Ditching the Attitude

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“‘Son of man, because that Tyre has said against Jerusalem: ‘Aha, she is broken that was the gate of the peoples; she is turned unto me; I shall be filled with her that is laid waste…’” Ezekiel 26:2

 
Attitude matters. Promises are for real. Relationship counts. Integrity is more important than success. Loving our neighbors isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command.

 
Today, Ezekiel, that prophet of the Lord, brings up the strong city of Tyre. Tyre was a famous island city with a portion on the mainland. It’s king and his son covenanted with David and Solomon. That’s where the cedars of Lebanon came from. It was an important sea town and relied on Jerusalem for food. The men of Jerusalem and the men of Tyre ventured out together on sea trade. There was a relationship. It happened to be mutually beneficial.

 
Sometimes the king of Tyre acknowledged Jerusalem’s God. But they never left their own gods. As a matter of fact, at one point in history, the king switched over from temple worship of Baal and Asherah to Melqart who was more politically oriented and included the people more. They were very proud of their city and of their god and of their wealth. How hard was it to acknowledge another god if he helped them in their image? Only I guess they didn’t really realize who they were dealing with and that he wasn’t just some god, but God. And I guess they didn’t realize that there was more to life than self-exaltation, that our alliances are not just for our own benefit. Life is much bigger than us and our plans.

 
It’s so easy to be like Tyre and to think we’ve got it all together. It’s easy to be happy with other people when they help us obtain our desires, but it’s hard when they succeed more than us. It’s easy to become a friend, but it takes work and humility to stay a friend. It’s easy to lose sight of the real deal in the midst of it all and throw away the thing that was the real reason for our success.

 
The truth is that God has a purpose. It’s for You, God, to be glorified. You draw people to You to do that. Israel was Your very own people, born and raised for that purpose. And in that purpose, they would draw others to You, others like Tyre and Sidon, if they would come. I can’t help but think about that phrase in verse two that says of Jerusalem, the one that was “the gate of the peoples.” I can’t help but think that the phrase refers to more than a city of prosperity and trade but that Jerusalem was this source of light to others who came to her and got to know You, like the Queen of Sheba. I can’t help thinking about the magi that searched out the baby king of Jerusalem. This was a special city and a special people to God. This was Your own. This was Your chosen. Jerusalem was Your bride, Your light to the gentiles. And Tyre was more than a friend. Tyre was in covenant with Israel. That’s strong stuff. It’s supposed to be unbreakable.

 
Tyre’s life was wrapped up with Israel. By covenant they were bound together historically and as far as welfare goes. Understand that a covenant was an indissoluble commitment. Listen to what God’s word says in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, When He separated the children of men, He set bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel, for Jehovah’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.” But does Tyre want to hear or remember that? Does any other nation want to hear that Israel is chosen of God? I mean, who really wants to be humble? Who doesn’t want to be noticed and commended and famous and strong and powerful and beautiful and the best?

 
I suppose it is painful to think that someone else is the center of our universe and that everything revolves around them. That’s how it is with Israel. But it wasn’t like Israel said, “Hey, God, pick me because I’m the best and the most worthy!” Remember how God chose Israel? There was this man name Abram who listened to God and just followed Him even though all the people around him didn’t. That’s the credit Israel gets for being God’s bride. That’s the credit any of us get. We listen and we obey and we follow and we cling to a real and living God. And this is God’s design. This is the picture and the way that You want us to follow. This is what You wanted Tyre to see and do.

 
But they didn’t like the attention that Jerusalem got. Maybe they didn’t like Israel’s attitude. That could be, because she might have gotten a little puffed up in herself. But she was still Your bride. She was still and still is today “the hub of the nations and all things revolve around this people of destiny.” (David Cooper) God chose Israel for a reason and purpose. Don’t forget to look back at how it first happened because that’s the example of where faith begins.

 
Bu the story of Tyre is about something other than faith. Tyre didn’t choose to follow their brother in faith. Tyre didn’t choose to follow God. Tyre chose jealousy of their brother in covenant. Tyre chose to gloat over the calamity that befell their covenantal partner. Being that their animosity was toward Israel, that makes it anti-Semitism. And the problem with that is that it’s going against God. It’s like telling God, “You’re wrong in Your choice. I don’t agree with You.”

 
So, this nation Tyre, who should have been on Israel’s side, rejoiced about their downfall. “Hey, this is great! Now our opportunities will open wide. More riches for us. I get what was coming to her now. Thank goodness she’s laid waste so I can get it all!” And if the thought wasn’t bad enough, I’m pretty sure there was rejoicing over her downfall that went with it. That sad thing is that hate can well up out of jealousy. We can feel stiffed or slighted because we aren’t doing as well as someone else, even as a friend, and we can become jealous and bitter and gloating just like Tyre. Isn’t it sad when we would wish ill on someone else just for the benefit of goodness for ourselves?

 
But God cares about how we treat His bride and how we treat His people because He loves them. And another truth is that He is such a sympathetic God that He invites others into that relationship with Him and His people. He had invited Tyre in to that relationship, but it wasn’t the relationship they wanted most. They gave up on their sympathy toward others, for wealth and fame. And in doing so they brought on their own downfall.

 
Attitude matters. Integrity matters. Compassion matters. Love matters. And most of all, God’s will matters above all. Why? Because there is a Judge who has set the standard. And it’s not about being strong or wealthy or noticed or significant or whatever. It’s about listening and hearing and obeying and following and belonging and being Yours. Israel is represented in Abram. That’s how any of us come to God, just like Him.
Jesus came because God knew we would have trouble getting it. Jesus came for the Jew first. Oh, now I’m jealous, just like Tyre. But so what if Jesus came for the Jew first? Wouldn’t you want to rescue your own child first? But first doesn’t mean only. He’s reaching out for anyone else who wants to listen and come and follow and be His. I’d rescue my own child but I’d also rescue as many other children as would let me. And then, once rescued they could become my own. That’s how adoption works. It makes me a whole child that belongs wholly. Why would I need to be jealous? We are brothers and sisters together. We have the same Father.

 
I don’t want to be guilty of anti-Semitism or jealousy or hatred against Israel. I love Israel. Israel is my heritage in the Lord. Jesus came out of Israel. Abram is a spiritual father to me and example. They were my first light. I owe so much to them. Why should I be jealous or angry? God called them so I could hear Him calling me.

 
And what about someone who might be prospering in some way around me? Am I going to resent them because of their prosperity and my lack of prosperity? I hope not. Maybe I can just keep loving them and being faithful to them and their prosperity will bless my life, not because I’m using their prosperity but because I care about them more. Being less can hurt, but judgment hurts way more. And learning how to be less and be content and make more of others is the beginning to knowing God. After all, Jesus became a man so He could make much of God and something of us so that by becoming less, we can make much of God and something of others. I pray that I learn from Tyre to ditch the attitude and cling to gratitude instead.

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Losing the Delight of Your Eyes

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Photo credit to wikimedia.

 

“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16)

 

I’m wondering if when we sit down and read Ezekiel if we really understand what it was like for him? What was it like for the people? What was reality? I mean, I ‘m here in chapter 24 within a month or two of reading in the mornings and meditating. But what about Ezekiel? When was the last time I stopped to think about how long You were taking Ezekiel through these things with You? Maybe today was the first time. And just to get to this point of Chapter 1 up to what’s happening in chapter 24 is a span of a man’s life of about 5 years. Imagine that. How would I feel after 5 years of being a prophet and going through all this? But how would I respond to this day in Ezekiel’s life, to this day when Ezekiel becomes the most personal picture of God He could ever imagine?

 

Oh, let the word of God come unto me. Really? Have you counted the cost? Do you really understand what that could mean? Are you really ready to stand for God no matter what? Ezekiel was. Ezekiel was fully Yours, Lord, in such a way that so greatly inspires me and tests me today. You know, I’ve read Your word lots of times. But I don’t remember this. I don’t remember this ever being significant before and I don’t understand how I ever could have read this before and not been stopped by it. This is hard stuff. This is the stuff of real faith, of make it or break it faith. This is that moment of love tested and love proved. This is purging and testing and creating the man or woman we really are and not just who we want to be. This is the making of a servant of God. This is true worship, true devotion.

 

It’s one thing to declare Your words and judgment on a people who deserve it. It’s easy for us to get smug, and holier than thou, and detached, and emotionless. It’s easy to get like Jonah who cared less if the “nasty Ninevites” got what was coming to them. Or if the Jews who had prostituted themselves from their God and involved themselves in atrocities paid the price. But You, God, don’t become detached and emotionless in the midst of it. In the midst of judgment You stay off Your pain for them because You must, not because You feel no pain. After all, here are the ones You would have brooded over and hidden under Your wings like a mother hen but they won’t have it.
Now here’s the clincher today. Ezekiel is setting up another picture of the judgment of the people. Jerusalem is like this nasty pot filled with nasty stuff and being purged over a fire. Right away, that word purge conjures up negative thoughts for me. But it shouldn’t. The Hebrew word, taher, means to be bright, to be pure. Let’s look at that kind of purity a little closer. It means physically sound, clear, unadulterated; Levitically uncontaminated; morally innocent or holy; at least according to Strong’s Concordance. It’s about ritual cleanness which prepares us to enter the presence of God undefiled. That’s what David was asking for when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) He understood that only God could prepare him for that. That’s still true for every one of us today.

 

It’s not a scary truth. Even Noah Webster defines purging as a positive thing. It’s “to cleanse or purify by separating and carrying off whatever is impure, heterogenous, foreign, or superfluous…to clear from guilt or moral defilement…to clear from accusation or the charge of a crime…to remove what is offensive; to sweep away impurities.” When did that become negative? Maybe when it became painful to do so because it means passing through the fire and passing the test.

 

Why would I think a prophet doesn’t have to pass through the fire to be purged? Why would only a renegade nation or person have to pass through? Don’t we all have to pass through because we all need to be purified by God His way? Who makes us holy? Who makes us pure? Who makes us sound? Does it just come easy and naturally? I think not. I think the Divine is not natural or easy at all. I think the Divine takes reliance on the Divine and not on me or my way or the prophet or his way or the will or strength of a nation and a people and their way. I think that purity, Divine purity, is a foreign affair that we have to learn the culture of and that even prophets like Ezekiel still had room to learn.

 

Here’s the clincher that hit me today. I was OK with judgment being foretold and the the image of the pot over the fire. But now You speak to Ezekiel these words: “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke: yet neither shall you mourn nor weep, neither shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16) Do you know what that means. To paint a picture for Ezekiel and the people, God was going to take from Ezekiel the wife that he so loved. And Ezekiel was going to have to withhold his mourning for her. Imagine that. “My faithful servant, I’m going to take your wife now, the one you love so much. In the midst of all your other suffering and the suffering to come, I’m taking her suddenly today. And you can’t cry or do the normal funeral stuff.” What? This is a loving God? Really?!

 

Yes. This is. This is a loving God who must serve justice as well as grace. You can’t separate them from who You are. This is a God who understands the pain of those you love rejecting You. This is a God who understands what it is to sacrifice that which You love the most for the good of those who don’t get it or value the sacrifice. This is a God who understands love but because we don’t, He gives us experiences where we can come to understand what He feels and what He has done for us.

 

So Ezekiel and his wife became a picture of God’s love. There is this tremendous poem written a long time ago by Barbara Miller called Ezekiel. It’s too long to share here, but I would if I could. This story of Ezekiel effected her too and she wrote a poem about Ezekiel and his wife and what it must have been like. And she shares this through the eyes of Ezekiel’s wife:
“If God had willed,
I would have gladly stayed; but we are His,
And it is sweet to do a little thing
For Him who loves us so.  He needeth me
To be a sign for Him, –my death to stand
A figure to my people, of the things
Which He will do on them, except they turn
And seek His face.  And I am so content
To die for this!  I could not speak for God,
As thou hast done so well; but I can die
For God, and for my people,– and for thee–
To aid in thy great work.
“Forbid me not;
Deny me not to Him. A day shall come
When He shall give His Dearest to the death,
For thee and me!” The clouds had parted now,
The love of God was shed abroad, within
My broken heart. I could not say Him , Nay;
Or question Him. I laid my sacrifice
Upon His altar, not denying Him
Mine only one.”

 

I really don’t know that Ezekiel’s wife understood about how Jesus, God’s own Son, His own beloved, would be the sacrifice for our sins or not. Did Abraham fully understand when he was willing to offer up his only son? Did Ezekiel understand? Am I supposed to always understand You God, or am I called to trust You, to listen and hear and act upon that hearing showing that no matter what, whether sacrifice of pain or joy unspeakable, You are God and Your plans for Your kingdom, for me and for every person on this planet is a plan for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope? (Jeremiah 29:11) Is that future and hope, is that welfare worth being purified? What is my future and my hope? Is it You? Because You alone are that future and that hope and if my future and my hope is anything else, I am lost and filthy and defiled from my purpose.
Could I respond like Ezekiel’s wife? Could I respond like Ezekiel? Any other response is wrong and not just wrong. Any other response is sin because it places something else before God. The twenty-four elders worshipping before Your throne remind us continually, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) Paul tells us in Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation and that “by Him all things were created; in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

 

So what does that matter? Through Him the fullness of God dwells and through Him God is reconciling us to Him. Jesus is our purifier. God makes known to us His love not only through words but through His actions. Am I called to less? Am I only to love God in words and not my actions? Is there a limit to my love? A price it won’t go beyond to pay? Did God have a limit for me? No! He makes known His love. And in demonstrating and not just telling us about His love, He makes us able to reciprocate that love through our lives. He enables us, in Him, to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” He strengthens us with all the power and might and endurance and patience it takes to go through the fire with Him so that we shine just like Him.

 

It’s this kind of stuff that makes us or breaks us as believers. This is the stuff that causes those around us to stop and rethink the status quo. Responding to God when it goes contrary to the world, causes people around us to stop and ask, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting like this?” (Ezekiel 24:19) Does it seem senseless or pointless? It’s not. It means more than we could ever imagine and maybe more than we’ll ever know on this side of heaven. But how far am I willing to demonstrate my love? All the way or only as far as it doesn’t hurt?
So, I thought I was finished with this yesterday, but I can’t get it off of my mind. And then I heard Psalm 62. I can imagine Ezekiel saying these words, just as David did, and I’ve heard myself cry them out. “My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at ALL (emphasis my own) times; you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah”. But then David doesn’t stop. He shares, “God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God. Also unto You, O Lord, belongs mercy: for You render to every man according to his work.” What was Ezekiel’s work that it was worthy of the sacrifice of his beloved wife?

 

What if our work isn’t just about what we do or how we act? What if our work, our maaseh or maiseh is more about the story, the real story of who we are in God. That word, Maaseh Bereishit, is used when You God worked the creation of the universe. In Yiddish it’s the word for a story. Literally, it means an act or deed and ones from the word for making or doing. In Hebrew, stories are always synonymous with doing. In Greek I think of the word poeio which is the doing that flows out of being, like that of an artist or one who knows God. And I’m thinking that is the concept of work and doing and acting that David is talking about here.

 

Ezekiel knew God. He knew what it was to have God’s spirit flow through him. But he still had to trust in God. I am sure his heart told his soul to cry out to this God he trusted, to his rock and his salvation even in the midst of the loss of his wife, his beloved wife. Because maybe Ezekiel’s work was understanding and knowing and experiencing the heart of God. And when you finally start, I mean even start to understand and know and experience the heart of God, your actions and thoughts and hopes and dreams change. And your life can be turned upside down, and you can sacrifice your only son or beloved wife and give them back to the God who gave them to you in the first place, trusting, just trusting that God is God and You will still be God to those we love and those of us left behind. It’s what You do because it’s who You are. You render, You complete, You befriend and reciprocate and amend, and finish, and fulfill, and perfect and perform and prosper and restore and reward all that place themselves in You. It’s not just about prophets and kings. It’s about anyone trusting wholly in You so much that we place our whole being inside of You and accept You as You are. That’s when we receive You back as who You are. That’s the only deed, the only work that is acceptable in us, that let’s You do Your work, Your will, Your way in us, even if we must let go of our beloved. Because nothing should be more beloved than You.

 

So, Lord, what will I walk away with today? Will I remember this and will my life and thinking be changed by this? Where am I in You? Who is my most beloved? Is my heart so entwined with Yours that I know how You feel and that my actions flow from You? What story is my life displaying? Thank You, Lord, for the true story of love, commitment, and devotion that Ezekiel and You and even his wife display before us. May I love You that much, Lord. And may others be changed by the love that You have given me.

Tragedy Before Perfection

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Image credit to theWallpaper.com

 

“As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Ezekiel 21:6

 
Imagine judgment so terrible that God cuts off both the righteous and the wicked. Imagine judgment so full that it is against all flesh. Once Abram said to God, “That be far from You to destroy the righteous with the wicked.” (Genesis 18:25) But just because Abram said that, does that make his thinking right? Is it not Your holy right and prerogative to do as You will and as must be done for righteousness? If that wasn’t the case, why would Paul be able to say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? Why would he have proceeded that statement with these words, “…with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death”?

 
Is this a hard realization? Yes. The hardest ever. It’s called faith, real faith. Jesus warned us about this kind of faith. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28) Was Jesus just joking? Or was he for real? Has God ever been joking? Or has He been for real like this since before time began? Maybe we’re the ones who have been living like jokes.

 
How is that fair, you ask? How is it fair that the righteous and the wicked would both be killed during judgment? Is it fair that all flesh, that all people everywhere would know that God is Lord? I think it is fair that the Creator of all flesh would be seen and glorified and known as the Creator, Sustain-er, and Redeemer of all flesh. I think it’s a hard bite to swallow for us prideful flesh-dwellers, but if we swallow it, it actually tastes divine.

 
Well, maybe that’s fine if I’m talking about someone else’s demise, right? Maybe some other people in some other country? But not here, not me, right? That’s what makes it easier to swallow? No. It could be me. I could fall by the sword because It’s been appointed for man or woman or boy or girl to die once, and after that—judgment. If I escape death by the sword, I won’t escape death by the hand of God. It is He alone that gives life and takes it away. When He says my days are done, He doesn’t need a sword to finish them, He just takes it back. After all, it was His to give and His to take away, isn’t that what Job said?

 
I don’t know where our rosy picture of life came from. It’s certainly not Biblical. I mean, life before the fall was beautiful and painless. But then, life-after-sin entered the picture, and repainted things. Jesus didn’t come and tell us everything was rosy again. At least not yet. In Matthew we hear Jesus warning us, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”

 
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” What does that mean? If Jesus is my teacher, my master, my mentor, and I am His pupil, His disciple, His child, then I follow in His footsteps and His ways. I eat like He eats and drink like He drinks and sleep like He sleeps and act like He acts and walk where He walks and talk like He talks and think like He thinks. His culture is my culture. After all, He originated the culture of God. If the sword was against Jesus because of judgment, the perfectly righteous One, why would it be against me, His disciple any less? Outside of Jesus, I have no righteousness and I’m rounded up with the wicked. But here was God’s righteous One, crucified under judgment for my sin and yours. If anyone didn’t deserve judgment, here is that One.

 
Let’s face it, anyone who is good by God’s standards can only be so by faith in God, by faith in Jesus Christ’s perfect provision and perfect sacrifice. For man, the righteous and the wicked are all sinners. But not so for Jesus. Am I above my Master? Am I more righteous than He? Absolutely not. To be angry at God is to deny God who He is. This isn’t paradise and I’m not called to live like it is. Paradise is only with God. Paradise is only where the will of God has come and is perfected. Right now, this is not the kingdom of God. This is still in control of the prince of the air. But Jesus showed us the way to bring in the Kingdom of God. But to do so, I have to be willing to count the cost. And I have to let God be God no matter what it means.

 
The truth is, we’re all Jobs. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t all in the same sentence. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face.” (Job 13:14) Maybe I should start understanding that Your ways are higher than my ways and Your thoughts than mine. (Isaiah 55:9) Job finally realized the error in his thinking. Maybe it’s time I realized the errors in mine and let You be God.

 
What does that even have to do with God’s words to Ezekiel? “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Whose heart is my heart lined up with? Is it lined up first and foremost with the righteous and the wicked? Am I stepping in as their advocates more than I advocate for You God? Or am I here as Your advocate? How did Ezekiel know how to feel? God felt it first and Ezekiel was so close to You, Lord, that he felt the groaning and the breaking of Your heart and the bitter grief. Ezekiel knew You and knew what His people were losing out on and that was the bitter sorrow for all.

 
See, the truth is that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Take this life from me by the sword or the hand of God and that’s all you do. You take this life. But You don’t take LIFE from me. I have it in Christ. I am a child of God. I am Yours and You are mine. It might be sad, or full of suffering and pain on the way out, but taking away the visible won’t rob me of what is invisibly mine, because what is invisible is far stronger and eternal. But what a tragedy for those who chose wickedness instead, who are the children of wrath and not of God. That makes me want to groan, and breaks my heart to think of what they will enter- an eternity of suffering outside of the will and presence of God. And it’s not like You haven’t been giving us a choice over all these thousands of years. That’s how much You care. What a tragedy to miss that.

A Bad Dream

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Picture credit to illusionspoint.com

 

“‘…Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:32

 
I’m up early this morning because I had a dream. It wound up being a bad dream. There was a small child next to me and he wanted to go with another person and didn’t listen when the other person said, “No.” He was at the top of a multiple flight of stairs and someone was on the partial flight slightly below. So he just jumped out for the person to  catch him anyway, only that person didn’t catch him. I couldn’t believe it. He just fell past down the flights to the floor below. And I ran and told the person to call 9-1-1 because I knew it wasn’t good. Actually, I was pretty sure the fall killed him. And I ran and held him in my arms and then I woke up. It was just a terrible feeling. There were so many reasons why it didn’t have to happen. Why couldn’t I stop him? Why didn’t he listen? Why didn’t the other person even try to catch him? How could they not hear the sound of his head hitting? Why weren’t they running to him? Why was I even having a terrible dream like this?

 
So then I get up, because now I can’t sleep any more anyway and I continue reading in Ezekiel and I almost have to ask some of the same questions. Because here I see God asking those kinds of questions of Israel and in asking those kinds of questions of Israel, You make me think about them in terms of me too. They aren’t just things to think about for people of the past, but it’s what we ought to be thinking about today as well. You ask the same question, “Why will you die?”

 

I had no pleasure in watching the death that transpired in that dream. For so many reasons it didn’t have to happen and yet it did. God, You tell us the same thing. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, so turn, and live. Step back from what you want and listen to Me. I want you to live and live abundantly. I’m not trying to keep you from something. My plans are for better things for you than you even know.”

 
And God, You aren’t like the person who didn’t even try to catch the child. Because You make every effort to turn Israel’s heart just as You make every effort to turn mine. You treat every one of us individually. That’s so amazing. You tell us, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) That means that children aren’t held responsible and counted guilty for the parents’ sins, nor vice versa. We are each held responsible for our own sin or righteousness.

 
You continue, “‘If a man is righteous and does what is just and right [that means according to You]—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live,’ declares the Lord GOD.” If a man walks faithfully in the ways of the God who created Him, trusting in Him and His Word and His ways, then he’s counted as righteous, just like Abram. If this man, who here happens to be a father, walks faithfully in God’s ways, he will be saved from God’s wrath and punishment because he’ll have a relationship with the God who wants to care for him. He’ll demonstrate how much he thinks of His God by living like Him. He won’t worship anyone else, because his heart is for You alone. He’ll honor and respect women because he honors and respects You. He won’t misuse others by collecting interest and being more concerned about his profit than their welfare because You are concerned about his welfare. He won’t only refrain from injustice but he will make sure that things are just between people, because justice is of You. He’ll walk in Your statutes, Your ways, and Your will, and obey You because he knows You and honors You as God and as heavenly Father and Lord.

 
But should his son choose otherwise, no matter what he’s seen in his father, then his son will be judged for his own choices. Should he choose violence and shedding blood instead (periyts and shaphak, in Hebrew), then he chooses his own way, that dishonors and defies the God who created him and those around him. He commits violence against God and others, he breaks what God intended, he robs God of His glory and murders the image of God in man. Instead, he chooses to worship idols, dishonor women, oppress the poor and needy, he cruelly takes from others, isn’t concerned with restoration, is involved in things that stand against God, is more concerned about interest and profit than people or God. This son will be judged for his choices.

 
Because that’s what it is, it’s our choice. Because this son, could have a son who has seen all the wrong things that his dad was doing. And his own son could decide to not do likewise. So God, You will judge him alone for his choices.

 
And You even are so merciful as to take it a step beyond. Because there are those who are wicked, who do all those terrible things, and all of a sudden they see what they’re doing and they turn away from their sin and commit themselves to You and now they keep Your statutes and do what is just and right and live for You. You even let this person live; he will not die. You pull him back from the flames. You hug him to You just like the one who was already there by Your side. The one who turns shall surely live too.
You are a righteous and just judge and You alone are qualified to judge us since You created us and You established the bar. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” So maybe a right question to ask now would be, “On which side of the fence do I fall? Who am I lining my life up with? Whose statutes am I following, Yours or my own? Am I standing at the top of the stairs and jumping without listening? Am I violently falling into my own demise?”

 
My dream was rotten. It left a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach and clouded my thoughts. God says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” As rotten as that dream was for me, which thankfully is only a dream and didn’t really happen, imagine all the real life death and spiritual death that God must watch due to our own choices. Imagine the heart of God for those He created for His glory and to receive His love as He watches so many reject their purpose and His love and step into their own demise, into their own violence.

 
But the good news is that should we turn to the Lord, we live. You have no pleasure in the death of anyone. You have no pleasure in the death and separation from You of a willfully wicked person, nor do do You have pleasure in the death and separation of a righteous person who turns to wickedness. Well, I guess they’re both the same, aren’t they? And I guess it’s all about my will or our will and whether we understand that Your will is sovereign and Your will is best. So it’s a matter of me lining up my will with Yours and living in Your will. Because as much as I want to be, I’m not in control. I didn’t create me or the next person. I didn’t create the universe and I don’t hold it together by my word. But You do. And that ought to count for something. Actually, that counts for everything.

 
I don’t want to be a tragedy or a fatality. I don’t have to be. You share Yourself in such a way that I can know You and I can live in You and for You. As a matter of fact, for those who choose to surrender their lives back to You who created us, You don’t make us do all this on our own. You actually dwell in us by the person, power, and presence of Your Holy Spirit. And the beauty of it all is that Jesus showed us what life in You is like. And we can have it through His resurrection when we follow by dying to ourselves and our violent wills and live to Your will. He paid the price for us to be forgiven, so that our wickedness wouldn’t be remembered against us, so that God will look upon us as righteous. We follow in faith and trust. We wait for God to say, “Jump now. I’ve got you.” We don’t just do it in our own time and our own way lest we fall to our death. And what pleasure is there in that, for anyone involved? Everyone in the dream was brokenhearted. But it doesn’t have to be. God has a better way. And His name is Jesus. And I can turn to Him and live in Him and for Him. I can turn, and live. The question is, “Will I?”

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.

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.