Ever More Faithful

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“Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.” (Daniel 6:4)

 
Did you ever hear the expression “aging with dignity?” I read today’s account of Daniel and that’s what comes to my mind. I mean, when was the last time in any movie about Daniel, he was depicted as a 70 year old man being lowered into the lion’s den? According to Biblical timelines, he was probably a little older than that but just knowing that he was there around 605 BC when he refused to eat the king’s portion and then this lion’s den incident took place around 539 BC, we can easily do the calculations and see that Daniel is no longer a young man. But what else we see is that over all these years he has been a faithful man. And his age doesn’t stop him from continuing to be faithful.

 
For every time I have thought, “God, this is too hard. I can’t do it,” or “God, I’m too tired to go on,” Daniel may have felt that way, but he certainly didn’t live that way. I see a man whose sites were set on God. I see this faithful man who, because he was faithful first and foremost to God, was able to continually be faithful to those he served and those around him, no matter their walk of life or religious beliefs. I see a boy who was loved by those around him because of his character. I see him grow into a man who continues to be loved by those around him because of his character, well, loved by those who respect a faithful character.

 
I mean, here he is brought under another conquering ruler. And here God provides Darius, who, like Nebuchadnezzar, wanted to surround himself with wisdom. So who impresses him? Daniel. Our Daniel is set as one of the three highest satraps over the kingdom. Now, Daniel does his job so well that he is preferred over all the counselors so the king was wanting to set him over the whole entire realm. Why again? Because there was “an excellent spirit” in him.

 
What does it mean that there was “an excellent spirit” in him? Maybe to the king it meant Daniel’s mind was far above everyone elses and his wisdom surpassed all. But don’t forget that the word for spirit here, “ruach” is also used for God’s very breath and His living Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Could it be that Darius saw that Daniel was guided by God? That Daniel had a relationship and knowledge from a God like no other?
Well, Darius saw something extra special in Daniel. But, the other officials weren’t looking that way. They were just plain jealous of Daniel. So, what do you do, when you don’t like someone? You try to find fault in them. They wanted to ruin Daniel in the eyes of King Darius. Only, he was so faithful to the laws of the kingdom and to God that he was squeaky clean. If they were going to catch him up, it would have to be in something that went against His God. So they created a situation that would fit their cause.

 
So much for character in these men. They weren’t about faithfulness. They were about getting their own way. If deception would get them there, then that’s what they would use. Now, I’m pretty sure that Daniel was supposed to have a say in things. But these fellows approached King Darius with an idea that had not been shared with Daniel. Only they said, “All the high officials, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed…” Really? I don’t recall Daniel being included. So here is King Darius thinking that Daniel, along with all the others, has established this ordinance that no one should petition any god or man for thirty days, except for the king, or they would be thrown to the lions. Because they said all had agreed, Darius signed the injunction.

 
Knowing that Daniel prayed three times a day, the satraps watched for their opportunity. They had him! They knew one thing about Daniel. He was faithful and he would be faithful to his God no matter what. And he was, just as he always had been. They bring Daniel before King Darius. The king spent all night trying to find a way around the law, but there was no way once a law was signed. He felt terrible and tried to find a way to rescue him. But the king was forced to command Daniel to be lowered into the lion’s den. It was out of his hands. It was out of his control. But the king held onto one hope, that it wasn’t out of the control of Daniel’s God. “May your God whom you serve continually, deliver you!”

 
Darius was a king who cared about Daniel. He cared about what was happening around him here. I know because he couldn’t sleep, he didn’t eat, he didn’t enjoy the king’s pleasures that night. Daniel was on his mind. The acts of the other satraps were on his mind. I’m supposing that Daniel’s God was on his mind.

 
The king didn’t wait, but at the break of day went to the pit. I think he was in anguish because God’s word says he cried with a lamentable cry. That sounds like a heartbreaking, heart wrenching kind of crying to me. And he called, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?” And imagine the state of the king’s heart when he heard Daniel’s voice answer, “O King, live for ever. My God has sent His angel, and has shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him innocency was found in me; and also before you, O King, have I done no hurt.”

 
So Daniel was lifted up and the deceitful satraps and their families were cast into the lions’ den instead. Only this time, the lions were not merciful at all. And before a whole nation, King Darius declared that Daniel’s God was a living God, steadfast for ever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, and whose dominion shall be to the end. He declared God to be a deliverer and a rescuer who works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who was even able to deliver Daniel from the power of the lions.

 
Now, what if Daniel isn’t supposed to be some unique and fantastic story? What if Daniel’s example is supposed to be one that we follow? I mean, most of the time Daniel was involved in normal affairs and normal life. Only he chose to live his every walking and every sleeping moment according to God’s ways and for God’s glory. He chose to be faithful in You, God. He didn’t choose just to be faithful sometimes, or only in the good times, but to be faithful. And so, when the hard decisions came, it didn’t matter how hard they were, he already knew the choice he would need to make, and he did it, he remained faithful no matter the cost. Because in truth, the cost of being unfaithful is far worse.

 
Jesus asked a question once, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and count the cost, whether you have sufficient fund to finish it?” (Luke 14:28) I need to be like Daniel and count the cost from the start so I already know that I have a sufficiency of all I need at any point down the road. Daniel’s life story reminds me of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” Well, who is, but God?

 
The truth is that Daniel wasn’t sufficient in and of himself. His sufficiency for every moment, for himself and for those around him, came from God. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…” God, You not only delivered Daniel multiple times, but you made his life a continual ministry of Your Spirit and of You. You call us to the same life today. Your grace and power is just as sufficient for me today as it was for Paul and Daniel, and anyone else who would choose faithfulness in You. May we become people who would rather glory in our weaknesses so that You and the power of God in Christ Jesus might rest upon us and the world around us would see Your glory manifested in the midst of our faithfulness to a God who is ever more faithful to His children.

Spitting Image

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“…youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on, and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace…” Daniel 1:4

 
A prophet who doesn’t start shouting at us. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t being taught and aren’t being warned. Here’s a prophet that we get to do a little growing up with. We get to see him in his youth. We know part of the story of his beginnings. And maybe that will help us relate to what’s going on in his life.

 
The kingdom of Judah was still in existence with King Jehoiakim ruling. In the third year of his reign, Your judgment came, and Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief officer to bring into his royal court select children and youth of Israel, offspring of the royal line and of the nobles. He wanted “youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace.”

 
This makes me think about a lot of things. First, it made me think about bringing in the children of Israel. The first word for the children of Israel is the Hebrew word ben. That’s the word that says that you were born of someone, that you are an offspring. But then the word yeled is used for the children in whom is no blemish. What’s the difference? It can mean young child or even adults. Actually, Exodus 21:22 uses the same word to refer to an unborn fetus, acknowledging it as a child while still in it’s mother’s womb. Obviously, You are telling us that there is no distinction between a child in the womb or out of the womb in value as a living being. “A person is a person no matter where he or she happens to be.” (Skip Moen)  And here is this pagan king who happens to have at least understood that concerning the children and youth of this conquered people. Yes, he was selective, but he understood that there was worth in the offspring of this nation.

 
Now, where do you go to find children and youth with no physical or moral spots on them? Where do you find unblemished people at all? Well, you look at where they came from. You look at their appearance. You look at their character. Some have it “naturally.” Some have been raised in it. Some have been trained up in it. But still, you have to know it when you see it and you have to look throughout the land for it.

 
King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just want any kids. He wanted well favored young people in his court. He wanted them beautiful in appearance and in their thinking. He wanted to be surrounded by well-shaped individuals on the inside and the outside. Why? Because these kids would one day help him to rule his kingdom well. He would benefit from their skill.

 
So here he was, asking his chief eunuch Ashkenazi to select young people who were circumspect and intelligent. He wanted advisors to be able to see things on all sides. He wanted people who were prudent, and would carefully examine all the “circumstances that might affect a determination, or a measure to be adopted.”(Webster) He was looking for young people who would be skillful and wise. The king wanted youth with “yada,” real knowing. They needed to be cunning.

 

Let’s stop here at cunning momentarily. Cunning isn’t used here like a crafty deceiver. Cunning is someone who had not just knowledge but skill to do and apply. They had the skill and dexterity of artificers or “artists” and knowledge acquired by experience. (Webster) They weren’t just talkers. They were doers who knew what they were doing. Having yada was being observant, careful, instruct-able, advisable, aware, comprehending, diligent, friendly, feeling, transparent, respectful, teachable, understanding-even of future events by present signs.

 
These were to be young people who used their knowledge, that cunning with wit. Does that mean they were wise guys? Were they class clowns? Wit means using the intellect, having real understanding. It’s being able to associate ideas the right way, the natural way, but also in an unusual and striking way, so that others are surprised and pleased. It’s about putting ideas together quickly and well. It’s about associating ideas in a new and unexpected manner. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar was looking for.

 
These youth were not only to distinguish and discern facts and life intelligently but they were to be firm, filled with vigor and strength. And I’m not thinking this is only physical stamina but stamina of character. And these youths had to be teachable.

 
So Ashpenaz made his choice and among those he chose was Daniel. So here is Daniel, snatched from his home and his land and most of his people and taken into another nation. This isn’t a certainty, but some people think he may have been castrated. Whether that was imposed upon him or not, he was placed in the king’s court to learn to serve this king for the king’s benefit and for the benefit of his kingdom, this kingdom who had conquered his people and thrown his world upside down. So how does he handle all this?

 
Daniel has three years to figure it out before he would stand before the king. He had three years of beginning training. But there was something special about Daniel. All those qualities that the king desired, were already at work in Daniel. As a matter of fact, the chief of the eunuchs, Ashpenaz, saw something precious in Daniel so that God had brought Daniel “into favor and tender love” with him. Ashpenaz delighted in who Daniel was and had true compassion toward him. I’m thinking that was because Daniel knew You, Lord, well enough that despite his circumstances, he showed favor and compassion to those around him, including Ashpenaz who was over him.

 
Yes, Daniel was strong, but that was because he was grounded in You, Lord. I know that because he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, nor with the wine which he drank” and asked the chief of the officers that he might eat differently. And because of his favor with the officers, it was granted after a ten day test period. Now, here Daniel was, already favored, already chosen because of how he shone out among youths, and after this his countenance was even fairer, his flesh was fatter (a good thing here), than all the other youths eating the king’s food. But it didn’t stop there. His heart and actions found favor not only with man, but with You, Lord. And so You gave them even more knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom; and gave Daniel understanding in all, not some, in all visions and dreams.

 

And when the three years were finished, Daniel’s wisdom and understanding were unequalled (except for his three Hebrew “brothers”) in the court and he surpassed the others by ten times better!   As if that’s not extraordinary enough. This character exemplified his whole life through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and into the reign of Cyrus! This was no one time deal. This is who Daniel was. Daniel knew his God so well, that he could remain personally united with Him even in a kingdom of many gods where there was no one to keep him “on task.” So, I have to ask, what’s my excuse?

 
When the world looks around for people with character like this, will they find it in me? When they look at me will they see a “child in whom is no blemish.” Am I full of the things that the people around me really need for their true welfare? Do I have favor and skill and wisdom and cunning and knowledge and understanding and ability from the Lord? Or am I just sharing my own? Am I teachable, by God first and then able to put all other learning in it’s correct perspective according to Him?

 
Would I stand up not only for God’s character but for upholding it in me no matter how much it singled me out or what the consequences might be? Do I have such a pleasant but strong spirit that non-believing people of high character would be drawn to me, that I would warm people’s hearts in love? Would I have advocates who were even outside my faith? I mean, I just can’t get over how respectfully and lovingly it appears that Daniel treated his captors, that they would feel this way about him. And I think, what a picture of Christ! What kind of picture am I painting in the world?

 
Thinking about all these things and whether my life looks like Daniel’s isn’t a far fetched idea. Paul talks about what our lives out to look like in Ephesians 5:27. He could have even been thinking about Daniel as he thought about the sacrifice given at the temple and as he thought about what You are doing in us, Lord. Here’s what he said that Christ did for us by His life and sacrifice and resurrection. It was all about presenting us to Himself, this glorious people that were called out of the world and unto Him, these individuals who listened and answered that call and responded. And in Him, He does what He does so that we are spot free, wrinkle free, and free of any such things. Why? So we are holy and without blemish, not just like Daniel but like Jesus Himself who is like God Himself. And we can do this and be this and allow God to do this in us and we live life out in Him because of the precious blood of Christ, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:19)

 
God, You are the original real deal. You are the origin of Character. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 “Be you therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.” This mimetes, this imitating, isn’t like a flat 1 dimension image in a mirror. We’re talking about the real deal here. We’re talking about a God who through His Spirit creates the real deal in us. I’m not a flat copy and neither was Daniel. Imitation here is a call to real live action. It’s not an idea or a theology or a concept. It means doing what our God does. It shows with my life, not just my thoughts, how I align with You, Lord. It’s about how much I am really like my Father. Is there even a family resemblance? How strong is it? I’ll never be God but do my actions, and does my life duplicate His behavior? Am I a living duplicate of Your character, God?

 
Daniel wasn’t conformed to his circumstances because he was busy daily being transformed by the reality of his relationship with You, Lord. Because You are real and tangibly respond in our lives, we respond in the same real and tangible ways. That’s what walking in love is all about, it’s all about walking and responding and living in those real, tangible ways that You have shown Yourself to us. And character remains despite every situation. Your character never changes so neither does mine have to either. Life is about continually exhibiting Your character in me. It’s exhibiting obedience from my heart, not just compliance, but willingness from the depths of my heart.
I wonder if Daniel ever had a powwow with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the beginning? I wonder if he might have said something like this, “Be imitators of me, just as I am of God”? I’ll never know. But I know that Paul said that this way, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Does that seem awful prideful of him to say? Does that mean I’m not supposed to try to imitate Christ myself? Is Paul my example now? Paul’s an example just as much as Daniel is. I guess sometimes a copy is so good we can see the original almost perfectly represented by it. And the truth is that we are not called to be partial copies. We are called to be exact copies.

 
Now I was making a color copy of something that needed a signature. I like to sign official things in black. But my family made this point. It’s hard to tell that the black is original when the other copied words around it are black. So they suggested I sign in blue ink instead. But I see from that how much a copy can be like the original so that it’s so hard to tell what was copy and what was actual ink. That’s the kind of copies we are called to be of Christ.

 
We’re called to represent and reflect all the beauty of God’s character. He’s the One Original that is laying down on the copy machine for us to be represented from. I’m to reflect everything that comes from You, Lord, so much so that if we were placed next to each other, people shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Wow! Really? Isn’t that a far order?

 
It would be if it were all up to me. But it’s not. God’s heart desire is to produce Himself in me. He does that through His Holy Spirit. Like Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) We’re not just talking ability here, we’re talking power, power to do it. The power of the Spirit is strong enough to make us spitting images.

 
I pray that You would make my life that transparent, like Daniel and Paul who could make this kind of claim. “If you’ve forgotten what Jesus looks like, look at me and my life and you’ll see Him so clearly because my life is just like His. Watch me and you can see Him again and then, as you copy me, you’ll be copying Him.” Lord, may my heart be so tangibly tied to You that I become that transparent that people see You instead of me. May I make everything in my life about You, my eating and drinking and sleeping and thinking and doing. May my life be all about my Father’s business so that I am so filled with Your character that all I do looks like You. I’m not there yet, Lord, but bring me there. I know it’s doable because Paul and Daniel aren’t the only transparent images of You out there. I’ve seen others and I want to be one of them too. So my prayer today is , make me Your spitting image, Lord.

The Immeasurable Value of Humility

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“The pride of your heart has deceived you…” Obadiah 1:3

Pride is a dangerous and destructive compeller. It’s more than an attitude and it’s deeper than character even though it’s both. It’s a driving force and seems to overtake whoever chooses to grasp it for their own. Once you grab, it seems to have you, and it’s awfully hard to shake loose from it once you realize how much it has a hold on you. But it can be done.

I wonder a lot about things. Now I’m thinking back on the time that Edom began, when Jacob and Esau were first born. They were twins within their mother’s womb. And they were so active in their mom’s womb that it was called “struggling together” and it really stressed her out so that she asked the Lord about it. And You already knew everything about those two baby boys, those leaders of two nations. One would be physically stronger than the other, yet the other would be under the rule of his “weaker” brother. And Esau started to come out first and was named, and as he was out, his brother, Jacob, had his little hand on Esau’s heal. Both babies were named according to how they looked or what they did as they came out. Esau-the rough one. Jacob- the heal catcher, supplanter.

 
I guess I just wonder how much of the boys’ attitudes were because it’s who they were and how much was because of the perceptions of the people around them. I mean, knowing Your words, that one would be stronger and one would rule the elder, wouldn’t it have been good to support that as something that could work together? I mean is it bad that Esau would be the strong one? And is it bad that the younger would have the better discernment to rule? What if Your words had been valued more than the traditions and desires of the forefathers or the parents? What if Isaac and Rebecca would have valued both abilities equally and shown the boys how to benefit each other by them? I wonder if that was an option? But I guess that’s a mute point, because it wasn’t the option taken.

 
And so many years later we have the fruit of the competition continually growing. We have a nation fighting continually against his brother nation because of pride. We have a brother deceived into thinking what he is doing is right, who thinks his strength is because of himself and due to his own making. We have a brother who doesn’t get that his strength is from the Lord and only true strength when he finally submits to God and his brother because that is Your design. He has come to worship his own strength and despising the God who gave it to him. He exalts himself like an eagle, but eagles can be brought down.

You didn’t say that there would be a stronger baby and the younger, weaker brother would rule if the stronger one was O.K. with that. You said, “This is how this will be.” Now, in anything You say, if we choose not to obey, or to disregard it and do it our own way, then we suffer the consequences that action naturally brings with it. We miss the blessing. The sad part here isn’t that it was just Esau’s choice. Their parents and society didn’t choose Your way either. That’s a hard concept to get that You get to choose who You will. That I might be called to serve someone else despite my “rights.” That I might have to use my gifts and talents to bring glory to something bigger than myself. That I might have to step into the background so someone else can be made much of by my strengths. What kind of crazy thinking is that, right?

So instead of choosing to fight for my brother, or my sister, or my husband, or my wife; instead of choosing to cover them and take the shame for their sake, I would choose to stand by like Esau and watch my brother be carried off. I would gloat over him or her getting what was coming to them. I would set them up for failure myself. I would watch and do nothing. I would rejoice when they hurt and suffered. I would gloat over how much I won in the divorce settlement. See, what You are sharing through Obadiah is prophetic. It happened and is still happening. It applies to the nation of Israel totally. But it also applies as a lesson in life to each of us. Because as Jacob and Esau go, so may we. Because it’s all about relationship.

Relationships based on us, fail. This was a relationship based on God. It should have flourished. But when we don’t line our thoughts up with Yours, this is what happens. Instead of lives filled with blessing and mutually beneficial relationships, we compete and hurt and damage and kill. But it didn’t have to be this way. And it doesn’t have to be this way now. The truth is, what goes around comes around. “[A]s you have done, it shall be done unto you: your reward shall return upon your own head.” Maybe keeping that thought in mind, would be enough to change our response to others. Do I want unforgiveness served back on my own head? How about bitterness? How about impatience? How about any of the actions or attitudes I show to that other person?

But the good news is that we can be delivered from this false thinking and this dangerous pride that causes us to choose wrongly. “Upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness…” Yes, a day is coming when God will restore Israel but You are also looking to deliver anyone who will trust Your way and let go of their own. You are offering deliverance to Jacob, and Esau, to Israel and to all nations. But we can only find deliverance upon mount Zion, Your way, through Jesus. We can only find deliverance by understanding that we have to let go of our ways and grab onto You and Your ways. I have to stop looking at the faults of my brothers and sisters and look to the perfection and wonder of You. I have to stop looking and thinking about my own strength and look at Your power and Your glory.

Ultimately, here’s the truth. We can call Mt. Zion, the mount of Esau if we choose. We can call it Mt. Zion. But Mt. Zion in itself is not even for itself. Call it one or the other but the truth is, the “kingdom shall be the LORD’S.” Who does my kingdom belong to? Who does my family belong to? Who does my husband or wife belong to? Who does my house or my future or my ministry belong to? Do I get it? If what I’m calling mine, really belongs to You, I really need to change my perspective, don’t I?

Esau isn’t the only one paying a price. Isaac payed a price. Rebecca payed a price. Jacob payed a price. They all payed the price of broken relationship. Is that the price that I want to pay to hold onto my pride? No, I don’t want to pay that price. I want to learn. I want to learn to submit to You, Lord. And in learning to submit to You, I have to learn to submit to others. In learning to submit to You, I have to let go of my pride and care about others first. I have to use my strengths for the benefit of those around me and not for myself. If I really start to get it, I’d realize that in submitting, You, my Heavenly Father, would be my strength and my protector because I would be under Your ultimate authority. Yeah, I think the King of kings and Lord of lords can take care of me just fine. Help me to get it, Lord. Help me to understand the immeasurable value of humility.

From Judgment to Song

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“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12
This is awful news. The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold. People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way. They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others. National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.
What is the example of the impending destruction that is used? A household. A household of 11 people. Plague. Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle. And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned. Why? “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that? Did the You say not to make mention of Your name? F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it. Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You? I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name? Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering? Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were? I don’t know, but it’s a thought.
Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God than to hear the truth about ourself? Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up? It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall. You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us. It didn’t start out bitter. But twisted hearts twisted the taste.
I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words. He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You. Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled. It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being. It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life. It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship. It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You. It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You. It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness. It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are. It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship.
Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from , to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember. “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.” In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing. It is separate and distinguished. It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful. Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.
But everyone is given free will. And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives. We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things. I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own. I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong. Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing.
I love that word, tsedaqah. It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-kindness that flows from God. It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way. But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.
Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?” , we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?” Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises? Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day? Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You? Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building. And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You? Have we not taken to us power by our own strength? Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?” Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God. But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.
Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us? Why would You seem to forsake people? Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied. God is in exile; the world is corrupt. The universe itself is not at home.” If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers. I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be. It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness. After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven. Why doesn’t it happen? Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways. I won’t listen. I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water. Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” “archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.” But who really is the foolish one?
The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits. Oxen don’t go plowing in rock. For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way. It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day. Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5) Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today. That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew. It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle. But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse. Now think about that. Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison. Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us. It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into. And then the problem is we can’t find our way out. We wind up trapped there.
Is there hope? Yes! When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul. We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?” And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives. I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord. I will know Your will and do it. I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it. You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before.
Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again. Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them. Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’” Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song. But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first. I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever. You are worthy, not me. You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours. Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me. No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.

The Immeasurable Value of Humility

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“The pride of your heart has deceived you…”  Obadiah 1:3

Pride is a dangerous and destructive compeller.  It’s more than an attitude and it’s deeper than character even though it’s both.  It’s a driving force and seems to overtake whoever chooses to grasp it for their own.  Once you grab, it seems to have you, and it’s awfully hard to shake loose from it once you realize how much it has a hold on you.  But it can be done.

I wonder a lot about things.  Now I’m thinking back on the time that Edom began, when Jacob and Esau were first born.  They were twins within their mother’s womb.  And they were so active in their mom’s womb that it was called “struggling together” and it really stressed her out so that she asked the Lord about it.  And You already knew everything about those two baby boys, those leaders of two nations.  One would be physically stronger than the other, yet the other would be under the rule of his “weaker” brother.  And Esau started to come out first and was named, and as he was out, his brother, Jacob, had his little hand on Esau’s heal.  Both babies were named according to how they looked or what they did as they came out.  Esau-the rough one.  Jacob- the heal catcher, supplanter. 

I guess I just wonder how much of the boys’ attitudes were because it’s who they were and how much was because of the perceptions of the people around them.  I mean, knowing Your words, that one would be stronger and one would rule the elder, wouldn’t it have been good to support that as something that could work together?  I mean is it bad that Esau would be the strong one?  And is it bad that the younger would have the better discernment to rule?  What if Your words had been valued more than the traditions and desires of the forefathers or the parents?  What if Isaac and Rebecca would have valued both abilities equally and shown the boys how to benefit each other by them?  I wonder if that was an option?  But I guess that’s a mute point, because it wasn’t the option taken.

And so, many years later we have the fruit of the competition continually growing.  We have a nation fighting continually against his brother nation because of pride.  We have a brother deceived into thinking what he is doing is right, who thinks his strength is because of himself and due to his own making.  We have a brother who doesn’t get that his strength is from the Lord and only true strength when he finally submits to God and his brother because that is Your design.  He has come to worship his own strength and to despise the God who gave it to him.  He exalts himself like an eagle, but eagles can be brought down. 

You didn’t say that there would be a stronger baby and the younger, weaker brother would rule if the stronger one was O.K. with that.  You said, “This is how this will be.”  Now, in anything You say, if we choose not to obey, or to disregard it and do it our own way, then we suffer the consequences that action naturally brings with it.  We miss the blessing.  The sad part here isn’t that it was just Esau’s choice.  Their parents and society didn’t choose Your way either.  That’s a hard concept to get that You get to choose who You will.  That I might be called to serve someone else despite my “rights.”   That I might have to use my gifts and talents to bring glory to something bigger than myself.  That I might have to step into the background so someone else can be made much of by my strengths.  What kind of crazy thinking is that, right?

So instead of choosing to fight for my brother, or my sister, or my husband, or my wife; instead of choosing to cover them and take the shame for their sake, I would choose to stand by like Esau and watch my brother be carried off.  I would gloat over him or her getting what was coming to them.  I would set them up for failure myself.  I would watch and do nothing.  I would rejoice when they hurt and suffered.  I would gloat over how much I won in the divorce settlement.  See, what You are sharing through Obadiah is prophetic.  It happened and is still happening.  It applies to the nation of Israel totally.  But it also applies as a lesson in life to each of us.  Because as Jacob and Esau go, so may we.  Because it’s all about relationship.

Relationships based on us, fail.  This was a relationship based on God.  It should have flourished.  But when we don’t line our thoughts up with Yours, this is what happens.  Instead of lives filled with blessing and mutually beneficial relationships, we compete and hurt and damage and kill.  But it didn’t have to be this way.  And it doesn’t have to be this way now.  The truth is, what goes around comes around.  “[A]s you have done, it shall be done unto you: your reward shall return upon your own head.”  Maybe keeping that thought in mind, would be enough to change our response to others.  Do I want unforgiveness served back on my own head?  How about bitterness?  How about impatience?  How about any of the actions or attitudes I show to that other person?

But the good news is that we can be delivered from this false thinking and this dangerous pride that causes us to choose wrongly.  “Upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness…”  Yes, a day is coming when God will restore Israel but You are also looking to deliver anyone who will trust Your way and let go of their own.  You are offering deliverance to Jacob, and Esau, to Israel and to all nations.  But we can only find deliverance upon mount Zion, Your way, through Jesus.  We can only find deliverance by understanding that we have to let go of our ways and grab onto You and Your ways.  I have to stop looking at the faults of my brothers and sisters and look to the perfection and wonder of You.  I have to stop looking and thinking about my own strength and look at Your power and Your glory. 

Ultimately, here’s the truth.  We can call Mt. Zion the mount of Esau if we choose.  We can call it Mt. Zion.  But Mt. Zion in itself is not even for itself.  Call it one or the other but the truth is, the “kingdom shall be the LORD’S.”  Who does my kingdom belong to?  Who does my family belong to?  Who does my husband or wife belong to?  Who does my house or my future or my ministry belong to?  Do I get it?  If what I’m calling mine, really belongs to You, I really need to change my perspective, don’t I? 

Esau isn’t the only one paying a price.  Isaac payed a price.  Rebecca payed a price.  Jacob payed a price.  They all payed the price of broken relationship.  Is that the price that I want to pay to hold onto my pride?  No, I don’t want to pay that price.  I want to learn.  I want to learn to submit to You, Lord.  And in learning to submit to You, I have to learn to submit to others.  In learning to submit to You, I have to let go of my pride and care about others first.  I have to use my strengths for the benefit of those around me and not for myself.  If I really start to get it, I’d realize that in submitting, You, my Heavenly Father, would be my strength and my protector because I would be under Your ultimate authority.  Yeah, I think the King of kings and Lord of lords can take care of me just fine.  Help me to get it, Lord.  Help me to understand the immeasurable value of humility.

To Sing and Rejoice Where Others Balk

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Photo credit to Betty Westmoreland.

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  Habakkuk 3:17

Habakkuk lived through some really good things and some terribly awful things.  He saw the end of King Josiah’s reign as King over the people of God.  With King Josiah had come a revival.  But after the death of King Josiah, came a change in the heart of the people toward God.  Habakkuk was witness to invasion by a conquering people.  He saw judgment rain down on his people.  He was foretelling of judgment that would come by God upon their oppressors, the Chaldeans.  With the terrors that he had witnessed, he could have embraced the horror, the depression, the hopelessness, the lostness, but he didn’t.  He was radical.  Just think about it.

“An embrace” is the meaning behind Habakkuk’s name.  He could have embraced what was going on around him, embraced the circumstances and gotten caught up in them by allowing them to control his character.  He could have just acclimatized to the new culture, embraced it, and adapted to it and its gods.  But he didn’t.  He embraced God through it all, and he embraced Your character and conduct.  He embraced every thought about You.  He listened to Your words and kept his eyes on Your vision, the vision of You. 

That embrace is apparent in chapter 3.  You would think that this prophet would just write about You or tell about You vehemently to get people to believe and hope or change their ways.  But what Habakkuk does is write a song.  “I’m going to sing a song that tells about the greatness of You, God, and what You are preparing to do.  I am going to write a song and give it to those who make it into music to be sung by others.  And then they will teach others to join in and sing this song.”  How do I know that?  Because verse 1 tells me this was his prayer upon Shigionoth.  Easton’s Bible Dictionary tells us shiggayon “denotes a lyrical poem composed under strong mental emotion; a song of impassioned imagination accompanied with suitable music; a dithyrambic ode.”  That’s pretty radical thinking, isn’t it?  In the midst of rough times, looking forward to God’s victory and restoration, but still in the midst of the tragedy, he sings. 

But what is the song about?  What is this song I should be able to sing?  It’s a song about the fear of the Lord, this God who puts nations in place and removes them in His timing.  It’s about a God who in the midst of His wrath never forgets mercy.  It’s about a Holy God whose glory covers the expanse of the heavens and whose praise fills the earth.  It’s about a God whose brightness outshines the sun and who has real power coming out of His hands yet He controls that power and withholds it as He wills.  He is what everything is measured against.  The mountains and the water, the sun and the moon tremble at Your voice and obey more readily than we do.  But You don’t go forth for the salvation of the mountains and water and sun and moon.  You come and go to the extremes for the salvation of Your people, for every one who will one day turn to You as their only salvation and as their only hope.

This is the attitude, this is the character of those who believe and trust in You, the God who uses nations to bring His people back into relationship with Him. This ought to be our attitude toward the God who rebukes nations for their treatment of His people.  This ought to be the character of those who love You and owe everything to You, the God who all of nature obeys.  “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.”  (Habakkuk 3:17-19) 

I want to thank You, Lord, for using Habakkuk to speak to the people of his day and to speak to me today.  I want to be continually reminded that no matter what else, You are what matters most.  I could lose everything, yet You are still my God.  Of all things that could turn against me or could be stripped from me, it won’t be You because You are ever faithful and everlasting.  You are worth more than the figs on the trees or the fruit on the vines or the olives or the flocks or the herds.  They may sustain me for a time, but only temporarily.  You sustain me forever and ever in You.  So even when my life is threatened, I still have reason to rejoice because though I die, yet shall I live. (John 11:25)  Like Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  (Philippians 1:21)  I think Habakkuk had that same notion about God.  And Job got it too when he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15)

The thing is, we usually are in the process of learning, like Job, who wanted to argue his righteousness before God.  We get caught up in arguing why these things shouldn’t happen to us.  Lord, this is why I shouldn’t have this sickness, or why my loved one shouldn’t die, or why I shouldn’t lose my job, or why these people shouldn’t block my goals, or why my husband or wife should respond this way.  The list goes on and on.  But if we saw things the way Habakkuk saw the reality of You, we wouldn’t have room to complain any more because we would hear Your voice and our bodies would tremble at Your holiness and power and mercy.  Our own lips would quiver at the sound because we’d think of what has come out of them and disappointed Your holiness.  Rottenness would enter our bones and our legs would tremble as we saw ourselves for who we are apart from You.  We would look a lot more like the ones we want justice met upon than we would ever care to.  But the good news is, if we start realizing that You alone are our righteousness and wholehearted surrender is the only way to experience the fullness of You, then I can begin to learn to quietly wait for You and Your day.  Then I can learn to rejoice in You, the God of my every moment salvation.  Then I will surrender to let You be my strength.  Then I will let You lead my attitudes and invade my character.  So I guess it’s not just about You invading the enemy.  It’s about You being invited by me to invade me with Your Spirit so that Your character becomes mine, so that I can sing and rejoice where others balk.

The Character of the Bearer

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Photo credit to http://www.nasa.gov.

“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.