Eating His Words

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“Moreover he said unto me, ‘Son of man, eat what you find; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.’” Ezekiel 3:1

 
So here is Ezekiel still listening and being instructed and being equipped by the Lord. These words being given are not just any angel’s words. These are words of truth and judgment from God. And Ezekiel isn’t just supposed to hear them. He’s to hear and do, to hear and follow through, to hear and heed, to hear and be changed. And I thought I was going to talk about that hearing in verse 10, but I can’t get past a word in this first verse. It has just stopped me in my tracks. And that’s ok, Lord, because isn’t that part of hearing and listening, that I defer from my plan and pay attention to yours? And if one little word says, “Listen to me and don’t pass me by,” shouldn’t I obey?

 
Ezekiel can’t eat Your words until he “finds” them, can he? And eating Your words is important because they are our life sustain-ers. We have to imbibe them so that they become a part of us from the inside out. They have to become our sustenance to show that You are our very Sustenance.

 
Now, if I just look at Strong’s Concordance, I think of this word “find” or “matsa” in Hebrew maybe as something I just happen upon, that maybe exists upon my way or comes forth to be. Is there much significance to me if I just happen to attain something? Is there a difference between me finding or acquiring and my taking hold on something? Maybe it would behoove me to try to understand this finding better.

 
Remember that our problem here is a rebellious, hard-hearted people who should have known and loved and obeyed their heavenly Father. But they were rejecting Him and Ezekiel was to be their messenger to give them the opportunity to turn back to God. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have all the information that they needed to already find You, God, and love and serve You. It wasn’t like Ezekiel was being sent to a lost tribe who didn’t even know about You.
Let’s go all the way back to 1 Chronicles 28:9 to try to understand this finding, this word matsa. “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” This isn’t new stuff here, but it certainly is serious stuff.
If you read and listened closely enough so that you really heard the words, you see that idea or reality of seeking God and finding Him. It’s attainable. It’s doable. But it’s not something we can do all on our own. We have to take part in that action, but You actually let Yourself be found by us!

 
Matsa’ is a word about finding. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for someone, some place, or some thing, matsa’ is that word that you use when you discover what you have been looking for. In this verse in 1 Chronicles it’s not used any differently than that. But we learn more by understanding the form of the word. The form here “tells us that the action is [a] continuous, present tense, passive event…instead of me finding God, He actually finds me—but He lets me think I’m doing the work because He wants me to be encouraged for my effort.” (Skip Moen) It’s the same thing You’re telling Ezekiel. “You eat, Ezekiel. You find My words and take them in, and then follow through on them.” But did Ezekiel make up the words? Did he find without God showing him? Absolutely not. God, You prepare the table for Ezekiel and You prepare the table for each of us.

 
So here is this table, this table of abundance, filled with more than satisfaction, and it’s all right here before us. Just like in Psalm 23, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” The problem is, we handle it wrongly. We whine, “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers.” (Isaiah 58:3) Here, the people find their desire. It’s still that word matsa. Remember how it means “to find” and also “to come upon, reach, attain”? It’s that same word as in Deuteronomy 4:29, “ But if from thence you shall seek the LORD your God, you shall find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” This kind of finding comes from seeking. But in Isaiah, they were fasting not to seek God, but to seek being noticed, or to seek the reward of the blessing. The sad thing is that we can seek the delights from God without ever seeking the delight of God Himself.

 
How can someone seek delight from You without seeking You? I can seek an emotional satisfaction from knowing I’ve done a good job. My practicing of my “religion” can give me a good feeling about myself. I can delight in that feeling. I can delight in how people view me. I can delight in my own goodness. I can delight in the monetary blessing or position of being valued and listened to. I can delight in a ministry. I can delight in my own works. I can delight in my own image or my own ideas.

 
Whether I eat from Your table or refrain from it in order to fast, my goal is not all about the table. My eyes and heart ought to be set on the One who provides the table. My goal ought to be righteousness and restitution and repentance, not feeling better about myself. My goal ought to be knowing You more and worshipping You with all I am and delighting in Who You Are and how You even arrange things in my life so that I CAN find You. It ought to be all about GIANT YOU even finding tiny little me, and REVELLING IN THE TRUTH AND JOY OF IT SO THAT I MUST JUMP UP AND DOWN AND DO HANDSTANDS UNCONTROLLABLY AND THEN FOLLOW THROUGH IN TOTAL OBEDIENT LOVE! (Oh, did I get a little excited there? ) The proof of the pudding is in whether my actions change my expectations or demands on myself and on others. Has my heart been transformed? Or am I just looking for a good feeling? What have I really found? Anything, or just some pretend idea? You want us to really find You.

 
So why was Ezekiel able to find You when what seemed like the rest of Israel couldn’t? “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Nope, it wasn’t new stuff here. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what to do. I think it’s the same for most of us today. It’s not new stuff. And it’s not like we don’t know what we ought to do and what we need to do.

 
We’re all running around asking, “What is the meaning of life?” Well, the answer has always been right in front of us. “The answers to life are found in seeking God.” (Skip Moen) God promised that those who seek Him would find Him. When Jesus shared, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” (Luke 11:9) He wasn’t coming up with some new idea. He was restating what should have already been known. From day one of creation, it’s what our lives were designed to be. We were created to seek the kingdom of God above and before everything else, and to seek His righteousness, and the rest of what we were designed for flows from that to us. And you can’t seek the kingdom and God’s righteousness without seeking Him.

 
Jeremiah uses this other word for seeking. It’s about diligently searching for knowledge. And that’s what causes a problem for many of us. Because we start thinking knowledge is about what we do, like religious activity, instead about who we know, like You God. We start replacing You with good works and ritual and rules and books about You and people’s testimonies. That’s why we burn out and feel empty.

 
Mary, in the middle of a busy day, found God in His temple. How? In her house, in all the business, she sat down at the feet of Jesus. She chose the place of a disciple, the place of closeness and intimacy, of quietness and learning, of being filled and restored. Martha was choosing service and doing the proper thing, the good thing. But Jesus said that Mary chose what was better? Was Mary lazy? No. But she was willing to drop everything to enter the kingdom of God and sit in His presence. She was seeking His kingdom first. She was soaking up His righteousness. And from that, she would be able to take those things to those around her.

 
Unless we eat of Your flesh and drink of Your blood, unless we are that intimate with You that You are changing us from the inside out, how will You or anyone else recognize us as Yours? Here’s the thing, we get to choose to seek You or not. “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me.” (Proverbs 1:28) It’s not unusual to lose things and find them. It’s a very common occurrence in life. So it’s easily understood. But there’s a problem when we think we can seek God’s kingdom and wisdom but we choose to reject His rule. It doesn’t work that way. We become blinded. We grope and won’t find even when the answer is right within our grasp. We could put our hand right on it and not recognize it. The answer becomes invisible to us. The sad thing is that it was right there for us, it was ours, but by our own foolish decision we lost the gift that should have been ours all along.

 
I want to find what You place before me. I want to see You and know You and revel in knowing You and following You and walking in Your ways. I want to know how You feel about me by experiencing You. I want to know the power of Your resurrection and the power of Your love and the power of everything that is You. I want to know the beautiful wonder of You. And with that wonder comes hard things for me, just like for Ezekiel. Imbibing You, dwelling in You, means I can’t dwell in the world the way it is the same way. Knowing You and finding You means knowing and finding the power of Your resurrection and the fellowship of Your sufferings. But if I am really Yours, if I want to really find You and know You, then I must let myself be found and found fully. I must let You have all Your power over me. Because Your desire is to make us a nation of priests after Your own heart, influencing the world around us in You. Your eyes run to and fro, back and forth, over the whole earth waiting to show Yourself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are complete in You. Why would I want to ruin such a good thing?

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Oh, To Be Greatly Beloved

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“At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I am come to declare it; for you are greatly beloved; therefore look into the word, and understand the vision.” (Daniel 9:23)

 
Can you imagine God sending Gabriel, an angel who stands before Him waiting for His command, coming to you and telling you that God has heard your prayers and made a declaration according to them and, to top it all off, that you are greatly beloved? Now I’m going to leave arguments over the prophesy to others today. But I want to examine Daniel’s heart. I want to see what it is that causes God to delight in someone like that.

 

Why? Because I want to be that kind of a person. I want God to experience shear delight in me. Isn’t that what we were created for? Isn’t that part and parcel with glorifying God?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts off by asking this question, “What is the chief end of man?” And then it answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Where did they get this from? Well, you can read Psalm 86, Isaiah 60:21, Romans 11:36, and 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 10:31 to see. But don’t forget to look at the clincher in Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” Am I bringing God pleasure with my life? Am I fulfilling my God-given purpose on this earth? Or have I given myself some other foreign purpose? And if I have adopted some foreign purpose for my life, is that really even living at all?

 
I can’t help but think how fully alive Daniel was. He’s lived through at least two kingdoms being overthrown, probably the death of his parents or at least total separation from them and another nation trying to wipe away his identity. But how does he respond? He holds on to his identity, but not with bitterness, and clings to You God and Your ways in a nation where it was anything but easy. But it’s as though he were living for You and living to please You in all he was. He wouldn’t eat what would be unpleasing to You. He wasn’t rude to those around him or why would they find favor in him? Was that a typical Jewish response to Gentiles and overthrowers? That was a God response in a young man or boy who cherished You.

 
He didn’t stop there. As a man, he not only wanted to save his life and that of his Jewish brothers, but cared for the lives of the other “wise” men and trusted You for the interpretation of the king’s dream. But he was not self-confident. He asked his brothers to pray and fast and did likewise because His confidence was in You, the One he delighted in. Even fear of the king’s anger at the outcome of a dream did not hold him back from sharing Your truth.

 
How boldly he stood before Belshazzar when summoned, probably in his 70’s and yet he had not forgotten all that You had done before. He held Belshazzar accountable before You and the people for not remembering and being moved to action by what he knew about You. He was so delighted in You that he cared nothing for the rewards offered by the king.

 
On the other hand, You were so delighted in Daniel that when the kingdom was overthrown, You gave those rewards and more to Daniel anyway. Because of You and his love and honor of You in everything, Daniel’s character stood out in every reign and he was continually chosen as a leader and advisor even to the kings. Which brings me back to this saying, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

 
I can’t help bringing up this verse again and again. What does it mean, especially in context today? I mean, God, You are continually concealing things and giving us, like Daniel and the kings, things we need to search out but that You know the answer to. And maybe that’s the point. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. You carry the weight of knowing everything and when is the right time to reveal it and who are the right people to reveal it to lest it be like pearls trampled by the swine. But is it really only for kings to search it out? Or do we receive the honor of a king, are we acting like a king ought to act, when we, whoever we are, like Daniel search out every matter according to You and in You? Daniel was not a king and yet he received the glory of a king by kings and from You. Why?

 
Could it be because Daniel delighted in the King of kings? It’s so hard for us to grasp this since we live in a democracy because Your kingdom God is not a democracy. You are King. If Your thumb is up we live, if down, we die. What You say goes, despite what we say. Skip Moen shares, “It is the King’s right and prerogative to involve himself in any aspect of any life under His authority. Furthermore, since God is the King of all the earth, everything belongs to Him. He doesn’t have to prove ownership in a court of law. He cannot be stripped of His property. What He decides to do with His possessions (including you and me) is entirely up to Him. And He holds everyone under His domain accountable for their treatment and stewardship of His resources. There are consequences for refusing to live according to the will of the King. In the days when we are awash in political rhetoric and the promises of leadership, it is well to remember who the King really is. No matter who we choose to lead us, they must answer to Him. So must we for our choosing. If we choose leadership that does not honor Him, we will pay the price. There is only one King, and He is not on the ballot.” And Daniel shows us how to live according to the True King who is not on the world’s ballot.

 
Kings would be wise to search out matters God’s way who conceals and reveals. But it’s not just for kings. We can reap the honor of kings, and especially our King, to live as the kings aren’t living, to love the One the kings aren’t loving, to honor the One the kings ought to honor. Earthly kings and kingdoms are temporary. Come on, look at history. But the True King and His Kingdom are forever. Like Daniel, I better learn how to live under and for Him now. Like Daniel, I want to love and enjoy service under my King all the days of my life.

 
Daniel’s heart was so sensitive to You Lord. He not only thought of himself but of those around him. He lifted up the whole nation and advocated for them, identifying in their sin against You. He set his face unto You. You alone were His source of help and sustenance and answer to the things he didn’t understand. He was serious about hearing from You, so serious he fasted and prayed. He knew You and knew Your word. He sought You out everywhere, looking for Your evidences all around him. There was confusion and shame where You were not, but righteousness with You, and that, or rather You were what he sought. From You and in You were the mercy and forgiveness he sought. He understood that they belonged to You and weren’t just things You gave out. To find them, one must be in relationship with the One who emits mercy and forgiveness because they are part of His essence.

 

Daniel had been doing the job the kings should have done, seeking answers from God. But they weren’t. But since he was, God delighted in his delighting and gave him the answer of kings from Himself, the King of all.  And You send Gabriel to bring the answer to this man who has been spending his life delighting in You, to this man who You hold as beloved. You send this angel named Gabriel from Your presence into his, to share a prophecy. Now, whether that was concerning “Messiah the Prince,” search it out like a true king, I won’t tell you. But the next two times that Gabriel shows up, he’s telling Zacharias that his son will be a forerunner before the Lord, and he tells Mary that her son will be called “the Son of the Most High.”

 
There are a lot of things in our lives that aren’t clear to us, a lot that is concealed before us. If I want to know the truth about it, I need to seek it out from one Source, God alone. I need to stop living like the world and start living like You and loving like You and delighting in You above everything else around me. I need to be willing to sacrifice my comfort in this world, to be comforted by and in You. If You aren’t my most beloved then how can I expect to be Your beloved? We reap what we sow, right? How much of myself am I truly sowing in You? When I think of all that You have sown into people who continually fail You and disregard You, I am amazed and shocked. Because I have been one of those. And yet You love me, and gave Your Christ to return me into Your glory that I might love and serve You again and be loved by You. I guess we’ve always been loved. But it’s maybe greater to be beloved because it’s a reciprocal relationship experienced and treasured by both parties. That’s the kind of relationship Daniel had. And that’s the kind of relationship I want, no matter the cost.

Unwrapping the Knowledge

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Photo credit to Minden-Press Herald.

 

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Hosea 4:5

Not just any people, but God’s people are perishing, are dumb, are silent, are failing, are being cut down and undone utterly. Why? For lack of knowledge. I’m wondering if “lack” here is the best interpretation of the Hebrew beliy. I mean, the truth is that Paul tells us “that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2) So there was no “lack” of “knowledge” as we think of these terms. It was there. They had it. So what was the problem?

You tell us the heart of the problem with your subsequent words, “because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you.” Therefore, I see, that one can have knowledge right there in their grasp and yet still not have knowledge. I can have a “form” of knowledge, yet it be totally worthless to me because I don’t acknowledge the knowledge for what it truly is.

The Psalmist in Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” But this is just the problem. The people of God turned their hearts to focus on worthless things and in so doing, treated their relationship with You as worthless and might I say, worth less. Your pleasure, Your will, Your image became to them good for nothing compared to the other things that lured them. They treated Your ways as garbage or trash and went after other gods who offered them things the way they wanted them. In treating You like garbage they fell into worshiping that which was garbage and that which couldn’t deliver anything but lies and harm.

That word translated as lack here is a strong emphatic word in Hebrew. It’s a pronouncement about the character of a thing and in this case, of a people. It’s usually about moral character. It’s about people choosing to “practice and promote disobedience to God and man” even though they have all the knowledge to know better and do better. But You look at their life and call it worthless, not because You see no value in them, but because they are depriving themselves of their own worth and their own purpose upon this earth. These people were choosing to defy God and practice and promote what was totally against Him. They would choose to defy their very purpose in creation. Now that’s a sticky situation.

So, what kind of knowledge was lacking or made worthless by the people? The knowledge of God. It’s the heart of all true knowledge. Solomon shared, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) That doesn’t just mean that we can know about things because we are afraid of God. It’s not just about a proper perspective on life. It’s about respecting and honoring God for who God is, for all the magnitude of who He is. And then it goes beyond respect and honor into a personal, intimate relation with Him as someone who is alive and cares and shows that care.

Do I know that God cares for me? Do I know the depths of Your caring? Later in Hosea, he will use the term “knowledge of God,” daath Elohim. And the truth is that knowledge in the Hebrew sense always means more than knowing with Your head or having a strong theological background. It’s all about being human, every range of it. Knowing, really knowing involves every aspect of the emotions, the will, and the intellect. The head and the heart work together. Head knowledge effects heart knowledge and, I suppose, vice versa. It’s not just cognitive. It’s not just rationalized thinking.

When examining the Hebrew word most often used for knowledge, yada, Heschel suggests it this way, “an act involving concern, inner engagement, dedication, or attachment to a person. It also means to have sympathy, pity, or affection for someone.” It’s the farthest cry from correct doctrine. It’s greater than obedience. It’s far greater.

“Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel: for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” (Hosea 4:1) God’s broken heart is crying out to his children. We see Your heart in the image of the marriage analogy. How would our hearts feel if that were to happen to us? Wouldn’t we feel it? Well, God feels it too because it’s not just reading about a relationship, it’s an actual real living relationship with real live attachment and commitment and hearts involved. God feels everything, all the hurt, the humiliation, the sorrow, the betrayal, and more. He knows the consequences of His lover’s choice. He knows what she is missing and what she will receive instead. Her problem is she is lacking a heart knowledge. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know Him at all or she would never leave His side. She didn’t even know what she had when she was there with Him. How tragic.

Knowledge is not about information. It’s about reciprocal feelings. It’s about reciprocal sympathy. It’s about feeling the way God feels, understanding how God understands, loving as He loves, acting as He acts, enjoying what He enjoys. And it’s not even about us each doing it on our own. It’s about doing all this along with You, God. It’s about a relationship of enjoying You as much as You desire to enjoy us. Knowledge is knowing You intimately and enjoying You intimately and personally as much as You enjoy us. It’s delighting in You as You delight in us.

But Israel and Gomer aren’t the only ones not weeping over the intimacy they are missing. Many nations and many of us in the nations are not weeping over the love we’ve thrown away and wasted and lost. We’ve numbed ourselves to the pain of separation. We no longer agonize over You, who ought to be our dearest One. There is no heart for You. And that’s the saddest part.

And then we read and hear about the divorce rate skyrocketing today. But here we have the contrast of God’s love. Because He holds on to the people of His own choosing. He refuses to let them go and give up even though they don’t even care about how He feels. They make love to everything You hate, and yet You continue to love and call them back. They choose to become animals instead of the Beloved. But You don’t give up hope.

No, it wasn’t because Israel lacked information. And it’s not that we lack information either. It’s that we lack “sensitivity, empathy with God.” (Skip Moen) Are we any different? Do I feel what You feel, Lord? Do I share the same sensitivity? Do I cry with You? Do I agonize over what You agonize over? Do I care enough about You to be willing to die to more than myself? Do I care enough about You to be willing to just die to whatever I had to, even if it meant death itself? Because this Husband gives more than I could ever imagine. His life, through Christ, was spent for mine, not out of duty, but out of immeasurable love. He owed me nothing, yet gave everything. And this is GOD who did that. This is GOD. This is the ONLY GOD who has ever and would ever go to those extremes for the love and redemption of His people, His own creation.

I can run around in the midst of my own lies, living any way I want, but it would just be an utter waste of my life. There is absolutely nothing that compares to You and Your love God. Absolutely nothing. I can choose my own way and disregard You and start perishing today. Or I can regard You in Your fullness and know You better than I know myself. I can delight myself in You, the only God who delights Himself in me. And in that kind of knowing and experiencing and living it out, I can see the desires of Your heart come to life in mine as Your love blossoms in me. It would be a shame to be destroyed for lack of knowledge when you held that knowledge right there all along and never experienced it because you never even opened it up and looked inside.

I Can Taste the Music

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Photo credit to http://www.tastethemusic.co.uk

“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12

This is awful news.  The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold.  People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way.  They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others.  National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.

What is the example of the impending destruction that is used?  A household.  A household of 11 people.  Plague.  Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle.  And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned.  Why?  “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that?  Did the You say not to make mention of Your name?  F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it.  Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You?  I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name?  Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were?  I don’t know, but it’s a thought.

Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God, than to hear the truth about ourself?  Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up?  It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall.  You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us.  It didn’t start out bitter.  But twisted hearts twisted the taste.

I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words.  He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You.  Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled.  It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being.  It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life.  It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship.  It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You.  It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You.  It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness.  It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are.  It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship. 

Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from, to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember.  “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.”  In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing.  It is separate and distinguished.  It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful.  Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.

But everyone is given free will.  And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives.  We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things.  I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own.  I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong.  Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing. 

I love that word, tsedaqah.  It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-ness that flows from God.  It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way.  But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.

Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?”, we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?”  Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises?  Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day?  Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You.  Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building.  And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You?  Have we not taken to us power by our own strength?  Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?”  Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God.  But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.

Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us?  Why would You seem to forsake people?  Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied.  God is in exile; the world is corrupt.  The universe itself is not at home.”  If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers.  I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be.  It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness.  After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven.  Why doesn’t it happen?  Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways.  I won’t listen.  I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water.  Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it, I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.”  But who really is the foolish one?

The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits.  Oxen don’t go plowing in rock.  For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way.  It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day.  Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts  9:5)  Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today.  That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew.  It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle.  But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse.  Now think about that.  Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison.  Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us.  It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into.  And then the problem is we can’t find our way out.  We wind up trapped there. 

Is there hope?  Yes!  When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul.  We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?”  And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives.  I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord.  I will know Your will and do it.  I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it.  You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before. 

Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again.  Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them.  Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’”  Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song.  But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first.  I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever.  You are worthy, not me.  You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours.  Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me.  No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.

A Yada Kind of Knowing

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“For the LORD knows the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”  Psalm 1:6

There are two people being discussed in this Psalm.  On one hand we have the righteous and on the other hand we have the ungodly.  So what makes one a righteous person?  A righteous person delights in You, Lord, and Your ways and thinks about You and Your ways all the time.  A righteous person who is occupied with delighting in You and thinking on You, bears fruit in their life that resembles You.  The ungodly, though, have nothing firm to stand on, no foundation, no root from which they can draw life sustaining sustenance that resembles You.  But what hit me here isn’t at all about thinking about whether I am among the righteous or the ungodly only, but what it really means that “the LORD knows the way of the righteous.”  I mean, to me, it’s one thing to think that I have an inkling and am coming to learn Your ways.  But to think that You know the way of those who trust in You is something I want to think more about.  Stop and think.  God knows my way.  But those who don’t delight in God, there is no mention of God knowing their way.  There’s just mention that it will perish.

What does it mean that You know the way of the righteous, of those who delight in You.  It’s this word yada that I’ve gotten excited about before.  It’s all about knowing with the head and the heart and the actions.  It’s knowing and experiencing something.  And the more I read about it and the more I think about it, it’s as though You know us personally and interact with us personally.  It’s not like You just set things in motion and then stand back and watch.  That’s not yada.  It’s not just about seeing.  It’s about seeing and being involved.  It’s about seeing and experiencing.  It’s about being a part of the action with us.

Imagine that yada, or knowing, for God involves the emotions, the will, and the intellect.  That means that You, God, have feelings for us and toward us.  You weep when we stray or when we are too blind and stubborn to see and desire Your way.  Your will desires our presence with You.  You know everything about us and everything that is best for us.  I mean, let’s face it, You are all-knowing.  Therefore You are all-yada.

That doesn’t mean You don’t love those who are perishing, but because of who You are, those who do not make Your ways their ways, cannot be found righteous and come before You.  Why?  Because all people are invited into Your yada.  We are invited to know You as You know us.  We are invited to know You with our emotions, our will, and our intellect.  But some choose their own way and not Yours.  And sometimes, those who have chosen Your way, pick their own way up and need to be reminded of what we miss when we do so- the presence of God.

Listen to Isaiah’s words,  “For I desired loyal love, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)  Here, the prophet Hosea is sharing Your heart with Your people who were prostituting themselves with Your enemies!  He pleads for them to return to You and the tearing and being smitten would be healed and they would be bound up.  You would revive them and raise them up and they would live in Your sight.  They wouldn’t just live.  They would see Your face, they would know Your face, because they could live in Your presence!  Then they would know You and Your ways, if they chose to follow You and Your ways.  Then You would come to them.  Why would we refuse that?  Who in their right mind would refuse You like that?  Maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe our minds are the problem and we busy them too much with thinking about other things.  Maybe if we started filling our minds with You, and cut off the other thoughts that want to grab our attention, we’d know what really mattered.

The truth is that Your heart breaks over us.  You feel distress, disgust, anger, betrayal, hurt, humiliation, heaviness, and hopelessness.  You feel.  But the question is, what kind of sympathy do we have for You?  Do I feel what You feel?  When my thoughts are occupied with other things, do I feel the separation?  Am I weeping over missing Your love?  Am I agonizing because our relationship is broken?  Do I even have a heart for You or am I just going through the motions?  How stupid will I let myself become?  How callous can I be?  Do I cry for You like You cry for me?

You know, God, I know a ton about You.  But it’s not about knowing info, is it?  How much do I feel the way You feel?  How sensitive to You am I?  How’s my empathy with You?  Do I really know You as You know me?  Is my life right?  Then my focus will be right.  Is it?

“YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)  “He knows those who take refuge in Him.”  Why do they take refuge in Him?  Because they know, so they do it and they feel it.  It’s a package deal.  We understand the relationship that You are offering here.  You are offering me shelter.  Why?  Because I need it.  Now, if someone offered me shelter when I was in need, how would I feel about that?  I would be emotional.  But that also means that the One offering me shelter has emotions toward me, emotions like empathy, concern, and pity.  This is not someone who is aloof, distant, and removed.  This is someone who wants to be intimately involved with us.  This is someone who wants us to want intimate involvement with  Him.  This is someone who feels deeply for us and wishes us to feel as deeply for Him.  Yada is all about unity, you know, “That they may be one” kind of unity.  God loves me.  He REALLY loves me!  What will I do with a love like this?

It’s not just an Old Testament idea.  We see it out of Jesus’ own mouth.  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”  (Matthew 7:23)   The problem is it’s so easy for us humans to get distracted.  Actually, I think we’re born distracted and distractible.  And we are not all lucky enough to grow up where we’ve been surrounded by people who have experienced the love of God in their own lives.  And we think it’s so easy to make up our own way and that God’s just going to give us kudos, a pat on the back for the “cleverness of me.”  But if Your word is truth and You are the only way, the only truth, and the only life, then everything else is lawlessness, emptiness, and foolishness.

Sometimes I want to feel Your presence right here, and right now, all the time.  But sometimes You step back to prove how I will respond.  See, You are forever faithful, but what about me?  Will I be faithful when no one seems to be looking?  Will I be faithful in the dark?  Will I be faithful when I can’t seem to hear You or see You or feel You?  Will I be faithful when I feel lonely?  Will I be faithful when I am hurt?  You were.  And You are.  But what about me?

Do I know You and love You so much that I would walk through all these experiences and more and continue to cling to the desire for You and Your presence no matter how long it takes?  Or will I allow myself to be drawn away by things that instantly gratify, by things that seem to fill my needs, which in the long run, never match up to You and leave me wanting and without refuge?

Loneliness, pain, disappointment, feeling unloved, or feeling under appreciated are not excuses to give my heart to another.  If only I realized that my cry is for You and not for lesser things, I’d find You much sooner.  I wouldn’t have to spend so much time in the lonely, bitter wilderness, would I?  My longing for Your presence will not be satisfied by anything else but finally coming into Your presence.  How can I ever be at home in a place that wasn’t created to be my permanent home?   How can I ever be satisfied with putting my trust in another, or being comforted by another who was not created to satisfy all my desires?

What a strange place we live in that was created for the glory of the One who created it.  Yet, this place refuses to submit to His purposes.  And these people think they can trump His desires all the time.  Will I allow myself to live and think contrary to You?    There’s a way that seems right to a man, a way that is contrary to You, but it leads to death.  I don’t want to go that way, but I fall into that way sometimes.  I want to be better prepared to see that way coming and refuse to accept it.  I want to remember the yada You have for me every moment so that I can reciprocate that yada.  I want to feel about You the way You feel about me and act upon those feelings.  I want to stop being attracted to lesser things and lesser thoughts.  I want to delight in You and everything about You no matter how long or hard the wait to feel Your presence.  See, if I’ve already experienced You even once, then I already know, and I have no excuse.

So Lord, I want to live in the blessing that exists in knowing and experiencing You.  I don’t want to act in accord with those who don’t know You.  I want to choose to delight in You.  I want to fill my ears and mind and heart with You.  I want to listen to You and speak about You and walk around and appreciate You.  I want to learn to wait on You, and wait and wait and wait and wait if I have to.  Because if I can learn to do that in the really hard times, then that hope and satisfaction I will have in You when You come to me will be unsurpassable by anything else.  I want to think about Your Word and Your ways and You all the time.  And I want to experience Your living waters flowing through me and producing beautiful fruit.

I am so grateful that You don’t give up on me.  I am so grateful that You forgive me and renew me.  I am so grateful that You are not a God who is far away and aloof but that You love me with a real and genuine and present love.  I’m so glad that You love me in an emotional way but that it’s not just some gushy love.  It’s a love that paid a price, through Jesus.  So, Lord, let my love also stand the test.  May my love for You be willing to pay any price to hold fast to You and never let You go.

John got it.  I want to get it too.  “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”  “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.”  “He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.”  If I say I know You, then my life ought to show that I know You.  Words don’t cut the cake.  It’s only when you take the knife in hand and move your hand to slice that it happens. Thank You, Lord, for knowing me so intimately and inviting me to know You in that way, too.

My Great Reward

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

“Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:  otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:1

Am I living for a reward mentality?  Am I supposed to be living this “Chrisitan life” because I’m aiming towards receiving a reward one day when I get to heaven?  Is that what this and all my righteousness, all my good “deeds” are about?  Or is it something more?

Jesus, here You are warning me.  Be careful.  Be careful about what?  Be careful that when I’m doing the things that delight You, that I”m doing them for Your delight and not the delight of men instead.  Does it matter if anyone else knows what I’ve done, what “good” thing has transpired?  Does anyone else need to know it was from me?  Ultimately, was it really from me?  Because when I really get down to Your word, it’s actually You who are doing every good work in me.  If it’s a good thing and it comes out of me, it’s because I surrendered to You so that You could have Your way in me.  So whose good work is it anyway that I’m taking credit for?

What?  If I take credit for it before men, I won’t have a reward in heaven?  Why?  Aren’t there endless rewards?  Are Your rewards limited?  What reward am I looking for anyway?  And what reward do You desire to give to someone like me who doesn’t even deserve a reward based on my own merits?

Well, the Greek word is about a reward for work or payment for hire.  Misthos definitely has to do with action, effort, and behavior.  And I suppose there is always some sort of reward for our actions, for our behavior, for our efforts; there is always some type of consequence, whether good or bad, reward or punishment.  So if I receive my “full” reward now, then the just reward will go to those who have waited on You and there will be nothing but lack for those who wouldn’t wait.  So some recieve their “reward” now and will recieve suffering later because they’ve used their reward.  But others receive suffering now, and receive the reward in the Kingdom.  Didn’t Paul say,  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)?

We’re all working toward something.  We’re all expending our efforts on something.  The problem is that some of us are expending our everything on something that will leave us nothing in the long run.  But some of us are waiting on You, Lord, and You are what we are expending everything on and that is the only thing worth working towards.  Why?  Because You are coming quickly,  and You tell us, “I am coming quickly, and My reward with Me, to render to each as his work is.” (Revelation 22:12)  I think that there is something significant for me to understand there, that Your reward is with You.  It’s with You.  It’s not separate from You.  It’s with You.

At one point, You told Your disciples, Jesus, that they always had the poor with them, but You were not always with them.  That was before Your resurrection.  But afterwards, You told them the work You wanted them to be about, teaching others to observe all things whatsoever You had commanded them, and You went on to tell them that now, because of Your resurrection, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)  Hm.  The reward is with You.  You are with me.  That means that when I am with You, the reward is with me.  At least I think it does.  Therefore, the reward is always found in You.

Is that what my walk is all about?  Is it all about You and being with You and fulfilling Your desires?

2 John 1:8 tells us to watch ourselves, “so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.”  It continues to talk about people walking ahead and not abiding in Your teachings and not having God.  I suppose they have their reward and they didn’t consider You that reward worth clinging to.  But I consider You my reward and everything else emptiness.  So give me the desire to do the work that You require and that You delight in, because I want to be there doing Your Father’s work with You.  I want to be right in the midst of the rough of it with You because that’s where my reward is, wherever You are.

See, I’ve already had this glorious taste of the reward when I tasted You.  And as I remain in You and join You in Your work, I know that the full meal is coming to fruition when I will know You as I am known.  You will fill my cup and it will overflow with You.  Your promise to me is true.  You have already begun the work that will lead me to the final installment of Your peace and presence.

So after all this, I ‘m going to get personal.  What is my reward?  Do I complain when things don’t go my way,  when things that I believe are Your plan for me appear thwarted?  What is my treasure really?  Is it what I do or how I serve You?  So what if I can’t?  What if I was put in prison like Paul or so many present day martyrs in other countries?  Has that defeated me?  Has that defeated Your plans?  What if my family seems to be falling apart?  What if noone understands what You’ve layed on my heart?  What if everything goes wrong and falls apart around me?  What is my reward?  Where is my reward?

Sometimes, I forget that my focus is on You, Lord.  I get all caught up in what’s going on around me and the people around me.  I don’t even try, but it just happens.  I guess it’s kind of like Madonna’s song, I’m a “material girl” just by nature.  But I’m not a material girl by  the power of Your spirit in me.  I need to focus on You instead.  When You say that the “mountains may depart and hills be removed, buy My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” (Isaiah 54:10) I need to trust that and that alone.  See, You are the One who has compassion, true compassion on me.

I may feel afflicted, storm-tossed, and discomforted, but maybe it’s just a test of my faithfulness.  Maybe this is just a test of where my treasure is, of Who and where my reward really is.

The choirmaster in Psalm 46, one of the Sons of Korah, I think, learned this lesson through hard things. It appears that You were his treasure and his reward.  He put it to song.  He said, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  He must have stopped looking at the people and events around him.  He must have been surrounded with trouble but found Your presence even stronger in the midst of it.  He must have allowed himself to receive the reward of Your presence and strength and refuge in the midst of whatever was going on.   I doubt he started there.  I think it took the earth giving way sometimes, and the mountains being moved into the sea around him, and the waters around him roaring and foaming, and the mountains still trembling and the waters swelling.  But that’s when he realized that if it weren’t for You being with him, he would have perished.  That’s when he realized that if it weren’t for Your being a place of refuge, he would cease to exist.

This Son of Korah learned to focus his heart on You despite the storms around him.  And isn’t that what You warned me?  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  Where do I keep all my stores of treasure?  What is most valuable to me?  Is the reward what I get or what I get to do, or is my reward really You?  Then, even if the world should fall apart around me, if You are my treasure, if You are my Great Reward, what changes, because surely You never change.

Maybe I need to take Isaiah’s words in chapter 11 more to heart.  Maybe I need to delight in the fear of the Lord and stop judging by what I see with my eyes, or deciding by what I hear with my ears.  Maybe I need to remember the words to Abram, “I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.”  (Genesis 15:1)  Maybe I need to remember and not just remember, but really take it to heart and live like I believe it with all my heart and all my mind and all my life.

When Boaz was noticing how much Ruth had taken You to heart, Lord, he said these words to her, “The Lord recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to trust.” (Ruth 2:12).  What was he talking about her recompense being for trusting in You and living in that trust?  It sounds to me like the full reward was of You Lord.  I mean, maybe he meant that a full reward would be given from You, but I can’t help but think that You Yourself are the full reward that You give to those who seek You and display that seeking in trustful actions.

Where is my reward?  Isaiah tells me, “Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.  He shall feed His flock like a shepherd:  He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”  Though Israel has sinned and has reaped that price, their comforter is coming and His reward is with Him.  There’s a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  Sound familiar?  The glory of the Lord is revealed.  Could Jesus be the reward?  Could God’s redemption and forgiveness and grace and everything He gives us in Him be the reward?  What glorious work is before Him?  Is creation the climactic work of His hands or is a redeemed people with new hearts, a redeemed people after His own heart, a renewed people abiding in Him in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit His climactic work that stands as a testimony before Him?

Isaiah was really given to think about this reward.  “Behold, the Lord has proclaimed unto the end of the world, ‘Say you to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, His reward with Him, and His work before Him.'” (Isaiah 62:11)  Like Israel, God, You are continuing to make a people.  Your work is still going on.  You are still making a holy people, redeeming Your own, seeking us out, not leaving us forsaken.  You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with Yourself.  You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with the sacrifice and love of Your one and only Son, Your beloved Son.

The reward is my relationship restored in and with the God of my creation.  Everything that I lost by my choice to relate my being to my self and to the delight of others is restored when my delight in You is restored.  And the amazing thing is that You did all that work to get me back to delighting in You again.  You sought me so intimately that I experienced my need for You again, that I experienced my delight in You again.  You awoke in me what was lost and returned to me the reward I had forsaken.  It is You.  It was You.  But my focus was averted to other worthless things that had no power to reward because they are not the Reward itself.  There is One Reward above all rewards.  And I will only find it in my Father in heaven.

Circumstances can’t give me that reward.  All the blessings showered upon me from above can’t give me that reward.  No man can give me that reward.  No amount of good things I do will give me that reward.  No beautiful thoughts I have or any many shares can give me that reward.  I have no reward of my own to give back to You or to others if it is of myself or of other men.  If I want to have a reward to share with others, it must not only be of You, if must be You.  Simply stated, You, the Reward, must be my alms.

In Luke 11:40-41 You told the religious people, “You fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also?  But rather give alms of such things as you have; and behold, all things are clean unto you.”  Obviously it wasn’t the good stuff they had that made them clean.  They were like beautiful cups that were filthy on the inside.  They were empty of the real reward.  And You can’t give what you don’t have.  But if You have the Alm of Alms within, then beautiful stuff flows from within, the good stuff that God is made of, the good stuff that makes us clean and holy like Him and capable of God goodness and God love and God compassion and God giving.  See, I’m not blessed because I hear and do the good things I hear.  Jesus tells me in Luke 11:28 that I’m blessed, that I live in this blessed state because I hear Your voice, and keep it.  I guard it like my treasure because it is my treasure.  I value above everything Your reward.  Your reward is my life.

What You were telling that woman that wanted to “bless the paps which You had sucked,” is that unless I truly have a relationship in You, my relationship with You is empty.  The Word of God is a person.  This Person is my Reward.  Either I am in Him, and all of my being is placed in ultimate trust and dependency and preservation in Him, or my trust is elsewhere.  You are not just a good person, good idea, good thing.  You are the only Good One and the only One who can make me good.  Are You not only my most valuable treasure, my greatest reward, but are You my only treasure and my only reward?  Why?  “Because where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  Lord, I just pray that You would be what brings every beat of my heart to life and that my heart would continually run after You and with You.  I guess my prayer is that just as Your reward is with You, that my Reward would be with me and I would be with my Reward always, moment by moment.  May my alms come from You and may they be brought forth for Your glory, regardless of what others think or do.

Gird Up Your Loins Like a Man!

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Picture credit to The Art of Manliness and Ted Slampyak

“For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

Being familiar at all with Jesus’ walk on earth, this whole statement seems to not make sense coming from Him, I mean, considering that most of the scribes and Pharisees had a major problem with Jesus and considering Jesus was often calling them hypocrites.  Here were the “religious” people of the day.  These were the kind of people who would go in the Temple and pray out loud for everyone to hear and say, “Thank You, Lord, that I’m not a sinner like that one over there.  You know all the good things I do.”  Well, at least that’s how You tell it, Lord.  And then on the other hand there’s the tax collector, who goes into the Temple and beats his chest because he knows how unworthy he is.

But here You are, saying outright that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, the righteousness of man is not enough to make me acceptable to enter Your kingdom, to enter into an eternal relationship with You.  Unless my righteousness superabounds beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, I haven’t got a chance.  And I don’t.  I absolutely don’t have a chance on my own.  Because on my own, all the righteousness I could ever muster up could only at its best equal that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Because on my own, all the righteousness I could ever muster up from myself would just be that- my own righteousness, and that just doesn’t cut the cake.

I live in a world where somehow we’ve entered the mindset that we can establish our own righteousness.  Unfortunately, that’s an idea straight from hell.  It’s not a new idea either.  You, God, even accused Job of doing this.  “Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, ‘Gird up your loins now like a man: I will demand of you, and declare you unto me.  Will you also disannul my judgment? Will you condemn me, that you may be righteous.'” (Job 40:6-8) There is only one who establishes righteousness.  You, God, have set the standard and it is so much higher than ours.  Now, some of the world, maybe a lot, has absolutely no zeal for God.  And it’s not surprising that they don’t know or care about Your righteousness, Lord.  But Paul pointed this out about another group of people, and it applies even today.  “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”  (Romans 10:2-3)  But what is righteousness?

Paul continues, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.”  Let me think about this in more straight forward language.  I’ll borrow from the Complete Jewish Bible.  Their zeal “is not based on correct understanding; for, since they are unaware of God’s way of making people righteous and instead seek to set up their own, they have not submitted themselves to God’s way of making people righteous.  For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah [Jesus], who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts.  For Moshe [Moses] writes about the righteousness grounded in the Torah that the person who does these things will attain life through them.”  Paul also says that righteousness grounded in trusting says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

“Oh,” you say, “I read the Word and I’ve hid it in my heart.”   Just remember that the demons and Satan himself have the Word memorized and it’s ingrained in them too.  But they certainly aren’t righteous.  They live according to their own will and not God’s.  They live according to their own pleasure and not the delight of the Lord.  And they certainly don’t delight in You, Lord.  They are refusing to submit themselves under the goal of righteousness.  What is the goal?  Well, it’s a Who and not a what.  The goal is Jesus.  The goal is surrender to God’s way, to God’s plan, which totally throws our own righteousness for a loop.  The goal is trust in Jesus Christ.  See, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

So what does it mean when I hear, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”  It means that I have surrendered to God’s plan by surrendering my life and desires to His Son, Jesus Christ.  It means that I am learning moment by moment what His desires are and then surrendering my own desires to submit and delight under His.  It means that Jesus abides in me and I in Him by the power of His resurrection and the work of His Holy Spirit within me.  His word comes out of my mouth because He is flowing out from within.  He has given me a new heart with new desires.  He has changed my whole idea of righteousness and is continually molding it to make it more and more like His.  And it’s not something that happens on the outside.  He supernaturally changes me.  He supernaturally opens my mind and heart to agree with Him and to desire His way more than mine.  This is His righteousness that superabounds above the righteousness of man, even above that of the scribes and Pharisees.

This is righteousness in excess.  When the world mistreats me, because of this righteousness, I can continue not changed by the world but living above the world’s standards.  It’s a righteousness that takes me over the top.  It’s more than full.  It goes beyond every expectation.  It’s better than carrying a load for an enemy as far as asked.  It asks to carry it the whole way.  It’s over and beyond every expectation.  And it’s only found in agreement with You because it takes Your power in us to fulfill this.

I’m not going to define righteousness.  I think if we really are seeking, we know what it is.  It’s hard to define exactly, but we know what it really looks like.  And God, You didn’t just set the example for us in Jesus; You are righteousness.  See, it’s not about being right or doing the right thing.  It way exceeds that.  Let’s just look at Your example.  You created man.  We belong to You.  We owe You our allegience.  You said, “Don’t do that.”  Why?  Because You wanted us to retain our special relationship with You because You loved us and cared for us.  There’s nothing wrong with You desiring that same love back from us.  See, You chose to love us and lavish Your love on us.  Your desire is that we lavish that same love back on You.

But we don’t.  We take that lavish love, and think there is something better.  We turn away. We choose our own way.  We lavish our love on ourselves and other things.  We prove over and over again we don’t deserve Your lavish love.  We deserve Your wrath by the way we treat You with such disdain.  But in Your righteousness You do what is most right for us.  Think about it.  You don’t go against Your character, You uphold Your holiness, but You go beyond the limits of every expectation to make a way for us to not be condemned even though we deserve it.  You take all of Your standards, which are so much higher than ours, and You satisfy them all, for our sake, for my sake, in the person of Jesus Christ.  He exceeded the requirements because I couldn’t and wouldn’t.  He overflowed with You.  You “overdid” it in Him.  Jesus became more than enough righteousness for me.  He became so much more than enough for me, that some was left over.  And that left over is enough to enable me to live in You, to love Your way, and to be made righteous in and by You.

For God made Jesus to be sin for us.  This God man who never sinned, payed our price, our punishment.  And He did it so that we could live in the righteousness of God through faith in Him.  He’s the one that makes us righteous and He’s the one that increases the overflow of His righteousness in us.  It’s His righteousness alone in us that brings glory and praise to God.  Like Paul prayed for believers in Philippi, I want to be found in You, Lord, not having my own righteousness, but having the righteousness through faith in Jesus, that righteousness which is of God by faith, so that I will know, that I will experience, intimately, You and the power of Your resurrection and the fellowship of Your sufferings by being conformed unto Your image.  I want to gird up my loins like a man, submit, and let You be God in my life. Girding up my loins takes some thought and preparation if I’m a little boy, but by the time I’m a man, it ought to be automatic and a part of who I am.  So let my submitting to Your will, to Your righteousness, be so automatic in my life and prepare me for life and the battles ahead.