Eating the Good and the Bad

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Photo credit to David Bee Mallari.

 

“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you; Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” (Ezekiel 2:8)

 
Ezekiel carries God’s words of warning as well as words of encouragement from the Lord. But sometimes, both the warning and encouragement are hard to take and weighty for us. Bad news is always hard to swallow, but good news can actually be a hard road too. But then again, Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) Maybe Ezekiel will help me learn the truth of that.

 
So here is Ezekiel, called before this angel of God or Jesus Himself, but he is so filled with awe and fear at the presence that he cannot stand of his own strength. So he is told to stand. But here’s the thing. He’s not expected to do it on his own. The Spirit enters him and sets him on his feet and then he was able to hear what was spoken to him. How important is it for me, for each of us, to allow the Spirit to enter us so that we will firmly be planted in God’s ways? How important is it for me, for each of us, to allow the Spirit to enter us so that we can hear and understand and live out Your words, Your will, Your desires in faithful obedience and love?

 
And Ezekiel heard. It’s that word shama again. It’s never about just hearing and letting the speech go in one ear and out the other. It’s about hearing and discerning and acting upon that hearing. Is that how I hear? Do I lean in attentively to You? Or am I busier leaning into my own understanding? (see Proverbs 3:5) Do I incline all my being, my mind, my will, and my emotions into You? (Joshua 24:23) Do I realize that it is Your desire to incline my heart unto You, so that I might walk in all Your ways, and keep Your commandments and Your statutes and Your judgments? (1 Kings 8:58) If I expect You to incline Your ear toward me and hear me and act upon what You hear, do I expect the same of myself toward You, or do I hold myself to a lesser standard when it comes to hearing? (Psalm 17:6)

 
I want to really listen, no matter what the consequences, just like Ezekiel. So what was the bad news? Well, the bad news is bad news for rebellious people but it’s also kind of bad news for Ezekiel. God was appointing Ezekiel as a prophet of God to these rebellious people. I don’t think that Ezekiel jumped up and down and said, “Oh, thank You, Lord, thank You! This is so wonderful! I’m so excited! Woohoo!” He was being equipped and sent to tell a rebellious nation bad news. And here’s the bad news about that, they might not hear and act upon what they hear. They might just keep rebelling. Nothing might change. It might look like no good is being done. It might look like Ezekiel has been profitless. (No pun intended upon the prophet.)

 
That’s not all the bad news. It’s going to be scary stuff for a man to go through, even an anointed prophet filled with the Spirit of God. God prepares Ezekiel with these words, “and you, son of man, don’t be afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with you, and you dwell among scorpions: don’t be afraid of their words, and don’t be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.” Ezekiel is to keep speaking God’s words whether they hear and change or not.

 
But here is the good news. “Ezekiel, you, make sure you hear what I say to you. Don’t be rebellious like them: open your mouth, and eat what I give you.” What does that mean to eat what God gives him? Could that mean that Ezekiel has to take the bad tasting medicine as well as the delicacies? Does Your word and Your way sometimes seem like bitter medicine or bitter herbs to us? Do we want to refuse what is good for us because part of it is bad news for our own selfish desires or bad news to our egos or our own plans? Would we rather hold unto our rebellious faces than be changed into Your glorious image?

 
So here’s my question about what You want me to learn from You and Ezekiel here. Do I get it? Do I understand that hearing from You means doing and living out what I hear? Do I understand that being a follower of the Creator of the heavens and earth through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection means more than having a head knowledge of You? Do I understand it means tough times ahead? Do I understand that the “world” responds the same way today as it did in Ezekiel’s day? And do I understand that as a believer I am called to share with and in a defiant world just like Ezekiel? Will I hear and answer my calling?

 
If it doesn’t seem clear through Ezekiel, or maybe I shouldn’t transfer Ezekiel’s responsibility to me and other believers, let me listen to Jesus’s own words in John 17. “And now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world, that they [those who believe] might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Now, wasn’t that God’s desire all along, even back in Ezekiel? But I digress, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Is this like a deja vu? “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil.” Does it sound as though I need to be stood up straight and strong by the Spirit just as much now? “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Was Eziekiel like everyone else? Or was he different because of what he allowed You to do in him and how he clung to You? “As You have sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” Well there’s the clincher.

 
If Ezekiel was sent out into the world in the middle of bad and good news all wrapped up together, then wasn’t Jesus sent even more so? Jesus came knowing He would be crucified by a people He loved. But He never stopped loving and never stopped telling. God was everything and the suffering and hurt was a moment in comparison. And the truth is that all who would believe are called in the same way. We are called to hear and follow despite the pain, despite homelessness, despite ridicule, despite our health, despite the faces people make, and the deterrents along the way. We are called to hear and follow despite our feelings and our hopes and dreams. We are called to cast off our rebellion and follow wholeheartedly, counting the cost and understanding it will cost much. We are called to count God worth every cost and to live like it. That’s what I learn from Ezekiel today. And that’s what I learn from Jesus every day. But is that how I live?

 
Lord, I have not always lived as though You were the greatest worth. I admit that I cannot stand on my own. I am in desperate need of Your Spirit to stand me up firm on my feet so that I can hear You rightly and walk rightly in Your words and Your ways. I need Your Spirit to make me strong and keep me strong in a world that is rebellious. I even need Your Spirit to keep me from falling into rebellion myself or for getting out of it. But I also want to take the steps to seek You, to cling to You, to value You more than anything in life. When I’m weak, I want to fall on You, not on my weakness. I don’t want my weakness to rule me; I want You to rule me and guide me and strengthen me. I want to be ready for the good and the bad and the bad and good, however they come. And I thank You so much, that You do not leave us unprepared but that You fully equip us for every situation. So let me eat whatever You give me, the bitter and the tasty, so that I may dwell in the beauty and safety of You. And may others be drawn to eat from that same plate and count it more than worth it.

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The Assayer’s Apprentice

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Photo found at http://www.mgsrefining.com/

“but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”  1 Thessalonians 2:4

So, Lord, if I’m still searching into what it is to believe, at least, what it means to You for me to believe, then where is the word “believe” here?  Well, I had to look at the Greek to find it.  It’s that word “to be entrusted.”  That’s where I find “pisteuo.”  And it seems that believing is a trust that You give me.  That Your Good News from the beginning of time in Jesus Christ was “allowed of God” to be put in my trust.  I was given it not just to believe in my head, but to act upon every part of it.

But what in the world does this “allowed” or “approved” by God part mean?  Does this mean that God gave me permission to pass on what I believe?  Did he approve of me as a believer?  Does this mean I passed the test and won this right or privilege?  What does that Greek word “dokimazo” mean?

“Dokimazo” actually mean a lot more than met my eyes when I first read this.  I suppose, Lord, that’s why You want us to really dig into Your word like we’re searching for treasure, because sometimes we have to look deeper.  We can’t always get all the precious nuggets out unless we take the time to look closer.  I’ll find nuggets, but I may miss the mother load.

The word that Paul is using here for how You, Lord, came to entrust me with Your Gospel has to do with testing and discerning.  It’s a two tier word.  I have to do the testing in order to be able to discern.  Or I have to go through the testing in order to discern.  It’s the same word that is used in Romans 12:2 where Paul tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  What dokimazo means is “to watch, to determine what is reliable, of value.”  I learn Your will by coming under testing.  I am to “test the spirits.”  I am to test myself.  I am to test the times.   But what am I testing?  What am I trying out?  I’m testing Your word, I’m trying it out by acting upon it, and as I do, I find it’s worth and receive discernment.  But if I spend my whole life analyzing and evaluating Your word instead of applying it, I won’t ever experience it’s truth in my life.

Simply, because I hear Your word, I try it, I do it.  I practice Your practices.  I don’t have to understand them or know why but I trust You and do what You say I should and act the ways You say are right and believe what You tell me I need to believe.  I avoid what You tell me to.  I get into the “culture” of Jesus Christ.  I practice what You practice and I practice what the believers in the Bible practiced and I practice what other followers are faithfully doing on the basis of Your word.  It gets absorbed in my being.  And as I put Your word to the test in my life by acting in it, I will come to know Your will, “the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  And I won’t just know what things are good and acceptable and perfect, but I will come to experience being good in Your eyes, being accepted by You, and being perfected in You.

I can test God’s will and come to know it.  That word “dokimazo” again, brings about transformation.  Looking at things this way,  through Your eyes, Lord, causes me to transform my life patterns and it causes me to renew my mind because it changes the way I think.  See, Adam and Eve fell first because they thought about the fruit according to their own eyes and not according to the way You saw it.  They thought they could see clearly on their own.  But we only see clearly and rightly when we look through Your eyes and see things Your way.   I have to see things Your way in order to know Your perfect will.

When I allow You to incorporate “dokimazo” into my life, I can get there.  Remember, it means “to test, to discern, to distinguish and to approve as a result of testing.”  Do you know where that word came from?  It was a word used by metal assayers.  You would put the metal under the fire to test it’s purity.  Then it would be placed on the scale.  What was left was the real metal.  The assayer’s job was to prove what was true gold.  And I am to be like that.  As You have transformed me, I am to determine Your true will.  Your process for doing that is guaranteed.  It will have the results You intended.  You are telling me that I, and every believer, can know Your perfect will.  I can pray the way You intend for me to pray.  I can live in accord with Your purposes.  I can live in Your word and fulfill Your will for me.  You’ve designed it to work that way.  See, You are the Assayer and I am being apprenticed under You to learn to assay myself and all things placed in front of me.  And I must remember, I am learning under the Master Assayer!

Paul reminds me again in Philippians 1:10 that this is “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”  See, Lord, You are busy in me.  And You are teaching me to be busy in me.  You are calling me to join in with You to prove my inner value.  But our value, according to You, is in the “essential spiritual qualities of a person.”  I can see that value through Your eyes if I go back to the Old Testament.   If I go back to Jeremiah 11:20 I see what You are doing, Lord.  You “judge righteously, that tries the reins and the heart…”  You are testing me, each of us in order to make us Your workmanship in Your image.  But here You are giving us a responsibility.  You are giving me the responsibility to judge and test myself, my quality.  How do I do that?  I take on Your perspective and I do it as You would do it.  I delve deeply within myself to see what I find.  I judge it according to Your standards.

How did I ever get this responsibility that used to only be Yours in the Old Testament?  Paul gives me the answer in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”  Therefore, God resides in me because He resides in His temple.  You are God with us, Emmanuel.  Since You dwell inside of me, I have the power to see the world through Your eyes and according to Your ways and Your standards.  I can see things through Your perspective.  Because of You, I can do the testing.  My Master Teacher lives inside of me and is always teaching me His perspective.  The question is, will I listen and live it out?  Will I do it Your way?

When You “approved” me, it wasn’t because You found me worthy.  You are making me worthy in You and teaching me to see and value worth Your way.  And every time I agree with Your perspective and see things Your way and act upon them, that Good News You’ve entrusted to me shines brighter and is shown to be more and more alive.  It’s not easy, learning to examine and test myself like You do, but it’s worth every fire I have to go through.  So, Lord, keep teaching me and showing me how to go through the fires of testing and come out like pure gold on the other side.  And the other side isn’t heaven.  The other side is every time I come out of the fire, after every trial.  I want to come out having been transformed to be more like You, to have come out on the pure side, letting my impurities be burned away.  Someday, I’ll be on the heaven side, but until then, I want to be always living on Your side of perspective, in the side where I am pleased by what pleases You, where You and I are continually enjoying each other together in life.  Thanks for making me able to be entrusted with Your Gospel so that I can be made pleasing to You and You become everything that is pleasing to me.

Faith, Take the Jump

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“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.”  Romans 4:19,20

Well, You still have me thinking about Abraham, Lord, and what faith looks like, or what faith acts like.  When You say, “He staggered not,” it makes me think of a drunk person wandering around directionless and unsteady on their feet.  Unfortunately, been there, done that.  But that’s not the idea of the original word here, although maybe the whole problem in being drunk is a total lack of discernment.  And faith is all about discernment.

The Greek word for staggered is “diakrino.”  It has to do with separating thoroughly, withdrawing from, discriminating, judging, and doubt too.   Seems like a wierd combination.   But this word tells us what Abraham didn’t do with God’s promises so that I know what Abraham DID do with them and I know how Abraham handled them.  According to Scripture, how did Abraham handle the promises of God to him?

Well, God told him some unbelievable stuff, like that he would make him a father of many nations.  What’s a nobody supposed to believe about that?  I mean, who was Abraham anyway before God chose him?  Did the world even notice him?  I wonder if Abraham ran around saying, “I’m gonna be a father of nations, did you hear that?  Wahoo!  Father of nations, that’s me!”  Um, I don’t think so.  I think he probably thought, “O.K. God, if that’s what You want.  Don’t see how that’s gonna happen.  But if you say so, I’ll do whatever You say and wait for it.”

Here’s something interesting about this idea and this word.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians 4:7.  Listen, “For who made you differ from another?  And what do you have that you did not receive?  Now, if you did receive it, why do you glory, as if you had not received it?”  “Diakrino”-“made you to differ”.  You mean maybe Abraham was made to be different and made to be set apart to shine for God’s glory?  And maybe, just maybe we were made to be different and made to be set apart to shine for God’s glory?

There’s this Hebrew word that is the parallel of “diakrino.”  It’s “mishpat.”  According to Skip Moen it “encompasses the entire concept of law and justice from conception to execution.”  He says it’s best expressed by this question, “Who sees mishpat in you?”  In other words, who sees the promises of God being lived out in my life so much that it renders me “distinctively different than those who are not followers”?   God gave Himself to Abraham.  Abraham received God.  The world saw something different in Abraham.  But it was all from God.  And people knew that what Abraham had was from His God.  What about me?  Do I allow You to work in me in such a way that people see I’m different and that my difference is You, Lord?  Am I receiving what You are giving and am I walking in it?

He could have chosen his own way instead of yours.  He could have said, “This waiting and uncertainty is too much; it’s taking too long.”  He could have gone back to Ur and to what he knew.  But he never did.  There were a couple times he made some not so great choices along his walk in faith, like pretending his wife was his sister, but what if that was actually considered faith by God because he was still heading in the direction God had started, doing the best he could to stay on the path?  I mean didn’t God protect His promise, even though Abraham’s choice unwittingly endangered it?  But did Abraham ever stop believing God or did he keep walking in the path God had set him on?

What if Godly wisdom, Godly discernment and judgment, is about when we make our decisions based on Your Word, Lord?    James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peacable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”  Maybe “diakrino”, and “mishpat” are all about living and walking in an “unwavering commitment to the truth of God’s word.”  Skip Moen adds, ” Decide unwaveringly according to what God demands.  ‘Buy the truth and do not sell it,’ is the way Solomon would say it.  Make no decisions except those that are firmly rooted in God’s instructions.  And never compromise.”

So does that mean that Abraham never struggled with doubt?  Because sometimes I often struggle with doubting whether I heard correctly.  But it’s more that I doubt myself.  I don’t think I doubt You, Lord.  Does it really matter what my thoughts tell me on some of these really rough days, if I still decide to act according to Your promises?  Didn’t Paul have that struggle?  Isn’t that interesting.  If I jump ahead three more chapters in this letter, I’ll find Paul sharing this same trouble in his own life.  Bet Abraham experienced it too.  So, I may be battling cognitive doubts, but if I continue walking the way You are leading me, Paul tells me, “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION to them which are in Christ Jesus, who WALK not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” 

Do I get that?  Abraham messed up by lying about Sarah.  It’s never right to lie.  But he was still staying right where God told him to be.  Show me where he was ever condemned by God for that decision.  Show me.  I don’t see it.  God, You covered him, even his flaws, because he was walking in Your promises the best he knew how.  Now that doesn’t give me the right to lie, but it does tell me that You’re the One who has the plan downpat, not me.  But as long as I’m trusting in You and abiding in You and walking according to Your plan for me in Your word, according to Your promises,  I’m covered by Your righteousness, I’m covered by Your salvation, I’m covered by Your plan for me.  That doesn’t give me license, but I am a recipient of mercy and grace and love and more.

Doubt only becomes sin when it leads to my failure to act.  But the fact that I must contend with doubt just gives me every opportunity to act in faith.  I have a doubt, so what, I act upon Your promise and Your word anyway.  Sorry, doubt, I trust God, not you.  Your name only gets the little “d”, my God’s name gets the big “G.”  Did You condemn the father who cried out “I believe; help my unbelief!”?  No, You cast the demon out of his son.  He acted in faith even when his mind couldn’t fathom it.

I think our problem in the western world is that we have been trained to be so logically minded.  But believing doesn’t have to be logical.  I really appreciated this analogy that Skip Moen shared.  “In the Hebraic world, the process of believing is much more like learning to swim.  Hold your breath and jump in the water – and see how you like it.  Your mind might be screaming that floating is impossible.  You weigh more than water.  Your mind tells you that you won’t be able to breathe.  Your mind is shouting, ‘Danger!’  But you can’t learn to swim by thinking about it.  You have to get in the water.  You must do before you decide.”  And isn’t that the same with faith?  Do I really believe until I start walking it?  Didn’t it just start with one step?  And that first step will lead to many thereafter.

Well, Lord, I didn’t start out fully persuaded in You.  With every step of faith I took in You, with every time I just dove into Your waters, You have been faithful.  So every time I trust Your promises, I am rewarded with You!  Every time I dive in as You tell me, You keep me afloat and You teach me to swim and I’m lovin’ it.  And like Abraham, You are enlarging my family, so I’m not swimming alone.  And You give me the opportunity to encourage others to dive in and love Your waters too.  Thank You for making us strong in You as we choose to walk in You step by step, moment by moment.  Lord, I want to walk in You more and more every moment.  I want to choose Your promises every time.  I want to handle Your promises rightly.  I want You to be visible in me.  Lord, work Your faithfulness out in me every step of the way.  I want You more than anything.