A Personal Revelation

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Photo credit to Madeline Tejano Mostrales.

 

“…that the living may know that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will, and sets up over it the basest of men.” Daniel 4:7

 
You would think that Nebuchadnezzar would have learned already. I mean, there was Daniel to interpret his dream that no one else in the kingdom could even tell, let alone interpret. What did Nebuchadnezzar gather from that? Well, he worshiped Daniel, fell prostrate before him. That’s definitely a humbling experience for him, but pretty much a “no-no” according to God. Yet he did come to the conclusion that Daniel’s God “is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets” (Daniel 2:47) That’s good to know and it’s good to put God at the top of the list, and know that God can do what the other gods can’t. But it’s also still saying that there are other gods even though God is the Top Dog. It seems as though Nebuchadnezzar still was giving himself lots of choices to run to, although Daniel’s God was the best of the best. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not arriving at the destination at all yet.

 
After that lesson, he raises up that larger than life image. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down and worship it, are thrown into the fiery furnace, and come out unscathed. Nebuchadnezzar announces how their God “sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in Him…and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.” Now that was a novel idea for this polytheistic kingdom. These guys worshiped one God and only one God, while the world around them worshiped many. But what did the king learn? Obviously not that God was the only true God. But he did learn that there was “no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

 
Now, I don’t want to fault King Nebuchadnezzar more than any of us. Sometimes we are just as thick-headed and dull as he was. Sometimes, I suppose, it’s much easier to hedge our bets, and hold onto what we’re used to. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with tradition and not rock our boat or anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s easier to let someone else be bold and make a stand and just be the one to commend them. Sometimes it’s just easier to accept it all than to count the cost and take a side. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay where we are because it’s comfortable and we are in control. I mean, who really wants to admit that I’m really not in control? Who is ready to hand that control over so easily to a God who is all powerful and may decide to do things differently? Might as well hold on to the control. Then I can decide, right?

 
So now we come to chapter 4. And Nebuchadnezzar starts off by saying he’s telling this story and that he wants to tell about the wonder and might of that high God in his own personal life. We find that God sends another dream to Nebuchadnezzar. This time again, none of the counselors can interpret the dream except for, guess who? Daniel came in, yeah, Daniel is his real name, because the king admits he changed his name to Belteshazzar after the name of his own god. Maybe he was starting to realize the irony of that act. Because here was Daniel’s God continually showing Himself.

 
Now Daniel hears the dream. And what was his reaction?  He was devastated. It really bothered him. For an hour he was handling within himself what he knew. And the king saw but told him not to worry, but to interpret it. So Daniel told him that as great as he was, and as great as his kingdom was, that God was saying he was going to be driven from men and live among the beasts, not by other men, but by these angels, these watchers of the dream. He would be like a beast of the field, eating grass like the oxen, wet with dew, for seven years, until he acknowledged that God rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to who he will. And at the end of the seven years, when the king learned this lesson, he would be returned to his kingdom’s rule.

 
Did Nebuchadnezzar stave this off? Daniel counseled him, “break off your sins by righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.” But 1 year later the king was walking and thinking of his kingdom and shared, “Isn’t this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” Boom! A voice from heaven, (yes, this is dramatic! but God is that way) “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken; ‘The kingdom is departed from you…” And the dream was fulfilled that same hour. Nebuchadnezzar was driven from men, ate grass like the oxen, his body was wet with dew, his hairs grew like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds claws.

 
Thank goodness he had good counselors that kept his kingdom during this time. Maybe Daniel was in charge and reminding them, “This is only for seven years and God will return him to his position. Let’s just keep everything going till then.” But at the end of those seven years, Nebuchadnezzar looked up instead of to himself, and became a thinking man again, and remembered God and blessed the most High, and “praised and honored Him that lives for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation.” So what else did he learn? “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and no one can stay His hand, or say unto Him, ‘What are You doing?’ He learned that God is the King of heaven, all His works are truth and His ways just, and that those who walk in pride, He is able to abase.

 
And this is where we are left with Nebuchadnezzar. But maybe the question is, where does that leave me?  Am I left like Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging that God is the best choice among lots of choices? Do I acknowledge the wonderful things He does but refuse to surrender to Him alone? Do I keep seeing His hand in my life and lives around me, but I refuse to worship Him? Am I excited and living for moments and miracles instead of living for the One True God?

 
Daniel knew God. God shared things with him. God shared things with him in a way that flowed out to others. Nebuchadnezzar knew about God. He watched from the other side of the fence as God interacted with Daniel. But I even wonder if at the end, when Nebuchadnezzar felt the touch of God, if he just looked up or if he became His like Daniel. Was God his Counselor? Or did he remain his own final counsel?

 
Back in Daniel 2 the king had told Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”  Jesus, in both Matthew and Luke declares, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” The beauty of revelation is that even in the Old Testament to this pagan king, God was doing everything to make Himself known, not for His sake, but for the sake of Nebuchadnezzar and all the people under his influence.

 
I think of Paul, who was a persecutor of believers, who was like Nebuchadnezzar only puffed up in religious pride. But then God humbled him also, this great man by the world’s standards and probably his own. And he makes this statement, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) And he’s not talking about knowing about Jesus. He really means KNOWING Jesus, and knowing Jesus so much that he would be found “in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own…Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3)

 
Yes, God uses even the basest of men and women, boys and girls. He puts us each where He wants us and for His purposes. I can’t explain it all and I never will be able. But I know that You, Lord, give every one of us the opportunity to know You if only we would humble ourselves before You. People may be angry, they may ask, “God, what have You done? What are You doing?” What’s the answer? “I’m trying to reveal myself to you, if only you would get it. Child, I’m doing everything just to reveal myself to you.”

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Casting off the Good Thing

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Photo credit to Dr. Gemma Andrada.

 

“Israel has cast off the thing that is good…” Hosea 8:3
Oh, that’s sad, isn’t it? It’s so sad when people stop doing good things and stop doing what’s right, isn’t it? Is that what this is about? Is Hosea telling us that God is bringing judgment on Israel because they aren’t doing the good things He said to do? Is this all because Israel isn’t meeting the good requirement? Or is this about something more?
Is God looking for people who are concerned about being good performers? Are You, Lord? When Israel cast off the thing that is good, was it really about them or was it about casting off and abandoning the ONE THAT IS GOOD? Were they abandoning every thing that resembled You in their thinking and acting and honoring and desiring? And when we do that, does it make an impact on what our lives look like and the influence we have on others and on what influences our own lives?

 
Maybe it’s best to take the time to look back at what “good” is in the first place. And that search takes the seeker back to Genesis where You, God, saw the light, that it was good. Now, in calling light good, You first needed to see that light and You needed to be able to distinguish that it was good. This is just a thought, but maybe it’s worth thinking about. What does it mean when You saw the light? What does it mean for You as God to see? Is it just about looking and describing? Or is it more?

 
What about the story of Hagar, lost and alone with her son in the wilderness. And You spoke to her. And she identified You by this name: the God of Seeing, El Roi, and remarked concerning that name, “Have I even here seen Him that sees me?” But I wonder if there isn’t some subtle difference between this same word root raah used for Hagar’s seeing and for Your seeing. It’s related also to the description in Your name of roi. And I ask that because if You had never seen and identified Hagar first, would she have seen and identified You? I think not. So I think there is a greater depth and quality to seeing that You demonstrate that far surpasses our human thought of sight.

 
So did You just see light and describe it’s qualities? Or did You see so deeply into the essence of light that You knew all its purposes? I mean, after all, You saw even how to create it. And when You called the land Earth and gathered the seas and saw that they were good, were You just naming them? Or did You know something deeper about each? And creatures producing after their kind and not after another kind, is that because of seeing something deeper in them than just being or existing?

 
Think of God’s warning to Adam. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Jesus said, “There is none good but one, that is, God.” (Mark 10:18) So, you might ask, where does Jesus get the right to say that? There is no direct quote in the Old Testament Scripture saying it that way.  Maybe it’s just as simple as seeing things through the right lenses.

 
The Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 starts with, “Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God is one LORD: and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates.” And we, like Israel, have seen this all wrongly. This God of unity in diversity somehow became seen as a God who strips us of our being. But You, God, are the One who placed diversity into the world and into Your children. Only You place this diversity that is most glorified and only glorified when it shines according to Your making and Your purpose.

 

None of this was too hard or bad for us. It should have been our delight because You should have been our delight. Everything we do and are was to reflect what You are for us. You called us to a relationship of uninhibited love for You and from You. We should be giving You our whole hearts and souls and might and living that out before all around us. Your goodness should be like jewelry adorning us. But somehow our vision got impaired and we don’t see things Your way, the true way.

 
There’s an interesting thing I noticed about seeing. That word for seeing, raah, is also the word for evil, only it’s stressed differently. Two words, so close, yet so different. And maybe that’s important to see, that how I see You will make all the difference in whether I am good like You or make evil choices. Because You are Good. Therefore, to choose anything other than Your will and Your way is evil. That’s what You’re telling us. And You have the right to tell because You created us.

 
“I YHWH [the LORD] and none else, forming light and creating darkness; making peace and creating evil-I YHWH do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:6-7 translation: M. Buber) In most translations we won’t see the word evil, but calamity instead. It makes it too hard for us to see if we think You create evil. How do we explain that. But isn’t the truth that anything that is not of You and of Your goodness, is evil? Twist goodness and what do you have? Change the stress on raah, just a little, and it’s no longer good. Could that be what Israel had done? Could that be what we are doing? Could I be guilty of that?

 
Let’s think about Isaiah’s time and what he said. During the 4th Century BC the Babylonians had their astral gods. These gods were the creators of light and darkness. These same astral gods were the ones who produced the offspring that were the lesser gods causing good and evil. They determined the fate of men and to receive favor from them, they required appeasement. Isaiah blew that pagan belief away. God was totally different. He revealed Himself to Cyrus. He created without any help light and darkness and everything in the human sphere, everything that controls what we think of as peace and evil. It’s shalom- absolute well being contrasted with ra-evil. Tob or good is taken to a deeper level of shalom. It’s not about performance. Shalom and peace and well-being is from God and in God. Evil comes “as a result of resistance to God.”(Buber) But then there is that evil that we call adversity and affliction. God fashions that for His purposes and our good, though shalom shall rule. One day, there will be no form of evil from resistance or from adversity or affliction.

 
Maybe the Old Testament saints never had to call You good for You to be good. Skip Moen shares, “‘Good’ is not a separate category of qualities that are attached to the character of God. In ancient Hebraic thought, whatever God does is good because good is defined by what God does. God does not have moral qualities called ‘good.’ God is good since God Himself is the standard that determines goodness. There is no outside code of conduct applied to God to see if He measures up. Good is defined by what God does. Therefore, when Isaiah speaks God’s words and says, ‘creating ra,’ this also is part of the standard of God’s goodness. God cannot do what is morally reprehensible because what God does is, by definition, good- no matter what it appears to be from a human perspective.” Yep, we’re still suffering from the same problem as Hosea’s day.

 
Israel has spurned the good. That’s the same as saying, “Israel has spurned God.” See, it’s one thing to cry out, “My God, I know You!” and it’s another to really live as You are my God or that I really know You. We can choose our own kings and our own way without ever consulting You and just drag You behind us. Well, not really, but that’s how we can act. My silver and gold and job or kids or friends or lifestyle can become an idol and my own destruction because I just can’t see the truth because I just don’t want to see it. I can want to see things my own way and design my own good. But I’m not the Creator. What is good has already been designed and set. The standard is not mine to choose. But I am invited to live in the well-being of that already established standard by living in the presence of the One who is that standard.

 
The problem then and our problem today is that we have forgotten our Maker and have busied ourselves with pretending to be makers ourselves. But all the pretending we do, won’t make it true. I want to remember that You are my Maker and the Maker of everything and everyone around me. I want to really see the way You see. I want to live in Your goodness, whether it brings laughter or tears. Because Your goodness isn’t about rules and regulations. It’s about an eternal relationship with You that starts in the here and now. You alone are GOOD. Everything about You. Who else would send Jesus to go through what He did for people like us? Who would suffer for someone who didn’t deserve it? And if my absolutely Good God accepted evil as something that You had to live through, then shouldn’t I accept the good with the evil? I just want to understand Your way, to see Your way, and to live in You Your way. May I ever pursue You and not my own way.

Slicing the Pie and the Valley of Decision

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Photo credit to http://www.freeimages.com

 

“…for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14)

 
I suppose we as humans think that it’s a great gift to be able to make our own decisions. Deciding is a right and we cherish it. But I’m not so sure that deciding is a right. I think it’s more of a responsibility. Because with my decision, with every decision, comes consequences. So, if I really think about it, this whole “deciding” thing can have some nasty teeth to it.

 
Now, this verse which actually says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision,” isn’t such a wonderful day for the multitudes. It’s actually a day of judgment. That Hebrew word for decision is charuts. It carries meanings like properly incised. You know, that means to cut. It can mean a trench that’s dug. Or it can refer to gold as it’s mined. It can also refer to a threshing sledge with it’s sharp teeth. So, yes, figuratively it can mean determination, or decision, or diligence while at the same time represent pointed and sharp things. It doesn’t seem like our idea of decision, does it?

 
We’ve been thinking about the choices that Israel made, like the choice to focus on things other than You God and Your ways and Your desires. I guess they layed Your ways out against their ways and when they took the threshing sledge of decision, they threshed Your ways out of there and kept their own. And now we’re looking at the choices the invading nations made. And it seemed like they chose to cut things the same way. They chose to run the knife down so as to slice You right out of the picture.

 
You ask Tyre and Sidon and Philistia this question, “Are you paying Me back for something?” Well, that’s a dangerous slice of pie to cut. Because Your reply is, “I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily.” What goes around, comes around. Is that really a surprise?

 
Well, maybe you say, “Oh, what kind of God is that! That’s terrible!” Really? Listen to decisions the nations had made, to the cuts they had decided to inflict. They had “traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” Do you really think that anyone has the “right” to do that? Is that their decision to devalue another’s life like that, to cheapen it so, to be the blade that cuts it off and scars it for life? Like this is only an ancient problem? Like there aren’t too many people to number who are still taking boys and girls and selling them for their own gain and for the children’s harm and other’s perversions?

 
“For you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.” Do you really think that God, who owns the universe, was concerned over silver and gold? Don’t you think that God was concerned over His people and that they were His silver and gold being carried away from Him and His presence? Sure, the silver and gold were taken from the temple. But You are concerned with the people You created. You care. You even care about the invaders. But the invaders have to come to care about You. And they have to make that cut before the day of the valley of decision, because that’s the day You make the cut.

 
Here’s the thing, all the other nations could have stopped and heard what Joel was saying. I’m thinking that somehow, in that day, Joel said this in a way that they could hear. But instead of really listening and understanding, like Ninevah when Jonah came, they decided to keep slicing things the way they always had. And that’s a decision each of us can also make. I can decide to keep slicing things the way I always have. I can not listen to anything You say. I can mock everything I want. I can keep slicing the piece of pie to whatever portion I want. Yes, it’s my choice. But it’s not my right. It just may be that I’m slicing up my own way to destruction.

 
The truth is that I can make any decision I want. I have that freedom. But I don’t think that making the wrong decision is freedom at all. Because you and I aren’t the final judge. There is One who created us and He alone is the final judge of our “decisions.” Slice that as we may, but there will be no way of slicing our way around that day. And it won’t just be a few that don’t meet the slicing requirements; it will be multitudes upon multitudes!

 
Well, that’s harsh! If that’s so harsh, why don’t the multitudes pay attention now? Why don’t we change our ways and slice our lives and choices differently? Why don’t we choose to slice the way of the One who wants to give us eternal slices of life instead of destruction? Why did the the multitudes turn away from Jesus and say that His ways of thinking were too much for them? Why do people mock Scripture without ever really looking into it to see if it bears truth?

 
Joel 3 ends with these words, “for the LORD dwells in Zion.” Despite all the cutting of the invading nations, despite all the straying of the people of Zion, and no matter who was inhabiting Zion, You were there God. It wasn’t that You dwelt there. It wasn’t that You would dwell there. In the midst of it all You dwell there. And in the midst of all the cutting against You we do with all our decisions, You are still here calling us and waiting for us to turn to You. Jew or Gentile, You are “not slow to fulfill [Your] promise as some count slowness, but [You are] patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

That’s kind of funny, but not in a “ha-ha” sort of way. But that word for repentance is metanoia. And it’s partly about, reversing your decision, so I suppose it’s a reversal of your cutting plan. Instead of cutting things my way, I decide to cut them Yours, Lord. And that’s a privilege which leads to life.

 
In truth, when we see the wrath of God upon man, let’s look at the many years that God called out and suffered the pains of watching and waiting patiently before retribution came. He literally suffers through the waiting as He affords people the opportunity to repent. I don’t know of any person outside of Jesus Christ who would suffer as much for as long and still love so fully. And then we want to fault You for that?

 
Jesus could have decided to cut us all off with one slice. But He didn’t because God is love. But God is also righteous and holy and judge and has to do what’s right. Yeah, it’s my decision and I can slice it any way I want but God will be the final judge of my slicing. He created the whole cake, not me. He gave Himself for it through Jesus. It’s His decision and not mine. I only fulfill my purpose when I line my slicing up with His. Lord, may my decision resemble Your decisions more and more every day so that when the day of the valley of decisions comes, You’ll recognize me as Your own possession, Your silver and Your golden treasure. Really, I don’t want to wait for then for You to recognize me. I want to be that recognizable treasure now!

Signets Don’t Live in the Dung

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Photo credit to doubleportioninheritance.blogspot.

“‘In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will take you, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will make you as a signet: for I have chosen you,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  Haggai 2:23

Can you imagine being Zerubbabel?  Of all the men in the world, the Lord chose Zerubbabel.  You, Lord, chose to make him like a signet, the signature ring of the King.  But just the fact that You chose him, a mere man, out of what seemed like an insignificant tribe to the rest of the world, wow!  I’m so glad that You see things differently than the world and that nothing and no one is insignificant to You.

You speak to a residue of people.  Here are the “left-overs” of Israel.  And the residue is looking at the residue of the previous temple, the house of the Lord.  Some of the residue had seen the prior glorious house of the Lord, but this…  it was and would be like nothing in comparison.  Even it’s best effort would be less than the original.  But I think that You were telling Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people, to not concentrate on the glory of the building, but to concentrate on Your glory. 

It’s like You say, “Look at these left-overs, and then turn to me and see what I will do with them.  Come, enter into the work with me.  The important thing isn’t the left-overs you see, but that I am here with You in the midst of the left-over mess.  And I have a plan to guide You to change these left-overs into something glorious in Me.”  Your real words are, “Work: for I am with You.” And that word for work, asah, is the same word used in Your creation of the world shared in Genesis.  The literal translation would be “God rested from all His work which God created to make.”  The interesting thing is that after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, after they chose something over You, You asked Eve and the serpent something on the same line of thinking.  You asked them, “What is this that you have done?” (Genesis 3:13, 14) 

What if there are different doors of opportunity to effect the world that You have created?  You know, a way that seems right unto people, but that’s not what You intended, because it leads unto death and separation?  Or other ways, other doors, that lead unto You and to life?  And what if You built all these doors into the world and You know the consequences of every door that we can choose, only we think we know, but we really don’t?  And so, just as You shaped the world and placed doors of opportunity and doors that lead to destruction, You have also given us the ability to shape the world You’ve placed us in.  Does that change the way Zerubabel, or Joshua, or the people of Israel, or I think? 

Why should that change the way we think?  Could it be that the choices I make shape the world around me?  Here You set before us these glorious possibilities.  You have such wonderful plans for us, to prosper us and give us a future in You.  But we choose to take those possibilities and grab onto little, scrappy actualities instead.  I want my possibility now!  I don’t want to wait.  And I grab for less.  I restrict You.  Can I restrict You, God?  Well, we know that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit.

What if You created a world and formed it in such a way that we had opportunities to join in the forming?  It could have been perfect, but Adam and Eve chose to open doors their own way.  And don’t we?  And yet we complain at God for the evil in the world, when it was never Your choice.  Letting evil in is all by our choice but who wants to blame ourselves?  Isn’t it always easier and less hurtful to point the finger at someone else?  Who is performing the making and doing is important because there is only One who always makes and does what is purely Good.  I shouldn’t fool myself to think that I can make good choices without You.  It’s not the doing or making that’s the important thing.  It’s Who is doing and making that matters most.  That I can open my own doors isn’t the privilege of being human and made in the image and after the likeness of God.  Because unless I open the doors of Your desire, I tear apart that image and destroy the likeness.

Paul understood that the one performing the doing and making was the piece de resistance.  It’s not how it’s done.  See, it was one man named Adam who sinned and opened his own door his own way.  It was like a Pandora’s box he chose.  And his open door brought sin and death into our world.  So now, everyone has sinned, and the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 5:12)  Thank you, human beings, for your great contribution to the world as you and we choose to make choices and open doors of our own choice as opposed to the choice of the God who loves us and gave himself for us.  Pretty sad, huh?

Here’s another thing.  Three times here, You tell the hearers to consider this.  And I guess we usually think of considering as thinking about something.  And it does mean that.  But I wonder if our translation really carries the heart of what You mean when You ask us to consider something?  Why do I say that?  Because every time You say, “Consider,” it’s two words together from siym and lebab.  We’ve seen that God is inviting His people to join in His doing with Him.  Now maybe considering in Your eyes, God, is all about understanding our placement and purpose in the world by You, accompanied by our heart’s undivided intended devotion to You.  And maybe we really aren’t considering things properly if those two aren’t coming together in You.

See, Adam didn’t actually start in the Garden.  Genesis 2:8 tells us that the Lord God put the man whom He had formed in the garden.  Why?  Because He had a purpose for man in that garden.  That “put” or “placed” is that same Hebrew word siym.  It can mean “to appoint, to bring, to call, to put, to change, to charge, to commit, to consider, to convey, or to determine.”  Maybe that means that God is in charge of everything, even our geography.  And when does Adam’s story really begin?  Was it where he was created?  Or where God placed him?  What about us?  Was it all about Adam’s plans or Your plans, God?  And why would You place Him in the garden?  Was that the place of full relationship with You?  Is that where You could nourish man by Your provision, Your way?  And yet You allowed man free choice.  Adam could choose the door to the tree of life or the door to the knowledge of good and evil.  Maybe paradise on earth wasn’t such a safe place after all.  Maybe the only safe place has always been in You and choosing You.  Because even paradise can draw us away into disobedience and danger. 

But you just don’t plant or place.  You look at the “lebab,” and you know our heart.  This is Your desire for us that You share in Deuteronomy 6:5, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart [lebab], and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  This is all about singular devotion to God.  This is all about personal devotion to You.  Loving You with all our heart is about devoting all our will, of the whole me to You.  My soul is the unity of my flesh, and will, and essence.  And my might is absolute commitment, the muchness of who I am, to You.

So if considering the way You ask us to consider is refocussing ourself on You, it really makes sense that You ask us to look into our heart that You have placed strategically in this world for Your glory.  Am I living up to Your created purpose and placement for me?  Am I living up to Your plan and entering Your intended doors, or am I avoiding Your plan for me and opening my own doors?  Are my will, emotions, and thoughts lined up with Your plan and placement of me?  Now, Psalm 20:4 touches on this.  It says, “May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your counsel!”  Isn’t that great?  Well, only if our heart’s desire has been lined up with Yours.  Otherwise, granting us what we want according to our council is an opportunity to live out a curse.  Just look at history and the doors that have been opened according to man’s council. 

But if we stop to consider Your way, with all our heart leaned in to You, we find that just like Zerubbabel, You have chosen us to place us for a purpose for You in this world.  Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)  And Paul continue that thought, “For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…” (1 Corinthians 1:26,27)  Why?  Because it’s all about His glory and that can only be seen in those who are called and accept their appointment.  Then You choose to use and glorify Yourself in those who surrender to You and open and enter Your doors where You are present.  And these, and only these, are those who are labeled faithful.  And it’s only the faithful who are able to reflect Your image and bear Your likeness in this world.

Many are called but few are chosen.  Why?  Because You are a bad and cruel God?  Absolutely not.  Why?  Because we choose by choosing other doors to not answer Your call.  I mean, how much more merciful do we want You to be?  Look at how many times, over and over again, You showed up for the unfaithful nation of Israel, Your child, Your people.  You kept saying, “Go through my doors with Me.”  But they didn’t want to.  They wanted things their own way.  And they got it.  And it’s the same with us.  I want to stop wanting things my way.  I want to come to consider everything as empty without You.  I want to come to the reality that Paul did.  I want to count it all dung compared to knowing You, Jesus, and living and walking and doing and being in Your presence.  I want to learn to suffer whatever loss it takes to obey You and follow through Your doors.  I’m not there yet, Lord, but I pray that Your Spirit will continue to guide me there and that my spirit will desire nothing more than total commitment to the God who has my purpose in life down pat. 

Centered in Your Heart

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“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”  Psalm 2:11-12

Psalm 2 opens with David speaking about the heathen raging against God and people in general focussing on empty things.  Together they counsel together against God’s anointed.  But God’s got it all covered.  He’s already decreed the Answer, the Deliverance.  “You are my Son; this day have I begotten You.”  And He’s already promised the heathen to His Son.

Well, that’s You, Lord, that David’s speaking about.  And that’s Jesus that You are speaking about.  And the heathen and vain ones are any that stand against You.  And they have the choice of being broken with a rod of iron and dashed into pieces like a clay pot thrown to the ground because it won’t conform to the potter’s plan, or they can be wise and instructed.  I had and have that same choice.

Maybe that seems kind of violent or rough. Maybe it is.  Oh, wait, but perfect love casts out fear, right?  1 John 4:18 tells us “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.”  Don’t these contradict each other?  No, they go together perfectly.

Isaiah 8:13 tells us that “It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy, and He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread.”  See, it’s that whole idea of repentance needing to come first.   I was listening to Ravi Zacharias answering a student’s question and the student was asking if it wasn’t sufficient enough to follow Jesus’s teachings to be a good person and accepted without committing to Jesus.  Wouldn’t that be acceptable worship before God?

Ravi pointed out three necessary responses that must occur in our lives in a specific order.  Basically they were repentance, redemption, and righteousness.  See, kings and queens, and people everywhere want to jump to the top and be righteous before You, God.  But there’s no way to meet Your righteousness, to be that kind of good, without You doing that in us.  Our good is no match for Yours.  Elsewhere Ravi observes, “Our hearts need to be transformed…We need a new birth…Only Jesus can give you the power to change.”  That comes only through redemption by Christ.  But how do we get to the point where we see our need for redemption?  “Redemption is prior to righteousness.  You cannot be righteous until you are first redeemed.”  So how do we get there?  How would these kings get there?  How does any one in any nation get there?

Here’s the first step.  “Only through repentance and faith in Christ can anyone be saved.  No religious activity will be sufficient, only true faith in Jesus Christ alone.” (Ravi Zacharias)  Isaiah tells us that “It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy, and He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread.”  Stop and think about it.  Whatever we fear controls our lives, doesn’t it?  If I fear failure, I’m driven to succeed.  If I fear flying, I avoid planes or take medicine.  If I fear heights, I don’t go up where it’s high.  If I fear what people think about me, I do all kinds of things to make them like me.  I modify my behavior depending on my fear.  So, what if I chose to fear God instead of anything else?  What if my mind was preoccupied with Him?  What if I cared most about Your acceptance, Lord?  What if You were my driving force behind my behavior?

The truth is, we ought to fear what matters.  If I’m going to serve and pay homage to something, it ought to be You, Lord, not something that really should have no control over me. So I guess, here You are, this fearful and terrible God and judge, giving these heathen kings and people a chance.  When You invite them to be wise and instructed, You’re not inviting them to take a rational and mental break to think about things here.  Your not telling them to think their way through things.  As frail and finite as we are, how could we do that?  How could we even think we are capable?  How could we ever see the big picture clearly enough?  So what are You saying?

Kings, wizen up.  Be teachable.  Rely on Me.  Rely on My Words.  You don’t have to understand all of what I’m doing or thinking.  Learn to discern my ways.  Let it warn you.  It’s not enough to discern without proper action.  After all, Herod and his counselors knew the prophesy of the Messiah, but they didn’t respond in obedience.  Instead of receiving the Messiah, they wanted to slaughter him.  Kings and all people, well, we need to act upon what we learn.  Only when we act in correct response will we avoid the evil consequences.  My thinking must lead to acting upon the right solution.  I can reason all day and get no where.  I can reason in the middle of a flood and drown.  Or my behavior can act upon what I’ve learned and respond appropriately.

I suppose I could also just choose to be instructed, to accept correction in my ears and walk on.  “Oh, look!  There’s a cliff!”  “Yes, isn’t that interesting.”  I can hear and then keep walking, keep walking right off that cliff to my death.  So it’s not just about being instructed but about understanding the punishment and accepting and responding to the correction, discipline, or chastening.  It’s not just rational.  It ought to involve my emotions.  It ought to be tangible.  Why?  Because the consequence is real.

King Solomon shared this thought in Proverbs 28:14, “How blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Let’s think about this.  What if this is saying that the person who lives in continual fear that drives him to care most about what You, God, think, is a man to be envied because of that trust in You?  What if that person is blessed because they act upon what they know rightly?  Maybe it means that as a result of what they know about God, about You, they do something, they act appropriately and are filled with bliss because of that response.  What if that kind of response leads them to be overjoyed in You?

So, that means fear and be overjoyed?  Yeah, it does.  Because it all has to do with the object of our fear.  When we realize the greatness and power and omniscience and love and judgment and everything else that embodies You and that is Your right and we put it all together and we understand and begin to grasp it’s truth in You and I begin to see myself and see that I am no god but I am in need of a God, then I come to this point called repentance where I understand and act upon the greatness and necessity of You.  That realization brings me to a decision, a point of action where I come to fear and trembling.  Fear because You are worthy of being feared.  All things belong to You, we’re made by You, are under Your control and You alone are the judge of all.  Trembling  comes because You invite me to change my way of thinking and living and enter into the safety and protection of You.  Who wouldn’t twirl around in inexpressible joy to know and act upon the reality that though I should be judged guilty and spend an eternity separated from the holy God of my creation, I am forgiven, accepted, and made His?  Yes, I am overjoyed.  And I must never forget that fear.

Why not forget?  I’m under grace now, right?  Well, I don’t know who Moses Luzzatto is but he made this statement,  “A man may be apprehensive every moment of the day lest he stumble and commit some deed that is wholly, or in part, opposed to the glory of God’s name.”  Skip Moen continues with that, “In other words, ‘fearing’ is that state of mind attained when we are so concerned with the glory of God’s name that we dread doing anything that would diminish His magnificence. Being in such a state is, in fact, overwhelmingly joyful because it means that we are constantly aware of Him and thinking of His honor at every moment. True bliss is to be continually in His awareness, and that comes when we are caught up in magnifying Him at all times. In other words, we are so concerned with Him that we dread sin.”

That’s what the invitation is to, to constant living in You, to constant walking with Jesus.  It’s an invitation to being caught up in You moment by moment.  That’s what it is to serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  That’s what it is to kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.  That’s what it is to be blessed by putting our trust in Him.  That’s what it is to be more concerned with God and Your will than myself, my life, my circumstance, my friend, my ministry, or anything else.

Do you know why there’s no fear in love.  Because there’s only fear when our actions go against God.  Just like You said in Genesis 4:7, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  and if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.  It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  The choice is ours.  I can choose God’s way and act in accord with Your word and feel the intensity and receive the depth of Your love.  Or I can act on my own accord, and receive the consequences of those actions, which bring fear.

I’m not the only one who thinks about this stuff.  I bet John might have been thinking about these things too.  So I’m going to share his thoughts in 1 John 4.   Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify:  the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.   Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.  And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.   I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.  If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.  We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.  We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  We’re like the old time kings, just as good at making idols of ourselves.  What a warning!  But will I heed it?  Will I act appropriately to that instruction?

In searching for Ravi Zacharias’ answer earlier, I heard him say this, “God gives you the most sacred gift of the prerogative of choice, but God does not give you the privilege of determining a different outcome to what the choice will entail.  The consequences are bound to the choice and you go right back to the book of Genesis and it tells you ‘If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you don’t sin stalks at the door and desires to have you.'”  Every last one of us, king or pauper is given this sacred gift of being able to make the choice ourselves.  I can choose repentance and see how much I need You, God.  Or, I can refuse repentance.  But each choice comes with a different outcome and I must be willing to accept that outcome with my choice.

To choose repentance, leads to redemption.  And only through repentance and redemption will I attain righteousness.  I can’t skip one and attain the other.  Ravi states elsewhere, “Our hearts need to be transformed…We need a new birth.  Only Jesus can give you the power to change.  Has your heart been redeemed by Christ?”  He emphasizes, ““Redemption is prior to righteousness. You cannot be righteous until you are first redeemed…That is where it begins…We will never change the outside until we are changed within.  Then the world will see the beauty of Christ and follow Him.”  Quoted elsewhere, “Only through repentance and faith in Christ can anyone be saved. No religious activity will be sufficient, only true faith in Jesus Christ alone.”

If it were fear alone that held us to You, Lord, we would wind up being repulsed.  But it’s so much more because the One we ought to fear actually loves us so and makes a way for us to not have to be afraid.  The One whose wrath is terrible desires to be our Heavenly Father, our Abba.  The truth is that the One who is absolutely worthy of my fear and dread, loves me so much that He gave His one and only Son to die and be resurrected to bring me back to Him.

Well, Lord, that’s a lot to think about.  But I want to do more than just think about it.  I want to live like I fear You more than anything.  I want to live moment by moment as though I care about what You care about.  I want to be acceptable to You so I want to behave in ways that are acceptable to You.  I want to moment by moment walk with You and respond to You.  I want to do more than meditate on Your word and on You.  I want to walk it out.  Help me to do that.  Don’t let me use excuses about my own weaknesses.  Because the truth is You’ve got me covered and Your love is sufficient for all my needs.  I just have to keep myself centered in Your heart.

Salted for Life

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“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  Matthew 5:13

Well, I’ve just been learning the absolutely necessary characteristics of a believer, the characteristics that reflect those of You, Lord, Yourself.  I’ve been learning of the characteristics that flow from one who is walking and living in a personal, obedient, surrendered relationship with and in You.  And I’ve learned that persecution and hard times will accompany this relationship just by nature of the fact that it is antagonistic to the status quo in the world.  But regardless, I can know You so deeply and experience Your presence and power in such a real way that I can still rejoice and be glad in the midst of it all.

So it sounds to me like I as a believer have something to shout about, like I as a believer have something that ought to benefit others and benefit the world around me.  After all, this relationship, this salvation, this forgiveness, this power has benefited me.  Well, how is this relationship of mine effecting the world around me?  Is it?

Jesus, You Yourself were talking to Your disciples, even the would-be disciples, which means that You are still talking to us today.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  What does that mean?  What did people think of when You mentioned salt as an object lesson?  Today we use salt for flavoring, for melting ice on roadways and walkways, and for a preservative but I’m not so sure we think about that preservative part as much now adays.  In the days when You walked on earth, in this day that You uttered these words for the first time for our ears, probably the greatest importance of salt was for preserving food.  There was no refrigerating system.  If food wasn’t preserved by salt, it decayed quickly.

The day You shared this message, Lord, You were standing atop a hill beside the Sea of Galilee.  That sea was a sea teaming with life.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John especially would have realized that because they were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  Now what if when You were sharing about being salt, people were drawn away from thinking of the healthy, life-giving, fresh water of the Sea of Galilee, to the thoughts of another sea?  What if their thoughts were drawn to the Dead Sea which they also would have been familiar with.

The Dead Sea actually has such a high quantity of salt minerals that it is impure and cannot be used for drinking water.  It has so many salt minerals that there are layers of undesolved crystals on the bottom of the deepest parts because the water cannot saturate any more.  Water flows into the sea but there is no out source for the water to flow from the sea.  So evaporation removes water content and the sea continually acts as a receptacle for more and more salt.  It’s so deadly to plant and animal life that if a fish happens to start swimming into it, even at the edges the fish will immediately die, being coated by the chemicals, and immediately preserved!

So, I want to think of those two contrasting seas today.  One a sea of living water that flows in and out to other sources.  A sea that teams with life.  And another sea, a sea of death and stagnancy.  Could these seas represent my life?

“You are the salt of the earth.”  Now all salt is not bad.  We need salt to live.  Salt adds flavor,  it enhances, it makes things able to endure, it purifies, and it preserves.  So the question I have to ask is, “Who is the real salt?”  Jesus, You must be the Salt that makes me salted.  I’m Your receptacle just like the Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea.  What I determine to do with You, determines my effect on the world around me.  I suppose that ignoring or denying You is just as detrimental as receiving You and then never letting You do anything through my life because I remain in control.

Salt was precious in Biblical times.  It was covenantally binding.  In Leviticus, You shared, “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt.  You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”   But this salt was to not only be added to the grain offerings, but to all the offerings.  In Numbers 18:19 we find, “All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due.  It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.”  See, the priests weren’t receiving a land inheritance.  You, God, were their inheritance and their provision.  But here’s a twist.  This phrase is used one last time in 2 Chronicles 13:5 in reference to David.  “Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?”  So maybe, just maybe, this whole idea of salt goes deeper than we’ve been thinking.

Some people argue it’s preserving element in the offerings when salt was added.  But those weren’t even supposed to be eaten by the priests.  The whole animal was consumed by fire.  Some argue it’s purifying or cleansing properties to clean away the blood.  But that wouldn’t always fit either.  And what about David, who was from the tribe of Judah, and not the priestly tribe?

Chris Suitt shared the words of another scholar, “salt had an enduring quality and therefore in the Middle East salt was used in ceremonies to seal an agreement.  Hence, the idea may simply be that God’s call upon the Kohenim and their service whould endure, i.e., overcome all things.”  But Chris continues this thought.  “Could it be that the ‘covenant of salt’ was all about a relationship with God based upon trust?”  He continues, “The people were to trust God by giving the salt that was put into their offering.  Their God would provide for them and they were to give back out of love and obedience.  The priests and Levites were to trust God by serving Him without a land inheritance like their brothers.  Their God would provide for their livelihood while they were away from their cities which were interspersed throughout Israel.  David and his sons were to trust God as the King and serve Him, believing He would keep the throne moving through David’s line long after David and his sons departed the scene.”

Even the Hebrew word for “covenant”, “beriyth”, is “an agreement or alliance between two parties where each party makes a pledge to keep their end of the bargain.”  God first used this word with Noah.  If Noah fulfilled his end of the bargain in building the ark, God would fulfill his end and get them safely through.  Think about the trust this took.  Noah had never even seen rain before and wasn’t anywhere near a large body of water.  And gathering food for all kinds of animals of which he may not have even seen before?  Think of the mutual trust.  But Noah demonstrated his trust by his actions carried out according to the words of God.  He “did everything just as God commanded him.”

And even though God sometimes bears all the weight of His covenants, I think we’ll find that trusting is sometimes as hard for us as building an ark.  Trusting You, Lord, seems to become the harder issue for some people, and even me sometimes.  So this is just something to think about when You tell us, “You are the salt of the earth.”

But what about that word for salt?  It’s “melach”.  And I just found out that though it means “to rub to pieces or pulverize, to disappear as dust, or to season or rub with salt”, it is primarily used in Scripture to refer to the Dead Sea!  Listen to what Ezekiel  47:1-10  shares about the Dead Sea becoming fresh.  It shares about the river of life giving water that flows from the coming temple of God.  And as this water flows into the Dead Sea “when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.  And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish.  For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.  Fishermen will stand beside the sea.  From Engedi to Eneglain it will be a place for the spreading of nets.  Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.”  And then the Lord adds one more interesting thing.  “But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh, they are to be left for salt.”  Hm.  Thinking about that one.

So, these people Jesus was speaking to before, when they heard about salt, probably went to thinking about the Salt Sea, well, if they were being guided by His Spirit and opened to His way of thinking.  So they were brought to think about a dead sea of salt, without benefit to others or self, to a sea made new, teaming with life from a new source.  In other words, “You are the salt of the earth by the nature of what You have allowed Me, Jesus, through the power of God in the Holy Spirit to do in You.  You are the salt of the earth as You let my character flow through You.  Guys, that’s what the “beatitudes” are all about.  See, I’m the Living Water.  Without me flowing through you, then you are just a dead salt sea.  But if any man immerses himself fully in Me, I make him a new creation, I make his waters new, the old is history, and the new stuff in him flows like Me, there to give life to others and life abundantly.”

“You are the salt of the earth.”  That verse isn’t a seperate sentence.  It ties in with everything that we’ve just learned before it in Chapter 5 and before.  It’s what a life immersed in trust in You, Jesus, looks like and acts like and is like.  It’s a new life, a changed life, teaming with You.

This is a life that is so changed that it effects the heart of my decision making and choices in life.  Now, I become motivated by Your calling, not according to my planning.  My finances aren’t driven by how I can best care for myself, but how I can best share compassionately with others.  My relationship with You is reflected in my heart towards others, and not even those others I am familiar with, but those I don’t know, or even those who misuse me.  Your truth must flow through me and out to others or I feel like I’ll burst, even if others would reject me for sharing.  I see moral decay around me and I want to act to change it, to hold it back.  I so want to grow closer to You, to seek Your will more and more, that I study Your word and spend time with You like it is my greatest treasure.  I serve You and others not because of what I gain but because of what You have done in my heart.  I must spend time with You in devoted prayer because spending time with You means everything to my health.

See, You make Your people the salt of the earth.  You, and You alone, are our savour.  Without You salting me, I am nothing.  No, it’s even worse.  Without You salting me, I am nothing good and good for nothing.  So here You are, driving Your point home.  Since verse 3, You’ve been inviting me to surrender in You, to let You flow Your living waters through me.  You’ve been inviting me to new life like the Dead Sea one day, only my new life begins or began the day I surrender or surrendered to You.   And the wonderful thing about surrendering to Your lordship, to You as my savior and king, is that Your person, Your nature, Your You-ness flows into me and out of me to others.  But if I’ve never been drastically changed, well, I’m still the Dead Sea.  My question today is, have you let Christ totally change you or are you still in control?  Lord, I want to be totally changed in You.  Don’t ever let me forget the picture of the Dead Sea and how You make it a sea teaming with life.