May His Face Turn Toward You………

In the days before Yeshua (Jesus), the priests blessed the people daily in the Temple following the sacrifice with the priestly blessing: ‘Y’varekh’kha ADONAI v’yishmerekha. [May ADONAI bless you and keep you.] Ya’er ADONAI panav eleikha vichunekka. [May ADONAI make his face shine on you and show you his favor.] Yissa ADONAI panav eleikha v’yasem l’kha shalom. [May ADONAI lift up his face toward you and give you peace.]‘ (Numbers 6:24-26 The Complete Jewish Bible)

Traditionally, the priests lifted their hands heavenward holding them in such a way that the light of God shone thru their fingers when the blessing was recited. (Fun fact for all of the “Trekkies” out there; the greeting Spock gave with his hand was a variation of the way the priests held their hands during the blessing! Spock played by Leonard Nimoy was Jewish) No one was allowed to look upon this out of respect for the Lord. Today, many synagogues recite this as a benediction at the end of their services.

Found within the Torah (The Law), this scripture is also called the “Aaronic Blessing”. The blessing was a direct blessing given to Moses from God. Moses was to instruct Aaron on this blessing so that it could be spoken over His people through the priests, the descendants of Aaron. As grafted in children of God, we too, receive this blessing when we meditate upon its words.

As I have said before, the Bible is painted with beautiful word pictures of God, and this scripture is no exception. Hidden within the words, “May Adonai lift up his face toward you and give you peace” is one of the most intimate, and loving glimpses of our Father and Creator. Imagine this, a delighted father lifting his child up in his arms above his head and smiling with pure joy into the face of his baby. This is the picture of God, the Creator, as He lifts His face toward you!

The Hebraic interpretation of the scripture is as follows:

YHWH (God) will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection.

YHWH (God) will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you bringing order and he will give you comfort and sustenance.

YHWH (G0d) will lift up his wholeness of being and look upon you and he will set in place all you need to be whole and complete.(The Ancient Hebrew Research Center)

Embracing the intent of these beautiful images of God as my Father changed how I viewed myself through the eyes of God. Too many people see God sitting on His throne waiting to hand out punishment when we screw up. That image couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Do we sin, or put another way, screw up daily? Absolutely. Are there consequences to our words and actions? Yup, to that as well. Some call that Karma, others may call that God, but in any case there is a price for stepping outside the natural order of things. We have all experienced that.

How do most of us raise our children? With boundaries, right? Boundaries are necessary. A quick listen to the 5 o’clock news on any given day is a testament to the lack of boundaries in people’s lives, in the school, and in the world at large. Back in the day we said the Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning; there was respect for the flag and all that represented. Now, there are people stomping on it, urinating on it, and burning it in the streets. Used to be there was a sacredness to life; not so much any more.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses (also found in the Torah) were the boundaries for society, guidelines to live by, if you will. Many people who want little to do with God still line their lives up with the guidelines put forth in the Ten Commandments; they respect their parents, keep their marriage vows, don’t steal from others, haven’t killed anyone, so that tells me that the Ten Commandments are a pretty good standard to live by regardless of any spiritual or religious allegiance.

So what does all of that have to do with God looking on us as a treasured child? I believe if we internalized this image of God we would be less at odds with God and less at odds with one another. Who knows, if everyone saw themselves as that child held high, their Creator’s eyes filled with pure love gazing into their faces, eyes of acceptance, eyes of mercy, eyes of forgiveness, the world would be a kinder place for us to live; a world with less hatred, bitterness and strife. What if we saw ourselves through the Hebraic interpretation of the blessing? The image presented in the interpretation humbles me.

Ever held your child or grandchild up in the air and looked into their eyes? Did your heart nearly burst with love, and the joy of this small created being who is dependent upon you, trusting you with their every need? That’s what it is like between God and His Created beings; the way God looks at you. May the Lord lift His face toward you and give you peace……..

 

A Friend for all Seasons……

Think about your spouse, kids, siblings, parents, best friend. I bet many, if not all them, know you better than anyone else in the world. Our relationship with God should be like that. And why not? He is our Creator, the One who knew us while we were still hidden in our mother’s womb; before even she knew we were there. Yet, many wait until they need to have God in their corner before a sideways glance is thrown His way.

In my mind, whatever it takes to get us started on our journey with God is cool. It would be great if we all came into this world seeking “the journey”, but we don’t. Some of us are raised in the church and that is where our journey begins, others of us find Him along the way, still others when we are squeezed, so to speak, and “need” Him.

But, for a moment, think about relationships. Aren’t the best relationships, those with people who know us inside and out and love us anyway, flaws, faults, warts and all, the most satisfying? The ones where we don’t need to explain ourselves, how we think, how we will react in any given situation. And neither do we need to fear being rejected, we know that we can trust that person to have our back no matter what.

Some people, many people, don’t think about God much until they need Him. Maybe someone we love gets cancer, or is in a horrible accident and not expected to live, or we are in the middle of a divorce or other traumatizing situation. We might go to a church looking for God, or to confession if we were raised Catholic but hadn’t been back in years, or maybe to a Jesus-professing friend, to reach out to God. If we don’t already have a relationship with God, and get “squeezed” by life, we don’t know who He is, we certainly aren’t sure of how He feels about us, nor are we even confident we can trust Him with the situation that brought us to the throne room. That’s a tough place to be in.

As Creator of all, God cares about and for His Creation. He wants relationship with us. For too many of us we have the image of a white bearded man sitting on His throne waiting for us to screw up so that He can punish, condemn us. And that image is so very far from the truth. He is our Father, our confidant, our friend, our protector, our provider, our healer.

The Bible paints beautiful and comforting word pictures of God; the Shepherd, the Father. In Genesis it talks about God walking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. I have always loved that word picture; to imagine walking and talking with God as He shares the wisdom of the universe while the animals lay peacefully beneath the trees, a gentle breeze tickling the leaves in a world that has not known fear, hunger, want, hatred, or death.

Close on the heels of that word picture, another emerges. God, the Father, willing to discipline His children and do what it takes to make provision for them. Genesis 3 is about the fall of man. God has told Adam and Eve to avoid the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and He told them why; because they would die. Simple and plain enough, right? Well like I have said before, at the end of the day we are woefully human and this is where it began.

We all know the story; the serpent deceived Eve, who then handed the fruit to Adam (he was standing right there and witnessed the whole thing!), he ate of the fruit, and then they both realized they were naked. In other words, they immediately knew they had screwed up. Along comes God for their evening walk thru the garden, but Adam and Eve are nowhere to be found. God calls for them; they answer that they cannot come out because they are naked. God asks why they are naked, knowing full well the answer! They had actually thrown together a fig leaf outfit to cover their nakedness, but the point being they hadn’t known nakedness before. So now the discipline is handed out, and most know that story. In a nutshell, Adam will toil in the dirt all the days of his life, and Eve’s pain in childbirth would be greatly increased. In the end, man will return to the dust from which he was formed. For many this is the extent of what they know about that story, and part of the reason many see God waiting to condemn. But wait, there’s more!

Once God the Father had handed out the discipline, He clothed them in animal skins. In the fig leaf togs, Adam and Eve were eternally separated from their Father because now they were no longer innocent; they had done exactly what God had asked them not to do having had the explanation of why they shouldn’t have eaten the fruit in the first place!

But God is a loving Father and does not want to be separated from His Creation, no matter how badly we screw up. There is nothing we can do, except for blaspheming the Holy Spirit, that He will not forgive. So God sets about rectifying the mess Adam and Eve got themselves into.

Unfortunately, the solution required an animal sacrifice; a blood sacrifice specifically. Sorry, I didn’t make the rules, I just report them, and I don’t like it any better than you do, but thankfully there was a way out of eternal separation. In the Garden that knew no death, death was now the price paid to restore relationship with God. Innocent blood would be shed to cover their nakedness before God, and I believe that this was, in part, because Adam needed to suffer a bit to really understand the severity of his screw up. Adam had named these animals, they were his companions, and now he would watch one give up it’s life for him and for Eve. I believe it also pained God to kill one of His Creation. The takeaway for us in this story, too, is the sacrifice of the animal and the shedding of it’s innocent blood was the foretelling of the blood sacrifice Yeshua would make many years in the future for each of us.

God then made animal skin coverings for Adam and Eve, He covered their nakedness, He lovingly cared and provided for His children despite their blatant disregard for His warning. And, He put them outside the Garden He had created for them so that they would not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. Another loving gesture, although it may not seem so at first glance. Adam and Eve now had a defined life span.  At the end of their lives they would return to the dust of the earth rather than toil by the sweat of their brows for eternity.

God and man had relationship; man separated himself from that relationship by willful disobedience, and then God did what it took to restore that relationship. Life was no longer perfect for His Creation, but He loved them so very much and did not want to be separated from them.

And so it is with us. The story continues to repeat itself with each one of us. We screw up and find ourselves separated from Him. But God already made provision to restore close relationship with Him thru the sacrifice of His son, Yeshua. Innocent blood was shed yet again; Yeshua’s blood shed once and for all for all of mankind for the sole purpose of restoring relationship with our Creator. He knows we are dirty and bedraggled, still loves us, still extends His arms to all who would accept His love, His mercy, His forgiveness.

We can trust Him. He has our backs. No matter what we have done, where we have been, no matter how far we have fallen, His hand is there to lift us up, to bring us alongside, to walk in relationship with Him. That, in my mind, is a true friend; someone I want to be in my corner when the chips are down.

That is where the journey begins for each of us. A journey with a friend, a friend who knows us inside and out and loves us with a love that knows no bounds, willing to do whatever it takes to have relationship with us, a friend who won’t abandon us when the chips are down, a friend who is there in our darkest moment and thru the storms…….

My Name Is Suzanne……

Hi, my name is Suzanne. I am a Walking Dead junkie. There, I said it; I’m hooked on The Walking Dead. One of my daughters was the first to succumb, or so I thought. Then my husband confesses that before we met and married 4 years ago, he had also been watching it; I didn’t know, and then I continued to live in the dark because we have more than 1 television in our home, and as I watched another program he got his weekly fix.  Isn’t that how all addictions go?

I had tsk tsk’d my daughter each Sunday when she would cut a visit or conversation short so that she wouldn’t miss a moment. I asked what the appeal was of a series about zombies and an apparent apocalypse? The whole premise was dumb, in my humble opinion, that is, until I watched the first episode.

It all started innocently enough; the series was starting from the beginning playing through each episode, each season, in preparation for the release of the upcoming season. My husband was watching it, recapping so that he could continue his addiction and I happened upon the first episode on that fateful Sunday morning. I started to ask questions, again noting how unrealistic the whole thing is, and then before ya know it, BOOM I was hooked! I cared about the characters and wanted to see what happened next.

So, here I sit for the next several hours watching yet another season of The Walking Dead, putting laundry in the washer, and taking clean clothes out of the dryer to fold and put away during commercials and between episodes. While we are being honest here, I will confess I even asked him to bring me breakfast, refill my coffee, and let the dogs out so as not to miss anything significant.

The zombies, as I have discovered, are just the catalyst for the complicated relationships and situations the characters face during each episode. The characters have become people I have gotten to know. I am happy when they overcome, when they succeed, I am sad when one of them dies at the hands of the zombies, or is sick and there is no medical care available, I am in anguish when they are fighting battles among themselves or against the zombies. Silly, isn’t it? Well, not entirely.

The character Dale, for instance, is the voice of wisdom, the sage of the rag tag band of survivors. I love him! In a lot of ways, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, he is like Yeshua (Jesus). Dale is usually the calm within the storm. He confronts when needed, calls a spade a spade, counsels, illuminates truth. He has depth. Dale offers hope in the midst of hopelessness. At times his delivery of the truth doesn’t seem loving. Like Yeshua in the temple with the moneychangers, Dale will rage against injustice. People within the community of survivors seek out Dale’s wisdom. He is their moral compass and sometimes the members of the community rage against him, angered by the needle of the moral compass. I won’t say anymore about him, in case you decide to join me in watching.

Each episode is filled with raw human emotion. Maslow’s hierarchy is evident from the need for basic survival and all that entails to the need for belonging and self actualization. Tough moral issues are dealt with like in one of today’s episodes; Lori finds out she is pregnant and she doesn’t tell her husband, Rick. Instead she makes the unilateral decision to end the pregnancy by taking The Morning After pill Glen got for her from the drug store in town. Having second thoughts, Lori shoves her fingers down her throat and vomits out the pills; Rick finds the empty wrappers and confronts Lori, convincing her that killing the baby does not change the situation they are in, so they decide to welcome a new baby despite the circumstances. Survival; life trumps death.

The zombies; they certainly are some interesting creatures. People who were infected with a virus, then died and returned with a part of a functioning brain stem; the living dead seeking to feed on the flesh of the living. Not unlike evil, is it? Evil, the enemy of humankind. The zombies keep coming at the living until the living shoot the zombies in the head, or the zombies overtake the living and rip their flesh from the bone. Everyday life in our world, wouldn’t you say? The lesson? Evil cannot be tolerated because it kills; kill or be killed.

Gun control? Doesn’t seem to have a place in the post-apocalyptic world. How else will the survivors protect themselves and rid their world of evil without guns? Sure there are some bad guys, and they have guns, too, but at least the good guys have a fighting chance. Again, kill or be killed. Not so very unlike our world. We could learn a thing or two from those living amongst the walking dead about the need for gun control. In their world it’s a moot point; no one is debating it on the news daily. The good people stay good people with guns and the bad people are bad people with guns. My takeaway is that because they have guns and are forced to use them to protect themselves and others in their community, they place more value on human life; it hasn’t made them more violent. Survival mode brings a certain clarity to the issues of life that polarize us.

All in all, I like the series. It is a creative and insightful depiction of life, relationships, moral dilemmas, and the insistence of humans to survive and face life no matter how hard it gets. Not so very different from our everyday lives, is it? Time for the next episode!

Sticks and stones……..

There was a line in a movie that went something like this – family is all that matters; everyone else is just an acquaintance. It’s true. The collection of people we call “family” are bound together by blood, shared ties, memories, and experiences that cannot be duplicated in a friendship. Even in families with adopted children, or in blended families, there is a bond that binds the members together. Kind of the “blood is thicker than water” adage. Whether shared biological blood or spiritual blood.

Family relationships are some of the most wonderful relationships we can experience in life. Family relationships are also hard, complicated, messy, and can cause the deepest pain in our hearts.

Family members know where the hot buttons are in other members. We know the vulnerable spots so that when we are angry we can wield the hurtful words with deadly accuracy. Words are just collections of letters when passed over the vocal chords and with the help of air come to life, but boy are they powerful. They can build people up, or filet them leaving the recipients bloody and raw.

We have all had that happen in our lives, right? A family member is at odds with another or others in the family and all hell breaks loose. We go for the jugular; we don’t mess with the little barbs here and there. War strategies are employed, we work to get others on our side, see our viewpoint. Wait! Aren’t these the very same people we would gladly give our lives up for? Yes! That’s what makes the whole mess so sad, so devastating. The very ones we would defend to the death should an outsider dare to throw sticks and stones our way are willing to thrust the dagger deep into our flesh.

The Bible talks about “careless words”. Matthew 12:36-37 says, “Moreover, I tell you this: on the Day of Judgment people will have to give account for every careless word they have spoken; 37 for by your own words you will be acquitted, and by your own words you will be condemned.” Whether you believe every word in the Bible is the inerrant Word of God or not really doesn’t matter because a couple of verses before that says, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34 The Complete Jewish Bible); a universal truth. If the heart is full of its own hurt from life and past experiences, the mouth is going to speak those words and hurt others. The consequences are a moot point, at least for the time being, because we live in the here and now and the words have caused another pain. Undeniable truth. And I do believe we are held accountable for careless words because they have the power to destroy relationships and people, and that is unacceptable; God being a part of the equation or not.

Careless words are any words that we speak that don’t build people up; they are spoken with the intent to hurt, to maim, to kill, figuratively speaking. The childhood “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names (or words) will never hurt me”  rhyme we have all said isn’t true. Words do hurt, and they can cut deep into the heart where they fester. Eventually those words will chip away at the heart, at the spirit of their victim.

Our families, those people that comfort us, pray for us, encourage us, know us full well and love us unconditionally, stand by us when the world is against us, should not be wielding the words that cause us hurt and pain, and yet we do; all of us is guilty at one time or another. We are human and subject to all of the beauty and ugliness that encompasses.

What do we do? We work together to restore peace, bring understanding, hear the root cause of the pain that has lead to the hurtful words being slung our way. Stepping back in order to see the whole picture instead of slinging our own hurtful words to compound the pain further, give everyone time and space to process, and we pray for each other. We all must bend, not just one or two. We need to speak from the heart, share our heart, naked and exposed without thrusting accusations and hurtful statements to justify our position. We are family and forever will be. To sacrifice that gift and those relationships at the altar of being right, or the altar of pride is not worth the price…..

 

I Am More Than A Label….

Sometimes people ask me what “Unchurched”  means. Kind of like the “uncola” – what does that mean? Not a cola I guess!! “Unchurched” can mean whatever you want it to mean, but I chose the name to describe those of us out here that don’t feel comfortable in a church, have been rejected by a church, have never considered going but still want a relationship with God, have a strong faith and believe there is more to this life than the day to day grind.

For some the name is offensive. I guess it conjures up images of people who reject God, who oppose church, and I don’t know what else. I have an aunt who won’t read my blog because of the name. I can’t speak for her, but from what I gather I am encouraging people to stay away from church and one must go to church and sit in a pew for God to acknowledge us and consider us legit. Obviously I disagree! Oh well, we can’t please everyone and I love her no  matter her opinion!

I also have another relative who peppers all conversations with statements like “our Christian friends, the Christian restaurant we go to, the groceries we buy at the Christian store…..” blah blah blah. Apparently, the rest of us have “devil friends, go to devil restaurants, buy at devil stores……. Ok, ok, I’m being a bit sassy, but you catch my point.

The other day as I was driving to work and listening to the “Christian” radio station…..yes I listen to the “Christian” station —- hey I like the music and the dj’s are very balanced in their viewpoints. They are “real” and I appreciate that. Anyway, one of the dj’s took a call from a listener who made the comment, “when we have parties and invite our Christian friends……”. It got my ire up and I started thinking – which may or may not be a good thing!!

I am a Christian, if we are going to use the word to define those who believe in God and Yeshua (Jesus). As I have said in the past I prefer to call myself a believer because of the bad connotations associated with “Christian”.  “Christian” is a label like any other label, and in my mind defines people; makes them one dimensional. Think about it for a second. Have you ever had a friend or coworker discuss another person with you and use a label? For instance: biker, Republican, Muslim, homosexual and the like. What images do any of those words conjure up in your mind? Depending upon your experiences in life the images may be good or not-so-good. Subconsciously we make assumptions about that person before we even meet them. Sad.

Labels segregate us from one another. I am rather reluctant to get too close with someone who peppers every conversation with, “My Christian friends, the Christian school my kids attend, the Christian book I am reading”, etc. even when I was an active member of a church. It’s an “us vs them” mentality and that defeats the purpose of evangelism, in my mind anyway. I really don’t care for the word evangelism either. It’s “Christian-ese” for recruiting new members. And generally the mindset is recruitment for their brand of “church”, not necessarily to introduce another to God.

The bottom line is we are all on a journey of one kind or another. Our spirits were created by God; that’s my opinion and if you choose to reject that we can still be friends! If we are open to journeying with God through this life we will learn to love others, accept others, receive wisdom and truth, gain inner peace, and evolve into better people. We are all a  work in progress.

When Yeshua (Jesus)walked the earth He didn’t reject people based upon the labels they wore. That’s a lesson we can learn and take with us every day. He associated with Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, the rich, the poor, the powerful and the not-so-powerful. Some rejected Him, others accepted Him. He spoke the truth plain and simple. He didn’t hide in the synagogue behind the Torah scrolls; He drank wine, broke bread with people the religious community rejected, had a close relationship with God, prayed for others, healed the sick, and touched the hearts of many. That in a nutshell is the lesson of His life on earth.

I am part of the “unchurched” community and not because I don’t believe in God or Yeshua. Quite the opposite. We who are unchurched know God, believe in the teachings of Yeshua, and need not be confined or defined by walls and labels. We are on a journey with God. If you are not part of the community, come join hands with us and we will journey together…….