Pulling Off an “Ezekiel”

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Photo credit to unknown internet source.

 

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment.” (Ezekiel 4:4)

 
Can you imagine lying on your side out on the ground where everyone is walking by for 390 days? And then doing it again on your right side, the other side, for another 40 days? Now, before that you were asked to make a sketch in a clay brick or maybe use those clay bricks to lay out a model of the city of Jerusalem under siege. And here you are, laying down, which isn’t an easy task physically, so God Himself helps you to be strong enough to do it. He places “cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other” until the days are completed. If that’s not bad enough, you have to eat what God tells you, this unpleasant mix of grains that isn’t even tasty and maybe even considered unclean by Hebrew standards. Let’s take it a step further, because then it’s supposed to be cooked over human dung.

 
Human dung! Are you kidding me? If mixing grains and beans was unclean, then what about cooking over human dung!  Now, Ezekiel didn’t object until this point. And I’m not surprised that he cries out to the Lord. “God, I’ve never defiled what went into my mouth. Please don’t make me now.” So the Lord, has mercy and tells Ezekiel he can cook over cow dung instead. Now that still seems nasty here, but in many cultures with lack of wood for cooking, there’s nothing unusual about that.

 
Speaking of unusual though, this whole thing is pretty unusual, pretty far out there, don’t you think? This is an interesting way to warn the children of Israel and Judah of their impending doom if they don’t repent. But as I read it, it’s not just a story about Israel and Judah and their sin, it’s a story about the call of God on a man and about the faithfulness of that man. And it goes even deeper. It’s about the call of God on any of us, and the evidence of the measure of our faithfulness to that call.

 
The call of God has nothing to do with ease and a life of bliss. It has nothing to do with living life in the wonderful by and by and escaping the here and now. I mean, really, look at Ezekiel. Ezekiel was chosen by God to be His representative and did he live a life of ease? Or was he expected and called to do hard things, things that most ordinary or “normal” men wouldn’t ever humble themselves to do? Where was his wealth? Where was his ease? Where was his blessing as we think of and expect blessings? Was he counting down the days until he died so he could go to heaven? I think not, because the Jews in that time period didn’t have that concept of heaven. What would compel Ezekiel to obey?

 
Why would Ezekiel allow himself to be bound like this? Why would Paul, some 600 years later, allow himself to be bound? “And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:11) And I wonder if it all has some bearing on this man in the middle of both, this man who was also God, whose name is Jesus, who allowed them to bind him and lead him away and deliver him over to Pilate the governor? (Matthew 27:2)

 
It’s funny. Jesus allowed a lot of people to bind him. First there was the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews who arrested him and bound him. (John 18:12) Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:24) And even after his death, those who loved him took his body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:40) But I guess it really doesn’t matter how man binds something. Because ultimately, Jesus broke all those bands when he rose again. But he had to wear those bands. He had to take on that burden.

 
What was that burden? It was the burden that God was placing on Ezekiel, the sin of the people. And Ezekiel was bearing it symbolically. Even so, he needed God to help him bear it. And Paul, he was carrying that burden from God too. That’s why he went all over the world preaching the good news of Christ that others might be set free. But Jesus, He’s the one who can actually bear the whole burden. He alone can carry the full weight.
Ezekiel was a picture for all to see. But it was a picture bigger than Ezekiel. It was God using Ezekiel to display what He was doing and what He was going to do.

 

Do you want to see the whole picture? Let’s look at it in Isaiah 53. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

 
You know, I forgot to mention that while Ezekiel was lying on the ground on his side, he was told to lie down like that with his arm outstretched. Is that supposed to be a Deja Vu? “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God…” (Exodus 6:6-7) This is the word, sabal- to bear, from the Hebrew siblot. It’s the word used in Isaiah 53 where the suffering servant bears our iniquities. It’s the relieving of the burden of those things that enslave and cause servitude, of those things that cause punishment and penalty. This is what the suffering servant, Jesus can bear and do for us. He is our Deliverer who can show Himself strong on our behalf in miraculous ways.

 
But the word of bearing that Ezekiel was called to do and like that which Paul would do or I is a whole different word. In Ezekiel its the word nasah. That’s a word used about testing and trying and proving. It’s like when God tested the faithfulness of his children when they were coming out of Israel. Only at Massah, they didn’t only just quarrel. They accused God and Moses of not being sufficient and of not caring. They basically said that God was impotent and indifferent because He wouldn’t do it there way. It was a challenge to God’s power and goodness despite the prevalent evidence all around.
The truth is that God has already demonstrated His faithfulness and goodness time and time again. It’s not up to Him to prove Himself. We are called to be proven. We’re the ones that need to pass the test, not God. Do we really get who God is and what He has already done? Are we just willing to be used to be witnesses of Him and not ourselves? Am I truly willing to bear His image and forsake my own? Can I forget my needs and desires for the sake of God’s glory and His desires to be manifested by me instead?

 
Am I willing to adopt a Biblical view of my calling or am I going to make it fit my own design?  Because that’s not the way God works. If Jesus came and allowed Himself to be bound and to suffer at the hands of men so that God’s glory would be manifested, and He’s our Master, then how could we be called to anything less? What if my goal wasn’t about receiving blessings but about manifesting the glory of God by a life humbly submitted to His will no matter what He required?

 
What if Ezekiel’s message is a message of choosing God’s will no matter the cost? What if that is what real faith is all about? It takes me to Matthew 19:29 and Jesus’ words, “And every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” That word for forsake is aphiemi. And it does mean to leave, but it also means “to dismiss, to send away, to let go.” There’s a personal involvement on our part just like there was on Ezekiel’s part. He had to decide to go with God’s plan. He had to decide to lay down and stretch out his arms each day in front of everyone. He had to make a conscious choice to manifest God’s picture through Himself despite what others would think and despite how they would treat him.

 
So the question is, am I willing to bear the burden that You place on me God, that shines forth Your image in this world that so badly needs to see You and know You? Do I know You so well that I would be willing to do whatever You required of me so that You could shine through me? Would I be willing to look like a fool to those who don’t understand so that You can look like God to those who will understand? How faithful am I really? Am I faithful enough to pull off an Ezekiel? God, make me able. As I consciously choose You, bind me in that decision in You.

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Love Your Wife Again

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Photo credit to Alamy.

 

“Then the LORD told me: “Go love your wife again, even though she is loved by others and has committed adultery. Love her as I, the LORD, love the Israelites, even though they have turned to other gods and love to eat raisin cakes.” Hosea 3:1

 
This is such an amazing life story that is being shared through Hosea. Just in this one verse there are so many questions to be asked and things to think about. And I wonder if we need to look back at Hosea 1:2.  We hear the the LORD speaking to Hosea and saying, “Go, take unto you a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry; for the land does commit great harlotry, departing from the LORD.” Now, here is the thing. Did Hosea just run out and choose any old prostitute out there? Or had Hosea chosen a woman that he was attracted to and wanted to bestow his love upon, only to come to find out that this would be a part of her nature? This is a question I have been posed with and I think it matters.

 
Because if Hosea was to take a wife of harlotry unto himself then that must make me think of how he would be choosing children of harlotry, because the children weren’t to be produced until after the marriage. Therefore, if the children yet to be produced would be children that choose harlotry after their conception and birth, then it would appear that the wife would be one that chose harlotry despite her marriage relationship after it was consumed. But why does that matter?

 
It matters because Hosea already loved Gomer. When he had set his eyes upon her she was not a harlot. That expression “a wife of harlotry” is from the Hebrew words “esheth zenunim.” Skip Moen, who has more knowledge of the Hebrew than I do, says that if she had already been a prostitute, the Hebrew words would have been “ishah zonah.” But using esheth with the adjective zenunim tells us more of what she became according to the desire or propensity of the leaning of her heart. Gomer became a harlot by choosing unfaithfulness. She had this hidden propensity when she married Hosea, but God already knew her propensity and told Hosea to keep on with the marriage and go with his heart because God could use this for His glory. This was the perfect picture of what was happening with the hearts of Israel in their relationship with God Himself. While claiming Hosea as her husband, Gomer desired other men. And raisin cakes aren’t at all about the snack of choice. That’s what one ate when one was involved in the fertility cults. Gomer’s originally hidden heart was already deeply entrenched in unfaithfulness though Hosea was entrenched in love and faithfulness from the start.

 
Isn’t it funny that this talk of unfaithfulness makes me think about what faithfulness looks like. And if esheth zenunim is connected with idolatry, adultery, and unfaithfulness, it makes me think of another combination of Hebrew words which is quite the opposite, “esheth hayil.” Esheth hayil is that valiant woman that is found in Proberbs 31:10 and Ruth 3:11. And the truth is it’s not true of “everywoman.” This is a woman who has “risen above others.” (Jacqueline Vayntrub) Only Jacqueline feels she’s unrealistic. I think she has done more than rise above others. I think she has learned to rise above herself. And I don’t think she is unrealistic. I think I have seen her represented in women who choose the good of God and the good of others before themselves. I see it in women who desire the joy of God as their heart’s desire. And they are not perfect but they are in the perpetual process of being perfected. They weren’t born here. They made many choices that brought them to Proverbs 31 or Ruth 3. And they were not easy choices. They were self-sacrificial and hard choices. They were the kind of choices that Jesus made for us. It’s the kind of love choice that Hosea made for Gomer and God made for Israel and us. It’s the kind of choice any man or woman can make for God and those under their influence.

 
Gomer was presently incapable of love. Why? Did Hosea or God make her that way? No. She chose false love instead of true love. She chose unfaithfulness instead of faithfulness. What she valued was a lie and so she couldn’t understand the depth and breadth and height of the love that was just waiting to be lavished upon her. The sad thing is that we have a tendency to do the same to God. Gomer is not the only one.

 
This isn’t just a story of Hosea and Gomer. This is a love story. This is a story of the measure of God’s love for His bride, His people. He loved us before we ever loved Him. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven.” (1 John 4:10) Hosea didn’t just run out and grab any prostitute. God didn’t just run out and grab some sinful, idol worshippers. He loved us before that was who we were. He loved us before our hearts turned away. He loves us through the turning of hearts. And he loves us all the way back to the return of our hearts to Him. But until we come to the realization of the immensity of Your love for us, that You loved us first so much, then how can we know how to love? You set the example. And just like You showed us what love looks like through Christ’s life and death and resurrection and obedience and joy and excitement, You showed us what love looks like through Hosea’s faithfulness to Gomer.

 
Here was Gomer, unfaithful to a faithful husband who loved and desired her. Hosea had fallen in love with her. He wanted the best for her. He was her friend, yet she looked to others. But Hosea didn’t let His love die. Why not? Didn’t he have every right to? Only by man’s standards. But that’s not the way that God loves. You give up Your rights and choose instead to love fully. And that’s what we’re called to. We’re called to give up our rights and our will and our pride to shine forth a picture of You in this world that gives hope and light and love and joy where this world is lacking. You are faithful to Your slaves. Gomer was purchased back for the price of a mere slave. But instead of despising Gomer or us, You lavish us with Your love. If only we would see and understand and accept it.

 
There is so much more to this story. There is so much relation to today and to our lives if only we would ask You to help us see. There are so many ways we need to change our thinking, so many ways that our thinking has been warped by this world we live in. Lord, let us stop reading stories and realize that we are reading the truths of life, that this all relates to today and to my heart right now. Help us to understand the depth of Your love for us and help us to live in that love and not be lured by lesser things that will never satisfy.

The Stickiness of God’s Love

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“If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there will I search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.” (Amos 9:2,30)

 
Yes, this is the prophet Amos, and prophets usually had a message from God about impending doom caused by the people hearing but not listening and doing, or by refusing to hear at all. This message reminds me of a message by Jonathan Edwards. Hmm, I just now noticed that he thought about these same two passages. But he also thought about Deuteronomy and the song of Moses to the people of Israel before God when they were preparing to enter the promised land. It was a song about proclaiming the greatness of the LORD, that He alone was the Rock whose work is perfect, and all His ways are justice. He’s a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright. And it’s also a warning.

 

It’s a warning about remembering that He is the Rock and His people’s personal Rock. He’s the One, the Father, who created them, and made them, and established them. And how did they remember Him and honor Him for all He is and all He did? They scoffed the Rock and became unmindful of Him and stopped remembering Him and worshipped other gods who were not. Their problem was that they were “void of counsel” and there was “no understanding in them” though they thought they were wise. “If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end!” (Deuteronomy 32:29) They went from trusting a Rock who could make one chase thousands, and two put ten thousand to flight, to trusting rocks that were not the true Rock.

 

And Jonathan Edwards comes to where You say “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip…” The King James Version that Edwards used says, “their foot shall slide in due time.” We can choose another rock, even though we know the truth, but we’re choosing our own slippery dangerous path just like the children of Israel who fell away.

 
To choose to disregard Your ways is for us to choose instead of a path of security and care and love and provision, a path of destruction and slippery ways to our own hurt. I can expect to fall. It can come suddenly and unexpectedly because we have lost our discernment. The danger that is visible to those who would heed instruction, becomes invisible to us and before we know it, we are caught in it’s harmful grips. It doesn’t take someone to knock me down or push me into the deep water. I slip right in by my own choice. The ‘catcher in the rye” could warn me, but I wouldn’t listen. Down I would go, right over the edge of the precipice. To all this, Edwards says, “There is nothing that keeps wicked Men at any one Moment, out of Hell, but the meer Pleasure of GOD.”

 
It’s the will of God alone that preserves us. His will and His pleasure are demonstrated and withheld by His power. Amos reminds us that this is the Rock, the God, who is the GOD of hosts.  He touches the land and it melts, He rises the water up like a flood, He builds His chambers in the heavens, and vaults of waters in the earth that He pours out at His bidding. When He commands, it is done. Moses reminds us how He chooses a people of His own, encircles them, cares for them, and keeps them as the apple of His eye. He is intimate with them as a mother hen is with her chicks, He guides them and provides for them and gives them strength and suckles them.

 
This Rock, this God, has the power to destroy us. He can easily destroy us. Actually, we deserve to be destroyed. I mean, honestly, look at our track record. Look at Israel’s track record. Do I think I am better? Do I realize the slippery places I have chosen to walk and sometimes still choose to walk? The truth is, outside of the grace and mercy of God, we are all pre-prepared and fit for hell. Now, that’s a scary thought. But didn’t Jesus Himself tell the religious leaders, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires”? And wasn’t hell prepared for the devil and those who follow him? Actually, the devil himself would more than enjoy to deceive us into making ourselves more ready for hell. The corruption and desires of our own hearts would often prepare us.

 
Here’s the thing, we try to hide from the Truth. But the truth is, no one can hide from God. You can choose your own way, but He knows. He knows everything. You know when we sit down and when we rise up and You know our every thought even before we think them. You know my haunts and where my mind dwells. You know what rouses me and stirs me up. You know the thoughts that are most precious to me. But where can I go that You won’t find me? Jonah tried to hide but You knew every step. Peter thought he needed to run, but You found him and got to his heart. Sampson thought he could do it his own way, but You never lost him, although he lost You for a while. And Paul, who thought he had You, found out he hadn’t known You at all despite his religious fervor. They all found out how close to the precipice they were by choosing their own way. But it was You alone who drew them back by Your grace.

 
Israel was choosing to hang at it’s own peril. Each of us can choose this peril too. Jonathan Edwards likened it to this foolishness on our part: “You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.” But our fate, just as Israel’s was is up to us. Because any one of us can call out to God and remember His sacrifice He made for our return to Him. For Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. And He stands waiting to embrace us as His own in His very arms. God is a God of wrath only because we force that hand upon Him by our hard-heartedness and stubbornness. For in all honesty He is a God of love who is just waiting for us to turn to Him instead of the flames, not because He needs us but because He desires us to have life and Life is only found in Him.

 
He is a God who owes us nothing, absolutely nothing. We are like worms or ants underfoot. Yet he regards us as precious, so precious that He gives us the right amount of time to respond to Him. But if we choose to refuse to respond, we also choose our own destruction. And that choice makes You angry God, very angry, because why would Your very own creation chosen for life, choose destruction? Maybe we worms are just stupid deep down. I mean, if we would rather choose death over You, what else can I think?
I haven’t seen the plagues over Egypt. I haven’t witnessed first hand the waters of the sea separated and Pharoah’s army drowned. My shoes don’t last for forty years and my clothes wear out. But I have seen my life changed. And I’ve seen You change other people’s lives. I’ve seen thieves become evangelists and people from broken homes have beautiful marriages. I’ve seen the sun rise and set every day for all the days of my life. I’ve seen compassion that leads to salvation and joy in You.

 
On the other hand, I’ve seen people mock You. I’ve seen people who’s heads were split open and salt poured on because they believed in You, Jesus. I’ve seen people who were cast out of their own countries because of believing You and people who’s houses were destroyed because of it. I’ve seen a Pastor tell of other pastors whose fingernails were plucked out and then they were killed because they believed. But that’s the truth, that those who stood against You were the ones delivering death. You still deliver life to Your own. Like Paul said, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” But to live without Christ is to die a purposeless and terrible death.

 
The truth is, we all have a choice. I can choose to deny God, to deny Jesus, and slip my way into Sheol. And it will all be my fault, my choice, and not God’s. He warned me. Or I can choose God. I can hear and heed. I can live out my life with You living Yours out in me. I can demonstrate Your love and compassion and be the kind of pure and holy and loving and brave “catcher in the rye” that You are. Just as You snatched me back from the flames as I was hanging on that thread, so You desire to snatch others back. It’s not Your desire that any should burn but that each would come to You.

 
If that thread is like a spider thread it’s actually very sticky and very strong. And maybe it even takes a lot of work for us to come off that thread, like I really have to fight staying on. Isn’t it a shame that You place before us so many warnings and do so much to hold us back and draw us to You and yet we fight it all? I don’t want to fight Your ways. I want to see and experience the joy of Your presence. I want to live in the safety of You. My prayer is that others would start looking so that they would start seeing what they are missing. Because maybe, if they start seeing things differently, they might choose to set their feet on the Solid Rock and find You.

The Character of the Bearer

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“The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel.  The saying of the Lord, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth, and formed the spirit of man within him…” Zechariah 12:1

Here we are again at that expression “the burden of the word of the Lord.”  Only now it’s tied in with Israel in such a way that Israel becomes a related burden for other people groups and those that “burden” themselves with Jerusalem will be “cut in pieces.”  Since that word burden in speaking about the word of the Lord is massa, let’s go back to the place Massah again.  Remember how massa has its root in nasah which means to test, to try, to prove?  See, this is God’s prerogative and not ours.  God, You are the One who gets to test, try, and prove us, not vice-versa.  But what happened at Massah was that we the people tested Your faithfulness even after You had time and time again proven it.  It wasn’t just about a quarrel the people had with You.  They doubted and challenged Your power to provide and care for them according to their desires, according to their will.  In other words, they thought both You and Moses were impotent and indifferent.  “If You don’t respond our way, we won’t respond to You. Show You are really God by doing things the way we want them.” 

But what I want isn’t always right or the best.  Sometimes I don’t even know exactly what I want.  I just know I’m in need.  Like this morning.  I don’t really want an answer or something to move forward like I want.  Well, I do, but that’s not what I desire most.  There are things I’d like to see You do and make clear and known, actions I would love to see You perform, but that’s not what’s most important.  What’s most important to me this morning is that I just want to see You rightly.  In my heart and soul and mind and body, I want to come to You rightly.  I want to remember who You are.  I want to love You more than I love what You do.  I don’t want You to have to perform for me because You don’t.  I want to understand like Job was learning to understand that “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”  (Job 3:15)

It’s not like Job totally got it either.  I mean, after all, Job was just a mere man.  He got one part but not the next.  Because right after that he says, “but I will maintain my own ways before him.”  What are our ways before You?  Isaiah showed us what our ways are before You, Lord, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)  But Isaiah stuck some good news in there in verse 8, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our Potter, and we all are the work of Your hand.”

The truth is that God, You alone have every right to test us, to prove us, to give us every opportunity to be molded and formed into Your ever faithful image and likeness.  It doesn’t go the other way around.  That’s what You remind us all in this verse in Zechariah.  See, it’s You who stretched forth the heavens.  It’s You, Lord, who layed the foundation of the earth.  It’s You who formed the spirit of man within him.  It’s all because of You.  It’s all in You.  It’s all through You.  We are the product, not the Producer.  You are the Potter, we are the clay.  You are the ever Faithful One, and we, well, Massah proves our unfaithfulness, doesn’t it?

There is coming this day when You will make Jerusalem “a cup of trembling” to all the people around them.  There is coming a day when You will use Jerusalem to test the faith of all the peoples surrounding them and by that faith, or lack thereof, those who stand against that faith shall be cut down.  And Jerusalem will be strong not because the people are strong in themselves, but because the strength of the people comes through the Lord of hosts, their God.  The Lord shall defend Jerusalem.  The house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will be filled with the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they will look to You because they have realized what they have done in thrusting through the “First-born”, the “only Son.”

It’s not about things happening my way or our way or even Israel’s way.  It never has been.  The burden of the word of the Lord is that it’s His burden and not ours.  It’s His burden to shape us and mold us through testing and trials.  It’s Your burden to be the Potter.  You are I AM.  We are not.  But You have sent Your Messiah, Jesus Christ, so that You could place Your Spirit back in us, and remold us into Your image in Jesus. 

What if You choose to put me in the desert for 40 years?  What then?  Does that change who You are?  No, it doesn’t.  But it should change me.  Will I choose to accept Your burden and testing and be molded into Your image, or will I rebel and demand You form into mine?  Who knows better here anyways?  Is it the One who formed the heavens, layed the foundations of the earth, and formed the spirit within me?  Or is it me that can’t do a single one of those things?  Who will I trust?  Who will I surrender my life to?  Who will I cry out to and expectantly wait for?  Will I believe whether I see it or not?  I mean, if the heavens already declare it, then when have I not seen?  What is it we’re looking for, really?  If I want You to be God, then I need to wholly surrender and let You be who You are.  But oh, if I want to be god, I better be ready for great disappointment and loss, ‘cause it ain’t gonna happen. 

Lord, I don’t want to test You.  I don’t want to carry the burden of Your word as though I’m the one in charge.  I want You to be in charge.  No matter what Your decision for me, I want to learn to trust You and to walk forward in faith.  And if You tell me to stand still in faith, even for a terribly burdensome long time, then teach me to stand still as long as it takes until I am demonstrating absolute trust in You and Your decisions for me.  I thank You that You created the heavens and all their intricacies.  You formed the layer of atmosphere around us that gives us air to breathe and offers protection from the sun.  You designed all the different atoms that work together.  You created outer space that is so vast and amazing, man doesn’t know the end of it.  You laid the foundation of the earth and every particle.  And man keeps seeing the amazing nature of the smallest particle and it keeps being able to go smaller so that we haven’t peered into the smallest realm You created yet.  And You delighted to form the spirit of man within him, and I’m one of those.  And to think that I’m not just one of many, but that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and You know me apart from John Smith.  And it’s not too much for You to know every star by name and every person by name.  Because for You, a name is more than a name.  A name is the character of the bearer.  And I’m so grateful that You are taking the time to give Your name and character to those who surrender to You in Christ Jesus.  May Your will be done and not mine, until You have proved me so that my will has become Yours.

To Abound in Hope and Joy

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Photo compliments of the internet and Candace Payne.

“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”  (Isaiah 51:11)

There’s this woman, Candace Payne, who’s become this instant internet celebrity because of a video posted on the internet.  I saw that first video.  I appreciated it.  And I’m not surprised by all that’s following.  I like to appreciate the joy of little things, even little things like Chewbacca masks that talk like Chewie and have a mouthpiece that moves with your mouth.  Her video made me laugh too.  I’d be right there with her.  But it wasn’t just about a Chewbacca mask.  It was about having a kind of bad day and choosing joy instead.  But her joy isn’t really in the mask.  Her joy is in the Lord and all the things he places in her life.  So, I’ve decided to look into the Biblical idea of joy.  Because, like Candace, my sister in the Lord, I want to live in the joy of the Lord.  I want others to see that special joy in me, despite my circumstances, and I want that supernatural joy to draw others to You, Lord.

Joy is a pretty important thing in Scripture.  In Hebrew, when I did a search, I found at least 15 words and word variations used for joy.  In Greek in the New Testament, I found 4 words used.  When I divided the words between their meanings to study them, it filled 21 pages on my computer!  Do I think joy is important for a believer to understand and walk in?  Yes, I do.  So I want to walk in it.

Simchah is one of those Hebrew words for joy used 83 times in Scripture.  It means blithesomeness or glee.  It envelopes “exceeding(-ly), gladness, joy (-fulness), mirth, pleasure, and rejoice (-ing).  Instance after instance it’s used to describe the joy of the Lord.  And that’s where it really works.  But it can be twisted, like in Proverbs 21:17 which shares, “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man…”  See, joy or pleasure can go astray.  We can get addicted to joy and pleasure in the wrong things.  Whenever that happens, tolerance ensues.  And tolerance causes addiction.  All the pleasures of the world have this way of not satisfying.  There’s this joy in acquiring things, but then we always need to acquire more for that joy.  When our joy is in sexual gratification, we need more for the same joy.  When there is joy produced from the feeling from alcohol or drugs, we need more.  When our joy is in our family and our family leaves to become adults and we’re left alone and joyless, what then?  When our joy is in a good laugh and the laugh is finished, what then?  They leave me empty and joyless or joy at best is something fleeting that I can only catch every now and then and is determined by my circumstances. 

But if the joy is truly the joy of the Lord, we’ve found that one fulfilling addiction that will not lead to tolerance, because You, Lord, will always satisfy.  When I am left alone or when my world seems to fall apart around me, then I don’t fall with it.  I stretch more for You, Lord, and You draw closer to me.  My pursuit isn’t about pleasure or joy.  My pursuit is You.  You are Joy.  You are Pleasure.  Every substitute is empty.  When I pursue You, I find the divine in things I never expected to.  Candace found God’s joy in a mask that took her mind off her “failure.”  The other day, I found the divine in a limited edition print on my wall.  And the fact is, we find the divine over and over again.  Each time it’s new and different.  Like Skip Moen said, “Tolerance never sets in because I never reach the point where my soul adjusts.  The soul is always hungry for God but no amount of God’s grace will ever fill it.”  You and I and Candace can choose our addictions.  We can choose that which brings a “diminishing return” or “we can pursue the Creator, the One Who built us to absorb all He gives and never reach the saturation point.”

I can dance and sing songs of joy like the women when David struck down the Philistines, or when Solomon was anointed. I can be joyful like when all the mighty men joined David.  It can be part of me like it was a part of the Levites function to sing and play music with one voice with joy to the Lord.  I can shout for joy at a great event for the Lord like the people at the rebuilding of the temple. I can be joyful in keeping the Lord’s feasts and obeying Him or in dedicating the wall around Jerusalem.   But all those things, though good, can be a wrong focus.  Because I can start to worship a circumstance instead of the One who guides me through them. 

David’s words show where His heart was.  “You [God], have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”  (Psalm 4:7)  The joy doesn’t come from the circumstance, even if the circumstance is abundance.  The joy has to come from knowing and experiencing You, God.  Why?  Because “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)  And how do I get there?  You do it when I start to see You for who You really are.  “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” (Psalm 21:6)  “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” (Proverbs 1:28) It brings joy because the hope is in a Person and not an outcome.  The hope is in a Person who will perform and accomplish all that He has promised to accomplish.  He is the Joy.  He is the Prize.  And the one who believes is in Him.

In Isaiah, we read how joy and gladness can be taken away, how songs can stop being sung, how cheers disappear, the fruitfulness of a land  is taken away, and no-one shouts for joy.  It can be replaced with outcries, and joy can grow dark.  Gladness can be banished.  Do you know when that happens?  When God is forsaken, when You are left out of the picture.  But the good news is that “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy one of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:19)  “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”  (Isaiah 51:11)  Think about it all.  Think about Isaiah 55:12- “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”  Where do we go out from?  We go out from the presence of the Lord.  We are led forth in peace by the Lord.  Everything around us, therefore, sees the influence of the Lord upon us.  If the mountains and hills break forth into song and the trees clap their hands, what do you think of the people that live on those mountains and hills and under those trees?  What will be their response to seeing the joy of the Lord in our lives that are spent dwelling in the presence of our living God?

You know what?  Instead of being depressed or downcast or pouty or bitter; instead of hanging our heads in shame because our yoga pant size isn’t what it should be or because I’m misunderstood or because of my daily pain or the disappointment of something that’s not falling into place the way I wish it would, I can choose to walk in the joy of the Lord, in Your presence and dwell on the beauty of You.  Then “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.” (Isaiah 61:7)

I’m really glad for Candace. I totally understand where she’s coming from.  She’s coming from reveling in the joy and presence of the Lord.  And I can’t think of any better place to be that will always satisfy and that will never leave me feeling empty.  No matter how bad my circumstances get, I’m taken back to Lamentations 3.  “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!  My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  Joy, if it evades us, it’s because we’ve been evading God.  Got joy?  If not, let us run to God in Christ Jesus.  “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)  So, I pray with Paul for us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

Worth the War

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“And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which He commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.”  Judges 3:4

I think I can’t help but take a diversion from studying Your thoughts, Oh, Lord, on what You commend in women and Your calling on their lives.  Why?  Because as we were digging into Jael’s God story,  these verses came up about why You were allowing hard times and persecution in the lives of Your children, the children of Israel.  Because You still allow hard things into the lives of Your children today and this helps me to understand why.

Now, Judges 3:1 begins, “Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof…And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which He commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.”  Here’s the thing.  These nations were left when Joshua died.  Even when the individual tribes of Israel starting pursuing the nations after Joshua’s death, You, Lord, were already restraining whom they could defeat as well as allowing them to not even try to defeat some of the nations they had been commanded to.  And even though the Lord was with Judah, the Lord did not allow Judah and Simeon to drive out the inhabitants of the valley.  Benjamin, Joseph, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan did not choose to complete God’s command to them.  There was this partial obedience, that once begun, led to more and more disobedience.  There was this partial obedience, that once begun, led to forgetting more and more of the God who delivered them and met their needs.  There was this partial obedience that led them to no longer know You, to forget You, to defy You, and to choose lesser, powerless, present things.

But in Your absolute faithfulness, You still care for Your children in the midst of their unfaithfulness and You, though disappointed, are not surprised.  But like a loving father, and even better, as a perfect father, You intervene with correction as we need it, correction designed to bring us back to You, to show us our need.  “And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, ‘I made you to go up out of Egypt, and I have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you.  And you shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; you shall throw down their alters’: but you have not obeyed my voice: why have you done this?  Wherefor I also said, ‘I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.'”

God, in Your faithfulness to Your covenant to Your children, You would raise up judges to deliver them.  Why?  Why would You do that when they were so unfaithful?  Scripture says “it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.” (Judges 2:18)

Now I have to stop and think about this idea of You repenting, Lord.  What is that?  And it takes me to these verses in Isaiah 40:1-2, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  Speak lovingly to the heart of Jerusalem, yes, cry to her that her warfare is done, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has taken from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.”  That word where “the LORD repented” and “Comfort, O comfort my people” is the same word, “nacham.”  It’s the feelingness of God who loves us.  It’s the reason we can cry out to You.  It’s the reason we have hope no matter how bad things are or how bad things seem.

Nacham actually tells us that You God feel agony over these things effecting our lives, these situations and circumstances.  And it tells us that You interact on our behalf and offer us what we need in the midst of these times of distress, or any time.  As You hear our groanings, and see the oppression, You feel for us.  It brings pain to You that emits a response.  Strong’s Concordance says it emits a sigh, breathe strongly.  You identify with us.  You put us in situations that hurt but help us to see our need for You and the pain of separation from You.  Then You are the One who comforts us because of Your love for us.  You see and know how we feel even though You designed for us to go through these ordeals.

Could it be telling us that You would do whatever it takes in our life to re-direct us back to You because You long so much for us to walk with You and to have that intimate relationship?  Could it be that You long that much for us to long that much for You?  And I wonder, isn’t it worth whatever You place in my life to get me back to that relationship?  I wonder, isn’t it worth every trial and tribulation and persecution and temptation to come to the point of knowing how much better and fuller and deeper and wider and higher You are than anything else?  And I wonder, isn’t it worth it all,  to come back to You and to know and experience the magnitude of Your actual feelings for me?

You know the difficulties I am in.  You not only allow them but designed them for my good and benefit and for the drawing of myself to You fully.  Yet You identify with my pain.  And that even before You walked the earth as man and God.  You comfort me before my pain, in the midst of my pain, and after my pain.  You are never aloof.  You know how I feel.  You love me in the midst of it all, even in the midst of my sin and punishment.  And like the prodigal’s father, You wait, ready to comfort me and draw me back to Your loving arms where I was created to live all along.

Nacham also means “repent”.  How can You repent?  It brings healing through restoration.  You can punish with a goal toward offering restoration.  I may suffer, even by Your hand, but You always offer me a solution.  There is emotion involved but this emotion leads to a decision.  You deal with our hearts and our minds.  I don’t just come to know something; I come to act upon what I know and what I feel.  In the middle of the pig pen, You come into my mind and I start to see again or maybe for the first time, who You really are.  You understand my suffering, You come, You show me how much You care and You invite me back to You with open arms.  You even give me new life and renew my spirit!  Because You have feelings for me, I can have feelings for You, understand them and act upon them in love.  My choices reflect my feelings for You.  And if I understood Your purposes for the hard things in my life, then I would understand how Your choices reflect Your tremendous feelings for me.  If it takes putting me through the ringer to return me to You, then that is what You would do because You love me so much.

So, sometimes I need tough stuff in my life so I can remember that I am in a battle because of sin in this world.  Sometimes I need tough stuff to remind me to keep my eyes and heart and life in You.  The children of Israel weren’t the only ones that You gave a thorn in the flesh to.  You gave one to Paul to keep him from “becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations” that had been given him because You loved him too and wanted to keep him in the right place near You and before others.  And You love me too.  That’s why You place tough things in my life.  I’m a slow learner who needs to be reminded and refocussed and corrected.  But I’m so glad that You love me that much that You would care about me so intimately to design everything to draw me closer to You.

Israel’s sin and my sin don’t ever change Your mind.  Your hope was always there.  Your compassion was ever present.  Your emotions were great to the point that they were expressed.  Your purposes remained.  In the midst of the calamity of sin, You correct us and show us things and draw us back to You.  Your choice never changed because of our sin.  Your love never changed because of our sin.  You were still faithful to Your covenant despite our sin.  Your nacham never ceases.  Your comfort remains.  Your feelings never change.  Your love never stops being expressed.  I can rejoice like Isaiah because there is an end to punishment, to the difficulty, to the trial.  And the end is found in You, my God who never changes, my God who is compassionate beyond measure.  The end is found in Your comfort, Your restoration, and Your rejoicing over us as we return to You.  You feel agony over brokenness; it’s why You came.  And You long to heal our brokenness and restore our relationship.  Your  heart longs for it so much it’s expressed in how You act.  What about me?  How much do I long for a right relationship, an intimate relationship with You?  Do I have a desire to delight in You?  Do I sing over You?  Does my heart ache for You?  God, bring me to the point where my heart continually cries for You, not only in tough times, but to be near You every moment.  Bring me to where each moment is a moment of rejoicing as I walk next to Your side.  And if it takes a thorn to get me there, do whatever You have to.  Because You are worth the war.

Jedidah’s Quiet Story

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“Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem.  His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.”  2 Kings 22:1

So what’s Your story behind this woman named Jedidah, Lord?  I only noticed her because I typed in the wrong son who became king.  But here is this other woman, this other wife, this other mother.  So we have this little boy named Josiah.  And we have this father who is king Of Jerusalem at 22 years old, the son of Manasseh.  And we have this mother named Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.  So what difference could she make in someone’s life?

Well, let’s take a little look at some background here.  We’ll start with Josiah’s grandfather Manasseh, who was the son of Hezekiah, a not perfect king, but a Godly king, who suffered some pride issues near the end of his reign.  So Hezekiah dies and Amon his son is given the reign.  Annointed to reign at age 22, he follows not in his dad’s footsteps, but in the footsteps of his grandfather.  He did that which was evil in God’s sight, just like his grandfather Manasseh, sacrificing to all the carved images and serving them.  He refused to humble himself before God.  Even Manasseh had come to a point of humbling.  But not Amon.  He just kept piling more and more guilt upon himself and Jerusalem.  It was so bad that his servants conspired against him after only reigning two years and killed him in his own house.  Then the people of the land killed those who had conspired against him and made his son Josiah king.

How does an eight year old boy reign a kingdom?  The eight year old boy is trained up in the way that he should go.  The problem is, who is doing the training?  In this case, Josiah was surrounded by men of God like Shaphan and Hilkiah.  And what of his mother?  Wouldn’t Jedidah have had an immensely strong influence on her own son?  Because I’m also thinking that while he was being trained in the ways of being king, that Jedidah was reigning until that time as Queen.  What would be the example that she set before him?  Was she listening to wise council?  Who was she following?  I would think that if she were entrusting her son’s learning to Godly men, that she agreed with that Godly learning herself and encouraged it.

So here again, I see a woman, who was also a wife and a mother, whose husband did everything against God, yet somehow she remained faithful to God.  Here she is, with no one rising against her to slay her, so obviously her views were different from that of Amon’s, yet she continued to honor God silently in her life andupbringing of her son.  I wonder if she consulted all along with these men of God and longed for the day when God would be openly worshipped again and the idols and false worship destroyed?  I wonder if her desires for God and the desires of those she spent time with, influenced her son?  I wonder why he leaned in to God and not into Amon’s ways?

Something influenced Josiah.  It influenced Josiah so much that “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left.” (2 Chronicles 34:2)  So, it seems that this little boy who started learning how to be king at eight years old, eight years later, at the age of 16, and still young, decided for himself to “seek after the God of David his father.”  Four years later he was actively purging Judah and Jerusalem from idol worship, and from their false priests.  He was busy undoing the evil that Manasseh and Amon had done.    At age 26 he undertook the repair of the temple and the “book of the law” was found.  What?

Now I may be wrong here.  But this is something.  Every king, in order to become king, was supposed to do this special thing.  What was it?  They were each supposed to read the book of the law and write it for themselves so they knew it and lived it out.  Had Josiah been without that book?  Were these other influences in his life so well versed in the law and ways of God that they had passed it sufficiently down to Josiah?  Was their version enough for him?  What happened when the book was read?

Upon hearing the words of the law of God, Josiah tore his clothes.  He had been doing good things that ought to have been being done for the Lord.  But now he heard the depths of sin and the consequences thereof.  And he knew that not a single good work he could do would cover up those sins that had been committed nor erase them.  Hearing from men or women is one thing, but hearing straight from God is another.  Josiah didn’t just want to hear from Godly men or his Godly mother.  He wanted to inquire of God himself.  So his advisors sought the prophetess.  And the word of God came.

Israel would pay the price for her many sins one day.  But because of this king of Judah named Josiah, because his heart was tender, and he humbled himself before God when he heard His words, to the point of rending his clothes and weeping, God heard him, and would honor his humility before him by a peaceful reign.  Then you know what he did?

King Josiah went up to the house of the Lord and gathered all the people, great and small- everyone.  And he read out loud so they could hear for themselves, in their own ears, “all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the Lord.”  And then He stood and “made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and His statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are witten in this book.”  And then Josiah led the people to commit to God with all their heart and soul also.  Do you know what, “all his days they did not depart from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.”

So what’s my point?  I don’t have to hear much about Jedidah to understand her faithfulness in raising her son.  It doesn’t take a loud voice to draw someone to the Lord, but it does take love and perseverance and longsuffering and surrounding yourself with other people who love the Lord.  I know I haven’t talked much about Jedidah, but I think she had a beautiful quiet influence that makes me think about what Peter shares in 1 Peter3.  Starting back in chapter 2, we as men and women are reminded to do good and endure suffering because Christ also suffered for us, leaving His example for us to follow.  So here she was, I’m sure suffering under the atrocities toward God under her husband’s reign.  But here she also found a way to subject herself under his authority.  She did not become bitter even though he didn’t obey God, and she never won him over to God.  But I believe her influence had an effect on someone else named Josiah.  She wasn’t concerned with her outward adornment but with “the hidden person of the heart” and maybe, just maybe she had that “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”  Sarah wasn’t the only holy woman who hoped in God this way.  And God is still raising us up to be women like this, women and men who are not controlled by our circumstances or the people in authority over us but are controlled by our Heavenly Father who set the example for us in Jesus Christ, His own flesh and blood, His own Spirit, so that we could know how God responds as man.

So what will my response be?  Will my response be determined by the responses of the people around me or by my circumstances.  Or will I respond to the voice of God Himself?  Lord, I want to respond to Your voice and I want to be sensitive to Your Word.  I want to take my eyes off the things around me and keep them on You.  I want You to so influence me with a  gentle and quiet spirit that I learn from You that it influences others.  And I want You to keep adding to my life others who will come along side me and influence others for You.