few words God has given me about my life, I have received there, usually while washing dishes. I was able to go to California for a couple of weeks in October to clean out my house and say goodbye. Amidst the goodbyes that were too few and the packing that was never finished, God gave me my last word in my house.

I was washing dishes, as usual, looking at the tiles that my husband and I had picked out the day before I went into labor with my son. I looked at the window I never got around to decorating. I thought about how much I was going to miss this space where God had so often met me. I remembered how difficult it seemed to hear Him in Florida. I missed my quiet kitchen sink. As I started asking God, “What if I can’t hear You when I leave?” He interrupted my thoughts with an answer that reverberated in my mind.

“I will be with you wherever you go.”

His words filled the room. After a moment, I realized that what He had said was a verse, even several verses. This was the most ancient of promises. God had made this promise over and over in the Bible and He was making it to me as well.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” – John 14:18 ESV

Even as I continue to wade through the thick currents of confusion and waiting, God is with me. He steadies my feet and calms the waters, He lifts me up as I learned to walk closer to the surface of the sea. He knew where He was taking me when He told me we would be leaving California. I don’t even need to know myself. As long as He is with me, home will be where He is.

As if I needed one more reminder, my sister-in-law brought me home her latest find. A small jewelry tray with a verse written on it. Unbeknownst to her, I had been looking for one. She had bought one for herself and one for me. God knows just when our knees are buckling, He’s faithful to repeat Himself when He knows we are trying hard not to forget. Now, His words will be before my eyes every morning.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

The Summer of Some Other Time

Somewhere between spending the last two months in a different state and being temporarily apart from my husband, I seem to have fallen off the edge of the known world. Sorry, is that an awkward way to start a blog?

I’m not in a head space to get into the whole story right now, but let’s just say that a summer road trip coupled with an unexpected work opportunity for my husband in another state (yes, a different state than the state that I’m currently in, also a different state than the one we usually reside in) has resulted in my 2.5 year-old son and myself house-hopping all over that delightfully peninsular state in the south east of the country. How I went from California in a drought to Florida during hurricane season and may soon end up in one of the coldest winters in Minnesota is a bit mind-boggling, but I guess I should have seen that coming when God told me at the beginning of the year that we would not believe where we would be by the end of the year. I need to stop underestimating God’s ability to follow up on what He says.

I do not imagine that I have an adoring public or those who wait with baited breath for my next blog, but about the point that friends started calling me asking if I was still alive, I realized that I should probably alert the world to my continued existence. Yup, we’re here, we’re good, still trucking…

This constellation of events has also resulted in my inability to accomplish anything that I had been working on when I left home. Those projects include a campaign for which I missed the date of launch, a book which needs to be dissected and reassembled, an album composed of songs but no musicians, and a host of other small tasks such as putting out a semi-predictable blog. Although I will say that Publix baked goods have greatly contributed to this downfall in creative productivity… calypso crunch cookie bites, I blame you. Also, I’m constantly in the presence of family that up until recently I never saw, which also takes up a great deal of my time. No regrets there. I can’t say I am disappointed with the sudden turns my life has taken. I always used to dream of adventure (enter ironic laughter here), now it seems it has found me.

The real question I have in the midst of all of this is not the one I thought I would be asking. How do I continually seek the Holy Spirit in the midst of so much noise? There is so much to do and see and be right now, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that He’s as much here as He is in my quiet home. He is as much in mess as He is in the silence. Sometimes, I set my mind to finding Him and I am surprised by how close He is. He knows what He is doing. None of this surprises Him or phases Him at all. The only person who has been thrown for a loop in all of this is me. I guess I should just pull up my big girl panties (or rain slickers or snow suit…?) and deal with the fact that some things are on God’s time, not mine.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

Service Requires Identity

I’ve been living in the Gospel of John for the last few weeks. I leave it playing on my phone during the day, I read it when I sit down with a spare minute, I’m even hearing my son start to walk around quoting pieces of it on occasion. I’ve been trying (because heavenly things can only be grasped in the Spirit) to immerse myself in His Truth. I want to better understand the Deity of Messiah – His love, His sacrifice, His humility, His adoption – I want to truly be planted in Him. There are many things that pierce my consciousness every time I hear them, but one in particular has been pulling at me lately.

Most Christians are familiar with the account of Yeshua washing the disciples feet before instituting the last supper. I never noticed that this account is only given in the Gospel of John. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all address the disciples’ discussion of who would be greatest in the Kingdom. However, the act of Jesus washing their feet is only in John. It’s not this account, per say, that I get stuck on. It’s the sentence immediately preceding the short account.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. – John 13:3-4 ESV

Why does John say this before going on to tell what happened next? There are many accounts in the Gospels of Jesus doing things that were just not done. Talking to the “unclean,” and even touching them – not done. What happened? They were healed and made clean. Talking to women – not done. What happened? They were healed, saved from stoning, lifted from shame, and given the ability to believe. Getting up from a table, at which you are the honored Rabbi and Teacher, to take off your outer clothing, tie a towel around your waist and wash dirt off of your students’ feet – definitely not done. So why does John make a point of saying what Jesus knew before He did this?

Yeshua knew who He was. Yeshua’s identity was not based in what He did for people, what He said to people, or who people thought He was. He knew Who He was. John wrote this (by the leading to of the Holy Spirit) for our benefit. We need to understand as a people consumed with image, what people think, what people don’t think – we need to understand that our identity comes from one place: God.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13 ESV

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:15-17

If I am a child of God, then I can do what God’s only begotten Son, Moshiach, whom I am to imitate, did. He was not afraid to lower or debase Himself in the midst of His disciples because it meant nothing to Him what they thought of Him. He knew Who He was.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand. Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no share with me. – John 13:6-8

Just a side note – I heart Peter. He makes me feel better about myself because, for as many people say they are Peter, I so am. Constantly jumping the gun with my mouth, making bold proclamations about what is right, what I think, what we should do – that is so me. I’m praying for God to move from pre-Holy Spirit Peter to post-Holy Spirit Peter. Another blog for another day.

If Peter could not accept Jesus as a servant who washed his feet, how would he ever accept Yeshua, the Suffering Servant Moshiach, Who would allow Himself to be cursed on a cross, hung on a tree, to bear the sins of the world? Peter and the disciples, people who were not used to being lifted up before others, thought that by standing with Jesus, expecting a reigning King who would obliterate the Romans at any moment, argued about who would be the greatest. Why? Because most of them were fisherman! They were not people of respect, not esteemed by their people, they did hard work and looked forward to being in the court of the King.

Paul, on the other hand, came from the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel. He was all set up to be one of the most respected, paid-attention-to, everybody-listens-to-me leaders in the Jewish world. To be blinded, thrown off his horse and addressed by God, only to find out that he is persecuting the One who he professes to follow so zealously – his call was the embodiment of humiliation. He knew where he came from, he knew who he was and he knew who he served. His take on identity and service was very different than that of the quibbling disciples.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3: 4-11

Yeshua said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35 ESV).  He said also, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45).

This is increasingly becoming my heart’s cry. Exactly what Paul, Shaul, said is how I feel. I want to know Yeshua HaMoshiach, Jesus Christ. I just want to know Him. And the more I know Him, the more I realize that my position in His Kingdom becomes increasingly irrelevant when I realize who I already am in Him.

I am a daughter of God. I am a servant of the One true God.

Who are you?

He is speaking. Dare to believe.

God still speaks. And you cannot afford to close your ears.

Several months ago, God started impressing on me this sense of great urgency for His Presence. I knew something was coming, something big. I have felt its arrival on the horizon for years, but it was always too far for me to put my finger on. After this last year, full of so many things I never could have predicted, I found myself getting too tired to keep waiting. I found myself reaching for anticipation, fighting apathy, clawing my way through complacency, as this last year ground to a halt. But, by the grace of God, I can say I was faithful in this: I was listening.

God’s timing is perfect. People do not want hear that – I don’t want to hear that – when they are walking through their trials, but it is the God’s honest truth. For every great testimony in God’s Kingdom, there was a person who walked through that story so you could be encouraged. You don’t get to receive the fulfillment without the faith. You don’t get to receive the deliverance without a desert. You don’t get to receive the promise without preparation and perseverance.

Abraham was 75 when God told him that He would make of him a great nation, and he was 85 when Hagar bore him Ishmael, but he was 100 years old when Sarah finally bore him Isaac. Jacob received a promise from God when he slept on the mountain at Beth-El, but he did not receive its fulfillment until he left Laban’s house 21 years later. Joseph received his dreams at 17, but didn’t take the throne until he was 30. Jacob was 130 when he and Joseph were reunited – a fulfillment for both Jacob and Joseph. I could go on with countless other examples, but the fact is they had to faithful and listening to receive wisdom in the battle and the fulfillment of their promises.

God has spoken Words over my life. I treasure them in my heart. They are what drives me on. Our lives as followers of Yeshua need to be rooted in the Word of God, but God’s Word doesn’t end there. The Holy Spirit is our companion and guide. He speaks to us and through us. He uses other believers to do the same. All of His Words are in unity, they do not contradict one another. This is why we must know the Shepherd’s Voice.

When the battle is upon you, the trials are abounding, and you can’t find the strength to go forward, you can turn to Him and seek Him. His Word says that He will be found by you in that moment. But, how sweet it is when He has already given you a Word to carry you through your season of testing! How wonderful to know the end before the beginning! That is why you can’t afford to miss what He’s speaking to you.

The battles will not end in this life. As long as we live, there will always be another mountain, another valley, another time of silence. You need instructions. You need guidance. You need a Word to see you through. He has all of it waiting for your ears. He has purposes and promises just for you and He will speak them to you, if you only listen.

And you need to know His Word. You need to know His character, so that you are not led astray. You need to check a word spoken to you in your own heart or through the mouth of someone else against the Word of God. But before you reach that step, you need to hear from Him, yourself.

Find some time to be quiet. Read and meditate on His Word. Instead of giving Him a laundry list of desires, give Him your attention and your worship. Wonder at His goodness and faithfulness. Realize your own failings and shortcomings. Recognize His Sovereignty in your life. Accept the Answer, Yeshua, Who was sent to make a way for you and reconcile you to God. We have all fallen short. The one who hears from God is not a “better person,” but we must all be better seekers of Him Who is speaking. Out of all the things you prioritize in your life, make God the First and the Last. It’s only sounds like a cliche if it’s not your reality.

“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Isaiah 55:6-11 ESV