The Mercy of God in Jesus Christ

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“Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” (Matthew 12:18-21)
Here I am reading chapter 12 in Matthew over and over again. The disciples are with You and they are hungry. The disciples plucked some corn or grain off the stalks and ate it. The Pharisees saw and considered it work and breaking the law. You shared how David and his men ate the shewbread when they were hungry. It was a special circumstance that required mercy. You asked about the priests who have to do sacrifices on the sabbath. That’s work too, right? So they break the law every sabbath but God holds them blameless. Why, because mercy is a special circumstance? Or is it more than a special circumstance?
What are all of Your rules and precepts and word for? What is the purpose? Religion? To control us? No. Everything that You gave us, all the feasts, the festivals, the “rituals”, the sacrifices, Your word, were all a part of giving us the opportunity to know You and to know Your heart. No one can take the “mandates” by themselves and get it right. Neither can we take Your word and remove what we don’t understand from it. Furthermore, we cannot remove the person of You from that total picture. We have to take all of it together to see all of You.
I was brought up as a gentile believer, so I miss a lot of things that You want us to see in Your holy days, because I don’t get to celebrate them. It’s not that I have to, or I can’t know You, but all of Scripture is good for me, all of Scripture is good for helping me to see and know You more. But let’s say, I just focus on the New Testament example of You, Jesus. Then I still miss out on knowing all of You because You are not just confined to the New Testament, are You? You were there before creation. So, I can see You from the beginning, from Genesis, if I only look for You. I can see the reality of how You interacted with other men and women from the start. I can know You and how You respond to us both in our sin and in our obedience. I can see Your mercy time and time again if only I look and meditate on it. Your precepts, laws, and holy days, are there to help us focus on You as God Almighty.
In our day, that’s easy to forget, because we’re so full of having our own way. Seldom do we have to submit to some greater authority unless we have problems with society’s laws. But for those of Jesus’ day, they understood that authority of kings and gods. To go against them was to court serious trouble, maybe even death.
But here’s what the Pharisees were missing- You are not a god like any other. You are God. You show mercy we don’t deserve because of the God You are. And You want us to be like You. You want us to show that same kind of mercy. So You sent Your Son, the God-man, Jesus. You loved Him. You still do. You chose Him. He pleased Your soul because He is “a chip off the old block,” He’s just like You. His heart loves and does all that You do. He was full of Your Spirit, and full of Your ways, because of who He is. He knows You intimately, inside and out. You are His delight.
What’s interesting here to me is that, here You are surrounded by Jews in this story, this true story, and You bring up showing judgment to the Gentiles. Why would that come up in the recounting of this story among all Jews? What if Matthew, a Jew, came to realize the magnitude of the mercy of God, that despite the lives of the Gentiles and how they had profaned the sabbath or profaned God, in Christ, You would count us blameless like the disciples, and David, and the Priests? What if Your acceptance of us Gentiles is the epitome of mercy? I’ve never made a sacrifice in my life. I don’t celebrate the holy days because I don’t know how. Even if I learned, how could I now? But You, Jesus, came to shew me judgment.
What’s judgment? It’s not just condemnation. The Greek word is krisis. Jesus came to cause a crisis of my belief. Would I believe what You say? Would I believe who You are? Would I do as You say? Would I love You with all my heart and soul and mind and strength and love my neighbor? Would I spend so much time with You and in Your word that I would know Your ways?
How do You offer me this choice? You don’t strive with me. You don’t force me or fight me on it. You don’t stand and cry out loudly on the street corners. What compels a person to turn to You and believe and to submit their life to You? What causes a person to put their trust in You? I remember when I was a little girl, five years old. I heard the stories read from Scripture about You, how the disciples told the parents that You didn’t have time for the children, that they should go away. I heard how You rebuked the disciples and called the little children unto You. That is forever indelibly written on my heart. That endeared me to You from the start. That was mercy. That was love. That was You. That is the way that God feels for us. That is the reality of God’s mercy upon our lives. When we realize the reality and depth of God’s love for us that we don’t deserve, yet He gives us, we run to put our trust in You.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate the holy days that God mandated. I think we could all learn more about You as we do in the light of Jesus Christ. But my attachment and my knowledge need to be of the One who established the law. If the law is my master, who will help me fulfill it? I can’t. I’m totally incapable of following God’s law in my own strength. Without the mercy and love and strength of God, without his insight and understanding and interpretation, I’ll get it all wrong. There is Someone bigger than the law, someone who deserves our allegiance, someone who deserves my all. The law helps me know my need, it shows me where I fail, and how helpless I am on my own.
But Isaiah promised that Jesus would “send forth judgment unto victory.” What does that mean? Maybe I’m wrong, I’m not a Bible scholar, just a lover of God, who loves to spend time with Him in His word. What if judgment is more than condemnation or being tried in the court of God? What if the real intent of judgment is that deciding rightly? What if it means deciding which side of the fence you will live on? God’s or not God’s? As for you and your house, what will it be? Judgment unto eternal separation and punishment? Or judgment unto the joy of the Lord? Here’s the wonderful part of this judgment: when I decide to follow Jesus, to submit to You as Lord and Savior, not just of my life, but of everything, I immediately start experiencing victory in You. Full victory doesn’t arrive until I’m fully with You in eternity, but You continually allow me to experience victory in You over and over again now in real life both physically and spiritually.
Even at my best, without trying, I flub up and break some of Your laws. So did Moses, and Abraham, David, and Samuel, Paul, and Peter; but Your judgment is paired with mercy. You alone are the perfect one. Not any of us. And You know that. Without Your mercy, we’d all be lost. But in Your name alone can the Jews and Gentiles trust. Jesus, You were and are the ultimate demonstration of God’s love and mercy for us. At the same time, You were and are the ultimate demonstration of the wrath and judgment of God upon sin. You did not spare Your only Son from Your wrath. In You alone can we find mercy and have our guilt removed. In You alone can we live victoriously or die victoriously if so called. The question is, will I seek diligently and listen diligently to Your still small voice as I seek You in Your word? Will I let You show me Yourself or will I paint my own picture of who I want You to be? Will I accept Your mercy to me so that I can extend it to others? If I had only known what You meant, I could have obeyed You. I can know. Will I?

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Mercy and Not Sacrifice

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“But if you had known what this means, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”  Matthew 12:7

Here’s the story.  “At that time, Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn and his disciples were hungry and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, ‘Behold, your disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.’  But he said unto them, ‘Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?  But I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple.  But if you had known what this meant, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.'”  (Matthew 12:1-8)

I’ve read this so many times before, but did I ever stop to ask what it means?  I mean, I know what’s going on.  Jesus, you and the disciples are hungry this sabbath day and as you pass through a corn field, the disciples take some corn, shuck it, and eat it.  I don’t know if they ate it raw or made some meal out of it.  I guess I just had the idea that they did like I’ve done and just plucked that ear, pealed it, and satisfied their hunger.  No boiling.  No grinding.  Just plain eating.  I don’t know, I wasn’t there.  But it seems to say that they plucked it and ate it.  And to me, plucked and ate means plucked and ate, right then and there.

And there wasn’t a problem with plucking and eating as you walked through someone’s field.  In Deuteronomy 23:24-25 and Leviticus 19:9-10 we see where God made provisions for the poor and hungry so that they could glean some of the crop left behind just for their sake.  Now, if you came in with a sickle and harvested someone else’s crop, that would be stealing.  But God commanded the Israelites to leave a certain portion behind for the poor and needy.  And at this time, the disciples were needy.

But the Pharisees saw and had issue with the disciples “doing work” on the sabbath.  In their eyes, this plucking was harvesting and therefore breaking the sabbath law.  God’s basis is found in Exodus 34:21,  “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest: in earing time and in harvest you shall rest.”  The scribes and Pharisees, over the years had asked themselves, “What constitutes rest?  What constitutes work?” They had made up their own list to help people not break this law.  But Jesus was pointing out a flaw in their law; not in God’s law.

In Mark 2:27, Jesus tells them, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.”  What does that mean?  Is there something deeper, more personal to God’s laws than just laws and regulations?  Was the sabbath made for man’s good?  Is there something in the sabbath that is actually merciful toward us?  Does Jesus, the Son of man, understand the sabbath and it’s purpose more than us, more than the scribes and Pharisees?  I think so.

Well, let’s go back to the story in Matthew 12.  The priests have a problem with the disciples plucking and eating the corn on the sabbath.  That’s work.  That’s breaking the law of the sabbath.  You know, Jesus doesn’t say it’s not breaking the law.  He brings up David that time he was running from Saul and he and his men were so hungry and they went into the house of God and David asked the priest to let them eat the shewbread.  They weren’t priests.  They were not supposed to eat the shewbread.  But he gave it to them.  The bread offered to God was eaten by David and his outcast men.  But God did not condemn them?  Why?

For the same reason that God did not condemn the priests every sabbath as they performed their many sacrifices on the sabbath.  Isn’t offering a sacrifice work?  So, actually, the priests in the temple profane the sabbath by working, yet God holds them blameless.  What?  If the priests get to demonstrate God’s mercy to sinners on the sabbath through the sacrifices, why should God’s mercy not be demonstrated in other areas of our life?  The sabbath isn’t established based on sacrifice but based on God’s mercy.  It’s a time to rest in Him, not just for a day, but to set us up for every day of abiding in Him.  Sabbath is not one day of the week to be set aside.  It’s a day to set aside so we can be focused on living out and living in the mercy of our heavenly Father that day and every other day of the week.

I’m so glad that there was one greater than the temple there that day!  I’m so glad that You, Jesus, explained things so clearly we could understand.  “But if you had known what this means, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, [Hosea 6:6]’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7)  I’m not sure when sacrifice trumped mercy in our thinking.  But isn’t it funny that people will often be kinder to animals than they are to their fellow human being?  Jesus pointed that out.  “You’ll lay hold of, and lift out your sheep if it falls in a pit on the sabbath.  What about a man in trouble?”  “Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” (Matthew 12:11)

The scribes and Pharisees didn’t just have trouble with the disciples plucking and eating corn on the sabbath when they were hungry.  In their eyes, hungry somehow equates with the rest of God?  But then Jesus goes into their synagogue, right after what you would think would have been a strong lesson, “Mercy, not sacrifice.”  And in that synagogue is a man with a withered hand.  And Jesus sees him and has MERCY.  He tells the man to stretch forth his hand.  Jesus doesn’t even touch it.  He just spoke those words, those simple words, “Stretch forth your hand.”  No grand display.  How much easier can it get?  How much more restful?  And the man stretched forth his hand, and upon obeying, he was healed.  Is talking work?  Is stretching your hand work?  Really?  Is healing work?  Isn’t it just as much work for a teacher to teach the word on a sabbath?  But that’s not considered work that needs to be rested from, is it?

Maybe our problem is that we just want rest; not the rest that God prescribed.  The rest He prescribed is in Him.  His rest includes grace.  His rest includes mercy.  His rest includes love.  His rest includes sacrifice.  His rest includes justice.  His rest includes judgment.  His rest includes joy.  His rest includes peace.  His rest includes fellowship.  His rest includes forgiveness.  You can’t exclude any of it because it’s all Him.  If I want rest, Lord, I can only find it in You and in Your way, in fellowship with You.  Otherwise, I’m just making up my own rules and carrying a heavy burden and laying it on others.

I don’t want to be like the scribes and Pharisees.  I want to pay attention to the weightier matters of the law, like judgment, mercy, and faith.  (Matthew 23:23)  I don’t want to leave these off.  I want to love You with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind.  And I want to love my neighbor as myself.  (Matthew 25:37,39)  I want to hang on to You and to Your ways, not mine, not the ways of the establishment, but of You.  Whatever it takes to make other people whole in You, I want to do, even if it’s on the sabbath.  Help me to judge righteous judgment.  Help me to be merciful like You.  Help me to walk in You all the days of my life.

Finding Rest

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“Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

Who doesn’t want rest from work and from all the things that burden us?  Oh, yeah, give me that rest!  But today, I want to stop and think about what Jesus is really saying here.  Because this is not the only verse that helps me understand what You are trying to tell us, Lord.  I need to think about the verses surrounding this proclamation.  What does “rest” mean to You?  Does this rest take away all our work?  Does it eliminate every burden in our lives?  Does this rest set me up on a beach chair, with a book, and a drink, and a cool delightful breeze?  What are You promising me?

So here You are, explaining how a person comes to see God revealed to them.  The Greek word is apokaluptō.  It’s all about taking the cover off something so it can be seen.  The BDAG lexicon defines it as  “to cause something to be fully known, reveal, disclose, bring to light, make fully known.”  So how do we do that?  How do I take the cover off so I can see God?

Jesus is telling us we can’t  The only one who can take the cover off of God so we can see Him and know Him is Jesus.  Let me share what I’m reading today from Matthew 11:25-30:  “At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes.  Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in your sight.  All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.  Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'”

What kind of attitude do I have?  Do I think myself wise and prudent before You, God?  Do I try to tell You and mandate to You what my life and those around me ought to look like?  Do I play God and put You behind my will and desires?  Or am I like a babe before You, in dependency and thinking my heavenly Daddy is the greatest and most powerful being in this universe?  If anybody can catch me and keep me safe and love me and provide for all my needs, it’s my heavenly Daddy.  What is my thinking like?  My thinking will determine what is revealed to me.  My thinking will determine how I see God.  I will see God as You aren’t, or You will reveal Yourself in the fullness of who You are.  And You designed it this way.

But, here’s a clincher.  Everything was delivered into Jesus’ hands, under His authority.  Everything, the responsibilities of the Father, were passed onto His Son, Jesus Christ.  After all, Jesus came from the Father, so He’s the only one who knows the Father 100% intimately.  He came from the Father, He is of the Father; they are united.  All authority from the Father has been handed over to the Son, Jesus Christ.  Without God’s revealing, without His taking the veil off of Himself, we can’t know Him.  Without His taking the veil off, we can’t and won’t know Jesus.  But…

God sent Jesus for a purpose.  To save that or those who were lost in darkness, separated by the veil.  It is Jesus’ purpose and delight to reveal the Father to us through himself.  You can’t know the Father without knowing the Son.  You can’t know the Son unless the Father reveals Him.  Seem like a catch 22?

How do you get there, to that point where Jesus reveals the Father to us and the Father reveals His son to us?  We start, I think, with a human glimpse that there is something of God in Jesus.  “Come unto me…”  We start to listen more, read more about Him, ask more questions, looking more deeply into who You are and if Your word is true.  Instead of continuing on my own way, I start ignoring my own way, and checking You out, looking into Your way more.  I start coming to You, instead of relying on myself or whatever else.  My attitude starts changing.

“Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden…”  I start seeing some things You are telling me.  I realize there is this futile work in my life.  What is it all for?  Where is it all leading?  I feel a burden.  There’s something missing.  I can’t feel satisfied, complete, whole.  The emptiness, the control over my life, or maybe the finding out I can’t control life becomes so heavy.  I realize I need what You have.  No, I realize I just need You, my Creator.  I need Your love.  I need Your acceptance.  I need Your guidance and wisdom because living in this world is hard.  It tires me out.  Despite the good, there’s so much hard stuff mixed in.  And You give me a way to handle it that’s so different and so other.

“Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Rest, the greek word “anapauō” can mean “to cause to rest, to soothe, refresh, to take rest, repose, refreshment, to have a fixed place of rest, abide, dwell.”  Imagine that, if I come to You like that, You will refresh me.  I need refreshing.  But I have trouble not thinking that dwelling is a part of it too.

Dwelling is that part of abiding that is so necessary to our relationship with God in Christ.  “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)  This is no superficial relationship.  You can’t get closer than abiding.  Here’s the beauty of abiding, or remaining, or resting in Jesus and His abiding in me:  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:9)  

I want that.  I have that.  I’m learning to have more and more of it as I abide in Him more and more.  But I’m also coming to learn that this is a different rest than the world want’s to give.  This is a rest for my soul.  It’s not a rest where I get to lay back and avoid all hard things or all bad things.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.”  What was Jesus’ yoke?  What can I learn from You, Lord, about rest?

Maybe I learn that there is no rest for the weary here, but there is rest for the faithful in God.  This life can never give us eternal rest because rest is only found in You, God.  But if I take on Your yoke,  if I join myself to You, yeah, like a younger beast of burden, I’ll be able to walk successfully through this life, just like You did, because I don’t have to do it alone.  I don’t have to do it in my own strength.  You carrying the heavier part of the burden, because You, Jesus, are the experienced burden bearer.  You lighten my load in this world by carrying it with me.

Imagine that for a moment.  The Son of God, is lowly in heart and meek enough to choose to be burdened with me, to take on a hard yoke so that mine is lighter, so that I can bear whatever life has for me.  This is our God.  He invites us to find rest in Him.  Rest for our souls.  “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What does that mean?  “For my yoke is easy…”?  It’s not easy for me.  In this world, it will never be easy for me all the time.  But for You, Jesus, carrying my yoke is easy for You.  Get that?  It’s easy for Jesus to carry our yoke, our burdens.  “[A]nd my burden is light.”  It’s not hard for him.  Our heavy burden, whether of sin, or sorrow of a lost loved one, of the unfairness of life, of financial troubles, of a wayward child, of a broken marriage or broken heart, of feeling unloved, unwanted, like you don’t belong; our heavy burden is light for Him to carry.  He alone can lift the weight of that burden from our shoulders so that we can feel the relief that comes from Him, the rest that will one day fully be ours in Him.  What the world can’t give us, what the world takes away, He will replace in Him, now, by carrying the burden with us and lightening our load, and one day, when the rest is complete in Him in eternity.

There is a rest, a promised rest, that we only find in Jesus, that leads us to the rest that is eternally found in God.   Paul talks of that rest in Hebrews 4.  This promised rest still stands but we can fail to reach it.  Just like others who had the good news shared with them and heard and walked away from it, we can miss the rest as well.  If I want the rest of God, I need to be united with God in Jesus Christ and united with all those who also have listened and taken on His yoke.  He alone can take on our yoke and took on the ultimate yoke at the cross.  He paid the penalty for our individual sins so we wouldn’t have to, if only we would submit to His yoke.

Submitting to His yoke is realizing that He’s the one that does all the real work, that His works, not mine, are what matters.  I can rest in that.  I can rest in obeying and clinging to Him and following His desires and His ways.  Now is still a time to do the work of God, just like in creation when God worked six days and rested on the seventh.  We aren’t in the seventh day yet!  I can choose to do life my own way, but I won’t find Your rest that way.  I’ll only find that I’ve been disobeying You and that I’ve become hard-hearted.  “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  (Hebrews 4:9-11)

So, in the middle of this life with all this hard and heavy stuff, that’s not going to stop while we live on this earth, what’s the answer?  Rest is coming.  It’s in a person.  It’s only found in the person of Jesus Christ, our way to the heavenly Father who loves us.  Do you want to find rest?  Do you want your burdens lightened?  Do you want someone to take the weight off your shoulders?  Do you want someone to lead the way and take you by the hand, to love you and cherish you all along the way?  Abide.  Commit.  Submit.  “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:14-16

Wholly Devoted, Stepping Up

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“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” Job 1:1

God is perfect. What man is perfect? Even Job said, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, ‘I am perfect,’ it shall also prove me perverse.”( Job 9:20) If Paul said he wasn’t even perfect, how do we be perfect as he tells us in Philippians 3:15, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded…”? Why doesn’t the definition of “perfect” help me? In Greek, it’s “teleios”, complete, completeness (in labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.). How can I be completely complete? Unless you have a really lofty image of yourself, this ought to stop us in our tracks. I’m so incomplete. I’m so imperfect. I’m so not everything I was created to be. See, that’s the problem. And even if I go back to the Hebrew for perfect, “tam,” it’s the same idea. If we’re told to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 19:2), how do I ever attain to that?

I can’t attain by what I do. Remember, to break even one law is to have broken all the law. Yet, that doesn’t exempt me from obeying the law. It just tells me that the law is not where I find completeness. So where is completeness found? Where did Job find it? And was it that he found it or that someone, a supreme Someone, gave it to him?

I want to look at Job. How did he get there. What does it mean that he “was perfect and upright”? “Hayah” is the Hebrew word translated as “was” here. It means existed, came about, accompanied, it happened. Isn’t it interesting that part of the definition has to do with accompanying with. It brings me to Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” This Ever Existent One brings us into existence and into being in Him. What is faith but a relationship with and in Him? How can one please Him if one is not of Him? Nothing less would satisfy. That’s how Job could be perfect and upright. That’s how he could eschew evil because of how he related to and in God.

It’s not that Job was such a great guy in himself. What made him a great guy, a perfect guy in God’s eyes, a complete guy, was that he was wholly devoted to God. Skip Moen shares how another author, Matthew Wilson moves the meaning of holiness away from “set apart.” He directs the meaning to being “devoted.” “We are to be devoted to God in the same way that He is devoted to us, to Israel and to His creation. ‘Therefore you are to be devoted, as your heavenly Father is devoted.’ “ I can’t be perfect, but can I be devoted to God like that. I can. I can choose to respond in devotion to God through all my circumstances, no matter what happens. Whether I’m successful or I fail, whether I do well, or make a mistake, I can devote everything in me to Him. In being devoted, I can continually move toward Him, continually seek His presence, His way, His delight even in the hardest times of my life. Job, David, Elijah, Mary, Priscilla, they all were devoted to God, and they were all just people, like you and me.

Listen to this verse, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Jesus can sympathize with us. He has that kind of relationship with us. He earned that. How did he earn it? He devoted himself wholly to God! Was this easier for him than it is for me? No! He didn’t draw on his divinity to keep from sin. In his humanity, he remained devoted to God first. He did this just as a man, just like you and me. He wasn’t without sin because of some divine power that kept him sin-free. He was without sin because he chose to remain devoted to His heavenly father. What about me? What’s my excuse? What is keeping me from being wholly devoted to You, Lord? What is barring me from having a complete relationship with You? Maybe it all boils down to me. Maybe it’s just a matter of my devotion, and I’m the only one who can control that. And I suppose, if Job could control his own devotion to You, so can I. So, what excuse do I have?

A Crisis of Belief

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I just can’t imagine murdering someone else. I especially can’t imagine murdering my own grandchildren, even if some of them were my “step-grandchildren.” But that’s what Athaliah, the mother of King Ahaziah, did after her son’s death. Why? So she could be queen. She’s definitely a “chip off the old block.” Her mother and father were the notoriously evil Jezebel and Ahaz. How could she not have any kind of a “feeling” that this was wrong?
Yet, here in the midst of this scary, evil woman, rose up this other woman named Jehoshabeath. Now, when was the last time we taught our children or someone taught us about Jehoshabeath? Why not? This is a woman with faith in God. This is a woman who was not guided by fear but by love and honouring God and the lives he created. Why don’t we talk about this woman more?
I’m working through Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby again with a younger friend. Blackaby says, “You can’t stay where you are and follow God at the same time.” There will come a crisis of belief where we are called to act. Faith is taking that step into that thing that is hard. Faith is doing what God is calling us to do despite the consequences. Paul tells us in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Face it, he wasn’t telling us that faith is the assurance of everything working out great like we hoped. He wasn’t telling us we’d see great things here after we followed. He was telling us that faith is being assured of our position in Christ, that life or death, all God’s promises to me are true, and He is my hope, my hope of life eternal in Him. Come on, I can see everything that there is in this world, but I can’t fully see Him. But I will. You, Lord, have given me that conviction in Your Word. I will see the fulfilment of all You have said. I will see You.
So lets’ look at Jehoshabeath, sister of the now dead king. Daughter of his father the king. Wife of Jehoiada the priest. She’s already got two strikes against her. Both her dad and her brother didn’t obey the Lord. We don’t know who her mother was, since kings had more than one wife. But we know that Jehoiada was a priest that sought God. And Jehoshabeath’s choices shows that she was willing to risk her life to honour God and preserve His legacy.
Somehow, Jehoshabeath rescues baby Joash and his nursemaid before they are slaughtered by the queen with all the other sons of the deceased Ahaziah. For six years they hid Joash in the house of God, while this evil, heartless queen reigned. Please don’t tell me that this was not a dangerously life-threatening chance she was taking. This was an ultimate moment that would bring a crisis of belief. What did Jehoshabeath believe? Her actions would demonstrate what she believed.
James tells us in the second chapter, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone…faith apart from works is dead.” So what does that mean? What are works? The good things I do? I don’t think so, because anybody can do good things, even an evil queen like Athaliah can do some good things for some people, but it will never count as faith. These works are God-works. So how does one get to do God-works?
Oswald Chambers says God “engineers everything.” Believing that, Skip Moen says it follows that “our single goal is not to plan the work but rather to work the plan, His plan of discipling others whom He brings across our daily path. The work which He wishes us to do is not what we concoct or imagine, but rather what He puts in front of us. That’s what it means to assert that God engineers life.” We don’t make up the plan, we follow His plan. That’s what Jehoshabeath was doing. That’s what her husband Jehoiada was doing. So God was behind it. And whatever God is behind, whatever God is compelling to move forward, whatever God is doing, is worth whatever the risk to be partnered with Him in it.
It’s not our option to plan, but to be totally abandoned to Him and to whatever He asks of us or where-ever He leads us. I find this so liberating because the results are not up to me, just as the results were not up to Jehoshabeath. For all she knew, she and Joash could have been killed in the trying. But then they would have lived by faith to their last breath. When I obey out of faith, when I follow the will of You, God, no matter what, I will, as Skip Moen stated, “nevertheless inherit the by-products: joy, peace, and happiness.” I can pound the sand in the force of my own work like Athaliah, and reap the rotten fruit that comes with it. Or I can walk by faith like Jehoshabeath, and savour the sweet fruits of Your fellowship and Your work well-done.

My Everything Forever

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“It was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from that day shall be, ’The LORD is there.’” Ezekiel 48:35

 
David shared about God’s glory in Psalm 19: 1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has He set a tabernacle for the sun…” So since the time of creation, God’s glory has been present. Paul reiterates this in Romans 1:20, “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” What were they without excuse about? How about not becoming personally involved with that eternal power and divine nature?  Could God’s demonstration through all of creation be more than just a demonstration? Could it be a demonstration for the purpose of invitation? Could it be a calling back into His presence, into the place where man and woman were created to live all along?

 
Beyond manifesting Himself through nature, God has chosen to manifest Himself directly to His people in many ways. In redeeming His people from Israel He was there as a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. The Shekinah glory cloud showed His “presence, provision, protection, and guidance” Also associated with the Shekinah cloud is the Angel of God. In Numbers 14:13,14 we see the pillar of cloud there to comfort Israel and to stand in the way of her enemies. The pillar, or presence of God moved with the people.

If we jump to Moses we have God manifesting His presence in the burning bush. Again He manifests His presence and provision in the giving of manna, the bread from heaven. And there He is again, with Moses, giving the Law at Sinai with His fingers in stone. And tell me that wasn’t for the benefit of His people to understand how much He is with them.  I mean, does God even really need fingers like we have to write with?  Yet, He chooses to manifest Himself in ways that we can understand even though He is beyond understanding. Imagine, there He was, on Mt. Sinai, manifesting Himself as a consuming fire and the fear the people felt did not drive them to awe but they turned shortly thereafter to a golden calf instead.

Solomon new that the temple was there as a place for God to meet His people and yet how could a temple hold His awesomeness? “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27) That does not negate God’s presence but it makes us appreciate that He is present for us all the more.

God manifested Himself through and to Elijah, Elisha, David, Jacob, Abram. He manifested Himself to the children of Israel and to the Egyptians. He manifested Himself before other attacking nations.

Now, He manifests Himself through us as we let our “light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) We are living sacrifices according to Paul. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and we are no longer our own. Why? We have been bought with a price. The price of the sacrifice of Christ for us. So it is only right and makes sense that we should glorify God in our body with all that we are. After all, I owe my whole life to Him. Today, God is here in individual believers. And individual believers are members of the body of Christ which is the church. Are we living as though God is here in us? And are we living as though we are truly members dependent upon the other members of the body of Christ? Or do we, like the mixed multitude, see the glory of God and walk another direction and worship toward another?

The great news is that there is coming a day when the glory of God will be fully manifested. He will be there forever and ever. Because God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He will never break His covenant. Haggai 2:9 tells us “’The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” And what makes this time more glorious? The King of kings is returning to defeat His enemies and take His throne! The Lord will be there with His people forever! Revelation 3:21-22 promises, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The Shekinah will return. The glory of God will be present with us. There will be rejoicing and shouts of joy. There will be encouragement for the exhausted, strength for the feeble, courage for the fearful, and salvation for the helpless.

When I was a little girl and started hearing about Jesus, all I could do was think about Him. All I wanted more than anything was to be with Him. I thought to do that I would have to go back in time or God would have to let my mom give birth to Jesus again. Neither one of those was the way. And it wasn’t until I was about 15 years old that I learned that I could walk with Jesus in my life now by surrendering my life to Him and trusting Him as my Lord and as my Saviour. His presence is not just a literary fact that I hang on to. His presence is manifested in my life. There are times when you can strongly feel His presence. There is the touch of God on the person inside as He changes me. There are times He intervenes on my behalf. There are times He is silent and makes me learn to wait and trust and love Him more than my answer to prayer. But still, there is something even more special about this day in the future when Jehovah Shama becomes the name of His great city. In that day when we can say, “The Lord is here!” it will be like walking with Jesus here on earth again, only far more amazing because Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord. For a millennium we will see what life ought to be like in His presence here on earth. We, all people at that time, will get to live life in the midst of His peace and presence.

Do you know why? It’s because God is faithful even when we are not. God made a covenant of peace with His people, an everlasting covenant way back in what we call the Old Testament. His people have broken that covenant. But God is not a covenant breaker. He is and always will hold true to His promises. And He promised to place His people and multiply them, and set His sanctuary in their midst forever. And He has said that He will be with His people, and He will be their God, and they will be His people. And it doesn’t stop there! Even the nations, the Gentiles like most of us, will know that He is the Lord and that He sets us apart from the “profane” or ordinary and makes us holy. And when He is in our midst we will know the difference between ordinary and holy because it’s not just about a temple being in the middle of our society, it’s about God being in the midst of our hearts forever. This is the joy and promise of the Millennium; a time on earth of knowing God, of living in His presence.

 
This word in Ezekiel actually came at a time when the Lord was not there. His Shekinah, His presence had left Israel because of their continued rejection of Him. Judah would receive judgement and then the nations around them would receive judgement. This message was to give Israel hope that they could return to God and He would restore them to Him again. But here is the problem. Do we believe and trust God by acting in faith? Or do we reject His promises and search out our own restoration our own way?
I think of Jonah who didn’t want restoration for Ninevah God’s way. So he tried to run from it and from God. But where can you hide from God? Psalm 139:7-12 reminds us, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.”

When I was little, I thought that God was far away, but God tells Jeremiah, “‘Am I a God who is near,’ declares the Lord, ‘And not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?’ declares the Lord, ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord.” Yes, He is a God who is near and far at the same time. He encompasses the whole universe and more and yet, He knows the intimacies of my heart. He knows not only that Adam and Eve have run to hide, but He knows their most intimate thoughts and reasonings.

One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning, God with us. This is not an afterthought or because there was an oops moment when God realized that maybe the tree of knowledge wasn’t a good idea because now man has sinned and we need another plan. This, God with us, has been God’s plan and way from the beginning. It’s the reason God gave Adam and Eve a choice. Think about it. God never had to choose to be with us. He created us. We could be puppets. Yet He chose to relate with us, to interact with us, to love us and to know us and to be known by us. Now it’s up to us, each of us, and all of us, to reciprocate that privilege. It’s up to me to know my Maker. But I must choose to know Him. God’s promise is that all the earth will be filled with His glory because His desire is that all would know Him.

It makes sense to know the One who created me and who loves me most. Paul reiterated that, that it makes sense “that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are His children.’” (Acts 17:27-28) After all, He is the I AM THAT I AM, the Self-Existent One. There is no one else like God. Who else should we grasp on to?

 
There are lots of broken hearted people in the world today. Sin is like that. It breaks hearts and lives. But Jesus came to save and heal the brokenhearted. David reminded us in Psalm 34:18 that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Isaiah shared God’s heart in chapter 57 verse 15, “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” He is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

 
You know, Moses was a smart man. He was smart because he wouldn’t take a step without knowing God was present with him. Listen to his own words, “Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favour in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’” (Exodus 33:15-16) Didn’t God honour that attitude with His presence? Didn’t God take Moses and the people through the waters and stay with them? Didn’t He keep the rivers from overflowing on them? Did He keep the flames from scorching and burning Shardrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Wasn’t He in their midst? Wasn’t He their warrior? Do You know that He rejoices over His people?
Paul shares in 1 Corinthians 14 about the reaction of someone coming under conviction of God’s Spirit. Now understand that you can’t come under conviction of God’s Spirit without His Spirit being present, right?

 

So what happens when we realizefaith the presence of God’s Spirit working in us? The secrets of our heart are disclosed, we fall on our face and worship God, knowing and declaring that He IS HERE among us. Jesus taught us to teach each other to follow and obey God’s commands and that He would be with us always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) It’s not a light thing that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:16 tells us that as believers we are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us. The temple was designed by God as a place where He would make His presence known with His people. That ought to effect my life, shouldn’t it? John 14:18 tells us that Jesus will not leave us as orphans but will come unto us. Paul in Ephesians 2:22 reminds us that we are being continually built together into a dwelling place of the Spirit of God. How closely present is that! Yes, Jesus wants to be present not just with us, but in us. John reminds us in 1 John 3:24, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” Yes, God’s presence is a reality. It’s a glorious reality!

But here’s the thing. I can choose to live in the glorious reality of His presence by following Him and following His ways and living in them. Or I can choose to deny this glorious reality of His presence by living my own way. My choice to deny His presence won’t change His glory but it will change my ability to show forth His glory in and by my life. And it will mean that instead of experiencing the presence of the Lord in my life, I will experience his absence, but that is not by His choice. His choice is that each one of us would know Him and live and walk in His presence. And some day, God knows when, there will be a day when all the people on the face of the earth will know and experience and walk in His presence. And you would think that everyone would think that the most awesome experience ever and that no one would want to turn back to our old ways or our own selfish ways. But you know, the millennium only lasts for that, a millennium. And when the end of the millennium comes, do you realize there will still be people, who even after living in a millennium of perfect peace in the presence of God Himself, they won’t be satisfied and they will rise up against God one more time? Well, I want to so enjoy and thrive on the presence of God even now, that nothing else, ever, would satisfy me or draw me away. I want to know You God for who You are, all of You, so that nothing else compares to You. I want to be so taken and overwhelmed by You that You are my everything forever. Guide me that closely in You, Lord, until You alone are my Everything even today until forever.

Deja Vu

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“And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail; it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing.” Ezekiel 47:12

 
Deja vu! I’ve heard this before. David’s words come alive here from Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law does he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.” (italics added) But I have to notice one word here. It’s the word “like.”

 
I was looking at part of a commentary on the words of Ezekiel 47:12 which remarked that “by these ‘trees’ are meant truly gracious souls, converted persons, real Christians, true believers in Christ; who like trees have a root, are rooted in the love of God, in the person and grace of Christ, and have the root of the matter in them, the grace of the blessed Spirit; and who also is their sap, of which they are full, and so grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ; grow up in him, and grow upwards and heavenwards in their affections and desires, and in the exercise of faith and hope: they are the trees of the Lord…” (John Gill) But I want to be very careful of not just “spiritualizing” things in Scripture when the way God has already made it is already spiritual His way.

 
God is describing to Ezekiel this new temple. He is very exact and precise with the measurements that His messenger is giving Ezekiel. Ezekiel is guided room by room, feature by feature, purpose by purpose to the minutest details and who will be in charge of the different responsibilities. This is clearly a vision of a physical representation of the future temple that will be serving a God-ordained purpose in the spiritual lives of God’s people, all of them whether naturally children of Israel or sojourners who have joined with the children of Israel in the worship of the one true God in the Messiah.

 
Therefore, there is this actual life-giving river that flows out from the temple. After all, the Messiah is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1, 2,3) And I could spiritualize the river here if I wanted to but that wouldn’t make it right and it wouldn’t make it true. Because this river is not “like” something. It is this way. This river flows out with healing and life. There are spiritual applications to us elsewhere, but here is a real river with real life flowing in it whose source is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in God.

 
So, why must we spiritualize the trees? The people in this vision are actual people down to the details being ancestors of particular people, like ancestors of the sons of Zadok. We’re told who enters by which doors and what sacrifices are to be offered. And here we are told about this gloriously wonderful river that flows from under the East gate, that gate that only the Prince enters and exits from. And here on its banks are trees growing that will be for meat, for food. They are the real deal. They are not like something else. They are real trees, growing real food, soaking in the real life giving water. They are real trees whose leaves will never wither or fade because of that water. This fruit shall never fail. It will never stop producing. Every month it will bear new fruit. Why? Because of the waters. And the fruit shall be food and the leaves shall be for healing.

 
John was also privy to a vision from God. Here’s what he was shown. “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1,2) Now, I’m not sure if the tree of life is one tree that sprouts as many like the bamboo does from one shoot, or if John saw one tree in his vision, or just called the many trees “the tree of life” because that’s what each was, but I know that these two men were learning of the same future truth and same future hope and it’s not a spiritualization but an actual physical reality.  Actually it is a spiritual and physical reality, because both are wrapped up together in Christ.

 
The trees are not the servants of God. John continues by saying, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads.” We, by this point, ought to be like those trees as David said. But those trees planted by the river, are trees for our benefit, and for the benefit of all those from all the nations. They are for our healing and for our nourishment for service.

 
I just don’t want to lessen the awe of God. It’s an awesome thing that God can plant us in His living waters and give us life where once there was nothing but death and warped purpose. It’s awesome that He can change and renew me from the inside out as I root myself in Him and rely on His life and power in me. Yes, that is awesome, how He can and does change our lives. But it is also awesome how He can create and be the source of a river that gives life wherever it flows, real physical life, not just spiritual life. And it’s awesome how God creates trees that bear fruit with just the right nourishment and with leaves that bring healing, and I don’t think we’re talking some healing here, I think this is total healing. This is God we are talking about here. This is God with us in all His fullness and majesty. He can do whatever He wants and all that He does is right and good and true. This is God and I don’t want to forget it or minimize it.

 
So, God, if you choose to show “me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” like You showed Ezekiel and John, I think I will just be amazed as they were. And I hope that like them, when I see and hear, that it will make me fall down and worship You more. I hope it doesn’t make me feel smarter or more knowledgeable but that the more I learn, the more awesome and powerful and loving and mighty and righteous I see You as. I pray that this never becomes information that I handle but that every word, every vision, every moment spent meditating on You becomes more and more of the truth and reality of who You are. May every jot and every tittle make more of You and less of me. And someday, when I stand in the future place with You, may I be so overwhelmed by the “deja vu” that I forever understand the greatness and eternity and reality of Your word and its manifestation in You.