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.

Pondering Divine Sunglasses

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“Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.” (Daniel 7:28)

 
So, some of those words aren’t words we use much nowadays, but it made me think about the intensity of feelings this dream left with Daniel. Daniel had a dream, a vision given from God, and it was pretty intense. It was so intense that he was “grieved in [his] spirit in the amidst of [his] body, and the visions of [his] head troubled [him].” So he asked one of the bystanders in the vision what it meant. He wanted to know the “truth” of it.

 
Four kings would arise out of the earth but the saints of the most High would take the kingdom and possess it for ever and ever. But there was a fourth beast with ten horns and another little one comes up with three of the first horns plucked up by the roots. And then comes the vision of the Ancient of Days with garment white as snow, hair like pure wool, a throne like a fiery flame, wheels like burning fire, and a fiery stream from before Him. Ministering around him were too many to be counted. And there’s more, but you can go back and read it and dig into it for yourself.

 
All I know is that this vision and it’s interpretation was not only hard to grasp so that Daniel needed help but that even starting to grasp it was terrifying to Daniel’s thoughts or cogitations so much so that it altered his whole mood. But he didn’t dismiss it. He kept the matter in his heart. Now, heart for the Hebrew (leb) isn’t just that organ inside that pumps blood or what we think of when we think of strong emotions. Putting something in your heart was about your feelings, your will, and your intellect. It wasn’t just about your thoughts or feelings. Your will is what you do. So, when the Psalmist says, “Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You,” he’s not just talking of tucking an emotion or memory away. He’s talking of tucking that emotion and knowledge in so deeply that it effects his will and actions. So too was this vision for Daniel.

 
Daniel didn’t just remember this vision as a vague memory attached to strong feelings. It now colored how he looked at events in life around him. It was as though God gave him a pair of divine sunglasses to think about things in the world. Daniel would now look at his world expecting to see, expecting to spot these kings, these events. Daniel was walking in faith because he didn’t just tuck God’s word away in some crevice of his brain.

 
I think of someone else like that. Her name was Mary and she was young and was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And she had no idea how it would all pan out, only that it would come to pass, because the angel sent by God had said so. There was that day that God chose to have Mary give birth to Jesus in that little sheep cave of a stable. And these shepherds see angels declaring “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12) And here was this multitude of angels praising God and saying, “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” So the shepherds run to see this baby and tell of all that has passed. And other people wondered about those things. They marveled, like, “Wow! That’s amazing!” But Mary kept all those things and pondered them in her heart.

 
What’s the difference between marveling and keeping and pondering? The word for keeping is suntero. It’s when you keep something closely together. It’s remembering mentally and obeying. Mary remembered and held on to these words and happenings in a way that she would act upon them. Marveling is like standing by and watching a really cool air show, seeing some outrageous stunt or a crash, and walking away and living life as usual without it having any effect except to say, “Wow!” But not Mary. She pondered these things in her heart. That’s the word sumballo. It’s like she consulted these things. She considered them over and over again. She used these events to help her as she walked through life. These events became her divine sunglasses through which she saw and interpreted and acted upon life. She understood what Daniel understood, at least on seeing things through God’s perspective.

 
Even when Mary and Joseph “misplaced” Jesus and he had remained behind in Jerusalem dialoguing with the teachers at the temple, we see this attitude again. This is twelve years later for Mary. And Jesus has asked, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” And even though they didn’t understand it all at the time, as Jesus returned with them, Mary kept all these sayings in her heart. It painted and effected how she thought and how she lived out life.

 
I’m not a trained Bible scholar so I’m not going to get into hashing out Daniel’s dream here. But I do care about it and I care about Daniel’s character and how he handled the word of God, whether written Scripture, oral tradition, or visions. And I do care about Mary’s character and how she handled the same, including the life and actions of her own son, our Jesus Christ. And I do care what I can learn from their examples before me.

 
It’s such an easy trap to fall into to intellectualize God’s word, to hide it in my heart by just memorizing and being able to spout it out in a moment’s notice. But that’s not the same as meditating over it and asking God’s help to understand it His way and be able to live it out in my life His way. And Lord, You went so far to make it clear on how to live it, that You sent Jesus to demonstrate it in real life for me and for each person.

 
I know by Daniel’s actions and not just his words that he truly believed and acted upon that belief. Had he been one of the 12 spies sent into the promised land, he would have been a Joshua. Like the Psalmist who shared, “In God I have put my trust: I will not be afraid of what man can do unto me,” (Psalm 56:11) so was Daniel. And Mary was learning the same in a world not favorable to women at all. And each of us has the ability and the wonderful opportunity to learn what it is to truly trust in and rely on a God who cares and is intimately involved with us, a God who sacrificed His only Son for those who had turned from Him and denied His way to follow their own. I mean, how great a love is that?

 

Maybe if we took time to ponder and hide that down in our hearts so that it could take effect and reshape every bit of our being, maybe then our lives would resemble what they were created for- to be Your image bearers, Lord. So today, Lord, let Daniel and Mary and Your working as a living God be our example and may we let You change our thinking and our actions until we are Your spitting images in a world that needs to not only see You and be amazed, but needs to know You and be changed.

Our Own Doing

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Photo credit to Amado Roberto Jimenez Abreu, Jr.

 

“And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before My face.” Hosea 7:2

 
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) These stories of the ancients aren’t just stories of them and times long past. These stories are repeats of the hearts of mankind. Read Hosea 7. It’s a story of yesterdays. It’s a story of today. Why? Because the heart of man is unchanging unless it’s made new by surrendering to the Lord who made us.

 
It’s sad. You would have healed Israel. It’s what You wanted to do and were waiting for the opportunity to do. You were inviting them into healing. Imagine that. But they refused to accept that healing Your way. They wanted to do things their own way. They refused healing. Who would do that? Who would refuse healing until it’s too late?

 
I think of some people. I think of my grandfather, my Opa. He had an infection in his leg. He didn’t trust doctors and hospitals. He was told to go to the doctor but he wouldn’t go. Finally, gangrene started to set in. Then he HAD to go. And so did his leg below his knee. Part of his leg had to be amputated because he refused to seek help and healing when he first needed it.

 
He’s not the only one I think of. Jim Henson, that talented puppet maker and puppeteer. He was much more than that to many and well loved. Mr. Henson was sick. Same story in a way as my Opa. Was sick but never went to the doctor for help. By the time he did, his pneumonia was so bad, he couldn’t be helped. He died.

 
Well, this is the story today. It’s a story of letting our sickness keep baking in the oven. But it’s not a story of physical illness. It’s a story about spiritual sickness. It’s a story of iniquity. What does iniquity mean? It’s the Hebrew word avon here. It’s about perversity. It’s taking what God has said is right and good and twisting it into what it is not, and that’s evil. Tied into the word is the understanding that this “perversifying” of God’s ways will receive punishment.

 
But this sad and twisted story continues. It’s about falsehood, sheqer, about living a sham, being caught up in deceit and emptiness. It’s about being robbed and spoiled and letting yourself be. And it’s a problem easily fixed except no one will stop to consider their own hearts and consider that God sees and knows what’s going on. No one will stop and consider and say, “Hey, this is wrong. This isn’t what I was created for! This is twisted and warped. This is not what our Creator envisioned for us.”

 
With their mind, will, and emotions; what we call the heart, they only consider their own ways and not the God of their creation. They forget that God has never stopped watching and waiting and inviting them into His healing. But they refuse. Like the song, “I’ll have it my way,” they will find out that if that is their choice, they will have it their way. And if that’s my choice, I WILL have it my way too. Only, having it my way means that my own doings will beset me about. My own doings will surround me and encompass me on every side instead of having healing surround me and encompass me on every side. But yes, it is every man’s choice.
I can choose to make myself temporarily glad, or to make people glad. I can choose to run after whatever I think gives me pleasure. My heart can be like a burning oven. I can pile things into it and wait. I can let the baker who is over me sleep and wake up to this burning, flaming fire in the morning. I can let it get so hot that everything good is burned up in flames. I can be an oven where I don’t follow the baking directions and food doesn’t get turned and burns on one side or just gets scorched altogether. I can let this baker who has no knowledge of baking lead my baking if I want. But then I’m nothing more than a silly dove without heart.

 
I’ve had doves before. They are beautiful birds. I can hear them cooing. But they have no defense. Except by the grace of God, I have no idea how they survive in the wild. They don’t bite or scratch. In self-defense they run and flap their wings. And maybe, when we run to our own strength, we are like that beautiful but silly and defenseless bird. How can something defenseless run to itself or others like it for defense?

 
There is One who could defend His people. That same One can defend any who would turn to Him. Don’t flee from Him. Run to Him. Fly to Him. Destruction is everywhere where He is not. When God says that destruction comes to us because we have transgressed against Him, He’s not cursing us, He’s warning us about the consequences of our choice. When we choose to break away from His authority and His protection and His safety and His presence, we get what lies outside the walls of our Safe Tower. Inside the castle and it’s walls you have the protection of the King, but outside is a different story.

 
God had redeemed Israel and invited them into the castle walls. But they were choosing to delight themselves outside the walls where the enemy lurks. Are we choosing the same? Are lies being spoken about God today? I wonder if even “believers” are spreading some lies about You today by the way we live our lives and act out our faith or rather lack of faith. Do we really cry out unto You with our heart, with our mind, will, emotions, and every part of us? Do we really honor Your ways? Do we live in the strength that You give us or in our own strength?  And when I return, am I really returning to You or just to some of the ways I agree with? And am I getting caught up in rage instead of being caught up in You? What is my joy, who is my driving force, what is my life running after? Is it You and Your delight alone? Or is it something else?

 
You offered healing. You still offer healing today. If you want to know the secret to healing let me share Psalm 37. It starts with trusting in the Lord and following Him in His ways. Trusting in Him means delighting yourself in Him and you’ll see that what He desires becomes your desires and they’ll come to pass before your very eyes. When we trust in Him and delight in Him we also willingly commit our ways to Him. His righteousness starts to shine forth through us. Here we are, trusting and delighting and committing even in the tough stuff and yet we find rest in Him and wait patiently for Him no matter what. We don’t have to be angry, or rage, or fret because we know the experience of being kept in His care, so closely in His castle, that we are no strangers to the King.

 
There is still time to consider with our our will, emotions, and thoughts. There is time to consider You, God. There’s time to consider our own actions and wickedness. There is time to consider and remember, to consider and open our eyes to the truth and act upon it. There is time to consider life outside Your gates versus life in Your presence. And there is time to act. There is time to return. But there will come a day when that time has passed. Let us consider and respond rightly before our healing passes by and we are left where we chose to be, on the side of total destruction, not by Your choice, but by ours.

 
God has always offered healing in Himself. He still does today. He went to the extremes to get us to understand by sending Jesus to show what His desire translated into in a way that we mere humans could grasp. Jesus claimed the words of the prophet Isaiah because He could. Standing in the synagogue He proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”  Go on, look back at the heart of God in Isaiah. Compare it to the heart of Jesus. Hear His cry for your healing. Come to the One who would choose to pay the price of your rebellion for you. Come to the One who would rescue someone who owed everything to Him, when He owed nothing to us. This is the love of God demonstrated for us in Christ Jesus. This is the glory of God. Let Him heal you. Return to your Maker. Live in relationship to Him who is the Author of relationship and the Author of life. Or die alone. It’s each man’s choice. May we each choose wisely by choosing life and healing in You, Lord.

No Better Cake

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“…and I will save them by the LORD their God…” Hosea 1:7

 
Hosea was a prophet of God over a pretty long period of time, like maybe 70 years. That’s a whole average life span today! He shared the words of God over the reign of four or more kings, both influencing Judah and Israel. As I spend time going through Hosea, chapter by chapter, I really want to think about it. I want to think about what was going on and why. I want to think about what life was like for Hosea as Your representative during those times. I want to think about the things You required of Hosea and his attitude to Your requirements. I want to look at Your heart and Hosea’s heart and the people’s hearts and my heart.

 
Right at the beginning of Your words to Hosea, Lord, You help us to see his wife and children. You tell Hosea to go out and marry a whore. Wow, that’s strong language! What a requirement! What does Hosea do? He does it! You told him “Marry a prostitute, and have children with that prostitute. The people in this land have acted like prostitutes and abandoned the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2) So Hosea marries Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Do you know what Diblaim means? It means “two cakes.” I can’t help but think of that expression, “have your cake and eat it too.” So I guess his daughter, Gomer, liked multiple cakes at the same time too.

 
Why would Hosea do that? Why would he marry a known prostitute? Why would he choose someone who was already unfaithful? Was it just obedience to You, God? Or was it more? Was it just fear of You? Or was it more? Could Hosea have truly understood Your heart for people and could it have been the heart that filled him for them also?

 
Hosea took Gomer as his own despite her background. Don’t You do the same with each of us? Didn’t we all start out as sinners; men, women, and children who prostitute Your ways and run after others more than You? Are we that far off from Gomer and Israel? All I can think of is how much love and mercy and patience this prophet Hosea must have had. He could have despised Gomer just as You could despise Israel or us. But Hosea took Gomer unto himself. And isn’t that what You do for us? You take us unto Yourself to make us Yours and make us holy in You.

 
Hosea doesn’t despise her but is intimate with her. From the fruit of that intimacy comes a son. God names him Jezreel, “God will sow.” All along, God is using this family as a picture to the people. It’s a picture of the reality of who Israel is, running after other gods, other “loves,” other pleasures. It’s a picture of our own hearts. It’s a picture of Your faithfulness, God, in the midst of when we don’t deserve it because of our lack of faithfulness. It’s a picture of unconditional love and love beyond imagination. It’s a picture of warning and long-suffering. You reap what you sow. But God is the Final Sower. And in the midst of all the junk we throw around in our lives and at God, You’re busy sowing love and patience and seeds for repentance and a return to relationship and forgiveness and restoration.

 
But there’s a price to pay. We can’t stay the way we are. Our strength in ourselves and our pleasures has to be broken. So that’s not so bad to be named Jezreel, and to be a warning to Israel, is it? But then Gomer conceives again and bares a daughter. Hopefully this is from Hosea’s loins. But wherever she was from , God named her Loruhamah. Now that’s a sad name. It means, “not pitied.” Why? Because this is how God would act toward Israel; no more mercy. He’ll take them “utterly” away. Can you imagine having a name like that? Ow!

 
But again, You will have mercy on Judah, and here’s the great part I got excited over- You will save them by the LORD their God, not by bow or by sword or by battle or by horses or horsemen. It’s so easy to look towards things to save us. “Oh, God, send Your angels to watch over me!” “Oh, God, do this or do that…” But You don’t need bows or swords or armies or horses or horsemen. Maybe we look for salvation in all the wrong ways and all the wrong places. Maybe salvation is in You and You alone. Maybe salvation is in our relationship with God who gave Jesus so He could take us unto Himself and make us His very own.

 
What if life isn’t about my mission or my job or my ministry or my family or my wealth or my whatever? What if life is all about who I am in God? What if everything else is effected by that relationship? What if true living is getting that relationship right? What if Hosea was successful despite the “crazy” things he had to do because he understood the One He was listening to? What if Hosea is a great man not because He was a great prophet but because he walked with God in relationship step by step no matter what? What if that is why God chose to speak to him? What if that is why we’re still reading about him today? And what if that walk and that relationship is what makes the stories of Gomer and her children a beautiful story of love and redemption by a man who got it because he understood the God who gives it and is it?

 
And if this family doesn’t seem sad enough, another son is born and God names him Loammi- not my people. And not being God’s people implies that neither is God your God. But this is not without hope! God says that in the same place where they were called Loammi- not my people, one day it would be said again there that “You are the sons of the living God.” And in that day there will be a great gathering together of Judah and Israel and they’ll appoint themselves one head. I think that head is more than a ruler but that head is One Source. That these sons of the living God will understand together that they have become sons because of Jesus, the Son of God who sacrificed His life to restore them to His Father. There is coming a time when those who ran from the Creator will run to Him in awe.

 
That word for head in Hebrew is rosh. It’s the same word used in Rosh Hashanah which is the Hebrew new year. And it’s all about recognizing and acknowledging the Source of everything. As a matter of fact, Rosh Hashanah begins the time period on the Hebrew calendar known as the Days of Awe. And I think, Lord, that’s pretty much where You were trying to lead the people during Hosea’s time, back to the reality of awe in You, not because it was ritual but because You are so worthy of awe. We are nothing without You. The problem is that we are so prone to forget the truth.

 
Here You are, King of the Universe, Creator of everything, and yet we won’t even give You the time of day. Sometimes You just have to blow Your shofar loudly enough for us to hear it and be startled out of our self-induced slumber. And sometimes a shofar isn’t loud enough so it takes hard things in life to wake us up. We need to remember who we really are and we can’t remember that until we remember who You really are and that we wouldn’t exist without You. According to rabbinic teaching, “the sound of the shofar, then, is meant to stir the heart to fear and to inspire teshuvah (repentance).” Here in Hosea, Your story through the words and through Isaiah’s family was like a shofar. It was sounded to turn people back to You, to draw Gomer to Hosea and to You, to give his children a hope and a heritage, to give the people a way to return.

 
But it’s not just for Hosea, and Gomer, and Jezebel, and Loruhamah, Loammi, and Judah, and Israel. This is for us too. This is for me and this is for you. I’m just as much in need of redemption as Gomer; we all are. Jezreel isn’t the only one who will reap what he sows. And I’d rather reap what You sow, Lord. I can choose to live my own way and not accept Your pity. But I don’t want to. I want to be a Loruhamah who runs to You to receive the pity that You want to show me. Once I was not Yours, just like Loammi. But that was then. Now, I am Yours and You are mine. And if there is hope for me, then there is hope for anyone. I guess what happens is determined by how we respond when You blow the shofar. I just know that I want to wake up and listen. I want to wake up and hear. And I want to go even farther. I want to do what the shofar is signaling. I want to run to You for safety and salvation and belonging and purity and love and security and power.

 
Salvation is getting back to the relationship in the garden before the fall. It’s getting over me and never getting over You. You are the wonder of salvation. Jesus personified You for us but You are so much more. You are so much more that Jesus can change us and fill us with Your Spirit. You are so much more that You can be there in the midst of a prison or country where we are stripped of everything, yet we are not stripped of You. Our hope is not in any thing. Our hope, our reality, is in You. It is You. Oh, Lord, why do my eyes look at lesser things when You are every thing? You are It. That’s all I know. And maybe that’s all I need to know to think rightly.  You can choose your cake and eat it too.  But as for me, there is no better cake than Jesus.

A Rejoicing Multitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor Edom’s Not Alone

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Photo credit to soulsheparding.org

“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.’” (Amos 1:11)

Poor Edom.  More talk of their punishment.  But it’s not just Edom’s doom being told of here.  Judgment is pronounced on Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, and the Ammonites.   And the list continues in chapter two with Moab, Judah, and Israel.  And maybe it would be good to look at a couple things here.  Maybe it would be a good idea to look a little bit at Amos, who God chose to share this news.  And then maybe it would be good to look at why these nations surrounding Israel were being judged.  And later we’ll get to why Judah and Israel were being judged.  Why?  Because I’m pretty sure it’s a warning not only to them, but to us today.  So it would behoove us to learn.

Amos lived during the reign of king Jeroboam of Israel.  In that time Amaziah the priest of Bethel had an issue with Amos’ words.  He went to Jeroboam and said, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel.  The land is not able to bear all his words.  For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘ O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’ Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, ‘I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.  But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.’”(Amos 7: 10-16)  Isn’t that amazing how You raise up Your people to serve You from the unexpected?  I mean here was Amos, a nobody and a nothing by most people’s standards, a shepherd and tender of figs.  He hadn’t been born of a prophet, and he wasn’t a prophet from the start.  But when You told him to go prophesy, he went, and left it all.  Was there any thought in Amos’ head that lots of people wouldn’t care for what he was going to be saying?  I think so.  But he must have had some intense love and respect for You going on, Lord, to go anyway.  A number of commentators believe that he received ill treatment at the hands of those he was prophesying against.  And yet he obeyed. 

It reminds me of a face book post I read yesterday by Gary Dawson who has lived in the jungles in Venezuela among the Yanamamo since he was a little boy.  He says, “Full time missionaries are now becoming obsolete.  Missions and churches are pulling out their people from all around the world because of danger and hardship.  When has it ever been no danger, no hardship?  The most frustrating thing for me, is to see the great need of so many hurting poverty stricken sin bound people and not have enough to minister to everyone.  I see my sisters with their tiny supply cooking for the old, the blind, and sick from their meager supplies.  I have witnessed us as a family give until we have no more to give.  The biggest challenge is who to give to?  Who needs it the most?  I was reading once again in Matthew 25:35-46 and it says this.  I am going to paraphrase it.”

“Jesus is speaking of the future when He separates people some to the right some to the left.  He says to them on the right side.  He tells them to enter into glory blessed by the Father into a place that was prepared for them since the beginning of time.  He says it is because when he was hungry they fed him, when he was thirsty they gave him drink, when he was a stranger they took him in.  When he was naked they clothed him, when he was sick they visited him, and when he was in prison they came to him.  The righteous will ask him, ‘When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked?  When did we see you sick or in prison?’ He will answer and say, ‘Verily, I say unto you.  Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me.’  Wow!  You just have to love that promise.  But now the scary promise.”

“He then turns to the ones on his left and says to them, ‘Depart form me, you are cursed into everlasting fire. (sort of cools the jets of those that do not believe in hell) prepared for the devil and his angels.  I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in, I was naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  They will reply, ‘But Lord, when did we see you hungry, when did we see you thirsty or a stranger, or naked or sick, or in prison and we failed to minister to you?’  He will answer, ‘Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it not unto one of the least of these, you did it not unto me.’  Wow! do we all ever need to do a whole lot more.  We become so wrapped up in making our lives more easy and more comfortable that we lose the vision of the heart of God.”

But Amos held tightly to the vision that Israel, Judah, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Tyre, Gaza, and Damascus refused to see or grasp.   Of all the people that should have been lights, there were only a remnant and Amos was one of them by choice.  And Gentile or Jew, we have to determine if we are going to live under the Father’s blessing by choosing to obey and agree or we can choose our own way, which will meet judgment instead of blessing, no matter how much we think we were in the right. 

God is all about true compassion not just from a compassionate heart, but from His heart.  Lots of people can show a form of compassion and do good things, but without God, it’s not good, because only God is good.  A good deed without God in the midst of it is empty.  It leads to destruction.  Why?  Because only God offers life because He is life and that’s why He sent Jesus.  No one else could die and rise from the dead as Jesus did.  No one else could live a perfectly holy life by Your standards, without sin, and be fit as the sacrifice for all our sins.  Thank You, Lord, that Jesus didn’t choose comfort and ease instead of reaching out to us and meeting our needs.  That’s the heart of God for others and that’s what we are called to exhibit in You.

It’s not that those who met the needs of the poor and thirsty and imprisoned and naked around them weren’t sinners.  We’re all guilty of three transgressions and four, which means repeated, abundant, and in excess.  But those are they who choose to surrender for forgiveness and accept the heart and ways of God through Christ Jesus and let Him live it out in their lives.  Just like the grace they received, they let it flow out to others.  And it’s not like that other group didn’t have a chance.  It’s not like those eight nations couldn’t have chosen otherwise.  It’s not like people today don’t have a choice.  We all do and they all did, since the beginning of time.

Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament shared, “In this comprehensive pronouncement of God against sin in all these nations, there looms the tremendous fact that God is a God of all nations, and not merely of Israel, and that he will judge and punish sin wherever it exists.  Moreover, the sins denounced are not merely those of violence, cruelty, oppression, injustice, and social wrongs.  Violators of solemn covenants, innovators, and corrupters of the true worship are likewise guilty and will suffer the judgment of God.”  Truly the heart of the problem then and the heart of the problem now is with the heart.  And the heart is controlled by the mind.  And somehow we have this tendency to think too highly of ourselves and too little of the God who created us and holds everything together by His word.  Yes, nations, what holds everything together is not your thoughts or your actions, but the word of God who created us. 

Well, it’s still our choice.  We can choose to surrender to the hand who created us for a purpose and for His glory, or we can choose our own way.  I can be like Edom and despise my birthright.  I can desire something, anything more than You.  And then when I reap the consequences of that choice, I can choose to be angry and take it out on You and those who choose You.  But the truth is, we were all created to know You like that.  We were all created for a relationship with You.  Every nation.  We were created to be brothers and sisters from one Father, only we fell prey to the lies of another father, the father of lies.  One Father brings life, the other father brings death.  One Father only speaks and does truth, the other father only lies and lives those lies.  Amos is warning us about what happens when we lose sight of our real Father.  Instead of becoming like Him and living and leading others into life, we devour and are devoured, we exile and are exiled, we break covenants and are broken ourselves, we forsake pity and are eaten by our own anger, we forsake brotherly love and feel unloved ourselves, we despise the life inside of pregnant women and lose the value of our own.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Because there is a true Father who wants to restore us and our way of thinking back to HIs way of LIFE. 

We can choose life or we can choose death.  Moses said that this choice wasn’t so hard that we couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t so far off that it couldn’t be attained.  It’s not so far away that it’s in heaven and we can’t reach it.  It’s not someplace beyond the sea that we have no access to.  Well, for some it has been and some, it still is.  But for most of us, we have access to God’s word.  It’s near us, it’s in our house, or in the motel drawer, or next door, or around the corner.  I mean, for most of us, it’s even closer.  We’ve heard it.  It’s even in our mouths and hearts so we can actually do it and live by it.  It’s nothing new.  The choice has always been there.  From creation You have set before us life and good, death and evil.  Which I choose depends on what I do with Your words and Your commands.  To obey You, to love You, by walking in Your ways and keeping what You say by agreeing and doing and living it out, is to enter into a relationship with You and to reap those benefits.  To turn my heart away, to not listen and not obey, and to worship anything else or even myself is a death wish and emptiness.   Choose life that you may live in Him.  Choose life that your children may know Life and live.  Love God.  Obey His voice.  Hold fast to Him in Christ Jesus.  There is hope and it is only in You, God.  “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, Who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Never Intended to be God

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“This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, ‘I am, and there is none beside me:’ how is she become desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in!  Every one that passes by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.”  (Zephaniah 2:15)

Well, that’s not a very uplifting word this morning, is it?  Actually, if I think about it rightly and the rest of what God is warning through our friend Zephaniah, it can be uplifting because I can know how not to be on the wrong side of God’s judgment.  I mean, why were You so angry, God?  What were all these people, and even Israel doing that had to be put to an end?  What was it that a remnant of Israel would not do, or would turn away from doing?  What was it that a sampling of all the other nations would turn away from doing? 

Maybe the problem people were doing and still are doing today is a problem that starts in the heart.  It’s that place called lebab or heart in Hebrew.  It denotes the will, the emotions, and thought.  So here’s the problem.  Here was the will, the emotional attachment, and the thinking of the people: “I am, and there is none beside me.”  That’s awfully dangerous thinking.  It causes people to even rewrite reality.  We have that predominant thinking in postmodernism, which is prevalent in our world today.  “You want it?  Have it.”  “You feel it?  Do it.”  “You think it?  Then that’s truth.”  And culture thought it was so advanced but; it’s just adopted a failed archaic practice. 

And it’s not just that this is a practice that leads to failure whether living in ancient Biblical days or today or tomorrow, but it’s a spit in the face to You, God.  In Genesis, there is nothing but God and other than You, emptiness or void.  You create and You bring us forth from You.  You gave us everything we had.  And You gave us a choice to acknowledge who You are and what You had done by placing two trees in this garden where You placed us.  We could acknowledge You by eating of the tree of life or we could acknowledge ourselves by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  What a sad choice to have made when Adam and Eve had the privilege of actually walking and talking with You in the garden.  There was no separation.  I don’t think there was any question they couldn’t ask You and hear You answer.  I don’t think there was any thing or day they did not totally enjoy because there You were, present with them, enjoying creation and “being” together.  And yet, they wanted knowledge of their own.

It’s no new sin.  It’s the oldest sin in the book.  It’s also the sin that brings the greatest disappointment because it lies, “Then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods…”  The truth is, to think one something, does not make one something.  Just because I act like a god, it doesn’t make me a god. 

But the undeniable truth is that there is none that is like God.  Moses, through God, demonstrated that to Pharaoh by putting every Egyptian god to shame.  Each plague was so that Pharaoh and the people would know “that there is none like unto the Lord our God.”  (Exodus 8:10)  But even Israel had to be reminded and warned.  “if you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your Healer.”  (Exodus 15:26)  And isn’t that still our problem?  We don’t want to diligently listen to the voice of the Lord our Creator and Healer.  We want to create our own reality.  We want to heal ourselves.  We want to do what’s right in our own eyes.  We don’t want to listen and heed Your commandments because we would have to change our thoughts and practices and feelings about ourselves.

In Leviticus 19, 14 of the 37 verses end with the people being reminded, “I am the LORD.”  In other words, “Why should You obey Me?  I am the LORD.”  “I know what’s right because I am the LORD.”  “I am the LORD and nothing or no one else is.”  To get that down pat, is to get life down pat.  To get that downpat, is to get my life in the proper perspective.  To get that downpat is to walk through the door of life and eat of the tree of life.  To get that downpat is to return to our original purpose.

Deuteronomy 6:4, the beginning of the Shema, is the declaration of this truth.  “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  He IS and He is the only God, the only One.  “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (6:5) 

The truth of the matter is that there is only one self-existent one.  God declared that to Moses in Exodus 3:14, not because no one knew yet, but people were forgetting and focussing on lesser things.  Maybe even Moses had to be reminded of Your self-sufficiency.  “I AM WHO I AM.”  And You are the only one who can say that.  People, like me, are products of our environment, our DNA, our learning, our nationality.  We are things that are so easily shaped and molded.  But not You.  You are who You are and You don’t change.  You aren’t reshaped.  You aren’t fickle like human beings.  You’re not molded by anyone’s thinking, or behavior, or Your environment.  That in itself sets You above us and makes You a fair and just God. 

Zephaniah was accusing the people of making themselves gods.  They were saying, “I am, and there is none beside me.”  They were trying to be copycats and rob You of who You are.  But You’re the real deal.  Just because we think or say something, it doesn’t make it truth.  But when You speak, it is always truth.  “I am He, and there is no god beside Me: I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:9)  If we as people, would only start understanding this.  If we would only fill our heads with this true knowledge, life would be different.

God speaks to Isaiah, You ask all those who have been called by Your name, that You created for Your glory, that You formed and made, to come and gather and listen as witnesses.  Your desire is for us to know and believe and understand that You are He. “Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior…I am He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”  Is it sounding like the same old problem?

But You have been trying to turn us from this old problem.  Only, we don’t like to let go of what’s old and familiar.  You’ve been doing a new thing and we don’t even perceive it because we won’t even look.  You’re making a way in the wilderness and bringing forth rivers in deserts but we just want to wander in the wilderness and drink sand.  Isaiah’s words tell us that wild beasts, jackals and ostriches see the water and drink, but not us people.  The water was created for us to enjoy in You and we won’t even acknowledge it.  You formed us to be Your glory and to declare Your praise, but we want to declare our own.  We’re the ceramic pots boasting about creating ourselves.  How ludicrous!  You want us to call on You, but we want to call on ourselves.  We ignore You and satisfy ourselves.  The truth is, it’s not working.  We are the most dissatisfied generation ever. 

So many have chosen their own way and yet are torn inside.  They “promote” love, yet are filled with anger and hate at those who don’t copy their standards.  People would actually choose lies, than verify truth.  What is truth?  We think that’s such a wise question.  But to ask the question and leave it unanswered as a philosophical conundrum is foolishness.  To deny it because you don’t want to know it, is not an appropriate response.  Denying something doesn’t make it not exist.  God is God though we deny Him.  Truth is truth, though we deny it.  And the truth of God in His own words is, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.  Put me in remembrance; let us argue together; set forth your case, that you may be proved right.” (Isaiah 43:25,26)  Do you really think you will be proved right before God?  What arrogance!  Not even Job was proved right before You when he set forth his case before You.

But here’s the good news.  We don’t have to keep thinking like this.  We can remember that You alone are God.  You are the One we must run to and find our sufficiency in because You are the only sufficient One.  We can acknowledge that You created us, You formed us.  Your desire is to redeem us.  And in Your redemption, I don’t have to be afraid because I have a God who calls me by name and makes me His.  (Isaiah 43:1)  Yes, You are the LORD, and beside You there is no savior.  “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  ( Titus 3:3-7)

The good news for me, Lord, is that I was never intended to be god.  The good news is that You always have been and will be God.  I can always depend on that.  And just like You offered Yourself to be God the Protector, Healer, and Savior of Israel, You invite us into that relationship too.  But I have to make a choice.  I have to give up any idea I have of being god in any area of my life and see that as absolute foolishness.  And I must choose to relinquish all my control over to You as God.  I must choose the door to the Tree of Life and abandon the door to the tree of knowledge.  Because for me, it’s more precious to intimately know, trust, and rely on the God who loves me and created me, than to possess all the knowledge of the world.  If that kind of knowledge leads to death, I don’t want it and I don’t need it, Lord.  But if trusting in Your knowledge leads to life, then I want to learn to see things and act upon things Your way.