Broken Reeds and Crocodile Gods

Standard

Photo credit to Dave Montreuil.

 

“Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh King of Egypt, the great dragon that lies in the midst of his rivers, that has said: ‘My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.’” Ezekiel 29:3

 
Does that sound familiar. “My body is my own.” “My life is my own.” “My choices are my own.” “My future is my own.” It’s a lot of my, my, my and me, me, me, don’t you think? Do you think it’s hard to get caught up in thinking like this? I don’t. I think it’s hard to keep ourselves from getting caught up in this thinking. I think that we can’t, unless we have someone stronger with us working with us. And I’m so glad that God has given us Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit to do just that. But before He can do that, I have to realize that I need Him to do that in me.

 
Pharaoh, or the Kingdom of Egypt, has already been privy to the knowledge of God. Moses was a witness long ago to all of Egypt. They saw the first-hand intervention of God already. But they chose to trust in something of their own making. They chose to trust in their own way, their own power, their own gods.

 
As a matter of fact, one of their main gods, Sobek, was the crocodile god, who is probably that “great dragon” that God is referencing. Sobek was very popular. So were crocodiles. Sobek was beloved. The people treated crocodiles well in an attempt to appease him so their crops and people would be fertile. They also believed that Sobek controlled the waters, of which the Nile was very necessary for survival. It was kind of common sense seeming to worship the leader of the crocodiles who filled the Nile. Sobek was also a fourfold deity with Ra of fire, Shu of air, Geb of earth, and Osiris of water being part of him. He had ferocity and quickness. Sobek even participated in the birth of one god, Horus. It’s also believed that Sobek created the world. At one point he was incorporated into the worship of Amun in which he became the “manifestation of Amun-Re.”

 
It’s true. A crocodile is formidable, ferocious, and quick and he’s definitely worth fearing. But no crocodile, not even one who poses as a god, is greater to be feared than God. After all, he was already overthrown once during the exodus from Egypt. How many more times would the Egyptians need to go through the same lesson before they learned?
But if we are too busy shouting, “My river is my own, and I have made if for myself,” we won’t ever stop to realize that the river was there before me or that crocodiles can be killed and die or that there are places where crocodiles can’t even survive. But a true God doesn’t die, and existed before all, and there is no place where He is not or where He cannot survive. Oh, and a real God doesn’t need to be appeased because He loves and desires to be loved in return.

 
It’s funny, well not so funny really, how fake gods mirror what we have in the Real God, only dimly. Sobek was needed for protection and he was the manifestation of Amun-Re. Sounds a little like a copy cat of the Son of God only he can’t do the job, and Jesus can. I mean, where was Sobek when God held back the waters? Where was Sobek when God showed He was able to give life and take it from the other “so-called gods”? Where was Sobek to protect his people? And where would he be now?

 
But Egypt wasn’t only guilty of puffing themselves up in pride. They were guilty of leading Israel to trust is something less than their God. They were guilty of posing like a strong great dragon when they were really a “staff of reed” and a broken one at that. See, we can choose to trust in others instead of God. We can choose to trust in false ideas with them. And we can still call ourselves believers when we live more like a follower of Sobek. It’s like grabbing a reed from the river bank of Egypt to use as a walking staff, only it’s broken. It’s not going to fight off our attackers. It’s not even going to support us as we walk. It’s just a staff of reed. A staff is supposed to be strong. It represents spiritual strength. But a staff of reed is spiritual weakness. It might pose as strength and call itself a great dragon, but actually it’s just a baby chameleon compared to the God who deserves our trust.

 
Here’s the thing. God’s heart is not set on wiping us out. His heart is set on reminding us and bringing us back to Him. That’s why You didn’t destroy Egypt forever. That’s why You keep giving Israel other chances. That’s why I’ve not been destroyed. That’s why You gave Egypt 40 years of desolation. It’s a time to think and remember, just like with Israel. Only sometimes people use that time to stop and think and sometimes they don’t.

 
Was there really 40 years of desolation for Egypt? Yes. Around 590 BCE Ezekiel probably made this prophecy. Nebuchadnezzar’s time to attack during his 37th year was in 588 BCE. There was actually something called the Nebuchadnezzar Inscription found describing this event. Forty years later, Egypt resorted to allying with King Nabonidus of Babylonia, becoming that lesser power under his opponent.

 
Isaiah warns Israel of what they are doing. “Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.” (Isaiah 36:6) Why is that a problem? Is that a problem because Egypt is inherently weak? No. It’s a problem because only God is strong and the rest of us are all inherently weak. We are all broken reeds in comparison. Not a single one of us is truly a great dragon like we think. We are all needy. God is never needy. If our strength is in each other or ourselves, we will constantly be splintering our own hands, because our reeds will keep falling apart and decaying. But not God.

 
Ferrel’s Travel Blog shared, “There is a great lesson in this for each of us to avoid leaning on promises and systems of thought that will not hold us up in time of need. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.(Proverbs 3:5-6)’” Our lives and eternity are dependent upon us learning that God is God and we are not. Our lives and eternity are dependent upon us learning that trusting in God even when we don’t understand is the greatest wisdom and highest understanding available. Not only do our lives and our eternity depend upon us understanding that You are God, but the lives and eternities of all those who follow us depend upon us letting You be God in our lives and theirs. Otherwise, we are just being broken reeds, ready to inflict splinters of pain in the hands and lives of those we love. In Ezekiel 29, God gets more graphic with that staff of reed. When Israel grasped it with their hand, it didn’t just prick them with splinters. The reed broke and then tore all their shoulders and as it broke it made their loins to shake. What kind of staff will I be to those around me? Where does my trust lie? Who’s river do I abide in?

Advertisements

How is Your Heart Set?

Standard

Photo credit to Fine Art America.

 

“…Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said,’I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas;’ yet you are a man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God.” (Ezekiel 28:1)

 
I wonder how it felt for Peter that day that Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance for me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”? (Matthew 16:23) Not long before that, Peter had been commended on how God had revealed to him that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But now, “Get behind me, Satan!”? Ouch, that stings. It probably stings more for Peter who really cared about You God than maybe it stung for the king of Tyre. But if I were to put myself in the place of either, whether Peter or the king of Tyre, I would say that the king’s blow was even more of a sting in reality. I mean, Peter was thinking like Satan when he thought like every man thinks instead of thinking like the Spirit. But the king was not only thinking momentarily like Satan. He had taken Satan’s stand and taken God’s glory and claimed it as his own, and claimed God’s seat of authority, and made himself god in his own heart. Pride does that in a person.

 
Let’s face the facts here. The king of Tyre was one wise guy. You tell us that Yourself, Lord, “you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; by your wisdom and your understanding you have made wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries; by your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth…” But let’s stop to think for a second. Where does wisdom and understanding really come from in the first place?
Here’s a scriptural hint about where wisdom and understanding come from. “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore…” (1 Kings 4:29) Even before that, Moses was speaking of God’s statutes and rules and doing them and said, “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and our understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

 

Why would following statutes and rules of God show wisdom and understanding? Because, in Moses’ words, it would show that God was that near to them “whenever we call upon Him.” God is the one, after all, who forms every man, woman, and child.
Genesis 2:7 uses the Hebrew verb form yatsar for formed. The words of the verse say, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Later in time, You tell Jeremiah about his origins as the person he is. “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) God uses this verb, yatsar or formed, to not only describe how He forms the details of a person’s life but of how He fashions Israel itself. According to Otzen, “this verb connects human craftsmanship with divine activity.” Part of the problem is that we forget where and who our abilities came from in the first place. After all, had I not been formed first, I wouldn’t be forming these words on these pages right now. And neither would the king of Tyre have been orchestrating all his wonderful plans if he hadn’t been wonderfully planned first.

 
But maybe yatsar isn’t just about independent being or just being made and formed into something. Maybe yatsar is more specific and more relational than that. Skip Moen calls it a verb of partnership with God. I love his thoughts on this so let me share them here. Remember, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” On this Skip shares, “The clay isn’t inert. It responds to the potter. For Man to be Man, there must be a response to the divine action. For Israel to be Israel, there must be a response to the electing God. Yatsar is a relationship verb. When God “forms” the dust, He doesn’t just pile up whatever can be gathered with the sweep of a hand. He establishes a relationship with this “stuff,” and it is the relationship that identifies the uniqueness of this creative act. Yatsar is the God-human verb of the story.”

 
Genesis is the explanation of origins. It’s the origins of man. Skip continues, “God’s relationship—His choice, purpose and selection— is the essential factor in formation. Without the relationship, nothing exists…God’s fashioning activity and His infusion of the breath of life is the reason human beings are what they are. Removing the relationship inherent in the forming or withdrawing the infusion of the breath of life means that Man returns to what he was before these actions occurred. He returns to the dust. He ceases to be. In other words, there is no inherent quality, no spark of the divine, no ontological substance residing in Man so that he lives independently of the action of yatsar and the infusion of the breath of life. Man exists in relationship with His creation, always. His breath and his body are entirely dependent on God. Perhaps Paul captures this Genesis thought when he wrote, ‘in Him we live and move and have our being.’…you do not exist without dependence on God. If you think or act in ways that deny this dependence, you are simply deluded— and a fool.”

 
Pride deludes. The king’s heart was lifted up because of his riches. He totally forgot or ignored who formed him to be this way, Who gave Him the wisdom and understanding in the first place. He was so deluded that he thought of himself as god. A man or an angel can say and believe all they want that they are God, but it doesn’t make it so. I don’t know what angels came from before You made them, God, but I know that man came from dust and goes back to dust outside of You. But in You, what is formed and responds to You remains in You.

 
I’m still thinking about Peter that day Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” But there wasn’t a long story shared to go along with that. I wander though, if just saying that would have brought people back to Ezekiel’s words and the longer back story pronounced over the king of Tyre? And I wonder how Satan, or rather, Lucifer at the time, could forget where he came from and who formed him? I mean, at one point Lucifer wasn’t until God made him. It’s the same for me. It’s worth lamenting over the foolishness of forgetting this, over being deluded like that. Imagine the most beautiful, wise angel thinking he could be more beautiful or wise than God, the one who anointed him with that beauty and wisdom in the first place for a specific purpose!

 
And now I come to thinking about David after he sinned with Bathsheba and Nathan comes to him. See, David had been anointed, just like Lucifer, for a special purpose in God’s creation, just like each of us in whatever way God has decided for us. And Nathan says to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and It is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.’” (2 Samuel 22:7) We’re each called to holiness, not its evasion. Each of us has a purpose formed into our individual beings that only we can fulfill and only we will be responsible for avoiding.
Lucifer was that angel. The king of Tyre was that king. Peter was that man. David was that man for that time. I’m that woman for now. Sometimes I’m just like Satan too, just like Peter was and David and the king of Tyre. Sometimes I think I deserve what’s not mine to take. It might be a rest from leading because I deserve a break. It might be love, where I would walk into something I know I shouldn’t. I can rationalize with the best of them and decide to let my brightness shine brighter than it really is.

 
Yep. I’m the one that will need forgiveness. I’m the one who will suffer because of my pride and my delusional thinking to give more credit to myself than I deserve, or rather to just be busy taking the glory from You, Lord. That happens when I think more about me and my hurts and pains than I think about Your glory and Your brightness and Your wisdom and my dependence upon You to understand any of it. And that makes me the one who will harm those around me by my lack of participation with You in my God ordained purpose.

In Man of Fire Denzel Washington asked, “Do you think God will forgive us for the things we’ve done?” Well, I know the answer is yes. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Don’t forget though, that the innocent pay a price for the guilty who are forgiven. Jesus paid the price for us. Probably 1/3 of the angels paid the price for Lucifer’s sin. I’d say that guy who had his ear sliced off by Peter payed a price, even though Jesus was gracious enough to put it back. And what about the others who ran away because they had thought like Peter that they could control things, but it wasn’t really theirs to control, was it? And how many people payed the price for David’s delusion? Or for my delusions when I follow them?

 
I was just thinking, that Jesus’ words aren’t so mean after all. He was just reminding Peter to get in his proper place. Before we sin, we need to get behind Jesus instead of in front of Him. I need to be under You, God, and in You, and behind You and just let You be God and remember that I’m not. So Lord, don’t leave off reminding me, even if it sounds like an insult. Let me remember that when You tell me, “Get behind me, Satan,” it’s for my good and it’s the place I was created to flourish in. If only Satan listened and could get behind You again. May I never forget to respond to Your relationship with me and acknowledge You as God and me as Your beloved creation formed by You for Your purposes and not my own. And may I joy in my position in You and joy in You being God and not me.

An Apetite for Beauty

Standard

Photo credit to WWW.THEENTERPRISINGKITCHEN.ORG/

 

“…I am of perfect beauty.” Ezekiel 27:3

 
You walked into the party
/ Like you were walking on a yacht
/ Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
/ Your scarf, it was apricot
/ You had one eye on the mirror
/ And watched yourself gavotte
/ And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner
/ They’d be your partner, and/ You’re so vain
/ You probably think this song is about you/ 
You’re so vain,
I’ll bet you think this song is about you/ 
Don’t you?
Don’t you? (Lyrics by Carly Simon)
I think of these words and Tyre’s thoughts of herself, “I am of perfect beauty,” and I start to think, “Well, what’s the problem with beauty?” But I won’t just reason it out in my own head. I want to look at it through the eyes of Scripture and see it Your way, God. I mean, who doesn’t want to be beautiful? Who doesn’t love to look at beautiful things? Isn’t that why we get excited about sunrises and mountain views and Grand Canyons and art and music and so much more? Is that bad? No, absolutely not. I know beauty in itself is not bad because You created beauty. But there is something about beauty that can become it’s own antithesis. And that happens when we forget where our beauty originates.

 
Here was Tyre, this powerful, lucrative, sea port. They were strong. They had all kinds of nations working with them. They had knowledge and wisdom. There builders were phenomenal. They had access to the finest wood and craftsmen. Their ships were to rave about. They received the finest goods in trade from Egypt and the isles of Elisha. Wise mariners were their pilots from Zidon and Arvad. Even their caulkers were wise men. They had armies. They guarded their walls and were upon the ships. Their many merchants brought in items like silver, iron, tin, lead, slaves, brass, horses, horsemen, mules, horns of ivory and ebony, emeralds, purple, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, agate, wheat, honey, oil, balm, wine, white wool, cassia, calamus, chariots, lambs, rams, goats, spices, precious stones, gold, blue clothes, and chests of rich apparel. Imagine the sight of this city!  Imagine it’s pride and the pride others bestowed upon it! And imagine the beauty that God blessed Tyre with, becoming the beauty that Tyre believed she had attained through all her own works. Imagine Tyre never even acknowledging God as her bestower of beauty. Imagine the glory of Tyre as Tyre revels in itself with no thought of God who is the Giver and Bestower of beauty. Imagine that which was made beautiful thinking it made itself that way.

 
I wanted to think on these things this morning, so I searched out Your word about beauty. I found Psalm 50:2 which states, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.” And I think, really? Is Zion so beautiful now? Is it what we think of as beauty? And I wonder if we can take what God intends for beauty and strip it of it’s beauty in how we handle it? I have no doubt that Zion was created to reflect God’s beauty in perfection. And I have no doubt that it is still retaining a faint reflection right now. And I have even more confidence that God will reinstitute the beauty of Zion as He changes men’s hearts and returns His image of beauty to Zion in Christ who is perfect beauty in God. But, for a while, Zion is Tyre, who took their God-given beauty and twisted it into some form of their own, which totally distorted things.

 
Now, when I read Scripture, I think that God wants us to think about it all. That it’s not just parts for women and parts for men, but it applies to all mankind. I mean, after all, Paul said when we’ve put on Christ that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:28,29) So I’m not going to write off something as only for men or only for women because a woman or man was being addressed. I hope the reader won’t either. Because in God’s word, what’s good for the goose is so good for the gander too.

 
So in Proverbs 31:30 we have, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” The truth is that Solomon was sharing wisdom with his son. Do you know, that if he was sharing this with his daughter, it would apply just as much and God probably would have led him to say, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a man who fears the Lord, he shall be praised.” And maybe he would have chosen some different masculine words, but the truth would have been the same because charm and becoming full on one’s own beauty isn’t just a female problem. And You don’t just praise the woman who knows where her beauty comes from. You praise the man who acknowledges You as His beauty.

 
But the problem begins when the Jew or the Greek, or the slave or the free, or the male or the female twist the source of their beauty. Then, instead of being a sweet perfume to God and those around us, “there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.” (Isaiah 3:24) The sad news is the beauty is not ours to own outside of and separate from God. It will corrupt us. It will bring us to the point of facing judgment for stealing that which was not ours. We’ll be brought down from our self-appointed high place where we’ve built our tower above God because the truth is, we aren’t God. God will always be the Beauty of beauties. God will always be God. And one day, if we don’t choose to humble ourselves before You on our own, You will need to humble us. I mean compared to You we might as well start lamenting, “Is this the city of which they said, ‘The perfection of beauty , a joy to all the earth?’” (Lamentations 2:15) “How can this be a joy to all the earth? They only care about themselves. They destroy others for their own gain. They ignore God.” But God is God and will be God because He can’t be other than who He is. Only, we try to be other than who we are. What a sad pretense.

 
This is an old, old story. It’s actually much older than the story of Zion or of Tyre and definitely so much older than you or me. Ezekiel brings up this issue of beauty frequently. See, we can start trusting in our beauty instead of trusting in the Giver of our beauty. That’s dangerous. That’s when we start building our own high places and deciding our own version of right and wrong and following whoever or whatever tickles our fancy. But I digress.

 
If we jump ahead to Ezekiel 28 we find God equating Tyre with someone else. All of a sudden, as God is talking of Tyre, He begins relating the story and sin of Satan. Think- king of Tyre= Satan. “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” Notice that God had created Satan (Lucifer) and established him with everything he was supposed to be, full of wisdom and beauty to the point of perfection. But that was not enough for Lucifer. God continues, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you.” Beauty devoid of God failed for Lucifer. It failed for Tyre and for Zion. And it will fail for me.

 
Let’s just think about this a little more. I’m even wondering how Jesus would compare to the sight of Lucifer. After all Isaiah 53:2 tells us “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Wait, are you telling me that Jesus is not beautiful? I find that hard to believe because I’m pretty sure that God is beauty, pure and unadulterated. But I do think that in His beauty, Jesus didn’t attract attention for His own glory, for His own beauty, for looking at Him but that what shone forth and was shone forth by Christ was the glory and beauty of the Father. And unless we’re looking for that, we won’t see it and we won’t desire Him.

 
But Lucifer was all about his own glory and being noticed for himself. So when we have our hearts set on being noticed and made more of or commended or patted on the back, we notice “people” like Lucifer. we see him, and we’re attracted to him, and we desire him because that’s what we want for us. I guess that’s what the expression, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” means. What we value is what we consider beautiful. But beauty isn’t up to our consideration. Beauty is God. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anything else is a dead imitation.

 
I need to learn to say, “You, Lord, are perfect in beauty!” Lucifer has no concept of love or grace because even in his high position and close proximity to God he was totally warped in his perception of God and dragged down many others with him. I mean, I wonder how he could be right there in the presence of God and not get it? But I guess, whether we’re angels or men and women, boys and girls, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, it all depends on what we want to see and what we’re really looking for.

 
I’m so glad that Jesus, being God, still chose to shine forth God’s glory and not His own, even though he had it to flaunt it. But flaunting wasn’t important to Him. Showing us the way to God was. Showing us where true beauty lies was. Showing us the beauty of love and grace and obedience and sacrifice was. Beauty, in and of itself, will lead us away from God like Lucifer led so many other angels. But the beauty of God in Christ Jesus, who for the glory of God and our salvation sacrificed Himself on the cross, gave up His own beauty for God first and for our well-being second, has been shed abroad for us. This is love. This is beauty.

 
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” ( 1 Peter 3:4) Sorry, but I’m pretty sure that Lucifer would have done well to have understood this truth, and that Tyre and Zion would have done well too. Our beauty, no matter who we are, married-unmarried, male-female, child-adult ought to be the outflow of Christ in us. That’s the inner man. Because without Him in us, without some way for God to flow out of us, we’re heading for our own downfall and the downfall of all those that follow us. There is only one thing that is not corruptible, that will never perish, and that is God and life in Him through Christ. Unless He’s our ornament and our beauty, we have no beauty that counts. And if we have His beauty emanating from us like it does from Jesus, well, then we’ll have a quiet and meek spirit just like Jesus’. Get it? Our life will shine forth with the beauty of Jesus. And then others will follow Him in God’s beauty.

 
C.S. Lewis said, “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves.” But the truth is God has invited us into the unity of His beauty from the very beginning. Dostoevsky’s prince in The Idiot stated, “Beauty will save the world.” “The appetite for beauty comes inscribed into every soul and it is a very large appetite. ‘By nature men desire the beautiful,’ says St. Basil the Great (circa 379 A.D.)-and I might stress that they desire it immensely.” (Andrew Cuneo) Beauty is a God-given appetite but our appetite was designed to be after God’s beauty and to let it adorn us. Think about it, if we want to be united with beauty so much, why not enter into the Maker’s beauty? Why would I want it on my own?

 
Lord, I totally get what C.S. Lewis said. More than anything I know my heart longs to be united with beauty. But sometimes I run to the short-cut or I grab for it now and I settle for less. I don’t want to settle for less because less is just emptiness and air and nymphs and elves. I want to be united in the Real Deal. I want to know real Beauty from the Source, and that’s You and only You. Lord, I want You to be my perfect beauty. May I cast off all that’s of me and let You clothe me in all that is You. I want You to look at me, like in the beginning of creation and say that I’m good, because then I’ll know that You’ve made me beautiful in You according to Your standards.

Ditching the Attitude

Standard

“‘Son of man, because that Tyre has said against Jerusalem: ‘Aha, she is broken that was the gate of the peoples; she is turned unto me; I shall be filled with her that is laid waste…’” Ezekiel 26:2

 
Attitude matters. Promises are for real. Relationship counts. Integrity is more important than success. Loving our neighbors isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command.

 
Today, Ezekiel, that prophet of the Lord, brings up the strong city of Tyre. Tyre was a famous island city with a portion on the mainland. It’s king and his son covenanted with David and Solomon. That’s where the cedars of Lebanon came from. It was an important sea town and relied on Jerusalem for food. The men of Jerusalem and the men of Tyre ventured out together on sea trade. There was a relationship. It happened to be mutually beneficial.

 
Sometimes the king of Tyre acknowledged Jerusalem’s God. But they never left their own gods. As a matter of fact, at one point in history, the king switched over from temple worship of Baal and Asherah to Melqart who was more politically oriented and included the people more. They were very proud of their city and of their god and of their wealth. How hard was it to acknowledge another god if he helped them in their image? Only I guess they didn’t really realize who they were dealing with and that he wasn’t just some god, but God. And I guess they didn’t realize that there was more to life than self-exaltation, that our alliances are not just for our own benefit. Life is much bigger than us and our plans.

 
It’s so easy to be like Tyre and to think we’ve got it all together. It’s easy to be happy with other people when they help us obtain our desires, but it’s hard when they succeed more than us. It’s easy to become a friend, but it takes work and humility to stay a friend. It’s easy to lose sight of the real deal in the midst of it all and throw away the thing that was the real reason for our success.

 
The truth is that God has a purpose. It’s for You, God, to be glorified. You draw people to You to do that. Israel was Your very own people, born and raised for that purpose. And in that purpose, they would draw others to You, others like Tyre and Sidon, if they would come. I can’t help but think about that phrase in verse two that says of Jerusalem, the one that was “the gate of the peoples.” I can’t help but think that the phrase refers to more than a city of prosperity and trade but that Jerusalem was this source of light to others who came to her and got to know You, like the Queen of Sheba. I can’t help thinking about the magi that searched out the baby king of Jerusalem. This was a special city and a special people to God. This was Your own. This was Your chosen. Jerusalem was Your bride, Your light to the gentiles. And Tyre was more than a friend. Tyre was in covenant with Israel. That’s strong stuff. It’s supposed to be unbreakable.

 
Tyre’s life was wrapped up with Israel. By covenant they were bound together historically and as far as welfare goes. Understand that a covenant was an indissoluble commitment. Listen to what God’s word says in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, When He separated the children of men, He set bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel, for Jehovah’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.” But does Tyre want to hear or remember that? Does any other nation want to hear that Israel is chosen of God? I mean, who really wants to be humble? Who doesn’t want to be noticed and commended and famous and strong and powerful and beautiful and the best?

 
I suppose it is painful to think that someone else is the center of our universe and that everything revolves around them. That’s how it is with Israel. But it wasn’t like Israel said, “Hey, God, pick me because I’m the best and the most worthy!” Remember how God chose Israel? There was this man name Abram who listened to God and just followed Him even though all the people around him didn’t. That’s the credit Israel gets for being God’s bride. That’s the credit any of us get. We listen and we obey and we follow and we cling to a real and living God. And this is God’s design. This is the picture and the way that You want us to follow. This is what You wanted Tyre to see and do.

 
But they didn’t like the attention that Jerusalem got. Maybe they didn’t like Israel’s attitude. That could be, because she might have gotten a little puffed up in herself. But she was still Your bride. She was still and still is today “the hub of the nations and all things revolve around this people of destiny.” (David Cooper) God chose Israel for a reason and purpose. Don’t forget to look back at how it first happened because that’s the example of where faith begins.

 
Bu the story of Tyre is about something other than faith. Tyre didn’t choose to follow their brother in faith. Tyre didn’t choose to follow God. Tyre chose jealousy of their brother in covenant. Tyre chose to gloat over the calamity that befell their covenantal partner. Being that their animosity was toward Israel, that makes it anti-Semitism. And the problem with that is that it’s going against God. It’s like telling God, “You’re wrong in Your choice. I don’t agree with You.”

 
So, this nation Tyre, who should have been on Israel’s side, rejoiced about their downfall. “Hey, this is great! Now our opportunities will open wide. More riches for us. I get what was coming to her now. Thank goodness she’s laid waste so I can get it all!” And if the thought wasn’t bad enough, I’m pretty sure there was rejoicing over her downfall that went with it. That sad thing is that hate can well up out of jealousy. We can feel stiffed or slighted because we aren’t doing as well as someone else, even as a friend, and we can become jealous and bitter and gloating just like Tyre. Isn’t it sad when we would wish ill on someone else just for the benefit of goodness for ourselves?

 
But God cares about how we treat His bride and how we treat His people because He loves them. And another truth is that He is such a sympathetic God that He invites others into that relationship with Him and His people. He had invited Tyre in to that relationship, but it wasn’t the relationship they wanted most. They gave up on their sympathy toward others, for wealth and fame. And in doing so they brought on their own downfall.

 
Attitude matters. Integrity matters. Compassion matters. Love matters. And most of all, God’s will matters above all. Why? Because there is a Judge who has set the standard. And it’s not about being strong or wealthy or noticed or significant or whatever. It’s about listening and hearing and obeying and following and belonging and being Yours. Israel is represented in Abram. That’s how any of us come to God, just like Him.
Jesus came because God knew we would have trouble getting it. Jesus came for the Jew first. Oh, now I’m jealous, just like Tyre. But so what if Jesus came for the Jew first? Wouldn’t you want to rescue your own child first? But first doesn’t mean only. He’s reaching out for anyone else who wants to listen and come and follow and be His. I’d rescue my own child but I’d also rescue as many other children as would let me. And then, once rescued they could become my own. That’s how adoption works. It makes me a whole child that belongs wholly. Why would I need to be jealous? We are brothers and sisters together. We have the same Father.

 
I don’t want to be guilty of anti-Semitism or jealousy or hatred against Israel. I love Israel. Israel is my heritage in the Lord. Jesus came out of Israel. Abram is a spiritual father to me and example. They were my first light. I owe so much to them. Why should I be jealous or angry? God called them so I could hear Him calling me.

 
And what about someone who might be prospering in some way around me? Am I going to resent them because of their prosperity and my lack of prosperity? I hope not. Maybe I can just keep loving them and being faithful to them and their prosperity will bless my life, not because I’m using their prosperity but because I care about them more. Being less can hurt, but judgment hurts way more. And learning how to be less and be content and make more of others is the beginning to knowing God. After all, Jesus became a man so He could make much of God and something of us so that by becoming less, we can make much of God and something of others. I pray that I learn from Tyre to ditch the attitude and cling to gratitude instead.

Let’s Get Over Ourselves

Standard

Photo credit to theknot.

 

“…Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel…” Ezekiel 25:6

 
This chapter in Ezekiel really resonates in my life today. Here God was filling Ezekiel in on judgment of seven nations: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistine, Tyre, Zidon, and Egypt. And each one was pretty much guilty in one of the same ways—contempt. God starts with Ammon who was guilty of “despite against the land of Israel.” That means they treated it despitefully, pushed her aside with contempt. Moab and Seir called the people heathen, like animals or a flock of locusts. Edom despised them as a people also. They were just filled with vengeance, and revenge, and offense toward them. Philistia added to that hatred. Now I’m not saying that the other nations weren’t guilty of hatred. I’m just saying to think about these character markers of these nations that God condemned for their actions. And maybe think about our very own nation and how we respond to one another and others.

 
Here’s part of the bad thing. John Gill shares that the clapping of hands and stamping of feet were gestures that showed joy and gladness. He goes on to say, “they had a secret joy in their heart, which they expressed by gestures, in the most spiteful and scornful manner they were capable of; which showed the wretched malignity of their dispositions against the children of Israel; they hated them with a perfect hatred.” Now, stop a minute. It’s one thing to disagree with a person or to even dislike them. But it’s a whole other ballpark to hate a person and to despise them, to see them not as people any more but as animals and locusts. That is the saddest state of affairs.

 
Here’s the problem, we’re all people. We’re all people of one nation or another. And people of any nation can choose for themselves who and what they will serve. But the truth is, every one of us belongs to this One God who created us, whether we believe it or deny it. Truth does exist and it exists in the Ever-Existent One. By nature of how we were created and Who created us, we each, individually, and as nations, have a divine purpose. We each, individually, and as nations, are given the opportunity to choose to live in and fulfill this purpose in God or reject it. The choice is ours. But, then again, so are the consequences. And here they are, being layed out in Ezekiel for those who would have none of God.

 
But just so one can know that I’m not just pointing fingers at “pagan” nations, let’s look at Israel herself. Why would God judge her, His own daughter? Let’s go back a little earlier in Ezekiel 22:6-10. “Behold the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood.  Father and mother are treated with contempt in you,; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and widowed are wronged in you.  You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.  There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst.  In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual purity.” Here’s that despising going on again, that counting others as of little worth. You know, it really matters. It doesn’t matter who is doing the despising if the despising is being done. This treating others as though they have no worth is against God, it’s against creation, it’s against humanity. And I don’t give a hoot if a Republican, or Democrat, or Millenial, or American, or Asian, or German, or White, or Black, or Fuchsia, or LGBT, or Heterosexual, or Alien, or National is guilty of it toward another, they are guilty. And this is a bad kind of guilty, folks! And it’s gonna be our destruction if we can’t see it in ourselves and eradicate it in our own hearts if it’s there.

 
Regular people get caught up in this, not just nations and political affiliations. David despised the Lord, Uriah, and Bathsheba when he committed adultery. He didn’t give a hoot at the moment about the community of Israel or the fear of the Lord because of his feelings about what he wanted. What about Esau? He’s remembered by God and man as despising his birthright. Poor Esau? Really? He kept throwing it away like it was trash, and worth less than a bowl of stew! Michal thought less of David for his religious zeal.
We can get so caught up in ourselves, we loose sight that we belong to God. And when we lose sight of belonging to God, it’s indicated in our lives, just like in the city, when she forgot her purpose. Holy things of God become of no worth. They’re done away with. In Israel’s day it was the festivals, Temple implements, the Levitical priesthood, the rituals, God’s Sabbath. They become unnecessary, burdens, worthless to fulfilling our desires because life now has become about us and not about God. And everyone has to feel my way. If prayer is useless to me, it can’t be useful to anyone else. Remove it. If listening to God’s word is useless to me, it can’t be useful to anyone else. Remove it. I can’t ask you to have someone else bake your cake or do your flower arrangement even though I want to value God’s value and purpose. And I still value you even though you don’t agree with me. That’s why I politely declined and shared why I couldn’t be the one to make your cake. But someone else can. I didn’t persecute you, I just said, “No, I can’t do that because even though you are valuable to me, my God’s ways are even more valuable.”

 
In reality, this whole thinking is idolatry. It’s valuing my desire over God’s. It’s so easy to do it though. I can find reasons for rewriting all of Scripture if I want. But there is just something about worshipping God’s way. And it’s so hard in today’s world. But obviously, it wasn’t easy in Biblical times either. God is God or I am god, it’s one or the other. It’s His Sabbath or it’s mine. He either determines the times and seasons and their sanctity, or I’m busy making up my own calendar and my own world and disengage from God. Then I say, “Look at me. This is what was always intended.”

 
I think about the verse about Jesus in Isaiah 53:3. “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” We think of that part of Jesus being despised as being looked on with contempt and as worthless and pushed aside. And maybe that’s true. But there’s this older Isaiah scroll found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Lancaster and Monson who did extensive study on the Masoretic older text shares that it portrays the servant as “unremarkable and ignored (disregarded).” In other words, the suffering servant “gave no evidence of exulted status.” Skip Moen says, “Moreover, to those who knew him he was chadal shim, ‘lacking the importance of me.’” No wonder the community of Israel didn’t give him a thought.

 

It doesn’t stop there. Lancaster and Monson believe the phrase “like one from whom men hide their face” should be translated “as one concealing his face.” “The point is that the Servant disguised his true identity, not that people turned away from him.” (Skip Moen) And doesn’t that make sense when we look at Paul’s writings? It wasn’t like God put a crown on his head for everyone to see. Even Jesus said of Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven.” Maybe, just maybe everyone isn’t as obstinate as we think when it comes to denying God. Maybe our eyes had to be opened. Maybe we had to have a reason to look for Him. What if we can just be so content with our own truth we don’t even want to look for the real deal? And what if the Servant keeps His true identity secret until someone starts diligently seeking Him and the truth?

 

But what does this have to do with seeing others as worthless? Maybe it matters if I look at Jesus’ extreme example, of God’s glory and His love and faithfulness to us. In Philippians 2:3, Paul shares, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” We just saw God’s thinking. Here’s Jesus, who didn’t take being equal to God as something to wear like a robe. Here was God, who humbled Himself so that He looked and was just like everyone else around Him. Only He wasn’t really. He was still God. But God can only be perceived and experience spiritually.

 

Humility. Christ set the example. We really hate it, humility that is. It’s engraved in Greek thinking as deplorable. Aristotle, who most non-Jewish believers were later influenced by, declared “whatever prevents the development of virtue makes a person humble.” In other words, humility works against our being better people. To be someone, throw out humility. Can you see that in the world today? But that’s not what the Gospel shows. We can turn the world upside down through humility. We can turn the world upside down by becoming “servants, slaves, and lowly of heart.”

 

Do you want to see the truth of where despising people and despising God takes us? Listen to his part of Ezekiel 22:8-10 again. “You have despised My holy things and profaned My sabbaths. Slanderous men have been in you for the purpose of shedding blood, and in you they have eaten at the mountain shrines. In your midst they have committed acts of lewdness. In you they have uncovered their fathers’ nakedness; in you they have humbled her who was unclean in her menstrual impurity.” And we say, “Really, what difference does menstrual impurity mean anyway? Legalism!” That’s not what this is about. This is about sexual mores in society. It’s about how God purposed for us to be treated and to treat others versus our version of what we and others deserve. If you want to know where a country’s heart or a person’s heart lies, check out it’s sexual mores. Sex was established as part of a covenant relationship. Our sexual conduct tells a lot about that relationship or lack thereof.

 
When a society becomes so wrapped up in sex, everything else becomes unimportant. Education, health, public works, prosperity, politics, all fall to the wayside. Who is concerned about stopping terrorism when sex is the focus? Who is concerned with worldwide persecution of girls and women when sex is the focus? Who cares about right and wrong if sex has become the focus?

 
Stop and think about what God is sharing with Ezekiel. Is it important when men commit incest with mothers? That’s what “uncovering your father’s nakedness” really means. We’re not talking about genitals being exposed here. It’s an idiom about a guy having sex with his father’s wife. Hey, that was a capital offense in Leviticus. Now, so what if a guy has sex with a woman during her menstrual period? It’s not about that. It’s about humbling someone else, meaning NONCONSENSUAL SEX. Um, that means RAPE. Forced. Like, she didn’t want to disobey the law but he didn’t give a hoot, because he wanted it right then.

 
Is it really so hard to refrain for a time? It’s like a fast. When did sex become more valuable than obeying God? I mean, you can’t wait seven days? Are you gonna die? Really? You don’t have that much self control or respect for God or even for her? I guess not if sex is the food you hunger after instead of panting after God like a deer for water.
Let’s not be blind. Israel was also guilty of adultery with the neighbor’s wife, sexual lewdness toward their daughters-in-law, and incest with their sisters. (Skip Moen) Do you see an interwoven theme of violence? Can you pick up on the sexual aggression. Do you see the same thing happening around us today. “I demand ecstasy. Who needs honor, respect, and love?” Let’s open our eyes. Let’s look at our own hearts. Let’s stop pointing fingers and change our hearts and humble ourselves and be world changers.

 
Despising God and despising others is a dangerous place to be. Maybe it’s time to humble ourselves and live like we love others or else we’ll go the same way as all these nations. Don’t think we’re not close. Listen to these statistics shared by Skip, “In America there is a sexual assault of some type every two minutes. 44% of the victims are under the age of 18. 29% of these victims were under 11. 27% of these victims were raped by a family member. One out of six women in America has been the victim of rape or attempted rape…But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Internet pornography allows fantasy sexual aggression without criminal repercussions. The statistics are hard to pin down, but this much seems clear. One porn site had 100 million page views per day. Another site reported 4.46 billion page views from 350 million unique visitors. And there are no limits on sexual behavior via the internet. Ezekiel’s indictment of Jerusalem pales in comparison.”

 
Can I really go blissfully along my way. When I see people kicking and hurting others because of who they voted for, can I not do anything? When I see people so afraid they’re going to be persecuted when it’s not even happened yet, crying in safe zones on college campuses, I’m thinking, maybe it’s because you despised people so much now you’re afraid they’re going to despise you as greatly as what was in your own heart. It doesn’t have to be. There will always be people who know God and know what it is to value another person despite what they believe and there will always be a God, who sent His Son, to be the Savior and Lord, of all who really want to personally know and experience the truth. There is love just waiting to be seen and experienced. Let’s get over ourselves, and humble ourselves before God and others.

Losing the Delight of Your Eyes

Standard

Photo credit to wikimedia.

 

“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16)

 

I’m wondering if when we sit down and read Ezekiel if we really understand what it was like for him? What was it like for the people? What was reality? I mean, I ‘m here in chapter 24 within a month or two of reading in the mornings and meditating. But what about Ezekiel? When was the last time I stopped to think about how long You were taking Ezekiel through these things with You? Maybe today was the first time. And just to get to this point of Chapter 1 up to what’s happening in chapter 24 is a span of a man’s life of about 5 years. Imagine that. How would I feel after 5 years of being a prophet and going through all this? But how would I respond to this day in Ezekiel’s life, to this day when Ezekiel becomes the most personal picture of God He could ever imagine?

 

Oh, let the word of God come unto me. Really? Have you counted the cost? Do you really understand what that could mean? Are you really ready to stand for God no matter what? Ezekiel was. Ezekiel was fully Yours, Lord, in such a way that so greatly inspires me and tests me today. You know, I’ve read Your word lots of times. But I don’t remember this. I don’t remember this ever being significant before and I don’t understand how I ever could have read this before and not been stopped by it. This is hard stuff. This is the stuff of real faith, of make it or break it faith. This is that moment of love tested and love proved. This is purging and testing and creating the man or woman we really are and not just who we want to be. This is the making of a servant of God. This is true worship, true devotion.

 

It’s one thing to declare Your words and judgment on a people who deserve it. It’s easy for us to get smug, and holier than thou, and detached, and emotionless. It’s easy to get like Jonah who cared less if the “nasty Ninevites” got what was coming to them. Or if the Jews who had prostituted themselves from their God and involved themselves in atrocities paid the price. But You, God, don’t become detached and emotionless in the midst of it. In the midst of judgment You stay off Your pain for them because You must, not because You feel no pain. After all, here are the ones You would have brooded over and hidden under Your wings like a mother hen but they won’t have it.
Now here’s the clincher today. Ezekiel is setting up another picture of the judgment of the people. Jerusalem is like this nasty pot filled with nasty stuff and being purged over a fire. Right away, that word purge conjures up negative thoughts for me. But it shouldn’t. The Hebrew word, taher, means to be bright, to be pure. Let’s look at that kind of purity a little closer. It means physically sound, clear, unadulterated; Levitically uncontaminated; morally innocent or holy; at least according to Strong’s Concordance. It’s about ritual cleanness which prepares us to enter the presence of God undefiled. That’s what David was asking for when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) He understood that only God could prepare him for that. That’s still true for every one of us today.

 

It’s not a scary truth. Even Noah Webster defines purging as a positive thing. It’s “to cleanse or purify by separating and carrying off whatever is impure, heterogenous, foreign, or superfluous…to clear from guilt or moral defilement…to clear from accusation or the charge of a crime…to remove what is offensive; to sweep away impurities.” When did that become negative? Maybe when it became painful to do so because it means passing through the fire and passing the test.

 

Why would I think a prophet doesn’t have to pass through the fire to be purged? Why would only a renegade nation or person have to pass through? Don’t we all have to pass through because we all need to be purified by God His way? Who makes us holy? Who makes us pure? Who makes us sound? Does it just come easy and naturally? I think not. I think the Divine is not natural or easy at all. I think the Divine takes reliance on the Divine and not on me or my way or the prophet or his way or the will or strength of a nation and a people and their way. I think that purity, Divine purity, is a foreign affair that we have to learn the culture of and that even prophets like Ezekiel still had room to learn.

 

Here’s the clincher that hit me today. I was OK with judgment being foretold and the the image of the pot over the fire. But now You speak to Ezekiel these words: “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke: yet neither shall you mourn nor weep, neither shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16) Do you know what that means. To paint a picture for Ezekiel and the people, God was going to take from Ezekiel the wife that he so loved. And Ezekiel was going to have to withhold his mourning for her. Imagine that. “My faithful servant, I’m going to take your wife now, the one you love so much. In the midst of all your other suffering and the suffering to come, I’m taking her suddenly today. And you can’t cry or do the normal funeral stuff.” What? This is a loving God? Really?!

 

Yes. This is. This is a loving God who must serve justice as well as grace. You can’t separate them from who You are. This is a God who understands the pain of those you love rejecting You. This is a God who understands what it is to sacrifice that which You love the most for the good of those who don’t get it or value the sacrifice. This is a God who understands love but because we don’t, He gives us experiences where we can come to understand what He feels and what He has done for us.

 

So Ezekiel and his wife became a picture of God’s love. There is this tremendous poem written a long time ago by Barbara Miller called Ezekiel. It’s too long to share here, but I would if I could. This story of Ezekiel effected her too and she wrote a poem about Ezekiel and his wife and what it must have been like. And she shares this through the eyes of Ezekiel’s wife:
“If God had willed,
I would have gladly stayed; but we are His,
And it is sweet to do a little thing
For Him who loves us so.  He needeth me
To be a sign for Him, –my death to stand
A figure to my people, of the things
Which He will do on them, except they turn
And seek His face.  And I am so content
To die for this!  I could not speak for God,
As thou hast done so well; but I can die
For God, and for my people,– and for thee–
To aid in thy great work.
“Forbid me not;
Deny me not to Him. A day shall come
When He shall give His Dearest to the death,
For thee and me!” The clouds had parted now,
The love of God was shed abroad, within
My broken heart. I could not say Him , Nay;
Or question Him. I laid my sacrifice
Upon His altar, not denying Him
Mine only one.”

 

I really don’t know that Ezekiel’s wife understood about how Jesus, God’s own Son, His own beloved, would be the sacrifice for our sins or not. Did Abraham fully understand when he was willing to offer up his only son? Did Ezekiel understand? Am I supposed to always understand You God, or am I called to trust You, to listen and hear and act upon that hearing showing that no matter what, whether sacrifice of pain or joy unspeakable, You are God and Your plans for Your kingdom, for me and for every person on this planet is a plan for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope? (Jeremiah 29:11) Is that future and hope, is that welfare worth being purified? What is my future and my hope? Is it You? Because You alone are that future and that hope and if my future and my hope is anything else, I am lost and filthy and defiled from my purpose.
Could I respond like Ezekiel’s wife? Could I respond like Ezekiel? Any other response is wrong and not just wrong. Any other response is sin because it places something else before God. The twenty-four elders worshipping before Your throne remind us continually, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) Paul tells us in Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation and that “by Him all things were created; in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

 

So what does that matter? Through Him the fullness of God dwells and through Him God is reconciling us to Him. Jesus is our purifier. God makes known to us His love not only through words but through His actions. Am I called to less? Am I only to love God in words and not my actions? Is there a limit to my love? A price it won’t go beyond to pay? Did God have a limit for me? No! He makes known His love. And in demonstrating and not just telling us about His love, He makes us able to reciprocate that love through our lives. He enables us, in Him, to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” He strengthens us with all the power and might and endurance and patience it takes to go through the fire with Him so that we shine just like Him.

 

It’s this kind of stuff that makes us or breaks us as believers. This is the stuff that causes those around us to stop and rethink the status quo. Responding to God when it goes contrary to the world, causes people around us to stop and ask, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting like this?” (Ezekiel 24:19) Does it seem senseless or pointless? It’s not. It means more than we could ever imagine and maybe more than we’ll ever know on this side of heaven. But how far am I willing to demonstrate my love? All the way or only as far as it doesn’t hurt?
So, I thought I was finished with this yesterday, but I can’t get it off of my mind. And then I heard Psalm 62. I can imagine Ezekiel saying these words, just as David did, and I’ve heard myself cry them out. “My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at ALL (emphasis my own) times; you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah”. But then David doesn’t stop. He shares, “God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God. Also unto You, O Lord, belongs mercy: for You render to every man according to his work.” What was Ezekiel’s work that it was worthy of the sacrifice of his beloved wife?

 

What if our work isn’t just about what we do or how we act? What if our work, our maaseh or maiseh is more about the story, the real story of who we are in God. That word, Maaseh Bereishit, is used when You God worked the creation of the universe. In Yiddish it’s the word for a story. Literally, it means an act or deed and ones from the word for making or doing. In Hebrew, stories are always synonymous with doing. In Greek I think of the word poeio which is the doing that flows out of being, like that of an artist or one who knows God. And I’m thinking that is the concept of work and doing and acting that David is talking about here.

 

Ezekiel knew God. He knew what it was to have God’s spirit flow through him. But he still had to trust in God. I am sure his heart told his soul to cry out to this God he trusted, to his rock and his salvation even in the midst of the loss of his wife, his beloved wife. Because maybe Ezekiel’s work was understanding and knowing and experiencing the heart of God. And when you finally start, I mean even start to understand and know and experience the heart of God, your actions and thoughts and hopes and dreams change. And your life can be turned upside down, and you can sacrifice your only son or beloved wife and give them back to the God who gave them to you in the first place, trusting, just trusting that God is God and You will still be God to those we love and those of us left behind. It’s what You do because it’s who You are. You render, You complete, You befriend and reciprocate and amend, and finish, and fulfill, and perfect and perform and prosper and restore and reward all that place themselves in You. It’s not just about prophets and kings. It’s about anyone trusting wholly in You so much that we place our whole being inside of You and accept You as You are. That’s when we receive You back as who You are. That’s the only deed, the only work that is acceptable in us, that let’s You do Your work, Your will, Your way in us, even if we must let go of our beloved. Because nothing should be more beloved than You.

 

So, Lord, what will I walk away with today? Will I remember this and will my life and thinking be changed by this? Where am I in You? Who is my most beloved? Is my heart so entwined with Yours that I know how You feel and that my actions flow from You? What story is my life displaying? Thank You, Lord, for the true story of love, commitment, and devotion that Ezekiel and You and even his wife display before us. May I love You that much, Lord. And may others be changed by the love that You have given me.

God, the Joy of my Desiring

Standard

Photo credit from http://www.quora.com

 

“And as soon as she saw them with her eyes, she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea.” (Ezekiel 23:16)

 
Identifying the root of the problem is the beginning of fixing the problem. And if I’m honest, Aholah and Aholibah aren’t the only ones with the problem of seeing things and doting upon them. And if I’m even more honest, I’d admit that seeing things and doting upon them is a very tragic and dangerous rut to get stuck in.

 
Well, Aholah and Aholibah aren’t real people but they do set up a picture for us. And just as Samaria acted and Jerusalem acted, so can we as individuals. It starts somewhere before a whole people group turns. But what’s important is that here was Aholah, Samaria, who had been “birthed” and created to glorify the living God and to worship Him alone and yet she established her own tent and left His. And then there’s Jerusalem, or Aholibah, who had been “birthed” of God also and created to glorify Him and worship Him alone. There was His tent, His abode, His presence in the midst of her, and yet she turned her eyes and her heart elsewhere.

 
Here we see an age old problem that leads to death and separation and broken relationship. Think about it. Eve saw the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She saw it with her eyes. I bet she and Adam walked by that tree frequently. It wasn’t the first time she saw it but something different happened about how she was seeing it now that the serpent reintroduced it to her. Now she saw it and she doted upon it. Ezekiel uses the Hebrew word agab. It means “to breathe after, to love (sensually).” Noah Webster defines doting as being delirious, impaired intellect, where your mind wanders or wavers, silliness. He also equates it with being excessively in love, loving to excess or extravagance and actually shows Ezekiel 23 as an example.

 
So here was Eve, who became delirious and impaired, excessive in her desire for what she saw, just like Aholah and Aholibah, and just like I can. What? What was the problem with looking? Well, there didn’t used to be a problem with looking until the looking became twisted into craving what was not designed to be eaten. Truth is, God set a boundary in the garden and in our lives. It’s called trusting. In the garden it looked like the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He said, “You shall not eat of it: for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Why? Because only God knows what is truly good for man and how to give it to him, and it’s our blessing to learn that and live in that goodness. But, it’s our free choice “to not to.”

 
So Adam, who was given this boundary first hand from the mouth of God, relayed that message of great import to Eve. And they were fully OK with that, until….the serpent enters. “You shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…” What? God said it wasn’t good for food. How could something that you were not supposed to eat and that would surely bring death if you ate it, be good for food? Who’s word is true anyways? Why would what God didn’t make good for food become good for food because a serpent says so or because it looks good to you and because it would help you be a better wife or know more or whatever?

 
It’s not that this fruit wasn’t good. It was good. It was good for keeping God and life and who we are in a proper perspective. God already knows good and evil. God determined it already. I don’t get to decide on my own. God already determined the consequences of stepping out of His boundary of protection and provision. And it’s not just some mandate or a rule or a precept or a concept. It’s just the way it is. In God is life. Out of God is death. Why? Because You are LIFE. In God is provision and wholeness and fullness and peace and love and joy and fulfilled desire. Out of God is chaos and emptiness and unfulfillment. That’s what the tree was all about. It still is today because God hasn’t changed.

 
Eve, Aholah, and Aholibah, and you and I were created to be enthralled and loved on by this living God. We were created to be able to love Him back as He loved us. We were created to worship Him which is far more than doting. When God told us, “You shall worship no other god,” (Exodus 34:14) He wasn’t just implying that we weren’t to bend our knees or prostrate ourselves before anyone or anything else. Shachah means that but the Hebrew perspective takes it deeper. It’s about worshipping God in accord with His instructions on worshipping Him.

 
Now, don’t give me this, “Isn’t that expecting too much?” attitude. Let’s just look at things in a simple earthly way here. I’m married. I have a husband. There are things that portray to me that my husband loves and cherishes me. Most of those things have to do with how he pays attention to my heart and hears the real me and how he responds to that. Like, if I say I really hate something and that thing would be all he ever gave me, like it was his special gift to me, I certainly wouldn’t feel very loved or valued. But, if on the other hand, I said I really loved something, and that was what he pursued, I would know he listened and cared about my heart. I mean, a new vacuum might be handy and helpful around home, but if I’m the one spending most of my day or time home from work doing that kind of labor, it’s not showing that you understand my heart. Taking me away somewhere, where I could just appreciate being without working or deciding, would show you knew my heart. Nope, the vacuum won’t do it.

 
So, we see things and think, “Oh, this will help me serve God better or help this person better or it will help me know more.” So we choose to buy the vacuum and give it back to God like some great gift. Actually, what I’ve really done is bowed down before my self and taken Him off the throne. My doting, my desire just became an idol and I started worshipping it and took God off the pedestal. It’s the same thing that happened with Cain and King Saul. It’s not just a problem for women.

 
I’m not free to decide how I want to worship. God says, “This is what pleases Me. This is where a relationship with Me and in Me is found.” Do I worship Him as He says or do I listen to my voice or the voice of another instead? It’s not just about worshipping the Right One but about worshipping the Right Way. The object and the method matter.
That makes me wonder, if this word for worship, shachah, means “to bow down, to prostrate oneself,” why I don’t do that more? If that’s how You tell me I should worship You, maybe that’s how I ought to start. Maybe if I were on my knees more or on my face more before You, I wouldn’t start looking at things the wrong way because I’d be seeing You from and in the right perspective. Maybe I’ve already been guilty of doting and idolatry by simply not bowing down before You in the first place.

 
In Deuteronomy You remind us, “You shall not bow yourself to them nor serve them, for I, Jehovah your God, am a jealous God.” What would turn my heart to do this? Pride? Arrogance? And then, what and whom do I labor after? Who am I really serving? Is my work dedicated to You? Then it’s worship. If it’s not, it’s dedicated to serving false gods. Work and worship go hand in hand. And worship isn’t doting. Worship is knowing and living life fully in that knowing by following through with doing that flows from that knowing.

 
The truth is that it is for our own good that we shall have no other gods beside You. It’s in our best interest to have You as our “exclusive sovereign.” God doesn’t just want what’s good for us. He wants the best for us. I can respond like Eve, or Aholah, or Aholibah, or Cain, or King Saul, and I have, and settle for what seems good instead. I can think that I know what’s better for me than God. But the truth is that without God, I am infirm, incapacitated, and dependent. To ignore God’s best, is to do so at my peril.

 
But the good news is that God can bring the best to pass in my life. It’s His divine purpose for each of us. It might not seem like the best at the time, but it is. It’s what will best equip me for “serving and worshipping Him.” If I want the best, I will choose to reject the forbidden fruit. I’ll run and cling to the One who wants the best for me and is able to give me the best. And if and when my eyes are diverted, I can throw away my pride and arrogance and fall down at His feet like I should have in the first place and get back to worship, true worship. I don’t have to keep my eyes on the lie. I can get them back on the truth. I can stop doting and return to worship.

 
I need to stop forgetting that You are the one who said, “I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:2) You were my God before I was ever Yours. Well, I mean, You were the One who claimed me before I ever even knew I needed You. You chose me. You drew me to You. You adopted me. You are my God. Mine. And I am Yours.

 
Because You are my God, I can live through anything because I know I can trust You and You will be forever constant. I can live through anything because I know that You will fully protect me and bless me. That doesn’t mean bad stuff won’t happen. It means You’ll always be there and give me the best of You. You’ll always stand with me and for me. You are my God. I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t even have to be in control because You are and You do it better than me. You are for me. You said it and You mean it and You just are. So, maybe it’s time I started desiring the fruit of You more than anything else. Maybe it’s time that You became better than life itself to me. Maybe it’s time that I fell in love with Your authority because it means falling in love with You, the God who loved me first. I need You, God. But You already knew that. After all, that’s why You declared, “I am the Lord your God.”

 
Satan is such a twister. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5) Why is it so important for us to know and experience everything for ourselves? Why would I want to experience shame and hardship? Why can’t I just trust? Why do I think it’s more important to know what God knows than to know God? Why is it more important to experience what God experiences than to experience God Himself? How could I ever think to experience all that God knows when He is my creator and I am a mere creation? Why isn’t it sufficient to revel in Him? Did you ever come to the conclusion that being god is just too weighty? I have. I’m so sorry that door was ever opened.

 
Here’s what’s real. “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” (Song of Solomon 7:10) Who can explain the intensity of God’s love for us? Not me. But that’s the kind of love I want to be wrapped in and that’s the kind of love I want to return. Which somehow brings me to the hymn, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
 Holy wisdom, love most bright;
 Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
  Soar to uncreated light.
 Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
 With the fire of life impassioned,
 Striving still to truth unknown,
 Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
 Hark, what peaceful music rings;
 Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
 Drink of joy from deathless springs.
 Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
 Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
 Thou dost ever lead Thine own  
In the love of joys unknown.

 

 

Maybe this is where my eyes ought to be, trusting in Your knowledge and not striving for my own. Maybe it would be good to spend more time bowing before You in worship then trying to be all I can be. Maybe then that would open the door for me allowing You to be all that You are. Maybe then You would truly be God, the joy of my desiring.