Pulling Off an “Ezekiel”

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Photo credit to unknown internet source.

 

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment.” (Ezekiel 4:4)

 
Can you imagine lying on your side out on the ground where everyone is walking by for 390 days? And then doing it again on your right side, the other side, for another 40 days? Now, before that you were asked to make a sketch in a clay brick or maybe use those clay bricks to lay out a model of the city of Jerusalem under siege. And here you are, laying down, which isn’t an easy task physically, so God Himself helps you to be strong enough to do it. He places “cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other” until the days are completed. If that’s not bad enough, you have to eat what God tells you, this unpleasant mix of grains that isn’t even tasty and maybe even considered unclean by Hebrew standards. Let’s take it a step further, because then it’s supposed to be cooked over human dung.

 
Human dung! Are you kidding me? If mixing grains and beans was unclean, then what about cooking over human dung!  Now, Ezekiel didn’t object until this point. And I’m not surprised that he cries out to the Lord. “God, I’ve never defiled what went into my mouth. Please don’t make me now.” So the Lord, has mercy and tells Ezekiel he can cook over cow dung instead. Now that still seems nasty here, but in many cultures with lack of wood for cooking, there’s nothing unusual about that.

 
Speaking of unusual though, this whole thing is pretty unusual, pretty far out there, don’t you think? This is an interesting way to warn the children of Israel and Judah of their impending doom if they don’t repent. But as I read it, it’s not just a story about Israel and Judah and their sin, it’s a story about the call of God on a man and about the faithfulness of that man. And it goes even deeper. It’s about the call of God on any of us, and the evidence of the measure of our faithfulness to that call.

 
The call of God has nothing to do with ease and a life of bliss. It has nothing to do with living life in the wonderful by and by and escaping the here and now. I mean, really, look at Ezekiel. Ezekiel was chosen by God to be His representative and did he live a life of ease? Or was he expected and called to do hard things, things that most ordinary or “normal” men wouldn’t ever humble themselves to do? Where was his wealth? Where was his ease? Where was his blessing as we think of and expect blessings? Was he counting down the days until he died so he could go to heaven? I think not, because the Jews in that time period didn’t have that concept of heaven. What would compel Ezekiel to obey?

 
Why would Ezekiel allow himself to be bound like this? Why would Paul, some 600 years later, allow himself to be bound? “And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:11) And I wonder if it all has some bearing on this man in the middle of both, this man who was also God, whose name is Jesus, who allowed them to bind him and lead him away and deliver him over to Pilate the governor? (Matthew 27:2)

 
It’s funny. Jesus allowed a lot of people to bind him. First there was the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews who arrested him and bound him. (John 18:12) Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:24) And even after his death, those who loved him took his body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:40) But I guess it really doesn’t matter how man binds something. Because ultimately, Jesus broke all those bands when he rose again. But he had to wear those bands. He had to take on that burden.

 
What was that burden? It was the burden that God was placing on Ezekiel, the sin of the people. And Ezekiel was bearing it symbolically. Even so, he needed God to help him bear it. And Paul, he was carrying that burden from God too. That’s why he went all over the world preaching the good news of Christ that others might be set free. But Jesus, He’s the one who can actually bear the whole burden. He alone can carry the full weight.
Ezekiel was a picture for all to see. But it was a picture bigger than Ezekiel. It was God using Ezekiel to display what He was doing and what He was going to do.

 

Do you want to see the whole picture? Let’s look at it in Isaiah 53. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

 
You know, I forgot to mention that while Ezekiel was lying on the ground on his side, he was told to lie down like that with his arm outstretched. Is that supposed to be a Deja Vu? “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God…” (Exodus 6:6-7) This is the word, sabal- to bear, from the Hebrew siblot. It’s the word used in Isaiah 53 where the suffering servant bears our iniquities. It’s the relieving of the burden of those things that enslave and cause servitude, of those things that cause punishment and penalty. This is what the suffering servant, Jesus can bear and do for us. He is our Deliverer who can show Himself strong on our behalf in miraculous ways.

 
But the word of bearing that Ezekiel was called to do and like that which Paul would do or I is a whole different word. In Ezekiel its the word nasah. That’s a word used about testing and trying and proving. It’s like when God tested the faithfulness of his children when they were coming out of Israel. Only at Massah, they didn’t only just quarrel. They accused God and Moses of not being sufficient and of not caring. They basically said that God was impotent and indifferent because He wouldn’t do it there way. It was a challenge to God’s power and goodness despite the prevalent evidence all around.
The truth is that God has already demonstrated His faithfulness and goodness time and time again. It’s not up to Him to prove Himself. We are called to be proven. We’re the ones that need to pass the test, not God. Do we really get who God is and what He has already done? Are we just willing to be used to be witnesses of Him and not ourselves? Am I truly willing to bear His image and forsake my own? Can I forget my needs and desires for the sake of God’s glory and His desires to be manifested by me instead?

 
Am I willing to adopt a Biblical view of my calling or am I going to make it fit my own design?  Because that’s not the way God works. If Jesus came and allowed Himself to be bound and to suffer at the hands of men so that God’s glory would be manifested, and He’s our Master, then how could we be called to anything less? What if my goal wasn’t about receiving blessings but about manifesting the glory of God by a life humbly submitted to His will no matter what He required?

 
What if Ezekiel’s message is a message of choosing God’s will no matter the cost? What if that is what real faith is all about? It takes me to Matthew 19:29 and Jesus’ words, “And every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” That word for forsake is aphiemi. And it does mean to leave, but it also means “to dismiss, to send away, to let go.” There’s a personal involvement on our part just like there was on Ezekiel’s part. He had to decide to go with God’s plan. He had to decide to lay down and stretch out his arms each day in front of everyone. He had to make a conscious choice to manifest God’s picture through Himself despite what others would think and despite how they would treat him.

 
So the question is, am I willing to bear the burden that You place on me God, that shines forth Your image in this world that so badly needs to see You and know You? Do I know You so well that I would be willing to do whatever You required of me so that You could shine through me? Would I be willing to look like a fool to those who don’t understand so that You can look like God to those who will understand? How faithful am I really? Am I faithful enough to pull off an Ezekiel? God, make me able. As I consciously choose You, bind me in that decision in You.

The Character of the Bearer

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“The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel.  The saying of the Lord, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth, and formed the spirit of man within him…” Zechariah 12:1

Here we are again at that expression “the burden of the word of the Lord.”  Only now it’s tied in with Israel in such a way that Israel becomes a related burden for other people groups and those that “burden” themselves with Jerusalem will be “cut in pieces.”  Since that word burden in speaking about the word of the Lord is massa, let’s go back to the place Massah again.  Remember how massa has its root in nasah which means to test, to try, to prove?  See, this is God’s prerogative and not ours.  God, You are the One who gets to test, try, and prove us, not vice-versa.  But what happened at Massah was that we the people tested Your faithfulness even after You had time and time again proven it.  It wasn’t just about a quarrel the people had with You.  They doubted and challenged Your power to provide and care for them according to their desires, according to their will.  In other words, they thought both You and Moses were impotent and indifferent.  “If You don’t respond our way, we won’t respond to You. Show You are really God by doing things the way we want them.” 

But what I want isn’t always right or the best.  Sometimes I don’t even know exactly what I want.  I just know I’m in need.  Like this morning.  I don’t really want an answer or something to move forward like I want.  Well, I do, but that’s not what I desire most.  There are things I’d like to see You do and make clear and known, actions I would love to see You perform, but that’s not what’s most important.  What’s most important to me this morning is that I just want to see You rightly.  In my heart and soul and mind and body, I want to come to You rightly.  I want to remember who You are.  I want to love You more than I love what You do.  I don’t want You to have to perform for me because You don’t.  I want to understand like Job was learning to understand that “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”  (Job 3:15)

It’s not like Job totally got it either.  I mean, after all, Job was just a mere man.  He got one part but not the next.  Because right after that he says, “but I will maintain my own ways before him.”  What are our ways before You?  Isaiah showed us what our ways are before You, Lord, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)  But Isaiah stuck some good news in there in verse 8, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our Potter, and we all are the work of Your hand.”

The truth is that God, You alone have every right to test us, to prove us, to give us every opportunity to be molded and formed into Your ever faithful image and likeness.  It doesn’t go the other way around.  That’s what You remind us all in this verse in Zechariah.  See, it’s You who stretched forth the heavens.  It’s You, Lord, who layed the foundation of the earth.  It’s You who formed the spirit of man within him.  It’s all because of You.  It’s all in You.  It’s all through You.  We are the product, not the Producer.  You are the Potter, we are the clay.  You are the ever Faithful One, and we, well, Massah proves our unfaithfulness, doesn’t it?

There is coming this day when You will make Jerusalem “a cup of trembling” to all the people around them.  There is coming a day when You will use Jerusalem to test the faith of all the peoples surrounding them and by that faith, or lack thereof, those who stand against that faith shall be cut down.  And Jerusalem will be strong not because the people are strong in themselves, but because the strength of the people comes through the Lord of hosts, their God.  The Lord shall defend Jerusalem.  The house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will be filled with the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they will look to You because they have realized what they have done in thrusting through the “First-born”, the “only Son.”

It’s not about things happening my way or our way or even Israel’s way.  It never has been.  The burden of the word of the Lord is that it’s His burden and not ours.  It’s His burden to shape us and mold us through testing and trials.  It’s Your burden to be the Potter.  You are I AM.  We are not.  But You have sent Your Messiah, Jesus Christ, so that You could place Your Spirit back in us, and remold us into Your image in Jesus. 

What if You choose to put me in the desert for 40 years?  What then?  Does that change who You are?  No, it doesn’t.  But it should change me.  Will I choose to accept Your burden and testing and be molded into Your image, or will I rebel and demand You form into mine?  Who knows better here anyways?  Is it the One who formed the heavens, layed the foundations of the earth, and formed the spirit within me?  Or is it me that can’t do a single one of those things?  Who will I trust?  Who will I surrender my life to?  Who will I cry out to and expectantly wait for?  Will I believe whether I see it or not?  I mean, if the heavens already declare it, then when have I not seen?  What is it we’re looking for, really?  If I want You to be God, then I need to wholly surrender and let You be who You are.  But oh, if I want to be god, I better be ready for great disappointment and loss, ‘cause it ain’t gonna happen. 

Lord, I don’t want to test You.  I don’t want to carry the burden of Your word as though I’m the one in charge.  I want You to be in charge.  No matter what Your decision for me, I want to learn to trust You and to walk forward in faith.  And if You tell me to stand still in faith, even for a terribly burdensome long time, then teach me to stand still as long as it takes until I am demonstrating absolute trust in You and Your decisions for me.  I thank You that You created the heavens and all their intricacies.  You formed the layer of atmosphere around us that gives us air to breathe and offers protection from the sun.  You designed all the different atoms that work together.  You created outer space that is so vast and amazing, man doesn’t know the end of it.  You laid the foundation of the earth and every particle.  And man keeps seeing the amazing nature of the smallest particle and it keeps being able to go smaller so that we haven’t peered into the smallest realm You created yet.  And You delighted to form the spirit of man within him, and I’m one of those.  And to think that I’m not just one of many, but that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and You know me apart from John Smith.  And it’s not too much for You to know every star by name and every person by name.  Because for You, a name is more than a name.  A name is the character of the bearer.  And I’m so grateful that You are taking the time to give Your name and character to those who surrender to You in Christ Jesus.  May Your will be done and not mine, until You have proved me so that my will has become Yours.

Not Repeating the Past

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Photo credit to Psyche Angelik Mendoza Villacillo-Zuhura

“The burden of the word of the Lord in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel shall be toward the Lord.”  Zechariah 9:1

What do a burden, a tribute, and a song have in common?  A lot more than one would think here.  Because I’m reading this verse that starts, “The burden of the word of the Lord,” and I’m asking, what does it mean that the word of the Lord is called a burden?  That’s pretty heavy stuff isn’t it?  No pun intended there.  Isn’t a burden a heavy thing, a heavy load to bear?  And if the word of the Lord is such a heavy load, how can one bear it?

Maybe I read to much into things, or maybe the problem is we don’t read enough into things.  But when I stopped to ask about this word “burden” represented by the Hebrew word massa, more than leading to meaning a burden or tribute, it’s also singing.  Now how does that come together?  And the origin of the word itself comes from the word nasal which means to lift.  But these definitions don’t clear everything up for me.

If I hop around Scripture looking and asking, I find massa being used of an ass lying under his burden.  Actually, it’s the ass of an enemy struggling under his burden, and then being encouraged to help the ass for the enemy’s sake despite his hatred of you.  I find massa when the tent of meeting is being readied to travel and the “sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.  These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath…” (Numbers 4:15)  Aaron and his sons, the priests, were to take the Kohathites in to perform their service of carrying things by appointing them personally to each of the holy items that had already been covered to do his service and to care for his burden and live.  (Numbers 4:19)  And then there were the Gershonites who carried the things like the curtains and hangings of the tabernacle.  It was their service and burden.  Were these things too hard?  Were these things a chore and drudgery?  Isn’t that what we think of burdens today?  Or does this concept of a burden in Your word, Lord, mean something more?

It’s not that it’s a light thing either.  Definitely, a burden is attached to some weightiness.  Here is Moses in the wilderness and the people of Israel are complaining about manna, manna, manna.  I mean, here’s God’s provision.  They are living and not dying.  Their clothes aren’t even wearing out.  They have water in the desert.  They are safe.  “All we get to eat is manna!”  And the manna falls and they gather it to eat and what is their response?  They are weeping and not for joy.  They are weeping with ungratefulness and complaining hearts.  They are weeping for what they want and not what God wants.  And Moses comes to You Lord and says, “Why have You afflicted your servant?  And why haven’t I found favor in Your sight, that You lay the burden of all this people upon me?  Have I conceived all this people?  Have I begotten them, that You should say unto me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing father bears the sucking child, unto the land which You swear unto their fathers?  Where should I have flesh to give unto all this people?  For they weep unto me, saying, ‘Give us flesh, that we may eat.’  I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.”  (Numbers 11: 11-14) 

Moses was so right.  This was all too “kabed” for him.  It was not intended for him to handle what the people were looking to him to handle.  It was not for You, Lord, to be asked to handle things according to the people’s will either.  Kabed means “to be heavy, weighty with respect.”  But that weight of glory was supposed to be being placed on the Lord, not on their own desires and their own hearts, nor on a man (no matter how great before God) named Moses. 

So Lord, You answer Moses.  And You tell him to gather 70 of the elders and You will take of the spirit that is upon Moses and share it with these 70 elders so that Moses will not be alone, so that Moses will have other men to help him.  So these men and Moses will all bear the burden of the people together.  And I wonder if You did that because You were teaching Moses something about himself by giving him what he “thought” he needed.  Because wasn’t that the same thing the people were doing?  And after You square Moses away, You square the people away.  You are going to give them what they asked for and more.  The meat was coming.  And Moses seems to doubt how You could do that.  Why do I say Moses seems to doubt You?  It sounds like Your words I hear.  “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?  You shall see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.’”  Let’s keep meditating on all these things.  Hold on to it, like Mary, and hide it in our hearts for You to bring together, Lord.  In Deuteronomy, Moses shares, “How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?” while speaking to the people.  This is over this same situation of the appointing of the 70 leaders, just another perspective.  Who’s cumbrance, burden, and strife was the problem?  Let’s just meditate on that.

And if this hasn’t gotten weighty enough to think about, it’s expressed as song twice in 1 Chronicles 15:22.  “And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was for song: he instructed about the song, because he was skillful.” How can it be a burden and a song? Well, I do suppose a song is a type of tribute to God.  Now I see how it can be a song and a tribute, but relating those with the burden… I’m still searching.

How about a tribute?  We have that represented in 2 Chronicles 17:11 where some of the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat all kinds of tribute like silver.  And the Arabians brought flocks, rams, and goats.  Again, how do these three words- burden, tribute, and song come together in nasah?  It brings me back to Moses and another incident.

In Deuteronomy 6:16, Moses is warning the people by bringing up an incident in the past.  “You shall not test the Lord your God, as you tested Him in Massah.”  Why is there a place named Massah, like the root of the word nasal?  Exodus 17:7 tells us, “And he called the name of the place Massah, and Maribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’” Paul reminds his readers of this time in his letter to the Hebrews.  He warns them not to harden their hearts as at this time when the people provoked God and put God to the proof even after seeing His miraculous care and provision.  The author of some of the Psalms looks back at that day.  It seems it had nothing to do with Your desire but all to do with their own lust and desire.  The author accuses them of turning back and limiting You.  Actually, it’s pretty strong stuff.  They “lusted exceedingly.”  Maybe this story can help bring it all together. 

“You shall not test the Lord your God as you tested in Massah.”  God, You say don’t do it.  I’m not to test You.  No one is.  How do I worship You properly?  How do I understand what to do and what not to do?  Is the burden of the word of the Lord to understand and serve in that right understanding?  What does Your history teach?  Could this be about You testing our faithfulness?  Could life be a test of that designed for us?  I mean, after all, You inherently are faithful.  You can’t be unfaithful.  To test Your faithfulness is to cast doubt on You and to say You are not faithful.  Who are we or the Israelites to say that?  To say, “You aren’t doing right by us.  You aren’t meeting my needs.  This isn’t how it should be happening in my life,” are all hardened hearts wanting their own way and not Yours.  They’re all saying, “I know better than You, Lord.  Straighten up Your act and get right according to me.”  Really?  Yes.  How sad.  And I’ve been guilty of that, of testing You because I’ve been one of those complainers who asked You to change the situation instead of asking You to change my heart. 

What if a burden is a test?  Sure, it carries weight, it’s heavy, it’s hard.  Isn’t that how tests are designed?  Aren’t they designed to be the proof of our true capabilities whether in math or science or welding, or in this case, our trust and submission to You, God?  I mean, what was really happening at Massah?  “God, You’re not taking care of us.  Neither are You, Moses.  You guys are impotent.  You’re indifferent to our needs.  We don’t want to follow You because You don’t listen and do what we say.  If You want us to follow You, prove Yourself to us and prove You care for us our way!”  But it was never and never will be about You following our will.  If faith is dependent upon You doing things for me, then that’s not faith at all.  You are God, not a genie.  What an insult.  Like You don’t know how to care best for Your own people, Your own creation?  Really?  Like You are under anyone’s control?  Like the created can control the Creator?  Are we kidding ourselves.  And the One who is Good, needs to be told what is good?

The burden of the word of the Lord, then, maybe, is to see You for who You are and to act accordingly based on that knowledge and experience.  To carry the burden any other way is “rebellious disobedience, a refusal to accept the character of God as the basis of obedience.” (Skip Moen)

God gives us every evidence of His goodness.  To rebel and disobey in the face of it is sin.  To say God does not care is to ignore evidence and commit sin.  God cares.  You manifest as You see fit.  It’s not our decision.  it is Your choice how to show it.  All we need to know is that You care.  I don’t tell You what to do.  I‘m Your servant.  I don’t deserve consideration but I’m blessed that You consider me.  If I think I deserve more, I better look back at history.  I can also learn that it’s dangerous to question God. I mean, You have no requirement or duty to act on my behalf and yet, You choose to.  That’s all because of Your faithfulness.  My appropriate service is gratitude.  “Gratitude is the basis of faith, but gratitude arises from who [You are}, not what [You do].”  And the truth is, Jesus didn’t die for my sins.  That was secondary.  Jesus died for the love and obedience of the Father because He wanted to be all about Him.  My forgiveness, the death of my sins through His sacrifice, is a byproduct of His obedience.  He trusted the character of You, Heavenly Father, so much, that He went to the cross as my sacrifice.  I can place my sins on him as I place my trust in a God who is faithful and worthy of being trusted.

The burden of the world of the Lord is the truth of who You are.  It’s heavy because You are heavy.  Your holiness is described as a weighty thing.  You are worthy of tribute.  Anything I have, anything I do, You deserve presented back to You because it all came from You in the first place.  And when I start seeing the weightiness of who You are, how can I help but burst out in songs of praise and worship and adoration and thankfulness. 

“The burden of the word of the Lord in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel shall be toward the Lord.”  My eyes can be on myself, like the eyes of the Israelites at Massah.  Or my eyes can be reminded to be on you because only in You will I find that rest.  Only in You will I be consoled as You care for me as Your own bride.  Only in You will I find my true rest as You give me a home and an identity and a purpose and You abide with me and I abide with You.  Finally, when You are in control, what work do I have left other than to walk in Your ways and enjoy the blessing of Your presence?  I can carry Your burden and be defeated under it.  Or I can let You carry Your burden and be blessed as You hold the load for me and I follow in obedience and love and adoration and awe.  The choice is mine, the burden and work is Yours.  That’s faith.  That’s trust.  That’s how not to repeat the past but how to learn from it.

Strength to Sacrifice

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“Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.”  Ephesians 5:1-2

This morning I asked myself, what does sacrifice really look like?  And when I started to search, I found that “offering” and “sacrifice” go together.  And I’m finding that I can’t really know either without understanding them in Your perspective, Jesus, first.  Because You, God, are the Author of offering and sacrifice.

Today I learned that You originated the only ancient religious document that tells it’s followers what the offering must be.  I don’t get to bring whatever I want.  You have told me what is acceptable to You and that is what I must bring.  All other religions leave it up to the bringer.  But not You.  The Hebrew word “qorban” means what is brought near.  And even though it does not specify how, You do.  In Your book, in Your eyes, and offering isn’t an offering unless it follows Your instructions.

I can go back to the first book of Scripture to find that.  I can go to Genesis chapter 4 and hear about Cain’s experience.  He gave an offering.  It was an offering for a sacrifice.  Why wasn’t it accepted.  Why did You, Lord, have no respect for it?  That means You wouldn’t even look at it.  When Cain gave his offering for the sacrifice You looked away.  You ignored it.  Why?  Well, You gave Cain and us Your answer.  “And the LORD said unto Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  and why is your countenance fallen?  If you do well, won’t you be accepted?  and if you don’t do well, sin lies at the door.”  I want to notice that word “well.”  I really don’t think it’s talking about if you do good here.  Because what was inherently bad about Cain bringing a gift of his best harvest?  That’s not it.  The word for “well” here is “yatab”.  And it means things like to do right, to do good, to make something beautiful, to make joyful.  But I don’t think we can look at this without a properperspective here.  Because the goodness matters, and who we are bringing joy to matters.

When I give an offering, like Cain was, what is at the heart of the offering?  Isn’t it the goodness of God?  What does my goodness count or the goodness of my fruit?  God has told each one of us and even Cain what an acceptable sacrifice is.  If only blood is sufficient, then why is it “good” to offer something without blood for a blood sacrifice?  The blood sacrifice means something.  It means something that only God can do for us in Christ.  And can we really make anything beautiful?  Can I bring my firstfruits to You, Lord, and say, “Look at the gorgeous fruits I created!”  Really?  You did it and I just received Your goodness that I was given the delight of laboring in with my hands.  And is this for my joy or Your joy?  Because You tell us that obedience is far better than sacrifice.  So I’m going to keep these things in mind.

Now offering is from the Greek word “phosphora” and the Hebrew word “qorban.”  And I now know that it means to draw near.  It usually has nothing to do with blood like “sacrifice” or “thusia” does.  Sacrifice implies something that is consumed by fire.  It’s something wholly consumed by fire like the animal sacrifice.  If I go back to the Hebrew, I find that “sacrifice” is from the Hebrew word “zebah.”  You know what it means?  “To kill.”  Now most of the things brought near were wave offerings, grain, and drink offerings, and things like that.  But here You are calling us to come near toward You with what is required.  There is a reason we come near and have to touch the sacrificed or slaughtered animal.  It matters.  Vegetables and grain and wine can’t do what the blood can do.  It’s got to be Your way that I draw near or I don’t draw near at all.

Skip Moen goes so far as to say, “an offering can be a sacrifice but a sacrifice cannot be an offering.”  And it all points to something.  It points to You Jesus.  I points to Your death.  You were the sacrifice affered on our behalf so that we could be brought near.  Did you know that when the animal was sacrificed, the one drawing near would place their hand upon it’s head to symbolically transfer their sin to the sacrifice standing in their place?  So I must draw near to Jesus, our forever sacrifice, who died on the cross and rose again so that we could draw near, so that our sin could be transferred to Him, only it won’t happen unless I draw near His way.  He was both an offering and a sacrifice for us.  His living and His dying make the picture whole.  He draws us near and payed the price.

But that is evangelism 101.  And I don’t think that’s all that Paul is telling us in Ephesians 5.  I think that by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is telling us that our lives should exemplify Yours, Lord, in offering and sacrifice.  That’s no easy road to follow.  And I absolutely cannot do that on my own.  But if I do what You say, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy , and my burden is light.”  Now, what if rest isn’t rest like we think of it?  What if this rest is “cessation”?  What if it’s stopping the way I’ve been living, the way I’ve been giving, the way I’ve been thinking, and letting You have Your way?  What if rest is all about letting You have Your beautiful, good, right way in me instead of me having my own way.  Wouldn’t that be something?  And that word “easy”, “chrestos”, what of that?  I found out that “it comes from chraomai, a verb that means, “to lend, to make use of, to make the most of.” …it means something like providing what is needed.”  So it’s not what I would think of easy but if I obey You, Lord, You will provide everything I need to give and do what You call me to.   And that “light” burden, that “elaphros” burden isn’t just light, it is easy to bear.  Why?  Because Jesus has drawn near and He is carrying the heavy part of the load.

So You, Lord, have done everything, are doing everything, and have given everything I need to walk in You and to walk like You.  I can be Your follower in every way and I can love like You love because You have drawn near and as I draw near to You, You continue to share the burden with You.  But whose burden is it anyway.  Don’t I have to look at that with the right perspective.  Every burden I bear, is it really my burden?  Or are these burdens Yours, so that You can be glorified as I allow You to carry the weight of glory that only You were meant to carry?  What if my whole walk changed because I really got it, I really understood who life was about?  What if I learned to take my eyes off of me and learned to fully obey and trust and walk in You.  And the truth of the matter is, I can, because You drew near so I could draw near to You.  And You paid the price for me.

Prayer for today- Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  And don’t forget, He drew near first.  He paid the biggest price.  If you want Him, come, obey, live and walk  in Him.  I know that I am so grateful Lord that You drew near to me and for Your immeasureable sacrifice.  And I want nothing more than to draw nearer and nearer to You every day of my life.  Have Your way in me and may I offer the sacrifice You require because it’s not hard.  You’ve already given me what I’m to offer.  So let me joyfully give back to You what You have given me.

Crushed Under Pressure

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(He said this to test Philip; actually He already knew what He would do.)  John 6:6

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Lord, You know everything about me and everyone who will ever exist.  You know our hearts when we don’t even know them.  You know what’s going to happen ahead of time.  And yet, even in the midst of all Your knowing, I still have free will.  And because You love me, and each one of us, You give us opportunities to bring our will, that free will, in line with Yours.  And sometimes, those opportunities bring us into tough situations, situations where faith is born.

This is one of those situations.  You went up on a mountain because this great multitude of people was following You.  They had seen Your miraculous healings.  Plus, it was almost Passover so a lot more people were in the area.  It wasn’t by mistake that You went up the mountain and sat with Your disciples where they could see this giant multitude of people below.  And it wasn’t by mistake that You asked Philip, “Where can we buy enough food to feed all these people?”

It wasn’t by mistake at all.  But it was by design.  And Your design was to increase the faith of Philip, and each of the disciples.  Your design is always to draw us closer to You and to increase our faith.  And one way You do that is to draw us into hard situations that make us “prove” that faith.  And that’s the word the King James Version of the Bible uses.  “And this He said to prove him.”  Thayer’s  Greek Lexicon says that means to prove or test someone “for the purpose of ascertaining his quality, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself.”  And we need that.  At least I do.

I need that because I don’t think I’m much different from Philip or Andrew or Peter.  I know I’ve been put in uncomfortable situations, situations that were overwhelming or I didn’t feel prepared for or that were just plain difficult to say the least.  And I’ve asked, “How can I do this?”  And I’ve also answered like Andrew and replied, “Well, I have a little here but how can that help?”  And then I feel like Peter when I say, “Lord, I would die for You!”  But then there are some situations I crumble in.  So why do I have to go through these tough times?  I thought being a believer was supposed to be easy street.  Well, no, I never really got that idea but it is voiced out there.  But You never voiced that idea.

What was the idea you shared?  Well, straight from Your own mouth later in John, you say, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  And Lord, thank goodness that You desire to prepare us for the reality of life.  Because this word for tribulation, “thlipsis,” is about the really hard stuff.  This is pressed grape hard.  You are warning us that real “crushing” stuff will come into our lives.  We can expect it.  We can expect difficult circumstances, immense pressure, suffering both physically and on our souls.  We can expect things that want to weigh down our spirit, burden our heart, or crush the life out of us.

Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?  But we live in a spiritual battleground ever since the fall when Adam and Eve both chose their way over Your way.  But a soldier knows the risks when he signs up.  He knows that he is preparing for the battlefield.  And that’s what happens when he enlists.  He’s put into tough situations.  Talk to any Marine.  You aren’t made ready by being taken out to five course meals and movies.  You are taken through trial after trial until You know how to handle each one.  You are taken through trial after trial to be strengthened and prepared.  You are taken through trial after trial to change the way you think about tough things.  You are taken through trial after trial until You realize that You can persevere and that You are an overcomer.  Then you are ready to be a soldier.

So, You, Jesus, ask Philip, “What are we going to do here?”  And Philip’s reply is, “How can we do anything?”  But the testing hasn’t stopped.  You have to take them through the experience all the way.  And Andrew hears and offers, “Well, I don’t really know how this will help but here’s this boy’s lunch of fish and bread.  It’s all we have to offer.”  And then You teach us that when we see a need, we can take what we have, and place it before the Lord, and He will meet that need.  You took a situation that seemed like it was overwhelming and impossible to accomplish, and showed that in You, nothing is impossible!  And it’s not just about me thinking I see a need.  But You showed the need.  And whenever You see it as a need, You will fulfill it.  I just need to get on board with You.  I need to come to You.  I need to learn that I can persevere and that I am an overcomer in You.

Well, most of us don’t learn all at once, just like the guys in boot camp.  Even the disciples went through this feeding the masses scenario a second time and seemed to forget the first.  But isn’t it easy for me to forget what You’ve already brought me through?  Isn’t that what I’m doing when I get afraid or stress about not being able to do what You are asking me to?  Well, that’s just like a disciple, isn’t it?  But the more and greater testing You put me through, the deeper the faith and trust and understanding is implanted.  I don’t have to run away from tough situations now.  I can look at them expecting You to do great things.  I can look at them expecting You to draw even nearer and me ever nearer to You.  I think that’s the best part.  In the toughest times, the times of my greatest testings, You’ve been the closest.  So the hardest times have been the most wonderful times with You.

Lord, I want to thank You for being honest with me.  You tell me that if people mistreated You, they will mistreat me too.  And that’s true.  It happens like that sometimes.  But because You prepared me, even though it hurts, I’m not surprised and I can handle it rightly because You have taught me how.  And You have warned me that hard times and pressure are going to be a part of my life.  It doesn’t mean You’ve left.  You actually draw nearer during those times as I draw nearer to You.  And I thank You for how You have shared with me the learning process of these other believers, who sometimes didn’t pass the test with flying colors either.  But You never give up on us.  Because Your goal for me is to bring me to be an overcomer in You.  And in You, I will be.

May You be my strength in every trial and under every pressure.  May I be so dependent upon You that no matter the intensity of the struggle, nothing could rip my grasp from You.  Teach me to look at every situation through eyes of faith.  May I learn how to overcome from the greatest Overcomer ever, You!  Lord, test by test, make me an overcomer just like the ones You commend and have molded in Revelation so that no matter the intensity of the pressure or trial, You raise me above it in You.  To Your glory and for the benefit of others, Lord, teach me.  Lord, I need You to mold the real me into what I need to be.  Use whatever You have to in order to do that.

 (The featured picture above is from http://www.cheddarvalleygazette.co.uk/)