Ditching the Attitude

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“‘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.

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Let’s Get Over Ourselves

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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

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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

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“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.

Just One

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“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” Ezekiel 22:30

 
“Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry?
Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die?
Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand?
 Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you damned?” Leonard Ravenhill

 
That’s pretty much the problem that stands out in Ezekiel 22. Of course, Lord, You declare to all what made the city a “bloody city” and You list her abominations. She had come such a long way from who she was created to be. She was Yours, but now she defiled herself from that image and looked like fake idols instead. Instead of caring for the stranger, they oppressed them. Instead of caring for the fatherless and widow, they vexed them. Instead of loving and adoring and seeking after Your holiness, they profaned it. They made fools of others and lacked respect. They were filled with lust and misused others for their own pleasure. Greed grew and generosity failed. They totally lost sight of You, God. Even the religious teachers and leaders were twisted in their thinking. So here they were, hearing the drowning cry and not reaching out to save them. They were drowning themselves and didn’t even know it. Here they were watching their people die, emotionless to the loss, as they were unwittingly dying themselves. Here they were watching men burn without pulling them from the fire because there they were in the middle of the fire with them but without realizing it. Yes, here they were, sitting at ease when the world was falling apart around them. But how can one help, if one is blind to the truth around them?

 
And I know that this is not just a message to be heeded in Ezekiel’s day so many years ago. This attitude matters today. I think of the words of Hanani to Asa, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him…” (2 Chronicles 16:9) So this idea of You, God, looking for someone to stand in the gap on Your behalf and on behalf of the people, is no novel idea. And it wasn’t like there weren’t Godly men in Ezekiel’s day. There was Jeremiah who was being tortured by being stuck in a pit and silenced. And here was Ezekiel, who we’ve already heard 22 chapters of standing for You. And there are probably others. But there is not one at this time who is able to build up the broken wall and stand in the breach before You to intercede on the behalf of those who have fallen and there is none who are able to turn the hearts of the people. Sometimes, all it takes is one person, one person like a Moses, or a David, or a Noah or a Job. Or one person like a Hudson Taylor, or George Muller, or a woman named Miriam whose real name I can’t share, or another named Isik.

 
And I don’t think this is about church leadership. I think this is about knowing You, God, and knowing You for real. It’s not about position, it’s about who we really are in You. It’s not about popping out pastors and teachers. Manson says, “O ye ministers of the Word, consider well that you are the first sheets from the King’s press; others are printed after your copy. If the first sheet be well set, a thousand more are stamped with ease. See, then, that the power of religion prevail over your own hearts lest you not only lose your own souls, but cause the ruin of others.” It’s true, the King’s printing press is at work. But it isn’t printing out professionals and workers and such. It’s printing out individuals after His own image to become His priests and His disciples and His representation on this earth. That has never changed. First and foremost I am to be modeled and made and molded after Your image. I’m not supposed to look like a pastor or teacher or missionary or whatever. I’m supposed to look like You, talk like You, think like You, act like You, be like You. How else can I stand in the gap?

 
But if I won’t let myself be copied faithfully after You and then I draw others to me, how many faulty copies, so far from the original am I guilty of? Why would I want people imitating me, instead of You? I want to point them to You. I want them to be printed off of the Master Press, not me. But I want to so order my steps that it will lead them to You. What good is a flawed master copy? What good is a watch that is out of time? Should others set their time by it and be off also?

 
The Lord reminds us in Chapter 14 that there isn’t a righteous person that can deliver the nation from judgment based on his own righteousness. Noah, Daniel, and Job wouldn’t even have been able to do that. Moses couldn’t even do it. When he stood in the gap for the people, it was based on God’s righteousness and image before the world. But here, in Ezekiel’s day, God couldn’t even find someone to turn the people’s hearts back like that.
Reading this sad truth that God could find no one to stand in the breach, made me wonder about Ezekiel. Surely Ezekiel was trying to stand in the breach! So it couldn’t mean that there were none who would stand for God. I’ve been reading 22 chapters of Ezekiel taking a stand. Stuart stated that it meant “that there were so few among the people who were righteous that the net effect was as if no one at all cared about God’s will.”

 

It’s not that God didn’t have faithful representatives. He had Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah too. But why were they so ineffective? Were they deficient? Or were the people just that defiant? And then I wonder if the faithful were faithful but not in the political positions necessary to turn a people? Like Hezekiah and Josiah who were kings and led people, as opposed to Jeremiah and Ezekiel who were prophets and instructed people. Maybe it matters if there is even just one king after God’s own heart.

 
Moses was one of those “gap men.” Psalm 106:23 tells us, “Therefore He said He would destroy them—had not Moses, His chosen one, stood in the breach before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them.” How could he do that? What if Moses understood what it was to be willing to accept the wrath of God for the salvation of those He loved and for the glory of the God He loved? What if this is the closest one can come to understanding the heart and compassion of God in Christ Jesus? What if this is how Jesus pleads for us, for mercy and malleable hearts and places Himself in the breach of God’s wrath for us? Do I really think that Moses stood there without any fear of God’s anger himself? Or what if he understood like Paul, when he said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” How’s that for extreme standing in the gap? Wow!

 
Is this about intercessory prayer? God used this expression back in Ezekiel 13:5 also, “You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord.” The Hebrew of “built up a wall” or “make up the hedge” is gadar gader. It’s all about building a wall “of security and assurance around a city or a life.” (Dr. W. A. Criswell) So, here is supposed to be a wall of safety, but there is this breach, this peretz. There is this hole that let’s harm enter the city. And when harm enters the city, it enters our lives. Nehemiah talks about removing the breaches or holes by repairing the walls. People stood in and did that. Isaiah calls God the “Repairer of the Breach.” God used Jesus to stand in the breach for us, to pour out His life for ours and for the glory of God, to offer us safety and security in Him. He intercedes on our behalf, yes, but He doesn’t only intercede in prayer. He intercedes by His life.
Think about it. Jesus did more than pray for His disciples and for us. Jesus showed us what God looked like walking on this earth. Jesus touched and healed and raised from the dead. Jesus suffered and yet loved those who persecuted Him. Jesus washed the feet of his followers. Jesus was patient. Jesus was zealous for God. He interceded with and through His whole life. That’s true worship.

 
What if You are looking for men and women and boys and girls like that? What if You are looking for people who will worship You with all of their being and stand in the gap for You and those around them? What if You couldn’t find any at that time because the ones that were, were actually being detained by the opposition? Like Jeremiah who was in a pit to die? Like Ezekiel who the people weren’t listening to?

 
God always seeks for one person at a time. Why? That’s how we must respond. He seeks for one to stand in the breach. He’s not looking for a ministry or an institution or a nation or anything like that. All it can take is one person. Persia took a Cyrus. Babylon took a Nebuchadnezzar. Greece took an Alexander the Great, Rome, a Caesar. Closer to home, America had a George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Oh, but those aren’t necessarily religious leaders, right? Maybe not the way we think of it but Scripture has God calling Cyrus his son that He raised up for this purpose and this time.

 
Now think about the individuals that God raised up that impacted whole countries for Him. What about George Muller, or Billy Sunday, or Martin Luther, or Charles Spurgeon. I think about the first believer from the Maldives and how God has used her to lead others of her people (a 100% Muslim country!) to Him as well as others where she is ministering. I think about Mother Theresa in India and the Dawsons in Venezuela and Timothy and Yvonne Kinyua in Kenya. They pray but that’s not all. They put their faith and prayers to their feet and their lives. They walk it out. They live it out. They take their lives and through them walk Jesus out to the people around them for miles and miles, whether it’s dangerous or not, whether it’s taxing on their bodies or not. That’s the kind of standing in the gap that You are looking for, isn’t it?

 
Think about it this way as Dr. W. A Criswell shares the account of Moses and God. “God said to Moses in that thirty-second chapter of [Exodus], ‘Now Moses, you stand aside, you stand aside and let My wrath burn against these people. I will destroy them out of My sight: and out of you will I raise up a nation to do My will’ (Exodus 32:9-10)” Wow! Wouldn’t that be great? Wipe out the people who are a problem and make me great, Lord! Only that’s not the heart of God, is it. But I am so grateful that Moses had the heart of God in his response. “And it was then that Moses stood in the breach and as you read, he interceded, saying, ‘If these people cannot live, I do not want to live. If You blot them out of Your Book of Life, blot my name out of the Book of Life.’ [Exodus 32:32] And God spared the nation for Moses’ sake. He stood in the breach. [Psalm 106:23]” And I don’t think it was just for Moses’ sake. I think Moses was thinking of God’s sake, of what the nations all around would think of God. And I think God honored that kind of thinking in Moses, that was concerned for God’s glory and God’s people more than he was concerned with his own comfort or rights or image. That’s that kind of person that You look for to stand in the gap. Am I that kind of person?

 
Give me a person of God, just one,
Whose faith shines foremost for the Son
Who covets prayer and time with God
And walks it out where ever He trods.
Give me a person of God, just one,
Who lives in the light of the Living One
Who bears the image of the Risen Son
And loves and serves and forgives wrongs,
Where God’s vision fills his heart with songs
That he sings and lives out all day long
So that it rubs off on the watching throng.
Give me a person of God, just one
To stand in the breach, though they be undone,
And I’ll show You a life strong in God’s grace
That’ll make a difference in every place.
Make me a person of God, that one,
Wholly undone in the Glorious One.

Tragedy Before Perfection

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Image credit to theWallpaper.com

 

“As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Ezekiel 21:6

 
Imagine judgment so terrible that God cuts off both the righteous and the wicked. Imagine judgment so full that it is against all flesh. Once Abram said to God, “That be far from You to destroy the righteous with the wicked.” (Genesis 18:25) But just because Abram said that, does that make his thinking right? Is it not Your holy right and prerogative to do as You will and as must be done for righteousness? If that wasn’t the case, why would Paul be able to say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? Why would he have proceeded that statement with these words, “…with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death”?

 
Is this a hard realization? Yes. The hardest ever. It’s called faith, real faith. Jesus warned us about this kind of faith. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28) Was Jesus just joking? Or was he for real? Has God ever been joking? Or has He been for real like this since before time began? Maybe we’re the ones who have been living like jokes.

 
How is that fair, you ask? How is it fair that the righteous and the wicked would both be killed during judgment? Is it fair that all flesh, that all people everywhere would know that God is Lord? I think it is fair that the Creator of all flesh would be seen and glorified and known as the Creator, Sustain-er, and Redeemer of all flesh. I think it’s a hard bite to swallow for us prideful flesh-dwellers, but if we swallow it, it actually tastes divine.

 
Well, maybe that’s fine if I’m talking about someone else’s demise, right? Maybe some other people in some other country? But not here, not me, right? That’s what makes it easier to swallow? No. It could be me. I could fall by the sword because It’s been appointed for man or woman or boy or girl to die once, and after that—judgment. If I escape death by the sword, I won’t escape death by the hand of God. It is He alone that gives life and takes it away. When He says my days are done, He doesn’t need a sword to finish them, He just takes it back. After all, it was His to give and His to take away, isn’t that what Job said?

 
I don’t know where our rosy picture of life came from. It’s certainly not Biblical. I mean, life before the fall was beautiful and painless. But then, life-after-sin entered the picture, and repainted things. Jesus didn’t come and tell us everything was rosy again. At least not yet. In Matthew we hear Jesus warning us, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”

 
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” What does that mean? If Jesus is my teacher, my master, my mentor, and I am His pupil, His disciple, His child, then I follow in His footsteps and His ways. I eat like He eats and drink like He drinks and sleep like He sleeps and act like He acts and walk where He walks and talk like He talks and think like He thinks. His culture is my culture. After all, He originated the culture of God. If the sword was against Jesus because of judgment, the perfectly righteous One, why would it be against me, His disciple any less? Outside of Jesus, I have no righteousness and I’m rounded up with the wicked. But here was God’s righteous One, crucified under judgment for my sin and yours. If anyone didn’t deserve judgment, here is that One.

 
Let’s face it, anyone who is good by God’s standards can only be so by faith in God, by faith in Jesus Christ’s perfect provision and perfect sacrifice. For man, the righteous and the wicked are all sinners. But not so for Jesus. Am I above my Master? Am I more righteous than He? Absolutely not. To be angry at God is to deny God who He is. This isn’t paradise and I’m not called to live like it is. Paradise is only with God. Paradise is only where the will of God has come and is perfected. Right now, this is not the kingdom of God. This is still in control of the prince of the air. But Jesus showed us the way to bring in the Kingdom of God. But to do so, I have to be willing to count the cost. And I have to let God be God no matter what it means.

 
The truth is, we’re all Jobs. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t all in the same sentence. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face.” (Job 13:14) Maybe I should start understanding that Your ways are higher than my ways and Your thoughts than mine. (Isaiah 55:9) Job finally realized the error in his thinking. Maybe it’s time I realized the errors in mine and let You be God.

 
What does that even have to do with God’s words to Ezekiel? “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Whose heart is my heart lined up with? Is it lined up first and foremost with the righteous and the wicked? Am I stepping in as their advocates more than I advocate for You God? Or am I here as Your advocate? How did Ezekiel know how to feel? God felt it first and Ezekiel was so close to You, Lord, that he felt the groaning and the breaking of Your heart and the bitter grief. Ezekiel knew You and knew what His people were losing out on and that was the bitter sorrow for all.

 
See, the truth is that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Take this life from me by the sword or the hand of God and that’s all you do. You take this life. But You don’t take LIFE from me. I have it in Christ. I am a child of God. I am Yours and You are mine. It might be sad, or full of suffering and pain on the way out, but taking away the visible won’t rob me of what is invisibly mine, because what is invisible is far stronger and eternal. But what a tragedy for those who chose wickedness instead, who are the children of wrath and not of God. That makes me want to groan, and breaks my heart to think of what they will enter- an eternity of suffering outside of the will and presence of God. And it’s not like You haven’t been giving us a choice over all these thousands of years. That’s how much You care. What a tragedy to miss that.

You Can’t Fake God Culture

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

 

“And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’” Ezekiel 20:7

So here come the elders to “inquire of the Lord” by coming before Ezekiel. They sit down with him to “seek” God. It’s this Hebrew word darash. It means “to search,” “to seek,” “to examine,” and “to investigate.” God says, in Jeremiah 29:13-14, “And you shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found of you…” And that is great news. But something is not right here.

What’s not right? The elders have come to inquire, but God “will not be inquired of” by them. Didn’t You say that if people would seek You, they would find You? But how can they find You if You don’t let them seek You? Or was something missing here? Does everyone who looks, find? Or is there something about our looking that determines the fruitfulness of our finding?

You actually established a condition in Jeremiah. Let me flip flop it. When you shall search for Me with all your heart, then you shall seek Me, and find Me, and I will be found of you…Were these elders searching for You with all their heart? Remember, heart or lebab, isn’t just that mushy-feely thing that pumps blood and oozes out emotions. In Hebrew thinking it’s that part of us that feels, thinks, and wills. Therefore it’s the determiner of our actions and the truth of our actions. God knows our hearts, those desperately wicked things that we think are so clean and tidy, that we sit before Ezekiel like we’re all that, seeking God’s interests, when our lives have been anything but about God. And the truth is that God won’t let us fake our seeking Him.

God knows what is in our hearts and on our minds and the way our will is leaning, whether towards His will or not. He sees the secret rebellion that others may miss. He knows what our eyes are focused on, where our heart’s allegiance lies, how truly dirty we’ve made ourselves, and what we really worship. That’s why He alone can say, “Cast away every one of you the abominations of your eyes, and stop defiling yourselves with all these idols around you. I am the Lord your God. It’s Me. Know Me. Acknowledge Me. Stop faking it.”

See, the eye is from the Hebrew word ayin. It’s thought of as a fountain, a fountain that can flow with life or death. We can choose to have or be an evil eye or a good eye. I can be stingy or giving. I can be evil or good. I can choose my own way or God’s. That’s a dangerous thing if we choose wrongly. You would think the choice would be easy. I mean, who wouldn’t choose generosity, or goodness, or God, right? Well, obviously not the elders and obviously not me all the time either.

Do I think I don’t need this warning? Do I not have to be careful of the abominations of my own eyes? What things that are shiqquts- disgusting and filthy and idolatrous to You Lord, am I focusing my attention on? Oh, I’m not looking at bad stuff. I don’t do pornographic stuff. Well that’s good. But what I see about God and what I see God doing, do I really see and understand and obey? Because that’s a part of Hebrew seeing. A good eye is one that sees and acts appropriately on what they see. It’s the spiritual light of God flowing through our lives. Is it? Or is darkness flowing from me instead? Am I relying on my own strength or am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to allow me to see and understand and know and act upon what I behold of the radiance of Your presence? Or do I just sit before You with my inquiries designed after my own desires and plans? There’s a big difference.

It’s so easy to place the blame on God. But these elders had eyes to see. Their hearts led them to choose their paths. It was a matter of will, only it wasn’t truly Your will they were seeking. Their hearts weren’t panting after You like the deer pants for water. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t surrendered to You in the first place. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t devoted to the ways of the Beneficial One. They didn’t want to pay the price to be wholly Yours. They had things they didn’t want to let go of. They chose to hold them closer than You.

It’s a lack of humility.  It’s thinking that I can tell You, God, my Creator, what to do. It’s loosing touch with reality.  It’s coming to You like it’s our little pow-wow time and I’m Your equal. Well, I’m not. In all reality, I need You, I desperately need You. I need You because it’s so easy for my good eye to be taken over by my evil eye and for me to become a slave to sin instead of to You and get caught up in the evil impulse without even realizing it. Rashi said, “The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body: they lead a person to transgress; the eyes see, the heart covets, and the body transgresses.” Yes, even I need to be wary of the abominations, the detestable things of my own eyes.

So, now that I see that, do I really understand Your desire? Just a little earlier in Ezekiel 20 You let them know how they had fallen. You remind them and us of Leviticus 18:26, “But you shall keep My statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” This is not some new idea here. You warned against this antithesis to Your worship, this disgustingness that we could fill our lives with, this rebellion against You and our created purpose. What didn’t the Israelites understand? What didn’t they see? What don’t I see? Do I not understand what an abomination is? Do I not understand what idolatry is? What about them? What excuse do any of us have to not see and know and understand?

This is bad stuff. I better get it or it will be the ruin and death of me and those around me. Let’s look more at God’s words to Ezekiel. “But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they didn’t walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned…because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols…I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey My rules, and keep My Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” Later God says the problem was “their eyes were after their fathers idols.” See, their eyes weren’t really on God. Where are mine really? Let’s stop and think about whether they really had a right after all this, to come and sit before God and ask Him what they wanted? Really? Because in verse 31, this is how they were busy living their lives: “For when you offer your gifts, when you make your sons to pass through the fire, you pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.” Come on, can I really run around and offer my children as burnt sacrifices before Molech and then come sit down before You? Who am I kidding? Where is my heart? It’s where my actions and thoughts are.

Now, don’t give me that lousy excuse that God’s rules and regulations are too hard and too many. Because the word for rules here is mishpat. And it’s not about something that governs our conduct. It’s not some enforceable measure over our behavior. It’s not something I do because some authority, God in this instance, makes me do it or else. God’s rules are about “exemplars.” This is the way that people live who are a part of God, a part of His culture. It’s why I can expect certain things of my Filipino friends, because their culture is so deep and important to them. Do you think someone has to make them be or act Filipino? Are you kidding me? They are so proud to be Filipino because of the beauty of their culture. Who has to force them to be Filipino, to be who they are? Are you really going to tell me, that if I realize who I am in Christ, God will have to force me to act like His? You have to be kidding!

Mishpat or rules here aren’t about morality. It’s about the character of God and life of God in Christ in us. Remember, God said, “As I live…” He is alive and His character and all that He is and does lives on and He designed it to live on in and through us, His created masterpieces. If I am in the culture of God, I act like God. If am in the culture of Christ, I act like Christ because I am His. His values become my values. What He embraces, I embrace. His behavior becomes my behavior. My life demonstrates my values. My God does not have to regulate my behavior if I value Him.

But abominations are those things that are offensive to the culture. I mean, if you are outside the culture, it won’t look offensive to you, but if you’re inside the culture it will. See, God defines our culture in Him. It’s His culture first. And He determines what is an abomination within His culture and community. If we can’t see that, our own choices will punish us and we’ll condemn ourselves.

Just look around us in the culture of this world. It’s so different than God’s culture. God asks again, through Jeremiah, “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say ‘We are delivered!’- only to go on doing all these abominations?” Maybe we need to be careful of what we’re trusting in. Maybe there are more of us trusting in words instead of trusting in God. Maybe there are more of us who need to come to God on Your terms instead of on ours or the worlds and maybe then, once we start searching for the truth in You with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, and will, we’ll finally really find You and be found by You. Maybe it’s time to want Your culture no matter the cost so that we can really find You. Because there is no deliverance and no salvation in anyone else or anywhere else. Outside of Your culture, outside of You it’s all empty words with no meat. Salvation is a “dynamic relation” (Skip Moen) and if I haven’t got that dynamic relation that’s lived out in You overflowing culture through me, I haven’t got anything at all.