How is Your Heart Set?

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Photo credit to Fine Art America.

 

“…Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said,’I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas;’ yet you are a man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God.” (Ezekiel 28:1)

 
I wonder how it felt for Peter that day that Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance for me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”? (Matthew 16:23) Not long before that, Peter had been commended on how God had revealed to him that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But now, “Get behind me, Satan!”? Ouch, that stings. It probably stings more for Peter who really cared about You God than maybe it stung for the king of Tyre. But if I were to put myself in the place of either, whether Peter or the king of Tyre, I would say that the king’s blow was even more of a sting in reality. I mean, Peter was thinking like Satan when he thought like every man thinks instead of thinking like the Spirit. But the king was not only thinking momentarily like Satan. He had taken Satan’s stand and taken God’s glory and claimed it as his own, and claimed God’s seat of authority, and made himself god in his own heart. Pride does that in a person.

 
Let’s face the facts here. The king of Tyre was one wise guy. You tell us that Yourself, Lord, “you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; by your wisdom and your understanding you have made wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries; by your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth…” But let’s stop to think for a second. Where does wisdom and understanding really come from in the first place?
Here’s a scriptural hint about where wisdom and understanding come from. “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore…” (1 Kings 4:29) Even before that, Moses was speaking of God’s statutes and rules and doing them and said, “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and our understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

 

Why would following statutes and rules of God show wisdom and understanding? Because, in Moses’ words, it would show that God was that near to them “whenever we call upon Him.” God is the one, after all, who forms every man, woman, and child.
Genesis 2:7 uses the Hebrew verb form yatsar for formed. The words of the verse say, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Later in time, You tell Jeremiah about his origins as the person he is. “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) God uses this verb, yatsar or formed, to not only describe how He forms the details of a person’s life but of how He fashions Israel itself. According to Otzen, “this verb connects human craftsmanship with divine activity.” Part of the problem is that we forget where and who our abilities came from in the first place. After all, had I not been formed first, I wouldn’t be forming these words on these pages right now. And neither would the king of Tyre have been orchestrating all his wonderful plans if he hadn’t been wonderfully planned first.

 
But maybe yatsar isn’t just about independent being or just being made and formed into something. Maybe yatsar is more specific and more relational than that. Skip Moen calls it a verb of partnership with God. I love his thoughts on this so let me share them here. Remember, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” On this Skip shares, “The clay isn’t inert. It responds to the potter. For Man to be Man, there must be a response to the divine action. For Israel to be Israel, there must be a response to the electing God. Yatsar is a relationship verb. When God “forms” the dust, He doesn’t just pile up whatever can be gathered with the sweep of a hand. He establishes a relationship with this “stuff,” and it is the relationship that identifies the uniqueness of this creative act. Yatsar is the God-human verb of the story.”

 
Genesis is the explanation of origins. It’s the origins of man. Skip continues, “God’s relationship—His choice, purpose and selection— is the essential factor in formation. Without the relationship, nothing exists…God’s fashioning activity and His infusion of the breath of life is the reason human beings are what they are. Removing the relationship inherent in the forming or withdrawing the infusion of the breath of life means that Man returns to what he was before these actions occurred. He returns to the dust. He ceases to be. In other words, there is no inherent quality, no spark of the divine, no ontological substance residing in Man so that he lives independently of the action of yatsar and the infusion of the breath of life. Man exists in relationship with His creation, always. His breath and his body are entirely dependent on God. Perhaps Paul captures this Genesis thought when he wrote, ‘in Him we live and move and have our being.’…you do not exist without dependence on God. If you think or act in ways that deny this dependence, you are simply deluded— and a fool.”

 
Pride deludes. The king’s heart was lifted up because of his riches. He totally forgot or ignored who formed him to be this way, Who gave Him the wisdom and understanding in the first place. He was so deluded that he thought of himself as god. A man or an angel can say and believe all they want that they are God, but it doesn’t make it so. I don’t know what angels came from before You made them, God, but I know that man came from dust and goes back to dust outside of You. But in You, what is formed and responds to You remains in You.

 
I’m still thinking about Peter that day Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” But there wasn’t a long story shared to go along with that. I wander though, if just saying that would have brought people back to Ezekiel’s words and the longer back story pronounced over the king of Tyre? And I wonder how Satan, or rather, Lucifer at the time, could forget where he came from and who formed him? I mean, at one point Lucifer wasn’t until God made him. It’s the same for me. It’s worth lamenting over the foolishness of forgetting this, over being deluded like that. Imagine the most beautiful, wise angel thinking he could be more beautiful or wise than God, the one who anointed him with that beauty and wisdom in the first place for a specific purpose!

 
And now I come to thinking about David after he sinned with Bathsheba and Nathan comes to him. See, David had been anointed, just like Lucifer, for a special purpose in God’s creation, just like each of us in whatever way God has decided for us. And Nathan says to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and It is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.’” (2 Samuel 22:7) We’re each called to holiness, not its evasion. Each of us has a purpose formed into our individual beings that only we can fulfill and only we will be responsible for avoiding.
Lucifer was that angel. The king of Tyre was that king. Peter was that man. David was that man for that time. I’m that woman for now. Sometimes I’m just like Satan too, just like Peter was and David and the king of Tyre. Sometimes I think I deserve what’s not mine to take. It might be a rest from leading because I deserve a break. It might be love, where I would walk into something I know I shouldn’t. I can rationalize with the best of them and decide to let my brightness shine brighter than it really is.

 
Yep. I’m the one that will need forgiveness. I’m the one who will suffer because of my pride and my delusional thinking to give more credit to myself than I deserve, or rather to just be busy taking the glory from You, Lord. That happens when I think more about me and my hurts and pains than I think about Your glory and Your brightness and Your wisdom and my dependence upon You to understand any of it. And that makes me the one who will harm those around me by my lack of participation with You in my God ordained purpose.

In Man of Fire Denzel Washington asked, “Do you think God will forgive us for the things we’ve done?” Well, I know the answer is yes. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Don’t forget though, that the innocent pay a price for the guilty who are forgiven. Jesus paid the price for us. Probably 1/3 of the angels paid the price for Lucifer’s sin. I’d say that guy who had his ear sliced off by Peter payed a price, even though Jesus was gracious enough to put it back. And what about the others who ran away because they had thought like Peter that they could control things, but it wasn’t really theirs to control, was it? And how many people payed the price for David’s delusion? Or for my delusions when I follow them?

 
I was just thinking, that Jesus’ words aren’t so mean after all. He was just reminding Peter to get in his proper place. Before we sin, we need to get behind Jesus instead of in front of Him. I need to be under You, God, and in You, and behind You and just let You be God and remember that I’m not. So Lord, don’t leave off reminding me, even if it sounds like an insult. Let me remember that when You tell me, “Get behind me, Satan,” it’s for my good and it’s the place I was created to flourish in. If only Satan listened and could get behind You again. May I never forget to respond to Your relationship with me and acknowledge You as God and me as Your beloved creation formed by You for Your purposes and not my own. And may I joy in my position in You and joy in You being God and not me.

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Chaos or God

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“This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation.” Ezekiel 19:14

 
Life in itself is hard stuff. It’s emotional. Life without God is even harder and even more emotional. We’ll all go through lamentations, times when all we can do is beat on our breasts, but we don’t have to become a lamentation ourself. God’s desire is that our joy would be full, not for us to become a lamentation. So what happens to change that?

 
We take what was designed for good in us and twist it to our own desires. We forget where our strength and our fortune came from and we manage our own lives. Instead of letting Christ be our guide, we guide ourselves. Instead of loving like Christ, we take matters in our own hands. We adopt violence as good. We devour those around us and see nothing wrong with it. But even people around us can see the problem.

 
That’s what had happened with Israel and its strong princes that God had raised up. They cozied up next to the pagan nations and became like them instead of like the Lion of Judah. So the stronger nation put a stop to it. God humbles those who won’t humble themselves and He can use nations, or life circumstances to do so.

 
And whose fault is it? Is it God’s fault? Really? He didn’t force us to respond this way. He didn’t force us to respond outside of His will. We’re plucked up because of our taunting. We didn’t appreciate what God wanted to give us, what He was giving us, His hand stretched out to us. And now we’ve wound up in the wilderness, dry and thirsty. Somehow, we’ve even managed to burn ourselves and our fruit is gone, as well as our strength. And we’ve become a byword, a lamentation. Now where is our glory?
Actually, our glory is the same place it’s always been, in God. We have no glory of our own. If we want to shine, You must shine in us and through us. Outside of You we have no light. In You there are Psalms; out of You there are lamentations.

 
What is a psalm anyway? One Hebrew word used for psalm is mizmor. Skip Moen shares, “The word in Masoretic script means, “a song of praise, a psalm.” But the Paleo-Hebrew carries the message, ‘Chaos cut off from chaos secures the person.’ How in the world can this tell us anything about a song of praise?” He reminds us that Hebrew is a language of remembering. Each psalm isn’t just about itself but takes us back to the first psalm and reminds us. The first song is Exodus 15:2 where Moses sings his song of praise to God after the victory over Egypt. What happened? The chaos of oppression of Egypt was cut off by the chaos of the water and God secured his people.” After all, when we really think about David, do we remember him for being king or do we remember him mostly because of his thinking and feelings that were expressed over God?

 
God wants to fill us with psalms, not lamentations. Actually, we were created to be psalms, not lamentations. The Pulpit Commentary shared, “True poetry has its fountains in deep emotion. Thus a living religion naturally finds expression in song, and the spiritual experience of men is uttered in psalms. That religion which is satisfied with the cold statements of intellectual propositions has not yet touched the heart, and is no living experience. There is a fire of passion in true devotion…The Book of Lamentations may be taken as the reverse of the Book of Psalms. Psalmists celebrate the emotions of true religion; the “Lamentations” is a dirge sung over those who have been unfaithful to their religion.” That’s something to think about. Only, maybe we need to take out that word religion and replace it with relationship with God. It seems to me that a Psalmist is someone who knows God and experiences Him and can’t help but bubble over with Him. Actually, our relation to God “is so intimate and vital that it should rouse deep feelings” in our hearts followed by appropriate actions.

 
The people of Ezekiel’s day had ceased having emotion for God. They left off feeling for Him. That’s sad. Why? Because Jeremiah says, “You will say this word to them, ‘Let my eyes flow down with tears night and day, and let them not cease; for the virgin daughter of My people has been crushed with a mighty blow, with a sorely infected wound.” It’s sad when we have a God who weaps over us and we have no heart response in return. Our perfect God, who isn’t subject to the sways of passion, does have passion. How do I juggle the glory of God with a God who feels? My God is so glorious and righteous and unchanging that He can handle all His emotions rightly, unlike me. But could you imagine a God without emotions? Or a God with emotions that were so fickle like that of the Greek and Roman gods?

 
But here we have this God, full of glorious emotion. We have this God who created us in His glorious image, to be emotional about the things He is emotional about and yet to hold those emotions in check under Him. It’s a heart connection, straight to the heart of God. It’s a living Psalm. Zephaniah tells us, “The Lord your God in the middle of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing.” The Psalm starts in God. The Psalm is found in God. The Psalm resides in God. This is where joy is found. This is where rejoicing originates. This is where rest is. This is where love is. This is where salvation is. This is where might is. It’s all found in the middle of God, in the middle of His sovereignty, in the middle of His majesty and glory and righteousness and emotions.

 
This is why God uses that marriage metaphor so frequently in Scripture. God is intimately connected both to Israel first, and to His people of other nations who have placed their trust in Him. God is connected with us, He suffers with us, He redeems us and empathizes with us. If you don’t think so, You haven’t contemplated Jesus’ life. God’s covenant with us is greater than a moral covenant. I should hope that my covenant of marriage with my husband and his with me is more than a moral covenant or our marriage has nothing but emptiness and sorrow to look forward to. It ought to be an “outcome of overwhelming and compelling love” (Skip Moen) just like God’s covenant with all His people.

 
So, how do I respond? Do I choose my own way and disregard this God who passionately loves me? Do I keep following my own path until my feelings for God are dulled and null and void? Will I let myself stubbornly resist until I have dug my feet in so firmly that I bring myself to the point of no return? Will I not learn from Ezekiel’s warning? Would I choose to be a lamentation instead of a psalm?

 
But don’t forget, all were not lost in Ezekiel’s day. Listen to Lamentations 3:1-2, “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath. He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not it light.” That’s terrible, isn’t it? But what if walking in darkness reminds me of my need for the light and my desire to be in the light? Well, then it’s a blessing, isn’t it?

 
In reality, God is our filter. Remove God, and anything goes. Remove God, and chaos ensues, darkness invades. Remove yourself from God’s hand of mercy, and chaos reigns. That’s what darkness is, life outside of God’s mercy. He doesn’t have to inflict it on Israel or Egypt or us. All we have to do is walk away from His protection. Then life just becomes what it is without Him. If I want to know affliction, I just need to step outside of His will or step into a place where others are living outside of His will. Living life without God brings affliction. Life without God is hell. Don’t you realize that the worst thing about hell is that you’ll be forever separated from the love of God there? Forget the fire and gnashing of teeth. Forget the presence of the demons it was created for. It’s for those who choose to remove themselves from God’s hand of mercy and from His presence. And that’s what you get, what comes with the absence of God.

 
That’s what many Israelites got in Ezekiel’s day. It’s what many people run after today. Don’t be fooled. If you think life is hell, it may well be that you are already on the road walking away from God’s hand. But while you live in the land of the living, it’s not too late to return and surrender to the God of the living who loves You and feels for You and invites You to live in Him and with Him and through Him in this life and into eternity. Hell wasn’t created for you. You don’t have to choose it. You can choose to be a psalm instead of a lamentation. Skip Moen sums it up this way, “A man without God is pointless.” But our suffering can point us to God. It can help us understand the pain of others. Don’t be fooled to think that He can’t and won’t use suffering in our lives to draw us closer to Him. After all, am I more than my Master, Jesus, who suffered for me? Yes, we have been called into this chaos so that God’s “chaos”, His love and power and might can overcome. It’s our choice. Who will rule me? Chaos or God?

Strange Fire

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“‘Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 14:14)

 

The Lord is still pronouncing judgment on His people. Now, some of the leaders of Israel were coming to “inquire” of him before Ezekiel. And it appears as though God was asking, “Why? Why are they bothering?” Is that a strange question for God to ask? Or would that make sense if God new that all they wanted to offer was “strange fire” anyways?

 

Here is a God who knows man’s heart better than man knows it. That means that You, God, know our feelings, our intents, our thoughts, our motives, and how our will is inclined. And here is what you had to say about these leaders, “…these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face.” So, if these men weren’t coming before God to submit and agree with Him, why were they coming? That’s what You were asking. “Should I be inquired of at all by them?”

 

These leaders who should have lived lives of submission were anything but submitted, they were anything but obedient. They had set up their idols in their hearts. Do I know what that means? There is actually a New Testament warning against allowing this in my life today. “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) So, what’s the danger of idols? When I worship an idol, I’m attempting by whatever it takes, to try to shape the world according to my own will and my own desires. Think about it. Why would I placate a god? So that it treats me the way I want to be treated. Idol worship is a way to manipulate and control the world around me. Idol worship is the opposite of submission. It’s antagonistic to God.

 

But I would never worship an idol.  Really? The minute I try to control things and take God out of the picture I become an idol worshipper. My desire becomes my idol. I become my idol. My desire becomes my stumbling block. I become my own reason for falling. And I don’t even realize the perversity of it; I don’t realize how twisted my thinking and actions have become.

 

I can’t help but think about God only delivering Noah, Daniel, and Job. And why? Because of what their lives demonstrated, by the righteousness that they chose to live in, that came from the depths of their souls and flowed out into real life. It was the righteousness that flows from God and emanates from Him and they chose to uphold it. It wasn’t forced upon them. In a world where they were allowed to choose who to submit to, they chose to submit to Your ways, God. They chose to be under Your manipulation rather than manipulate the world around them. They trusted You more than themselves.

 

Maybe we think we can come up with and create our own righteousness but that’s a total lie. Psalm 103:6 tells us that “the Lord performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.” But that doesn’t just mean that God does good things. The Hebrew ‘ose(h) tsedaqot is about making righteousness. See, everything that He does is righteous. He is the originator of righteousness and anything righteous came from Him first.

 

And then we come to Psalm 106:3 which says, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” How can we do that? Well, I certainly can’t do it without submitting to the righteous One. And I certainly can’t do that if I make something else my idol. It would seem that if I want to do this, I would need to be in constant communication with the One who is Righteousness. Doesn’t God tell me that I can speak with Him any time? Even in the midst of my sin, doesn’t He tell me to come to Him and confess my sins? Can’t I respond to Him anytime? Can’t I answer Him? Can’t I converse with Him? Or am I just coming to try to placate Him and manipulate Him?

 

 
Was it that the elders couldn’t come before Him? Or was the truth that they would come before Him but without any desire to communicate? Their answers were in their idols. Their hearts had already chosen sides. They were in control and there was no way they would surrender that control to God. When we stop communicating with God it’s like we remove ourselves from reality. It’s like we already refuse to exist.

 

 
Maybe if these elders were more like the poor widow, their story would have been so different. Luke 21:2 tells of Jesus watching “a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” into the temple offering. The coins had little value. Each coin was worth maybe 1/4 of a penny. So how could Jesus say that she had put in more than all the rest of the people? Could it be because she placed more than coins in the offering? By that act, was she placing her submission in this God that she trusted utterly would care for her even though she had given everything? Was she done with manipulation? Was she ready to submit under the hand of her mighty God who is truly able to save? Is that kind of faith what dominated her life?

 

 

What does the story of this widow tell us? Remember, a widow in Jesus’ day had no human support, no property rights, and was left to fend for herself. Who would take care of her? She could choose to manipulate people or she could submit to and rely on God.
But that’s not all this tells me. This tells me that Jesus, that God, notices those in need. Of all the people He saw her. It wasn’t about her 100% donation. It was about her righteousness demonstrated by her heart of submission. Let’s think about this. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 tells how when we see someone struggling, “ you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Why would He say that? Because His righteousness is a righteousness that notices and meets needs.  As a matter of fact, righteousness is “more valuable than worship rituals.” Micah reminds us, ”With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And Hosea reminds us, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” And Proverbs 21:3 declares, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” So let’s not think it was the widows sacrifice. God noticed the heart behind her sacrifice. Without that, her coins would have left a hollow reverberation.

 

 
Do I notice the things the Lord notices like that? Do I act upon them like He does? Do I just want to placate God? Or am I submitted fully to Him clinging to His care for me? Do I have any idols in my heart that I need to repent from and tear down and utterly destroy? Am I somehow choosing to separate myself from You, Lord? The truth is, I am responsible for me. I alone can choose whether to live dependently in and under Your righteousness or by my own false self-righteousness. I can choose my idols like the elders. Or I can choose You. Each choice comes with it’s foretold consequences. It’s not like we haven’t been educated. Maybe it’s just that some of us refuse to be taught. I want to learn, Lord, from You and of You. I don’t want to hold on stubbornly to my idols. I want to hold on stubbornly to You. You give us the means to deliver our lives by righteousness in You. So let me be found in You displaying that righteousness which is of You and not of me.

Got Heart?

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Artwork credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.