Authority and the Universe

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Photo credit to grand_universe_by_antifan_real1.jpg

 

“He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power…” Hebrews 1:3

 

Well, I’m still thinking about what it’s like in Your eyes, God, for me not to be rebellious. And today I’m thinking about more of what Watchman Nee shared about You. He takes me back to Hebrews 1:3, “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power…” Now, to think that it’s just by His power and shear force isn’t the idea here, is it? Isn’t it “by the word of His power”? What does that mean? Does that mean by His authority? And in His authority, is His power demonstrated through His works?

 
Authority is crucial. This is telling us that God is the only authority in all the universe. To act otherwise, or to think otherwise is rebellion. I remember the story, that true story of the roman centurion who came to Jesus that day because his beloved servant was dying. And he knew what it was to be an authority over others. But he also knew what it was to be under authority. Because of that, he understood how Jesus only had to speak and it would be done. Why? Because he knew that Jesus had the authority from God. Therefore, he knew that Jesus had the power to go with it. And Jesus made this statement of the centurion, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9) I wonder if Jesus would find that kind of faith not only in the world today, but in the church, the body of Christ?

 
Remember what Watchman Nee said? “Sin is a matter of conduct; it is easy to be forgiven of sin. But rebellion is a matter of principle; it is not easy to be forgiven of rebellion.” This is such an important lesson to learn. If I can learn this, I can learn anything. Satan fell to the principle of rebellion through self-exaltation. He violated the throne of God by trying to set up his own throne higher. The principle came before the fall. The principle was the cause of the fall. Rebellion was the song of his heart, rebellion against the authority of God. That’s why he was condemned. He refused to submit and still refuses. It’s a matter of principle for him. Isn’t it always?

 
Therefore he tries to make it a matter of principle for us too. That’s why he doesn’t want us to submit to Christ’s authority. If I do, then my principles will change. I can’t serve two masters and I can’t live with opposing principles. Maybe what I have to realize is who the kingdom really belongs to. Is it God’s or does it belong to a usurper? If it’s God’s kingdom and His creation then it is truly and only under His authority. No one can steal that from Him. Will I submit fully to His authority? Or will I run around as though the kingdom is of my creation? Isn’t that shear foolishness?

 
What does it mean to preach the Gospel? Isn’t that bringing others under God’s authority? To do that, don’t I have to be under God’s authority first? How can I establish God’s authority on earth, you know, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” if I don’t already know and submit under Your authority?

 
Isn’t that the whole issue? Isn’t that the principle being fought over daily? Who has the authority? Who gets to determine if abortion is right or wrong? Who gets to determine if I can slaughter others because they don’t hold to my religious tenets? Who gets to tell me what I can or can’t do? Who gets to tell me what is evil or good? Who has the right to control me?

 
In all the universe, who has authority? Is authority with me who has no ability to create something from nothing? Is authority with me, the created? Or is authority with God, the Creator and Sustainer? And if authority is with God, then I must choose to submit myself to His authority and uphold it.

 
Watchman Nee related the story of Paul and Ananias. Remember Paul? He was following his own authority and the religious authority but unwittingly rebelling against God’s authority. But on the road to Damascus, he met God’s authority face to face. He realized it. Instead of pressing on and continuing to “kick against the goads” he asked, “What must I do?” He submitted. And God sent him to a house to wait. Then we have one of the most powerful, intelligent men of his time (yes, that’s Paul), being ministered to by this small, insignificant brother named Ananias. Yet, Paul submitted to this brother. He was no longer ruled by self-confidence. He let Ananias be used to remove his blindness instead of holding onto it in his pride. In his brokenness, he was learning to submit. Have I understood brokenness yet? Do I know what it is to submit? Do I live as though I understand Your authority, God? How am I at submitting to those around me that You place in authority?

 
“God’s greatest demand on man is submission.” Think about that. It’s also the hardest, isn’t it? And with submission comes obedience. But neither will happen unless I get self out of the picture. I suppose submission is a principle but obedience is about conduct. Therefore, our obedience could be selfishly given. But obedience in submission is about living in the spirit. It’s about expressing and responding to God’s will and not mine.
The best example is to look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. If I want to see true submission to God’s authority and to understand obedience in submission, here it is. Sometimes we tend to emphasize that Jesus came to earth to pursue the cross. But that’s not true. Jesus came to pursue the will of God. The will of God led Him to the cross. He got to the cross because He was fully submitted to the authority of God. His full submission gave Him the right to be the sacrifice on the cross. Any lack of submission on His part would have nullified the efficacy of the cross. The efficacy of the cross was in the submissive obedience of Christ to the authority of God.

 
What was the most important thing to Christ? Was it the cross? We hear Him ask “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” But He waited and listened for the will of God. To Him, the cross was not absolute, but the will of God was. It had nothing to do with His own will. Obviously, He was agonizing over the thought of going to the cross. But He knew it wasn’t about His own preference. “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” If the cross was God’s will, then it was His will also. Is my will the principle I live by or am I making His will the principle that I live by?

 
What did Jesus mean when He said, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38)? Or when He told His disciples again in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”? Is that about suffering and sacrifice? Or is it really about denying self and coming under the authority of God by full submission to His will no matter the cost? Does it mean that God’s will becomes my will and that I no longer have a will aside from His? Does that mean that my feelings don’t matter if they don’t agree with His will? Does that mean that His authority, His principles, His desire, and His will mean more to me than my own feelings, my own desires, and my own life? It did for Jesus.

 
Watchman Nee shares, “A will is the representative of an authority. Hence, when submission comes from knowing God’s will, that submission is a submission to authority. If there is no prayer and no willingness to know God’s will, how can there be submission to authority?” Jesus demonstrated His submission in the garden. When He knew God’s will, He immediately submitted, “Arise, let us be going.” (Matthew 26:46) Because of Christ’s submission to God’s authority, the cross is the center of the universe. It’s the utmost example of upholding the authority of God (His will) above everything.
Learning to submit to God’s authority is not something to be taken lightly. It means everything to my walk as a believer. Do we forget to listen to Jesus’ very own words? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) I have to do more than verbally and mentally acknowledge You as Lord. I have to submit to You as Lord of my life and all life. It’s not just to be used as a respectful title, this Greek word. It means to be supreme in authority, controller. If Jesus is my God, then I let Him be my God. If He is my Lord, then I let Him Lord over me. If He is my master, then He is truly my master. If this is who You are to me, then it is who You are all the time, every day, every moment.

 
If You really are Lord of me, then I don’t just do Your will because I’m following mandates. It’s really about this word I love, poieo. It’s like the art that flows out of an artist or the poem that flows out of the poet. It’s the will and pleasure of the Father that comes to flow out of me because You flow through me. If I say that You are my Lord and my will flows out and I call it Your will, it still isn’t Your will, but mine. Overturning Your authority is attempting to overturn You and it shows I don’t know You at all, because how can You be overturned? You are God. Acting on my own authority, my own will is rebellion and Scripture says it’s like the sin of “witchcraft, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry” ( 1 Samuel 15:23) because it’s rejecting God’s authority. Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus look at me and tell me He never knew me because all I ever did was do things my way instead of His? Imagine Jesus calling me lawless and telling me that I purposefully engaged in and ministered in wickedness. That’s what I’m doing when I don’t submit. That’s what I’m doing when I don’t hand absolute authority over to God.

 
I can’t have a true relationship with God without being truly submitted to His authority. Don’t be fooled. You can’t come to Jesus to get out of hell, if you don’t come to Jesus to live. Unless God’s authority becomes my life blood, I haven’t got life at all. Once I touch His authority, once I begin to understand it’s necessity in my life, then I can be conformed into His image, and then He can begin to use me as His instrument. This is when I begin to resemble Him as His very own child and not until then.

 
Working and living outside of God’s will isn’t a bad thing. It’s a tragic thing. It’s Satanic and we shouldn’t keep taking it so lightly. It’s the difference between life or death, blessing or damnation. Jesus wasn’t joking when He said that only those who do the Father’s will can enter the kingdom of heaven. Think about it. Think about Jesus as He walked on earth. Think about each situation. Think about the boat as He slept in the middle of the storm. Think about the kiss from Judas. Think about the agony in the garden. Think about disciples misunderstanding. Think about people saying mean things. Did Jesus account His response to His feelings? Did He just rotely shoot off a Scripture truth? Or did He know the heart of God, and did He seek the heart of God, before He responded? Is that how I respond to Your authority? Is that how I seek to know how You would want me to respond? Do You really control me or am I still letting my feelings and rights and hopes and dreams cling to control? Does my heart need to cry out, “Witchcraft! Stubbornness! Idolatry! Turn back! Turn back!”?

 
Whose side am I really on? Am I clinging to God’s authority and living in it and find comfort there no matter the circumstances? Or am I clinging to Satan’s rebellion. See, two things go hand in hand here: “believing unto salvation and submitting to authority.” I can’t separate the two or I’m not saved at all. I don’t get to trust or obey; it must be trust and obey. Sin is lawlessness and lawlessness is disrespect and disregarding God’s authority. It’s a matter of heart and attitude. Will I submit them both? Where am I? Whose side am I really on? What drives my conduct? Will You know me, Jesus, when I come before You, or will You not recognize me as Yours at all? I can know the answer now. I can know based on my submission to Your will each and every day. I can know by the life that flows out of me from You when You are truly Lord of me.

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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.

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.

Dust in the Wind

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“Ephraim feeds on wind, and follows after the east wind: he daily increases lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.” (Hosea 12:1)

 
The group Kansas said it was the same old song. The lyrics continue, “Just a drop of water in an endless sea/ All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see/ Dust in the wind/ All we are is dust in the wind.” Well, it is the same old song. Our life is brief and fleeting compared to eternity. And since it is so brief and fleeting, it would behoove us to learn how to make the most of this short life we’ve been given on this side of eternity.

 
It’s interesting to see here that the word used in Hebrew for wind is also the word used for the spirit. It can mean wind, breath, or spirit. In Genesis 1:2 we hear, “…And the Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) moved upon the face of the waters.” In Genesis 6:17 it is used for the “breath of life.” In Genesis 8:1 it is the wind that passed over the earth that dried up the waters after the flood. Pneuma is the Greek equivalent found in the New Testament.

 
So how is it used in Hosea? And why is this important? Because “God’s Ruach is the source of life.” (gotquestions.org) You can deny that if you want, you can contradict the truth of it, you can refuse to grant it, you can neglect to acknowledge it, you can refuse to confess it, you can reject it and refuse to embrace it, but the truth remains no matter what you say. This Ruach, this Spirit of God, this Breath of God is the giver of life to all. He’s the One who put the “non-divine” ruach in each of us. We owe every breath we take in our life to His Creative Spirit. The God’s Word translation shares Moses’ words from Numbers 27:16 this way, “Lord, You are the God who gives the breath of life to everyone.” Job declared, “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils…” (Job 27:3) In his conversation with Job, Elihu shares, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.” (Job 33:4)

 
This thought carries over into the New Testament in the word pneuma. We see it shared from the mouth of Jesus in John 3. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John is using intentional word play here with pneuma (wind) and pneumatic (Spirit). In writing it’s called an inclusion, “a rhetorical device that ties its contents closer together. In this case, the inclusion contains the comparison between the actions of the wind and being born of the Spirit.” (throughandto.com)  The metaphor becomes stronger. We see how the movement of the wind helps us see the movement of the Holy Spirit. There is an “‘other’ origin, destination, and power—like the wind” that is not “centered in human initiative.”

 
But Ephraim, God’s people were forgetting that. They were feeding on the wind but not feeding on the Wind that fills. They were feeding on air, the wind that blows to and fro and sometimes doesn’t blow at all. They were feeding on wind, on that air, that just blows and has no means of nourishing the body or soul. They were feeding on emptiness. And they were pursuing after emptiness all day long. They were adding lie after lie to their lives. It’s pursuit was bringing more wasting and more desolation and ravaging into their lives. It’s like they were choosing oppression.

 
Remember, God has made a covenant with His people. It was a covenant of love and care and provision. It was a covenant of His presence. It was a covenant of His Spirit with them. In truth, God’s covenant was all about them feeding on His Spirit and being blessed by that. It was about them following after Him by the power of His Spirit. They were to follow and be empowered by the wind, the breath that issued forth life and joy and strength and goodness from His Creative Being. But what did they choose? They chose to make covenant with the Assyrians and the Egyptians for temporary protection and temporary wealth. They broke covenant with the Breath of Life to establish covenant with that which is fleeting, simple dust in the empty wind.

 
Isn’t it the same old song today? God is calling us to covenant with Him. He has given His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin of turning away and wanting things our way instead of His. He has given us a way to come home by faith. He stands with His arms wide open. Just as He breathed the precious breath of life accompanied by His Spirit into Adam, so He wishes to breath His life-giving Spirit into each of us. Do you really believe that the complexity of human life and all of creation occurred by accident? Is that even logical or reasonable? Is that really intelligent? When was the last time that a house just fell into place with every brick, every piece of wood and nail, aligned just right? You really believe that? I don’t.

 
I believe the song that Jesus sang in the beginning with God when He breathed that breath of life into humanity and shared of His Spirit. I believe in a personal God who longs for His children to return to Him, to return to that relationship of fullness. I believe that we can choose to chase after the empty wind or we can choose to be filled with the wholeness of His Spirit. I think if we sit back and think about it, if we look and remember, we’ll see God’s hand in our life. If only Ephraim remembered Jacob and how God had a plan for him even in His mother’s womb. How He was there in the midst of his struggles. How Jacob wept before Him. If only we would remember. Remember what? That the LORD God of hosts takes time for us. That though You are God, You get close enough to breath Your breath of life into us. You come close enough to touch us and warn us and share with us and love us and guide us.

 
It’s true. I can’t explain the wind. And I can’t explain how You do what You do or how Your Holy Spirit can be or do what He does. But just as I know there is wind, not only when I fly my kite, but by so many other evidences, so I know that Your Holy Spirit is at work by His many evidences. I can choose to follow any wind. I can choose emptiness if I want to. But I want to turn to You. I want to keep mercy and judgment and wait on You continually, God, because You take this mere speck of dust that is me and give me a life that matters and is filled with Your Spirit. You give me an eternity that begins in the here and now. You give me meaning and purpose not just for today, but forever in You. You don’t just give me life, You give me LIFE, because You are LIFE. May I feed on You and follow You and increase in You all the days of my life. And may I live forever in covenant with You. I may be dust in the wind, but in the Right Wind, I will not crumble but I will rise with You, I will see LIFE and know LIFE and live LIFE forever with You. This dust matters. This dust, when surrendered to You, comes together with the other dusts surrendered with You, and we bring out LIFE, like You brought forth life when You gathered the dust of the earth and formed Adam and breathed Your LIFE into him. If all I am is dust in the WIND, there is no stopping me.

A Rejoicing Multitude

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“‘…rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” Joel 2:13

 
What does it really mean to rend my heart? To rend, qara, is from the root “revile, paint the eyes, as if enlarging them.” It can mean to cut out, to tear, which is how it is usually used in Scripture. Of course there is this look alike, qara, that has a different pronunciation and is accented differently, and I wonder if it isn’t slightly related?  This other qara is about crying out to someone specific, and it’s also an onomatopoetic word, meaning, it sounds like what it says. Now I’m no language specialist here so, I’m just wondering.

 
But let’s look at the picture here. People were going through the motions of what they ought to do, you know, the outward motions, without the inward motions reflecting the same beliefs in their living. They could rip their garments in feigned repentance because it was what they thought they were “supposed to do.” But You never desired for us to be robots going through the motions of obedience. It’s not just our actions that count, but our hearts. Our heart, our lebab, isn’t just some organ that beats in our chest. What You are referring to here is something different and something more. You are referring to our will, thoughts, and emotions. That’s what You mean when you refer to our heart.

 
The truth is that fixing up the outside of me won’t ever change me. I can tear up my garments to shreds and it won’t change my attitude one bit. I’ll still be the same on the inside. Until I revile any thoughts of my own that stand against You, until I see how grotesquely painted my will is over Yours, until I cut out my emotions that don’t agree with You, I might as well just be running around in torn clothes. I may look pitiful on the outside, but I’m just as full of myself on the inside.

 
Jesus warns us, “Not every one that says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) You can run around saying, “Lord, Lord,” all you want in your torn garments but if you aren’t internally and externally determined to choose His ways and desire what He desires and taking pleasure in what pleases Him, don’t fool yourself, because you can’t fool Him.

 
What does that mean? What is the Father’s will? Jesus told the people to figure it out. What does it mean when God says, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”? And Jesus followed that by reminding us that He came to call sinners to repentance. What is the Father’s will? Rote obedience? Or joyful obedience because we realize the immeasurable mercy that has been shown us through Christ and through every breath we are given? Do we stop to understand the grace and mercy and steadfast love You have shown despite our own behavior toward You? Do I realize how patient and slow to anger You have been with me? Do I realize that I ought to be that sacrifice, yet You spared me? Because I wouldn’t have been a worthy sacrifice at all. I would have been rejected. Yet by faith in You I am made acceptable.

 
But being made acceptable doesn’t mean I’m perfect as I am. It doesn’t give me the right to be more of me. It gives me the freedom to let You be made manifest in me. It gives me the freedom and vision to see and know that You are the only truly good thing in me. The best thing I can do is tear up my own will and my own thoughts and my own desires and throw them in the trash and take on Yours which way surpass mine any day.

 
You can’t really turn partly to the Lord. It just doesn’t work. The Lord says, “turn to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God…” Of the 1050 times that shub, or turn, is used in Scripture we have it repeated twice here because it’s so important for us to get. God wants to help us change our future. He wants to give us a new destiny. The answer is in turning away from evil and turning toward good. But it’s not just about good things. It’s about turning to God and to the things that are pleasurable and delight Him. It’s all about repentance. If I’m all about turning to God, than God guarantees my path. If I want to be radically changed than I have to get on board with the Radical One. Life in the Radical One means a radical life and a radical future.

 
But what if I don’t want to turn? What if I want to hold onto my own will, my own emotions, my own desires? Well, I can. But if I never turn, neither will my future. The locusts will still come and I will be left desolate in the middle of my will, my feelings, and my desires. I’ll have what I thought I wanted. Sounds like the beginning of hell to me. And I don’t say that because I’m holier than thou or being judgmental here. I say that because there have been times when I didn’t want to let go of my will, when my feelings outweighed what I knew was right, when my desires overrode Yours, and it’s a battle. But I have found that You are worth every inch of fight that I have. And the beauty of it is that You fought right there with me. It’s always Your voice that brings me through. Because the last place that I would ever want to be is a place apart from You. That’s the worst part of hell, that You aren’t there.

 
I’ve read true stories about people martyred for professing their belief in You. And I think of this one martyr who was burned at the stake. He went in singing and he had told his people that he would raise his hands over his head and clap them together if he could bear it. He sang till he could sing no more and as the skin was melting off his hands, he raised them over his head, clapped them together, and went to be with the Lord. It’s not the fires of hell that are the worst part. Everything is bearable if You are there. But that’s just it. You are not present in hell.

 
I don’t want to just say I love You or love You with my things and possessions. I want to truly love You. I want You to have my heart, my feelings, my emotions, my dreams, my desires, my will, my plans, my attitude, my everything inward and outward. You are more than theology, You are Real and You are God. You can’t be fully described because You are so great. Your grace and mercy and kindness can’t be measured. Your anger is terrible. And Your desire is to bless us who don’t deserve it. And if I only understood what an immensity it is to be blessed by You, by Your presence, by Your love, by You caring about all the little and big things in my puny little life. If I really stopped to put this all into perspective of who You are and why You would even stop to notice me and ask me to turn to You, I would be stopped in my tracks. It doesn’t make sense.

 
But what would make worse sense, is not responding to a God who loves us so much and would go out of His way this much for us. What would be ludicrous is to refuse Him and to turn away and choose our own measly, temporary way when He wants to give us so much more. I suppose I can choose to think that eternity doesn’t matter and just live for the moment. But the more I read, and the more I see You God, the more I see that eternity has already started. And I can live today like I will live into eternity in You, or I can throw it all out the door. I can begin my weeping now, or I can allow my own choices to so destroy my destiny that instead I choose to be brought to weeping and gnashing of my teeth when I finally have to realize that choosing anything other than You was the most detrimental life decision I could ever make.

 
Lord, I am so grateful that You are a God that cares, that You long for us and seek and save those who are lost. I want a heart like Yours. I want to live out Your will. I want Your desires to be my desires. I want to feel like You feel about things. I want a real heart like Yours, so that even in my nakedness, I would be the same person before You and others. And I want others to want that too. I want them to understand. I want them get it. Because You don’t just call one person to this truth. You are calling together all those who will turn, a whole multitude to rejoice and live in You. `

Walking Together

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“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”  Amos 3:3

What a timeless truth.  I first remember hearing about Jesus when I was five years old.  As far as I know, that’s when we started attending church and I was enrolled in a small Christian school.  My fondest memories are about Jesus and especially how he loved the children and even rebuked his disciples that day and let the little children come to Him and be held and blessed.  And even as a little five year old, I knew one thing.  I wanted to walk with Jesus.  I wanted it so much that I dreamed about it, I thought about it, and I played games centered around it.  Maybe I was a strange little kid, but whatever the Lord had planted in my heart at that early age, impacted my life forever.

“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”  What a pertinent question.  It defines those who belong to Christ and it defines those who refuse to belong to Christ.  It even defines our relationships or lack of relationships with others.  I mean, come on, look at what happens to husbands and wives who can’t be agreed.  Look at the statistics on the great extent of divorce and how they are ceasing to walk together.  What about broken friendships because of disagreement?  And what about all those relationships that never began because of lack of agreement in the first place?  Yes, this is true.  Just look at life.  The people who cling together are those who agree together. 

Now this is not just a wise saying.  This is a saying of greatest eternal value and great import for us.  As a matter of fact, our success and life and future depend upon understanding the depth and importance of this saying and applying it in our lives.  Because by this saying, God is saying that He, the God of creation and the God of the universe and the God of angel armies and the God who knows the heart of man, wants to be the One who walks together with us, the mere men and women that He created.  This God of awe and wonder wants us, created us to agree with Him.  He wants us to know Him that intimately and walk in His ways that intimately and bear His image on this earth that He created.  He has already agreed and stated that as His desire.  But there has to be agreement between both parties for there to be relationship, at least one that walks together.  I have to agree or I miss out on the relationship and the walk designed for me.

Here’s the other truth that goes with this.  “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.”  Why don’t people know how to do right?  Because they won’t agree with the One who is right.  Why are people surprised by the things happening in life around them?  Because they won’t listen to what the God who designed them for relationship with Him reveals to those who know Him.  And the truth is, that as You reveal to those who walk with You, they always reveal to the others around them.  And You continue to reveal Yourself through Your creation that is there for all to see.  Paul reminds us, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:18-20)  Every one of us is surrounded by evidence of God just by nature of life itself and all we see at work around us.  But You take that even farther and more personal to invite us into a daily walk with You where we can know You and Your thinking and not just know of You by the evidence You have left behind.

You haven’t just left evidence behind because You are still actively involved in holding all of nature together.  But it’s one thing to see Your handiwork outside of me and it’s another thing to BE Your continual handiwork.  Because You don’t just reveal Yourself and Your secrets and Your mystery to prophets or religious elites.  You reveal Yourself to any who would walk with You, to any who would turn and agree with You.  Look at Simon Bar-Jonah.  He was brash and arrogant.  But You saw someone different in him.  You saw Peter and when Peter saw You for who You really are and agreed with You and walked with You, he started to see himself as You saw him and His life was changed into Your image.  You revealed Your plans and Your heart to him and he lived them out.  And what of Saul the persecutor?  You saw Paul the apostle, who walked with You and agreed with You and lived You out in his life even though it lead to his death.  But even that lead to life eternal with You, with walking with You and agreeing with You forever.

And why would they choose to walk with You and agree with You like that?  Could it be because it was more than a flesh and blood thing but that You revealed the truth of Yourself to them?  Is it that God would make Himself personally known?  Would You let the secret out of the bag and into our hearts and lives?  Even if I’m not a prophet?  Even if I’m just me?

Jesus Himself thanked God for this truth.  “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)  And it’s not that the wise and those who think they know so much, can’t know.  The truth is that they choose not to know, they choose not to agree, they choose to walk their own way.  But not so those who see themselves as children who need a Father to walk with, who want that relationship, and see the value of agreeing with the One who knows and wants to share that knowledge. 

It’s a message of truth for all people.  An invitation to relationship.  And no matter how others feel about it, it’s a message that has no shame.  According to Paul, the Gospel of Christ and the relationship it brings, “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)  Why?  Because in it we see who God is.  We come to understand what righteousness is and that it’s only of and in God.  It’s all revealed and He is made known by agreeing and walking with Him and in Him.  That’s that part about “faith to faith.”  It doesn’t come without the agreeing and walking together.  Faith is more than belief in words and doctrines.  Faith is more than speech and ideas.  Faith is those truths lived out.  Faith is the agreement turned into the walk of our lives.  The “just,” the holy live by that kind of faith.  And the revealing continues into eternity because there is that much of God to be made known!

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 that there was a secret and hidden wisdom of God that God had decreed before the ages.  Neither the earthly rulers or the heavenly rulers up to that time had  understood it or they wouldn’t have crucified Jesus.  But God had a plan for those who love Him.  And God reveals that plan to us through the Spirit, that Spirit that searches everything including the depths of God.  He searches the depths of our own hearts and the depths of God and makes them both known to us.  Only if we don’t agree with God, we won’t agree with His Spirit either.  And if we don’t agree, we won’t choose to walk with Him.  And if we don’t walk with Him, we won’t get to know Him and we won’t hear a thing He has to share.

It’s not like we don’t have a choice.  I can choose to listen to and agree with and walk with the Spirit of God.  On the other hand, I can choose to listen to and agree with and walk with the spirit of the world.  If I choose that, I’ll not know the “things that are freely given to us of God.”  And the truth is that the things and relationship that God wants to give, the people and angels of the past wished they understood, including the prophets and angels, but today, in Christ by the Spirit of God, we can be filled up with what was lacking, with the personal knowledge of revelation, that of a true relationship with our living God! 

This great mystery used to be available to a select few.  But now it’s available to all who will agree with and walk with the Lord in Jesus Christ, the hope of glory.  God is calling you and me out from the spirit of this world.  He’s inviting us to agree with Him and walk with Him.  We were created for that intimate relationship.  God created us to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery of Christ in us.

God was using Amos to remind us of this truth, to bring Israel and us into that relationship we were created for, to break the chains of false thinking and false alliance.  And it’s not that coming back or finding that place or being in that place in You comes without trials, but the truth is that You are worth the trials and You are greater than the trials.   I mean, after all, You went through the greatest trial to win us back to You, to show how much You wanted us to agree with You and walk with You.  If You were willing to walk through the fire of testing to win me back, then I think it is worth the testing of my faith that I might become genuine in my agreement and walk with and for You.  And if Your walk has become the most precious thing to me, then surely the walk of tested faith You take me on, shall be precious to You. 

Yeah, I wasn’t there when Peter and Paul were.  I didn’t get to see You like I always wished I had.  I couldn’t be reborn as a kid in Your day of walking back then.  But You are the risen Saviour.  And You invite me to walk with You today in agreement as Your disciple.  And like Paul, we are invited to be Your emissaries in this world.  I may not have his giftings, but then again, Paul didn’t have mine.  Maybe I’ll never be given the opportunity to heal someone, or cast out a demon, but You have revealed so much to me that I see Your truth shine out through balloon creations, and magic tricks, and object lessons, and clown skits, and umbrella dances, and words on paper and words that float through the air, and so much more.  And it’s not because I would have always seen these things.  It’s because in knowing You and agreeing with You and walking with You, Your Spirit opens You up in everything.  And I don’t have to be a Paul or a Peter or a Mother Theresa.  I just get to become who You really created me to be.  But I won’t ever realize that if I don’t agree with You and walk with You.

So I guess I have to determine who I will walk with.  And if I want to walk with God, then I’ve got to walk with You.  Because I can’t know You unless I know You and I can’t know You without walking with You and I can’t know You unless I listen to Your Spirit and that takes agreement.  Because listening isn’t just listening.  Listening is doing and following through.  Here’s the sad thing, the truth is out there and available for every one of every nation, Jew and Gentile alike.  But so many will never know, not because the knowledge wasn’t available, but because they would never look and search it out.  How sad to miss out on the answer of life when it has always been within one’s grasp.  I want nothing more than to walk in agreement with You, Lord, no matter what it takes.

  

A Sign to the People

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“And the LORD said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’” Jonah 4:4

What kind of person do You use God?  What kind of person do You choose?  Somehow, I think we get hung up on this idea of what a saint is and I don’t think our idea is right.  It’s like You choose people to be saints who are above other people because there’s something so good about them.  But the more I dig into Your word, that’s not what I see.  It’s not that these people were such great people by nature.  They weren’t.  They were just people like everyone else.  The difference is that when You called them in the middle of the world system where they were, they listened.  Well, some listened more intently then others, but nevertheless, there was some level of listening and turning to You.

I mean, try to tell me that Sampson was a perfect guy.  Excuse me?  I don’t think so.  It wasn’t that he absolutely obeyed all that God said.  He was supposed to be qadosh, holy, set apart from the world for God, and in some ways he was, but in other ways, like his treatment of women and his lack of respect for what God said was holy, i.e.. eating the honey out of a dead lion carcass, he was not set apart from the world.  So why would You still use him, Lord?  Why not toss him off and choose another?

That makes me think about King Saul who valued booty more than obeying God.  God had chosen him and set him apart for something more than being king.  He was set apart to lead the people in what it was like to live out a relationship with You, Lord.  But his main focus wasn’t on that relationship even though Yours was.  And when David came along with the praises of all those women, Scripture says, “And Saul was very angry…” ( 1 Samuel 18:8)  His son, the heir to the throne, was so pleased with David’s heart for You, Lord, that he actually acknowledged David as the next heir by the gift of his robe and armor, but not so Saul.  Saul wanted the kingdom more than a relationship with You.  Saul still had his eyes on the booty.  It’s how he lost the kingdom in the first place.  Seeing David probably brought up those memories of Samuel’s words, “The Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”  Now, I wonder if Saul worried about being cast away from God?  Or was his only worry about being cast off the throne?

But the fact of the matter is that God already knew Saul’s heart just as much as he knows mine.  And God chose Saul for a time and a reason.  God chose Saul to save the people from the hand of the Philistines.  Samuel’s words to him are interesting.  In one part he tells Saul how he will meet some prophets on the way to his “swearing in.”  And when he comes to them, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”( 1 Samuel 10:6)  Imagine that!  And after Samuel finished sharing these things along his way and about their meeting in Gilgal, Scripture says, “When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.”  Wow, again!  And everyone saw what was going on in Saul.  Only, I’m not so sure Saul saw.  Because he gets back and won’t tell his uncle what had happened.  And I wonder how he can have a changed heart by God and not declare those things that God has shared and done.  But Samuel gathers the people to share.  But Saul hid.  Maybe what this meant to what his life ought to look like started to hit home.  Maybe he was afraid of what people would think. 

And maybe Saul should have payed attention better to Samuel when he said to the people, (who included Saul), “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.  Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty [like kings and cattle and booty and people].  For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for Himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.  Only fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart.  For consider what great things He has done for you.  But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” ( 1 Samuel 12:20-25)

Here’s what I’m thinking about.  Jonah and Sampson and Saul were each chosen and set apart for You by You.  That makes them examples for us, albeit not the best examples, but definitely honest examples.  And we can choose to follow their lead or we can recognize the dangers in ourselves and refuse to let disobedience and selfish desire creep in and take control.  We can refuse our own self-righteous anger.  It’s the same story as in the garden of Eden and it’ll destroy our testimony if we let it.  And our testimony isn’t about us, though we’d like it to be.  Our testimony is about all the wonderful things You are doing in and through and for us, God.  Because the truth is, we have nothing without You.   

When Saul held back Agag and the spoil, disobeying God, Samuel asked, “What have you done?”  That’s reminiscent of God’s words in the garden, isn’t it?  And it wasn’t that God didn’t know.  He did.  But it’s important for us to understand what we’ve really done, isn’t it?  But sometimes we don’t really listen to our own thinking.  I mean, really Saul was saying, “I was afraid so I hid myself in my own good works.”  That’s not so far from Adam and Eve is it, who hid in their own fig leaves because of their fear, or Jonah who hid in the bottom of the boat or hid in his anger out of fear that You wouldn’t respond His way.

But Samuel had it spot on for each of them and each of us.  “You have done foolishly.  You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which He commanded you.  For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom shall not continue.  The LORD has sought out a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”  (1 Samuel 13:13-14)  Jonah, Sampson, and Saul invited sorrow into their lives by their choices.  Time and time again, You were trying to show them what they were missing so they could find their way back in You.  Saul lost his kingdom because his kingdom was earthly when it was supposed to be heavenly.  But he didn’t lose you.  And Jonah didn’t lose you.  And Sampson didn’t lose you.  They lost their way, and You allowed some really rough stuff in their lives, but You are always faithful, and You don’t leave, even when we fall so hard.

So back to Jonah, the prophet sent to Ninevah, this gentile city.  And Jonah new about how merciful You were God because he knew that You would “let Ninevah off the hook” and forgive them if they repented.  That’s why he tried to run and hide on the boat.  He knew all these true things about You, but he didn’t like it when that goodness was turned to those he hated and was angry at. 

I think about when he told the sailors who he was, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9)  That’s great, really.  But somewhere along the line there were other prophesies of Jonah, but this is the only book remembered.  But I discovered something in 2 Kings 14:25, that God had shared some other things with Jonah that’s not in this book we have of him.  During Jeroboam’s reign, Jeroboam “restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke by His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.”  So was he still used and set apart, but just not as effectively as if he had agreed to set himself apart according to God’s will and not his own?  Or had he prophesied other things before this event and then wallowed in self-pity afterward instead of rejoicing with the Lord?

I wonder that because there are lots of things we can say, like Peter when he said, “Even if I must die with You, I will not deny you!”  Or like Jonah saying how he feared God yet didn’t fear You enough to want what You wanted or to think Your way more right than his.  And then he says, “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to You; what I have vowed I will pay.  Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9)  But maybe our point of view changes from the time we are inside the belly of the fish to the time we’re back on the outside with more room to choose.  Because something happened in Jonah’s heart and mind after that, and he didn’t seem to be willing to sacrifice his ideas with thanksgiving and he certainly didn’t seem to want to pay his “vow” to You.

Now, I’m not holding these “saints” to a higher standard than me.  Every one of us is held to Your standard.  Thank God that Jesus knows our humanity!  The point is, when I make choices against You, I always lose out.  And what I lose out on most of all is that relationship with You.  And the truth is that I can be rejected as a prophet or as a king or as a witness, like Saul was rejected from being king (1 Samuel 15:22)  Because the problem with rebellion is that it’s as evil as practicing witchcraft.  It’s worshipping another power, even if it is our own power to decide.  Rebellion and stubbornness aren’t little sins.  Rejecting the word of the Lord doesn’t just mean you’re an atheist.  It means that God has said that something is right and we just won’t agree with Him. 

What does that look like?  Well, when God establishes one man and one woman in the garden to be one, not only in flesh but in spirit and worship, and Sampson doesn’t give a hoot if his woman loves God or not, that’s sin.  Or when God loves and wants to show mercy to a repentant gentile people, and Jonah will have none of it, that’s sin.  Or like Peter, when Jesus tells him he’s going to deny him, and he basically answers, “You’re a liar Jesus, I would never deny you.”  Or like when we pick and choose what we want to obey in Your word, like maybe everything about salvation but then we talk with disrespect and meanness to others created in the image of God.  Or we choose bitterness over anger because our rights trump Your word to forgive.  Or I want so much to be loved and valued that I would disobey You just to find that feeling. 

But Samuel reminded Saul that obeying the voice of the LORD, that listening to You and doing Your will, was better than any vow we could pay or any sacrifice we could give.  It’s one thing, after that, to say that I’ve sinned and to say that I am agreeing with You, but it’s only true if I act in accord with what You want.  It’s not enough to go through the motions even though that is a start.  I have to change my mindset and heartset and want to obey, and want to feel Your way.  I can go to Ninevah and witness and walk away and still hate, but then I haven’t fully obeyed, because obeying is letting God work and feel through me.  I’m a living vessel because He lives in me.  I’m not just some lifeless pottery that pours out His words. 

I just don’t have the right to pick and choose where I want to be set apart in my life and where I don’t.  I either am, or I’m not.  Psalm 16:3 says, “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” Am I really willing to be put aside for God’s use and not my own.  The majesty is that You choose to use me and make me more than I could ever be.  You choose to use me as Your living vessel in this world.  Do I want to be Your vessel or remain my own?  Whose will shall I adopt?  But those who choose to remain set apart by You and for You, You delight in and make them majestic.  Why?  Because You are majestic in them.  And the truth is, we’re never alone and never on our own, because there are always other set aside ones. 

And even if all the set aside ones, lose sight of their set asideness, we have the greatest example of God and human to follow, Jesus Himself who for our sake, for the sake of the set aside ones, consecrated Himself, that we also might be sanctified in truth. (John 17:19)  It’s not easy being set apart.  It takes violence, “violent separation from worldly ways,” like dying to them.  Jesus payed the price to death and beyond.  What price will I pay to remain truly set apart for You, Lord?  You have set me apart, but I must choose to remain set apart in and for You.  Many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22;14)  Maybe that’s all because many refuse to choose being set apart as their way of life. 

In reality, our minds, that think we have a right to be angry when we don’t, are a dangerous thing.  So are our hearts which are deceitful and desperately wicked to the point we don’t even realize it.  Now here’s the interesting thing.  Jonah, that saint and sinner, became a sign to the people of Nineveh. (Luke 11:30)  How?  I think they heard of his being tossed off the boat, and swallowed by a fish, and spit back out, because Jonah’s God does real things, real miracles like that because He cares that Jonah gets His message to the people of Nineveh because He cares about them.  See, Jonah was set apart to show that You care.  And You did that with him despite himself.  And Jesus, the Son of Man, was also a sign, only a perfect miracle sign by being swallowed by death and rising alive three days later.  Why?  To show how much You care for us and how far You would go to set us apart again for You.  Something and someone greater than Jonah came to rescue us from sin and from ourselves.  Isaiah warns us to seek Him “while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” ( Isaiah 55:6-8)  God is calling and setting us apart.  Am I choosing for me what You are choosing?  Because only when I choose what You choose for me will I ever learn to be faithful.  And the truth is, You determine what is considered faithful and it is that which honors and reflects You alone.  (Revelation 17:14)  Keep me ever learning.