Clinging Tighter Than Our Lives

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“And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many…” Daniel 8:25

 
Did you ever imagine that peace, yes, PEACE, could be destructive? Could these words of Daniel written 2,500 years ago be important to us today? Should they make us stop and think? Should they cause us to be moved and to change our thinking and actions? Daniel saw this vision from God, heard it’s interpretation from the angel Gabriel at God’s command, and became weak to fainting and sick. And even after he got over that, the things he had seen still made him feel numb. And still he couldn’t put it all together. But here’s the point: He didn’t walk away unaffected. He carried those thoughts with him and they affected his whole being.

 
Maybe it would be beneficial to take time out to think about what Daniel was shown. His vision is about kings rising to power and then being overthrown by other kings with other kingdoms. This is actually a vision given right before King Belshazzar was overthrown and it tells of his destruction. So knowing that must have made Daniel uneasy. After all, he had already been through the destruction of his own kingdom, and seen the death and havoc it rained on those he cared for. Now to see that again? But this wasn’t just a vision of now, for David. It was a vision that stretched to the end times. How near were they?

 
Lord, You didn’t just give this vision to Daniel for people of his time to be aware. You gave this vision to Daniel so we could be aware today also. Because Your vision has not yet been completed. It is still coming to be. Even now, we are somewhere in that latter time of the kingdom. Even today we may be in the time of the king with the fierce countenance and understanding of stratagems.

 

What could that mean to have a fierce countenance? It could mean Hebraicly that your face, your personage exhibits strength, vehemency, harshness, power, or greed. It could be that you are hardened and that your self is puffed up in it’s own strength, like what happens with so many leaders. Here’s someone who is coming who will understand stratagems. Understand that stratagems can be conceit, tricks, and being good with lots of wordiness about philosophy and general principals.

 
But this leader, who will have power, well, it won’t be his own. I wonder then from whom this power is imparted to him? Who gives him this power to “destroy wonderfully”? That word for wonderful can mean miraculously. That’s pretty scary. I mean, Jesus came to seek and save and did and does so miraculously and we know that His power is of God. “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:56) So who comes to destroy them?

 
Jesus discussed this with His disciples and for our benefit. “The thief comes not, but for 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) Who is the thief? It’s not God because God gave Jesus as the Good Shepherd. But there is also a thief at work trying to destroy God’s work by destroying His workmanship- the people of God, His beloved.

 
Well, let’s continue to search for who this ruler’s power comes from. Who is the thief of thieves? Peter warned believers, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” (1 Peter 4:15) Obviously, these characteristics are not of God, not a part of being in Christ. Jesus Himself accused some men of these characteristics and let’s see who He equated that with: “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44)

 
Think about it. What will it be like to be under a ruler who is full of the power of deception given from his father, the devil? Think about him or her prospering, pushing forward, doing his will. And what is his will? What is Satan’s will? He’s a defeated foe. How do they act? I think of Japan in the Philippines when they knew the Americans were coming back and they would be defeated. I have a friend who was there, living in Manila. His dad was working for the Japanese, (actually telling secrets about them to the resistance!) and the Japanese he was working with liked him and his kids. So one day, they told my friend’s father, “Get your family and leave because all the people will be gathered into the fields and slaughtered.” Defeated enemies can be terribly violent. This is the type of enemy that the devil is.

 
His aim will be to use this man to destroy God’s people, the mighty and holy ones of God. Who are these mighty and holy ones of God? That’s you and I if we are His. And how will this leader empowered by Satan do that? By his policy, the way he uses his intelligence and understanding, deceit and fraud and subtlety and treachery will be employed to its fullest. And people will be sucked in to this way of thinking. He’ll be puffed up in his own heart which will lead others to be puffed up in their own hearts. And get this, by peace he shall destroy many! Can you imagine that? We all cry out for peace and he will use peace to destroy. How is that?

 
The Hebrew word here for peace is shalvah. It’s about security. It incorporates abundance, peace, prosperity, and quietness. It’s what the world is looking for in itself but what can only really be found in God. So this leader, under Satan’s influence will give it to everyone the world’s way and deceive them into thinking that security in things and power, and abundance in wealth and possession, and quietness between people and nations is the goal of life. Now here’s the scary part. As a society, actually as societies all over the world, the majority are already buying into this way of thinking. Terrorism is at our door but we choose to believe the lie that all people are good. So we don’t act upon the facts but upon our false feelings. And it’s not just people who don’t know Christ. It’s among people who call themselves believers and yet don’t act like You. Instead, believers are clinging to the security of their government instead of God. We fight Islam with weapons instead of the power of God’s word and God’s love. We choose comfort and abundance and quietness instead of sacrifice. It’s not just the problem of those on the outside. We’ve allowed ourselves to become deceptively corrupted from Your intent. And it’s time that it made us weak inside and sick like it did Daniel. But does it?

 
One day You are going to show us that our beautiful big homes that we feel so secure in, have no security at all. Just let an earthquake or Tsunami or flood or fire come, and then what? Where will our security be? One day, banks will fail, or we will be robbed, or lose our job, or so many financial things will happen at once that we’ll wonder what happened to our abundance we were relying on. And what happens when something happens to my happy family and it’s not so happy and peaceful any more? Where will I be then? What happens when my quietness I have rejoiced in becomes loneliness? What benefit is that kind of peace?

 
Here’s the thing. Our peace must be in something Other than this. Paul shared, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21) Our peace must come through God in Jesus Christ. Our peace and our existence is only found in Him. And in Him we are given the ability to spread that peace to others, that’s that perfection He is bringing about in us to do His will, His way, by His power to make Himself known in those He created to be His vessels.

 
Satan would have us believe that we are our own vessels, dropped here by chance to shape ourselves. But that is total deception and total emptiness. It’s deception of the worst kind because it’s willful maliciousness to turn our hearts to believe that and to disbelieve God’s purpose for us. This is such a tragedy! Jesus wept over it. In Luke 19:42 we hear His voice, “If you had only known today what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden, so you cannot see it.” Today, do I know what will truly bring me peace? Or have I chosen to let it be hidden from me and unattainable?

 
Jesus, You wanted us to understand this so badly. You kept telling Your disciples and by that, You keep telling us. “I’m leaving you peace. I’m giving you My peace. I don’t give you the kind of peace that the world gives. So don’t be troubled or cowardly.”( John 14:27) And right before He would be taken captive toward the cross, “I’ve told you this so that My peace will be with you. In the world you’ll have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) There is a different kind of peace, an eternal peace that overcomes the hardships and tragedies and heartaches and deceptions of this world. The question is, which peace will I cling unto? Will I cling to a self-serving peace that will be destroyed, that is a lie? Or will I cling to the Prince of Peace who will reign forever and invites me to the security of His presence throughout eternity?

 
Life’s not easy and peace won’t be found permanently in this world system. But I agree with Paul, that the “momentary” suffering I could ever experience here on earth could never surpass the peace of being with You eternally. And Paul’s not talking about light afflictions here. He knew of afflictions and suffering and persecution that led to death. And he believed it was all worth it to know You and to be with You, Lord, and so do I. So, let me conclude by sharing Paul’s words to us: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:7-17) So may we become weak and sick over the deception that surrounds us and use that to be appalled by it so that we rise up and cling tighter than our lives to the peace and security that is only found in God through Jesus Christ our risen, living, and intervening Savior and Lord.

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The Immeasurable Value of Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Strength Our Downfall?

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“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me to the ground?’” (Obadiah 1:3)

One book, one chapter, one vision, that’s all.  So who cares about Edom?  What does it matter?  Edom was destroyed way back when, right?  So let’s move on.  But the truth is, though the “nation” of Edom was destroyed, all the people of Edom haven’t been.  The thinking of Edom still goes on.  Oh, the people of Edom may not be natural offspring of Edom, but if we really look around, it’s not too hard to spot the Edomites in the world today, and if I’m not careful with my thinking, I could become one myself.

Biblically, the Edomites are the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob.  Remember that whole story where the baby Jacob in the womb on his way out grabs his brother’s heal and comes out first instead?  Well, You God have said, “Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)  So maybe this story is more than about two brothers.  Maybe this story was always meant as a picture and a lesson.  Maybe these two nations were all about two kinds of people.  Is that such a far stretch?  And maybe each of us is one of these or the other.  And maybe we can choose which we will be.

I wondered about that statement which we think of in reference to Jacob, “the one people shall be stronger than the other people.”  And I wonder if Jacob was stronger as we think of it?  Well, according to what Scripture says about the two brothers, Jacob certainly wasn’t the more physically buff or athletic one.  That would be Esau.  So what does it mean to be stronger than the other here?  The Hebrew word amats, stronger, is about being alert either physically or mentally.  Listen to the words in Strong’s associated with this root, “confirm, be courageous (of good courage, steadfastly minded, strong, stronger), establish, fortify, harden, increase, prevail, strengthen (self, make strong (obstinate, speed).”  So we see alertness both physically and mentally used for good and characterized by positive strengths and then we see what this looks like if centered on itself leading to negative character traits.  But what if this still is giving us a picture?  One person, here, Jacob or Esau, can decide whether he will be amats by being alert to the Lord and strong in the Lord, or that same person can decide whether he will be amats by being alert to himself and strong in his own sufficiency. 

So what about the elder serving the younger?  The Hebrew word for elder is rab.  It’s about the thing that is greater in quantity, size, age, number, rank, quality, whatever.  It can be the elder, the captain, the master, the mighty, and more.  What if it means more than just the older twin serving the younger?  What if it means that whoever is more shall serve the less?  After all, that word for younger in Hebrew is tsaor, which means little as in few, young in age, little in value, ignoble, the least, or a little or small one.  Hm.  Sounds like something Jesus said, doesn’t it.  In Mark 9:35, Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  And in Mark 10:42-45, we are told, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Maybe this story about Jacob and Esau and all the hard learning they had to go through, is to help us to learn the same truth.  And maybe we have to go through such tough situations too before we can ever hope to really learn this in the depths of our being.  But if we refuse to surrender and learn, that’s where the warning of Obadiah comes in.

Now let’s jump back to Obadiah.  He was over the household of Ahab (you remember Ahab and wicked Jezebel?)  So here was Obadiah working for this evil king,  only Obadiah “feared the LORD greatly.”  As a matter of fact, according to 1 Kings 18:4, we know that Obadiah loved and feared You so much, Lord, that he didn’t even fear his own life.  Because when Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah rescued 100 prophets, hiding them by fifties in caves and bringing them bread and water.  Do you know what the Jews believe about him?  In the Talmud: b.Sanhedrin 39b, it’s believed that Obadiah was an Edomite convert to Judaism!  If that were to be true, that adds an even more amazing feature to God’s prophecy through him.

Why do I say that?  Because Obadiah is a book about the terrible hatred and treatment of the Edomites against the children of Israel.  And what makes the treatment so terrible above normal is that Edom and Israel are brothers.  Remember, they were twins, Jacob and Esau.  It’s like the story of Cain and Abel all over again.  How can one sibling kill or wish such evil on the other sibling?  It goes against our design as human beings.  What brings a brother or sister to this point?

Deception brought about by pride brings us there.  “The pride of your heart has deceived you.”  Like Esau who told his brother he didn’t need his gifts.  Why not?  He had already made himself sufficient.  That deception had already set in when he was young.  “I can get along fine without my birthright as long as I have what I want to make me strong.”  So Esau built Edom, that red stronghold called Petra, that cleft in the rock, and thought no one would come and bring them down.  But the Romans came and all that is left of Petra is the empty great ruins that speak of a great people defeated and lost.

Why did it have to happen?  Because Edom believed in a deception.  They trusted in their pride.  They trusted in their own wisdom.  Their choices were better than God’s choices.  If they didn’t like the way something was supposed to be handled according to God, they would just do it their way.  They trusted in their strength, their alertness according to their thinking, and not alertness to You.  They chose the way of violence against their brother instead of Your way of mercy and forgiveness and love and compassion.  They ignored their brother’s cries for help and went beyond that to help others carry them off and pillage them.  They gloated over their mistreatment.  They looted them.  They handed them over to the enemies.

That’s all the pride of the heart and it’s reaction, opposing You and Your heart, Lord.  According to EB Meyers, “Malice harbored in any form contains the seed of (our own) future suffering.”  It’s so against Your heart and Your way.  And it would go right along with Your heart to chose a redeemed Edomite to follow Your heart and set an example for rejecting the traditions of our fathers for the heart of God instead.  And Your heart shouts out, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.  If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)  Do I think it’s good enough to just want to do something good for someone?  According to You, Lord, it’s not good enough unless I follow it through with action like You. 

So, what is good?  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  Not only does our own wisdom not suffice, but God’s wisdom not applied in life will not carry us either.  Why?  Because You are a living God and You not only ARE but because You ARE You Do because to BE- IS.  That’s what the I AM is all about.  You can’t separate Your character from Your actions because they are one in the same.  And so it is with us also.  And we need to realize that.  But whose character dwells in me?  Is it You, in Christ, or do I cling to my own?

You already knew the problems of man before they started.  So you warned those who would choose Your way.  You shared of Yourself and Your heart.  “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.  You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land.” (Deuteronomy 23:7)  “It doesn’t matter if Edom or Egypt hates You.  If you want to belong to God, if You want a relationship with Me, be merciful like I am merciful to you.”  Deception will tell us otherwise.  Jealousy will tell us there’s a better way than God’s way, just like it told Cain and Esau. “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him…” (Genesis 25:23)  But You had already given him the way out, just as you had given Cain the way out.  “Stop allowing yourself to be deceived.  Follow and do the truth.  Know Me.  Keep your eyes on me and care for your brother like I care for you.”

Paul continues God’s warning.  “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Messiah.  For in Him bodily lives the fullness of all that God is, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”  How we think will determine which side of the fence we really are on.  Do I have the mind of Edom or the mind of one set apart for You and by You?  I think of You passing before Moses and proclaiming Yourself by these truths, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”  That visiting the iniquity on all those generations, is it about You holding following generations guilty for their parent’s sins?  If so, how could You say You are forgiving of our iniquity and transgression and sin?  But what if every generation has the same choice as Cain and Edom and me?  What if any of us, regardless of the traditions and choices of our parents or our people or our nation or our religion, can choose to see You for who You really are and surrender to Your way?  What if that is what God wants us to see in Obadiah’s prophecy besides the historical downfall?  What if there is a deeper truth that You want us to understand and a choice You want us to make for our own good?  What if all the Edomites wherever we might be in the world, being controlled by our own wisdom or our culture or some false religion or ideas, can let go of those lies and walk in the truth instead?  What if we don’t have to be captives of our own pride, self-sufficiency, and apathy?  What if the Truth, who is a person and God at the same time, can set us free, and only He can?  And what if He is not just a choice we believe but a life we live?  And what if His name, is Jesus, Yeshua, the Messiah?

Being Mindful of Our Choosing

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

“Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

Have you ever felt truly let down by those around you?  Have you looked around and seen people who should have been standing up for one another, tearing each other down?  Have you seen people who should have been doing right, doing wrong?  Have you been surprised by the response of someone else?  Has a friend or co-worker turned against you?  Are you feeling lost and perplexed?  Don’t be surprised.  You’re not alone.

This was all going on in Micah’s day and it still goes on today.  He even shares, “Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.” (Micah 7:5,6)  That’s pretty sad, isn’t it?  So are we to trust no one?  No, that’s not the point.  But our ultimate and final trust should not be in other people but in the LORD.

Micah follows these thoughts with this statement, “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”  The truth is that men and women fall short.  Men and women sometimes break promises.  But that’s not the worst part.  Sometimes, men and women choose to live life their own way, outside of God’s directions, and that just turns things topsy turvy because then people lose respect for their fellow people.  When you take God and His ways out of the picture it becomes an every man for himself mentality.  And when every man is for himself and not for God and others, he’ll do whatever it takes to uphold himself at the expense of those around him.

It’s sad, but it’s true.  It can happen on a mission team where just one person won’t submit in love.  Instead they choose to dislike someone else on the team.  They cling to that dislike so that every time they look at the other person, they see something to be despised.  They spread that feeling around to others on the team.  Division erupts.  People don’t show up for missions because of who is on the team.  There’s a heart of contempt and gossip.  There’s no desire to make restitution and work it out.  Where there should be pain because of a broken relationship, the one party chooses bitterness and to pass it on to other team members. 

It’s funny, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable of the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21-26)

So, if this is what You said, Jesus, why don’t we live out Your words?  Why do we stand back and watch while others who profess to be believers murder their brothers and sisters in their hearts?  Why don’t we stand up like Micah?  Or, even worse, why do we choose to let ourselves murder in our hearts and minds those who were created in Your image?  Isn’t that like murdering You and Yours?

I think of all the times we coat our thoughts and deeds over with some kind of justification.  We’re good at making excuses.  It was there in the garden, it was in Israel in Micah’s day, and we still fall pray to it today.  We excuse ourselves and blame You for not doing it right.  At least Eve blamed the serpent as having deceived her and accepted her part of the blame in eating.  Adam actually blamed You God, for giving him the fouled up woman that he listened to, and then accepted part of the blame.  Isn’t that how it goes?  “If only they had done right, I would too.  Therefore, I’m justified in my wrongness. You should have kept them in line so I didn’t have to.”  Oh, really?

The way I read the story after the fall, Adam refused to trust Eve and respect her decisions, and Eve felt that lack of trust from Adam and looked for someone else to turn to who might trust her and respect her decisions.  You’d think we’d learn already that doing things our way screws everything up.  But humans are hard-headed and hard-hearted.  We’d rather often choose mistrust, bitterness, revenge, disrespect, manipulation, denial, justification, and control over love, forgiveness, repentance, and renewed relationship.

Here’s the truth, when You, God, said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” and to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life…,” (Genesis 3:16,17) it wasn’t a curse on Adam and Eve.  You were simply stating the consequences of their choice.  Because they did this, this is the consequence.  And since that is the truth and that is the case then to me, that also means that God is saying to Adam and to Eve and to the Israelites and to us that if we choose Him and His ways, we can return to living a better life, the one we were created for.

Eve was deceived by a serpent.  She maybe thought she could love Adam better by knowing more.  It’s still misplaced trust.  She can’t love Adam better outside of God.  Adam knew.  He wasn’t deceived.  He made a choice- God or Eve.  He chose Eve and then regretted it and was angry at God.  It was a break in trust.  Any time we put our trust in any one or anything over God or other than God, we set ourselves up for a tragic fall.  But the good news is that we can choose rightly.  Like Micah, I can determine that “I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”  And even if I fall because of my enemy, “when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me.”  The truth is, even in my righteousness I don’t sparkle one little bit next to God without His light shining through me.  I’m a sinner and I’m only made clean by You, Lord.  Like Job learned, and Micah, it’s worth bearing Your indignation because we know who we are and what we’ve done.  But I can bear it because You promise to plead my cause and execute judgment for me.  You promise to bring me out to the light and I’ll see Your vindication. (Micah 7:9)

You never had to vindicate me because I was guilty, just like Adam and Eve, and Micah and Job, and every person who has ever lived.  It wasn’t Your duty.  There was no clause that You had to do this.  But You did and You do.  You sent Jesus who was delivered up for our sin and raised for our justification.  Only Jesus’ sacrifice of holiness on the cross is a sufficient act of righteousness to meet the requirements and bring us back to relationship with You and our fellow man. 

I’m so glad that Jesus didn’t act like us.  If He had, He would have asked to be excused.  “Why should I die for them?  I’m holy.  I haven’t sinned.  How do they deserve this?  What about my rights?”  But He didn’t worry about His rights or what He deserved.  He didn’t even count it as an excuse to be equal to God.  But He humbled Himself for the glory of God and to save His people.  He didn’t entrust Himself to any person because He knew what was in man.  (John 2:24,25)  Instead, He loved us and bore God’s indignation for us because He trusted God first and foremost. 

What about me?  Who am I trusting?  Have I misplaced my trust?  Does it need to be returned to it’s rightful owner?  It’s my choice.  I can choose who or what to trust.  But I will pay the consequences of my choice.  I want to say like Joshua, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  But even though I make that choice, what if my relatives or friends or neighbors choose not to?  What then?  I will choose to trust You, Lord, because only You have the words of eternal life and Your words are life itself.  I choose to live and trust Your words and live and trust You.  Keep me ever mindful of Your words and my choosing.

Driving the Nail Through the Head

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“Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.”  Judges 5:24

Somehow, just somehow, I’ve been under the impression that as a believer, I ought to agree with God.  Now maybe that’s a novel idea.  Or maybe some believers think they can pick and choose when to believe, you know, like if it doesn’t agree with how they already feel about something.  But if that’s the way I agree with You Lord, then it kind of makes me like a Pharisee toward Jesus, at least until I come to a point of surrender, and then my life changes.  The truth of the matter is that You tell us “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ saith the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”  And that’s the truth.  I am to line up my thoughts with You.  You don’t line Your thoughts up with me.  That would be silly.  I mean, what do I know?  Yet, You know everything.

And that’s what I’ve seen happen with this God story about this woman named Jael.  I see this woman who is praised for her action and treated like a hero, not just by people, but by a prophetess.  Here’s a woman who heard straight from God.  She knewthat God was going to deliver this tyrant Sisera into a woman’s hands and when she found out which woman, praises were sung before Israel.  Now here’s my question.  If God chooses to praise her publicly before Israel and throughout time by His Scriptures, who are we to decide otherwise?  If God knew, before Jael was ever born, that this deed or task would be assigned to her for the physical deliverance of His people, who am I to disagree with God?

Now the reason I ask is because as I’ve been researching and praying about Jael’s situation and the situation of Israel at the time, I’ve found that most commentators are extremely negative about Jael.  The one that got me thinking was this one, “Jael did not kill Sisera as David did Goliath, a champion of the Lord bent on destroying His arch-enemies. While divine judgment fell upon Sisera, Jael erred in that she did not allow God to designate the means of punishment. Perhaps she felt an irresistible impulse to slay the persistent enemy of God’s people, but she remains forever censurable for the cruel way she killed Sisera, even though Deborah gloated over the act and praised it in poetic form. When Deborah said, ‘Blessed above women shall be Jael,’ perhaps she was only praising her faith and not her treachery.”  Or perhaps this prophetess knew how God felt?  I wonder why it is so easy to condemn others when God doesn’t?

So, let’s look at the story.  The children of Israel have entered the promised land.  Joshua has died.  Some of the tribes obey God and pursue and destroy the surrounding people.  Some of the tribes get comfortable and do not obey and live amongst the people as their tributaries.  In Judges chapter 2 we hear from an angel of the Lord a message from God.  “I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, ‘ I will never break my covenant with you.  And you shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; you shall throw down their alters: but you have not obeyed my voice: why have you done this?’  Wherefore I also said, ‘ I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.'”  So, when the people forsook the Lord after Joshua died, His hand was against them.  But when they would cry out to Him, He would raise up a judge to deliver them.  Yet, after each judge, they would become worse than before.  Even so, the Lord would continue to raise judges when they cried out and He would continue to deliver them.  But Lord, You had a purpose in not allowing Joshua to drive out all the nations.  This was a proving ground for Israel.  “That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.”  (Judges 2:22)  Actually Judges 3:2 tells us that You left these nations “Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof…”  Funny thing is, that because of sin, we live in a world where we are constantly at war.  We are continually raging a spiritual battle.  The danger comes when we forget that.  And that’s what Israel was forgetting, with each succeeding generation.

So the children of Israel would cry unto the Lord and He would raise up a deliverer known as a judge.  He wasn’t a judge like in the sense we think of.  He was a deliverer.  The first one was Othniel who prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.  But then after his death the children of Israel did evil again.  So God strengthened Eglon against them.  The children of Israel cried out and God raised up another judge named Ehud, this left-hander who secretly hid a double edged dagger on his right leg, went before King Eglon with a present and then told Eglon he had a secret he needed to share.  While alone in the room, he plunged the dagger deep into Eglon’s belly, locked the door behind him, and left Eglon to die in his chamber.   After him came Shamgar.  And after straying after Shamgar came the persecution of Jabin’s rule, the people crying out, and God raising Deborah as judge.

Now, unless you can show me evidence that God failed to raise a man and that’s how Deborah became judge, don’t even bring that up.  The children of Israel cried unto the Lord and Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, judged Israel at that time.  Now Deborah was not only raised up by You God to be a judge- a deliverer, but she was also a prophetess and so people would come to her when they needed right judgment.  Don’t confuse the two.  So she hears from God, from You.  Yes, she’s a prophetess so she actually hears Your voice, God, sharing with her or has visions but this is real stuff and real direct communication from You.  And she hears that You had commanded Barak to take 10,000 men to the river Kishon, and You would deliver Sisera, King Jaben’s warlord, into their hands.  She calls Barak to her and reminds him these words because obviously You had shared them with Barak also.  But instead of starting out on the way, Barak says, “If you go with me, then I will go.  If not, I will not go.”  So much for Barak’s confidence in You, Lord, huh?  Now here enters what we think of as the beginning of Jael.  Deborah answered, “I will surely go with you: notwithstanding the journey that you take shall not be for your honor; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”

Do you really think that God was suprised when Barak wouldn’t go unless Deborah went?  Do you think that God didn’t see that coming? Do we forget that You are omniscient, God?  You know everything, even before it’s time.  Do we think that all of a sudden, You changed Your plans, and found this woman and just all of a sudden directed things in her path?  I don’t think any of this came by surprise.  I think just as You raised up Esther for such a time as her own, You raise each of us up.  I believe that Your raising begins before we were ever conceived in our mother’s womb.  When You spoke these words to Jeremiah, Lord, were they only for him?  Or were they for each of us to think about concerning Your calling on our lives?  “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)  So what if You already had placed a calling on Deborah and Barak and Jael and everyone else?  What if none of this was a surprise?  What if all of this was by divine narration?

Now let’s look at Jael.  Her husband was Heber the Kenite who was a descendant of Moses’ father-in-law who had come with the people of Israel.  But Heber had seperated from them and was a friend of King Jabin.  Jabin’s main man, Sisera, was losing this battle and running for his life.  So he ran toward a friend.  But Heber wasn’t there.  And let’s not think that Sisera is some good guy.  I mean, on one side we have this woman and wife and mother who is not trained in warfare.  On the other side we have this desperate warrior known to treat people terribly.  Let’s just put this in perspective here.

Sisera is coming under God’s judgment.  Because he was Jabin’s number one general, he was the one responsible for all the atrocities and oppression the children of Israel had been suffering.  He’s the enemy of both God and Israel.   He hated women and was a rapist.  Here’s the attitude of his mother- “to every man a damsel or two…”  Women were prey.  A woman was a thing to use.  And here is Jael, standing face to face with this kind of man, who could do atrocities to her.  But I’m thinking that Jael knows something of God and knows that God has already pronounced a death sentence against Sisera and that is why he is at her door, running in terror.

So I keep hearing how treacherous Jael was because she invited Sisera in under the pretense of hospitality and then kills him brutally in his sleep, this man who was trusting her.  But what about this man Sisera?  What is he actually requiring of Jael?  What danger is he putting her in even by coming to her?  Do we stop to think about that?  What if, just by Sisera being there, Jael’s life and the life of her people was now endangered and she knew it?  Is it right to bring the battlefield to your ally’s door?  Sisera did.  Was it right to deal with someone’s wife rather than the husband?  Sisera did.  Was it right to enter the tent of a married woman?  Sisera did.  He even did that while Jael was alone.  Was it right in those days to make requests of Your hostess?  Nope.  Sisera did.  Is it right to ask someone to lie for you?  Sisera did.

Here’s the thing.  This guy was terrifying.  Jael could have been terrified.  She had every right to run when she saw him coming.  But maybe he would have slaughtered her and her people in anger.  She could have been fearful, fainted, or acted hysterically, but she didn’t.  She could have submitted to him.  But God had Sisera submit to her.  And being wise as a serpant and gentle as a dove, she did what she could and what she had to in order to side with You God.  She risked her life.

Jael was weaker in strength.  How could she ever fight against Sisera?  Are you people for real who call her treacherous and heartless?  If she didn’t side with God, all of Israel would have come in and slaughtered all of those siding with Sisera.  But she sided with God and the people of Israel.  I have no idea where her husband was.  I have no idea who’s side he was on.  Maybe he was staying away in fear.  But not so Jael.  She accepted her God-given responsibility for her family, her people, and her life.  She did the hard thing.  And God, You praised her for it.

“So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.”  (Judges 4:23)  Deborah offered this to begin her song of praise, “Praise you the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.”  Isn’t that what Jael did?  Didn’t she willingly offer herself, despite her weakness, despite her fear?  “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.  He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.  She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. “  Certainly that’s not a pretty picture.  But stop to think of all the blood and gore and rape and everything that preceeded this picture.  Think of what Jael knew.  What if you were a woman in that situation during that time period and in that culture?  What would you do to obey God and stop further travesties?  You know, it’s one thing to have the praise of men or women.  But it’s a whole other thing to have You, God, speak through someone to pronounce Your blessing upon someone.  For Jael, You spoke blessing over her through Your prophetess Deborah.  For Mary, You spoke the same blessing, “Blessed are you among women,” through Your angel.  And Elizabeth, who was sensitive to Your Holy Ghost, agreed with that blessing.  So the question is, will I choose to be sensitive to Your Spirit and agree with You or choose my own way?

If we stop and think about it, this really isn’t such a foreign story.  It doesn’t take a general or a king to abuse other people.  But it does take an attitude of condemnation and apathy to allow it to continue.  My prayer is that we as a people of God would really start agreeing with God and seeing things Your way, Lord.  My prayer is that we would start seeing that living together isn’t about a male/female heirarchy.  What if we started remembering that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”  Maybe if we stopped showing favoritism, we could actually love each other the way we were created to.  It’s funny how when a spy in God’s army uses deception, no one condemns him, but a woman is held to a higher standard.  Well, God, I’m just grateful that I only have to live up to Your standard and not the standard of other people.  So just help me to learn Your standard more and more every day.   And whatever standards I’ve set that don’t match up with Yours, teach me to drive the nail right through their head.