Eating His Words

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“Moreover he said unto me, ‘Son of man, eat what you find; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.’” Ezekiel 3:1

 
So here is Ezekiel still listening and being instructed and being equipped by the Lord. These words being given are not just any angel’s words. These are words of truth and judgment from God. And Ezekiel isn’t just supposed to hear them. He’s to hear and do, to hear and follow through, to hear and heed, to hear and be changed. And I thought I was going to talk about that hearing in verse 10, but I can’t get past a word in this first verse. It has just stopped me in my tracks. And that’s ok, Lord, because isn’t that part of hearing and listening, that I defer from my plan and pay attention to yours? And if one little word says, “Listen to me and don’t pass me by,” shouldn’t I obey?

 
Ezekiel can’t eat Your words until he “finds” them, can he? And eating Your words is important because they are our life sustain-ers. We have to imbibe them so that they become a part of us from the inside out. They have to become our sustenance to show that You are our very Sustenance.

 
Now, if I just look at Strong’s Concordance, I think of this word “find” or “matsa” in Hebrew maybe as something I just happen upon, that maybe exists upon my way or comes forth to be. Is there much significance to me if I just happen to attain something? Is there a difference between me finding or acquiring and my taking hold on something? Maybe it would behoove me to try to understand this finding better.

 
Remember that our problem here is a rebellious, hard-hearted people who should have known and loved and obeyed their heavenly Father. But they were rejecting Him and Ezekiel was to be their messenger to give them the opportunity to turn back to God. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have all the information that they needed to already find You, God, and love and serve You. It wasn’t like Ezekiel was being sent to a lost tribe who didn’t even know about You.
Let’s go all the way back to 1 Chronicles 28:9 to try to understand this finding, this word matsa. “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” This isn’t new stuff here, but it certainly is serious stuff.
If you read and listened closely enough so that you really heard the words, you see that idea or reality of seeking God and finding Him. It’s attainable. It’s doable. But it’s not something we can do all on our own. We have to take part in that action, but You actually let Yourself be found by us!

 
Matsa’ is a word about finding. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for someone, some place, or some thing, matsa’ is that word that you use when you discover what you have been looking for. In this verse in 1 Chronicles it’s not used any differently than that. But we learn more by understanding the form of the word. The form here “tells us that the action is [a] continuous, present tense, passive event…instead of me finding God, He actually finds me—but He lets me think I’m doing the work because He wants me to be encouraged for my effort.” (Skip Moen) It’s the same thing You’re telling Ezekiel. “You eat, Ezekiel. You find My words and take them in, and then follow through on them.” But did Ezekiel make up the words? Did he find without God showing him? Absolutely not. God, You prepare the table for Ezekiel and You prepare the table for each of us.

 
So here is this table, this table of abundance, filled with more than satisfaction, and it’s all right here before us. Just like in Psalm 23, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” The problem is, we handle it wrongly. We whine, “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers.” (Isaiah 58:3) Here, the people find their desire. It’s still that word matsa. Remember how it means “to find” and also “to come upon, reach, attain”? It’s that same word as in Deuteronomy 4:29, “ But if from thence you shall seek the LORD your God, you shall find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” This kind of finding comes from seeking. But in Isaiah, they were fasting not to seek God, but to seek being noticed, or to seek the reward of the blessing. The sad thing is that we can seek the delights from God without ever seeking the delight of God Himself.

 
How can someone seek delight from You without seeking You? I can seek an emotional satisfaction from knowing I’ve done a good job. My practicing of my “religion” can give me a good feeling about myself. I can delight in that feeling. I can delight in how people view me. I can delight in my own goodness. I can delight in the monetary blessing or position of being valued and listened to. I can delight in a ministry. I can delight in my own works. I can delight in my own image or my own ideas.

 
Whether I eat from Your table or refrain from it in order to fast, my goal is not all about the table. My eyes and heart ought to be set on the One who provides the table. My goal ought to be righteousness and restitution and repentance, not feeling better about myself. My goal ought to be knowing You more and worshipping You with all I am and delighting in Who You Are and how You even arrange things in my life so that I CAN find You. It ought to be all about GIANT YOU even finding tiny little me, and REVELLING IN THE TRUTH AND JOY OF IT SO THAT I MUST JUMP UP AND DOWN AND DO HANDSTANDS UNCONTROLLABLY AND THEN FOLLOW THROUGH IN TOTAL OBEDIENT LOVE! (Oh, did I get a little excited there? ) The proof of the pudding is in whether my actions change my expectations or demands on myself and on others. Has my heart been transformed? Or am I just looking for a good feeling? What have I really found? Anything, or just some pretend idea? You want us to really find You.

 
So why was Ezekiel able to find You when what seemed like the rest of Israel couldn’t? “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Nope, it wasn’t new stuff here. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what to do. I think it’s the same for most of us today. It’s not new stuff. And it’s not like we don’t know what we ought to do and what we need to do.

 
We’re all running around asking, “What is the meaning of life?” Well, the answer has always been right in front of us. “The answers to life are found in seeking God.” (Skip Moen) God promised that those who seek Him would find Him. When Jesus shared, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” (Luke 11:9) He wasn’t coming up with some new idea. He was restating what should have already been known. From day one of creation, it’s what our lives were designed to be. We were created to seek the kingdom of God above and before everything else, and to seek His righteousness, and the rest of what we were designed for flows from that to us. And you can’t seek the kingdom and God’s righteousness without seeking Him.

 
Jeremiah uses this other word for seeking. It’s about diligently searching for knowledge. And that’s what causes a problem for many of us. Because we start thinking knowledge is about what we do, like religious activity, instead about who we know, like You God. We start replacing You with good works and ritual and rules and books about You and people’s testimonies. That’s why we burn out and feel empty.

 
Mary, in the middle of a busy day, found God in His temple. How? In her house, in all the business, she sat down at the feet of Jesus. She chose the place of a disciple, the place of closeness and intimacy, of quietness and learning, of being filled and restored. Martha was choosing service and doing the proper thing, the good thing. But Jesus said that Mary chose what was better? Was Mary lazy? No. But she was willing to drop everything to enter the kingdom of God and sit in His presence. She was seeking His kingdom first. She was soaking up His righteousness. And from that, she would be able to take those things to those around her.

 
Unless we eat of Your flesh and drink of Your blood, unless we are that intimate with You that You are changing us from the inside out, how will You or anyone else recognize us as Yours? Here’s the thing, we get to choose to seek You or not. “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me.” (Proverbs 1:28) It’s not unusual to lose things and find them. It’s a very common occurrence in life. So it’s easily understood. But there’s a problem when we think we can seek God’s kingdom and wisdom but we choose to reject His rule. It doesn’t work that way. We become blinded. We grope and won’t find even when the answer is right within our grasp. We could put our hand right on it and not recognize it. The answer becomes invisible to us. The sad thing is that it was right there for us, it was ours, but by our own foolish decision we lost the gift that should have been ours all along.

 
I want to find what You place before me. I want to see You and know You and revel in knowing You and following You and walking in Your ways. I want to know how You feel about me by experiencing You. I want to know the power of Your resurrection and the power of Your love and the power of everything that is You. I want to know the beautiful wonder of You. And with that wonder comes hard things for me, just like for Ezekiel. Imbibing You, dwelling in You, means I can’t dwell in the world the way it is the same way. Knowing You and finding You means knowing and finding the power of Your resurrection and the fellowship of Your sufferings. But if I am really Yours, if I want to really find You and know You, then I must let myself be found and found fully. I must let You have all Your power over me. Because Your desire is to make us a nation of priests after Your own heart, influencing the world around us in You. Your eyes run to and fro, back and forth, over the whole earth waiting to show Yourself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are complete in You. Why would I want to ruin such a good thing?

Eating the Good and the Bad

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Photo credit to David Bee Mallari.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feast or Famine

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Photo credit to Pastor Rogelio Elosendo.

“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.’” Amos 8:11

 
Ancient Biblical days are not the only days of famine. There are countries right now that are going through famine in the sense of lack of food and insufficient provisions for the people. And just the same, ancient Biblical days are not the only days of famine when it concerns a destitution or lack or want in the spiritual realm. Now, I’m not talking mysticism here. There never seems to be a famine of that. But what I am talking about here is a hunger from lack of the word of Life.

 
Famine is visible. It has tell-tale effects on the human body. Go without food and water long enough, or go with less than sufficient food for long enough, and you will suffer weight loss. Children’s growth will be retarded. Malnutrition sets in and mortality rates go up, effecting the old and the young first. It’s not just starvation, but the fact that their bodies can no longer fight infection. It effects learning and concentration. Childhood malnutrition can cause a host of other problems like “reduced intelligence, anxiety, psychiatric issues, and cognitive impairment.” It effects the mind and body. There can be visual problems, bleeding gums/decaying teeth, inability for the heart to function properly, internal organ function threatened, the skin breaks down and can’t protect and shield, joints and muscles will ache and weaken and shrink, bones can become fragile, nerves in extremities break down, and diseases that are rare open up the body to a pandora’s box. You actually wouldn’t even need medicine to stop these diseases, only proper nutrition.

 
It doesn’t have to happen in a famished land either. It can happen in a place where people have sufficient food. But there are some who don’t have what they need and they get lost in the shuffle until the damage is apparent. It’s like a little boy who didn’t have the right nutrition and by the time he could get to the hospital for treatment, the TB had gotten into his bones and effected his learning. Thank God someone noticed. Thank God someone did something when they noticed. But the not noticing for a while caused permanent damage.
But there is a famine that is much more dangerous than that of hunger and thirst for our physical needs. There is a famine that can effect our souls. Our souls were created to be fed by One Source, the Source who created them. Our souls were meant to be fed by You God. But somewhere along the line we start thinking other things can satisfy.

 
In Amos’ day, the people were impatient and asking, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?” Does that seem insignificant? It’s not. The new moon was at the heart of keeping the calendar and the feasts and festivals that You had established. It was a reminder and an act of worship in remembering and doing. It wasn’t about ritual. The new moon was watching for that sliver to show up in the night sky to tell the end of one month and the beginning of the new and to count down the days to the next celebration of God. But instead of looking for that sliver with anticipation, instead of looking forward to celebrating You and Your care, they wanted to sell their grain and get on with their lives despite You. They were inflicting their own famine from You and no longer even felt hungry. It reminds me of someone who was eating lots of salad during her pregnancy to watch her weight. But when she went to the doctor, she found out that she was malnourished because iceberg lettuce has little nutritional value. We can try to meet our own needs and totally get it wrong.

 
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the people also couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could get to selling their wheat. Here was this day that God instituted for man’s welfare and even demonstrated for us. Here was a day He gave us for rest and spiritual enrichment. It’s that day when You ceased, ended, and rested from Your creative works. You told Your people, “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (Exodus 20:8) Remember, zakhor, doesn’t mean to just not forget. It means to observe and remember its significance. It’s about creation and deliverance from slavery into freedom. “Observe [shamor] the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (Deuteronomy 5:12) Sabbath was for remembering and observing by acting in a way that demonstrated that we are not in control over our environment but You are, God. To want to ignore Sabbath is to wrench that control away from You and put it back in our own hands.

 
So there was this day coming, when there would be this famine and thirst not for food and water, but for Your words. There would be a famine “of hearing the words of the LORD.” That word for hearing is shama and it doesn’t just mean to hear. It means to hear and obey. Can you imagine people being famished for the words of the Lord, that people will want to hear You but won’t? How does that happen? Do You mean that people who have been hearing and obeying will no longer get to hear You? Or is it that people who have been hearing but not obeying will look for You and not be able to hear or see You? Will people ignore other people so that their spiritual famine grows to the point of no return? Will people so ignore their own need that they can no longer be helped?

 
Imagine asking for help and not receiving it. But in Isaiah 1:15 You say, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” Did You not hear the prayers? But You hear and know everything. Or did You choose to not respond to the prayers because shama is about hearing and doing, hearing and responding? But You chose not to listen. Why? Is that fair? Is that right? Well, if their hands were full of blood, doesn’t that mean that those who prayed weren’t hearing and combining the doing with it? Because if I was listening to You and doing it, how could I have blood on my hands? And if I won’t hold up my end of the covenant, then I have already broken the relationship, and You would no longer be bound to Yours. Every moment that You continue to hold covenant beyond that is shear grace.

 
Why do we expect You to listen and respond rightly to us and we don’t feel ourselves obligated to You in any way? Why are we not concerned about hearing You speak these words, “I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity.”? (Matthew 7:23) There are people out there who are thinking they are doing good things, but since they won’t listen to Your words, they don’t understand that You are the only Good Thing, that Jesus is the only Good Way, and the only Right Choice. And no one gains eternal life in the next life without knowing eternal life in this one first. And the only way to know eternal life now is to know the Eternal Life Giver, the one who was there in the beginning and created everything with His very words.

 
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My commandments, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.” (Exodus 19:5) You can’t help reiterating how important, how doubly important it is for us to hear and listen and obey and do. Am I “indeed obey”ing? Shamoa tishmeoo is the Hebrew. It’s the double repetition of shama’. “If you hear-hear My voice…” Or since we know what shama’ means, we could listen as God also says, “If you obey-obey My voice…” And wouldn’t that therefore mean You are saying, “If you hear-obey, hear-obey”? And that’s with an exclamation mark. Is hearing and obeying all of Your words that important to me? Because it is to You. And it is if I want a real relationship with You. My hearing and obeying actually has bearing on Your hearing and responding. Does that matter to me?

 
Do I somehow think that Your covenant with other people outside the nation of Israel is different? Do I think that Your requirement for “If you hear-hear (obey-obey)” (Skip Moen) is only for the nation of Israel but for us Your covenant is absolute and unconditional? Did Jesus come so I wouldn’t have to hear and obey? I only have to hear and believe in what I hear? How empty is that? How hungry will that leave me? What kind of relationship is that? Why don’t we just leave off on eating and drinking and just live on the thought of food and water? If is a bigger word than it looks. If says there is a condition, a relationship to the following words. Man is called to cooperate. God chooses but His people who are chosen must respond. You can’t just hear and go your own way. Shama’, hearing and doing, “precedes active citizenship.” (Skip Moen)

And it’s not that I just get to hear and obey just the things I like, like Thomas Jefferson who went to the extent of cutting out the words of his Bible that he didn’t agree with. He even wrote His own Gospel! The Smithsonian says Jefferson “was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents.” So what did he do? He took “a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy,” he penned the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. This “bible” excluded miraculous events or anything “contrary to reason” including the resurrection! How can one be classified as “devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ” without accepting the words of God that Jesus accepted as true? Because those words tell of his death and resurrection. Those words tell of God doing miraculous things. But I suppose that’s a choice any of us can make, to grasp the “manhood” of Jesus and strip Him of His Godhood. Then it’s ok for me to listen to what I want to because Jesus was just another good moral teacher and that’s all.

But what a dangerous and empty thing that is, to write everything up according to my understanding. What ludicrous thinking to imagine that I can understand everything. To think that I can rewrite Scripture when I can’t even speak a universe into being? To write off miracles when even my own birth is one? If no one can create a camera as accurate as the human eye and yet somehow that eye came into existence. If you choose to believe it all came into being by chance, or by some story you want to create, that’s your choice. But to tell you the truth, that actually seems contrary to reason to me. I’ve seen the effects of the words of God. I’ve seen how Your word changes lives, including mine. I’ve heard how it raises the dead and sets the prisoners free. I’ve seen it do so. I’ve seen the hungry fed and the thirsty satisfied. I’ve seen lives changed and empowered by Your words as people did more than believe with their heads, but as people obeyed and lived according to Your words. I’ve seen life bloom where death was imminent where Your word took root in a heart, where broken families have been restored, where people become new creations all together.

Simon Peter was just as credible a witness as any of us because he was just as human. He was there when Jesus shared, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. “ But Thomas Jefferson could have been one of the followers in the crowd that day. Many of those who had been his disciples walked away, saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” What were Your words, Lord? “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” And many walked away. But Jesus turned to the twelve, and asked, “Do you want to go away as well?” But Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6)

There is only One who can satisfy us eternally, here and into eternity. There are words of eternal life. Only the word of God will satisfy completely, believing is acting upon them and living in them and holding on to them with all my life. Yes, I can trust the same Word that brought me into existence for that Word is the same that will forever keep me in Him. I don’t have to be hungry or thirsty. I can drink from the Fountain of Life and eat from the Bread of Life, every day for every meal and continuous snacks in between. I never have to be malnourished if only I will heed Your words, whether they are sweet like honey or bitter to the taste. My life depends on it. Our relationship depends upon it. And I can’t have life without having a relationship in You and with You first. Lord, I don’t want to experience a famine from You. I want to hear Your words, love Your words, and live out Your words in my life.

Feast or Famine

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Photo credit to smithsonianmag.com

“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.’”  Amos 8:11

Ancient Biblical days are not the only days of famine.  There are countries right now that are going through famine in the sense of lack of food and insufficient provisions for the people.  And just the same, ancient Biblical days are not the only days of famine when it concerns a destitution or lack or want in the spiritual realm.  Now, I’m not talking mysticism here.  There never seems to be a famine of that.  But what I am talking about here is a hunger from lack of the word of Life. 

Famine is visible.  It has tell-tale effects on the human body.  Go without food and water long enough, or go with less than sufficient food for long enough, and you will suffer weight loss.  Children’s growth will be retarded.  Malnutrition sets in and mortality rates go up, effecting the old and the young first.  It’s not just starvation, but the fact that their bodies can no longer fight infection.  It effects learning and concentration.  Childhood malnutrition can cause a host of other problems like “reduced intelligence, anxiety, psychiatric issues, and cognitive impairment.”   It effects the mind and body.  There can be visual problems, bleeding gums/decaying teeth,  inability for the heart to function properly, internal organ function threatened, the skin breaks down and can’t protect and shield, joints and muscles will ache and weaken and shrink, bones can become fragile, nerves in extremities break down, and diseases that are rare open up the body to a pandora’s box.  You actually wouldn’t even need medicine to stop these diseases, only proper nutrition. 

It doesn’t have to happen in a famished land either.  It can happen in a place where people have sufficient food.  But there are some who don’t have what they need and they get lost in the shuffle until the damage is apparent.  It’s like a little boy who didn’t have the right nutrition and by the time he could get to the hospital for treatment, the TB had gotten into his bones and effected his learning.  Thank God someone noticed.  Thank God someone did something when they noticed.  But the not noticing for a while caused permanent damage.

But there is a famine that is much more dangerous than that of hunger and thirst for our physical needs.  There is a  famine that can effect our souls.  Our souls were created to be fed by One Source, the Source who created them.  Our souls were meant to be fed by You God.  But somewhere along the line we start thinking other things can satisfy. 

In Amos’ day, the people were impatient and asking, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?”  Does that seem insignificant?  It’s not.  The new moon was at the heart of keeping the calendar and the feasts and festivals that You had established.  It was a reminder and an act of worship in remembering and doing.  It wasn’t about ritual.  The new moon was watching for that sliver to show up in the night sky to tell the end of one month and the beginning of the new and to count down the days to the next celebration of God.  But instead of looking for that sliver with anticipation, instead of looking forward to celebrating You and Your care, they wanted to sell their grain and get on with their lives despite You.  They were inflicting their own famine from You and no longer even felt hungry.  It reminds me of someone who was eating lots of salad during her pregnancy to watch her weight.  But when she went to the doctor, she found out that she was malnourished because iceberg lettuce has little nutritional value.  We can try to meet our own needs and totally get it wrong.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the people also couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could get to selling their wheat.  Here was this day that God instituted for man’s welfare and even demonstrated for us.  Here was a day He gave us for rest and spiritual enrichment.  It’s that day when You ceased, ended, and rested from Your creative works.  You told Your people, “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (Exodus 20:8)  Remember, zakhor, doesn’t mean to just not forget.  It means to observe and remember its significance.  It’s about creation and deliverance from slavery into freedom.  “Observe [shamor] the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (Deuteronomy 5:12)  Sabbath was for remembering and observing by acting in a way that demonstrated that we are not in control over our environment but You are, God.  To want to ignore Sabbath is to wrench that control away from You and put it back in our own hands.

So there was this day coming, when there would be this famine and thirst not for food and water, but for Your words.  There would be a famine “of hearing the words of the LORD.”  That word for hearing is shama and it doesn’t just mean to hear.  It means to hear and obey.  Can you imagine people being famished for the words of the Lord, that people will want to hear You but won’t?  How does that happen?  Do You mean that people who have been hearing and obeying will no longer get to hear You?  Or is it that people who have been hearing but not obeying will look for You and not be able to hear or see You?  Will people ignore other people so that their spiritual famine grows to the point of no return?  Will people so ignore their own need that they can no longer be helped?

Imagine asking for help and not receiving it.  But in Isaiah 1:15 You say, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”  Did You not hear the prayers?  But You hear and know everything.  Or did You choose to not respond to the prayers because shama is about hearing and doing, hearing and responding?  But You chose not to listen.  Why?  Is that fair? Is that right?  Well, if their hands were full of blood, doesn’t that mean that those who prayed weren’t hearing and combining the doing with it?  Because if I was listening to You and doing it, how could I have blood on my hands?  And if I won’t hold up my end of the covenant, then I have already broken the relationship, and You would no longer be bound to Yours.  Every moment that You continue to hold covenant beyond that is shear grace.

Why do we expect You to listen and respond rightly to us and we don’t feel ourselves obligated to You in any way?  Why are we not concerned about hearing You speak these words, “I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity”? (Matthew 7:23)  There are people out there who are thinking they are doing good things, but since they won’t listen to Your words, they don’t understand that You are the only Good Thing, that Jesus is the only Good Way, and the only Right Choice.  And no one gains eternal life in the next life without knowing eternal life in this one first.  And the only way to know eternal life now is to know the Eternal Life Giver, the one who was there in the beginning and created everything with His very words.

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My commandments, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.” (Exodus 19:5)  You can’t help reiterating how important, how doubly important it is for us to hear and listen and obey and do.  Am I “indeed obey”ing?  Shamoa tishmeoo is the Hebrew.  It’s the double repetition of shama’.  “If you hear-hear My voice…”  Or since we know what shama’ means, we could listen as God also says, “If you obey-obey My voice…”  And wouldn’t that therefore mean You are saying, “If you hear-obey, hear-obey”?  And that’s with an exclamation mark.  Is hearing and obeying all of Your words that important to me?  Because it is to You.  And it is if I want a real relationship with You.  My hearing and obeying actually has bearing on Your hearing and responding.  Does that matter to me?

Do I somehow think that Your covenant with other people outside the nation of Israel is different?  Do I think that Your requirement for “If you hear-hear (obey-obey)” (Skip Moen) is only for the nation of Israel but for us Your covenant is absolute and unconditional?  Did Jesus come so I wouldn’t have to hear and obey?  I only have to hear and believe in what I hear?  How empty is that?  How hungry will that leave me?  What kind of relationship is that?  Why don’t we just leave off on eating and drinking and just live on the thought of food and water?  If is a bigger word than it looks.  If says there is a condition, a relationship to the following words.  Man is called to cooperate.  God chooses but His people who are chosen must respond.  You can’t just hear and go your own way.  Shama’, hearing and doing, “precedes active citizenship.” (Skip Moen)

And it’s not that I just get to hear and obey just the things I like, like Thomas Jefferson who went to the extent of cutting out the words of his Bible that he didn’t agree with.  He even wrote His own Gospel!  The Smithsonian says Jefferson “was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents.”  So what did he do?  He took “a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy,” he penned the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.  This “bible” excluded miraculous events or anything “contrary to reason” including the resurrection!  How can one be classified as “devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ” without accepting the words of God that Jesus accepted as true?  Because those words tell of his death and resurrection.  Those words tell of God doing miraculous things.  But I suppose that’s a choice any of us can make, to grasp the “manhood” of Jesus and strip Him of His Godhood.  Then it’s ok for me to listen to what I want to because Jesus was just another good moral teacher and that’s all.

But what a dangerous and empty thing that is, to write everything up according to my understanding.  What ludicrous thinking to imagine that I can understand everything.  To think that I can rewrite Scripture when I can’t even speak a universe into being?  To write off miracles when even my own birth is one?  If no one can create a camera as accurate as the human eye and yet somehow that eye came into existence.  If you choose to believe it all came into being by chance, or by some story you want to create, that’s your choice.  But to tell you the truth, that actually seems contrary to reason to me.  I’ve seen the effects of the words of God.  I’ve seen how Your word changes lives, including mine.  I’ve heard how it raises the dead and sets the prisoners free.  I’ve seen it do so. I’ve see the hungry fed and the thirsty satisfied.  I’ve seen lives changed and empowered by Your words as people did more than believe with their heads, but as people obeyed and lived according to Your words.  I’ve seen life bloom where death was imminent where Your word took root in a heart, where broken families have been restored, where people become new creations all together.

Simon Peter was just as credible a witness as any of us because he was just as human.   He was there when Jesus shared, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died.  Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. “  But Thomas Jefferson could have been one of the followers in the crowd that day.  Many of those who had been his disciples walked away, saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?”  What were Your words, Lord?  “Do you take offense at this?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  And many walked away.  But Jesus turned to the twelve, and asked, “Do you want to go away as well?”  But Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6)   There is only One who can satisfy us eternally, here and into eternity.  There are words of eternal life.  Only the word of God will satisfy completely, believing is acting upon them and living in them and holding on to them with all my life.  Yes, I can trust the same Word that brought me into existence for that Word is the same that will forever keep me in Him.  I don’t have to be hungry or thirsty.  I can drink from the Fountain of Life and eat from the Bread of Life, every day for every meal and continuous snacks in between.  I never have to be malnourished if only I will hear and obey Your words, whether they are sweet like honey or bitter to the taste.  My life depends on it.  Our relationship depends upon it.  And I can’t have life without having a relationship in You and with You first.  Lord, I don’t want to experience a famine from You.  I want to hear Your words, love Your words, and live out Your words in my life. 

I’ve Been Judged

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“I said, ‘Please listen, leaders of Jacob, rulers of the house of Isra’el:  Shouldn’t you know what justice is?’” (Micah 3:1)

Here’s that warning again, shama, or hear and listen and do.  Micah is beseeching, not just asking.  Who is he speaking to?  He’s speaking to the leaders, both the government leaders and religious leaders of Jacob and Israel.  And we shouldn’t just think that this message is only good for Jacob and Israel and only good for those days back then.  This is need to know life information for today.  If we don’t learn from this life lesson of the past, it will unfold again right in front of us today, and again and again in the future.  Oh, wait!  It is unfolding in front of us from nation to nation today!

What do You, God, hold leaders responsible for?  “Is it not for you to know judgment?” (KJV)  “Shouldn’t you know what justice is?”  So I guess the question is, “What do You mean by that?  What do You consider justice or judgment?”  And how can we know it?  What does that mean?

Micah isn’t the only prophet helping us to understand this.  Zechariah shares, “Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’” (Zechariah 7:8-10)  What did this mean in ancient societies?  Well, first, the word for justice in Hebrew is mishpat.  It’s real meaning is about the administration of government but not just by man.  It’s about the administration of government according to Your rulings, God.  And that administration is given by You not to a political body but to leaders, who in Israel were the tribal chiefs and the patriarch or the king.  Individuals personally administered justice.  In other words, these individuals carried forth Your will and saw that the people carried it forth in their lives.  Well, at least that’s what they were supposed to do.  But whether they did or they didn’t do that, You held and still hold each personally liable for whether they carry through their decisions according to Your directions or not. 

The standard for justice isn’t whatever floats a judge’s boat.  It’s not whatever society wants or thinks they need.  The standard for justice is God’s word.  That’s what our leaders are to live by and rule by.  That’s the example they are supposed to be setting for us.  So the personal involvement goes deeper than with the rules of God.  It’s a personal involvement with You, God.  Personal involvement with You leads to personal involvement with what You love and uphold and against what You abhor.  Take away the personal involvement, and who gives a hoot about the rules?

What’s happening in the world today when someone wants their rights so much that they strip someone else of their rights even to the extent of thinking it’s ok to rob them of their life?  Where are the leaders speaking out against this?  Micah accuses leaders of hating good, and loving evil, of plucking skin off the people and the flesh off their bones and eating it.  Yuck!  But what are our own leaders inciting others to do in our world or in our country?  And why is this happening?  Because we’ve lost the personal knowledge of the compassion of God.

God’s compassion is a real thing.  His mercies are truly new every morning.  In Zechariah, the leaders had forgotten compassion, raham.  Skip Moen says that raham is, “an intense, deep personal connection comparable to the feelings a mother has for her unborn child in the womb.  Very personal.”  Now think about this.  Why are our leaders supposed to feel this way about those they rule?  Because this is the way God feels for us.  Is this what our leaders practice today?  Are we in leadership positions in our homes or churches or communities?  Are we practicing this kind of leadership?  Am I?

Jeremiah continues this thinking, “‘but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24)  So here is another word to think about.  It’s in Micah and Zechariah and Jeremiah here.  It’s that word know.  What does it really mean?  We think of knowledge today and we think of knowing a lot of information.  But that’s a Greek idea and not the Hebrew idea here.  This is the word yada and if you want to understand true religion, you need to understand yada.  True religion is sake, understanding and yada, knowing.  Without both, you can’t have a right relationship with God.  And without a right relationship with God, You can’t do it right in the world.  Understanding is about really thinking and grappling and getting down to the really deep stuff about following Him.  It’s serious questions that lead to serious answers.  But searching out the answers till you find them isn’t enough.  We have to know Him.  How do I do that?

It goes from knowing about Him, about the extent and facts of all He’s done, including coming to earth as man and God, teaching, living, being crucified for the glory of God and our sins and redemption, dying, rising again, and reigning over all.  And it extends to the closest intimacy of knowing Him like when a man and woman become one through sexual intimacy in the wholeness of marriage and unity.  It’s not enough to understand who God is.  We have to experience who He is too.  Skip Moen states again, “the intimacy of deep relationship, the friendship, the honesty, the confrontation, the instruction, the familial bonding, are all part of ‘yada YHVH.  He’s your best friend, your protective parent, your mentor, your examiner, your guide, your lover, your comforter, your doctor, your judge” and more.  Maybe the problem why our leaders are failing and the people are following is because of what they are missing out on, this real relationship with One who truly cares.

Without giving You complete sovereignty in our lives we can’t be full of what You are full of.  How can we exhibit qualities like faithfulness, justice, and righteousness in their true form without knowing what their true form really is like?  I can’t just know about faithfulness, I have to convert my knowledge into action.  I can’t just know about justice, I must convert it into action.  I can’t just know about what’s right, I must do it and convert it into action.  But who is going to show me what these all translate into in our lives?  The One who is each of these is the Only One who can show me. 

I can’t become a doer of the word unless I personally know the Word first.  Maybe our leaders don’t know all this.  But I think, living in this country, and living in a world where every day nature screams out the glory and presence of God, I’m not going to say they aren’t aware enough to be held accountable.  The fact is that the true Judge of all mankind will hold us all, every one of us, up to His measure of justice, not ours.  If my life and rulings don’t look like His, then they aren’t.  I’m the one who needs to re-examine my thinking and my ways and change my understanding, not You, Lord.

Judgment was coming for Israel.  And judgment will come for each of us too.  And I have a feeling that You hold leaders to a very high standard, you know, “to whom much is given, much will be required.”  John warned, “This is the judgment, that the Light [Jesus] has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”  You know, you don’t have to tear someone’s flesh off to be evil, poneros.  Poneros comes from “a group denoting poverty or need, has the senses 1. ‘sorrowful,’ ‘unhappy,’ ‘laden with care,’ 2. ‘bringing trouble,’ 3. ‘pitiable,’ ‘poor,’ ‘unfit,’ ‘unattractive,’ ‘bad,’ ‘unlucky,’ 4. ‘unsuccessful,’ 5. ‘plebeian,’ 6. ‘politically useless,’ ‘worthless,’ and finally 7. ‘morally reprehensible’ with the various nuances.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament)  It’s everything that God knows is not good.  It’s what is “bad, unfavorable, worthless, unhappy, hurtful, futile, and evil.”  Later, Micah is going to share what God considers good.  “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Do you know that man here is every human being?  Every one can know and everyone can have a relationship with God.

When we do and say things that cause sorrow or dissension or unrest, it’s evil, short and simple.  When I set up people to fail, when I deliberately make someone else unhappy, when I cause someone to be unsuccessful, when I’m unattractive because of a wrong attitude, when I make life futile, or make people feel worthless, or when I’m disobedient, I’m guilty of evil.  What about when I’m all about being burdened about me and how I’m being treated instead of being burdened for others?  Wonder if that thinking leads to police brutality or to civilians shooting innocent policemen just like that? Self-pity can be a dark evil, can’t it?  Now the reprehensible isn’t so far away.  See what despising what God has created in His image can lead to?  It’s dangerous stuff that we’re overlooking here.  Maybe we ought to call evil what it is, evil.

It’s for all of us to know judgment.  It’s for all of us to understand and know You God and know Your ways and live by them because You are Light and anything outside of You and Your ways is darkness.  It’s really easy for us to turn to the dark side, just look at what happened to sweet little Anakin.  It tears me up throughout that whole movie where he keeps holding on to those dark thoughts and seeing where it takes him.  It’s so sad.  And that’s where many of us are turning today as we follow self-pity and our rights and our pride.  We’re entering a place of sadness and darkness and separation from God and separation from true fellowship with mankind.  Selfishness is much different than selflessness. 

God is inviting us to know and feel with Him.  He is actively concerned, He is pursuing inner engagement, true dedication to us, and attaching Himself to us.  He has genuine sympathy, pity, and affection for us.   He truly feels.  He feels hurt and humiliation and heaviness and hopelessness for us and with us.  With a heart that loves and clings and wants our greatest benefit, He watches as His beloved bride sleeps with others and doesn’t give a hoot about Him.  Man, that’s sad.  That’s awful, isn’t it?

See, Israel wasn’t giving a hoot about her faithful Husband.  She didn’t have any feelings for Him like He had for her.  All her sympathy had dried up because she was all about herself.  And isn’t that the way our culture has adapted?  Where is sympathy today?  Where is it for God?  Where is it for others when it’s so easy to shoot and kill or destroy people’s lives because they don’t agree with us?  Maybe we’ve become less human and more like corrupt animals the farther we walk away from You, God.  And yet You still cry for our loss. 

Well, I want to feel the way You feel and I want to feel the way You feel about me, about You.  I want to love intensely and faithfully like You.  I want to understand and exhibit true sympathy.  I want to be real and really care and really act upon that caring.  I want to be like Micah.  I want to be of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might to not only declare sin as sin, but to live according to Your ways and according to You because I am Yours and You are mine.  And if the world chooses to walk another way, let me continue to stand for You, not because I’m a prophet or anything special, but simply because You are the only One worthy of standing and being Judge.  I just want to cling to You as tightly as You cling to me.  I truly can’t wait until the day that I become one with You because I’ve been judged as truly Yours in Jesus. 

Do I Need a Hearing Evaluation?

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“Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, the Lord from His holy temple.”  (Micah 1:1)

What’s my warning today, Lord?  How can I keep myself where I should be with You and with others?  And if I am not where I should be, how can I come back?  I listen.  Yes, I hear, but not like we think about hearing.  The words and the sounds don’t go in and then out the other side with no effect.  This is shama and we are to hear and to know and to experience because we act upon what we hear from You.  Hearing is listening and doing, listening and following through.  Hearing doesn’t become faith until one acts upon the hearing.  “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

So, it goes to reason, that if I stop really hearing and following through, I’m going to fall, and fall big time.  I need to pay attention to my heart and to my hearing.  Paying attention in Hebrew is qashab which means to prick up the ears, attend, give heed, incline, mark, regard.  I think of a horse and how attentive it is with its ears.  That’s because they are guided by fight or flight instincts.  They worry about being attacked as prey.  Even as domesticated animals, they are always listening.  That’s why a rider must be constantly aware, because if those ears sense “danger” you may be in for a wild ride because when that horse hears, it will act.

The truth is that the Lord has given us ears that are capable of hearing more keenly and more realistically than a horse.  He’s given us deeper intuition and true understanding if we stop to really listen and pay attention.  A horse naturally acts by running, not by thinking things through.  But You give us everything we need to know to handle every situation in the right way. 

Why should I take the time to listen and hear and act upon what I hear of You, Lord?  Because You hear us.  Back in Exodus You shared, “If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep?  And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”  Did you know that God cares about things like that and wants us to act accordingly? 

And what’s the problem with listening to other sources than You and heeding their direction?  When we serve “gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands” they don’t see, or hear, or eat, or smell.  Nothing else and no one else can hear and do for us what You desire to do.  God let the people of Israel hear his voice out of heaven, that he might discipline, instruct, and teach them.  They heard His words.  Are they the only ones?  You are still letting us hear Your voice out of heaven today.  And we don’t have to see You in the midst of the fire or the cloud and hear Your words there.  You gave us Your word through Jesus Christ and we got to see it lived out.  We got to hear and see it in action.  And that’s what we’re called to do in our lives.

Listen, it may be up to us to decide whether we will hear or not.  It may be up to us whether we will hear and obey or hear and ignore and go our own way.  But one thing is not up to us, and that is the consequences of not hearing what has been given to each of us for our benefit.  We may think that by not hearing, we become the judge, but we don’t.  Look at everyday life.  I can ignore the laws, and make my own rules, but when I get caught, I’m going before the judge, and it’s not going to matter what I thought or what I believed.  Only what the judge believes will matter and he will declare my guilt or innocence according to how my actions lined up with the law.  I can ignore Your words.  I can declare my own way.  I can totally not pay attention.  But that doesn’t negate Your words, Your way, Your right and position as Supreme Judge.  You alone will stand as witness against us or for us, no matter what we believe.  So who’s side do I want to be on?

Israel as a nation had lost her way.  Why?  Because she wouldn’t listen and obey.  God had spoken these words to them and speaks them to us as we read and hear His words today.  “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)  Will we love God’s word so much that it flows out of every part of our life?  Or will we ignore it and choose our own way?

“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7, Psalm 95:8)  Read  it.  Listen to it.  Take time to read it aloud to yourself so the words and truths sink in.  Don’t just hear it from someone else’s mouth.  Hear it come out your own.  Listen to what the Spirit says through His word.  In Revelation there is a promise for doing that, and I don’t think it just applies to reading the book of Revelation out loud and hearing and obeying.  “Blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)  The last book in the Bible and seven times it reminds us “If anyone has an ear, let him hear…” 

The truth is, it is not God’s desire to be against us.  His heart has always been for us.  How unnatural to choose to be against the One who is so much for us.  The truth is that God wants to intercede for us through Jesus Christ, despite what we have chosen.  He’s willing to take us back as full children!  Listen and hear.  “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)  May we hear and realize the measure to which God is for us and may we respond in like measure to Him.

A Beautiful Command

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“And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.”  1 John 3:23

Lord, if Your commandments are so hard, and if they are impossible to follow, then why did You give them?  If all Your commandments do is show us our need for Jesus, then doesn’t that mean they wind up being irrelevant once we come to Christ?  So, why do Paul and John and the other Biblical authors keep compelling us to obey and know Your commands?  There must be something greater You intended through them.

What if Your commandments run deeper than superficial rules to follow?  The Greek word for command is “entole.”  And actually, these commands aren’t so difficult to follow.  We follow these kinds of commands all the time in our daily lives.  Think of it as a policy letter, a new traffic signal, a tax regulation.  We just do them, well, unless we want to lose the policy or cause an accident or pay more to Uncle Sam than he already is asking for.  I mean, when was the last time I sat at a traffic signal and thought, “Oh, Lord.  I just can’t do this.  This is too hard to go when the light turns green.  I just can’t do it.  How will I ever get through this?”  That’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?  And maybe it’s ridiculous to think that You don’t want us to understand and obey Your commands that teach us about Your character, that help us understand You better.  Because every one of Your commands draws us closer to You.

It’s funny but Jesus, You said that if we love You, we will obey You.  So, why have we been taught to disregard Your commands as though they are too hard and archaic and only for Jews?  You obeyed them.  Paul obeyed them.  John obeyed them.  I mean, what if I obeyed Sabbath worship?  What would happen to me?  Would I become a legalist?  Really?  Or would I just draw closer to You because I let Your Word teach me and bless me?  Would I learn what it is in that way to stand in a different way than the world around me?  Would I come to appreciate You in a deeper way and come to understand Your heritage in God in Your Jewishness a little better?  Would I be a better witness to my Jewish brothers and sisters?  Would I be a better witness to everyone because I loved Your commands and Your ways despite cultural differences?

Maybe the whole point is that You gave us every commandment so that we would come to know You in them.  Maybe Your commandments, all of them, from the Old Testament and the New Testament, lead us to believe in You, in Who You are, and to actually know You and understand Your ways and what Your righteousness really is.  Maybe they are not hard at all, unless I don’t want to submit.  That always makes the task harder, when I just flat out don’t want to do something.

Now, this is just a side, but our family practiced obeying the Sabbath. And I loved it and grew and understood more of Scripture through it.  And for every time I celebrated the Biblical Old Testament holidays, I grew to understand more and appreciate You in them.  Sure, it’s not easy to arrange them since the world around me isn’t doing it that way.  But every “inconvenience” I did arrange, wound up being a blessing I will not forget.  And no, I did not become a legalist.  I just became someone who wanted to understand You, Lord, more deeply and who wanted to understand Your Word better and know the importance of what You were sharing with Your people.

And John is telling us here that the commandments lead us to believe, to believe and place our trust in You.  I mean, Your policy letter to us tells us all about You.  But we can’t know all the things You’ve shared unless we check it all out.   And we can’t experience it unless we obey it and follow through on the policy.  Back in Deuteronomy 18:15 You told of the Prophet You would raise up, from Your people, and Your people would listen to Him.  That’s Jesus, The Word of God according to John.  This was told by Moses to whom the first part of the written policy was given.  And Jesus, You are the whole policy from start to finish.  Because the policy was in place from Adam and Eve until forever.  Adam and Eve were already following Your policy before it was ever written.

Psalm 2:12 commands me to “kiss the Son, unless He be angry, and you perish from the way….Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.”  Yes, I need to kiss the hand of the King.  I need to kneel in submission and follow His policies.  I need to live under the instruction and protection of Your policies because in them is life and safety.  Is obedience really so bad?  I actually think it’s a glorious thing.

God, You sent a cloud that overshadowed Jesus and some of His disciples that day, and Your voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is My beloved Son:  hear Him.”  (Mark 9:7)  See, the Greek translation of this word, “hear” is “akouo” which is about hearing something audible.  But the disciples didn’t speak Greek, and Jesus didn’t either.  So the Hebrew word that was used is the stem “shm” which is where we get “shema” like in Deuteronomy 6:4.  And it means more than hearing.  ” It means all of the following:  hear, listen, obey, converse with and understand.”  (Skip Moen)  So, here again, God is telling us we are to listen to and obey Jesus.  I not only hear You, Lord, and the words You speak, but I see Your actions, and I am to obey and follow it all.  As I follow Your example, I will only benefit from taking Your word to heart and practicing it in my life.  That’s faith.  If I don’t walk with You, how can I ever know You?  If I don’t know Your ways, how can I ever live in them?

And Jesus, You reiterate God’s command.   “This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He has sent.”  And who is that?  You, Jesus.  And the thing about You, God, is that You are always working, You are always active.  But isn’t this telling us that You are always working through Jesus?  Didn’t You even create the universe through Jesus?  Weren’t all things made by Him?  And isn’t this the work that You are desiring to bring to life in us, that we believe, that we understand and experience the creative and sustaining work of Jesus in our own lives?

It’s not just enough to believe in God.  God said to believe in the Messiah He provided.  To not believe in Him, is to not believe in God, because You would be taking one of His commands and calling it invalid.  So what right do I have to call any of Your commands invalid?  I mean, when someone denies You, Christ, why do I think I am any less defiant, if I deny the value of any other command?

There is a River of Life and a Tree of Life.  And they are eternal.  And we can drink from that river and eat from that tree.  And we must drink and eat to know You.  I must choose to sink my roots deep into that stream and suck up it’s sustenance.  I must choose to reach out and pluck from the fruit of the tree.  That’s part of the policy.  Is it really so hard to see life and do what I need to in order to receive it?  Is it so hard to draw near enough to take a drink?  Is it so hard to continually draw near and spend time by the river?  Is it so hard to reach up and grasp the fruit and to take it to my mouth and take a bite?  Isn’t that what the commandments are all about?  Aren’t they all about seeing and tasting and experiencing God and His goodness in Jesus?

In John 6, Lord, You said this to Your disciples who were having a problem with Your teaching.  “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you that believe not.”  The fact is that Jesus, You represent the totality of all Scripture.  It’s not just about the words You were just speaking then.  YOU ARE THE WORD!  All your words, all Scripture is spirit and life.  Why?  Because You are shone forth, You are represented in every word of Scripture.  That’s why Paul wrote to Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Lord, Your idea here is probably really hard for us to understand because our education system is so different.  We’re like computers where information is continually put in and collected and then we pop it back out.  But that’s not what You are looking for.  The whole Hebrew model of education is totally different from that.  The Rabbi was the source and he picked the students who really wanted to learn.  He looked for the ones who wanted to absorb what he had not only through word, but by their deeds too.  He was looking for someone who would take on his lifestyle and thoughts and attitudes and actions.  It wasn’t about information transfer at all.  The pupil would become everything that the rabbi embodies and then he would have reached full maturity.  He was to become a xerox image of the teacher.  He would love what he loved, take the stand that the rabbi took, believe the words and act accordingly in the same manner as the rabbi.  There would come a point where you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two.  And that is still Your desire for each believer.  Because You are our Rabbi and we are Your pupils.

See, that’s what believing represents to You.  So as I look back at my life, am I believing?  Am I really becoming a mirror image of You in my words, my deeds, my life actions, my thoughts?  Whatever You thought on any subject, is that what I think now?  However You acted, is that how I’m acting? And the wonderful thing is that You give me all these other Biblical examples to look at also.  And as they followed You and made Your words their own and Your ways their own, I get to see what being a disciple looks like in real life.  I get to see what believing looks like and acts like and talks like.

But just like that day in Capernaum, some followers and some people just don’t want to submit to some parts of You.  Maybe they don’t want to take the time to wait to learn, or it’s just uncomfortable, or weird for them.  I don’t know why.  But there comes a point where we all have to decide if we are going to let You be our Rabbi.  Am I going to totally take on Your ways?  Am I ready for that change and that level of trust and that letting go of myself?  And You ask me the same question, “Will you also go away?”

What’s my answer, Lord?  I can’t go away either.  Because I believe that You have the words of eternal life.  And I believe and am sure that You are that Messiah, the Son of the living God.  You are the embodiment of His Word.  You are the One that is Good and if I want to enter into You, into Life, I will keep the commandments, because I want to hold fast to You.

Lord, I have no desire to be a legalist.  But I do want to come to be indistinquishable from You.  And I am so grateful for every opportunity You give me to grow to know You more, and understand You more, and think like You more, and act like You more.  And I’m so grateful that You use all of Your Word to make me complete and whole and furnished and equipped in You for everything that You will ever call me to.

So, what I do with Your commands, Lord, means everything to what I believe about You.  I mean, if I’m going to say You are good, then my life ought to agree with that by demonstrating the goodness of Your Word in my life, the goodness of Your commandments.  Entering life is all about entering You.  As I enter Your commandments, any of them, I’m showing what I really believe about You.  I’m showing I trust You so much that I trust all of Your Word.  I mean, You are the One who told me by Your own words to keep Your commandments.  You’re the One who told me by Your own words that I must trust You to know God.  Your policy is just all about You.  It’s all about making and explaining how I can know You and experience You.  Your policy was there in the beginning before anything was written down in man’s handwriting.  Then, during Moses’ time, You started to write it for us on tablets of stone.

And I have to think about that.  Why did You etch the “ten commandments” in stone hewed out of the mountain by Your own finger?  Because they were just rules to follow?  Or was it because even then You wanted to demonstrate before all people that You have the supernatural power and ability to tear down mountains and things established in stony places and put Your ways inside something that was once empty of Your ways?  If You can write Your ways in stone that You hewed out of a mountain, then surely You can write Your Word in a once stony heart.

In Jeremiah 31:33, God shares His goal for His children.  “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts: and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  He wants to etch Himself deeply in my once stony heart.  Why? So that I can know the LORD for myself.  So that each of us can know the Lord for ourselves from the least of us unto the greatest of us.  Lord, You never intended for Your words to be superficially written.  They were always meant for us to take deep within.

Deuteronomy 30 tells us “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. .. But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live …”  And Paul reiterates in Romans 10 that Jesus is the goal of the Torah (the Old Testament Scripture) for “everyone who believes.”  When Moses wrote about righteousness, He was telling us all about You and how to be Yours and trust and live in You.  This is what Paul said Moses was saying, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach: that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.   For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'”

Lord, is Your Word engraved in my heart?  Is Jesus supernaturally having His way in me.  Am I allowing Him to write His story, His ways, His loves,  His desires in my heart?  Am I living in it?  Am I living in Him?  Is He that close that we are becoming one?  Am I seeing the beauty and glory of Christ in every word, in every command?  Have I really begun living?  Do I really know You?  Am I keeping Your commands?  Is the love of God truly in me?  Am I in You?  Am I trusting in Your word, because it’s who You are?  Do I find my hope in Your word?  Because it’s where You are found.  Your life and lovingkindness are found in Your word; is that where I am found?  Is Your word my delight?   Because it’s the only way You will become my delight.  Do I long after it?  Because if I do, then I am longing after You.  Yes, You are not just all over Your commandments.  You are in them and they in You.  And they are not hard.  They are beautiful because they shine from You.  Make me beautiful in You as I demonstrate my trust in You by obeying Your commandments for the shear fact that You are beautiful in them and I just want to love and live in Your beauty.