Walking with God in the Details

Standard

Photo credit to http://www.shutterstock.com

 

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8

 
Today I’m back in Ezekiel reading about the measurements and specifications of the future temple, the future house of God. Only here I am quoting Genesis. Why? As I was reading and thinking about all the specifics in Ezekiel and about how the details matter to You God and how Your details ought to matter to us, I couldn’t help thinking about Noah and how You equipped him to build the ark.

 
Here was the condition of the world and the condition of the hearts of the people of the world in Noah’s day: “And the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repents me that I have made them.” Why did it repent You or make You sorry You had made us? Because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And that grieved Your heart because man, people like me, had so twisted who we were, by twisting our thoughts and our actions, that we no longer resembled what we were created for. And why couldn’t we resemble our purpose any more? Because we threw away the details. We wouldn’t pay attention to the Master plan. And get this. The Master Plan was someone we could know and respond to, like Adam and Eve or Cain or Abel. But like Cain, we turned to our plans instead of Yours and our lives became twisted.

 
But then comes this beautiful verse. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I see that as saying when God looked at Noah and examined his heart and life, He found within Noah a spark of something beautiful to God. What was it? What was that beauty in Noah? That Noah still held on to the presence of God in his life. That He remembered the stories and clung to the God he knew.

 
In this corrupt world of Noah’s time, He was just and perfect. What? Noah was a perfect man? Not in the sense that we think of perfect. He was “entire.” He was full of integrity and truth. He was without spot and undefiled. He was whole. He was perfect in God’s eyes because His heart clung to God and followed Him. He walked with God. Come on now. Look back at Adam and Eve. Isn’t that what we were created to do? Aren’t we to be walking with God every day of our lives? Hasn’t He designed us to know how and to do it? If a man without a written instruction book can figure out how to do that and do it, then what’s our problem? What’s my problem?

 
So Noah walks with God. That means that he cares about and acts upon what is on God’s heart. And God includes Him in what He’s doing. And here come all these measurements as God instructs Noah on how to build this ark, this first of it’s kind, this giant boat in this place where there isn’t even water to float it. But Noah doesn’t stop to say, “Hey, God, why are You giving me all these details? What’s up? Do I really need this? Is this important?” I think for Noah that this is a no brainer. He already knows that God’s way is the right way and the only way. He already lives like every detail matters because it does. And because He’s already living in God’s will, God is already protecting him and preparing him from the coming judgement. Not only that, but God is making Noah a beacon to others, an opportunity for others to walk with God instead and rejoice in God’s plan and in His details.

 
This has nothing to do with Noah’s abilities. He was just a man who walked with God. Because he walked with God, God walked with him. God gave him everything he needed to be His representative on earth. That’s what we were created for, to be God’s vessels on earth, to shine forth the power and love of God. And God does that work in us. Noah couldn’t build the ark without God. God gave Noah everything he needed from the detailed measurements, to the physical provision, to the skill to do so. And it didn’t stop there. God was the One who sealed Noah and his family safely inside the ark.

 
Which takes me back to Ezekiel. Chapter 41 starts with, “Afterward he brought me to the temple…” Doesn’t that sound like people walking together again? It does to me. It sounds like God is walking Ezekiel through something special here, something worth thinking about and valuing. And like Noah, if Ezekiel hadn’t already been walking with God, he would have missed this. And it’s not like this is just any building that You are showing Ezekiel. This is the temple that will one day be where every believer can walk into Your presence in Jesus Christ. This is the reality of You come to earth.

 
God’s word and instructions are all about being invited into an intimate relationship with our Maker. He gives us the details so we can participate fully with Him. They matter. As we participate with Him, we get to come to see and know things about Him. Building the ark wasn’t some mundane task that Noah was expected to do. It was amazing participation with God and amazing protection and salvation and deliverance. But if Noah had not participated with God? If Noah had disregarded the importance of the directions?

 
And what about Ezekiel. He didn’t get to build the temple but He paid close attention and then He declared what He was asked to declare so that this would be words of future encouragement. One day God is going to bring every one of those details to pass. Just like Noah had to wait for that appointed time before the ark was complete, so Ezekiel knew that the appointed time would come. So we can know also. What does this temple tell me? That God is coming, here to earth, to be with us. Jesus is coming back. Jesus will reign in His full capacity and I can look forward to that.

 
And since Jesus is coming back, we ought to be busy letting people know so that they can be ready for that appointed time. How do we get ready? We respond to God’s word by participating with Him in what He says. We pay attention to the details. Sometimes we hold onto it and ponder it in our hearts like Mary did until it was time for it to make sense. But all along, we obey. Listening isn’t listening unless the appropriate action to the listening follows. If I want God to be close then I ought to be close enough to His word to know how to be close to Him. And the only way to be close to Him is to participate with Him.

 
That’s why Jesus came. He redeemed us so that God’s glory could shine in us again. He redeemed us so that we could be reunited with God and participate with Him again in the way we were created to. Grace is there, always. But we won’t find it unless we find the One who offers it. Noah found grace because He walked with God. He found where grace flowed from and clung to Him. Ezekiel found grace because He walked with God and clung to where grace flowed from. What about me? May I cling to the One that grace flows from and walk with You in obedience and in intimate relationship by loving all Your words and allowing them to have their way in my life.

Advertisements

The Details Matter

Standard

Photo credit to modernobserver.com

 

“And the man said unto me, ‘Son of man, behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you; for to the intent that I might show them unto you are you brought here: declare all that you see to the house of Israel.’” (Ezekiel 40:4)

 
Here we have Ezekiel again. He’s in the middle of a vision from God. That would be something, wouldn’t it? And he sees this man whose appearance looked like brass and he was holding a line of flax in his hand like a measuring reed. He takes Ezekiel and walks him through the chambers of this future temple, giving the measurements of every room and even telling what the rooms are for and who will stay in them. Detail by detail God has the “brass man” walk Ezekiel through. It seems pretty exact to me. It’s one of those passages that maybe we want to speed through because it’s just “measurement details” over and over again. It’s kind of like the books about the priesthood and the sacrifices and all those other detail by detail things. You know, it’s the stuff we want to skip over to get to the “good stuff.”

 
But what if the good stuff lies in paying attention to these minute details? Wouldn’t it seem that those things which God takes the time to stop and give us the little details about just might be that important that He stopped to give us all the little details? Have I stopped to think about that?

 
As a Gentile, you know, a non-Jew, it’s not like I grew up with an understanding of the Jewish feasts and festivals or much of anything that was a part of Jewish life according to Scripture. But it’s in God’s word. Could it be there because He wants me to know about it and understand more about it? Could all these things that seem so foreign and trivial to me matter in my life now and in His future kingdom? Could they tell me something about Him that He really wants me to know? I think so.

 
I was reading a commentary about Ezekiel 40 and the future temple being described here. The commentator referred to this temple as a resurrected temple. I wonder where he got that idea from? It pretty much seems to me that this temple was not resurrected but started fresh. I’m thinking it’s got brand new walls and brand new everything, except for maybe the ground where it will stand.

 
Another commentator, John Parson’s shared his commentary in Hebrew for Christians. This new Temple is to be raised during the Messianic era, that time when Jesus returns and dwells on earth and the Jewish nation returns to God and He reigns. John shares how some of the Jewish sages have had trouble with understanding the book of Ezekiel and even holding it as objectionable. One reason is because of Temple service laws that are different in this vision than in the Torah. That doesn’t sound like a totally resurrected Temple, does it? Some rituals and rules have been changed from the earlier temple service to this one. But here the temple is, important again in it’s role. Would God make the temple important again in the millennial age? I suppose this raises some questions for Christian believers also. Why would God have temple sacrifices again? Hasn’t Jesus already been the ultimate sacrifice for all?

 
Well, yes, He has and He is and He always will be. But what if the temple and the festivals aren’t about pointless ritual or religious service? What if all this is about worship and understanding and knowing? What if we need to see and experience certain things that God has designed to help us to see and remember Him more? What if that is what the God ordained festivals are all about? What if that is what the Temple and it’s service is all about?

 
It’s interesting. In this new temple, not even the priesthood is the same. The priesthood will come from the line of Zadok. That means that not everyone from the line of Aaron will serve as priest. Zadok had remained faithful to David. He is believed to be the direct descendant of Phinehas who was promised “a covenant of priesthood for all time.” You can read about this later in Ezekiel 44. Remember Phinehas? He was the grandson of Aaron the high priest who saw his people worshipping Baalpeor and bringing Midionite women into camp. Moses called the judges of Israel to slay those that were doing such. When Phinehas saw it happen right in front of him, he immediately rose up and took a javelin in his hand and drove it through the perpetrators. Wow! That’s harsh! But flagrant defiant sin infects. If the disease is not eliminated, how many more will be lost forever in God’s judgement by their own choice? God is looking for individuals who know Him and will follow Him and will allow Him to hold their thinking and their lives.
Now don’t get me wrong. God isn’t expecting us to drive a javelin through a rebellious couple or anyone else. But God is expecting me to love and be so devoted to Him and to His ways that I would live in them as though my life depended upon it. I should be so influenced by His word and His Spirit in all the minute details of my life and living that it not only changes my life and makes me live like Him, but so that others around me are influenced by those changes He’s brought into my life. See, the little details matter. It shows that I understand that God doesn’t just mandate. He mandates because He cares and He knows what is best for me because He is the One who created me and knows what He created me for and all of my capabilities, both good and bad.

 
God knows all the consequences of every choice I will make before I even make those choices. The problem is that if I’m not paying attention to God, if I’m not paying attention to His details, I won’t be prepared for the consequences and I won’t be able to avoid them because I will have stepped right into them just like the couple that invited the javelin into their lives. Oh, you may say, “How would they have known?” A Hebrew knew. They had been told. It was all laid out before them. But sometimes they, like us, didn’t care about God’s details, and wanted life their own way. Now, maybe the Midianite woman didn’t know, but I’m not so certain about that either. As I read it, the surrounding nations knew about the God peculiarities of the children of Israel. Their reputation spread like wildfire everywhere.

 
We have a choice. We can pay attention to God’s details and understand that they are for our good to grow in Him. Or we can ignore God’s details, flagrantly defy them, and even mock them. The choice is ours. But our choice will not negate the consequences. God has already established the consequences when He shared the details. What will I choose, the blessing or the curse, life or death?

 
Maybe we, like Ezekiel, have been brought before God today for a purpose. Maybe we, like Ezekiel need to stop and behold with our eyes what God is telling us and showing us. Maybe we, like Ezekiel, need to hear with our ears what You are telling us and set our hearts upon it all. God is very intentional here with Ezekiel and I’m pretty definite that God is very intentional throughout all of His word. May we have eyes to see and respond correctly. May we have ears to hear and respond in obedience. May we have hearts that follow and act and receive and live out Your ways and bind ourselves to You. There’s a reason I’m here today in Your word. There’s a reason You have brought me where You have brought me. The details matter. You are there in the midst of them. Let me not ignore them, but respond to them wholly.

Dry Bones Among Dry Bones

Standard

“And He said unto me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, You know.’” Ezekiel 37:3

 
Dry bones. It makes me think of the scenes in the desert where there’s a totally parched and bleached cow skull. Those are dry bones. And here is Ezekiel seeing a whole valley full of these dry bones only they aren’t cow bones or dinosaur bones or any kind of animal bones. Here is a valley full of dry human bones. They’re parched like the ones imagined in the desert.

 
But I don’t think it’s about the state of the bones. When Scripture here uses the Hebrew word for dry, it’s yawbash, which means dried, dried up, or withered. These bones aren’t withered. They’re dry and parched but not withered. But something else that ought to be tied up with them is dried, dried up, and withered. The life that used to be attached to them has withered away.

 
It’s interesting how I just heard a message this Sunday and it brought up the same word, wither, only from a different Hebrew word. Listen to Psalm 1 for a little while. “Blessed is the man that doesn’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law he meditates day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.” I can’t help but think that God was stressing this same picture in Ezekiel’s head even more vehemently.

 
In one picture is a river which gives life to the tree. From that life giving river, the tree is able to live and bear fruit in appropriate times and do abundantly that which it was created to do. In the other picture we have these vehemently dry bones that are missing the life that animates them. Why? Did they not plug in to the source? Is the source for life in the bones the same as the source of life for the tree? If a tree is removed from the river it withers and dies. If the person is removed from the Source of life, will it wither and die?

 
In Genesis 2:7 “man became a living being.” He didn’t just become it on his own. God created him that way and set him there by the river of Himself. Man was endowed with will, emotions, mind, body, and spirit. This way that God created man, is the same way he shows up through His word to the prophets. Just like God made “personal life [happen in that lump of formed dirt]”, God makes life happen in dried out bones. And just like God made personal life happen in a lump of dirt and dried out bones, this personal life is made to happen through His word, because it’s actually through His word, that what comes or has come or will come is being spoken and emitted by His very own “lips”. He is all it takes to make life.   Do I understand the immensity and power that lies in the word of God? I need to meditate and think on this more. Wow! It’s just unparalleled.

 
What could this mean? Could this mean that every tree and every bone, meaning every person was created to be a vehicle for manifesting God in this world? Were these dry bones created for something more than being dry bones? Were we created and equipped to reveal God’s glory by revealing His life? What does it mean to be created in His image? Can we live out that image without drinking in His life giving water? Can we live out that image without His life daily transforming and empowering us through His living word?

 

Life isn’t some abstract idea or thing. It’s real and it’s only found in Him. Without Him we have limited life, but not full life. We’re like walking zombies just waiting for our flesh to fail and our bones to become dried out. That’s not the image of God. God is LIFE. If I’m not in Him, I have no life. I’m just a dry bone laying in a valley thinking I’m all that.
If I am alive, truly alive, than that means that I am living out and being what God intended for me. That means that I am living out my purpose in God.

 

Let me state that again. God is Life. It’s just like Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by me.” Life isn’t what I define it to be. Life is what God defines. Life is God. That’s why God said, “‘I AM THAT I AM:’ and He said, ‘Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent Me unto you.’” (Exodus 3:14) “I AM THAT I AM” is all about life and being the self-existent One. How do you start trusting God?  God tells us just like He does the children of Israel. “Start trusting the Self-Existent One, the One who is Life and gives life and takes life away by His mere presence or removing us from His presence. Start realizing who makes us be.

 
I love the way Ezekiel answers Your question, God. “O Lord God, you know.” That makes me think of Peter when Jesus kept asking if he loved him. Peter said, “You know, Lord.” And the truth is, You do know our hearts and lives and whether we are glorifying You from the inside to the outside. You know us so intimately that You form and impart to us everything we need for living. You know if we are living or walking around like dry bones.

 
So how do I walk in life? How do I glorify You? Maybe I have to listen with Ezekiel a little more. Maybe I too have to “Hear the word of the Lord.” “I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” How badly do I want life? How much am I willing to trust Your word, Lord? Is Your word a part of my life? Is it imparting life to me? Do I listen? Do I live it? Do I depend upon it for my nourishment and growth and to enable me to bear fruit? Do I allow You to create and establish my body, my person, my essence, my thoughts, my everything? Are You the One laying my sinews on me? Are You the One that I depend on to bring up the flesh on my bones and cover me with skin, and put not just any breath into me, not even my own, but Your breath into me? Because it’s not until I learn to be created fully by You and in You that I’ll ever learn to fully live. And it’s not until I learn to be created fully by You and in You that I’ll actually really know You like You know me.

 
If I want to live and not be a dry bone, then I have to enter into Life and it’s not a thing, it’s a person who has always been and always will be. John 17:3 tells us, “and this is life eternal, that they might know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Life isn’t about knowing about God. Life is about being in God through Jesus Christ who has made the way for us. But we must not be like those who erred, because they didn’t know the scriptures or the power of God. (Mark 12:24) And when Jesus said that, He was talking to people who should have known but they weren’t letting God impart His life to them His way.

 

What kind of fruits am I bearing? Are they fruits recognizable to God because He made me able to bear them? Or are they my own dead fruits? Where is my faith today? Is it sucking it’s being from dry ground? Is it like a dry, parched bone devoid of real life? God knows. John 5:42 tells me that God knows me so intimately that He knows if I have the love of God in me or not. He’s not just talking about if I love God with this emotional feeling or the head knowledge. He’s talking about whether I love God and know Him and get my life from Him. Unless His life is flowing into me as my life source, I don’t have the love of God in me. It’s something that must enter me from God Himself. I don’t make it on my own.

 

Without Him, without His love and His life, I am just dry bones among dry bones in a lifeless valley. If God’s word has no place, no home, no resting and dwelling place in me, then I am lost and dry and lifeless. It’s not about knowing and memorizing God’s word and being a fact machine. It’s about knowing God and letting His words and ways and being have it’s place in me, in all of me. My life and your life were designed as dwelling places of God, as dwelling places for His word to live from. Lord God, there’s nothing I want more that than to let You have Your place in me forever. Set me free from the danger of the dry bones. Set me free in Your life.

Chaphets”ing” in God

Standard

Photo credit to delightinginthelord.com

 

“…and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord,’ says the Lord God, ‘when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.’” Ezekiel 36:23

I want to think about what God shared with Ezekiel in this chapter, chapter 36, while also thinking about David’s words in Psalm 1:2, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law does he meditate day and night.” I want to think about both of these because I think they are closely related.

Imagine God having somebody prophecy to mountains. Sounds crazy, huh? But that’s exactly what He tells Ezekiel to do here. “Prophecy to the mountains of Israel.” Why? Because the surrounding nations had been mocking them and inhabiting them as though there was nothing special about them. They didn’t realize that the land itself was tied to the people who were tied in to God. To mistreat the land or mock the land was a reflection on the people of Israel which was a reflection upon God Himself. So, how the heathen treated the land, or even how Israel treated the land represented how they saw and responded to God.

Now why would God care so much about particular mountains or a particular land area like that? Number one, because He can. It’s all His anyways. He made it and He is represented in it. It shows forth part of His glory. Number two, because He can and because He attached it to His people who are another representation of His glory. Well, at least the land and the people are supposed to be representations of His glory.

Let’s think about that. God created, you know, back in the beginnings of what we know. Why? Because it pleased Him. What in the world does that mean? Did God have a whim that He needed to satisfy? I don’t think that’s it. Isaiah 42:21 shares, “The Lord is well pleased [chaphets} for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law, and make it honourable.” I don’t think that God runs around all day thinking, “This is good. Oh, yes, let’s do this. This is good. I really like this.” I don’t think that’s the idea. I think the truth is that God is pleasure and goodness and righteousness and justice. I believe that these things are joyful in God just by being a part of His nature. That this is His presence and this is His person and that all the things that we think of as being happy and joyful and pleasing and delightful begin their existence in God. I believe that He is Delight. Chaphets, the inclination toward pleasing, delight itself, originates in God. What if that’s true? What then?

David talks about the righteous man in Psalm 1:2 saying, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law he meditates day and night.” This thought of God being delight itself, means that this verse isn’t about memorizing and having a head knowledge of Scripture. This is about delighting in, chaphets”ing” in God Himself. It’s about entering into the presence of God and all that He loves and all that He does and all that He is. The law isn’t just about archaic Hebrew teachings. The Law is the word of God to mankind. The Law is God’s ways and the leading of His Holy Spirit. If I can’t delight and find joy and peace and hope in God in His word, then I am missing out on God. It ought to be a joy for me to spend time anywhere in God’s word. It ought to prick my heart, whether for encouragement or for reprimand to spend my time meditating in Him. It ought to draw me as though it was life itself drawing me to take my next breath, and my next, and my next. I won’t be drawn away by sin, or scoffing, or whatever. I will be drawn by that which is of God and which fills and encourages and empowers and imparts life and fullness.

Just as God never stops being God, our delight in Him should never cease. Day and night isn’t talking about just two times a day. All my day I should revel in who God is and that I am in Him and all night long that should guide my living and my sleeping. Psalm 37 shares, “But the meek shall inherit the earth and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” To know Who I am in, Who is empowering me, Who is caring for me, Who is God of gods and Lord of lords, fills me with this abundance of peace. God is God and I am in Him.

 
It’s not about me working harder to please this God that I’m not sure how to please. It’s not about serving Him better and then He’ll give me the desires of my heart. The verse says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Why? Because the desires of my heart will become the desires of His heart. When I start to grasp His nature and live in Him and rely on Him and it overjoys my soul whether in abundance or lack, then I start to understand that it’s not about me. It’s all about Him, this God who is everything. And in being everything, He is everything that completes and fills me. He becomes truly all I need. He becomes shear delight. God is Delight.

 
I can’t work to obtain peace. I must enter it. Paul speaks of that rest that some did not enter. It’s a rest that we begin entering while here on earth by entering into the delight of God Himself. It’s this rest for the people of God. You have to cease from your own works to enter it. Even God ceased from His works for that day during creation. It does take diligence though. Because entering into God’s delight and rest isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest road we must ever travel. But to choose anything else is to follow the road of unbelief, and that will never lead to rest or relationship in God.

Delight isn’t about making ourselves happy. It’s about experiencing God. It’s about “having a happy response” so to speak. Another blogger called it responding “to the surprising, amazing goodness of the Lord.” And it’s not like God hasn’t told and shown us how to walk in Him. He even sent Jesus so we would understand what we hadn’t understood so far. And Jesus payed the price to redeem us from sin’s shame so that we could be a glory to God again. Listen, “a glory to God again.” That means that whatever God does, whatever comes from God and flows from Him ought to be flowing from us and coming from us. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) This is our purpose. As I walk, God’s character should flow through me and God’s glory will be made known. This is delighting in the Lord. Responding to Him and in Him is delight. Dwelling and walking in Him is the evidence of my delight.

 
Do I love kindness? Walk in Him. Do I love mercy? Walk in Him. Do I love goodness and faithfulness and steadfastness and justice? Then walk in Him. Because if I walk in Him, and His character flows from me, I demonstrate to all of earth and all of heaven where my delight is. The measure of my delight is the measure of my life. How much do I look and live like the image of the Son of God who was the spitting image of the Father? He delighted fully in Him and wanted to know nothing outside of Him. What about me? What would the mountains say about me? What would God prophecy to the mountains about if He were talking about me? What would the nations say who see my life? Would I be a mockery or a sham? Or would I be a light, living out God’s glorious image, and drawing others to Him? God has shot the arrow. Actually, His is the arrow. Have I let Him hit His mark by submitting fully in Him with the greatest of all my desires and all of my being? Or am I shooting the arrow, only to have it fall to the ground because I can never hit the mark on my own?

Here’s the good news. God Himself, the Holy One who is Delight, desires to sanctify Himself in each of us, to return us to the glory in Him we were created for. There’s no better place I want to be. What about you? Will you enter his delight? It’s worth living for and it’s worth dying for. There is nothing else in life or eternity that is worth more. One day all the heathen will know that God is God and that He alone is delight. But how sad for that day to be a day to find out that delight is only accessible in Christ in God and not on our own. How sad to see delight and to know you can never attain it anymore because the time is past. Let’s listen to the prophecy that the mountains heard and let’s draw close to the Lord while there is yet time.

 

Sheepish Thinking

Standard

Photo credit to http://www.beingwoven.org

 

“For thus says the Lord God; ‘Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.’” Ezekiel 34:11

Lord, I just want to see You for who You are and how You are. I mean, if I can’t look at You rightly, how can I respond to You rightly? If I think that my life is about pleasing You, doesn’t that skew my idea of me? Don’t I therefore try to make myself pleasing? And wouldn’t I think that I am more arrived at that then others around me? And then I think I would get an attitude like these shepherds who would trample on the people they should be leading because the pitiful sheep just don’t understand like I do. You know, I could judge people or just be angry with them for not getting it. It seems like that’s what would happen.

But what if my focus was on You and just all about knowing You. Would I judge less because I would realize I am under the scrutiny of the Greatest Judge? Maybe I would remember continually, “Judge not that you be not judged,” if I remembered who I was standing before. What if I was so concerned with remaining in Your presence and being accepted by You, it didn’t matter if anyone else accepted me or approved of me? Would that change my behavior? What if I was so intently focused and drawn by Your love that whether I was loved by others wouldn’t occupy my thoughts, rather, loving others regardless of their returned actions or feelings would be my response? What if being a sheep is all about knowing the shepherd? And what if I can’t be a sheep unless I am of the shepherd?

That’s a little weird, isn’t it? I mean sheep are sheep from the start, right? Well, physical sheep are.  But what about spiritual sheep? I don’t know. Maybe some sheep are really goats thinking that they’re sheep and acting like sheep and eating like sheep and hanging with the sheep but they’re not sheep at all. A sheep is a sheep. It has wool. Goats don’t have wool. The wool is shed to clothe others. Sorry, but sheep are needy and dumb. Goats aren’t. They’re pretty proud and tend to take care of themselves with finding their own food and getting around. They don’t fall on their backs and need to be turned over by a shepherd. They don’t need to be led to green pastures. Both are eaten, sometimes, but when the sheep goes to the slaughter, she goes without a sound. Somehow, I just don’t think we start out as sheep. I think, if we’re honest, we’re more like goats being goats or maybe goats acting like sheep when it suits.

But the truth is that I must know that You Lord, You alone are God. I have to get that as more than a concept in my head. I have to get that as a reality of my life, as a part of me that inhabits everything I do and think. Psalm 100:3 reminds me that You made us. You made everything, every last particle and ability that consists in my being. I didn’t do it. You created us to be Yours. That’s reality. But the lie is that we can be our own, that we can choose to be sheep or goats. But we weren’t made to be goats. We were made to be Your sheep, glorifying You by being the sheep of Your pasture.

What’s the problem then. David hits upon it in Psalm 95:7,8. “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart…” Today, this very day, and every day, and every moment, I must listen and follow Your voice, the voice of the Shepherd with all of my being. That’s what sheep do, not goats.

Maybe we’re too busy wanting to be shepherds, but I’m thinking that a shepherd in God’s flock can’t be a shepherd if he isn’t a real sheep first. How can you lead sheep if you don’t know sheep? Ezekiel 34 is beautiful. It’s all about shepherds and sheep according to God’s view. Well, it’s about shepherds not being shepherds and about the Shepherd of shepherds who was to come and has come. But here we see shepherds who were shepherding for themselves and their gain and not shepherding in God. They were busy exploiting the sheep instead of feeding the sheep. There’s lots of ways to exploit the flock if your focus isn’t on the One who created the flock. If you start to think you are in charge of the flock, well, you tend to not care so much about the sick and weak or the broken or the lost or driven away. If you care more about your image, you won’t care so much about the sheep. And if you don’t care about the sheep, well frankly, you’re not a shepherd.

Here’s the beauty of Ezekiel 34 to me. God cares about every sheep. He is angry when those who ought to be shepherding them with His same care, don’t. He cares about His sheep. He loves them. They are His. He is a God who delivers His sheep. He searches for each and every one. He seeks them out. Listen, this is God we are talking about. When earthly shepherds fail, He does not! There is no where that a sheep can be, whether he has wandered or been driven away, that God cannot find him and gather him back to Himself! He can bring us back!

Where does He bring us back? Where is this pasture? Is it heaven? No! It is Him. Some day it will be a place with Him but now it is wherever we are with Him. You will feed us continually and never exploit us. You will give us peace so we can lie down. Hear these beautiful words again to Israel and to all lost sheep outside the fold, “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.” (Ezekiel 34:16)

This just hits home so much. I understand the way that God truly seeks us out when no one else is. I think of when I was just a new believer and entered college. I didn’t mean to stray, but I had no shepherd to help me stay in the flock. I was on my own. And I followed the goats in lots of ways. I didn’t even realize I was a being a goat. But I certainly wasn’t living like a sheep. In all my four years, hardly any shepherds approached me. But God did not let me go. In my fourth year I heard His still quiet voice remind me, “This isn’t who I created you to be.” That’s what it took. That’s all. My Shepherd, seeking me out, Imagine that. Here I was, this “saved” sheep wondering off. I should have known better but I didn’t. But my real Shepherd wasn’t judging me or forgetting me or writing me off. My real Shepherd wasn’t too busy to think about me. I was on His heart. In one sense, He didn’t ever have to come to me. He doesn’t have to do anything for me. But He does and He chooses to come. This God who chooses to be my Shepherd is above anything I can imagine.

But on the other hand, I have to remember, it’s not just about me and it’s about something bigger than me. It’s about Your glory, God. It glorifies You to redeem me and to bring me back into Your fold and to wash me white as snow so that I will shine forth Your glory in You. It’s not a me thing because this little sheep is so special. It’s a God thing because You are so overwhelmingly wonderful and full of grace and love and glory and righteousness and so much more than I can ever totally fathom. Just the wonder of You thinking and acting this way is worthy of awe.

What kind of god searches for lost sheep? My God. The true God. The only God. What kind of god would send a baby to become the savior of the world? My God. Jesus came to draw back the lost sheep of Israel first, but He also came to lead back the other sheep not of that fold so they would all be of one fold. He is a God who looks at the multitudes and is moved with compassion on them because they are scattered and have no real shepherd. (Matthew 9:3, Mark 6:34) He is the kind of God who would search out one, just that one sheep who needs to be found, like me, or like you wherever you are. And then He’s the kind of God who will rejoice over you.

But I have to respond. Am I listening to my Shepherd’s voice? Do I hear and follow and obey? Am I letting him lead me or am I choosing my own way like a goat? Am I dependent upon Him? Am I spending so much time in His presence that I know His voice? There may be great shepherds of the church around me, great mentors who love me, but are my ears and heart tuned in most closely to my lead Shepherd’s voice and will? After all, Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep… I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep…I am the good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Whose voice am I listening to? Do I know Your voice above all the rest? Whose voice am I following? Am I following You? If I am following You, am I truly feeding Your sheep as You would feed Your sheep? How am I caring for them? Like You? I suppose, the extent to which I care for others will display the extent to which I understand Your shepherding of me. May I fully live in the power and care of Your shepherding presence so that I may extend that power and care to others. May Your fold grow and grow as we journey out together to those who have been scattered like I was. I want them to know that they are not alone and they are not forgotten. I want to share the heart of the Shepherd for them.  I want every sheep to know that if they’ve fallen on their back and can’t get up, Jesus is here to set them on their feet better than before.

Crocodile Tears

Standard

Photo credit to doc_ | sxc.hu

 

“Ezekiel, son of man, condemn the king of Egypt and tell him I am saying, ‘You act like a lion roaming the earth; but you are nothing more than a crocodile in a river, churning up muddy water with your feet.’” (Ezekiel 32:2)

 
Crocodiles and uncircumcision, those are the words for today from Ezekiel chapter 32. What in the world do crocodiles and uncircumcision have to do with my spiritual walk today? They can have a lot to do with it. I’m not quite sure why the King James Version chooses to interpret the Hebrew word tanniyn here as whales, but I think that since it was interpreted as crocodiles back in chapter 29, it’s safe to assume that crocodile fits best here too. I mean, after all, crocodiles were a big part of life in Egypt. As a matter of fact, to Egypt, they were part of the divine. Let’s face it, they were worshipped as gods. It’s how Pharaoh saw himself. Of course, the crocodile wasn’t the only god. There were other gods, but this was the god that Pharaoh admired for it’s strength. This is how Pharaoh saw himself. This was the god Pharaoh modeled his heart after.

 
But the truth is that crocodiles aren’t gods. Cows aren’t gods. Cats and frogs and flies and fleas aren’t gods. And Pharaohs aren’t gods. Just because we choose to worship something, it doesn’t make it god. The truth is that only God is god no matter how we feel. And God alone has the power, the ability, the strength and might to prove Himself.
God will prove Himself, always and forever, but He also gives people time to see His proofs before they fall before them. I think it’s something how God takes that major god image, the crocodile, or Pharaoh, and how He uses the imagery here. I mean, here He is, going to catch this terrifying beast in a net. How authentic is that? I mean, is this really getting home to Pharaoh?

 
The Expositor’s Bible puts Pharaoh Hophra there at Ezekiel’s warning. And I was wondering how much this imagery of catching a crocodile in a net would be familiar then. So I did a little research on crocodiles and Egypt. I found that some Egyptians reverenced crocodiles and some Egyptians hated crocodiles. There is a writing, translated and shared by Richard B. Parkinson, where Pharaoh Amenemhat “boasts of having tamed a lion and taken a crocodile prisoner.” (Paul Sheridan) Isn’t that interesting that God compared the Pharaoh to one who was comparing himself to a lion among nations and a crocodile? Seems our Pharaoh wasn’t the only one who viewed himself this way.

 
But did they use nets. First I read of a story shared where a hook was baited with a live pig and the screaming of the pig would lure the crocodile who could then be captured or killed. But then, the Library of History by Diodorus, tells us that heavy nets or iron spears were used from boats. So it seems to me that God is turning back familiar imagery, familiar practices back upon Pharaoh. I guess God has always employed parables, using everyday life to help us understand heavenly truths, God’s view.

 

 

Now, this is pretty hard reading because there will be violence upon Egypt all for the purpose of Egypt and all men knowing that God is God and there is no other. And maybe you think, how can that be a God of love, to violently destroy people like that? But then I was reading how over and over again God says He is going to cast these people down to death where the “uncircumcised” before them lay, the land of the dead. He will cast them down with all those who thought themselves mighty but were slain in their own strength, every nation that so chose and so lived, no matter how strong. Every one uncircumcised and now laying with the other circumcised with those who die and die. But the truth is, it didn’t have to be so. Because there is a place that men can go with those who die and yet live. Whose path would I choose to follow? To die with those who die or to die with those who live?

 

 

Who in the world are the uncircumcised? What does that mean? Does that mean that everyone but Jews were forsaken by God? Or does it mean that all those who forsake God are the uncircumcised? I tend to lean toward that second choice. I mean, after all, not all the Jews entered into His rest. Why? Though circumcised physically, did they forsake God’s ways spiritually as they walked through life? Yes. That place of eternal death will be lined with Pagans and Jews alike who forsake God. Nationality doesn’t matter. There are those who desire to trust in their own strength and their own greatness and their own way. It could be me just as well as Pharaoh. It could be Paul of Tarsus before he understood God’s real thinking. But there really is only one Lion of lions and His name is the Lion of Judah. And there really is only one Crocodile of crocodiles. Well, He’s bigger than that because He’s over all the crocodiles and catches them with ease and controls all the frogs and flies and kings and mighty men everywhere of all time.

 

 

To think myself a lion of lions or a crocodile of crocodiles is to live like the uncircumcised. It’s to live Godlessly. Oh, I can have all the gods I want. But I won’t have God. I can think I am as powerful as I want and that I can decide my own life and my own ways, but in the long run, I don’t and I can’t because I’m not God. I can’t extend my life or shorten it without His permission. Have you seen people go to every extent to lengthen their lives just to have it end anyways? Or have you seen someone who has attempted suicide and yet could not die? I have.

 

 

That’s the sad thing here. All along God wanted the Egyptians to know Him. He had shown Himself before them. But they, like others before them, and others after them, wanted their power to be their own. And the truth of that reality is that it’s not our own. All power comes from God. He raises kingdoms for His purposes and He lays kingdoms down for His purposes. But His ultimate purpose always has been for men and women, boys and girls of all kingdoms to lay themselves at His feet under His power for His protection and love and guidance.

 

 

Here’s the truth. There have always been God scoffers who would rather design their own gods for their own ways. Peter warned of them but they have always been there and still are today. The question is, am I a God scoffer? Am I, like Pharaoh following my own sinful desires instead of God Himself? Am I, like Pharaoh, deliberately overlooking “this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not over look this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:4-9)

 

Have I come to repent of denying God His goodness in my life and those around me? Have I come to repent of deliberately overlooking Him and deliberately refusing to acknowledge Him in my life? If not, now is my warning, before I die and join the Godless down below. I can trust in anything I want, but I must know that my gods can’t follow me and they won’t be there for me. But if I trust God, He already is there for me, He already has me, and He has got a place for me with Him that I can start abiding in now. When I die, I want to die and join God in the world of the living, and since He is the living God, that place is found in Him. No crocodile tears for me. I’m moving from one life into greater life in Him!

On the Cutting Edge

Standard

Photo credit to Holme Christian Fellowship.

 

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

 
When you think of a sword, what do you think of? I think of a weapon used for more than self-defense. I think of a lethal weapon aimed at destruction of an enemy. I hold the sword in my hand and wield it against my opponent. Is this what You are talking about here, Lord? Is this about me fighting my enemy? Do I hold the word of God in my hand and wield it? Or is this talking about something totally different? Is this talking about how You wield Your word in my life and against those things in my life that stand against You? Oh! That thought stings!

 
Frankly, I am learning to rejoice that You value my life enough to allow me to feel the sting of Your sword, to feel the weight of Your words, directly and for real in my life. It proves or shows some things to me. Truly, the more I feel Your cutting words in my life, the more it brings a crisis of faith, the more I know that Your words are not just written symbols and good thoughts to memorize or pursue. I come to learn that Your word is alive.

 
This two-edged sword is more than a two-edged sword. It’s how You use these different events or crises in our lives to accomplish Your different purposes in our lives. But it’s more than that. But before we look at the “more than” part of the two-edged sword, let’s look at the “word of God” part.

 
Here, Paul, who was so familiar with the Old Testament, pulls this important phrase from the Old Testament. God said in Isaiah 55:11 of His word, “so shall my word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” I want to try to latch on to that concept. God’s word has a purpose and He will accomplish that.

 

Isaiah 49:2 talks of the Christ and says, “He made My mouth like a sharp sword.” How does God instruct and inform throughout the Old Testament? Isn’t it by “the word of the Lord”? I mean Paul was taking this concept from Scripture and applying what had come to life in Him in Christ. He knew that God spoke, really spoke to His people in different ways. He spoke through leaders, prophets, and through an audible voice. He spoke with authority and not just some authority, it was absolute authority. Today, I’ve diverted from the prophets again, but I’ve heard the promises and encouragement and heard the warnings and condemnation. I’ve seen the examples of those who clung to His authority and the examples of those who abhorred His authority.

 
God’s word works in wonderful and differing ways today. God has never changed. Abram didn’t have the written word. But He heard God. I know of people in countries where the written word of God is forbidden and yet people there have heard His voice just like Abram. I have met people who have received God’s written word in one of these countries, and as they read in secret, His word came alive, and they understood and heard the word of God speak to them. He is alive. Let’s face it, His word is so alive that it creates life, whether it is in the form of angels, trees, animals, or people. He’s not just the Way. He’s not just the Truth. He’s not just the Life. HE IS ALL. Yes, He is life in every aspect of real life. His word not only speaks life but creates life. Think about that.

 
See, this word for word is from the Hebrew root debar. It has to do with “speaking, declaring, commanding, promising, warning, threatening and conversing”. It’s not just about writing. But as I let the written word sink into my soul and into my mind and into my life, God speaks it into my life. I can lay in bed and hear His voice urging me to think about some words of His in Scripture and apply it in a deeper way to my life. I can’t explain His voice. But His word is urging me to get up and go to Him, get up and think with Him, get up and learn from Him, get up and follow Him, get up and obey Him, because there’s something I wasn’t quite understanding and obeying rightly.

 
When God speaks, how do I respond? It doesn’t matter if I’m in a jail cell, or hiding in my room from authorities, or in a classroom surrounded by people who don’t understand, or in my bed at 3 a.m., or sitting in my chair in a church service, how do I respond when I hear His still small voice tugging at me? Or how do I respond when it takes a life crisis to get me to hear and rethink my thinking?

 
God’s word has the power to do this in our lives, whether we want Him to or not, whether we respond rightly or not. His word is “living.” It’s alive. God’s word is living. It imparts life. It is the Creator of life. It is the breath of life. It is the sustainer of life. Paul shared with the Athenians, that God “gives to all life, and breath, and all things.” This is what the word of God does. This is it’s function. It gives us life and purpose and everything we need is found in God’s word. Why? Because it’s alive, it’s real, it’s actively creating. There is a Voice that commands and it happens. This is the voice of God by His word. Our life depends on His word. It cannot be ignored without consequence, without loss of life. God’s word has power.

 
God’s word is so powerful it is capable of results. It’s powerfully working His will out. And it is doing it effectively. He is actively operating out His will. And He is doing so more comprehensively, and more decisively by one fell stroke. In other words, His word impacts our life through significant situations that He introduces for the decisive purpose of directing us to obey and understand. His word is alive, so we must be confronted with it. We must get to the heart of it in real life and stand at a point of decision where we respond to it correctly, His way. He brings us to this crossroad by His sword, but not just by the thought of a sword.

 
See, this two-edged sword is able to get into the deepest and most hidden crevices of our lives and hearts. It’s like that surgeon’s knife that cuts precisely and with purpose between joints and marrow. The knife and the sword know what they are doing. They are removing what does not belong, what is harmful, what destroys life. Am I willing to submit to the sword? Am I willing to submit to the precision of the Surgeon’s knife?
But that word for sword is also the word for a double-mouthed river. Get it? A river has a mouth. Mouths imply speaking and words flowing forth, don’t they? God’s word is something that speaks into our lives. An amazing thing about it is how it can speak to one direction in my heart and in another direction in someone else’s heart through the same crisis or the same message. Yet, these are not conflicting words or messages we are hearing. God’s word is penetrating into our hearts and dealing with each of our hearts whether one needs to learn dependence on Him and another needs to learn independence from the world, whether one needs to learn the nuances to walking in faith more deeply, or the other needs to learn to take the first step of faith, whether one must learn to love by forsaking gossiping and another learn to love by sacrificing their life, whether one must learn to live, or one must learn to die.

 
The word of God is alive. I can therefore trust His word in my life to fill me with life as I respond in obedience. I can know that my life in Him has begun because life is in His word and from His word. I don’t have to wait for heaven. Life actually began the moment God created and especially the moment that He breathed life into man with His living word. But when we rebelled against His word through disobedience and distrust, we lost that life like Adam and Eve. We chose a cheap and temporary version instead. But by faith in Christ, through His sacrifice for us and His forgiveness, we are brought back into the life and power of the word that created us, we are brought back into unity, back into God’s purpose for us. What is His purpose for me? To be alive in Him. To display His life in this world. Heaven comes later. I was created for life here first. Yes, our purpose hasn’t changed from Genesis, “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” You know, the earth needs that life way more now than it did in the beginning, because now it’s like dead men walking. We’re here to give God’s gift of His word, His Life, His Power back to the world.

 
How will I respond to Your word today, Lord, or any day? What if You take everything from me? Will I listen and obey Your words to me in the midst of the crisis You bring into my life? When You throw my world upside down, will I stand on my head and do whatever it takes to hear and listen and understand what You are pointing out in my life, where I need to grow, what I need to turn from, how I need to obey? God, no matter what and no matter how strongly or deeply You must cut or speak, may I accept and listen and be healed as I respond in obedience. Teach me to obey that I do not suffer from choosing disobedience. Teach me to rejoice in the intervention of the cutting edge of Your word in my heart. Give me life and may I live in it.