Chaos or God

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“This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation.” Ezekiel 19:14

 
Life in itself is hard stuff. It’s emotional. Life without God is even harder and even more emotional. We’ll all go through lamentations, times when all we can do is beat on our breasts, but we don’t have to become a lamentation ourself. God’s desire is that our joy would be full, not for us to become a lamentation. So what happens to change that?

 
We take what was designed for good in us and twist it to our own desires. We forget where our strength and our fortune came from and we manage our own lives. Instead of letting Christ be our guide, we guide ourselves. Instead of loving like Christ, we take matters in our own hands. We adopt violence as good. We devour those around us and see nothing wrong with it. But even people around us can see the problem.

 
That’s what had happened with Israel and its strong princes that God had raised up. They cozied up next to the pagan nations and became like them instead of like the Lion of Judah. So the stronger nation put a stop to it. God humbles those who won’t humble themselves and He can use nations, or life circumstances to do so.

 
And whose fault is it? Is it God’s fault? Really? He didn’t force us to respond this way. He didn’t force us to respond outside of His will. We’re plucked up because of our taunting. We didn’t appreciate what God wanted to give us, what He was giving us, His hand stretched out to us. And now we’ve wound up in the wilderness, dry and thirsty. Somehow, we’ve even managed to burn ourselves and our fruit is gone, as well as our strength. And we’ve become a byword, a lamentation. Now where is our glory?
Actually, our glory is the same place it’s always been, in God. We have no glory of our own. If we want to shine, You must shine in us and through us. Outside of You we have no light. In You there are Psalms; out of You there are lamentations.

 
What is a psalm anyway? One Hebrew word used for psalm is mizmor. Skip Moen shares, “The word in Masoretic script means, “a song of praise, a psalm.” But the Paleo-Hebrew carries the message, ‘Chaos cut off from chaos secures the person.’ How in the world can this tell us anything about a song of praise?” He reminds us that Hebrew is a language of remembering. Each psalm isn’t just about itself but takes us back to the first psalm and reminds us. The first song is Exodus 15:2 where Moses sings his song of praise to God after the victory over Egypt. What happened? The chaos of oppression of Egypt was cut off by the chaos of the water and God secured his people.” After all, when we really think about David, do we remember him for being king or do we remember him mostly because of his thinking and feelings that were expressed over God?

 
God wants to fill us with psalms, not lamentations. Actually, we were created to be psalms, not lamentations. The Pulpit Commentary shared, “True poetry has its fountains in deep emotion. Thus a living religion naturally finds expression in song, and the spiritual experience of men is uttered in psalms. That religion which is satisfied with the cold statements of intellectual propositions has not yet touched the heart, and is no living experience. There is a fire of passion in true devotion…The Book of Lamentations may be taken as the reverse of the Book of Psalms. Psalmists celebrate the emotions of true religion; the “Lamentations” is a dirge sung over those who have been unfaithful to their religion.” That’s something to think about. Only, maybe we need to take out that word religion and replace it with relationship with God. It seems to me that a Psalmist is someone who knows God and experiences Him and can’t help but bubble over with Him. Actually, our relation to God “is so intimate and vital that it should rouse deep feelings” in our hearts followed by appropriate actions.

 
The people of Ezekiel’s day had ceased having emotion for God. They left off feeling for Him. That’s sad. Why? Because Jeremiah says, “You will say this word to them, ‘Let my eyes flow down with tears night and day, and let them not cease; for the virgin daughter of My people has been crushed with a mighty blow, with a sorely infected wound.” It’s sad when we have a God who weaps over us and we have no heart response in return. Our perfect God, who isn’t subject to the sways of passion, does have passion. How do I juggle the glory of God with a God who feels? My God is so glorious and righteous and unchanging that He can handle all His emotions rightly, unlike me. But could you imagine a God without emotions? Or a God with emotions that were so fickle like that of the Greek and Roman gods?

 
But here we have this God, full of glorious emotion. We have this God who created us in His glorious image, to be emotional about the things He is emotional about and yet to hold those emotions in check under Him. It’s a heart connection, straight to the heart of God. It’s a living Psalm. Zephaniah tells us, “The Lord your God in the middle of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing.” The Psalm starts in God. The Psalm is found in God. The Psalm resides in God. This is where joy is found. This is where rejoicing originates. This is where rest is. This is where love is. This is where salvation is. This is where might is. It’s all found in the middle of God, in the middle of His sovereignty, in the middle of His majesty and glory and righteousness and emotions.

 
This is why God uses that marriage metaphor so frequently in Scripture. God is intimately connected both to Israel first, and to His people of other nations who have placed their trust in Him. God is connected with us, He suffers with us, He redeems us and empathizes with us. If you don’t think so, You haven’t contemplated Jesus’ life. God’s covenant with us is greater than a moral covenant. I should hope that my covenant of marriage with my husband and his with me is more than a moral covenant or our marriage has nothing but emptiness and sorrow to look forward to. It ought to be an “outcome of overwhelming and compelling love” (Skip Moen) just like God’s covenant with all His people.

 
So, how do I respond? Do I choose my own way and disregard this God who passionately loves me? Do I keep following my own path until my feelings for God are dulled and null and void? Will I let myself stubbornly resist until I have dug my feet in so firmly that I bring myself to the point of no return? Will I not learn from Ezekiel’s warning? Would I choose to be a lamentation instead of a psalm?

 
But don’t forget, all were not lost in Ezekiel’s day. Listen to Lamentations 3:1-2, “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath. He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not it light.” That’s terrible, isn’t it? But what if walking in darkness reminds me of my need for the light and my desire to be in the light? Well, then it’s a blessing, isn’t it?

 
In reality, God is our filter. Remove God, and anything goes. Remove God, and chaos ensues, darkness invades. Remove yourself from God’s hand of mercy, and chaos reigns. That’s what darkness is, life outside of God’s mercy. He doesn’t have to inflict it on Israel or Egypt or us. All we have to do is walk away from His protection. Then life just becomes what it is without Him. If I want to know affliction, I just need to step outside of His will or step into a place where others are living outside of His will. Living life without God brings affliction. Life without God is hell. Don’t you realize that the worst thing about hell is that you’ll be forever separated from the love of God there? Forget the fire and gnashing of teeth. Forget the presence of the demons it was created for. It’s for those who choose to remove themselves from God’s hand of mercy and from His presence. And that’s what you get, what comes with the absence of God.

 
That’s what many Israelites got in Ezekiel’s day. It’s what many people run after today. Don’t be fooled. If you think life is hell, it may well be that you are already on the road walking away from God’s hand. But while you live in the land of the living, it’s not too late to return and surrender to the God of the living who loves You and feels for You and invites You to live in Him and with Him and through Him in this life and into eternity. Hell wasn’t created for you. You don’t have to choose it. You can choose to be a psalm instead of a lamentation. Skip Moen sums it up this way, “A man without God is pointless.” But our suffering can point us to God. It can help us understand the pain of others. Don’t be fooled to think that He can’t and won’t use suffering in our lives to draw us closer to Him. After all, am I more than my Master, Jesus, who suffered for me? Yes, we have been called into this chaos so that God’s “chaos”, His love and power and might can overcome. It’s our choice. Who will rule me? Chaos or God?

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A Bad Dream

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Picture credit to illusionspoint.com

 

“‘…Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:32

 
I’m up early this morning because I had a dream. It wound up being a bad dream. There was a small child next to me and he wanted to go with another person and didn’t listen when the other person said, “No.” He was at the top of a multiple flight of stairs and someone was on the partial flight slightly below. So he just jumped out for the person to  catch him anyway, only that person didn’t catch him. I couldn’t believe it. He just fell past down the flights to the floor below. And I ran and told the person to call 9-1-1 because I knew it wasn’t good. Actually, I was pretty sure the fall killed him. And I ran and held him in my arms and then I woke up. It was just a terrible feeling. There were so many reasons why it didn’t have to happen. Why couldn’t I stop him? Why didn’t he listen? Why didn’t the other person even try to catch him? How could they not hear the sound of his head hitting? Why weren’t they running to him? Why was I even having a terrible dream like this?

 
So then I get up, because now I can’t sleep any more anyway and I continue reading in Ezekiel and I almost have to ask some of the same questions. Because here I see God asking those kinds of questions of Israel and in asking those kinds of questions of Israel, You make me think about them in terms of me too. They aren’t just things to think about for people of the past, but it’s what we ought to be thinking about today as well. You ask the same question, “Why will you die?”

 

I had no pleasure in watching the death that transpired in that dream. For so many reasons it didn’t have to happen and yet it did. God, You tell us the same thing. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, so turn, and live. Step back from what you want and listen to Me. I want you to live and live abundantly. I’m not trying to keep you from something. My plans are for better things for you than you even know.”

 
And God, You aren’t like the person who didn’t even try to catch the child. Because You make every effort to turn Israel’s heart just as You make every effort to turn mine. You treat every one of us individually. That’s so amazing. You tell us, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) That means that children aren’t held responsible and counted guilty for the parents’ sins, nor vice versa. We are each held responsible for our own sin or righteousness.

 
You continue, “‘If a man is righteous and does what is just and right [that means according to You]—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live,’ declares the Lord GOD.” If a man walks faithfully in the ways of the God who created Him, trusting in Him and His Word and His ways, then he’s counted as righteous, just like Abram. If this man, who here happens to be a father, walks faithfully in God’s ways, he will be saved from God’s wrath and punishment because he’ll have a relationship with the God who wants to care for him. He’ll demonstrate how much he thinks of His God by living like Him. He won’t worship anyone else, because his heart is for You alone. He’ll honor and respect women because he honors and respects You. He won’t misuse others by collecting interest and being more concerned about his profit than their welfare because You are concerned about his welfare. He won’t only refrain from injustice but he will make sure that things are just between people, because justice is of You. He’ll walk in Your statutes, Your ways, and Your will, and obey You because he knows You and honors You as God and as heavenly Father and Lord.

 
But should his son choose otherwise, no matter what he’s seen in his father, then his son will be judged for his own choices. Should he choose violence and shedding blood instead (periyts and shaphak, in Hebrew), then he chooses his own way, that dishonors and defies the God who created him and those around him. He commits violence against God and others, he breaks what God intended, he robs God of His glory and murders the image of God in man. Instead, he chooses to worship idols, dishonor women, oppress the poor and needy, he cruelly takes from others, isn’t concerned with restoration, is involved in things that stand against God, is more concerned about interest and profit than people or God. This son will be judged for his choices.

 
Because that’s what it is, it’s our choice. Because this son, could have a son who has seen all the wrong things that his dad was doing. And his own son could decide to not do likewise. So God, You will judge him alone for his choices.

 
And You even are so merciful as to take it a step beyond. Because there are those who are wicked, who do all those terrible things, and all of a sudden they see what they’re doing and they turn away from their sin and commit themselves to You and now they keep Your statutes and do what is just and right and live for You. You even let this person live; he will not die. You pull him back from the flames. You hug him to You just like the one who was already there by Your side. The one who turns shall surely live too.
You are a righteous and just judge and You alone are qualified to judge us since You created us and You established the bar. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” So maybe a right question to ask now would be, “On which side of the fence do I fall? Who am I lining my life up with? Whose statutes am I following, Yours or my own? Am I standing at the top of the stairs and jumping without listening? Am I violently falling into my own demise?”

 
My dream was rotten. It left a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach and clouded my thoughts. God says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” As rotten as that dream was for me, which thankfully is only a dream and didn’t really happen, imagine all the real life death and spiritual death that God must watch due to our own choices. Imagine the heart of God for those He created for His glory and to receive His love as He watches so many reject their purpose and His love and step into their own demise, into their own violence.

 
But the good news is that should we turn to the Lord, we live. You have no pleasure in the death of anyone. You have no pleasure in the death and separation from You of a willfully wicked person, nor do do You have pleasure in the death and separation of a righteous person who turns to wickedness. Well, I guess they’re both the same, aren’t they? And I guess it’s all about my will or our will and whether we understand that Your will is sovereign and Your will is best. So it’s a matter of me lining up my will with Yours and living in Your will. Because as much as I want to be, I’m not in control. I didn’t create me or the next person. I didn’t create the universe and I don’t hold it together by my word. But You do. And that ought to count for something. Actually, that counts for everything.

 
I don’t want to be a tragedy or a fatality. I don’t have to be. You share Yourself in such a way that I can know You and I can live in You and for You. As a matter of fact, for those who choose to surrender their lives back to You who created us, You don’t make us do all this on our own. You actually dwell in us by the person, power, and presence of Your Holy Spirit. And the beauty of it all is that Jesus showed us what life in You is like. And we can have it through His resurrection when we follow by dying to ourselves and our violent wills and live to Your will. He paid the price for us to be forgiven, so that our wickedness wouldn’t be remembered against us, so that God will look upon us as righteous. We follow in faith and trust. We wait for God to say, “Jump now. I’ve got you.” We don’t just do it in our own time and our own way lest we fall to our death. And what pleasure is there in that, for anyone involved? Everyone in the dream was brokenhearted. But it doesn’t have to be. God has a better way. And His name is Jesus. And I can turn to Him and live in Him and for Him. I can turn, and live. The question is, “Will I?”

Life to a Dry Tree

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“…Will he thrive? Can one escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant and yet escape?” Ezekiel 17:15

 
Sometimes we get the idea that if things change, our promises are annulled. Maybe if something better comes along, our “old” covenants and commitments are no longer valid. If my feelings change, or a better situation comes, I’m not held to my word anymore. My feelings, my wants, my desires, my whatever is held in higher regard than my word, or what is that really called, my integrity.

 
But it’s not just about integrity here in Ezekiel today. I think it starts deeper. I think it goes to the roots and it begins at who we honor most. I think it goes back to the roots of who really is my authority and whether I really submit to Him or not. It goes back to what it really means to honor God. I’ll be the first to admit that honoring You, God, is not easy. Sometimes it means me making the most difficult decisions of my life. It could mean me choosing to do the thing that no one will understand. It could mean me holding on when I’d rather take the easy way out and let go. It could mean me choosing a right attitude in the midst of pain instead of snapping at people. It could mean me saying “No” when in my heart I want to say “Yes.” But what about today’s word n Ezekiel?

 
So Ezekiel is to talk for God to Israel again. Now, we know that God had chosen to send Nebuchadnezzar to conquer the land and rise up over it. He’s probably this first eagle with great wings and long pinions. And he takes the top of the cedar, the monarchy of Judah, and plants Zedekiah as king in Jeconiah’s place over Judah. So although Judah was under judgment, God’s appointed authority, Nebuchadnezzar had established a covenant to allow Zedekiah to reign in Judah under him and thus they would prosper under Nebuchadnezzar.

 
But what happened? Zedekiah would not honor his covenant with God’s appointed man for the time. He leaned toward the “eagle” of Egypt’s strength to find his own deliverance, his own way. But Egypt was not only not as strong, but not God’s way. If Zedekiah had remained under Nebuchadnezzar’s authority, which was under God’s authority, his kingdom would have had prosperity and born fruit. What God had planned for good, Zedekiah was choosing a different route that would lead to easy and irretrievable ruin instead.

 
The question posed is, “Shall it prosper?” Will any of our attempts to break covenant with the Lord and do things our own way prosper? Will any form of rebellion against God lead to fruitfulness? In truth, Nebuchadnezzar had weakened Judah by carrying off all it’s strength of people. It’s only strength could be found in her covenant with him. How can it prosper when we violate faith, a promise, vow, or allegiance? How can treachery profit? Webster calls this “a violation of faith or trust in friendship, in agency and office, in allegiance, in connubial engagements, and in the transactions of kings.” After all, the prophets tell us that Nebuchadnezzar was reigning by God’s right. “Render unto God what is God’s and unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” right? If David knew how to submit under God’s appointed man, shouldn’t Zedekiah understand? And what about me? Do I know how to submit under God’s appointed authorities?

 
Zedekiah was trusting in the strength of Egypt instead of trusting in God. Zedekiah was missing the point that his rebellion was not only sin against Nebuchadnezzar as the vicegerent of God, but it was a sin against 
God Himself. Zedekiah was not the deliverer. God was going to bring a deliverer for Israel in His time and His way, the highest, most tender, and most slender branch of all and He would be planted forever. And this Branch (Jesus) that honors God in every way will God plant on the mountain heights of Israel, “that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 17:23,24)

 
Speaking of trees, that brings me to Jesus’ own words, because it seems that this type of submission, this amount of trust, this kind of obedience and commitment to relationship and covenant has been God’s plan for us all along. Unfortunately, we blew it in the garden just as Zedekiah was blowing it here again. but this is what the kingdom of God is supposed to be like. “It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:31,32) Do you get the idea that this is God’s plan all along? That maybe this is what I’m to be surrendering to?

 
What if I’m not the one planting myself? Because how can a seed plant itself? How do I have anything, any strength, and knowledge, anything without God doing the planting and making something of me? Should I fight how He wants to plant me or where He plants me or how deep or how long or how hard it is? Should I fight who He plants around me? When was the last time I planted a garden and the tomatoes or the green peppers or the lettuce fought back or argued with me? Ridiculous, huh? But it’s not ridiculous for me to argue with God?

 
Did Zedekiah not realize that You “know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”? (Jeremiah 29:11) Did he forget or did he knowingly choose his own way? Isn’t that what rebellion is? Is it knowing and choosing? What about me? Where has God placed me? Am I fighting against it? How am I handling my health circumstances? Am I angry at God and at people around me? What about all this waiting? Is God wrong? What about what’s going on with my parents or my spouse? Am I handling it my own way, so I’m in charge, or am I submitting to handling it God’s way?

 
When people look at me and my responses to life, do they know, I mean KNOW that God is LORD? Or am I just getting them to look at me? Am I bearing the fruit of submission and obedience to God like Jesus? Or am I bearing some foreign fruit? Am I a puffed up tree, high on myself and my feelings and my rights? Those are the trees God lays low. Or am I a tree that realizes its total dependency on God for everything I am and wherever I am in life? Or am I in between those two trees somewhere, still coming to grips with the reality that I am a tree at all? Am I full of my own strength and acting in it like the green tree, forgetting that the sap that is my life blood comes from the One who planted me and sustains me. Or am I dry in myself and in desperate need of His life source to flow through me. After all, if God can cause dry bones to live, certainly He can give life to a dry tree.

 
Lord, teach me to guard myself against me. Continually remind me that You are in control always, no matter the situation, and give me a heart to submit under those authorities You place over me like Jesus did, and Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or even like Ezekiel. May I honor all those who You have given positions of authority, even mutual positions of authority, around me, that I may honor You. So let me draw so close to You that I think like You think more than I think like me so that I can act like You act more than I act like me.

It All Boils Down to This

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Photo credit to simplyrecipes.com

 

“For thus says the Lord God, ‘I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant.’” (Ezekiel 16:59,60)

 
Can something be wonderfully amazing and astonishingly sad at the same time? This is. I mean, here we have You God, that chose this nation out of nowhere and made something special out of her. Who was Israel? Really, she was a person taken out of Canaan. Historically, Abram was from Ur. There was no Israel yet. There were just people going their own way, worshiping everyone but the real God who created them. But You chose to make Yourself known to Abram and make a people who was not into a people who was.

 
This begins as such a beautiful story. This baby born and left there to die in the wilderness but You, God, saw and had pity and compassion. Where others abhorred the baby, You loved her. You not only said, “Live!” but You took her in and gave her life. Because of You she flourished and grew tall and beautiful. You entered into covenant with her and made her Yours. You cleansed her and anointed her. You clothed her in fine clothes. You adorned her with fine jewelry and a crown on her head. But instead of trusting in the one who rescued her, she trusted in her self. And her life was spent on her self and pleasing others. She became worse than a prostitute. The covenant meant nothing to her. It was so bad that she even offered her children as sacrifices.

 
Now, how is that for an amazing story turning sour and becoming astoundingly sad? How do any of us get from nothing to something like that and then forget who brought us there? How is it so easy to be a covenant breaker? How is it so easy to forget our own helplessness and lack of sufficiency? How is it so easy to lose sight of the gift of love and compassion that God has shown us? Do we not even think?

 
Here’s the danger, that I read this story and think how terrible that was of Israel. How could Israel be so blind? And the danger is to think that I’m any better. It’s a dangerous thing if I don’t place myself in her place and make sure that I’m not thinking too highly of myself, that I’m not trying to manipulate things to my way, that I haven’t forgotten where love first came from.

 
I run the same possibility of deadly thinking as Israel. I can get off Your track and onto my own and pervert everything so easily the minute I stop remembering everything You have done in and for me. Because I was just as naked and bare and wallowing in my own blood. And since my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, I can run the same danger of building vaulted chambers for myself and making lofty places for myself.

 
I don’t even have to run out and be unfaithful with another man or woman to do that. There is a war on and it’s a spiritual war inside of me. And this spiritual war will exhibit itself physically in my life. Yeah, I walk in this body of flesh, but the struggle is deeper. The struggle is divine, just like it was for Israel. And there are strongholds that must be overcome. Ignoring them or thinking they aren’t there isn’t the answer.

 
And what in the world is a stronghold? It’s from ochuroma in Greek and describes a strong military installation, a bastion, or a fortified place. And the truth is that God alone ought to be my stronghold. But the problem with me as a human is that I tend to impose my confidence in my self or other things. The truth is that I have conquering abilities in God that don’t exist in me without You. I need to pull down that falsely imposed confidence so brutally that I cast down even the slightest imaginings, or thought, or knowledge that lifts itself up contrary to God. I need to treat those thoughts and ideas as though they are my enemy, for they truly are, and destroy them with fierce retaliation. Israel didn’t do that. She let her thoughts captivate her until they took her captive. I don’t want to be like that.

 
C.H. Surgeon said, “Unless the Spirit of God be upon us, we have no might from within and no means from without to rely upon. Wait upon the Lord, beloved, and seek strength from Him alone. There cannot come out of you what has not been put into you. You must receive and then give out…Oh! May God send us poverty; may God send us lack of means, and take away our power of speech if it must be, and help us only to stammer if we may only thus get the blessing. Oh! I rave to be useful to souls, and all the rest may go where it will.” Is God speaking to my heart like that? Do I realize my absolute and total dependence on You, Lord?

 
And what about the church, the body of Christ as a whole? What about my family of God? Spurgeon also speaks to us as a body of believers. “O churches! Take heed lest ye trust in yourselves; take heed lest ye say, ‘We are a respectable body,’ ‘We are a mighty number,’ We are a potent people;’ take heed lest ye begin to glory in your own strength; for when that is done, ‘Ichabod’ (1 Samuel 4:21) shall be written on your walls and your glory shall depart from you. Remember, that He who was with us when we were but few, must be with us now we are many, or else we must fail; and He who strengthened us when we were but as ‘little in Israel,’ must be with us, now that we are like ‘the thousands of Manasseh,’ or else it is all over with us and our day is past.”

 
Am I my own? Did I create myself? Will I forget so easily? Can I so easily look such love and devotion in the face and turn blankly away? How can it be that I can take so frivolously for granted the commitment of the One who owed me nothing and yet so compassionately covenanted with me and raised me up and gave me all that I have? What am I thinking? Or maybe, how am I thinking?

 
Thinking is only a good thing if I take those thoughts captive to the truth. So, what is truth, right? Didn’t Pilot ask that question? The way of truth is God’s way, after all, He established it and if flows forth from His being. Jesus reiterated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) But I can choose the way of truth or choose my own way, like Israel was. Peter shared, “And many shall follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Peter 2:2) That’s what it boils down to. Will I follow Your way and make You my stronghold, or will I follow my own thoughts, feelings, and sensuality and make them my stronghold?” Maybe I should learn from Israel. It’s not too late.

The Value of a Vine

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Photo compliments of Brittany Cunningham.

 

“’Son of man, what is the vine-tree more than any tree, the vine branch which grew up among the trees of the forest?’” (Ezekiel 15:2)

What’s the value of a vine? Actually, what’s the value of a vine in Your eyes, God? Hearing this makes me think of Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” So maybe this whole vine idea wasn’t a new thing. Maybe it was God’s idea that we should find our life in Him from the start and that our purpose on earth is to bear His fruit and not ours.

Thinking of bearing fruit as a vine takes me to Genesis 49:2. Here are the words that Jacob uses to bless his son Joseph, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a fountain; its branches run over the wall.” Why was he such a strong vine? Look at his life. Joseph didn’t act like an oak tree instead of a vine. He didn’t rely on his own strength. He realized that his strength, the strength of his “vine” came from God. He looked to God for help and blessing. He let God fill him with the fruit he should bear. His brothers chose to bear fruit foreign to God, but Joseph clung to that which was of God.

Israel is referred to as a vine in Psalm 80:8,9. “You have brought a vine out of Egypt: you have cast out the heathen and planted it. You prepared room before it, and did cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.” Imagine that the Kudzu vine was a good thing here. It’s a creeping vine that is native to Asia but introduced to the U.S. in the 1800’s as an ornamental and for erosion control. Only it crowds out native species. So here in the U.S. it’s not a good thing. But God chose Israel from among the nations. They were chosen to be a good vine to go into the world and bear God’s fruit to the nations around them. The thing is, they started bearing their own fruit instead of His. They weren’t submitted to the One who gave them life and planted them and gave them what they needed to bear, fruit for the good of others and not just themselves. Israel isn’t the only one that can become like Kudzu. So can we, if we can’t submit and let God have His way in us.

Israel wasn’t always an empty vine, but that was God’s pronouncement in Hosea 10:1. “Israel is an empty vine, he brings forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he has increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.” Read the next verse and we see the problem, “Their heart is divided.” It’s not just focused on God. There is something else that is to be desired. God wasn’t their King of kings. Israel was producing “foreign” fruit, not fruit of God. Israel was producing fruit based on the world around them and not the God who created them and gave them life and sustained them. And the truth is, an empty vine doesn’t have much life in it. It’s fading, no matter how strong it believes itself to be. Take the Life Source away and there goes your life.

In Isaiah 5, God talks about a vineyard that He planted and dressed. The vines were planted on a fruitful hill. It was fenced in from predators. There were no stones. The vines were the best. There was a tower in the middle and a winepress. The vines should have brought forth the choicest grapes but instead brought forth wild grapes. What can be done? The vines must be destroyed and new vines planted. The time for pruning and digging has already been tried, over and over. The problem is that the vines wouldn’t acknowledge God. “[T]hey regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands. Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge” and the ones who ought to know are famished and dried up. They call evil good and good evil and put darkness for light and light for darkness. They’re wise in their own eyes. The wicked are justified and the righteous are treated as wicked. This is not what the vine was created for. Unfortunately, this is what the vine chose.

Isn’t it so sad to have been planted of the true vine but to have chosen “other vineness”? “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter…” (Deuteronomy 32:32) Maybe some introspection is due on the part of every believer. Maybe it’s a good thing to examine our own “vineness.” Whose vine do I resemble? What kind of fruits am I producing? Am I guilty of “other vineness” or am I producing the real and succulent grapes that I was created to produce for the glory of the One who established me in His vineyard?  After all, God asks, “Yet I had planted you a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then are you turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jeremiah 2:21) Maybe that question needs to be asked today? Maybe that’s a question I ought not avoid asking myself to make sure that I am who I was created to be and not someone masking as a vine I’m not.

It’s a sad thing to have started out as a vine full of life and fruit and to end up cast down, dried up, fruitless, and in the burn pile. The truth is that none of us have to end up like that. Israel didn’t and doesn’t and neither do any of us. We can choose to submit and stay in the One who gives us life and fruitfulness. I have to remember and submit to being a branch in the Vine I come from. I must bear Your fruit and Your life must course through me. Abiding in You isn’t just about a mental ascension or acknowledgment. It’s about utter dependence. I actually must know that without You I can actually do nothing. Without You I cannot live a real life. Without You I wither and am good for nothing and no one. But abiding in You isn’t just some passive thing. It’s a wholehearted submission and dependence. It’s listening to You and agreeing with You and then doing and acting upon the things of Your heart. It’s not just hearing Your words but it’s soaking up Your words and letting them flow forth in actuality from our life like fruit on a vine. When You say love Your enemies, it’s not just words I speak, but the grapes of love come out and are sweet nourishment to my enemies. When You say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” you aren’t just talking philosophy here. You want us to love as much as Christ loved and honored You and gave His life for us. Is my number one fruit to glorify You in everything? Do I care what grapes I offer my neighbor? Do I give him anything at all?

Being a healthy vine has everything to do with learning submission. God cares that I learn to render “tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.” (Watchman Nee) The life of the vine is in it’s submission. Choosing my own life, my own law, is classified as lawlessness by God, after all, He is the Creator of law, what do we know about it? Do I choose to restrain Your law and hold back Your grapes or do I help Your law and bring forth sweet fruit. We all have something lacking in us, only You fill it up. It’s useless to try to fill it on our own; we can’t do it.

I have the choice like Israel to rebel, but look where it leads. It’s a rejecting of grace and riches. It’s choosing poverty of spirit and life. But I also have the choice to surrender my life to You in love and worship and devotion.  It’s my choice if I want to live in the vine and bear Your beautiful fruit or not.  Seems like a no-brainer to me.  I want to learn to abide in You.  I want to be a vine bearing Your fruit.

Strange Fire

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“‘Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 14:14)

 

The Lord is still pronouncing judgment on His people. Now, some of the leaders of Israel were coming to “inquire” of him before Ezekiel. And it appears as though God was asking, “Why? Why are they bothering?” Is that a strange question for God to ask? Or would that make sense if God new that all they wanted to offer was “strange fire” anyways?

 

Here is a God who knows man’s heart better than man knows it. That means that You, God, know our feelings, our intents, our thoughts, our motives, and how our will is inclined. And here is what you had to say about these leaders, “…these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face.” So, if these men weren’t coming before God to submit and agree with Him, why were they coming? That’s what You were asking. “Should I be inquired of at all by them?”

 

These leaders who should have lived lives of submission were anything but submitted, they were anything but obedient. They had set up their idols in their hearts. Do I know what that means? There is actually a New Testament warning against allowing this in my life today. “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) So, what’s the danger of idols? When I worship an idol, I’m attempting by whatever it takes, to try to shape the world according to my own will and my own desires. Think about it. Why would I placate a god? So that it treats me the way I want to be treated. Idol worship is a way to manipulate and control the world around me. Idol worship is the opposite of submission. It’s antagonistic to God.

 

But I would never worship an idol.  Really? The minute I try to control things and take God out of the picture I become an idol worshipper. My desire becomes my idol. I become my idol. My desire becomes my stumbling block. I become my own reason for falling. And I don’t even realize the perversity of it; I don’t realize how twisted my thinking and actions have become.

 

I can’t help but think about God only delivering Noah, Daniel, and Job. And why? Because of what their lives demonstrated, by the righteousness that they chose to live in, that came from the depths of their souls and flowed out into real life. It was the righteousness that flows from God and emanates from Him and they chose to uphold it. It wasn’t forced upon them. In a world where they were allowed to choose who to submit to, they chose to submit to Your ways, God. They chose to be under Your manipulation rather than manipulate the world around them. They trusted You more than themselves.

 

Maybe we think we can come up with and create our own righteousness but that’s a total lie. Psalm 103:6 tells us that “the Lord performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.” But that doesn’t just mean that God does good things. The Hebrew ‘ose(h) tsedaqot is about making righteousness. See, everything that He does is righteous. He is the originator of righteousness and anything righteous came from Him first.

 

And then we come to Psalm 106:3 which says, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” How can we do that? Well, I certainly can’t do it without submitting to the righteous One. And I certainly can’t do that if I make something else my idol. It would seem that if I want to do this, I would need to be in constant communication with the One who is Righteousness. Doesn’t God tell me that I can speak with Him any time? Even in the midst of my sin, doesn’t He tell me to come to Him and confess my sins? Can’t I respond to Him anytime? Can’t I answer Him? Can’t I converse with Him? Or am I just coming to try to placate Him and manipulate Him?

 

 
Was it that the elders couldn’t come before Him? Or was the truth that they would come before Him but without any desire to communicate? Their answers were in their idols. Their hearts had already chosen sides. They were in control and there was no way they would surrender that control to God. When we stop communicating with God it’s like we remove ourselves from reality. It’s like we already refuse to exist.

 

 
Maybe if these elders were more like the poor widow, their story would have been so different. Luke 21:2 tells of Jesus watching “a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” into the temple offering. The coins had little value. Each coin was worth maybe 1/4 of a penny. So how could Jesus say that she had put in more than all the rest of the people? Could it be because she placed more than coins in the offering? By that act, was she placing her submission in this God that she trusted utterly would care for her even though she had given everything? Was she done with manipulation? Was she ready to submit under the hand of her mighty God who is truly able to save? Is that kind of faith what dominated her life?

 

 

What does the story of this widow tell us? Remember, a widow in Jesus’ day had no human support, no property rights, and was left to fend for herself. Who would take care of her? She could choose to manipulate people or she could submit to and rely on God.
But that’s not all this tells me. This tells me that Jesus, that God, notices those in need. Of all the people He saw her. It wasn’t about her 100% donation. It was about her righteousness demonstrated by her heart of submission. Let’s think about this. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 tells how when we see someone struggling, “ you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Why would He say that? Because His righteousness is a righteousness that notices and meets needs.  As a matter of fact, righteousness is “more valuable than worship rituals.” Micah reminds us, ”With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And Hosea reminds us, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” And Proverbs 21:3 declares, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” So let’s not think it was the widows sacrifice. God noticed the heart behind her sacrifice. Without that, her coins would have left a hollow reverberation.

 

 
Do I notice the things the Lord notices like that? Do I act upon them like He does? Do I just want to placate God? Or am I submitted fully to Him clinging to His care for me? Do I have any idols in my heart that I need to repent from and tear down and utterly destroy? Am I somehow choosing to separate myself from You, Lord? The truth is, I am responsible for me. I alone can choose whether to live dependently in and under Your righteousness or by my own false self-righteousness. I can choose my idols like the elders. Or I can choose You. Each choice comes with it’s foretold consequences. It’s not like we haven’t been educated. Maybe it’s just that some of us refuse to be taught. I want to learn, Lord, from You and of You. I don’t want to hold on stubbornly to my idols. I want to hold on stubbornly to You. You give us the means to deliver our lives by righteousness in You. So let me be found in You displaying that righteousness which is of You and not of me.

Got Heart?

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Artwork credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“…say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’…Likewise, thou son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, which prophesy out of their own heart…” (Ezekiel 13:2,17)

 
God is warning of some scathing punishment here. What for? Because the prophets and prophetesses were living and leading “out of their own hearts.” They should have been living and leading with hearts in tune with God’s heart, but instead they were telling lying prophesies and teaching false superstitious beliefs. There’s a terrible problem when we choose to follow our own heart if it’s not under the influence of God. After all, Jeremiah tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Well, obviously God can know it, and show it, and correct it if we turn our hearts over to Him.

 
Let’s not just think that we’re only talking about our feelings when we talk about our hearts in Scripture. Let’s remember that it incorporates our feelings, our intellect, and even our will. That’s the problem. We want to esteem our will, even above God’s will. We want our life and everyone else’s to be about our feelings, our thoughts, and our will. But it’s not. And we hate to admit that. We hate to think that there is something bigger and more to life than us and than now. But Jesus warned, “whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) See, none of us get to stand on this stone like a pedestal for ourselves. Jesus is the only foundation in God who is counted worthy of pre-eminence. The rest of us are called to fall before him. That takes submission. And we can’t come to God unless we submit to Him, and let Him change our hearts and mold them to His and His alone.

 

Watchman Nee said, “Faith is the principle by which we receive life, while submission is the principle by which we conduct our living.” Actually, I don’t see a way to separate the two. It takes submission to demonstrate faith and faith to submit. Why was tragedy preparing to strike God’s people? Because they were living outside of “the realm of God’s authority.” The sad thing is that those who had been acting like the authorities, like the head, should have known how to submit before God and others because they were the “religious” leaders. But maybe the truth is that some of us have never really known submission. And maybe it’s just as important to learn today, as it was then.

 

The truth is that God is Authority over authorities. All authorities are appointed by Him. Therefore, every one of us is called to submit, first to His authority, and then to those authorities He has appointed. God pronounced woe on the foolish prophets of Ezekiel’s time for following “their own spirit.” That’s that word ruach, which is also used of the Holy Spirit, and the spirit that was placed in man when God breathed life into him. But without God’s Spirit, the spirit of man is powerless and empty. Without a spirit of submission, we are nothing. Without being trained in submission we learn nothing. Look at Jesus’ training. Understand the magnitude of the example that Christ set for us. He submitted under parents. He submitted under the religious authorities. He submitted under the hurt and sick when He stopped to listen to them and asked their desire. He submitted to the Father by humbling Himself voluntarily to wash the feet of His disciples, and to withstand the cross. He was God. Did God deserve this? Didn’t He have the right to fight back? But Jesus was submitted to the will and Spirit of God and not even His own will. This is what I must learn. My life and the life of those around me depend on how well I learn and live our this lesson on submission.

 

Nadab and Abihu submitted to their own hearts instead of God. They submitted to their own hearts instead of the instruction of their Father Aaron, the priest. Therefore they served up strange fire before the Lord and were struck down. Why was it strange fire? It was unrecognizable as a sacrifice because it was not what was authorized and it was not given in a submissive spirit. Nadab and Abihu had something in common with the prophets and prophetesses of Ezekiel’s day. They refused to take orders and disregarded authority. They obeyed their own hearts instead.

 

We can’t serve God our way. It doesn’t work that way. God is so much more than us, how could we ever determine what is acceptable? God is even our “originator” so it makes sense that He would be the originator of what is appropriate for service to Him. Come on. I’m only human but if you want to give me a gift that shows me You care, give me a gift that touches my heart, not yours. That’s how I know You care about me. Is it so far fetched that one must know God’s heart to give Him what is acceptable to Himself? After all, we can only serve Him through submission to Him. When I submit to His heart and will and intellect, I am accepted. But strange fire is serving from my own heart, will, and intellect and not thinking about God at all. Strange fire is serving without submission. It may be zealous, but it’s zealousness over me and not over God.

 

It’s not the gift that is important to God; it’s the heart of submission. Samuel reminded Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) How we handle God’s authority matters. It’s a heart revealer. We need to not be so concerned with leading everybody but be most concerned with following first. If I can’t follow God, I can’t lead. And if I know how to follow God, then I know how to be a complement to the others following God around me. Submitting to God means I learn how to submit to others. Am I more than my Master who submitted?

 

The work is not up to me; it’s up to God, and God works always in unity. Therefore, the work is up to us, to work together in submission before God and one to another. We are one corporate body with the heart of God, not many individual hearts all doing their own thing. That causes division. I need to get rid of any individualist mentality I’ve been harboring. If I meet God first and foremost as my authority, then I can submit to those under Him as authorities in Him. They are not just fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters, but they are His chosen ones. I can’t serve God without submission.

 

A submissive heart to God cares for the things of God. When Saul was chasing David, David cut off the skirt of his cloak. He didn’t hurt Saul yet it bothered his heart. Why? Didn’t Jesus say that the thought is the same thing as doing the deed? Watchman Nee shared, “What we condemn is not just murder; even the cutting off of another’s garment with a little knife is wrong and is rebellion. Backbiting, an evil eye, or a grudge in the heart may not be murder, but they are similar to the cutting off of another’s garment, and they proceed from a spirit of rebellion.” This was a funny situation here. David had been anointed as king. Saul had been anointed first and already was king. Saul was in rebellion to God. Yet David knew he was still the anointed king. David, not Saul, was submitted to God and waiting on God’s timing. He was sensitive to the heart and will of God. He submitted to God and to King Saul by honoring Saul’s kingship. Why? Because He was submitted to God first and foremost.

 

Peter tells us, “For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” could this conscience toward God be for the heart of God and in submission to Him? Could it be because I care more for the honor and glory and person of God than my own welfare? Is that what David understood? Is that how Jesus lived? Was this concept perfected in them through their sufferings? Are sufferings the test of obedience? Would I rather complain and show frustration than learn to submit?

 

Do I want to be apart of establishing God’s kingdom on earth? Then I need to learn submission. Jesus never opposed God’s authority. What about me? What about the church? What about the fellowship of believers? Is God going to find our works perfect? Or are we offering strange fire? A little submission is a far cry from perfect submission.

 

Obedience, faith, and submission all go hand in hand. Do I really know God and obey the Gospel? (2 Thessalonians 1:8) If not, I’m in rebellion. Am I disobedient to the truth? (Romans 2:8) Believing is obeying. And what did Paul say first upon believing? “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10) He believed, obeyed, and submitted to His authority.

 

So many of us have strong feelings. We may even have strong feelings about sin. But somehow we have no feelings about rebellion. Oh, maybe rebellion in someone else against us, but not of our own rebellion. I need to recognize my own rebellion toward God and the authorities He has placed in my life. I need to seek His heart in my submission to them just like Jesus did or Paul did.

 

Am I too busy chasing the desires of my own heart? Or am I more concerned with Your heart, Lord? Am I willing to fall upon the rock of Jesus in willing submission, or am I waiting to be crushed in my rebellion? How deceitful is my heart? Will I turn it over to You, the only one who knows my heart and the only one who can change it and give me a new heart? Through salvation, God enables us to have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) In truth, do I understand that I am a servant? Therefore I am called to be obedient to those who God has placed as my “masters” and “serve with singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:5,6) Have I got a heart? If so, who does it belong to?