Sweet Surrender

sweetsurrenderA clumsy smile left my lips as I stumbled off the bus. I hoped to assure the bus driver that his almost missing my stop followed by an abrupt halt was understood. Was his son fighting in Gaza? Was his daughter a part of the medical unit serving on the border? He zoomed right past the stop before mine forgetting it entirely.

My mind was awash with thoughts of how the “City of Peace” was anything but this summer when the air was penetrated with an eerie, earsplitting sound. The air raid sirens were sounding in Jerusalem.

We knew this was a possibility when we moved here last October and now reality sunk in. For a split second, I took in a sight recognizable to my Western thinking as something from a movie. But this was not Hollywood and there was neither musical score nor slow-motion movement. Real people, my neighbors began running. Drivers frantically sped up their cars to get home or stopped completely so that they and their passengers could get out, duck, and take cover. I was not going to get home in a minute and a half. I crouched down on the east side of the nearest block wall. A loud boom was heard overhead. The Iron Dome intercepted four rockets aimed at Jerusalem that evening at dusk.

There is about a second and a half to two seconds of a hush and a standstill after a rocket explodes. And in that still and silence, I realized something very profound which changed my life and thrust me into two months of in depth self-realization.

I was not afraid.

This from a girl who fell asleep at night replaying every Mexican ghost story I’d ever been told as a child.

This from a girl who spent a year going to the emergency room with anxiety attacks as a young woman.

Rockets flew and were intercepted above my neighborhood and I was not afraid.

Since then the Holy Spirit has reminded me of the many altars I visited in my lifetime and the many things I’ve laid down in surrender. I was not afraid this day because I’ve counted the cost. He showed me the altar I visited when I was 17 years old and said I would give up my dreams and follow Him into ministry. He showed me the altar I visited when I was 23 and moved away from home for the last time. He showed me the altar I visited last year when He called my family and me to pack up our lives and move to Israel.

I was quite proud of myself realizing I was not afraid during the siren because I had already surrendered my life to God.

And then He led me to another altar. This altar was different from the rest because while the others had the appearance of having been abandoned, this altar looked well maintained. As if it had been visited often.

I inquired of the Lord, “What has been laid on this pristine altar?”

He replied, “Your daughters.”

“Why aren’t they on it?” I asked.

No answer.

“Isn’t an altar made for a sacrifice?”

“Yes it is.”

“Oh. O-o-o-h.”

It was then that I realized where my greatest fears resided.

When each of my girls was a newborn we did the traditional Christian dedication. We stood immaculately dressed in front of our congregation, with verses chosen in prayer, and dedicated both Eden and Leia to God. But something detrimental happened not long after those prayers of dedication were said.

I took them back.

When Eden went to public school, I waited anxiety-ridden for 6 hours each day to get into the pick-up line so I could have my girl back.

When they began making friends I was fearful of the influences they were subjecting themselves to.

And now, as we move into a new phase of life laced with adolescent moods, new likes and dislikes, and a constant pull toward more independence, I have found myself riddled with a need for control, accompanied by my raging enemy – fear.

I am more desperate for the daily bread only God can give. I am committing morning by morning not to remove my girls from the altar of surrender.

I have become flesh to Proverbs 3:5-6, trusting in the Lord with all of my heart. Fighting momentarily not to lean on my own understanding. Acknowledging Him in every dealing with my girls. And I am finding that He is directing not only my path, but theirs as well.

I am relearning and ancient Truth: His ways and His thoughts toward Eden and Leia are higher than mine.

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Waiting to Inhale

*The following first appeared on ungrind.org. If you missed it the first time around, I hope you are blessed by it now.IMG_4880

The streets of Jerusalem are electrifying in the middle of the day. I love the business, the honking of horns, the way everyone, even perfect strangers, interact like one, big family.

Something stirs in my core to hear the ancient, resurrected, biblical language, Hebrew spoken in everyday, non-religious, simply familial or industrial circumstances.

Eifo ha’sheirutim? (Where is the restroom)?

Kama ze ole? (How much does this cost)?

Lama at lo medaberet ivrit adain? (Why don’t you speak Hebrew yet)?

After 10 months of living here, I still get misty-eyed at the sight of tzit-tzit, tallit, and kipot on the religious men. Reminders of who they are and whose they are.

And I’ve become of the opinion that the Orthodox Jewish women wear the most elegant of women’s fashions. Their hair piled high and majestically, covered with feminine and funky colored fabrics, revealing such strength and dignity in their countenances.

I was never so aware of my five senses as I am living here in the City of the Great King. I get to see and touch and hear and taste the treasures of the Land sought after by historians, theologians, and artists for millennia. But there is one thing that brings my feet to a serene halt on the busiest of streets, causing me to close my eyes, inhale deeply, and hold my breath as long as my lungs can endure before I slowly exhale. The fragrances of Israel are conclusively unmatched anywhere else I’ve traveled to. The warm Jerusalem breeze causes the Middle Eastern spices to mix with the fragrances of the oils, fresh baked breads and pastries, and fresh produce and flowers promised by God to His People and His Land. Together they produce an exotic bouquet that delights me like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

Smells have always aroused so much emotion in me. When I was a little girl one of my favorite fragrances in the entire world was the smell of tar and asphalt on my father’s work uniform. I loved that smell because it meant my father was home, the family was together, and we could settle into our evening routine.

For years after my daughters were no longer babies I brought Johnson & Johnson’s lavender bath baby wash and baby lotion as gifts to baby showers. The fragrance reminded me of the smells of my freshly washed, smooth skinned, all pajama’d up babies fresh from their sink bathing. I was enraptured nuzzling my nose over their bellies and their wild, dark hair. I wanted to make sure every new mommy I knew had the same experience with her babies.

To this day I smile and remember the campground showers of my adolescence when I gently squeeze a bottle of shampoo releasing a puff of air infused with a floral, buttery, fruity scent. That fragrance takes me back a couple decades and then I’m lost in the memory of bare feet, the desert heat, dark, tanned skin, and the Colorado River on the California/Arizona border.

And every Friday morning, with arms full after rushing around my neighborhood on foot to gather all the groceries my family will need for the weekend before all stores close for the Shabbat, I stop at the top of my apartment complex’s stairs before making the four-flight descent and breath in the tantalizing aroma of the chicken soup being prepared by the Jewish wives and mothers before they settle in to their day of rest.

What is it about the sense of smell that is so overwhelmingly powerful? While one smell can swiftly whisk you away to another time and place, another can cause your whole face wrinkle up in repulse or even cause your insides to twist and turn almost violently.

Over the last 10 months the Lord has brought me repeatedly back to the fact that He places great emphasis on the sense of smell; both the pleasant and the offensive.

On sixteen different occasions in the book of Leviticus, an “aroma” is mentioned as something pleasing to the Lord, specifically in reference to the sacrifices commanded by God.

In Isaiah chapter 1, the prophet is given a vision from the Lord. In it, the Lord conveys His feelings regarding the rebellion of His Beloved Israel against Him. He then speaks to the people of Judah and Jerusalem telling them that because their hearts are wicked, their sacrifices are displeasing to Him.

“Listen to the LORD, you leaders of Israel! Listen to the law of our God, people of Israel. You act just like the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah. ‘I am sick of your sacrifices,’ says the LORD. ‘Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats. Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils!’”

God commanded these sacrifices of His people, but because of the atrocities of their rebellion, He now said they were a “stench in His nostrils!”

The concept of “fragrance” becomes much more personal to us Gentiles when we read through the teachings of the Apostle Paul. 2 Corinthians 2:15 tells us that we are the “sweet fragrance of Christ.”

On the night of June 15th, three Israeli boys were kidnapped on their way home from school. This event rocked the entire nation as we all felt that they were “our boys.” Just minutes after the news broke of their abduction, our neighbor, *Esther, an elderly Jewish woman from South Africa knocked on our door and with tears in her eyes asked, “Do I even need to ask you to pray for our boys to come home?”

I said, “Esther, we’ve been praying and we have Christian friends all over the world who are praying. Why don’t you and I pray together right now?” I took her precious hands and said, “Esther, you and I pray differently. Is it okay if I pray my way?” She said yes and we prayed.

Three weeks later the bodies of our boys were found and my thoughts immediately went to Esther. I knocked on her door and she came out with tears streaming down her face. I was at a loss for words until she reached for my hands and said, “Will you just hold my hands and pray like you did last time?”

I left her door that night keenly aware that there is a God-fragrance being carried from my home to hers.

[*Editor’s Note: Esther’s name has been changed.]

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I Won’t Relent

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The sun is slowly rising in the East over the Judean Desert mountains. I say slowly, but really it is rising at the perfect pace at which you sent it. The mountains are a soft, gray silhouette surrounded by a very faint blue into a pale, blush pink as the sky rises behind them. They’re ancient mountains, set in place since the beginning of time. Their shape may have changed over millennia, but their place has not. And just as they watched over Abraham close to 4,000 years ago, they watch over me now.

If the many stones and grains of dust could speak they would tell of a man and his family. An ordinary man with an extraordinary calling. A man of faith whose woman had many sorrows. They would tell of the bitter tears she cried and the strength of his embrace as he tried to comfort her. He was a man who acted in haste. A man who received forgiveness and through whom we all may receive salvation. He was a friend of God.

The sun continues to rise. Its colors are soft. Like sidewalk chalk sprawled across a residential walking path. They’re not quite the vibrant oil pastels smudged into a white canvas I was hoping for. But still, they captivate me. They hold my attention. And although I can see my breath before me and my skin is prickled with cold, I remain atop this balcony because I know before me is a lesson for the ages.

I breathe in the clean desert air as camels and donkeys sing in the distance accompanied by the crowing of a lonesome bird in harmony with a howling dog.

Today’s sunrise delivers a message to me. The sun rises in purity. It is not tainted by the opinion of the people it overshadows. It is 6:34 a.m. I’ve been sitting atop this sukkah awaiting its arrival for 15 minutes. And it arrived exactly when you sent it to.

If I stand now and say,

“Sun, I’ve been waiting for you for 15 minutes! You’re late!”

It doesn’t dim its brilliance, nor sink and inch and apologize. No! It continues to rise, never lacking one fragment of purpose.

If I prefer that it hold its rays another hour so that I can sleep in, it only continues to rise. It is defiant. It was sent on this day and at this time for a purpose designed by the God of the universe and it will not relent. And tomorrow’s sunrise is not affected by whether or not today’s colors and brilliance appeal to the desires of man.

You send it each day to serve many specific purposes: to give light and warmth and to cause life to grow and reproduce. And each day in boldness and radiant confidence it rises in pure unadulterated purpose.

My Lord, how many times have I hung my head, or slumped my shoulders, or hidden my tears, and turned from your purpose for me? And as I sit in this desert place where many a prophet heard from you, my mind still grows restless by the echo of old words.

“Your ways are too radical.”

“Your style is too emotional.”

“Your passion seems condemning.”

I stand before an unrelenting sun, yet I’m tempted to hide because of the opinions of man.

Lord, forgive me for digging my heels in behind this mountain. Forgive me for watching my surety die and for willingly burying it where it fell. You are the resurrection and the life. I implore you by your own mercies, breathe life upon it once more. I tune my ears to your voice and no longer to the opinions of man. Give me grace to rise in your time, surrounded by your brilliance, to perform your purpose in unmarred purity. I am yours and you say of me,

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

It’s 6:50 a.m. There she is in incandescence. Today her train is a soft, yet auspicious yellow. Tomorrow it may be blush, or violet. Regardless, she’ll be resolute. She’ll fulfill her purpose without hesitating. Just as I will.

 

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Shabbat Shalom

I smile watching the world I left one month ago wake up to a brand new day as we are ending our Shabbat here in Israel. My family and I have spent an entire day in the very center of a gift. Shabbat (Sabbath) is something I didn’t hear a whole lot about growing up in the Church. In fact, it was usually left to merely a mention in childhood lessons about the Ten Commandments, Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). Aside from that, the idea of a Sabbath seemed to be this abstract, archaic, and unattainable conceptualization. I don’t remember ever hearing from a pulpit “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14). In fact, most of the times that the Sabbath was mentioned, it was in a negative context, usually attached to the story of Jesus found in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. And while I am in full agreement with every word Jesus spoke concerning the Sabbath, what I feel the Church has missed is found in His final statement of that passage: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28).

The Sabbath was made for man! Here we are witness to the fact that on this precious day God intends for us to receive from him the gift of rest. As most of my friends on Facebook are Gentile believers in the God of Israel, I realize you are in no way “required” to keep Sabbath, but why wouldn’t you want to?! My prayer for you is that sometime this weekend you will set aside a block of time, free from errands, free from nagging guilt, and free from old mindsets to simply rest.

 

“Sabbath is time sanctified, time betrothed, time we perceive and receive and approach differently from all other time. Sabbath time is unlike every and any other time on the clock and the calendar. We are more intimate with it. We are more thankful for it. We are more protective of it and generous with it. We become more ourselves in the presence of Sabbath: more vulnerable, less afraid. More ready to confess, to be silent, to be small, to be valiant.” – Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God; Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath

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Tetzaveh

HighPriestGood morning and thank you for joining the Bridges for Peace weekly Torah devotions. My name is Rebecca Verbeten. I am a Regional Representative with Bridges for Peace overseeing the US Chapter of Zealous8:2. Zealous8:2 is the young adult division of Bridges for Peace. We serve to reach the young adult generation in the American church to serve the vision of Bridges for Peace.

This is a Christian Torah devotion, which is based off of the Torah portion, which will be read in synagogues throughout the world. We will look at what the Jewish sages and rabbis have had to say about this portion, but we will also look at what the Christian scriptures say about this portion. Through this we want to encourage meaningful and supportive relationships between Christians and Jews around the world and to educate and equip Christians to identify with Israel, the Jewish people, and the Hebraic foundation of the Christian faith. So, we welcome both our Jewish and our Christian listeners.

Today’s parsha is called Tetzaveh, which means “You shall command…” and is found in Exodus chapter 27 beginning in verse 20 and ending in Exodus chapter  30, verse 10.

My prayer is that this devotion would truly serve us as it is intended to. Torah is not simply a list of rules or do’s and don’ts, but Torah means guidance or direction. It comes from a word that had to do with archery and meant to guide the arrow straight to target. Torah is loving instruction from God to help us do what He knows is best for us.

In last week’s parsha we read how God gave the Israelites instructions on how to build the tabernacle.

 In this Torah portion, God appoints Aaron and his sons as priests. God describes the priestly clothing, and explains how to properly sanctify the priests. Aaron is commanded to make incense offerings to God every morning on an altar. God explains that once a year Aaron will make an offering on that altar to atone for all of the Israelites’ sins.

God chose these men to be in a position of spiritual leadership. In the days of the tabernacle and then later in the temple, they were responsible for the sacred service. The Hebrew word kohen actually means “to serve,” and a deeper connection can be found in the word ken, meaning “yes.”  Thus a priest, or kohen was called upon to direct himself, and others, in the proper service of God as Exodus 28:1 says: “And you, separate your brother Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites, and bring them close to you… so they can serve me.”

God has told Moses to receive the Israelites gifts and build a tent Sanctuary so God would have Divine Presence in their midst.

God said to Moses, “Tell the sons of Israel to use only pure hand-pressed olive oil to light a lamp continually. Arrange for it to burn from evening until morning in God’s Presence.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, considered to have been the most phenomenal Jewish personality of modern times said, “Everlasting flame” implies a state of perpetuity and changelessness. For such is our mission in life: to impart the eternity and perfection of the Divine to a temporal world…” We see the same message brought out, using a very similar word picture in Matthew 5:14 in the Christian scriptures when Yeshua said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill can not be hidden.”

From both examples, we learn that God intends for his people to serve as a light, which will point mankind to Himself. This was the purpose of the Menorah in the tabernacle. And this is the purpose of those who believe and trust in the God of Israel today.

God said, “You will then bring your brother Aaron and his sons nearer so they can be Kohens, priests who Minister to Me.” And in Chapter 28, God gives Moses very detailed instructions about the garments Aaron and his sons, the priests were to wear. He was specific in stating that skilled workers who were wise and talented should make them. He says to start with a woven apron with a gem mount for each shoulder, then engrave them each with six names of the twelve sons of Israel. Over his heart, as High Priest, Aaron shall wear a gold Breastplate of Judgment, embedded with twelve jewels, each engraved with the name of one son of Israel.  This, along with the Urim and Thumim, will ensure that the sons of Israel shall be upon Aaron’s heart when he comes before God and that he shall bear the judgment of the Children of Israel in his heart. He was to consider that he was the representative of the children of Israel; and the stones on the ephod and the stones on the breastplate were to remind Aaron that he was the priest and mediator of the twelve tribes. This idea is echoed in the Christian scriptures in James chapter 3, verse 1 where we are cautioned, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” This command to Aaron and the verse found in the book of James both serve to remind those in leadership of the weighty responsibility we’ve been entrusted with. The medieval French rabbi, Rashi said that the twelve stones also served “So that the Holy One, blessed is He, will see the tribes written before Him, and He will remember their righteousness.” Both of these ideas cause me to envision Aaron approaching the Lord with the weightiness of responsibility as well as a deep love, concern, and commitment to the people of Israel. It has also challenged me as I approach God in prayer to carry with me the names of the sons of Israel, the people of Israel as we are told in Psalm 122:6 to pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.

In Exodus 28, verse 36 God tells Moses, “For Aaron’s forehead, you shall make a head plate of pure gold inscribed with: “Holy to The Lord.” What a bold and humbling inscription to bear! “Holy to the Lord!” Aaron was not a deity. He was merely a man, flesh, and blood like you and I are. He was imperfect and in that imperfection, like all of us, he sinned. Yet, when he appeared in service to the Lord on behalf of the people, he appeared “Holy to the Lord.” What fear must have gripped Aaron’s heart, as he was dressed for service? I wonder if the secret things hidden deep within him that only he and God knew about distracted his mind. Or was he confident that although, he was human, and had failed as humans do, he was chosen by the ONE true God to serve in such a position. I think Aaron may have struggled much like some of us do today. Often times as people called into the service of God, we may become overwhelmed and discouraged by our humanness. We may wonder how God could ever choose us knowing every one of our weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings. Yet, we can declare along with the prophet Isaiah, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” ( Isaiah 61:10)

The rest of the parsha goes on to detail the remainder of the priestly garments as well as to state that Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister. God also says that it was to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants. And then God gives a very detailed description of how the priests were to be consecrated and more details regarding the altar of incense. Why so many details?

God summarized His purpose behind all of His ordinances in Numbers 37:40. He says, “‘You will remember to obey all of my commands. And you will be set apart for your God.

His desire was a people holy, sanctified, and set apart for Himself. A people who wouldn’t just blend in or get lost amongst the other people of the world. People marked by details. And today, as in the days of the tabernacle, God is longing for a people holy, sanctified, and set apart for Him. As we survey the happenings in the world today, it’s not difficult to see that we are living in days where the earth is covered with darkness. As more and more people are becoming comfortable with and accepting of things which God’s Word clearly calls sin it is as though we are an exact mirror image of what the prophet Isaiah says in Chapter 59, verses 7 through 13

Their feet rush into sin;
they are swift to shed innocent blood.
They pursue evil schemes;
acts of violence mark their ways.
The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.
They have turned them into crooked roads;
no one who walks along them will know peace.

So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
among the strong, we are like the dead.
11 We all growl like bears;
we moan mournfully like doves.
We look for justice, but find none;
for deliverance, but it is far away.

12 For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.

In the midst of such sin and lawlessness, God is still calling both men and women who will live lives of holiness. Men and women who will harken to every detail of His calling and obey. Men and women who, not by any means of their own, but because of the grace of God can wear upon their heads “Holy to the Lord;” A set apart people who will intercede on behalf of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

1 Peter 2:9 in the Christian scriptures says,But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, [God’s] own [a]purchased, special people, that you may set forth the wonderful deeds and display the virtues and perfections of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Rabbi Robert Lennick, the president and CEO of Religion in American Life would agree with this. He said,“History does in fact teach us that our people have always been committed to the doing of mitzvoth. In our time, this means reflecting and then committing ourselves to Torah, learning; devotion; and deeds of loving-kindness. In this sense we are all priests, bearers of God’s light. The eternal flame is not only a symbol in the sanctuary, it is also a burning flame within us that ignites our passion to repair the world.

So, as priests OF the One, True God, the God of Israel, how do we display, as did the priests of old, the virtues and perfections of God?

We too should be clothed in such a way that people are struck with awe and reverence for God. In the day and culture in which we live, though, such clothing would only serve to draw attention to us rather than to God. There are two ways that we can be clothed for holiness. The first is by wearing spiritual garments. The Christian scriptures, in Galatians 5:22 say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” These 9 fruit, as they are referred to, boldly display the virtues and perfections of God. We also wear garments that ready us for the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. In Ephesians 6:13 we are urged to, “Put on the full armor of God.” These garments include the belt of Truth, the breast plate of righteousness, feet fitted with readiness, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. Again, these are articles, which fully serve to display God’s virtues and perfection.

Secondly, I would like to suggest that it just might be of some importance that what we place on our physical bodies also point others to the holiness of God. I am not suggesting that we all wear t-shirts with Bible verses on them. And I am not, by any means, standing on the side of legalism. It is very evident, however, that the physical garments that the priests of old wore was very important to God.

I imagine a holy hush, an unequivocal reverence reserved only for such moments silently rippled throughout the people of Israel at the sight of the priests robed for their service. And at the mere sight, the people were reminded that they were set apart and their thoughts were immediately drawn to the ONE to whom they were set apart.

When I was a little girl, our family woke up early every Sunday morning to begin the routine of getting ready for church. I still have vivid memories of my father standing over the ironing board pressing all of our finest clothes. My mother always made sure our faces were cleaned and our hair was perfectly combed. My brother, one year younger than I am, always received compliments that he looked like a “little preacher” dressed in his 3-piece suit. I was taught that by giving special attention to our appearance, we were offering God our very best as we gathered to minister and serve. This is something, that each of us might want to consider within our own hearts.

At the very least, we should be challenged to ask ourselves, “Am I offering my very best to the Lord?” Am I giving attention to the details of my life?” Our lives do, after all, serve to represent God to a lost and dying world.

A wise religious leader once said, “God has three sorts of servants in the world: Some are slaves and serve God from fear; others are hirelings and serve for wages; and the last are children, who serve because they love.” When we truly serve with love, we give and prepare to give our very best, paying close attention to every, single detail.

As I contemplate this Torah Portion, I sense the heart of God saying, “Return to me, whole House of Israel. And return to me, wild olive branch grafted into the root, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Return to me in holiness and be set apart.”

Let’s pray:

Father God, Holy one of Israel, we praise you and glorify you. We bless you and magnify your name. We thank you that in you we are a royal priesthood and we receive that call to service with reverence, fear, and humility. We ask you for the grace to be holy as you are holy. You have set us apart as your holy people to be a light to the world. May our lights shine ever so brightly and even brighter as the days grow darker. Let every detail of our lives truly display your holiness and righteousness. Amen

In closing, I invite you to stand if you are able to as together we say the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9

 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

And with all your soul, and with all your might.

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home

And when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

Bind them as a sign on your hand; fix them as an emblem on your forehead,

And write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Thank you for joining us for this morning’s Torah devotion. God bless you and Shabbat Shalom.

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Hope

“They devoted themselves to the prophets’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

For as far back as I can remember I have heard people reference a longing to return to the days of the early Church, “The Acts 2 Church.” Having spent much time wandering the streets of Jerusalem, I must admit I can’t help but daydream about what those days must have been like. The words, the miracles, the numbers added daily! The two things that used to boggle my mind the most, however, are the love had and community shared by the first century believers. What would it look and feel like to be so devoted to God that you in turn devote yourself to others to the point of speaking covenantually,”What’s mine is yours.”

In July of 2007 Patrick & I found ourselves in the midst of new pages in life and being written upon with words we never expected. We had no home church. This was new to us and frankly speaking, it truly upset my idea of the Christian walk. Yes, I know the Church is not a building, but the corporate body of believers in Jesus as savior. I had always been a part of such a body. And now we were in a place where after 8 years of close intimate fellowship with people who had become family, it was just we four. We live in a city that is often times referred to as “crowded” with churches, so we began our search for the people we would join our children and ourselves to as our church family.

We awakened early each Sunday morning and went through the routine of preparing for church and drove across town to “try out” each new place. As we did I asked the Lord to lead us to the people He would have us call “home.” I didn’t lay out before Him my list of requests for what I’d like in a church. I only wanted for my family what God had for us; the man who would speak the Word as directed by God; the Sunday school teachers and children’s church leaders who would seek God weekly and partner with me and Patrick in training up our girls in the way they should go; worship that was pure, for and about Jesus; and a community that would love us like Jesus, regardless of where we had been, what we had done, or who we once were.

Finally, after months of searching which often times resulted in quitting, we found ourselves walking through the doors of Hope Community Church one Sunday morning in December.

We asked where to take our children for classes, checked them in, and walked into the sanctuary and found our seats all without being greeted. Ironically, this was perfect for us! Only God knew how desperately we wanted to just blend and not be noticed. He loved us so much and cared so much about us living out His plan to hide us from a community of people who are typically quick to greet visitors. This was His way of delicately aligning His plan for us, people who were so fragile we might have shattered at the slightest approach.

We settled in for only a couple minutes (we purposely got there as close to start time as possible so that we would not be forced to be “fake” with strangers). When the lights dimmed and the music began to play, in the darkness I heard an angelic voice begin to sing:

You’ve taken my pain and called me by a new name.

You’ve taken my shame and in its place, you give me joy.

You’ve taken my pain and called me by a new name.

You’ve taken my shame and in its place, you give me joy.

That’s all it took. I broke. I thrust my hands up in the air, the flood-gates flew open, and I began to weep in the presence of God. With those tears and as the song continued, I felt my soul going through a baptism. I received hope that with the death and burial of my old life, I might receive a new life and with it a new name and joy.

As the service closed out and the team returned to the stage to close out with the same song they opened with, I heard God speak to me through His Spirit saying, “This is your safe place.”

We returned faithfully week after week. After our initial “visit” we were greeted every week and many of the faces became more familiar until it was just natural to see the same people every week. But we continued to “sneak” in so we really did not have any names to go with many of the faces we saw.

It wasn’t until two years later that we felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit to truly commit to this community by receiving their friendship and offering ours. What has followed as a result has been like nothing we’ve ever experienced within a community of believers.

They have not only loved us, but they have loved our children, and they have nurtured our call by speaking words of prophecy and knowledge and praying for us and giving to us constantly.

Which brings me to 3 weeks ago, July 2012.

We were in Israel for three weeks, California for one week, and Dallas, TX for a few days for ministry and family time. The whole time we were away from home we were hearing about the record-breaking temperatures in and around Springfield. We were bracing ourselves to return home to an unbearable summer and I knew that this was weighing heavily on my husband.

We returned home at 8:30 on a hot Wednesday night to find a cool house and new air conditioners in three of our rooms including our two living areas and our daughters’ bedroom. These were gifts from people who chose not to divulge their names, but we know they were from our Hope family.

Dear Hope Family,

There are no words to express the gratitude in our hearts (although I may have already written much more than some may have the patience or time to read:). Your gifts over the past 3 years have touched us much deeper than many we have received from others in the past, because we know that they came from wells of love and altars of sacrifice. You have provided for us, and more importantly for our girls, what we could not. We do not take this lightly. We love you all deeply and will always praise God for guiding us through the silent halls of Hope on that somber Sunday morning 5 years ago. In doing so, He lead us to YOU. Our desire is to be as much of a blessing to you, or more, as you have been to us.

We are so excited because we see in the Word that love like you have given us is often times followed up with “the Lord add[ing] to their number daily those… being saved.” (Acts 2:47) And that is our ultimate desire as a community.

We love you, our treasured friends,

Patrick, Rebecca, Eden, & Leia

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Leia Michal

Leia Michal – 1 week old.

Standing in the elevator riding down to the parking garage with my husband, tears began filling my eyes. It’s a girl. The ultrasound showed I was having another girl. I knew I could love another baby just as deeply as I did my first born if it was a boy. But, how could my heart possibly respond so to another girl? I didn’t share these thoughts with anyone during my pregnancy, but pondered them for several weeks.

As time went by and my belly swelled with life, I found myself torn as I began to fall fiercely in love with this little one whose face I had not yet seen. I wondered what she would look like. Would she look like her sister? Would she have dark skin like me? Was it possible she’d have blue eyes like her daddy? My excitement over this new baby was different. It wasn’t the awe and wonder that comes with your first-born. It was the more mature expectation that only comes from walking in familiar steps. I knew what to expect and I was so excited to journey there again.

Mommy and “both her girls.” Leia – 1 year old.

She didn’t receive the brand new clothes and baby gear her sister received. She would get clothes and gear that had been used. And somehow, I just knew she could handle that. I sensed that she was understanding and not the jealous type; that she was perfectly ok with being the second recipient of everything she’d receive.

She was born one day before her due date. How just like her! And as she entered this world something completely unexpected happened. A chamber of my heart I never knew existed burst wide open and a wellspring of fresh, brand new love came alive. I didn’t have to borrow from the love I gave to my oldest daughter. This new baby would receive a love that only belonged to her; a love I never thought I was capable of.

We named her Leia Michal. I loved the name Leia, but when I looked up the meaning in a Baby Name book, we learned that it was not a pleasant one. It means “weary.” Who wants to name their beautiful little girl “weary?” I tried to like other names with stronger meanings, but in the end, I just could not shake off Leia. So, we decided we would tell people the meaning of her name based off of the spiritual connotation found in a different book: “Beauty and Grace.” And we gave her the middle name Michal, which means “One who is like the Lord.”

Leia and her lifelong friend Ellie as flower girls in Tio Chris & Tia Laura Wiggs’ wedding. 2 years old.

Believing wholeheartedly that there is spiritual significance in what you name your child, I wrestled with whether or not her name was a mistake. Then one Sunday morning, the Lord revealed to me the true meaning of the name Leia. We were in a church service in Texas and the pastor’s message was about “High Praise.” He spoke from Genesis chapter 29 about how Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob always hoped to earn her husbands love through the sons she bore him. Finally, she realized that her children were not going to purchase her husband’s love. And verse 35 tells us,

 “ She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.”

Experience had made Leah wise enough to turn to praise in the midst of her seemingly hopeless circumstance. The pastor pointed out that up until that point in Bible history, the people of Israel had only worshipped. This is the first mention of praise and it came from Leah. At this revelation, my spirit leapt inside of me as I remembered a prophecy spoken over my baby when she was still in my womb:

“The baby in your womb will be a praise warrior!”

And she is. My Leia is a praise warrior. She lifts her little hands and dances before the Lord in praise. God, her father, and I will nurture her to know that she will dispel darkness through her praise. I know we’ve only seen the beginning of things to come as she continues to cling to Jesus with adoration, worship, and praise.

3 years old.

She sees angels and hears the voice of God and I am awe-struck at her closeness to my savior; to her savior. My nose sits perfectly in the center of her face, proudly declaring that she is mine. And she takes in her surroundings through her daddy’s eyes. They are evidence that she is the product of love.

Her kisses are sweet and wet and her snuggles are executed in a way that suggest her ownership over her daddy and me. She’s my little comedienne and will in no way relinquish that role in our family.

4 years old.

It’s a wonder that something so perfect and beautiful and heavenly could come from me. I gently outline the entirety of her face with my finger tips and for a brief moment I am sobered by the reality that I am touching eternity. She was formed in my womb by the One who has no beginning and no end, and she has been set apart for works which only her giftings and personality can carry out. I am humbled and tremble with reverence for God that I have been entrusted with the responsibility of training her up in the way she should run.

Happy 7th Birthday, my sweet Lei Lei Mikey!

5 years old.

6 years old.

My silly girl! 6 years old.

Leia and Mommy on Cinco de Mayo, 2012. Leia is 19 days short of 7 years old.

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