Our Season of Joy and Repentance

Standard
The Lord’s fall holidays are upon us. It is the time of year when we go into introspective mode, examining the struggles of the year and preparing for the next. It’s a time of making this last year’s wrongs right. It is a time of fellowship, discipleship, and expectation. It’s a time when we contemplate what atonement means. But most importantly it is a season of joy, despite the seriousness. The month of Elul is an entire month of preparation for the upcoming holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. It is a month where one is supposed to read Psalm 27 daily and concentrate on what it means to dwell in God’s presence. There’s a lot of shofar blowing too. It is supposed to rouse your heart for the upcoming events which are both sobering and exhilerating. Think of the month of Elul as a gift from God. It is the gift of time to prepare for the holiest of seasons. From September 16- October 9 this year, expect to devote your time to God. I suppose thats why I love the structure of Biblical Judaism so much. In almost every month and season, there are specific concentrations and obligations that you submit your heart to. After spending an entire year living within the structure of God’s calendar, which he provided in his Word, I am realizing more and more that my time does not belong to me. It belongs to God. I’m grateful for all these holidays to serve as a remember to keep God on the frontlets of my mind. In this structure is the perfect solution for discipleship. Every Shabbat naturally belongs to God and there are several holidays and fasts throughout the year that not only draw you closer to God but closer to your local congregation. Generally, these are special Shabbats, in which no regular work should be done. Millions of people are going to be sacrificing their time and setting aside the cares of this world to lay out there hearts before God. Below is a list of the various holidays of the fall months: September 16-18: Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah, Feast of Trumpets, Jewish New Year, Begins the 10 Days of Awe) September 16-25:The 10 Days of Awe (A Time of Reflection before the Day of Atonement) September 25-26: Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, Bible-mandated fast day) September 30- October 7: Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles, Y’shua’s logical birthday, a reminder of deliverance and how God dwelled among men) October 7-9: Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (the 8th day and rejoicing in the law, the end and beginning of a new Torah cycle)
 
Rosh Hashanah/ Yom Teruah is the Jewish New Year. On this day you wish each other “Shanah Tovah”, a good year. We eat honeys, apples, pomegranates and other sweets in hopes that we might have a sweet new year. We gather at a body of water to symbolically remember Micah 7:19- “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” The shofar sounds as a call to repentance. There are various prayers and services offered at most synagogues. For example, mine will have a party when Rosh Hashanah begins in the evening. Then the next day, we’ll literally be camping out all day at the synagogue doing the special prayers and Rosh Hashanah liturgy. We’ll also head to the lake and read the book of Micah.
 
The 10 Days of Awe are like 10 presents in the form of days that God gives to his people to prepare for the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur. During the 10 days of Awe, one generally reads the entire book of Psalms. Also, readings from the book of Isaiah are common, since much of the book focuses on repentance and seeking God when there is time (Isaiah 55). This is an intense time of devotion to the Scriptures, prayer, repentance, and getting right with God and your fellow man. The 10 days call for extra charitable giving and deeds of kindness. Many people use this time to write out certain areas of their life (thoughts, deeds, words, emotions, social relations, Torah Observance, etc) and examine how well they did that year, how the misdeeds can be fixed, and what they need to improve on next year. For example, if you remember that you said some really rude things to your sister last year and never apologized, call her immediately and ask for forgiveness. If you realized that you struggled with impure thoughts, you make it a special point to set on mind on the pure and lovely things and repent of the impure thoughts of last year.
 
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It is a commanded day of fasting. It is the Day of Atonement. It is a very solemn day on which you contemplate what atonement is. Yet it is a day of joy because we, who believe in Yeshua as Messiah, find our spiritual atonement in him. It is a day of expectation because we understand that one day there will be a physical and spiritual final atonement of all Israel. The whole world will then submit to God. The Day of Atonement is explained in Leviticus 16:30- “For on this day He will forgive  you, to purify  you, that you be cleansed from all your sins  before God” (Leviticus 16:30). I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and  purify us from all unrighteousness.” While one can confess any day of the year (and should), Yom Kippur is a special day set aside to concentrate on God’s forgiveness. On this day there are 5 prayer services, the Psalms are read throughout the day. We concentrate on the attributes of God, read the book of Jonah, and recite the Shema at the end.
 
Sukkot is an special holiday in which you actually build a temporary “booth”, “tent”, or something like a mini-fort in your backyard. Some actually sleep in their sukkot/sukkah but most just eat their meals in it. This is a time of fellowship and parties. Generally, different members of the congregation invite each other over for parties in the backyard. It is a way to remember God rescuing the Jews from Israel but it is also a special holiday for Messianic Jews. It is the most logical time of Yeshua’s birthday. It was a time when God literally “dwelled among men” and tabernacled with them. Also, Yeshua revealed much about his character during the Feast of Tabernacles. Read John 7 to get a better understanding of this. It is no coincidence that Yeshua said these things during this time. Water is a very special theme during Sukkot. When Yeshua speaks about living water in verses 37-39, it was especially significant because Yeshua would have been saying he was the Living Water as water was being poured out over the altar on the Feast of Tabernacles.
 
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the fall after-parties. Shemini Atzeret means “the 8th day of Retention”. People still party in the sukkahs. The Messianic symbolism has a lot to do with end times. The 8th day has a deep significance. Basically, it is a symbol of heaven and our eternal rest. After all has been completed (6 days of work, 1 mandated day of rest), there is the 8th day which symbolizes heaven. This day is sort of a mystery, as it should be. It is significant none the less.
 
Simchat Torah is the end and beginning of the Torah Cycle. Those who are faithfully committed to reading through Torah during the year will end at Deuteronomy and begin again in Genesis on this day. Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in the Torah”. The time of the Sukkah is over, as are the fall holidays. Yet it is a time of joy. We are into the new year and a new Torah cycle. A fresh year is stretching out before us. Prayers of blessing over God’s Word are recited. It is a day of endless joy.
 
I summarize these times, reminding the reader that these holidays aren’t just quaint Jewish traditions. They aren’t even “Jewish” holidays, they are the Lord’s Feasts ( Leviticus 23:1- “these are MY appointed feasts”). They are a part of the commandments that draw us closer to God by faith and obedience. Deuteronomy 4:5-8 says, “See, I have taught  you decrees and laws as the Lord my God  commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take  possession of it. Observe them  carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who  will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise  and understanding people.’ What other nation  is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other  nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of  laws I am setting before you today?”
 
Participating in these holidays are a privilage! This this upcoming season be a time of contemplation and joy for us all.  

Broken Vessels

Standard

Jeremiah 2:13 “My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of Living Water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

At interactive science museums all across America, generally there is a water play station for the children. For example, at the Boston Children’s Museum, there is a room with a make shift river elevated for children to play with boats, utensils, and bowls. My son picked up a colander, a plastic cylinder with holes in it. He was getting frustrated that the water kept seeping out of the holes and not staying inside.

His young mind didn’t understand that vessels with holes eventually loose all the water in them. The water may stay in for a while but it all comes out in time. To keep it filled, it would be an endless process of filling and refilling, only to see the water continuously flowing away despite all your efforts to keep it full.

Such is life, is it not? Isn’t it a seemingly endless task of trying to stay full? We eat and are never permanently full. We drink and are never permanently quenched. There is no magic pill we can take to ward of all diseases for good. Emotionally, one experience of every feeling isn’t satisfactory either. One happy memory won’t keep us happy for life. Life is a continual attempt to address the various needs that occur daily.

Whether some people will admit it or not, there are spiritual needs that must be met during life. To avoid them is like avoiding a gaping wound or allowing a parched field to go up in flames. To neglect your spiritual needs is to set yourself up for a life not lived to its fullest potential. Dare I say that it is even dangerous to avoid the spiritual needs of life?

And yet we try to fill up these spiritual needs with emotional highs and material possessions. Doing this is like giving a flower to a dying person. At times, it may be beautiful but its not the medicine needed for healing. Without God, we are thirsty, hungry, sick, and never truly satisfied. Without God, we are continuously searching for an adequate substitute. To avoid God is to avoid life as it was meant to be lived. No matter how many cars, mansions, causes, sexual experiences, wild nights, designer clothes, babies, husbands, jewelry, books, degrees, or places you travel to, if you look to these things and experiences to fill you up, you will be looking forever and never truly experience peace.

Simply put, as stated above, it is a sin to forsake God, the Fountain of Living Water and to make your own defunct vessels that are in-equipped to permanently satisfy. If you chose to ignore or forsake God, you are choosing a life of continuous strife. The most beautiful life is the life that is characterized by peace and quiet contentment. Finding God, what he wants for you, what his will is, how to please him, how to truly love him and love others is the way you replace your handmade, broken vessel for one that stays permanently full of the Living Water.

Here is a promise, satisfaction guaranteed, found in Isaiah 12:1-3- ” On that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my Salvation (Y’shua); I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (Y’shua)’. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Y’shua).”

I can say that I have a genuine peace, a peace that passes all understanding because I have chosen to look to the God of the Universe for my ultimate spiritual satisfaction. When I try to satisfy myself, it always ends badly or leaves me feeling empty but when I submit to his Way and his Y’shua (salvation), I am at peace, complete peace.

I’ve heard too many friends say that they can’t believe in God because life is so unfair and at times it can be disgusting. But my friends, life is not a direct reflection of God and to look to the temporal things is like embracing a mirage. We live in a universe under the curse of sin. Essentially we are operating in something like a computer system that has been affected by a virus. We are functioning but not operating to our fullest potential until we tap into the healing powers of Creator God. We must acknowledge that life without God will never satisfy. In the end, all the experiences and things will seep away into nothingness, leaving us empty again. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

This promise is echoed perfectly in Isaiah 55 and sums up exactly what I wish to share with all my friends, family, loved ones, acquaintances, work colleagues, and any stranger that I could one day pass along the way. There is hope for spiritual satisfaction. There is a way to stop the needless searching and find rest for your soul. Let God replace the broken vessels of your heart and fill you up with Living Water.

Isaiah 55 (See also Matthew 11, John 4, and 7)

1 Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

3 Give ear and come to me;

hear me, that your soul may live.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you,

my faithful love promised to David (code word for Messiah).

4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander of the peoples.

5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,

and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,

because of the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel,

for he has endowed you with splendor.”

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;

call on him while he is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake his way

and the evil man his thoughts.

Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,

and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 As the rain and the snow

come down from heaven,

and do not return to it

without watering the earth

and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

12You will go out in joy

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thorn bush will grow the pine tree,

and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown,

for an everlasting sign,

which will not be destroyed.”

Headed to My Promised Land

Standard

For a while, I have been struggling spiritually with apathy. It has been hard for me just to get out my Bible and pray. I felt like I was continuously coming before God asking him to help me with the same things over and over again. In my frustration, I purposefully drifted farther way from HaShem. In my mind, he wasn’t moving me in the direction I wanted, so I was just going to back off for a while.

If I’ve learned anything, though, about having a walk with God is that you have to stay deeply rooted no matter how much you want to resist it. The best advice I’ve ever gotten about staying close to God is to read the Word, attend congregation, and pray every day even if you don’t feel like it. Even if the words seem empty, read. Even if the service seems mechanical. attend. Even if you can only muster enough will power to pray the prayers that were pre-written for you thousands of years ago. Read them. Pray them. Do not forsake the assembly.

Such was the case yesterday. For once in about two months, I was actually excited to attend Shabbat services. A guest speaker was coming to talk about the deity of Messiah, the traditional Jewish objections to it, and to promote his book: The Return of the Kosher Pig by Rabbi Tzahi Shapira.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/ReturnOfTheKosherPig

I had invited a friend and I really think that was what made me go to congregation yesterday morning. I was running late. The kosher short ribs I had cooked for oneg had literally shrunk in the crock pot and looked pathetic. The lemon bars I had made fell apart as I tried to transfer them to a different container. My mother was upset that I was going to be gone all day and she had to watch my son. I was nervous about having a friend come to congregation, to see into the world of my spiritual reality. It was one of those days where I had to force myself into going. But I’m so glad I went.

I do not generally consider myself a “charismatic” person. I tend to be practical, even with my spirituality. I understand that feelings aren’t necessarily evidence and too often produce a one time experience that leaves you unchanged the next day. But yesterday, observing the joy, excitement, and freedom of my peers, I let my guard down and allowed myself to inch closer to God’s presence for the first time in quite awhile. Essentially, I put my guard down, stopped doing the spiritual things with rote mechanics, and allowed myself to yield myself to the Spirit of God.

As Rabbi Shapira was reading the Torah Portion (D’varim/ Deuteronomy 6:1-9), I chose to concentrate on the idea that when you hear the Words of Torah, it literally washes you clean. This idea is from Ezekiel 36:25-29 and Ephesians 5:26. Since the Word of God is pure (Proverbs 30:5), hearing it brings purity into your life. I was concentrating on this concept, as Rabbi Shapira canted the Words of Torah. I opened up the windows and doors of my heart and I could feel the Water seeping in.

It was slow as if someone turned on a low power water hose and just layed it on the parched ground. Just as water seems to just flow into the cracked, dry ground like a magnet, so the Spirit entered in. Not only did I feel washed, I felt satisfied. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was for the truth, for cleansing, for just the presence of the Spirit of my God near me. In an instant, I relaxed and repented and began to pray for everything I could think of.

Rabbi Shapira’s message must have come in an email form from the Holy Spirit. “Dear Tzahi, There’s a woman in the congregation that needs to here this message. Say it exactly like this because she needs to hear this way. Thanks! The Ruach HaKodesh” He spoke from the Torah Portion again: D’varim 3:23-28.

Moshe was pleading/begging/crying out to HaShem to let him go and see the Promised Land. He had led the people to it up to this point and so deeply desired to enter in. God did not want to keep him out, but Moshe deserved to be kept out because of sin. God in mercy did grant part of Moshe’s request. He was allowed to climb a mountain and see (have vision) of the Promised Land.

What was the sin that kept Moshe from entering into the Land of Milk and Honey, Rest and Peace? The Children of Israel had been grumbling about water. Moshe went before God and asked God to help. God told him to speak to the Rock and Water would come out. However, when Moshe went to the Rock, he was still so angry about the Israelites that he struck the Rock. Water still gushed out. God still provided but there would naturally be consequences for going against God’s Word.

What kept Moshe out of the Promised Land was him hitting a rock, instead of speaking to it. That doesn’t sound that bad, right? But it represents something spiritual. Beating the rock is like physically making your own way, scheming, plotting, planning, grasping, etc. Speaking to the rock is obedience, prayer, resting, trusting, etc. Will going your own way and doing your own thing keep you out of the Promised Land?

Having already opened up my heart to the washing of the Water of the Word of God, I felt the nudging of the Spirit. In Words tender and true, the Ruach HaKodesh quieted my soul once more: “You will see your Promised Land. Stop trying to get there by your own merits. I want you to see it. Let me lead you there.” I almost felt like crying.

My Promised Land isn’t the physical Eretz Yisrael, although I would love to be there one day. My Promised Land isn’t the obvious Shabbat School answer: Heaven, although I will be going there one day. My Promised Land is something tangible on this earth: a husband who loves HaShem with his entire being and a job that I can enjoy, take pride in, and directly serve HaShem in.

I received a promise yesterday: “I WILL lead you there. You are “beating the Rock”, trying to make your dream job and your dream husband happen your own way, giving into fear and frustration. Stop. Speak to the Rock. When you feel anxious, pray about it. Rest in the FACT that I will lead you there. I am the God who does not lie. Believe me. I am leading you there the best way possible.”

I also understood a personal truth. If I continue to “beat the Rock” and try and force the goodness to flow from it, I will be standing alone up on a Spiritual mountain with only a taste of the Promise Land, rather than dwelling in it. It was a cease and desist warning. In my silent prayer response to the whispers of the Spirit, I agreed and yield once again.

The rest of the day was wonderful. I learned so much during the Yeshiva (school/seminar) and felt confident once again in my choice not only to believe in Yeshua but to live as he did: as a Jew who just so happens to accept that Messiah has come once as a suffering servant and will return again in power. My faith was restore. My soul was refreshed. I am bound for the Promised Land.

 

17th of Tammuz

Standard

Fasting is generally supposed to be a private matter, except when it is a communal fast. The 17th of Tammuz is such a fast. This is an opportune time to talk about Judaism, the history of Israel, and share the faith. It’s a time to talk about what is spiritually expected during a fast and what we can hopefully learn from it.

People generally fast to “get close to God”. Many times people fast as a show of their dedication or so they can concentrate on a special prayer need. These are personal fasts and should be private. However, the fasts instituted by the sages in Judaism to encourage remembrance are public expressions of faith and an opportunity for unification.

Today is actually the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar, however, one is not supposed to fast on the Sabbath day. The Sabbath is a day of rest and rejoicing. A fast day is a day of mourning, humility, and contrition. If a fast day falls on the Shabbat, unless it is Yom Kippur, it is done that Sunday.

The 17th of Tammuz begins a three week mourning period in which the People of God the destruction of Jerusalem and how the Temple was destroyed twice. But the day itself also mourns five other events in Jewish history: when Moses broke the first set of stone tablets with the 10 Words written on them after seeing the people worshipping a golden calf, the cessation of the daily sacrifices due to the siege of Jerusalem, the burning of the Torah by Apostomos (a pagan ruler), the presence of an idol in the Temple, and the breaching of the Walls of Jerusalem in 69 CE (www.chabad.org).

This fast goes beyond the obvious: we are sad that in Jerusalem things are not as they should be. There is no Temple, which means God’s presence is not physically on earth. This is a misunderstood concept in Judaism but sad nonetheless. It is the physically representation of distance and discipline. I will be concentrating on the physicality of the Temple’s destruction only briefly tomorrow. Rather, I am going to be concentrating on the five other reasons to mourn and what they mean to me on a personal, spiritual level.

1) The Golden Calf (Exodus 32)- Israel was not actually worshipping cows or setting up a different religion when they asked Aharon to make them the calf. It was a physical representation of Adonai’s power. When Moses went up the mountain, God’s presence was concentrated on the mountain and no longer with the people. They craved a physical reminder because their faith was weak. But instead of praying and reminiscing on all the good things God had done from them (spiritually), they demanded a physical reminder and got off track.

Tomorrow, I’ll be examining my life for any Golden Calves…aka…idols in my life that I’m seeking instead of HaShem’s presence. Is there something I want more than His Spirit dwelling within me? If so, I need to knock and down and drink the bitter water of idolatry.

2) Cessation of Daily Sacrifices- When the siege was laid against Jerusalem, they could no longer make daily sacrifices. For some reason when I think about this I think about my finances. Are they submitted to God? Am I bringing the tithe and offerings to the storehouses as I should, accurately and with joy? Am I working toward less debt, more savings? Tomorrow I’ll be confessing some serious monetary mishaps and focusing on how important it is to have even my finances submitted to God. That way, when the sieges of life come I’ll have a storehouse I can bring before God without fear of want.

3) The Burning of the Torah- Today at my synagogue’s oneg (potluck delight), I was discussing with an older, enthusiastic man about the joys of Torah Obedience. “Isn’t it nice that HaShem in his mercy gave us a standard of living so we wouldn’t have to make it up and mess it up for ourselves?” I love his attitude. Most people have a Torah Aversion rather than Torah Observance! Instead of having a negative attitude about God’s Laws, we can find joy in obeying them. They make us holy and help protect us from ourselves.

My heart breaks when people mock God’s Word. It can’t image how awful it is when people’s Holy Books are burned. It’s a slap in the face, no matter what religion you are. But to burn Torah, God’s Standard of living for his people? It’s not just a book that burns but an entire civilization. Tomorrow I’ll be concentrating on the Joy that Torah brings to my life and pray for those who reject it.

4) Idol in the Temple- Again, like the Golden Calves in my life, I want to focus on the idols I have…especially the things that aren’t even in connection with God. Anything that is more important than keeping Torah is an idol. I’ll be praying that I have a Hanukkah in July…a “rededication” of my own personal Temple and that it is cleansed of any idols.

5) Breaching of the Walls- Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” I know there are areas in my life where the walls have been breached. My prayer is for self-control or rather to be controlled by the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit).

The 17th of Tammuz is going to be a day of prayer, Scripture reading, self-denial, self-examination, and unification. I’m lifting up my fellow Jews who do not yet proclaim the name Yeshua, who struggle with the concept of Messiah, and who keep looking toward the physical things of Torah to make them righteous instead of the God’s salvation and righteous which he gives freely to all who call on his Yeshua (salvation). I’ll also be praying for the members of the “Church”, who lack an understanding of their Hebraic Roots and the Jewish Messiah who is to come, and especially for deliverance from the lack of desire to embrace the Torah Way of Life. But mainly I’ll be praying for myself.

God alone can change others but I want him to change me. Tomorrow isn’t a day about what I’m doing right. It’s about what I need to change and submit to HaShem. I want to confess his Saving Name and pray for his help to be a better Believer, to be more observant, to let my light shine brighter than the sun. It’s a time to mourn my own reversion back to the sin nature, which was wash away by my mikveh and my faith in Yeshua. But more than anything, it’s a chance to patch up the breaches in the wall of my heart.

Psalm 51:9-17 “Turn your face from my sins and erase all of my crimes.  Create in me a pure heart, oh, HaShem, and renew your right Spirit within me. Do not cast me out from before you and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. But return your sweetness to me and your salvation and your glorious Spirit will hold me. For I shall teach the evil your road and sinners will turn to you. Save me from blood, my God, God of my Yeshua (salvation), and my tongue will praise your righteousness! YHWH, open my lips for me, and my mouth will sing your glory. Because you have not desired sacrifices, neither have you chosen burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a humble spirit; God does not reject a broken heart.”

 

 

 

My Spiritual Summer Romance

Standard

In between the joy of our Season of Redemption (Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of First Fruits, the Days of Omer, Shavuot) and the sobering, reflective times of Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets/ Rosh Hashanah), the 10 Days of Awe, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), the 8th Day celebration, and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law) are the long, seemingly silent months of Summer.

On God’s Calendar there are no appointed times during the summer months. There is a lot of symbolism in this fact. Just as we are anticipating Yeshua’s return and it seems at times that God is so distant, he in fact is drawing nearer by the day. There are important lessons to be learned in during the waiting of the summer months. This year, I believe my biggest lesson is that of R.O.M.A.N.C.E.

I am not talking of an ordinary romance. In fact, if you know me closely you know that last year at Simchat Torah, I took a vow to re-read the Bible for the 8th time, pray for the Muslim Central Asian countries, and remain single until the year’s Torah Cycle was over. I am so grateful that I took this vow because I believe it has prevented me from scheming (I’m such a Jacob), trying to make my own way, and throwing myself headlong into something akin to relational disaster. This way, I can focus on developing my relationship with HaShem….after that, who knows? A girl can only hope. However, I needed to address some spiritual issues alone with God during this year.

Believers have now officially entered the summer months of silence on God’s calendar. What is God speaking to me as I wait with anticipation for the next feasts? Love. Romance. Desire. Adoration. Affection. Really, Adonai? At a time that I am supposed to be 1000% focused on you, you put ROMANCE on my brain? Yes. God is revealing a different side of himself to me. One that not many are comfortable talking about. God as a Husband. God is romancing….me.

One of my favorite books is Captivating by John and Stasi Eldridge. It is a book for women that seeks to let the Balm of Gilead (Yeshua’s Love) into a woman’s heart, healing the hurts of the past, the wounds of this fallen world, and the constant assault on womankind in general by the Adversary. But besides stating the obvious (“We are hurt and we need healing”), it deals with the fact that the Creator God of this universe uniquely and passionately loves us in many ways. He loves us like a Father, like a Friend, like a Savior, and like a Husband. In fact, all the deepest desires of my heart to be a wife and a mother of a quiverfull stem from the fact that deep inside me I long for the Perfect Love of a Perfect Husband. One that gave himself up for the Bride’s ransom.

I’d like to share a beautiful paragraph from Captivating- “A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she’s loved. We’ve seen this many times- you probably have too. Cut off from love, rejected, no one pursuing her, something in a woman wilts like a flower no one waters anymore. She withers into resignation, duty, and shame. The radiance of her countenance goes out, as if a light has been turned off. But this same woman, who everyone thought was rather plain and unengaging, becomes lovely and inviting when she is pursued. Her heart begins to come alive, come to the surface, and her countenance becomes radiant. We wonder, ‘Where has she been all these years? Why, she really is captivating.’” (page 112)  And this has nothing really to do with the imperfect love of a man and everything to do with the all-consuming love of our God, the Redeeming Husband.

Is it OK to think that the Melekh ha Olam, El Shaddai, Adonai, the One was Was, the One who Is, and the One who Is to Come passionately loves me on an individual level? Looking back over my life, I would definitely say, “YES!” He loves me and he has been romancing me since youth.

I think about my favorite things to visually take in: a sunset over the lake, sterling roses, a shooting star, a horse running in a field, a brand new baby, old people holding hands, people reading God’s Word, smiles on the faces of the people I love. I think about my favorite sensory experiences: the touch of my son’s baby fine hair, the smell of challah baking in my oven, the taste of lavender creme brulee, the sound of voices singing to God in unity. Could it be that I wasn’t merely made to enjoy these things but rather, these things were made especially by God for me…for my enjoyment and pleasure? Absolutely. The purpose of all beautiful things and experiences exist to draw my heart closer to the heart of God.

It is spiritual and Biblical to be romanced by God. Why else do we have the book of the Song of Solomon? There is an obvious love story between a man and a woman. There is an ideal love story between God and Israel. But there is also a deeper level of mystical love between that of God and his Creation (you and me). Song of Solomon says that we have literally “stolen” God’s heart. His banner (tallit) over us is love. In the Book of Psalms, it says that the King is “enthralled” by MY beauty! In the book of Hosea (one of my favorites), in chapter two it says that God “allures” and “speaks tenderly” to the wayward woman (a picture of any one who has ever wandered from God’s side).

We were made for romance, love, friendship, and intimacy on all the obvious human levels. But what about the realization that God is ardently pursuing you, loving you, wooing you into a deeper relationship with him? He longs to be known and be loved, praised, and glorified. He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31). Every good gift is from HIM (James 1). This is the kind of summer romance I will be delving into. I want to know what it means to be the apple of his eye. I want to know what its like to drink in his presence and be overcome by his love. I want to glow with the realization that in God’s eyes I am beautiful, simply because I am his.

One day, I will experience the earthly, physical, godly romance between a man and a woman. But that time is not now, not until Simchat Torah anyway. I am currently embracing a love of a different level, one that is not a type and a shadow. It is the good thing that I have been searching for my whole life. And I am finally submitting myself to the possibility of being romanced by God. 
 

A Holiday for the Happy

Standard

In my former post, I briefly explained Shavuot. I wanted to further express my excitement about this weekend’s upcoming holiday and further explain the meaning and significance of it. I’m calling this post on Shavuot a “Holiday for the Happy” because it is actually a commandment to rejoice during it.

In Judaism, this is categorized as a positive commandment for a Yom Tov (a Good Day). Not only are we required to observe this holiday, we are commanded to rejoice while we keep it. Let’s look at the two main passages that explain Shavuot, which in English means the Feast of Weeks. Incidentally, it is called “Pentecost” by Christians, and this translated as “50”. There are 50 days of counting during the days of Omer. So, Pentecost isn’t merely a day that happened statically once 2000 years ago. It has been observed and celebrated since the time of Moshe. “Pentecost” is actually an ancient Jewish holiday and not a “new” testament concept at all. It is estimated that Shavuot had been celebrated for 1500 years before the “Pentecost” of Acts 2.

The two main passages are found in Deuteronomy 16 and Leviticus 23. Leviticus 23 should be one’s go-to chapter if they are interested in celebrating God’s holidays biblically.

Deuteronomy 16:9-12 “Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.”

Leviticus 23:15-21- “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of first fruits to the Lord. Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the first fruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest. On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.”

 

After one celebrated the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of First Fruits, one is to count 50 days. This time is known as “Counting the Days of Omer”. I have a post on this too. Basically, it is a daily reminder of the connection between Passover and Shavuot, Redemption and Discipleship, Salvation and the Law/Spirit. You simply cannot have one without the other. Without Salvation, there is legalism and without the Law and the Spirit, there is anarchy.

When the count is over, the Feast of Weeks begins. It is a Shabbat (you can do no work). It is a day of freewill gifts, tasty treats, remembrance of where you’ve come from, and a time of rejoicing. It is a “forever” commandment. Basically this means, no matter the circumstances Shavuot should be celebrated until the end of time, wherever you live.

Traditions of Shavuot are fancy clothing, small presents, decorating your house with flowers, eating cheese and fish dishes, reading of the 10 Commandments, reading of the Book of Ruth, and an all-night reading of the Scriptures. Here are some brief explanations of the traditions (most of these explanations come from

www.chabad.org):

Book of Ruth-

this is read because Shavuot is the supposed birthday of King David, Ruth’s great grandson. The language describing the harvest in the Book of Ruth is appropriate for the Feast of Weeks. It the story of a woman who chose to embrace the True God and thus his Torah. Shavuot is a celebration of the receiving of the Torah. Also, in my opinion, Ruth is a great book to be read on Shavuot because Boaz and Ruth’s marriage covenant mimics the covenant entered into by God and the People of Israel. Ruth’s choice to serve the God of Abraham shows that Shavuot is a celebration for Gentile Believers as well.

Eating Dairy-

this has a lot to do with what can be ate during a Yom Tov (animals for consumption cannot be slaughtered and eaten). Mainly, the Torah is nourishing like milk. It is sweet to the taste (if you so chose to see the good of the Word of God). Jeremiah 15:16 says, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” Also Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

The Ten Commandments-

this is perhaps the most important tradition. Shavuot is the celebration of how 50 days after Passover, the People of God received the Law. The true celebration of Shavuot is that God gave His People the prescribed way to live life. Also, it is the time how 50 days after Yeshua was slain as the ultimate Passover Lamb and 10 days after his ascension, the People of God received the Spirit which now enabled them to keep the Law. Jeremiah 31:33 says, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Also, Ezekiel 36:25-29 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.”

These are just the traditions but I want to focus on the joy of this holiday. The Torah, God’s Holidays, and God himself are worthy to be rejoiced in. The Law is good, God’s Appointed Times are good, and God is good. To end, I want to list these verses from my favorite chapter of the Bible, Psalm 119.

Psalm 119:16

I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

Psalm 119:24

Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.

Psalm 119:35 Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.

Psalm 119:47

And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.

Psalm 119:77 Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.

Psalm 119:92

Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.

Psalm 119:143 Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.

Psalm 119:174 I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD; and thy law is my delight.

It’s time to celebrate Shavuot and to celebrate the gift of the Torah and Spirit. Let us delight in our Season of Redemption and a God so good that not only did he give us his timeless Law but he gave us his Spirit to keep it!

Immersed…

Standard

ImageShavuot (Pentecost as some call it) is approaching. One week from today my congregation will be in full-out celebration mode. We’ll stuff our faces with gefilte fish and cheesecakes. We’ll read the Book of Ruth, the 10 Commandments in every language represented in the congregation, read Torah and Proverbs into the wee hours of the night, and more importantly have a mikvah the the morning light.

What is a mikvah….and what is Shavuot? A mikvah is an immersion and Shavuot is the celebration of when the Torah was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai and how thousands of years later, the people of God were given another gift: the Spirit.

I have heard it explained that when the Torah was given to Moshe on the Mountain that it was similar to a wedding. (Perhaps that is wear all of the Jewish wedding traditions stem from.)There was a ketubah (contract), there was a blood sacrifice (you figure that one out), there was a Chuppah (HaShem’s Presence Covering the Mountain), and there was a mikvah (the total immersion of both Law and Spirit, cleansing, and rebirth).

It is a commandment to celebrate Shavuot (see Leviticus 23). Just as we are to celebrate Passover to remember our Redeemer and count the Days of Omer to make the spiritual connection between salvation and discipleship, we are to celebrate the giving of the Law and the Spirit. It is a yearly reminder that we are to immerse ourselves in God’s Word and God’s Ways. To put it in simple terms, Shavuot is a celebration for God’s enthusiastic Disciples.

This Shavuot I am having a mikvah. My rabbi, the chantor, the women leaders of the synagogue, and two other mikvah partakers will be driving to the Lake. In the presence of like-minded people and HaShem himself, we will be physically immersed three times representing our physical commitment to Torah and to HaShem. (Our local Chabad Synagogue wouldn’t lend their mikvah tanks…darn.)

The mikvah represents a new birth and the cleansing that comes when you trust in God’s Yeshua for your hope of salvation. Body, Soul, and Spirit. My body belongs to HaShem. My soul is in his hands. And my Spirit will forever walk in his prescribed ways. On this next Sunday, I will physically express the words of King David: (Psalm 119:16) “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”

Not only is it a thoroughly Jewish thing to be immersed, it mirrors a choice that Yeshua himself took, and then commanded to his followers. It actually was no new commandment. Yeshua was just doing and commanding what had already been done for thousands of years: being immersed from top to toe to represent a clean slate and your dedication to HaShem’s Ways. 

And it doesn’t have to be a “one time” dip in the water. Some people have mikvahs when they “convert”. Some people have mikvahs before they get married, after their periods, and yearly on either Shavuot or Yom Kippur. A mikvah is not a static event in time.

I am having a mikvah to publicly announce that I am thoroughly HIS and that I am identifying myself with my Jewish Messiah and His Torah Observant People. I am zealous for his Torah and zealous for the name of God the Savior to be exalted above all names. I am zealous to see the “church” return to Torah and I am zealous to see all Jews in all places not only dwell in safety but embrace God’s Yeshua as their only hope.

Perhaps I am also doing this to tell myself, this is your new chance: do it right this time. I want the symbolism of my sins being washed away. I want to have the physical reminder of healing, just as a person with leprosy was commanded to wash to commence their healing. I want to be reminded that the old things have passed away and He has made all things new.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7