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.

Seek Me and Live

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“Seek Me and live…” Amos 5:4
Hear this. If you want life, seek God. I’m not just saying this. These are God’s words. These words are so important to hear and follow through on that You repeated them two verses later. “Seek the LORD and live, lest He break out like fire…” And knowing that we don’t get things sometimes, You restated it a little differently for our understanding in verse 14. “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you…” See, I can’t seek good if I don’t know You, God. Jesus, You Yourself pointed out that “No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) And if people were to see You as good, then they must equate You with God. If I am to be good, I must be identified with God but not just by name. I must be identified by You by Your character within me that is seen shining out. If I want life, I must seek You for real. I must seek You and not just Your “idea.” I must seek Your character and Your presence until I find You and You find me, because life is only found in You.
There is a reason that Jesus, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  God invites us into Life and Life enters by faith as we trust in His way of Life.  Jesus Christ took our place and bore our sins upon the cross because only He was the righteousness of God, without sin.   He was God even though He was man at the same time. Now, who doesn’t want life? Who wants death when they can choose life?
Repeated things are important things, things we really need to grasp. Did you know that Proverbs repeats this thought, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”? And isn’t that what was going on in the time of Amos? And isn’t that what is going on in the world today? The people, Israel, who should have known right judgment weren’t choosing it. What does judgment mean here anyways. It’s the word mishpat. It’s the enforcement of government but the ultimate enforcement of government is under God and by His wisdom. Israel knew that. But they refused it. And it’s not like the nations didn’t know. At some point they refused it and adapted their own government and rejected God. That way seemed right to them. But the truth is that it leads to death.
Micah tells us what the Lord requires of us. He shows us what goodness looks like in Him and what it acts like in a person. It translates into obeying and living out and trusting His “mishpat”, His “government.” It’s loving mercy like He shows and showing it to others. It’s walking humbly with Him. That means submitting to Him and His ways and not making our own way.
Zechariah also elaborates on this. God’s word to Zechariah was, “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” That’s that word mishpat again. How do you “rule with true judgments”? Is it up to some political body? It wasn’t then and it shouldn’t be now. The power to rule rightly was personally given in the hands of a leader, or tribal chief, or a patriarch or king. These individuals are personally in charge and liable for rendering God’s directions. The essence of true religion and right leadership is in understanding who God is and “experiencing intimacy” with Him. Jeremiah 9:24 puts it this way, “but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…” J. A. Thompson believed, “True religion consists in acknowledging the complete sovereignty of God in life and allowing Him to fill life with those qualities of steadfast faithfulness, justice, and righteousness which He possesses, in which He delights, and which He desires to find in His people.”
But instead of taking delight in You God, and Your rulings and ways and character, we turn them into something bitter and leave them altogether. It doesn’t seem to register about how good what You say really is. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to us that You are the One who placed the Pleiades and Orion in the night sky, that You alone make death something not to be feared because it ushers a new day in You. We don’t stop to think about the consequences of defying You either. How You can turn the day dark as night or call the waters of the sea and pour them out on the earth at Your will. We forget that the LORD is Your name and not ours.
Even when people raise up against people, they can’t do it without Your permission. You send people to warn and tell and teach, and yet, just like then, there are those who hate to hear and act against those who would tell. They keep the poor, poor and never give them a way out. They take away their livelihood. They meet their own needs and leave others without. Men revolt and offend against You repeatedly and deliberately and lead others to do so. They afflict those who want to follow You. Money means more than holiness. They ignore people’s real needs. They ignore the truth. Those who ought to speak up for the truth, stay silent. And when man has played enough at being his own judge of life, True Judgment will come.
I can pretend that I am all that, that I can decide right and wrong for myself, or that there is no real truth, that I can determine it according to my feelings. I can run around and play that game for a while. Because that’s all it is, a game. A really dangerous and hurtful game that goes against nature and against God. But the truth is, the Truth will come out. The real Maker of the stars and the planets, and molecules, and us will show Himself. He will enforce what He alone established as the only One with the right to enforce His will. And if I am not living already in the middle of His will, living in and according to and by Your mishpat, then I will be overcome by them.
I don’t have to be on the receiving end of Your judgment God. There is hope for us. There is time for turning; there is time for loving God’s ways and learning and living them. There is time for a relationship with the God who created us for a purpose. There is love and life and mercy waiting for us and calling to us. We can choose to hate the evil and love the good, and establish judgment at the gate, whether it’s at the gate of our house, or the gate of our neighborhood, or the gate of our town, or state, or country, or the nations. We can choose wailing and woe and have it our way. We can let judgment run down over us like waters that drown, and have God’s righteousness overcome us as a mighty flooded stream. Or we can let judgment run down over us like living waters giving life to all around. And like righteousness flowing mightily out to all that the mighty stream touches. The choice has always been left up to us. It still is.
The truth is that I can neither rule nor live until I submit to You. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:11, “It is a faithful saying: ‘For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him…’” What is this about dying just to live? It’s this word sunapothnesko. The sun means with, apo is like an exclamation point, and thnesko means “to separate soul from body- to die.” Jesus’ death MUST be connected with ours. What??? That old man that wants to rule things our way, we have to crucify him so that he will be extinguished. We can’t be risen with Christ unless we die first. “Paul knows that the miracle of resurrections, which is entirely in God’s hands, is preceded by an act of submission. That act of submission is in our hands. We decide to die. Until we do, God’s hands are tied. God does not resurrect the living, only the dead.” (Skip Moen) Once we choose to die to self, that decision ushers us into the realm of living with God. So anything before that time isn’t really living at all. It’s not enough to just seem alive. The walking dead seem alive, don’t they?  But they aren’t. And neither am I until I choose to die to self and be raised in Christ.
Life will never be found in our own way. Only Jesus has life in Himself and we can only find that true life, that real life if we are in Him and living in His life and light. Truth is truth, no matter what you say. And life is Christ and Christ alone is good. What will I choose for all the days of my life? Will I choose real life or do I just want to choose a temporary form of something that is a weak imitation of life? Well, I want to choose Real Life in Christ, even though it costs the death of myself and submission to You. I mean, wow, I’ve been resurrected! And I am looked after by the One in the whole universe who loves me and has the power to keep me more than anyone else. His words don’t just matter; they are Life itself.  I don’t know about you, but I am more than OK with that.

Thankfully Agonizing Together

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“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…” 1 Corinthians 1:4

I digress.  Today is a day to digress from the prophets momentarily .  Today is a day to deal with the heart a different way.  Today is a day of heart that hurts and rejoices at the same time.  Today is a day to learn not only the meaning, but what it means to handle that living is for Christ and that dying is gain, not just because it’s good to reiterate what Paul says, but because what Paul says is true.  To live in Christ is what life is all about.  We were created to glorify God with all our being.  Christ redeemed us to enable us to live out our purpose in and for God.  But dying and how we die is the culmination of that life and whether it really is surrendered and really is about having faith in our Creator.  It’s pretty easy to say, “Oh, how wonderful it would be to be with God.”  And then it’s easy to not want to leave what we know, and to not embrace the leaving of the ones we love.

Today is a story of learning to trust God for one I love.  It’s a learning to rejoice in every breath the Lord gives and learning to rejoice when God takes away that breath because it’s His time to do so, for HIs perfect reason.  It’s a time to learn to trust without understanding why, except that God IS good, or rather God IS GOOD.  It’s a time to release someone from seeing in the mirror partly and knowing partly, to rejoicing in them seeing and knowing fully and being fully seen and known.  It’s a time to not cause others to weep, but to joy in God’s eternal plan.

It’s so easy to talk about that eternal plan with what seems like joy, and then to turn around and want to divert the “eternity” part when it approaches.  But the race isn’t finished until we cross that line.  Who wants to keep running a race without ever finishing?  Not me.

Paul says there is a reason for running a race. Everyone in the race is running, aren’t they?  But who receives the prize?  Who takes hold of the prize?  Everyone all at once?  No.  The one who runs it to the end, the one who ran so they could grasp the prize, the one who strives for mastery, who struggles or contends the most for it.  That word is agonizomai.  Actually, the word used here is sunagonizomai, agonizing together.  We’re not in this stuff alone.  None of us.  Jesus knows what it’s like.  Look at the garden

Don’t think you are alone in your feelings about it being hard to leave this world and to suffer on the way out.  Don’t think it’s not hard to walk with someone through this.  Jesus knows.  He felt it.  “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from me.”  But that wasn’t the end of the story.  “Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  Yes, there is agony.  Don’t tell me Jesus didn’t walk through agony of body and agony of spirit.  He wept blood.  But this is the heart of God that He would accept this agony for our sake to return us to Him in glory.  But remember also how Jesus asked others to watch and pray with Him?  What did they do?  They slept.  They didn’t know how to agonize together with Him.

It’s ok to weep.  It’s ok to sorrow.  But it’s better to agonize together by expressing God’s heart for the one we love.  If my friend were lost from God, it wouldn’t just be a time to weep over her lostness.  While there is still life, it would be a time to share that agony of my desire for her that maybe her heart would understand the longing of God for her.  But my friend is not lost.  My friend has been found.  My friend is on the side with Jesus.  She’s sitting in the garden and awaiting the day because it’s approaching and she knows it and I know it and she’s needing those who love her to stay and watch with her.

It’s not a time to think selfishly.  Heck yeah, I’m going to miss her like I can’t describe.  She’s a God gift at just the right time, not only to me, but to others.  But that’s just it.  She’s a God gift.  She’s God’s first and foremost.  She was created to the glory of God, not me, not her husband, not her children, not her friends, not her grandchildren.  And she has glorified and is glorifying God before each of us.  We can agonize together for God’s glory to shine even more brightly in every day and every hour and every second she is given.  This is what life is.  Remember, “For me to live is Christ.”  Is it really?  For my friend it is.

What’s the prize she’s running for?  Is it just to have lived a good life?  Is that what we run for as believers?  Or is the prize really Christ?  Is the prize really to finally dwell in the house of the Lord, in His presence forever?  What are we running to grasp, to obtain?  What is worth struggling for and agonizing for and contending with every adversary over?  Was it a good life or is it full unity, with no bars held back, with God?  Are we running to grasp and be grasped in the overwhelmingly perfect full fledged life and love of God in Christ?  Are we fighting the good fight, the fight that is above all fights, the fight that is worth agonizing together over? 

If Jesus could fight that fight alone, when He didn’t want to be alone because God was so worth it, then I can learn from His example.  First and foremost,  no one has to agonize alone because Jesus ran the race first.  He won the prize and grasped the presence of God for us even when no one else understood.  Yet, because of that, He always understands and intercedes and is there with us, never leaving and never forsaking us as we walk out our calling in Him.  But He also gives our companions the ability to agonize together with us, to not only pray in the garden with us, when we would normally be sleeping, but to encourage us in the race, even from across the world. 

The truth of the matter is that we are more than sisters and brothers.  I can’t help but think of Proverbs 18:24 where it says, “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”  Which brought me to Genesis 2:24.  “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”  What?  Sticking close and cleaving are both from the same verb root, dabaq.  They’re both about cleaving.  It’s about “deliberate commitment to stick together.” (Skip Moen) 

Get the call?  It’s about something more than emotions, yet it involves the deepest emotions.  This is the culmination of what we really believe and putting it to practice.  Who do I believe Jesus is?  Am I willing to let Him be all that He is for my loved one?  Will I deliberately commit to stick together with her and with Him in the midst of the greatest test of her life?  Am I willing to agonize together, to joy together, to be there together, to stay awake and pray, or blog together so that she not only knows that Jesus is with her and understands, but that by the grace of God, I will stay awake in the garden of her journey with her and rejoice with her or just hold her hand, even if it is in my heart and we are 8458.6 or so miles apart (the distance of Manila, Philippines from College Station, Texas).

Which brings me back to 1 Corinthians 1:4 and beyond.  I am so thankful for every minute of my sisters life that I get to share with her.  I have been blessed to see God’s grace shed through her to me and to others around the globe as well as her own family.  She is running the race well, with her eye on the prize of Jesus Christ.  It shows, because He has enriched her life in Him in what she does and how she does it, in who she is and whose she is, in the things that she says and what she knows.  Her life is a testimony of the work of Christ confirmed in her.  Yeah, that’s my sister.  We’re united in him.  That’s closer than blood.

Here she is, nearing the end of the race, unless God intervenes differently, which He is free to do and extends that race on earth, but He’s given her every gift she needs.  She’s not lacking anything.  Her eternal bags are packed and ready for something that’s greater than an international flight.  See, in all these things in life, she is overwhelmingly conquering through the One who loves her.  Right now,  she’s in the final moments of the football game, where her team has already won 74 to 0 and she’s just biding time as the coach shouts from the sideline, “You’ve already won.  Keep playing ‘till it’s ours.”

Thank God, our heavenly Coach, never leaves our side.  Thank God that He enables us to watch and pray and rejoice with our brothers and sisters no matter where we are, because we can be friends that cleave to one another closer than siblings, because we can truly be united in Christ.  And we can rejoice together as God confirms Himself fully in our loved ones lives, making them blameless through Christ, and not only calling them into fellowship with Him here on earth, but walking with them into that full fellowship of joy unspeakable and mercy unimaginable with Him where this will be fully experienced.  Yeah, that’s something.  That’s something worth living for together.  And that is something worth dying for.  That’s the race we run.  Death isn’t the end; it leads to the fulfillment of attaining the fullness of our prize, or rather our Prize—Christ. 

Run well, Sister.  Jesus isn’t the only one by your side. You have a cloud of witnesses that have gone on before, that have set an example of trusting faith, of hearing God and doing which is the proof of your believing.  And you are a witness to each of us and may we be witnesses alongside of you as we walk this journey with you, because we are not alone.  We have Christ and we have the body of Christ in unity and the body agonizes together and lives together and walks together and rejoices together and remains together no matter which side of eternity we dwell in as long as we dwell in Him.  You are forever my sister.  We’re part of the same body, I’m not sure what parts we are (I’m probably one of the uncomely parts, but at least I’m a part!)  Hey, we’re in this together forever because our God is eternal and we live and breath in Him.  Let’s do it.  Let’s run this race to the end of one life and into the rest of it.  The Goal is waiting for us with arms wide open.  Whoever gets there first won’t have to imagine anymore what it will be like.  We’ll know.  And isn’t that what we’ve been praying for and walking towards?

On Solid Rocks and Catchers in the Rye

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Image credit goes to img12.deviantart.net by mercurio2539

“If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.  If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there will I search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.”  (Amos 9:2,30)

Yes, this is the prophet Amos, and prophets usually had a message from God about impending doom caused by the people hearing but not listening and doing, or by refusing to hear at all.  This message reminds me of a message by Jonathan Edwards.  Hmm, I just now noticed that he thought about these same two passages.  But he also thought about Deuteronomy and the song of Moses to the people of Israel before God when they were preparing to enter the promised land.  It was a song about proclaiming the greatness of the LORD, that He alone was the Rock whose work is perfect, and all His ways are justice.  He’s a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright.  And it’s also a warning.  It’s a warning about remembering that He is the Rock and His people’s personal Rock.  He’s the One, the Father, who created them, and made them, and established them.  And how did they remember Him and honor Him for all He is and all He did? They scoffed the Rock and became unmindful of Him and stopped remembering Him and worshipped other gods who were not.  There problem was that they were “void of counsel” and there was “no understanding in them” though they thought they were wise.  “If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end!” (Deuteronomy 32:29)  They went from trusting a Rock who could make one chase thousands, and two put ten thousand to flight, to trusting rocks that were not the true Rock.  And Jonathan Edwards comes to where You say “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip…”  The King James Version that Edwards used says, “their foot shall slide in due time.”  We can choose another rock, even though we know the truth, but we’re choosing our own slippery dangerous path just like the children of Israel who fell away.

To choose to disregard Your ways is for us to choose instead of a path of security and care and love and provision, a path of destruction and slippery ways to our own hurt.  I can expect to fall.  It can come suddenly and unexpectedly because we have lost our discernment.  The danger that is visible to those who would heed instruction, becomes invisible to us and before we know it, we are caught in it’s harmful grips.  It doesn’t take someone to knock me down or push me into the deep water.  I slip right in by my own choice.  The ‘catcher in the rye” could warn me, but I wouldn’t listen.  Down I would go, right over the edge of the precipice.  To all this, Edwards says, “There is nothing that keeps wicked Men at any one Moment, out of Hell, but the meer Pleasure of GOD.”

It’s the will of God alone that preserves us.  His will and His pleasure are demonstrated and withheld by His power.  Amos reminds us that this is the Rock, the God, who is the GOD of hosts, He touches the land and it melts, He rises the water up like a flood, He builds His chambers in the heavens, and vaults of waters in the earth that He pours out at His bidding.  When He commands, it is done.  Moses reminds us how He chooses a people of His own, encircles them, cares for them, and keeps them as the apple of His eye.  He is intimate with them as a mother hen is with her chicks,  He guides them and provides for them and gives them strength and suckles them. 

This Rock, this God, has the power to destroy us.  He can easily destroy us.  Actually, we deserve to be destroyed.  I mean, honestly, look at our track record.  Look at Israel’s track record.  Do I think I am better?  Do I realize the slippery places I have chosen to walk and sometimes still choose to walk?  The truth is, outside of the grace and mercy of God, we are all pre-prepared and fit for hell.  Now, that’s a scary thought.  But didn’t Jesus Himself tell the religious leaders, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires”?  And wasn’t hell prepared for the devil and those who follow him?  Actually, the devil himself would more than enjoy to deceive us into making ourselves more ready for hell.  The corruption and desires of our own hearts would often prepare us. 

Here’s the thing, we try to hide from the Truth.  But the truth is, no one can hide from God.  You can choose your own way, but He knows.  He knows everything.  You know when we sit down and when we rise up and You know our every thought even before we think them.  You know my haunts and where my mind dwells.  You know what rouses me and stirs me up.  You know the thoughts that are most precious to me.  But where can I go that You won’t find me?  Jonah tried to hide but You knew every step.  Peter thought he needed to run, but You found him and got to his heart.  Sampson thought he could do it his own way, but You never lost him, although he lost You for a while.  And Paul, who thought he had You, found out he hadn’t known You at all despite his religious fervor.  They all found out how close to the precipice they were by choosing their own way.  But it was You alone who drew them back by Your grace. 

Israel was choosing to hang at it’s own peril.  Each of us can choose this peril too.  Jonathan Edwards likened it to this foolishness on our part: “You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.”    But our fate, just as Israel’s was is up to us.  Because any one of us can call out to God and remember His sacrifice He made for our return to Him.  For Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.  And He stands waiting to embrace us as His own in His very arms.  God is a God of wrath only because we force that hand upon Him by our hard-heartedness and stubbornness.  In all honesty He is a God of love who is just waiting for us to turn to Him instead of the flames, not because He needs us but because He desires us to have life and Life is only found in Him. 

He is a God who owes us nothing, absolutely nothing.  We are like worms or ants underfoot.  Yet he regards us as precious, so precious that He gives us the right amount of time to respond to Him.  But if we choose to refuse to respond, we also choose our own destruction.  And that choice makes You angry God, very angry, because why would Your very own creation chosen for life, choose destruction?  Maybe we worms are just stupid deep down.  I mean, if we would rather choose death over You, what else can I think?

I haven’t seen the plagues over Egypt.  I haven’t witnessed first hand the waters of the sea separated and Pharaoh’s army drowned.  My shoes don’t last for forty years and my clothes wear out.  But I have seen my life changed.  And I’ve seen You change other people’s lives.  I’ve seen thieves become evangelists and people from broken homes have beautiful marriages.  I’ve seen the sun rise and set every day for all the days of my life.  I’ve seen compassion that leads to salvation and joy in You. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen people mock You.  I’ve seen people who’s heads were split open and salt poured on because they believed in You, Jesus.  I’ve seen people who were cast out of their own countries because of believing You and people who’s houses were destroyed because of it.  I’ve seen a Pastor tell of other pastors whose fingernails were plucked out and then they were killed because they believed.  But that’s the truth, that those who stood against You were the ones delivering death.  You still deliver life to Your own.  Like Paul said, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  But to live without Christ is to die a purposeless and terrible death. 

The truth is, we all have a choice.  I can choose to deny God, to deny Jesus, and slip my way into Sheol.  And it will all be my fault, my choice, and not God’s.  He warned me.  Or I can choose God.  I can hear and heed.  I can live out my life with You living Yours out in me.  I can demonstrate Your love and compassion and be the kind of pure and holy and loving and brave “catcher in the rye” that You are.  Just as You snatched me back from the flames as I was hanging on that thread, so You desire to snatch others back.  It’s not Your desire that any should burn but that each would come to You.

If that thread is like a spider thread it’s actually very sticky and very strong.  And maybe it even takes a lot of work for us to come off that thread, like I really have to fight staying on. Isn’t it a shame that You place before us so many warnings and do so much to hold us back and draw us to You and yet we fight it all?  I don’t want to fight Your ways.  I want to see and experience the joy of Your presence.  I want to live in the safety of You.  My prayer is that others would start looking so that they would start seeing what they are missing.  Because maybe, if they start seeing things differently, they might choose to set their feet on the Solid Rock and find You.

Real Life or the Living Dead

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“Seek Me and live…” Amos 5:4

Hear this.  If you want life, seek God.  I’m not just saying this.  These are God’s words.  These words are so important to hear and follow through on that You repeated them two verses later.  “Seek the LORD and live, lest He break out like fire…”  And knowing that we don’t get things sometimes, You restated it a little differently for our understanding in verse 14.  “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you…”  See, I can’t seek good if I don’t know You, God.  Jesus, You Yourself pointed out that “No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19)  And if people were to see You as good, then they must equate You with God.  If I am to be good, I must be identified with God not just by name.  I must be identified by You by Your character within me that is seen shining out.  If I want life, I must seek You for real.  I must seek You and not just Your “idea.”  I must seek Your character and Your presence until I find You and You find me, because life is only found in You. 

There is a reason that Jesus, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Because God invites us into Life and Life enters by faith as we trust in His way of Life, Jesus Christ, who took our place and bore our sins upon the cross because only He was the righteousness of God, without sin, for He was God even though He was man at the same time.  Now, who doesn’t want life?  Who wants death when they can choose life?

Repeated things are important things, things we really need to grasp.  Did you know that Proverbs repeats this thought, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”?  And isn’t that what was going on in the time of Amos?  And isn’t that what is going on in the world today?  The people, Israel, who should have known right judgment weren’t choosing it.  What does judgment mean here anyways?  It’s the word mishpat.  It’s the enforcement of government but the ultimate enforcement of government is under God and by His wisdom.  Israel knew that.  But they refused it.  And it’s not like the nations didn’t know.  At some point they refused it and adapted their own government and rejected God.  That way seemed right to them.  But the truth is that it leads to death.

Micah tells us what the Lord requires of us.  He shows us what goodness looks like in Him and what it acts like in a person.  It translates into obeying and living out and trusting His “mishpat”, His “government.”  It’s loving mercy like He shows and showing it to others.  It’s walking humbly with Him.  That means submitting to Him and His ways and not making our own way.

Zechariah also elaborates on this.  God’s word to Zechariah was, “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” That’s that word mishpat again.  How do you “rule with true judgments”?  Is it up to some political body?  It wasn’t then and it shouldn’t be now.  The power to rule rightly was personally given in the hands of a leader, or tribal chief, or a patriarch or king.  These individuals are personally in charge and liable for rendering God’s directions.  The essence of true religion and right leadership is in understanding who God is and “experiencing intimacy” with Him.  Jeremiah 9:24 puts it this way, “but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…”  J. A. Thompson believed, “True religion consists in acknowledging the complete sovereignty of God in life and allowing Him to fill life with those qualities of steadfast faithfulness, justice, and righteousness which He possesses, in which He delights, and which He desires to find in His people.”

But instead of taking delight in You God, and Your rulings and ways and character, we turn them into something bitter and leave them altogether.  It doesn’t seem to register about how good what You say really is.  It doesn’t seem to make a difference to us that You are the One who placed the Pleiades  and Orion in the night sky, that You alone make death something not to be feared because it ushers a new day in You.  We don’t stop to think about the consequences of defying You either.  How You can turn the day dark as night or call the waters of the sea and pour them out on the earth at Your will.  We forget that the LORD is Your name and not ours. 

Even when people raise up against people, they can’t do it without Your permission.  You send people to warn and tell and teach, and yet, just like then, there are those who hate to hear and act against those who would tell.  They keep the poor, poor and never give them a way out.  They take away their livelihood.  They meet their own needs and leave others without.  Men revolt and offend against You repeatedly and deliberately and lead others to do so.  They afflict those who want to follow You.  Money means more than holiness.  They ignore people’s real needs.  They ignore the truth.  Those who ought to speak up for the truth, stay silent.  And when man has played enough at being his own judge of life, True Judgment will come. 

I can pretend that I am all that, that I can decide right and wrong for myself, or that there is no real truth, that I can determine it according to my feelings.  I can run around and play that game for a while.  Because that’s all it is, a game.  A really dangerous and hurtful game that goes against nature and against God.  But the truth is, the Truth will come out.  The real Maker of the stars and the planets, and molecules, and us will show Himself.  He will enforce what He alone established as the only One with the right to enforce His will.  And if I am not living already in the middle of His will, living in and according to and by Your mishpat, then I will be overcome by them.

I don’t have to be on the receiving end of You judgment, God.  There is hope for us.  There is time for turning; there is time for loving God’s ways and learning and living them.  There is time for a relationship with the God who created us for a purpose.  There is love and life and mercy waiting for us and calling to us.  We can choose to hate the evil and love the good, and establish judgment at the gate, whether it’s at the gate of our house, or the gate of our neighborhood, or the gate of our town, or state, or country, or the nations.  We can choose wailing and woe and have it our way. We can let judgment run down over us like waters that drown, and have God’s righteousness overcome us as a mighty flooded stream.  Or we can let judgment run down over us like living waters giving life to all around.  And like righteousness flowing mightily out to all that the mighty stream touches.  The choice has always been left up to us.  It still is.

The truth is that I can neither rule nor live until I submit to You.  Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:11, “It is a faithful saying: ‘For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him…’”  What is this about dying just to live? It’s this word sunapothnesko. The sun means with, apo is like and exclamation point, and thnesko means “to separate soul from body- to die.”  Jesus’ death MUST be connected with ours.  What???  That old man that wants to rule things our way, we have to crucify him so that he will be extinguished.  We can’t be risen with Christ unless we die first.  “Paul knows that the miracle of resurrections, which is entirely in God’s hands, is preceded by an act of submission.  That act of submission is in our hands.  We decide to die.  Until we do, God’s hands are tied.  God does not resurrect the living, only the dead.”  (Skip Moen) Once we choose to die to self, that decision ushers us into the realm of living with God.  So anything before that time isn’t really living at all.  It’s not enough to just seem alive.  The walking dead seem alive, don’t they?  But they aren’t.  And neither am I until I choose to die to self and be raised in Christ.

Life will never be found in our own way.  Only Jesus has life in Himself and we can only find that true life, that real life if we are in Him and living in His life and light.  Truth is truth, no matter what you say.  And life is Christ and Christ alone is good.  What will I choose for all the days of my life?  Will I choose real life or do I just want to choose a temporary form of something that is a weak imitation of life?  Well, I want to choose Real Life in Christ, even though it costs the death of myself and submission to You.  I mean, wow, I’ve been resurrected!   And I am looked after by the One in the whole universe who loves me and has the power to keep me more than anyone else.  I don’t know about you, but I am more than OK with that.

Life Life versus Death Death

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(Memorial stone from the Middletown, NJ, 9-1-1 memorial by the train station near where I grew up.)

The one breaking through went up before them; they broke through, passed the gate and went out. Their king passed on before them; ADONAI was leading them.” (Micah 2:13)

Micah 2 ends on a really good note, a note of great hope.  But it doesn’t start off with such good feelings.  He opens, “Woe to those who think up evil and plan wickedness as they lie in bed. When morning comes, they do it, since they have it in their power.” (Micah 2:1)  And this is the warning we must all heed.  Just because this is a specific warning to Israel, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t benefit by understanding and applying these principles to our lives.  As a matter of fact, if one were to look at our country today, and the thought processes out there, and the actions of its people as a nation, we wouldn’t find it so different from Israel then. 

This is a message of woe.  Woe was a pretty strong word.  In Hebrew it is hoy.  Hoy was used as an interjection and the word expressed over the death of someone.  It is that strong a word.  Now, I’ve been thinking about the Hebrew thinking behind words and that image of a protective fence that God sets up is just such a strong one throughout His word.  And I can’t help but think of that fence here.  And if I go back to verse 13 I think of it more along with the idea of sheep.  Only here, in verse 1, it’s the idea of people breaking down the safety of that wall and rebelling against it. 

It reminds me of a story shared by a Yanamamo believer named Bautista, who once was a Shaman, but was changed by the Lord, and he was invited to speak at an Ivy League college.  One of the professors mentioned how she and her family were not believers but had come to America and were well off, implying that it had nothing to do with God, as they were not believers.  But Bautista related a story of being in the jungle and how someone had gone ahead and built a shelter.  Now someone else may come along and reap the benefits of that shelter but they are still reaping the benefits of the original builder.  It doesn’t negate the one who built it.  America, he said, is like that.  The original founders built it under the protective umbrella of God.  All who come under that umbrella reap its benefits.  But, if enough people chip away at the umbrella, at that shelter, and tear it down, the benefits will no longer be there.

It’s like satan saying, “You won’t surely die.”  And it’s not that he twisted these words.  He negated them.  God had said, “You will surely die.”  Actually, in the Hebrew He said, “You will die die.”  I’d say that’s a pretty sure thing.  But satan said, “You will not die die.”  The point is, God is true, or maybe I should say, God is true true.  But satan wants us to believe that God is not true true.  Who will we believe? 

Woe to them that think up evil.  That’s like saying it’s death to those who think up their own ways opposed to You, God.  That’s what that thinking up or devising is talking about.  It’s the Hebrew word chase. It’s all about weaving and fabricating, or plotting things out your own way.  It’s a mental effort to use Your own imagination or reckon life your own way.  And that word for sin or iniquity is interesting too.  It’s aven in Hebrew.  It’s root comes from a word meaning pant, like exerting oneself in vain.  It’s not just wickedness but trouble, and emptiness, or mischief.  It’s related with idols and mourning and sorrow and unrighteousness.  We are right back to the garden, aren’t we?  It sounds like determining my own way apart from God still leads to death.  No, it actually still leads to death death, which couldn’t be any surer.

It’s death death to us to devise our own way. it’s also death death to us to plan wickedness as I lie in bed.  It’s more than a shame to employ my efforts, to work at, to habitually practice and commit what goes against Your will and Your way, Lord.  It’s way outside Your boundaries for us to be deliberately  choosing to spend our energies and thoughts on afflicting others, doing what You say is not good, displeasing You, distressing those around us, causing grief, and doing what’s wrong.  Someone may ask, “Well, who gets to determine what’s wrong?  Isn’t that up to each us?”  Nope.  Not unless you created you or you created me.  It seems to me that the Potter gets to determine those things and not the pot.  I mean, that just makes sense.

When morning comes, they do it since they have it in their power.  That word, power, is the word el.  Imagine that, the word used so often in naming God is also used for idols and the strength in man’s hand.  And it just goes to show how any power outside of God’s power isn’t power at all.  To these devisers and workers, they perceive what they have in their ideas as real power.  But it’s only temporary and leads to death death.  The power that God alone has and wants to impart to us and to them leads to life life.  I suppose it’s the difference between power and power power.

Societies all over the world are beginning to implode upon themselves for this very reason.  They are usurping power and taking it into their own hands.  They are deciding truth based on their own thinking.  They are erasing and eroding away at God’s protective boundaries.  And the walls are crumbling.  And we are laying ourselves bare to destruction.  And all along we’ve been warned.  Biblical history and secular history are there to be our teachers but society chooses to rewrite both and suffer the consequences because they like holding power in their own hands instead of letting the One who knows how to use it, use it for our good.

But here’s the good news.  God is still gathering a remnant.  Just like in the time of Israel, there were some who held faithfully to Him and within His bounds, so today He is still holding on to those who will hold on to Him.  This is good stuff!  Actually, He tells Jacob and Israel, He will assemble assemble them!  And he doesn’t stop there.  He will gather gather.  How sure a deal is this!  He will be the One to put them together.  He will preserve and unite.  Like sheep in a pen or a herd in the pasture.  And it’s gonna hum with the sound of all the people He has gathered together that are His sheep, living in His protection, under His umbrella, within His boundaries, within His walls. 

The hope continues and gets even more exciting!  There is this one who breaks through and goes up before the sheep.  He breaks through, and they follow Him, breaking through with Him, and passing the gate.  This is the King and He passes on through the broken walls, through the gate, leading them and they are following Him.  This is the hope in Jesus Christ the Messiah who came and died for us for the glory of God and our well-being, so that we could be re-united with Him in our original purpose.  This is the hope of a risen Savior, of a King who is ALL POWERFUL.  This is the hope that one day, His boundaries will no longer surround us because He will have written them in our hearts and we won’t need external walls any more.  This is the beauty of trust and obedience and love. 

I don’t want to make my own walls.  They lead to death death.  I want to follow and obey and love the One who is able to one day, put His own will in the very depths of me so that my heart will rejoice in wanting what rejoices Him.  I can’t wait until that day that God will remove the struggle of wanting my own way versus His.  I don’t want to be god in my life or anyone else’s.  But I do want God in me.  And being a sheep is sufficient for me as this sheep intrinsically knows and understands Your heart, Lord, and lives it out in shear joy.  Imagine a sheep who didn’t need a pen to protect it because all the power and presence of it’s protector lived inside.  That’s what I see in this picture. 

I can be on either side of the sheep pen.  I can refuse its boundaries and choose my own.  But then, I need to prepare, because death death is coming.  But to choose to remain inside the boundaries until my Shepherd writes them inside me, is the far better choice, because with it comes life life.  See, the King has to go before.  John warned us, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.  Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)  I don’t want to fall into the trap of going ahead of my King. 

Life is a test.  Will I abide in God’s words and the words of Christ?  The proof is in the pudding.  If I abide in Christ and His words abide in me, the power of God will flow from me.  If I abide in the love of Christ, I will know the love of God.  I will keep Your boundaries just as Christ did because I will love them as I love You.  For the same covenant You made with Israel, You make with all those who are grafted in.  “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…for they shall all know Me, from the least to the greatest.   (Hebrews 8:10,11)  Lord, be my King and lead me every moment.  Thank You for the warning.  May I live live in the continual protection and provision of You and Your boundaries.