The God Who is Able

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“…and who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15

 
Of all the questions that King Nebuchadnezzar could have asked, this is the most appropriate. I have to thank the king for asking this question and setting up this whole situation to demonstrate the answer. Because there is no god who can deliver us. But there is one God who can. And it happens to be the same God who placed King Nebuchadnezzar on the throne for such a time as this, whether the king wants to give Him credit or not.

 
Now I have no idea whether this image, this grand idol, that he made was of himself or a god of his choosing. I’m not sure if that really matters. But to set oneself up as a god is a pretty dangerous image of oneself to have. And there will come a point when the one true God will show Himself just that. Hopefully, that’s before it’s too late for the self-elevated ones, that it’s while there is still time to turn to Him instead.

 
But there is more to this story than Nebuchadnezzar’s self-image or than setting up idols. It’s a story of a whole society falling down before a false idol at the command of a “strong man” because of fear. Why would the people fall down before this idol? Because they were afraid of being thrown into a fiery furnace. They were afraid of death. They were afraid of losing their life, their families, their wealth, their position. Rich or poor, they would lose it all by the power of death. So all the people fell down at the sound. Every people group represented bowed. All those people. All except three Jews.

 
Now there were other Jews who did bow down. I know that because there were representatives from every group, from every nation that was there, from every language that was represented there. That’s what was meant by all. And that makes me wonder. How long of a warning did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have to prepare? Did they lie awake at night knowing this moment was coming? Did they discuss what their response would be with fellow Jews? Did their stomachs turn thinking about it? I mean, even Jesus tormented over going to the cross so much so that He sweat drops of blood.

 

What of these men? Was it easy to remain standing when the whole world around them bowed down? I think I would have to be delusional to think this was easy for them.
Yet I do know that these men had made a resolve earlier in their lives, along with Daniel, to glorify the Lord. And it appears that the same resolve remained foremost in their lives. So, because of this resolve, it was told to the king that there were these particular Jews in high position, these three upstarts, who had disregarded the king, who didn’t serve his gods, and who would not bow down and worship the image per his command.

 
You just don’t do that or tell that to a king. He was enraged and commanded they be brought before him. “Is this true? I’m going to give you a second chance, but if you still don’t, it’s the furnace for you!” And I’m wondering why he would give them a second chance? Did he not truly trust the Chaldean accusers? Did he know the character of these three Jews? Even in his fury, did he actually care? Why didn’t he just throw them right in? Was truth and justice actually important to him?

 
The second chance was not accepted. Why not? I think to understand what is happening here, we have to jump back to chapter one and remember who these three young men are. These three young men are not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Those are their Babylonian names and we’re going to see how important that is. But even more important are their Hebrew names. Shadrach’s real name was Hananiah. It means God has favoured or God is gracious. Remember that. Meshach’s real name was Mishael which means “Who is like God?” And Abednego’s real name was Azariah, meaning “God has helped.” Hold those thoughts. See, names were very important in the ancient world. Names were a representation of who you were. This is what these young men had been brought up to believe and to live in their lives.

 
But now, enter captivity, and Babylon thought, “Ha, the jokes on you guys!” The goal was to meld them to the new culture. So they were given new names. Now pay attention here to the irony of the new names. Hananiah, “God is favoured” became Shadrach, “Command of the Moon-God.” Mishael, “Who is like God?” became “Who is what Aku is?” And Azariah, “God has helped” became Abednego, “Servant of Nabu (the Babylonian god of wisdom).” That’s a funny joke, isn’t it?

 
But the problem was that changing their names didn’t make them forget who they really were. They remained God’s children, regardless of their new names. Which brings me to their answer to King Nebuchadnezzar. I looked back at some of the Jewish translations of 3:17 as well as the King James Version, and do you realize it doesn’t say God is able to deliver us? It says, “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, He will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and out of thy hand, O King.” (Daniel 3:17 JPS) At first I thought, I don’t like that. But now it makes so much sense.

 
It’s like they were setting up Nebuchadnezzar and all of Babylon. “Let’s see who is the god who is able to deliver. Is it yours? Or is it ours? Who is God? Let’s see. If our God whom we serve is God, He will be able to deliver us from the fire and from you. If your gods are god, then we are doomed. If you are god, then we are doomed. So let’s see who is the true God? Let’s see if the Moon-god, or Aku, or Nabu are able here or if only God is able. Let’s see who the joke is really on.”

 
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were doing more than taking a stand of faith here. This was about more than three young men being strong on the part of their God. This was about displaying who God was before a whole nation. This was taking back the glory of God who had been ridiculed since they arrived. This was giving God the chance to shine as God before and over this pagan nation and all those that were bowing down to it. It was an opportunity to see God for who He really is and not just what we want to make Him to be.

 
Nebuchadnezzar had asked, “who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hands?” “Our God, Sir, if He alone is God is the One who is able to deliver us. If He is the true God, then He will deliver us from the furnace and from you. If He is not God, He won’t be able to deliver us and we’ll burn. So throw us in, because we’re putting our whole lives into the belief that He is God. We’re willing for you to use us as the guinea pigs, we believe so strongly. Because if it isn’t so, we might as well burn in the furnace anyway, because what would there be to live for?” That’s my paraphrase. You can check out Daniel 3 for their recorded words.

 
The king was so infuriated that he heated up the furnace seven times hotter than usual. He had them thrown in right there. It was so hot that the three guards tossing them in, where killed by the heat. But in they went. And among those amazing circumstances, Nebuchadnezzar is alarmed because though he sent three men inside the furnace, there were now four walking around inside, not burning up! And the other advisors saw and acknowledged it also. And none of those inside were hurt, and “the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” In other words, the fourth man resembled divinity, specifically God as though he were the son of God. Now maybe, Nebuchadnezzar was just saying he resembled divinity as in any son of any god, but I don’t think so. Don’t forget the play on words that was going on, and they all realized the play on words. It wasn’t a mistake. The Babylonians were mocking the God of the Hebrews and now the God of the Hebrews was turning the tables.

 
At that realization, Nebuchadnezzar calls the three men out of the furnace. They come out without even a smoke smell and no evidence of having been in the fire. Their hair and cloaks and bodies were unscathed. And right away, the king speaks, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed’nego, who has sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and have yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God…because there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort.” He didn’t know Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s real names but He saw their real God. He knew he hadn’t just seen any god. No god could do what God just did.

 
I guess here is what I get today, Lord. My outcome isn’t what I ought to look to. I ought to always be looking to Your glory.  How can I uphold You and Your image in the world around me when everyone else is bowing down before false idols? How I can I take my eyes off of me and focus them on You so that my actions shine You forth before people and draw them to You? How can I make my life and actions not point to me, but show You for all that You are? No matter what the world tries to feed me, do I really know who I am in You? Do I really know who You are? Do I really believe, “Who is like God?” Does my life demonstrate that? Am I willing to offer my life to give You opportunity to show who You really are? Would I be willing to die to not only my self, but to actually die if it would show the kind of God You are?

 
How long will I let the world use me as a pawn to mock You? Will I wear the name that the world gives me or will I display who I am in You by letting You be You at every opportunity no matter the cost? My name is important, but more important is Your name, God, because it’s all that You are. But You promise to give us new names, so special that only You and I know the measure of it, because it’s that personal. Listen, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the called out ones; to him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he that receives it.” It’s that personal, and so ought my relationship be with You God.

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Where Does My Help Come From?

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in Me is your help.” Hosea 13:9

 
Sometimes it’s so easy to forget where we came from. We live in a world of the “self-made” and the “self-proclaimed.” Somehow we think we got ourselves where ever we are. If we stop to think about it, how did we even get to be born and exist? Did we determine it? Did we choose the country we were born in, or our culture, or our parents, or our circumstances? But somehow we find ourselves thinking that I am in control of my own destiny. And in so doing, we are like Israel and destroy ourselves, because we miss out on the reality of life, that life is in God and that God alone is our help.

 
Funny thing is that even the name or word Israel means “he will rule as God.” Now that is not implying that Israel will make himself a god. That’s implying that Israel will rule just like God, that Israel will think like God, and love like God, and act like God, and have the mind and heart of God in what he does. It means that Israel was created to bear Your image before the world.

 
But here we have this image bearer who has destroyed himself and his image because he stopped trusting in the One who was every help he would ever need. What does God mean when He says “but in Me is your help”? How is He a help? Is a helper that important? So do we mainly do it on our own and then get a little “help” from God? Is that the idea here?

 
This word for help in Hebrew is ezer. Let’s look at how it is used in Scripture. Actually, the first two uses of this word for help are in Genesis 2:18 and 20. “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” And in verse 20, “And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” Why was it so important to God that Adam have a helper corresponding to him? Why was this so important from the start? Why did the very first “perfect” man in the beginning still need help? Why was it not good for him to be alone? Alone how? Help from who? What kind of help? Why would God design Eve from the stuff of man to give the help he needed and to keep him from being alone? And why would God use a masculine word to describe Eve?

 
But those aren’t my only questions. Where did help really originate. I mean, Eve’s not masculine so maybe the origin is not in Eve. Maybe it’s origin, the origin of help itself, is in and from God and His alone to impart. What if ezer, that kind of help, is a “divine characteristic”? What if it has to do with God and Your relationship with Israel? How does that work? What does that look like? How are You a “help”?

 
It’s interesting. Hosea shares God’s words to Israel, “Yet I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; and you know no God but Me, and beside Me there is no savior.” This takes us back to Exodus 18:4 where we see ezer again. Moses named one of his sons Eliezer as a declaration “for the God of my father was my help [ezer], and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” The ezer delivers from oppressors and rescues from danger. We have something similar in the next occurrence in Deuteronomy 33:7: “And this he said of Judah, “Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries.” What does this tell us of the ezer? “God assists, supports, and reinforces Israel against her enemies.” (Skip Moen)
The ezer doesn’t stop there. Psalm 33:20 declares, “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.” What kind of help is that? He is the deliverer and the one who showers with loving kindnesses (hesed). He blesses and watches over. Armies don’t save kings, strength doesn’t deliver warriors, war horses don’t save or rescue but this God, this Help does! This ezer can deliver even our souls from death and fill us with gladness.
We hear an honest cry in Psalm 70:5, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!” Are we afflicted and in need? God provides. Why do we look elsewhere?

 
Why trust? Because only God is our help and our shield. “O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” (Psalm 115:9) The kind of help we need, the kind of shielding cannot come from anywhere else. Only God is mighty enough to save the way we need to be saved.

 
Why rely on God’s help? “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God…” (Psalm 146:5) This is where all blessing, all true blessing and hope comes from. This is where it exists in reality. This is its origin and creator.

 
This, all of this, is help. This, all of this, is ezer. This, all of this, is God and God alone. If I am to be a help, then I can only be a true help if it is in the image of the One who IS HELP. Israel is not the creator of help and neither am I. The truth is that “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2) I didn’t make heaven and earth. I didn’t create life. Even when I gave birth to my daughters, the stuff that conception occurred from, someone else created it because there it was in my body without me putting it there. I mean, I didn’t even have a hand in forming myself. And it was the same story for my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother and on and on. How easily we exalt ourselves and give ourselves credit for things we have no power over.

 
Like Israel we sin more and more because we started giving credit to ourselves where it wasn’t due. We start seeing ourselves as our own helpers, even though it’s been You God all along. We design our own way, our own help, our own worthless idols. We think according to our own measly understanding. We become fickle and think of nothing past the here and now. We lose the eternal perspective. We create little minds grasping after air instead of great minds molded by a great God grasping after Your gloriousness and seeing and declaring greatness that is You.

 
Instead of bearing Your great image and helping like You help us, we hurt and destroy ourselves and others. We’re like morning clouds instead, that are here and then gone and leave no effect behind of any value. We’re like the worthless chaff blown away by the wind or smoke from a chimney that no one is benefitted by.

 
But the truth is that God is God. God delivered Israel from Egypt by His help. Israel was helpless on his own. Only God saves. Only God. Only God walked with Israel in the wilderness keeping the shoes and clothes whole over all those years and providing food and water. Only God fills. But the danger is in our filling and in our wanting to be filled when we want to be filled with anything other than You, God. When we hunger for other things, we help ourselves, and that’s trouble. Actually, that’s worse than trouble; that’s sin.

 
Israel isn’t the only one who has destroyed herself. You and I could be in the middle of destroying ourselves right now. Who is my help? Is it You alone, Lord? I want to be like the Canaanite woman who had the daughter who was troubled by a demon and she came to Jesus worshipping Him and said, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25) Or like the father whose son was tormented by demons who came to Jesus saying, “And often it has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us!” (Mark 9:22) I want to be like that father who then cried out to the Lord, “Lord, help my unbelief!” Yes, I want to come to where help originates and true help is found and given. I want to go to where Paul invited us with God. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) Paul knew and I know that our help, every help we need, is only found in You and that is where I want to be found- in You, all the days of my life, for in You is my help.

Mere Men

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“…for I am God and not a man…” Hosea 11:9

What would you do if you had a child who you loved and who you had rescued out of a bad place? What if he was in a bad place and you were calling him out, calling him into your love and protection and care and yet, the more you called the deeper he went away into that bad place? What if he engrossed himself in everything that stood against you?
What if you had taught this child to walk? What if you had lifted him up in your arms time and time again and even healed him? And what if all this went unnoticed and unappreciated? What if you had led them with all your kindness, and with all your love? And what if you had helped bear his burdens and even bent down to feed them? What if this is how you had loved and taken care of him and devoted yourself to him and he turned away from you and wouldn’t return? What then?

What if your child’s own counsel, his every thought was against you and causing all of this? What if when they called you it was because they wanted something from you and not because they wanted you at all? Would you stop loving that child? Would you stop caring?

Some mothers and fathers would write them off or disown them. Some mothers or fathers would be offended and angry. Some mothers and fathers would long for their child to return. Some mothers and fathers would try to force the child back. Some would search. Some would waste away in grief.

How would God react? How would You respond, Lord? How did You respond to Israel and Ephraim who did this? How are You responding as they still do this? How do You respond to us who do this and to us who are still doing this? What are Your words and what are Your feelings and what are Your actions?

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What does this even mean, like Admah and like Zeboiim? I have to run back to Deuteronomy 29 as Moses was speaking to the children of Israel. He had shared the blessing that would come by choosing to remain in the You and in Your way. But now he shares a warning of a curse. Now he shares the consequences of not living in You and Your way. And if we follow that route, we will come to Admah and Zeboiim.

Here was that child that You had rescued and delivered and loved and made Your own. Here is that child who was redeemed from Egypt. “Remember Who delivered you and what you were delivered from.” Why? Because it’s dangerous for a man or woman or family or tribe to let their heart turn away from their true deliverer and to turn back to serve that which is empty and dead like the gods of the other nations. Yet, even in the warning, some hear and choose to bless themselves in this way. Some choose to seek peace in that which cannot give peace. Some choose to walk in the stubbornness of their own heart and all the good that You have done for them is swept away.

This is sad because instead of receiving God’s love and provision, he will receive no pardon but only anger instead, and all that You said would befall One who is outside of Your care will come to pass. Worse yet, You say his name shall be blotted out from under heaven. He’ll be separated and not just separated but set apart to receive evil. He will receive hurt, and mischief, and grief and will not have a comforter. Why? Because this is what He chose. It’s not like God said, “I want to curse you. Go out and live so I can punish you.” Do we hear what God said? “Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”(Matthew 11:28) “Let the little children come unto me, and don’t stop them: for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16) It’s not God who chases us away into punishment. It is our own choice to separate ourselves.

The truth is that blessing and cursing are both part of covenant relationship. By keeping covenant with God, by keeping our relationship healthily intact, we receive the blessing of that relationship and in turn, bless God by our respect and love for Him. But to break covenant, to break relationship with You, God, is to enter into “sickness and death, barrenness in people and cattle, crop failure, poverty, defeat, and disgrace” instead. Our choice of what to do with our relationship with You determines whether we live blessed or cursed, not because You choose to curse us, but because life outside of You is accursed.

We’ve always been warned.  It’s written in Your word. It’s not like this is a surprise for anyone except those who have come in our footsteps, to those who we have lied to. There are those generations that have followed us from where we choose to live among the cursed things, and they look out at life and say, “Why are things so bad? Why has the Lord done this?” And one day we will have to answer truthfully in reply, “Because of us. Because we walked away from His covenant and we left His presence and protection. This is what happens.”

Our land and our hearts are of “brimstone, and salt, and a burning, that is not sown, nor bears, nor any grass grows therein, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.” Why? Because we forsook what was true and good and right and chose our own way, a way that caused those around us to fall and be sick and to hurt and to hurt others. Sodom and Gomorrah aren’t alone. Admah and Zeboiim went with them. Israel could go that way to and so could each of us. It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who won’t listen and respond to Your covenant now that You have demonstrated it through Christ, our living Example.

But we want to make our own choices and have our own way. And so some of us choose to face the sword and the Assyrians instead of facing God. We choose to be consumed instead of having our consuming God protect us and love us and care for us. We choose our own counsel instead of Yours. We backslide instead of walking forward in faith. We ignore Your calling and seek our own pleasure. And yet You don’t want to give us up. You don’t want to surrender us to the enemy. You don’t desire to make us like Admah or Zeboiim. Even when we feel nothing for You, Your heart is turned within You. You hold back from the fierceness of Your anger. You don’t respond like us. You respond like the Holy God that You are. You respond with Jesus. You respond by humbling Yourself for a people who don’t know to be humble before You. You love regardless of whether You are loved or feel loved. You receive pain to free us from our pain. You are hope when there seems to be none. You are ever faithful when no one else is. And You believe in us, that we will turn and return in covenant to You. You believe that we will walk with You. You believe that we will come to see You as You are and tremble before You, running to Your protection and love.

And all I can say is that I am so grateful that You are not a man, but that You are God. And I am so grateful that there is no god who could ever, nor will ever compare to You. You are God. You choose us. You equip us. You make us like You. You love us. You are for us. You believe in us because You know us and what You created us to be in You. You are good and true and faithful forever. You are blessing and anything outside of You is cursing. Maybe the question isn’t, “Why would a good God allow evil?” Maybe the appropriate question should be, “Why would I choose cursing? Why would I choose evil? Why would anyone? And then, why would I blame it on You, God?” I suppose it’s because we’re just men, but You, You are God, and You have a better plan for us then to just remain mere men.

Lola Patsy’s Laundry

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Photo credit to meetourclan.com

“…yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”  Habakuk 3:18

No one knows a lot about Habakuk.  He was alive and prophesying around the same time as Jeremiah in the end of the 7th century BC.  Israel had fallen because they had forsaken You, God, and Judah wasn’t far behind.  First, Habakuk was upset and complaining because Judah wasn’t listening and wasn’t repenting.  Then You told of how You were going to have the Chaldeans (Babylonians) bring terrible judgment on Judah.  So Habakuk had another question.  Why would You have someone even worse than Judah pass judgment on Judah?  Your answer?  That afterward, the Babylonians would face their own judgment from You.  And when Your people returned to You again, they would be restored. 

Habakuk wasn’t living in happy times, to say the least.  The book begins with Habakuk crying out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear?  Or cry to You ‘Violence!’ and You will not save?”  And it doesn’t stop there.  “Why do You make me watch such terrible injustice?  Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere?”  Is that how Habakuk really felt?  In all honesty, do I sometimes feel that way?  Is it OK to call out to You about it? 

What was Your answer, God?  “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.  For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”  That sounds great, doesn’t it?  It could be.  Maybe it depends on where I look and how I look.  Even today, depending on where we are or how we look we can see wonders that You are doing and be astounded, things we wouldn’t believe.  But in the midst of it, everything doesn’t look beautiful.  There are children being killed, people being beheaded or burned alive,  villages being slaughtered, immorality rising, a lack of respect for human life growing, families breaking, hearts hurting, people being misguided, loneliness, and depression.  But You tell us “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded, for I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”

Are You really doing a work through that “bitter and hasty nation” of the Chaldeans?  Did You really do a work through their violence and the captives they gathered?  Did You use “guilty men, whose own might is their god?”  Let’s think about this with Habakuk.  “So why do You tolerate the treacherous? And why do You stay silent while the wicked devour those who are more righteous than they are?”  Why do You today?

Habakuk and I can look at all the wickedness and all the foolishness that goes on and we can keep looking at it.  Or we can choose to look at the Lord and see You in Your holy Temple.  I can respond like Habakuk. “Lord, as I listen to what has been said about You, I am afraid.  Lord, revive Your work throughout all of our lives- reveal Yourself throughout all of our lives- when You are angry, remember compassion.”  Like Habakuk I can see and even be in the middle of all this awful stuff but I can still see You and choose to wait for You.  I love the conclusion he comes to.  These are some of my favorite truths in Scripture.  “Even though the fig tree does not blossom, and there are no grapes on the vines; even if the olive harvest fails, and the fields produce nothing edible; even if the flock is snatched from the sheepfold, and there is no herd in the stalls- as for me, I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will find my joy in the God who delivers me.  The Lord God is my strength-He will make my feet like those of a deer, equipping me to tread on my mountain heights.”  (Habakuk 3:17-19)

I suppose it’s like this.  How does my laundry get clean?  Here in the states I toss it in a washing machine that agitates it.  There’s something in the middle of the wash drum that twists back and forth in the water and soap in an attempt to knock the dirt out.  It’s not totally gentle on the clothes.  There’s a lot of rinsing and spinning that goes on too.  And I’ve learned to add fabric softener and let it soak in that.  Then there’s more rinsing and spinning.  From there I hang it to dry or put it in a dryer where it also takes a warm beating.  That’s where lint comes from, because it’s not a gentle product.  It takes all of that for my clothes to be clean.

But if I go the Philippines, or Kenya, I’ve learned that sometimes my clothes need a better cleaning.  Because that agitation in the washing machine isn’t enough to get the red dirt out of my socks in Kenya.   I have to take them off, and wash them by hand in the sink.  I have to scrub them part by part with a toothbrush.  I have to do it each day after I wear them.  And if I do, I get to see that red dirt flow down the drain and I get to hang up white socks on the line, not pink ones.

In the Philippines, I know I’m loved because Lola Patsy makes my clothes so clean.  If there is a stain, she doesn’t just drop it in the machine.  She scrubs it out by hand.  Then it goes in the machine.  From the machine it’s soaked in the fabric softener.  It’s spun out and then hung by hand.  It’s an all day process. And after it’s hung and dry, she irons it and folds it.  Then I get to wear it.  I put it on and I smell that wonderful fragrance of the fabric softener that make me happy like in the Downy commercials in the Philippines.  I wear it through even a hard and smelly day and guess what?  While I’m coming home on a Jeepney packed like a sardine in a can, I play scratch and sniff with my shirt.  I rub the material on my shoulder, and even after a long, hard day, that fabric softener aroma floats through the air to my nose and brings back that smile like when I first put it on. 

That’s what You are doing in our lives.  You design agitation in our lives so that we’re not just sweet smelling aromas at the start of the day but at the end of the day, no matter the circumstances in between, we are still giving off that sweetest of aromas that is You.  You never leave us and You never forsake us.  You are better and deeper than fabric softener.  Even the horrible, unimaginable agitations of life are for Your purpose and to remind us that our delight is in You.

We’re called to be living sacrifices.  Since when is it supposed to be easy to be a sacrifice?  But I do know one thing about sacrifices, a true sacrifice, a right sacrifice always sent up a soothing aroma, a pleasing aroma to You.  We have to go through that terrible washing machine of life for a reason.  You are making us a pleasing aroma that is acceptable unto You.  This is our opportunity to be used by You to reveal Your holiness among us, so the entire world can see (Ezekiel 20:41) and smell!  Paul tells us, “To God we are the aroma of the Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are being lost.” (2 Corinthians 2:15)  And he reminds us “Live lovingly, just as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us as an offering and sacrifice, a fragrant aroma to God.” (Ephesians 5:2)  Lord, may I be a fragrant aroma, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to You.  Lord, even if it hurts, scrub me by hand so that I am sweeter smelling at the end of the day to You and to others than Lola Patsy’s clean laundry. 

Centered in Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Want To Hear His Song Of Deliverance, You Have To Be Delivered!

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Photo credit to Lois Pannabecker

“You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.” Psalm 32:7

I was just thinking about these words and what they mean. How can You, Lord, be my hiding place unless I have something in my life I must hide from?  Do I run to my Father and hide if I am not scared or in danger?  How can I experience You as my hiding place without such things in my life.  I must need to hide in You.  And I must need to hide from something of danger that pursues me.

I could be angry that there is something that pushes me to run and hide.  Or I could be glad, abundantly glad.  Because whatever that situation was that pushed me to run to You, it enabled me to learn of Your safety and care and Your ability to preserve me.  It brought me to the safe embrace of Your arms, where I was close enough to feel their mighty strength.  It chased me so close to You that as I rested under the shadow of Your wings, though the fire raged, I was unscathed.  I learned that You truly are my hiding place and what that means.  I experienced it and thus I experienced You and Your presence.

I was there so long that eventually the trouble could no longer stand against You and You surrounded me on the inside and out with songs of deliverance.  I can’t hear them and I can’t sing them and I can’t be part of the song if I haven’t been delivered.  And to be delivered I must go through the experiences that give You the opportunity to deliver me.  Oh!  This so needs to change my attitude!  This so needs to change the way I think!  Oh!  This so needs to change the way I respond!

These hard things in life, whatever they are for each of us, they must be.  I must experience this.  Because I must run to You and hide in You and experience You so that I get to experience that song.  I want to live for that song because living for that song is living in You.  Living for that song is waiting on You and waiting for You and not giving up until I hear from You.  Living for that song is hiding so deep that I hear Your every heartbeat instead of mine.  Living for that song is hiding so deep that I hear Your voice instead of my cries.  Living for that song is hiding so deep that I hear the tensing of Your muscles, so to speak, over the weapons of the enemy.  Living for that song is when I finally learn what it is to trust in You.

A hiding place, I truly think,
Implies to me some things.
A hiding place, it seems to me
Is only needed when
A fearful thing is in pursuit
Or I the truth conceal.
But if You are my hiding place,
And to You alone I run
Then something hard must come my way
That I need You to preserve me from.
From no light thing would I choose to hide,
But something ever large,
Or something that would do me in,
From this preserve me, Lord.
So rough times will come,
Could last for years,
See Moses, Joseph, more,
But if You are my hiding place
You’ll preserve me through them all.
And here’s the piece de resistance,
Through it all You’ll compass me about-
You’ll compass me about with songs!
Like Moses sang You’ll fill my heart!
Like Deborah and Barak that day!
See, there’s something about deliverance,
A truth I need to know
That I won’t understand the song at all
Unless I’ve been delivered so!
I have to see the trouble
And have lived within it’s grips
I have to know the special joy
Of trusting You in it.
I have to be there on the days
When waiting, hiding was my way,
To be there on that special day
When deliverance takes that stone away!
The experience must be something lived
To know the depths of joy
For I must come to know You first
To see Your hand employed.
And what a song it always is
When You deliver me!
And so I wait, it’s worth it all
And evermore shall be
To hear You sing Your very song
Of how You delivered me
Because it happens as You sing
We also join in too
And we’re surrounded on all sides
By the deliverance of You!
Compass me, Lord, on either side,
The side where I may need to hide,
Or on that other outcome end
Where in Your presence
We sing again!
And I will wait, and hide in You,
Though long it take and hard,
As You preserve me and compass
My life with songs of Joy.
And this I must remind myself.
Of this I stop and think.
So, hard things come,
They may last long,
But this is still o.k.
For You are here preserving me,
And I’m with You to stay,
And though the time may tarry long
Wait for that delivery day!
For I will hear the song You sing
And I’ll be singing too!
And many voices will join in
Singing what that Lord can do!
So don’t be sad, my Soul,
We’ll sing, and we will hear that song.
For there is no one surer
Than my God I wait upon!