Losing the Delight of Your Eyes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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God, the Joy of my Desiring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Tragedy Before Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bad Dream

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Picture credit to illusionspoint.com

 

“‘…Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:32

 
I’m up early this morning because I had a dream. It wound up being a bad dream. There was a small child next to me and he wanted to go with another person and didn’t listen when the other person said, “No.” He was at the top of a multiple flight of stairs and someone was on the partial flight slightly below. So he just jumped out for the person to  catch him anyway, only that person didn’t catch him. I couldn’t believe it. He just fell past down the flights to the floor below. And I ran and told the person to call 9-1-1 because I knew it wasn’t good. Actually, I was pretty sure the fall killed him. And I ran and held him in my arms and then I woke up. It was just a terrible feeling. There were so many reasons why it didn’t have to happen. Why couldn’t I stop him? Why didn’t he listen? Why didn’t the other person even try to catch him? How could they not hear the sound of his head hitting? Why weren’t they running to him? Why was I even having a terrible dream like this?

 
So then I get up, because now I can’t sleep any more anyway and I continue reading in Ezekiel and I almost have to ask some of the same questions. Because here I see God asking those kinds of questions of Israel and in asking those kinds of questions of Israel, You make me think about them in terms of me too. They aren’t just things to think about for people of the past, but it’s what we ought to be thinking about today as well. You ask the same question, “Why will you die?”

 

I had no pleasure in watching the death that transpired in that dream. For so many reasons it didn’t have to happen and yet it did. God, You tell us the same thing. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, so turn, and live. Step back from what you want and listen to Me. I want you to live and live abundantly. I’m not trying to keep you from something. My plans are for better things for you than you even know.”

 
And God, You aren’t like the person who didn’t even try to catch the child. Because You make every effort to turn Israel’s heart just as You make every effort to turn mine. You treat every one of us individually. That’s so amazing. You tell us, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) That means that children aren’t held responsible and counted guilty for the parents’ sins, nor vice versa. We are each held responsible for our own sin or righteousness.

 
You continue, “‘If a man is righteous and does what is just and right [that means according to You]—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live,’ declares the Lord GOD.” If a man walks faithfully in the ways of the God who created Him, trusting in Him and His Word and His ways, then he’s counted as righteous, just like Abram. If this man, who here happens to be a father, walks faithfully in God’s ways, he will be saved from God’s wrath and punishment because he’ll have a relationship with the God who wants to care for him. He’ll demonstrate how much he thinks of His God by living like Him. He won’t worship anyone else, because his heart is for You alone. He’ll honor and respect women because he honors and respects You. He won’t misuse others by collecting interest and being more concerned about his profit than their welfare because You are concerned about his welfare. He won’t only refrain from injustice but he will make sure that things are just between people, because justice is of You. He’ll walk in Your statutes, Your ways, and Your will, and obey You because he knows You and honors You as God and as heavenly Father and Lord.

 
But should his son choose otherwise, no matter what he’s seen in his father, then his son will be judged for his own choices. Should he choose violence and shedding blood instead (periyts and shaphak, in Hebrew), then he chooses his own way, that dishonors and defies the God who created him and those around him. He commits violence against God and others, he breaks what God intended, he robs God of His glory and murders the image of God in man. Instead, he chooses to worship idols, dishonor women, oppress the poor and needy, he cruelly takes from others, isn’t concerned with restoration, is involved in things that stand against God, is more concerned about interest and profit than people or God. This son will be judged for his choices.

 
Because that’s what it is, it’s our choice. Because this son, could have a son who has seen all the wrong things that his dad was doing. And his own son could decide to not do likewise. So God, You will judge him alone for his choices.

 
And You even are so merciful as to take it a step beyond. Because there are those who are wicked, who do all those terrible things, and all of a sudden they see what they’re doing and they turn away from their sin and commit themselves to You and now they keep Your statutes and do what is just and right and live for You. You even let this person live; he will not die. You pull him back from the flames. You hug him to You just like the one who was already there by Your side. The one who turns shall surely live too.
You are a righteous and just judge and You alone are qualified to judge us since You created us and You established the bar. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” So maybe a right question to ask now would be, “On which side of the fence do I fall? Who am I lining my life up with? Whose statutes am I following, Yours or my own? Am I standing at the top of the stairs and jumping without listening? Am I violently falling into my own demise?”

 
My dream was rotten. It left a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach and clouded my thoughts. God says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” As rotten as that dream was for me, which thankfully is only a dream and didn’t really happen, imagine all the real life death and spiritual death that God must watch due to our own choices. Imagine the heart of God for those He created for His glory and to receive His love as He watches so many reject their purpose and His love and step into their own demise, into their own violence.

 
But the good news is that should we turn to the Lord, we live. You have no pleasure in the death of anyone. You have no pleasure in the death and separation from You of a willfully wicked person, nor do do You have pleasure in the death and separation of a righteous person who turns to wickedness. Well, I guess they’re both the same, aren’t they? And I guess it’s all about my will or our will and whether we understand that Your will is sovereign and Your will is best. So it’s a matter of me lining up my will with Yours and living in Your will. Because as much as I want to be, I’m not in control. I didn’t create me or the next person. I didn’t create the universe and I don’t hold it together by my word. But You do. And that ought to count for something. Actually, that counts for everything.

 
I don’t want to be a tragedy or a fatality. I don’t have to be. You share Yourself in such a way that I can know You and I can live in You and for You. As a matter of fact, for those who choose to surrender their lives back to You who created us, You don’t make us do all this on our own. You actually dwell in us by the person, power, and presence of Your Holy Spirit. And the beauty of it all is that Jesus showed us what life in You is like. And we can have it through His resurrection when we follow by dying to ourselves and our violent wills and live to Your will. He paid the price for us to be forgiven, so that our wickedness wouldn’t be remembered against us, so that God will look upon us as righteous. We follow in faith and trust. We wait for God to say, “Jump now. I’ve got you.” We don’t just do it in our own time and our own way lest we fall to our death. And what pleasure is there in that, for anyone involved? Everyone in the dream was brokenhearted. But it doesn’t have to be. God has a better way. And His name is Jesus. And I can turn to Him and live in Him and for Him. I can turn, and live. The question is, “Will I?”

How Much Life is in Your Bones?

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“…for I know the things that come into your mind…” Ezekiel 11:5

Imagine that, God knows the things that come into every one of our minds. Every thing. Every one of us. How’s that for a thought to “chew the cud” on? How’s that for something to meditate on? Is that a scary thought? Is that a good thought? Is that a life changing thought?

Here God is, sharing another prophesy with Ezekiel. He shows Ezekiel two princes of the kingdom of Israel, Jaazaniah and Palatial. And God knows their plans and their counsel. And He says, “Thus have you said, O house of Israel; for I know the things that come into your mind.” I’m wondering if they even said those things out loud or if God heard them before they were ever spoken. Aren’t You telling us God that You already know our thoughts before we even speak them?

I just can’t stop thinking about the truth that You know the things that come into my mind. And I want to really understand that so I can live rightly under its weight. Because it is a weighty matter.

First, is the fact that You know, You “yada” what is in my mind. You use that same idea in John 17:3 when Jesus tells us, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” It goes way beyond the facts or confessions of what we believe. This is about a knowing that is about intimacy in relationship with our Creator. It’s an embracing not only of Who You are but what You do. It’s engaging our life in partnership with You.

 

That begs me ask a question. What am I doing in that partnership? What is my part? I must know Your part to know mine. What are You doing? Are You waiting to escape the world before You do what You do? Or do You enter the world and do and create and change and transform here? If that’s what You do, if Jesus came to be about His Father’s business and it was here on earth, then isn’t my partnership to do Your will here on earth in the same way that my Jesus did? Did Jesus wait for the day He was back in heaven? Or was he creating restoration on earth? Am I supposed to be that kind of instrument? If I am really participating with God, if I really know You, wouldn’t I be doing what You do here? Didn’t Paul say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Is that because heaven is the goal or is Christ’s fullness the goal and living is the way we reach that fullness when death comes? Does eternal life really begin when we start co-creating with You and follow Your footsteps, and accept the challenge?

Well, that’s how I ought to know You. But the problem is that God knows the extent to which we know Him. Without Him we are twisted co-creators who choose our own plan devoid of Him and even have the nerve to say it’s His plan. This knowing takes us back to Genesis 2:17, “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Did Adam and Eve not know right and wrong? Then how could God punish them if they didn’t know? But what if they knew and the choice wasn’t about right and wrong, but a choice about life -God, and death-not God? God is good, right? Therefore good is life because I know that God is life (I am the way, the truth, and the life…). Evil is death because evil is the opposite of good and death is the opposite of life.

Let’s think of the tree momentarily. “The Tree is not one way of life versus another way of life (God’s way). The Tree is death! It might look like it is living, but that is the deceptive quality of existence apart from relationship with God. The seduction of the Tree is that it mimics life.” (Skip Moen) The word for “knowledge” here is da’at, a derivative of yada. It’s about “knowing via the senses” and knowledge of a personal, experimental nature; or technical ability like what was needed for building the temple; or for discernment. The fear of the Lord brings forth wisdom, a related word. God is the possessor of da’at. He teaches da’at to us. But Genesis teaches us that da’at or knowledge devoid of God is death.

That’s what the Tree was. It was Adam and Eve’s choice to attempt life apart from their Creator, apart from God. That’s what Jaazaniah and Palatial were choosing and leading others to choose. That’s what I can choose if I’m not careful. This is what happens when I choose independence from the breath of life. How foolish to think anything else with breathe life into me, when it was You God who animated man. Anything else is “borrowed animation.”

Abraham Heschel put it this way, “Man’s sin is in his failure to live what he is. Being the master of the earth, man forgets that he is servant of God.” The truth is that someone, or rather Someone, owns my life and it’s not me. I was created to bear the image of God but I am not God. I can base my life on living according to the divine by walking in faith or I can choose to live apart from His voice. But to choose to live outside the divine is to choose death, no matter how beautifully the fruit is packaged.

Maybe Jaazaniah and Palatial and the others and I ought to ask ourselves some more important questions than, “What am I feeling? What do I want? What would make me feel better? What will make me happy and complete?” Maybe, before asking myself anything, I ought to stop and hear what God is asking me first and really think about it. “Can these bones live?” How’s that for a question? Look at white bones laid out with the flesh bleached off. Can they live? Well, can they? What about me? Where did my flesh come from and the blood that animates my bones? Can I live unless Someone gives me the breath of life? How does anyone or anything live, really? Maybe my answer should be like Ezekiel’s, “O Lord God, You know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)

And here we are back at knowing again. Only God is the One that knows like that, not any of us. “Only You know, Lord.” How long will we desiccate our own bones before we let You restore us to life? How long will I neglect myself by neglecting You? How long will I choose selfish things that waste me away? How long will I choose disobedience that leads to my own destruction? I don’t even know that, but You know.

 
I guess that can be a scary thought depending on how well I know You and how intimate and deep our relationship is. You care that much and You can give my dead bones and soul life, moment by moment, day by day, year by year. But if I’m not surrendering to You, how will this turn out for me? Palatial fell down dead at the end of the prophesy. I guess that means that just as You can give life to dry bones, so You alone can take life away from animated bones. Which side will I choose?

 
Did you ever think that the fall wasn’t about Adam and Eve’s nakedness? What if the fall was about people hiding the fact that now they were fragmented and broken? And I’m not just talking about a lost world. I’m talking about we, who call ourselves believers? Maybe we’re all more scorched bones than we like to imagine. Maybe it’s time we realized it so we could surrender to God and let Him animate us in Him. Maybe we’d be better off if we stopped hiding behind our flesh and our fig leaves and got behind You instead.

Ezekiel answers, “You know, Lord.” Restoration is in the hands of the Creator. We can absolutely know our depravity. That is the gift of the serpent. We know without a shadow of doubt that we have something to hide. But whether or not we will be restored is not something we are privileged to know on our own. For that we must rely on the Creator. He knows that outcome, just as He anticipated our inadequate “fig leaf” answer.

 
Yes, Lord, You know the things that come into my mind. You know what comes up, like going up stairs to another altar- maalah. You know what thoughts in my own mind rise up against and over Your thoughts. You know it when I don’t even realize I’m doing it. You know that perfectly, that completely, that deeply, and that intimately. And You do everything on Your part to try to help me to understand what I’m doing so that I can change my fragmented thinking and think and live life again.

 
You know the things that come into my mind. That word for mind is ruach. It’s that word that is used for the spirit or for breath or wind. I think back to when You breathed the breath of life into man in the first place and he became a living soul. It was the ruach that You shared from Yourself that animated him and every human thereafter. It makes me think of John 4:24 which states, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 
What is it to worship in spirit and truth? Usually the words hesed v’emet are used together, that’s loving kindness and truth. Emet, truth, is not about correctness. It’s about reliability, steadfastness, and trustworthiness. It’s what flows from God. It’s more than a character trait. It is His character. He established it. If we worship God, we act like that also because what flows from Him will flow from us. So, “to worship Him in truth is to do what He says”, because it is doing what He is and He lives in us. See, the loving kindness part is the action, especially directed at someone else. So to live in mercy and truth is to act out God acting in me in the world to others.

 
But here Jesus used ruach v’emet, spirit and truth. What’s the difference? Remember where I said that ruach means breath, spirit or wind? But it’s also about “power, value, aggression, mental activity, angelic existence, conscience and life itself.” In other words, worship is this all encompassing part of all that we are acknowledging and responding back to You appropriately. It’s the natural response of every human, and every created thing. It’s what is natural until the natural is broken or fragmented.

The truth is that Israel did not exist until God called Israel out of Ur through Abram and created a nation that knew Him. Adam and Eve did not exist until God created them and gave them life animated by His spirit. Palatial and Jaazaniah and Ezekiel owe their very being to this same God who created them and animated them by His spirit. And so do I. Now, the question is, what will I do with this knowledge? How will I live and who will I live for? Who will I give the credit for and of my life to? Is it mine to order or does it belong to the One who daily breathes His life into me, the One who animates these very bones and determines the days my flesh lives on them? I wonder if life is a treasure or a privilege? I think it’s a treasure, and when I realize the immensity of the love and power with which my Creator designed me, I think I’m best off letting Him direct my plans and letting Him animate my life. So, what do you think? Because God already knows, but what you think will determine how much life is in your bones.

Strength in Your Touch

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“And, behold, a hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands.” Daniel 10:10

 
When I first learned of Jesus as a child of five years old, the thing that attracted me to Him most was the fact that He reached out and touched, that He let the little children come unto Him. And here we have Daniel, who was fasting and praying and pouring his sorrowful heart out before the Lord, not only for himself but for his nation, his people. For three full weeks he ate nothing but plain, basic food (probably just what would sustain him to have energy to be faithful to his responsibilities), he drank no wine, and did not anoint himself with oil which I suppose would be like using aftershave for a pleasant odor. Something was on his heart and he was lifting it up to You Lord, and looking for and expecting an answer.

 
Well, because You are a God who reaches out and touches us, Daniel looked up one day and there he saw a man unlike any other. But the people around him didn’t see this vision. Instead, they trembled and in fear, fled and hid themselves leaving Daniel to himself and this man unlike any other. Daniel was not unaffected by the sight and presence before him. He lost all strength. All his goodness or loveliness of body and character was destroyed and void in the presence of this man. He was nothing but a spineless jellyfish in comparison. And at the sound of his voice, he was cast into a deep sleep prostrate, face down on the ground. Now imagine that the word for that deep sleep can also imply death. This is serious fear here. This is serious power.

 
Yet, here is this “man” who is not a man of earth, with such a foreboding presence and what does he do to Daniel? He reaches out his hand and touches Daniel, setting him up on his knees and on the palms of his hands. In other words, he begins to help him up. And as he is helping him up in his presence, he begins to speak words of encouragement to him. “Daniel, you are greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto you, and stand upright: for unto you am I sent.” And Daniel stood, still trembling.

 
There was something about this “man” that continued to be more than Daniel could handle so he continued his encouragement, “Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to chasten yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I am come for your words.” Do you know why it took three weeks, the length of time Daniel had been seeking God’s wisdom? The man visitor had been hindered fighting spiritual battles with Michael, the archangel, against the spiritual forces of the kings of Persia. Daniel’s prayers were a part of fighting that battle.

 
So this angelic man prepares to tell Daniel about what shall befall his people in the latter days and again Daniel’s face is to the ground and he became speechless. Come on now, this is a fearful thing. This isn’t the normal stuff of men here. And another being comes, like the “sons of men” and touches Daniel’s lips and opens his mouth so he can speak. Yet, even so, Daniel announced he was to weak to breath, and he was strengthless. So now one like the appearance of a man came and touched him and strengthened him and again encouraged him, “O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto you, be strong, yes, be strong.” And he was able to be strong and speak in his presence.

 
“Do you know why I am coming unto you?” he asked Daniel. And I’m wondering if it’s more of a statement like, “You know why I’ve come to you.” And now this “other” is going to continue the spiritual warfare that has been going on, that spiritual battle that Daniel has been praying over and seeking God. the battle of spiritual forces vying for control over Persia and those to effect Greece. But the truth of scripture concerning it all, the spiritual realms and the effects on men will be made clear to Daniel. Why? Because there were very few, almost none, holding faithfully and clinging to this fight but Michael, Israel’s prince. And I can’t help but think that Daniel was included.

 
Can you imagine a spiritual battle over extreme evil forces being fought by only three? And imagine that one of those fighting that extreme battle and not even realizing it, was a mere man? And God loved him dearly for it! I don’t know if this man angel was Christ or not, but he sure touched like Jesus does and he sure imparted strength and power like Jesus does, and he sure encouraged like Jesus does. But I love to think about why he came and touched Daniel and why Daniel was so beloved by God and the angels.

 
Here is this man, this man set above most other men, and yet all he wanted to do was know and understand and walk in the ways of His heavenly Father and Master and Lord and King. His eyes, no matter what was going on around him, were not distracted by wealth or disaster or love or anything. His eyes were so firmly seeking after You, Lord. He was completely Yours; You were his everything. And You always reach out and touch those who seek You.

 
And even if there is only one in all the world, “the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) Now, it’s not hard for God to search the whole world over. He can do it in a blink of an eye. He’s not just searching the world for good people doing good things. He’s not even searching for that at all. That’s not impressive to Him. That’s why Daniel fell in fear and the others ran. Goodness doesn’t cut the cake compared to God’s goodness. He’s looking for those “committed to His purposes” so He can make them strong in a world that is not committed.

 
When this “angelic man being” tells Daniel that none holds with him, it’s this Hebrew word chazaq. It’s about holding fast and standing with strength. It’s about God loaning us His power like when Daniel was afraid and enabling him to get up and speak. But He only does this when we are in line with His purposes and not ours. Because Daniel’s heart was in line with God’s heart, God laid on his heart those things to pray for and God gave him power to prevail even in the spiritual realm over the nations.

 
This is the kind of heart attitude and life attitude that God reaches out and touches. This is good news because we can turn our hearts to God like that. It’s not making the right choice in life or doing the right thing that brings power and fulfillment. It’s the One we choose to line our life and being up with. Success is about our goals being in line with God’s purposes. Why? Because success isn’t about what we attain. It never was. Success is all about being touched by God, having a relationship restored with Him, being His wholly and unabashedly, being the image of Him in this world that we were created to be, and delighting in Him every moment of every day. Wow! Our goals have gotten so messed up, haven’t they?

 
We’ve gone from relationship with a God who wants to joy in our presence and us in His, to a people who run after “domination, expansion, protection, success, and fame.” We settle for momentary pleasure instead of eternal pleasure. We even fight battles for it. And then someone comes along and tells us the “bad” news that this isn’t the way. There’s not just a better way; it’s the Only Way. But will we align our lives with God’s way? Do we even care to feel His touch? Do we want to know His power and His strength? Do we really want to see what He sees and fight for what He fights for?

 
I’ll never feel Your loving touch like Daniel did, or the woman with the bleeding issue, or the children at Your knee, or John as he leaned his head upon You until and unless I align my will and ways with Yours. Do I want to be on my own?  Do I want everything I do to be numbered?  Do I want to fall and my plans to fall with me? Am I completely mine or will I be completely Yours?  Only one leads to You and to Your fellowship and Your touch and Your strength. Is my heart completely Yours?

 
Let the world turn its back to me. I want You to touch me and raise me up and give me strength that I might hold with You always. It’s funny, the religious leaders of Your day, Jesus, on earth wouldn’t touch other people’s burdens, but here You are, bearing our burdens with us. You touched Naman and other lepers no one would touch. You touched sick people whose family’s sought You for their healing. You touched the blind so they could see. And let’s not forget the crippled. Well, I’m like them all. I’m sick of spirit without Your touch. I’m blind and crippled without You. I’m an unholy cast off unless You do something inside of me. I’m just as desperate as Daniel for You, Lord, and I need Your touch just as much to raise me up and make me who I need to be in You. I want to be wholly Yours, Lord. Help my weakness so that You turn it into strength in You.

The Right Frame of Thinking

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Photo credit from Alaska Fish & Wildlife News (2003)

“Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is in the midst of them, and they know not the LORD.” (Hosea 5:4)

It’s not that I’m choosing things to depress here. I suppose I could choose all the flowery, happy feeling verses in Scripture and just share those. But if I were running toward the edge of an unforeseen cliff that would lead to my downfall or death, I’d certainly appreciate someone warning me and persuading me to turn from my desired path. Running off the edge to my death wouldn’t bring much happiness to me or my family. Turning and living out my days wisely and wonderfully would be a joyful thing. And maybe that’s what Hosea and God are trying to tell us. Maybe they are not trying to depress us but to call us back to a life of wonderful living in the One who created life to be lived to the fullest in Him.

Israel and Judah were running toward the edge of the cliff like lemmings. God was warning. You wanted them to live, not die. You wanted them to succeed, not fail. You wanted them to be victors, not defeated. The promise of Your Messiah was all about that. The promise of Your Messiah, trusting in You and Your provision, was all about Your people having life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, provision instead of want, relationship instead of duty. Jesus shared Your heart (which is His!) when He told us, “The thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s not just a little more abundantly. That’s actually super abundantly, excessively, over and above and beyond measure!

But instead, like Israel did, we revolt against that. We hide from You. We go after other ideas and things that can’t supply like that, things that have no real power. We take these powerless things and we give them power over our lives. We sell out to them. We hand over our lives and our thoughts and our families and our desires to things that steal from us, kill us, and destroy us and those around us.

Think I’m crazy? Think about it. A father kills his daughter. Why? Because she chooses a different religious belief. He sends his children off wearing bombs to kill others and be killed in the process. He still isn’t guaranteed paradise. They live to die, but is that really living?  Do they have abundant life? Do they receive joy in this? Or are they being robbed due to lies? They are being killed and destroyed all day. Their hearts are being made callous. Their ears being made deaf. They think they know God, but Allah is nothing like God. They don’t know, and they frame their doings after this thief instead of after a God who wants to love them superabundantly. They follow another spirit who kills and destroys, who is killing and destroying their own and using them to do it.

But what about us? What about the ordinary John Doe or Jane Smith out there? What about those of us who know about You and about what You care about and yet we toss it back in Your face. “I can do what I want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” You know, that doesn’t really work. Even this pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar came to that conclusion. Listen to his words, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”(Daniel 4:37) And that’s the heart of our problem then and now. Pride.

Hosea tells us that Israel’s pride testified to his face. Pride closes eyes. Pride seals the ears. Pride changes the heart. Pride leads one to kill their daughter or their sons, not love. Well, what about Abraham, some might ask? Abraham didn’t want to kill his son. When Abraham lifted the knife, he was believing that His God, the True God, would make good His promise that through his seed, which was Isaac, He would make a nation. God can’t make a nation through a dead person. He has to be living. Abraham was trusting in a God of life NOW, not just later! He was thinking, “I must obey God because only in God is there life.” Abraham threw his pride out the door. His pride was in God and trusting in him. Now that’s faith! How many others would say, “No, God, that’s not a good idea. I think we need to do something else?” Well, that’s pride to think we know better.

Pride causes us to not frame our doings to Your doings God. We choose to not frame our thoughts with Your thoughts. We outweigh You which is such a ludicrous thought because the fullness of Your glory would just crush us; the weight of Your glory is unbearable. Let’s take this home a little closer to life.

I was reading a verse in Revelation this morning, Revelation 2:10 which says, “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” What does it mean to have tribulation ten days? I’ve read some commentators that talk about 10 periods of persecution. I don’t doubt that, but what if You are telling us that we as believers can expect persecution? And what if we are to expect that persecution to last for some definite period of our life? After all, all 12 of the apostles were persecuted, 11 unto death, and one was sent into isolation. Each of them was persecuted for a set time and maybe that set time is like ten days in comparison with the superabundant complete life that You have planned for each of them and for us. How else could Paul honestly say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? The reality is that there is life in You even in the midst of persecution on this earth. We don’t have to wait to live till we die. We just continue living more fully after we die. To live is Christ, and to die is even more of Christ.

What happens when life throws all kinds of hard things at us? Do I handle it my own way? Do I try to manipulate my way through? Do I try to manipulate other people? Do I think that I shouldn’t have to go through this? Do I think that things are too hard for me or this just shouldn’t be happening to me or to those around me? Because of those thoughts, do I frame my own response and design my own actions based on my thoughts and feelings? Or do I trash my pride and frame my response and my thoughts according to Your thoughts and Your feelings and Your promises? Does that even really matter?

Do I think that only atheists and those following Islam are rebels? What about me when I won’t frame my doings after Yours? What about me when life is tough? Or when life is not tough? Who is my life framed after, me or You? Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” What does that mean? It means to be about what the Father is about. It’s not just about what He does, it’s about who He is and what He thinks and how He feels. Jesus’s frame of mind and life was based on the Father’s frame of mind and life. And that is what we are called to whether we come from an atheistic background, or an Islamic background, from Buddhist, or Christian, or Agnostic, or Postmodernism, or whatever. This is what we are invited into.

What difference could this frame of belief make in my life? Let me share two stories. Nik Ripken is a missionary from Tennessee that’s lived and loved in some really dangerous countries. While ministering and living in a neighboring country from Somallia, his son died of an asthma attack. The believers their surrounded Nik and his wife and family with prayer and provision and even came over and sang them to sleep every night before the funeral. Nik had called an office to share what happened with a friend who was a co-worker. The co-worker was not a believer. When the co-worker heard the news there was no answer. Nik thought it strange but figured he had been called away from the phone.

What really happened was that his co-worker started walking that instant from Somalia, across the border to where Nik was. Five days later the co-worker shows up bedraggled and smelly at his door with these words, “I came to bury our son.” At the funeral, he unculturally sat between Nik and his wife, all the while watching the response and listening to the words of all the believers around him. This muslim man, took hold of Nik’s hand and his wife’s hand. He sorrowed with them. But through this and the way the believers here framed their doings in the midst of tragedy, he came to see the life that Christ had for him. He saw the LORD. He came to know the LORD. And when he returned to his country, in the office with his fellow-workers where Nik had not shared for fear of death, this man shared the life that he had seen offered before him that day in the midst of a funeral.  Do you know what those other muslim workers asked, “If you knew this, Nik, why didn’t you tell us?” This is what it looks like when we frame our thoughts and our life after the One who is LIFE. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6) And Jesus does not lie.

My second story is about a friend I love. It could be about any of us. It’s a story about any of us who go down the road of not liking our hardships and just wanting to get out of them. It’s the story about focusing on my own feelings instead of God’s glory. It’s a story about giving up instead of running the race to the end. Paul warned, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) Later in the letter to Timothy, Paul shared of his own journey, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7) But this isn’t the story of hardship and a life lived fully I wanted to share. Paul’s story is Nik’s story if he continues in the faith. Paul’s story is the story of those believers in Nik’s life who kept their lives framed on Christ even to the last moment that it was taken from them to the point the what was once over 200 believers in Somalia became only 4 living believers remaining. Let us heed Paul’s warning.

If I don’t heed Paul’s warning, when life gets rough and my temporary hardships (temporary compared to eternity) become what frames my thinking and life, I quit. I quit on God. I quit on myself. I quit on my family. I go off the grid. I take care of things my own way. I abandon and rebel against Your frame of thinking and doing. I do it on my own, in my own strength, which I’ve probably just cried out to You saying, “Lord, this is too much for me! I can’t do it!” And then of all the stupid things, after saying it’s too much for me and I can’t do this, I take matters into MY OWN hands. Yes, I’ve been there and done that. And my friend has been there and done that. Only I reframed my thinking and got it back to Yours and my friend didn’t. My friend left the support of loved ones because Pride said, “You are a burden to others.” When he died or maybe took his life, there was no one there to pray with him, to hold him. The light that should have shone to encourage others, has become a discouragement. And yet, I believe that God can use my dear brother’s lonely story to save someone else from the cliff of a wrong frame of mind focused on self and suffering instead of on Him.

Here’s the truth that would have framed my brother’s thinking differently, or at least some of the truth (there is so much truth, how could I ever share it all!). “I am a burden to my brothers and sisters.” What a lie! Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:16 that God’s heart that should be in us is to “not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Why is that pleasing to God? Why is that God’s mind frame? Because He does not neglect to do good for us and to share what He has with us, so it is a blessing for us to do the same. For me to share that blessing with a brother in need is for me to demonstrate that I have the mind of Christ by having the same heart and demonstrating it by my life actions. Brother, why didn’t You give me and others that blessing to love on You like our Lord wanted to?

We are all in need, sometimes in our life more than at other times. And some of us are in greater need than others. Those of us in Christ have had our greatest needs met, and because of that, when we are in a state of having goods and opportunities and see a brother in need, we are to reach out and share our goods and opportunities and love with him. Why? Because that is how God demonstrated his love for us. When Scripture says that “God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” it’s not just saying because we were rebels against God. It’s saying while we were empty, lost, filthy, and in need, and without even realizing how much so, He opened His heart toward us and invited us in. That is love. That is what we are called to. That is what we are invited into.

Why did the Israelites and my friend lose their right frame of reference? Why do I lose mine sometimes? Paul answers that in part. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We focus too much on ourselves. We forget how our life effects those around us. We forget how our life effects the glory of God before others. We focus too much on our own interests and too little on Yours God, or on the lives of those around us. Self-pity is a form of pride and pride just leads to destruction. Thank You that Jesus didn’t surrender to self-pity and pride. Thank You that Jesus, though so agonized over going to the cross that He sweated blood, loved You and loved us more so that in Your interest and ours He gave His life and said, “Not my will, but Yours.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the proper and improper frame of thinking. It starts now, in this life, and not in heaven. Truth is, if we don’t think like God now, we won’t start to think like Him in the afterlife. It’s now or never. How do we handle caring for others now? Am I only thinking of my own hunger or do I notice others around me and care about feeding them? Am I only thinking about my own thirst or do I notice the thirsty around me and give them drink? Am I too worried about my loneliness or do I use it to help me see other strangers and lonely people and welcome them in. When I feel shamed and naked, do I see those around me being shamed and stripped and offer them clothing? When I am sick and hurting do I see those who are sick and hurting around me and lift them up and encourage them? When I feel imprisoned, do I notice the other prisoners and go to them?

Because if I have been delivered from any of these, then I know my Deliverer and I ought to be sharing the deliverance He gave me. And if I am in the midst of any of these trials, I need to be trusting in my Deliverer, even if it means trusting unto death. Look, I know it’s not easy, but the reward is ALL GAIN. Anything else, anything less is shear loss.
My brother may have surrendered his right to finish the race well. He finished. Maybe last. But he lost. He lost fellowship. He lost encouragement. He lost helping others. He lost meeting new brothers and sisters. He lost lots of life here and now. Not because he had to, but because he chose to frame his thoughts after his own thinking and not Yours.

He’s not alone. It’s a struggle many of us will go through or are going through right now. Multiple Sclerosis becomes so painful and constant and hard. You have to constantly focus rightly or it will guide your thinking. Constant back pain could do the same. Troubles from bullying or persecution from those who ought to be your friends. Problems with your children or problems with your parents or problems in your church or financial problems or other health issues like cancer or the loss of a loved one whether naturally or taken through violence are real. But how will we respond?

Hear this. Give ear. Don’t let it be a snare. Don’t let your own thinking and your own feelings be a snare. I know, I’ve been there. It’s not just about Israel or Judah or other nations. It’s about every man. We all have the tendency to be revolters. We all have a tendency to run like Adam and Eve from the Truth. We all have a tendency to frame our own doings and not turn to You, God. We all have a tendency to think we know You when we really don’t, because we won’t even agree with You.

Well, today is the day to choose to agree. Today is the day that I can hear the warning and avoid the cliff’s edge that leads to my destruction. Today is the day that I can choose to frame my thinking to Yours. But the choice is mine. What will I choose? Life or death? I can choose like Joshua did, to share the light of Life in my house and to my house and to all that are influenced by my house. What about you? Will you choose Light and Life no matter what or how you feel? Will your life somehow shine like Nik’s story? Or will you only choose Light and Life “if…” and leave your friends and loved ones feeling robbed and wishing you would have known the truth about how much you were loved? Are you even running the race yet? Jesus is inviting You because You can only finish well in Him. If You want Life, come to Jesus, because He is LIFE. Run in Him because He ran for you and He runs with us, that’s how we can cross the finish line no matter what. Frame your doings in Him and turn to Him who gives life super-abundantly.

Side note: Lemmings do not run off cliffs in mass suicide!  It was a Disney mis-truth made for a documentary.  Sometimes they migrate to where there is more food, and masses may dive into the water, but they can swim.  Sometimes they drown if they get too bogged with water.  You can check out the story under “Lemming Suicide Myth Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior by Riley Woodford” and other places on the internet.  So, I don’t want to promote an urban myth now that I know it is one, but we’ll use that imagery for today.