Got Heart?

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Artwork credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“…say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’…Likewise, thou son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, which prophesy out of their own heart…” (Ezekiel 13:2,17)

 
God is warning of some scathing punishment here. What for? Because the prophets and prophetesses were living and leading “out of their own hearts.” They should have been living and leading with hearts in tune with God’s heart, but instead they were telling lying prophesies and teaching false superstitious beliefs. There’s a terrible problem when we choose to follow our own heart if it’s not under the influence of God. After all, Jeremiah tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Well, obviously God can know it, and show it, and correct it if we turn our hearts over to Him.

 
Let’s not just think that we’re only talking about our feelings when we talk about our hearts in Scripture. Let’s remember that it incorporates our feelings, our intellect, and even our will. That’s the problem. We want to esteem our will, even above God’s will. We want our life and everyone else’s to be about our feelings, our thoughts, and our will. But it’s not. And we hate to admit that. We hate to think that there is something bigger and more to life than us and than now. But Jesus warned, “whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) See, none of us get to stand on this stone like a pedestal for ourselves. Jesus is the only foundation in God who is counted worthy of pre-eminence. The rest of us are called to fall before him. That takes submission. And we can’t come to God unless we submit to Him, and let Him change our hearts and mold them to His and His alone.

 

Watchman Nee said, “Faith is the principle by which we receive life, while submission is the principle by which we conduct our living.” Actually, I don’t see a way to separate the two. It takes submission to demonstrate faith and faith to submit. Why was tragedy preparing to strike God’s people? Because they were living outside of “the realm of God’s authority.” The sad thing is that those who had been acting like the authorities, like the head, should have known how to submit before God and others because they were the “religious” leaders. But maybe the truth is that some of us have never really known submission. And maybe it’s just as important to learn today, as it was then.

 

The truth is that God is Authority over authorities. All authorities are appointed by Him. Therefore, every one of us is called to submit, first to His authority, and then to those authorities He has appointed. God pronounced woe on the foolish prophets of Ezekiel’s time for following “their own spirit.” That’s that word ruach, which is also used of the Holy Spirit, and the spirit that was placed in man when God breathed life into him. But without God’s Spirit, the spirit of man is powerless and empty. Without a spirit of submission, we are nothing. Without being trained in submission we learn nothing. Look at Jesus’ training. Understand the magnitude of the example that Christ set for us. He submitted under parents. He submitted under the religious authorities. He submitted under the hurt and sick when He stopped to listen to them and asked their desire. He submitted to the Father by humbling Himself voluntarily to wash the feet of His disciples, and to withstand the cross. He was God. Did God deserve this? Didn’t He have the right to fight back? But Jesus was submitted to the will and Spirit of God and not even His own will. This is what I must learn. My life and the life of those around me depend on how well I learn and live our this lesson on submission.

 

Nadab and Abihu submitted to their own hearts instead of God. They submitted to their own hearts instead of the instruction of their Father Aaron, the priest. Therefore they served up strange fire before the Lord and were struck down. Why was it strange fire? It was unrecognizable as a sacrifice because it was not what was authorized and it was not given in a submissive spirit. Nadab and Abihu had something in common with the prophets and prophetesses of Ezekiel’s day. They refused to take orders and disregarded authority. They obeyed their own hearts instead.

 

We can’t serve God our way. It doesn’t work that way. God is so much more than us, how could we ever determine what is acceptable? God is even our “originator” so it makes sense that He would be the originator of what is appropriate for service to Him. Come on. I’m only human but if you want to give me a gift that shows me You care, give me a gift that touches my heart, not yours. That’s how I know You care about me. Is it so far fetched that one must know God’s heart to give Him what is acceptable to Himself? After all, we can only serve Him through submission to Him. When I submit to His heart and will and intellect, I am accepted. But strange fire is serving from my own heart, will, and intellect and not thinking about God at all. Strange fire is serving without submission. It may be zealous, but it’s zealousness over me and not over God.

 

It’s not the gift that is important to God; it’s the heart of submission. Samuel reminded Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) How we handle God’s authority matters. It’s a heart revealer. We need to not be so concerned with leading everybody but be most concerned with following first. If I can’t follow God, I can’t lead. And if I know how to follow God, then I know how to be a complement to the others following God around me. Submitting to God means I learn how to submit to others. Am I more than my Master who submitted?

 

The work is not up to me; it’s up to God, and God works always in unity. Therefore, the work is up to us, to work together in submission before God and one to another. We are one corporate body with the heart of God, not many individual hearts all doing their own thing. That causes division. I need to get rid of any individualist mentality I’ve been harboring. If I meet God first and foremost as my authority, then I can submit to those under Him as authorities in Him. They are not just fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters, but they are His chosen ones. I can’t serve God without submission.

 

A submissive heart to God cares for the things of God. When Saul was chasing David, David cut off the skirt of his cloak. He didn’t hurt Saul yet it bothered his heart. Why? Didn’t Jesus say that the thought is the same thing as doing the deed? Watchman Nee shared, “What we condemn is not just murder; even the cutting off of another’s garment with a little knife is wrong and is rebellion. Backbiting, an evil eye, or a grudge in the heart may not be murder, but they are similar to the cutting off of another’s garment, and they proceed from a spirit of rebellion.” This was a funny situation here. David had been anointed as king. Saul had been anointed first and already was king. Saul was in rebellion to God. Yet David knew he was still the anointed king. David, not Saul, was submitted to God and waiting on God’s timing. He was sensitive to the heart and will of God. He submitted to God and to King Saul by honoring Saul’s kingship. Why? Because He was submitted to God first and foremost.

 

Peter tells us, “For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” could this conscience toward God be for the heart of God and in submission to Him? Could it be because I care more for the honor and glory and person of God than my own welfare? Is that what David understood? Is that how Jesus lived? Was this concept perfected in them through their sufferings? Are sufferings the test of obedience? Would I rather complain and show frustration than learn to submit?

 

Do I want to be apart of establishing God’s kingdom on earth? Then I need to learn submission. Jesus never opposed God’s authority. What about me? What about the church? What about the fellowship of believers? Is God going to find our works perfect? Or are we offering strange fire? A little submission is a far cry from perfect submission.

 

Obedience, faith, and submission all go hand in hand. Do I really know God and obey the Gospel? (2 Thessalonians 1:8) If not, I’m in rebellion. Am I disobedient to the truth? (Romans 2:8) Believing is obeying. And what did Paul say first upon believing? “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10) He believed, obeyed, and submitted to His authority.

 

So many of us have strong feelings. We may even have strong feelings about sin. But somehow we have no feelings about rebellion. Oh, maybe rebellion in someone else against us, but not of our own rebellion. I need to recognize my own rebellion toward God and the authorities He has placed in my life. I need to seek His heart in my submission to them just like Jesus did or Paul did.

 

Am I too busy chasing the desires of my own heart? Or am I more concerned with Your heart, Lord? Am I willing to fall upon the rock of Jesus in willing submission, or am I waiting to be crushed in my rebellion? How deceitful is my heart? Will I turn it over to You, the only one who knows my heart and the only one who can change it and give me a new heart? Through salvation, God enables us to have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) In truth, do I understand that I am a servant? Therefore I am called to be obedient to those who God has placed as my “masters” and “serve with singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:5,6) Have I got a heart? If so, who does it belong to?

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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.

Throwing Rebellion Out the Door

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Photo credit to online source.  Sorry, I lost the URL.

 

“Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 12:2

 
Here I am in Ezekiel 12 and I have the account of God sharing His heart with Ezekiel, telling him what He is going to do. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel not just one time, but 5 times, in these 28 verses. And I need to understand that God’s judgment wasn’t about to fall on the pagan, but on the children of Israel, specifically Judah. This was a pronouncement on the family of God, the people of God, the “religious” people.
Well, those who were supposed to be leading the people closer to God weren’t concerned about God at all. So the people around them weren’t either. And Ezekiel was getting to stand out like a sore thumb here and declare their rebellion which wasn’t just about to be their destruction, but which had already begun to destroy them from within the minute they succumbed to that thinking.

 
Now, lest I think that I’m not like them at all, I had better check myself and understand what rebellion really looks like and how it begins. And I’ve come to the conclusion that rebellion is a lot closer than I thought and that there are a lot more children of God involved in it right now than you think, and it could be you or I.

 
The word used for rebellious here is the Hebrew meriy. It comes from marah. It’s a way to guarantee destruction. Marah mixes two components, one political and the other theological. It’s when we refuse to see God’s way or hear God’s voice. “This verb describes ‘the attempt of the subordinate to escape from a dependent relationship.’” (Skip Moen) But the problem is that we try to escape our dependency from our Creator God, from the absolute one, the One who alone rules by His divine right. It’s ludicrous. Think about it. I want to break free from the One who gives and sustains my life? I want to do my own way what I couldn’t even create in the first place? Instead of choosing the Tree of Life, I want to choose my own knowledge? Really? What good is it to know and experience good and evil instead of life? If life is on one side then death must be on the other. Adam and Eve weren’t the only ones who walked away from a relationship of full life and chose death in rebellion.

 
I mean, we’re dealing with God here. He’s our Creator, the Creator of everything. In Him is life and out of Him, where rebellion reigns, is His wrath. Isn’t it a shame that rebellion is so embedded in our hearts, that our hearts are so desperately wicked we don’t even know it? But God does and He can show us and change us.

 
The truth is that rebellion starts in our talk, and our thoughts, and our reasoning. We tend to call it rights and religion. But it’s really self-centeredness. We even think we are doing right and it’s harmless. Where’s our prophet when we need him?

 
What does the attitude of rebellion look like? Well, in the end it looks like Judah in Ezekiel’s day. But on the way, it looks like boys ridiculing a prophet for his baldness, or calling down fire and brimstone on a people because they don’t treat you right, or gossip, or talking your leadership down, or disrespect to your parents, or controlling someone else for your gain. It’s all the little steps of walking in your own way and your own plans and not seeking God’s will.

 
Skip Moen asks, “When the mystery of lawlessness operates, are we its restraints or are we its helpers?” The truth is that “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) Wait.  Sin is breaking God’s rules, right? When I don’t do what is “right” I’m a “bad” person. But when are my sins breaking laws? I’m allowed to do them by legal standards. But I break the law every time I sin?

 
Sometimes sin is translated as iniquity. Jesus uses this to describe wicked people. Paul uses it to tell what happens as we pursue our own desires instead of God’s. Is this what I”m like, am I filled with iniquity and terribly wicked?

 
Watchman Nee wrote, “Sin is a matter of conduct; it is easy to be forgiven of sin. But rebellion is a matter of principle; it is not so easy to be forgiven of rebellion.” Sin happens, but rebellion is birthed. Rebellion is mulled over and strengthened and chosen and latched onto. Rebellion is (that deep-seated principle within me that fights against the holiness of God, that wants to assert my independence and self-sufficiency.” (Skip Moen)  It’s about my attitude inside, in the heart of me. It’s the opposite of submission. Rich young rulers can keep rules much easier than they can submit. My basic rebellion is that I want to be in control. Submit? I don’t want to. It’s like spitting in the face of God. It’s pushing Him out of throne and putting me in His place. It’s like when Absalom made himself king against his father David. And we run around trying to do the same.
At that point it doesn’t matter if I’m obeying the rules or practicing the religious requirements. Rebellion is in my heart and flowing out. Even the wishing it were going my way is rebellion. Honestly, submission is hard. Our nature says, “No way!” But submission is the heart of finding God’s grace. Without it, all is sin, no matter what you call it or what you think it looks like.

 
Paul tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Now, I need to listen to this. If I want to be empowered, I need to submit. I need to submit to the one who is the ultimate delegate of authority and power. Only the Boss can give me this strength. See only, and I mean ONLY Jesus can supply this available power because it is His to supply. I don’t have it. I can just tap in. I’m just the vehicle. It’s not even about my authority and responsibility but about my usefulness. I’m the receptacle of His power, not mine. Rebellion is me being a power instead of Him. Not only can that not be but it’s ludicrous! I’m just the pipe built for Him to flow through.

 
So maybe I hear all this and I think I’m still not rebellious, maybe I should think a little more. “And if any one hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him, the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” (John 12:47-48) I can think I’m getting by.  I can think I’m God’s gift to the church and the people around me. I can delude myself and others. But when I’m measured up against the words of God and the words of Christ and I don’t match them, the truth will come out.

 
I don’t want to take this lightly. To reject Your sayings is to reject You. What are Your sayings? “But I say unto you…” How do you handle your anger? Do you call your brother “fool,” this person who was created in the image of God? Is reconciliation more important than being right? How about the thoughts in your head? Have you lusted already? Did you really love your wife as Christ loved the church and died for her, or was it all about you so that it was easy to leave her? I mean, what kind of oaths do I even have the power to make when I can’t even number my own days? Do I really let someone slap me on the cheek and then turn the other to him also, or do I retaliate? Do I love my enemies like You did? Do I bless those who curse me like You did? Do I do good to those who hate me, like You did? Do I pray for those who persecute me, like You did?
Are my thoughts and my reasons and my attitudes anything like Yours? Because the truth is that If I really want to be Your child, then I have to born of You, not of me, because that doesn’t come naturally from me. I have to learn to submit and submit and submit. And it’s not such a bad thing. It’s a hard thing but You can change my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh like Yours. I want to throw rebellion out the door. If it means that I have to stand alone for you like Ezekiel and dig through a wall and look crazy, then that’s what I want You to give me strength to do. Why? “That I may be [the child of my] Father which is in heaven,” because You are the One who makes the sun to rise and not me.

On Seeing, Contemplating, and Being Changed

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“As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing ‘the whirling wheels’.” Ezekiel 10

 
Wheels and whirling wheels and creatures or cherubs with four faces and wings and eyes everywhere—it can make my head whirl. What do I do with it all? Am I supposed to understand and interpret all of this? Am I supposed to walk away after reading this vision of Ezekiel and be thinking about what these things mean or signify? Maybe. But what if I’m supposed to also be able to just sit down and be awed by God and contemplate how that awe ought to influence my life?

 
What if I sat back with Ezekiel and looked with him? What if I got down and opened the eyes of my heart and mind and spirit to look and behold what he was seeing? I might look beyond the cherubim and see that throne of sapphire, and catch Your glory, and see how You are so much more than I can ever fully comprehend and so powerful beyond compare. And I might just have to come to the conclusion that You really are in charge and that You are the One with “the know.” I mean, what are cherubs with four faces and wings and wheels to You? You understand them. After all, You created them. And that man clothed in white linen, that You appoint to show judgment, is Your Man. I’m pretty sure it’s Jesus, that one that “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18) has been given to. But why? Why all this hard to explain stuff?

 
Maybe I need to know that Your ways, God, are different than my ways and Your thoughts are not my thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8) See, Your eyes see and know all my ways. None of my ways are hidden from You, NOTHING. (Jeremiah 16:17) I, on the other hand, don’t comprehend all of You. My mind and my eyes and my understanding are feeble and weak in comparison. My eyes are so tuned in to looking at things through man’s vision that I look at You and have the twisted thinking to think, like Israel, “The way of the Lord is not just.” (Ezekiel 18:25) But the truth is, I’m the one with faulty vision. I need to start seeing the truth and You are the truth. I need to stop thinking I will understand everything and just start realizing You are the One I have to run to whether I understand or not. I have to realize that You are the One who knows the reality of every piece of this puzzle we are living in. I need to stop trying to smash pieces into place that don’t fit and let You be God instead.

 
It could be that I need to just sit back and realize and acknowledge and start acting like You, the One who is sitting on that sapphire throne (which is just because those were the only words Ezekiel had to come to near to the description!), are Supreme. You are God. You rule. It doesn’t matter what we decide. You rule. You are. Your will and Your thought is everything. And it’s not just that You know, but You do and act. You are the essence of everything, the reason, the why, the how. You are in charge because without You, nothing would be, nothing would exist. Because You thought us, we are. Because You thought the cherubs and the wheels, they are. You think and Your will brings forth.

 
You rule now, in the present. When Adam and Eve were on the earth, You were ruling in their time. You were there right then with Ezekiel in his present. And You are still ruling right now in my present. There is never a present time when You are not there ruling. The present and past and future are all the same to You. It doesn’t matter how much any of us rebel against this authority of Yours. Your rule will still be. It’s not just that someday we will be judged. We are living under Your “judgment bar” already because You reign right now.

 
This rule of Yours is supreme over every other ruler. Everyone else and everything else will be overcome, whether it’s death, or Satan, or a president, or a dictator, or my own way. We may not want to be subject to You, but, nevertheless, we are all Your subjects. That’s part of the picture here in Ezekiel. Tradition has it that the Supreme Ruler has the final say in the life or death of His subjects. Only this Supreme Ruler has a heart so much for us that He sent His only Son to be a payment for us and bring us back to Him. And how do we respond to that?

 
If I look on Ezekiel’s vision I see righteousness and glory. These are things I don’t get to see much in the world today. Your judgment could be seen as a terrible thing, lives lost in terrible circumstances. I could just be filled with fear. But to be under You and to know that You are on my side would fill me with praise and rejoicing instead. Even though I live through cruelty and tyranny on earth, through things that appear so unjust that we can only call it evil, I can know that my Supreme God will bring relief. You will make it right. Your government will return and is in the process of returning even now, in the present that looks so dim. Your goodness is here and is coming. You are acting. You are being. You are.

 
In the midst of all the junk in life going on, Your glory is going up, just like when it went up from the threshold, and filled the house, and the court was filled with the brightness of Your glory (Ezekiel 10:4), Your glory is still here and filling Your people and the places where they are. Your glory is still filling heaven and waiting for the time when it will again fill earth. You do the right thing, in the right time, always. Now. Every day is now for You. Sure, You know everything. Sure, You are all-powerful. Sure, no one can resist Your might. Sure, Your majesty is overwhelming. Sure, You are a conqueror. But You are the glory of “perfect purity, truth, justice, and benevolence.” Wrap that all up together. I can hold on to all of that today, and the next today, and the next.

 
And here You are, revealing Yourself from Your throne. You are “Infinite Intellect,” yet You are more. You are “the Will and the Power of right.” I can feel You in all that force just like Ezekiel. But it’s not just intellectual. It’s not just emotional. You aren’t just the God on Your throne far away in heaven. Through Jesus, You came from heaven to earth. You visited us. You reached my common life. You move among the affairs and lives and hearts of men and women, boys and girls. Your glory and righteousness touch us. You invite us to come to You and to be witnesses of You but You don’t stop there. You come to us in Christ Jesus and by the power of Your Holy Spirit.

 
What do you see when you read Ezekiel? Or rather, Who do you see? Are we allowing God to open our eyes to see Him as He is? Or are we responding like those that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 when he shared, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And he goes on to remind us of this glory of God and the gift He’s given of Himself, today and every today before and after—“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Are we taking time to not only see, but to be filled with this glory and to live in this glory?

 
Am I seeing what Ezekiel saw? What am I doing with what I see of You, Lord? Am I like Peter, who saw a glimpse and wanted to make a memorial site? Or am I going to let it change my life perspective and let You rule over me by Your glory and the impression You leave in my heart and spirit and mind and will? Will my life be daily changed because of how I have seen You? Will I walk in that glory and righteousness and the supremacy that is You, or will I live life as I have been? Will the whirling wheels have any effect on me?

Since Before Day One

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“…and begin at my sanctuary.” Ezekiel 9:6

 
I want to think about what it means to begin at Your sanctuary, Lord. Isn’t the reality that everything begins with You and at You and for You and in You? John reminds us that “All things were made by [You]; and without [You] was not any thing made that was made.” Paul tells us in Colossians 1:17 that You are “before all things, and in [You] all things hold together.” Maybe I would do better in life to remember this at all times and center my life around this.

 
Now, Ezekiel is a warning of coming judgment. But it’s not just about judgment on the lost world, or those who flagrantly refuse to acknowledge God from the pagan nations. Do you know where God begins the judgement? God begins judging in His sanctuary. Judgment begins on the ones who are supposed to know Him and represent Him in the world. That means that we who call ourselves believers are first in line. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are truly ready? Maybe we should examine our lives and our beliefs and our thoughts and see if God would have His angelic workers mark our foreheads as His. But that mark doesn’t just go on everyone. His workers go out and look for those who “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed…” Is that us? Is that me?

 
I keep reading about people who call themselves believers and support abortion. But if I go into the sanctuary with You Lord, and spend time in Your word, I find that You already know the plans You have for that embryo. You call children a blessing, not a curse or a burden. You value all life.

 
I suppose, as I look at Jesus Christ and how He gave up all His Divine rights to come to earth and to walk with us and touch us and suffer and give His life as a ransom for us, I don’t quite understand the rationale that I have rights that outweigh the rights of any other life. Thank God that Jesus didn’t decide He had a right to his own body and that we didn’t deserve to live. Because He sacrificed His rights for each of us, we can be born again into God’s family, instead of being aborted into eternal death.

 
But it’s not just about abortion. It’s about choosing and clinging to any abomination or twisting of Your plan and Your way. God said they were guilty of injustice. Do you know how Noah Webster defines injustice? It’s “any violation of another’s rights.” So think about it. We want our rights so much that we go around destroying every one else’s. Do you know that can be by fraud or not keeping our word, or by not giving someone what is due? It’s even in giving people more or less then what is due. It could also be about withholding praise or giving undeserved blame.

 
Have we come to a place in our thinking where we give everyone trophies for participating instead of trophies for excelling and working hard? Have we come to a place where we force people to believe what we value and withhold their choice? Why can Islam be taught in schools but not Christianity? Why can atheism be taught? Why can’t people have the right to choose for themselves?

 
But let’s look back inside the sanctuary. How long have “believers” been forcing others into the kingdom or out according to their timing or their way? How often have “believers” been seeking their rights and allowed divorce to flourish as strongly within its folds as in the secular world? Is that because injustice reigns and we are more concerned about our own rights than God’s will being done? Do we toy with spiritual warfare, playing with what we ought to be guarding ourselves against? Well, sure, I have the right to listen to whatever music I want to, or watch whatever I want to, or try whatever I want to. I can go to haunted houses, or drink in excess, or stay at home, or hang out with my buddies if I want. That’s my right. But somewhere along the line God made it clear that living wasn’t about my rights. Living was about something and someone greater than me living in me and through me. Living was about giving up my rights for something and someone greater and for the good of all.

 
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about rights. But he says he doesn’t use his rights. Even though he doesn’t have to be a servant, he’s free to choose his behavior, he chooses to be a servant of all. He chooses to give up his rights so that others may share in the blessings of God. Because he doesn’t want to be disqualified and miss that mark on his forehead.
The point is, that we who profess to know God, we know what God desires. He’s told us in His word. We are more responsible and more culpable than those who don’t know. And others will follow our example. God is still looking to and fro over all the nations, and seeing those who wear His mark and He knows those who wear the mark of their own rights. Let’s not think that we are safe because we wear a cross around our neck or are a member of a church or temple.

 
Actually, we only have one right, the right to decide to believe or not. 1 John 2:17 sheds more light on this, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” If we call ourselves believers and choose our own will over God’s, the reality of who we are is in the taste of the pudding. Hey, if chocolate pudding is made through chocolate pudding ingredients, and I choose to use other ingredients, say vanilla pudding ingredients, my pudding isn’t going to taste like chocolate because it’s not going to be chocolate. I can’t just call myself a believer. A believer agrees with God. A believer lives out God’s will and God’s ways. Jesus showed us how. God’s word and Holy Spirit make His will and ways known.

 
You can choose to paint any picture of God you want. I could too. But the reality is that God is God not according to my picture or yours but according to who He is. He’s a God of love but in that love, He is also a God of judgment and righteousness and so much more. And it’s not because we labelled Him those things. Those things came into being because of who He was and is and always will be. In other words, we know truth or goodness or justice because they came from Him.

 
Another truth is that our God is scary and good all at the same time. He is a God who has the right to say, “Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” But don’t forget how patient he was waiting for all these old men and young men and maidens and children and women to turn back to what they were created for—life and that life in Him.

 
My warning is to be careful whose rights you cling to. Am I more concerned about Your right to be God than my own? Maybe if I were more concerned with letting You be God in every area of my life, there would be a lot more angelic beings busy marking foreheads. And maybe if all those “within the sanctuary” started living and believing like God’s will mattered most, we’d see the world being turned upside down.

 
If you don’t like hearing about people dying in judgment, let’s do something about it. Let’s be the people of God in Jesus Christ that we were created to be. Let’s clean up the sanctuary and get back to His righteousness and His love by our choice. Let’s be who we were created to be. After all, that’s been God’s desire for us since before day one.

Put Down Your Branch, Get on the Train

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Photo credit goes to someone on the internet.

 

“Then said He unto me, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, ‘The Lord doesn’t see us; the Lord has forsaken the earth.’” Ezekiel 8:12

 
So now this fiery figure of God comes to Ezekiel and takes him in a vision of God to Jerusalem to the temple. And as Ezekiel was told to look, he was shown the “image of jealousy in the entry.” But it didn’t stop there. God says, “There’s worse abominations to see here.” God brought Ezekiel to the door of the court and showed him a hole. Then He told Ezekiel to dig there and Ezekiel found a door. He went in, beyond the wall, I guess inside the wall, and found creeping things, and abominable beasts, and idols all portrayed on the wall round about. Not only that, there were 70 men and Jaazaniah offering incense to these idols.

 
As if all that wasn’t bad enough. Then God says, “There’s more.” He brings Ezekiel to the door of the gate and there are women weeping for Tammuz, a Phoenician diety. Let’s keep going. Now, to the inner court, between the porch and the altar, were 25 men with their backs to the temple worshipping the sun to the east.

 
God called it “putting the branch to their nose.” What in the world does that mean? I’m pretty sure it’s a Hebrew idiom. Some think it was a part of worshipping idols where the worshipper picked up a twig or branch and placed it over their face as to shield their face from the diety, like the sun. But to God it would be like sticking your thumb to your nose and sticking out your tongue in defiance. Whatever it was, it was gloating in your abomination before God. It was digging in your heals, and inviting violence into your own land and your own life. It was asking for God’s anger to be ignited, provoking the fire to burn.

 
You know, what we think we can get away with in the dark, eventually comes out in the open. What was hidden behind walls and in men’s and women’s minds and hearts is not hidden from God, and he showed it to Ezekiel. The truth is that God knows what is going on in the “chambers of man’s imagery.” What is that? Could that be more than what we do hidden in a room? Could that mean that God knows what is in the secret chambers of our imagination? I think so.

 
I guess we have this idea that God has nothing to do with the dark. Maybe we think that God, being God, can’t go into the darkness. But Psalm 139:12 tells us, “Yes, the darkness doesn’t hide from You; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” The truth is that You “form the light, and create darkness: [You] make peace, and create evil: [You] the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

 
There is no place that God cannot go and that God is not in control. You see into the “secret” places even of our hearts, way beyond our dark closets because nothing is hidden from You. The problem is that we get involved in labeling things our way instead of Yours. Isaiah said, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” The people of Israel had God, they had You, they had what was good. But they started to chase after other ideas of good, after other standards, and adopt them as their own.

 
But they are no worse than us. We sit back and say, “How can a good God allow evil?” What kind of God would create evil? Why even let that be part of the picture? Because we’ve labelled You as a good God based on our idea of goodness. We make You who we think You should be instead of who You ARE. The truth is that You are all that You are before we even understand it. Your goodness is even in how You create evil.

 
It’s there for a purpose. Just because I don’t see that purpose doesn’t mean it’s not for ultimate good. Think about it. God created the garden with the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before Adam and Eve were created. Do you really think God created that beautiful angel of light who fell and made an “oops”? I can’t explain God’s intent with evil, but darkness is a part of the plan, and none of it, and none of the plan is hidden from God’s intimate knowledge.

 
Maybe there are too many multiple connections going on in my brain today. But I know this, it’s not You, God, who doesn’t see. We’re the ones who don’t get it. And maybe if we would be honest enough to admit it, and get off our high horses, and set our thumbs and our branches down from our nose, we just might start to see and get it right. Well, we can keep on thinking we’re getting away with the stuff we do in “secret,” we can even think it’s time to come out in the open because God won’t do anything, but Paul warned in Romans 2:5, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

 
Do you really feel badly for the branch wavers who provoke and tease and defy? Do you really think they haven’t been given ample time to listen and turn and repent? What about me? If I stand in front of an oncoming train and wave that twig in it’s face defiantly, who is going to lose? Didn’t I have time to get out of it’s track? Did the train invite my death or did I call it on myself? God says, “Therefore I will also deal in fury: My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” (Ezekiel 8:18) Is that Your fault, God? Or has the train whistle not been warning enough? It’s not like it just snuck up unaware. If I choose to ignore the warning whistle, over and over again, the train won’t have pity, and it will be my own fault.

 
There is a time for everything. There’s a time to see, and to listen, and to hear, and heed. There’s a time to seek pity and receive it. There’s a time to hear from God and to cry out to Him. There’s a time that God hears and it’s a reciprocal time. In other words, if we won’t hear God, neither will He hear us. Maybe it’s time to put down our branches and get off the track. It’s a much more glorious decision to board the train and go where it’s going, under it’s protection than to be run over by the train.

 

P.S.  I’ve read that this gesture can be interpreted by some as a very vulgar statement.  I wasn’t aware of that earlier.   I choose to include it, because those being addressed in Scripture before Ezekiel were being THAT rude to God and sometimes we are too.  Sometimes, we are THAT deliberately offensive.

On Life and Fulfillment

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Photo credit to Stephen Cunningham.

 

“Then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.” Ezekiel 6:9

It’s funny how we say this is an awful way for God to feel. But I wonder if we were married and loved the one we were married to with all our hearts and they “went a-whoring” and left us for others, how we would feel? And I’m not saying that anyone should run out and destroy their unfaithful partner. That’s not my point. Isn’t the truth that they have already not only begun destroying themselves, but destroying true intimacy itself? Aren’t they bringing turmoil into their own lives and into the lives around them? Aren’t they being caught up in twisted thinking that will one day lead to their own demise?

Had God’s people ever been warned? Had they witnessed the power of the true God versus the lack of power of the gods of other nations? Had they witnessed and been supplied by the provision of the true God? Did You, God, really cause their demise? Or were You there trying to continually call them back to the safety and provision of You?

The people were playing with what they shouldn’t be playing with, nations who didn’t care about them. They were making themselves vulnerable because they were no longer alert. They were allowing themselves to lose their identity in God, who was their strength, and falling into the lie of the nations that they were great of themselves. They were worshipping at empty altars that bring emptiness and desolation.

Paul talks of desolation, this word shamem in Hebrew, also. “For it is written, ‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more are the children of the desolate than the one who has a husband.’” (Galatians 4:27) What is this about? What is today’s reading in Ezekiel about? It describes “the inner barrenness of an unfulfilled life.” (Skip Moen) Shamem is about being desolate and amazed. It can mean one or the other or it can be both at the same time. It’s like looking around at the great desolation and destruction around you and being totally appalled and overwhelmed at the same time.

The reason judgment comes is because we refuse to live fulfilled lives. We were created to be filled fully with God, to bear His image throughout this world. This is true fulfillment, what we were created to be filled with, just like Adam when God breathed into him and he became a living soul. But we choose, yes we choose, to warp that image and defile it and create our own. We choose to live unfulfilled lives in these places of desolation, and we don’t even realize how appalling it is. But God does. He never intended us to walk in the wilderness. He hadn’t intended for Israel to walk there. They chose desolation instead of the kingdom. Aren’t we doing the same? And then we have the nerve to blame our consequences on God? And all You have ever been trying to do is to turn us back to our purpose, true life fulfillment in You.

The truth is that God doesn’t leave us alone in the wilderness. He was there for Hagar. He was there for the Israelites. He is there for us today, waiting to rescue us from emptiness and unfulfillment. We think self-sufficiency is the answer but the answer is in dependency on a God who is fully able. Think about it. Joseph couldn’t rescue himself from that pit his brothers placed him in. The Israelites couldn’t find their way out of the desert. Hagar couldn’t find water to keep her and her son alive. Moses couldn’t even lead a people on his own. The truth is not one of us is sufficient on our own.

Paul understood that. He was once a very self-sufficient man. But not once he met the risen Jesus. He shares, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God…” (2 Corinthians 3:5) God enables us in Him to do and to bear His image in this world, that we may fulfill our purpose in Him.

How could a barren woman have more fulfillment than the one with a husband? How did the desolate woman find more fulfillment? Because our fulfillment doesn’t come in our husband or in our job or in our position or in our ministry. Our satisfaction and fulfillment comes from God. This world is a wilderness and we have to learn to cling to God in the midst of it because clinging to the wilderness will always leave us empty.

Are you in an overwhelming place right now that seems totally desolate? Stop fighting God. Let Him come to You in the desolate empty place and let Him fill You. Run into His arms and let His ways become Your ways. Let Him redefine Your thinking and Your living by His standards, by His love, by His grace, and by His mercy. Let Him be the spouse that He promises to be to you and let yourself be His. Let go of the emptiness. Walk away from it and walk into His arms. You don’t have to stay there. You never did. He’s been waiting with open arms every minute of every day, right there with you, only you wouldn’t acknowledge Him or give Him the time of day. But He never stopped thinking about you or reaching out to you.

We can keep fighting a losing battle and trying to find fulfillment elsewhere. But it will always leave us empty and grasping for more. Or we can stop fighting and let the One who has always loved us, the One who created us, fill us full of Himself and we can live out our purpose in life and eternity. The choice is each of ours. Only, don’t get upset if you choose the consequences of self-fulfillment. It’s not like we’ve not been warned. The blame game is a losing game. Let’s take responsibility for our choices and let’s choose life and fulfillment.