The Worst That Can Happen Can Be the Best That Can Happen

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“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12

I want to just think about these four verses today, starting with the above.  Here it is, all together, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.  Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:12-15)  Yeah, I want to dig into this so it’s a solid part of my life attitude.

I want this to be my “go to” attitude when things aren’t going my way.  This isn’t about just when life is honky-dory, everything is fine-and-dandy, oh so sweet.  1 Peter is about being a slave, which is bad enough in itself.  It’s also about being a mis-treated slave.  It’s about being a wife, with typical misunderstandings in the relationship, as well as being a believing wife in a difficult relationship.  It’s about being a husband, with typical misunderstandings in the relationship, as well as being a believing husband in a difficult relationship.  It’s about little persecution for just being human or especially for being a believer.  It’s about big persecution for being a believer that leads even to the point of death.  Altogether, it’s about how to live like we belong to Jesus in tough situations.  It’s about how to be who God has made us to be, who we were created to be in Him, and not who the world rewired us to be.

And here’s the good news.  When Peter tells us that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, those who have put their trust in the Lord, and this His ears are open to our prayers, that is awesome news!  It’s not telling us that God is looking over, like a judge and saying, “Those are the good people, I will do good things for them.  Those are the bad people.  I won’t have anything to do with them.”  That would be bad news because we all start out as bad people because we are all sinners according to His word.  When would he ever turn His face to us?  Oh, Lord, if You never turned Your face to me, I would be lost forever!

Let me get on with the good news.  “…[B]ut God shows [not showed!] his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) So, You, Lord are not looking for people who are already good.  He’s looking for the people who will and have surrendered to Him as Lord and Savior.  He’s looking with the eyes of a Father for the prodigal child to come back to Him.  This is the image of the eyes of the Lord.  His face is looking toward us with His compassion and grace, not a pointing finger, but with arms open to embrace us and transform us with a new robe and as His child again. 

His ears are open to our prayer even before we speak it.  Remember the prodigal son?  Remember the words he rehearsed?  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21)  But before he finished everything he had rehearsed,  His father had already restored him.  Actually, before the son ever spoke a word out loud, his father’s face had been turned toward him with ready favor, just bursting to lavish his love on him again and have him back in the family.  Remember the welcome before the words?  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”  And if you ever doubt that God has that kind of compassion for you and me, just look at how much farther he went when He gave Jesus Christ upon the cross to bring us back to Him.  Face it, God runs to us with open arms, He puts Jesus’ robe upon us, Jesus stepped up as the fattened calf for us, unlike the older brother in the parable.  Jesus welcomed us into His Father’s arms in the fullness of inheritance without regret and at the cost of His life because He lives by the power of His heavenly Father and He rose again to rejoice together with us and the Father.  Now, how is that for good news and a family reunion!  No dysfunctional family here.

So, God knows what is in our heart, even before we do.  He listens, He cares, He does something about it.  I can count on You doing the best thing I need, the best thing for me, even when I don’t know the answers. 

But why is Your face against those who do evil?  Is that what that really means?  Maybe.  But if so, how did I ever come to know You?  If I was a sinner, which You say I was, how did You ever turn Your face toward me, if Your face is against those who do evil?  What if it means that Your face is turned away from those who choose to continue in evil?  Not that You turn Your face away from them and have no compassion for them, but that they don’t want to see Your face.  They avoid Your eyes.  They turn away and run away.  What if I’m responsible for looking into Your face in order to understand Your compassion?  What if my fear of being judged or changed, my desire to keep doing what I’m doing, leads me to choose to avoid Your compassion like the plague? If I run the other way, I guess Your face would be against me, or opposite me, wouldn’t it?  And I wouldn’t ever know the love and compassion that was just waiting to be showered upon me.  How sad!

I can know that even in the midst of the junk and pain of persecution or hardships of life and serving the Lord, Your love and compassion for me can carry me through, if only I keep looking to You and expecting You to be my Father, and letting You be.  If I remember who my Father is, if I remember Who loves me, then I can remember “who can harm me?”  You know, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  (Don’t just take my word for it.  Go to Romans 8 and soak it in.  Live by it.) 

It’s not just about being zealous about good things or good works.  It’s about being zealous in God, letting Him have His will in You, just like Jesus, by His power.  I have to remember, only God is good.  Even if I’m saved, my works are not good, unless I’m letting the Holy Spirit lead those works.  The world’s not going to be upset about me doing good things by its standards.  The world is going to fight against me doing good works that demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s when it gets tough.  But that is when it’s best and I’m closest to You, Lord!

When I am doing God works, and people know it and fight it, and I’m persecuted because of it, I have the promise that I will be blesssed.  Blessed with what?  The blessings that come from knowing who I am in Christ, that my heavenly Father has me in His arms, that He is bursting with love and care for me, that this world is not my home, and should I be kicked out of this home, like they kicked Jesus out, I have a better home with my Father Himself.  Who cares if it has pearl gates larger than a person!  Who cares if it has streets made of gold!  Who cares if it has a mansion!  It has the love and light of my life, My Father, His Son, and His Holy Spirit!  I get to be 100% present in the fullness of their delight and love!  The worst that could happen is the best that can happen!

That’s why Peter said, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, or be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”  If the above is what I really believe, if that is my true attitude, if above all I honor Christ as my Lord, holy, above everything else, then all these other situations should become opportunities to share that good news with those around me. 

So I need to ask myself, is that what my attitude looks like in my baby trials, in my baby persecutions?  Because in all reality, no one is throwing me to the lions, roasting me on a post with tar on my body, or burning me at the stake.  I’ve read stories of those who have been.  There was an older pastor, burned at the stake, who before-hand told his people, “If the Lord helps me bear the pain, I will raise my hands over my head and clap.”  He was lead to the stake singing praise, worshipping his heavenly Father, His Savior, whose eyes were lovingly turned to him.  The fire was started.  He continued to sing.  His skin began to melt.  He sang, raised his hands over his head, clapped them together, and died.  He believed the word of God.  He walked in the words of Peter.  He had no fear of them.  He was not troubled by them in a way that distracted Him from the face of the Lord.  He was blessed beyond the end here.  He honored Christ with every part of his being.  With his last breath and last clap, he didn’t reprimand his persecutors, but He gave the most glorious defense to everyone around him, even those who didn’t ask, in the most gentle and respectful way.  Lord, help me love You so much, that I take to heart Peter’s words as well. 

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“Though All Hell Endeavour to Shake”

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“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9

I don’t obey for the sake of obeying.  That doesn’t mean that there are often times that I don’t find myself making myself obey when I don’t really feel like obeying.  I guess that’s part of what shows I’m more mature than some of my grandkids.  I say that, because they are here with me and I’ve seen lots of occasions of hearts winning out with their feelings over love of God and love of parents.  And that’s just human nature.  I have the same problem, but by God’s grace, I’m learning to be an overcomer.  They have that same hope.

It’s funny what we perceive as suffering.  Really, we turn anything that is the slightest frustration into suffering and persecution.  But we ought to realize the difference between discomfort and suffering.  It’s true, all discomfort is uncomfortable.  And let’s not forget that obviously, there is discomfort in our most personal relationships at times, especially if we are working under, or living with a non-believer, and even still when we’re both believers.  But we aren’t exempt even if those relationships are with other believers, are we?  Why would that be?

Maybe too often we forget to see things in the light of Christ because, like my beloved grandkids, we focus too much on ourselves so much of the time.  I want to know the remedy for not repaying evil for evil.  When someone or something frustrates me or belittles me or whatever, Peter tells me the remedy.  Sanctify the Lord God in your heart.  (1 Peter 3:15)  Be always ready as a testimony to why you can remain humble and fearless and full of hope, instead of bitter and angry and lashing back. 

Be careful of being self-righteous.  Peter says we have the same kind of blessing or state of bliss as Jesus talks about in those who live according to His values, His character He discussed in the beatitudes.  If we suffer for righteousness’ sake, that is, we receive that blessing of security and closeness in God.  I don’t think that’s based on my righteousness.  I don’t think that’s because I did what was right and now I’m suffering and that’s the righteousness this is based on.  I can look beyond the suffering because I’m not concerned with my righteousness, but with God’s righteousness.  If I am suffering because I sanctify the Lord in my heart and my life, then in the midst of that suffering I am still focussed on You and Your righteousness and it’s not about me but about You. 

Then, so what if I don’t deserve this treatment.  It’s not about me.  It’s about something and someone bigger than me.  Jesus didn’t deserve His treatment either.  But then again, even Jesus didn’t make it about Himself on the cross.  He sanctified the Lord and in so doing, sanctified us.  Even in the wilderness, Satan couldn’t lure Him to think otherwise by offering things that would build Him up.  He didn’t want to venerate Himself.  He wanted to venerate His heavenly Father.  So, what about me?

Peter wants me to know that God called me to be that same kind of blessing, just as Jesus was.  Why?  Because God has blessed me through Jesus Christ.  When He went to the cross and bore my punishment, the extremest of extreme persecution there was from man, plus the weight of the wrath of God upon Him for my sin, He did not render evil back to me.  He doesn’t sit in heaven now and rail at me for my cruelty and stupidity.  He invites me into intimate fellowship and blessing in the Heavenly Father!  And I am called to do the same to those around me.  How I respond in times of frustration and persecution shed light on my relationship with You, Lord, and how much I appreciate, how much I rejoice in how you have treated me and loved me instead of lashing back.

Are you suffering?  David Powlison says our need, “…is to hear God talking and to experience him purposefully at work.  That changes everything.  Left to ourselves, we blindly react.  Our troubles obsess us and distract us…You need to hear what God says, and to experience that he does what he says.  You need to feel the weight and significance of what he is about.  He never lies.  He never disappoints (though he wisely sets about to disappoint our false hopes).  Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear no evil, for he is with you.  Goodness and mercy will follow you.  This is what he is doing.  God’s voice speaks deeper than what hurts, brighter than what is dark, more enduring than what is lost, truer than what happened.  You awaken.  You take it to heart, and you take heart.  You experience that this is so.  The world changes.  You change.  His voice changes the meaning of every hardship.  What he does— has done, is doing, will do— alters the impact and outcome of everything happening to you.  Your faith grows up into honest, intelligent humanness, no longer murky and inarticulate.  You grow more like Jesus: the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, the man after God’s own heart, who having loved his own loved them to the end.”

I’m so thankful to Peter for calling me out on my attitudes and behavior.  I’m thankful for other believers who do the same.  There is an unnamed believer who wrote the hymn How Firm a Foundation who thought on these things too.  You know, it’s pretty usual for song writers or hymn writers to write from their perspective towards praising God.  But this author writes from God’s perspective to us.  So as I listen to these words, taken out of Scripture truths, I can imagine You, Lord, reminding me of who You are and of Your promises to me.  If that doesn’t help me to respond rightly because of the hope I have, I don’t know what else will!  So let me end with some of those thoughts, from God’s perspective to us, out of part of How Firm a Foundation:

“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,

my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;

the flame shall not hurt you; I only design 

your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

“E’en down to old age all my people shall prove

my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;

and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,

like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to his foes;

that soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

My Everything Forever

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“It was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from that day shall be, ’The LORD is there.’” Ezekiel 48:35

 
David shared about God’s glory in Psalm 19: 1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has He set a tabernacle for the sun…” So since the time of creation, God’s glory has been present. Paul reiterates this in Romans 1:20, “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” What were they without excuse about? How about not becoming personally involved with that eternal power and divine nature?  Could God’s demonstration through all of creation be more than just a demonstration? Could it be a demonstration for the purpose of invitation? Could it be a calling back into His presence, into the place where man and woman were created to live all along?

 
Beyond manifesting Himself through nature, God has chosen to manifest Himself directly to His people in many ways. In redeeming His people from Israel He was there as a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. The Shekinah glory cloud showed His “presence, provision, protection, and guidance” Also associated with the Shekinah cloud is the Angel of God. In Numbers 14:13,14 we see the pillar of cloud there to comfort Israel and to stand in the way of her enemies. The pillar, or presence of God moved with the people.

If we jump to Moses we have God manifesting His presence in the burning bush. Again He manifests His presence and provision in the giving of manna, the bread from heaven. And there He is again, with Moses, giving the Law at Sinai with His fingers in stone. And tell me that wasn’t for the benefit of His people to understand how much He is with them.  I mean, does God even really need fingers like we have to write with?  Yet, He chooses to manifest Himself in ways that we can understand even though He is beyond understanding. Imagine, there He was, on Mt. Sinai, manifesting Himself as a consuming fire and the fear the people felt did not drive them to awe but they turned shortly thereafter to a golden calf instead.

Solomon new that the temple was there as a place for God to meet His people and yet how could a temple hold His awesomeness? “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27) That does not negate God’s presence but it makes us appreciate that He is present for us all the more.

God manifested Himself through and to Elijah, Elisha, David, Jacob, Abram. He manifested Himself to the children of Israel and to the Egyptians. He manifested Himself before other attacking nations.

Now, He manifests Himself through us as we let our “light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) We are living sacrifices according to Paul. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and we are no longer our own. Why? We have been bought with a price. The price of the sacrifice of Christ for us. So it is only right and makes sense that we should glorify God in our body with all that we are. After all, I owe my whole life to Him. Today, God is here in individual believers. And individual believers are members of the body of Christ which is the church. Are we living as though God is here in us? And are we living as though we are truly members dependent upon the other members of the body of Christ? Or do we, like the mixed multitude, see the glory of God and walk another direction and worship toward another?

The great news is that there is coming a day when the glory of God will be fully manifested. He will be there forever and ever. Because God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He will never break His covenant. Haggai 2:9 tells us “’The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” And what makes this time more glorious? The King of kings is returning to defeat His enemies and take His throne! The Lord will be there with His people forever! Revelation 3:21-22 promises, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The Shekinah will return. The glory of God will be present with us. There will be rejoicing and shouts of joy. There will be encouragement for the exhausted, strength for the feeble, courage for the fearful, and salvation for the helpless.

When I was a little girl and started hearing about Jesus, all I could do was think about Him. All I wanted more than anything was to be with Him. I thought to do that I would have to go back in time or God would have to let my mom give birth to Jesus again. Neither one of those was the way. And it wasn’t until I was about 15 years old that I learned that I could walk with Jesus in my life now by surrendering my life to Him and trusting Him as my Lord and as my Saviour. His presence is not just a literary fact that I hang on to. His presence is manifested in my life. There are times when you can strongly feel His presence. There is the touch of God on the person inside as He changes me. There are times He intervenes on my behalf. There are times He is silent and makes me learn to wait and trust and love Him more than my answer to prayer. But still, there is something even more special about this day in the future when Jehovah Shama becomes the name of His great city. In that day when we can say, “The Lord is here!” it will be like walking with Jesus here on earth again, only far more amazing because Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord. For a millennium we will see what life ought to be like in His presence here on earth. We, all people at that time, will get to live life in the midst of His peace and presence.

Do you know why? It’s because God is faithful even when we are not. God made a covenant of peace with His people, an everlasting covenant way back in what we call the Old Testament. His people have broken that covenant. But God is not a covenant breaker. He is and always will hold true to His promises. And He promised to place His people and multiply them, and set His sanctuary in their midst forever. And He has said that He will be with His people, and He will be their God, and they will be His people. And it doesn’t stop there! Even the nations, the Gentiles like most of us, will know that He is the Lord and that He sets us apart from the “profane” or ordinary and makes us holy. And when He is in our midst we will know the difference between ordinary and holy because it’s not just about a temple being in the middle of our society, it’s about God being in the midst of our hearts forever. This is the joy and promise of the Millennium; a time on earth of knowing God, of living in His presence.

 
This word in Ezekiel actually came at a time when the Lord was not there. His Shekinah, His presence had left Israel because of their continued rejection of Him. Judah would receive judgement and then the nations around them would receive judgement. This message was to give Israel hope that they could return to God and He would restore them to Him again. But here is the problem. Do we believe and trust God by acting in faith? Or do we reject His promises and search out our own restoration our own way?
I think of Jonah who didn’t want restoration for Ninevah God’s way. So he tried to run from it and from God. But where can you hide from God? Psalm 139:7-12 reminds us, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.”

When I was little, I thought that God was far away, but God tells Jeremiah, “‘Am I a God who is near,’ declares the Lord, ‘And not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?’ declares the Lord, ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord.” Yes, He is a God who is near and far at the same time. He encompasses the whole universe and more and yet, He knows the intimacies of my heart. He knows not only that Adam and Eve have run to hide, but He knows their most intimate thoughts and reasonings.

One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning, God with us. This is not an afterthought or because there was an oops moment when God realized that maybe the tree of knowledge wasn’t a good idea because now man has sinned and we need another plan. This, God with us, has been God’s plan and way from the beginning. It’s the reason God gave Adam and Eve a choice. Think about it. God never had to choose to be with us. He created us. We could be puppets. Yet He chose to relate with us, to interact with us, to love us and to know us and to be known by us. Now it’s up to us, each of us, and all of us, to reciprocate that privilege. It’s up to me to know my Maker. But I must choose to know Him. God’s promise is that all the earth will be filled with His glory because His desire is that all would know Him.

It makes sense to know the One who created me and who loves me most. Paul reiterated that, that it makes sense “that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are His children.’” (Acts 17:27-28) After all, He is the I AM THAT I AM, the Self-Existent One. There is no one else like God. Who else should we grasp on to?

 
There are lots of broken hearted people in the world today. Sin is like that. It breaks hearts and lives. But Jesus came to save and heal the brokenhearted. David reminded us in Psalm 34:18 that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Isaiah shared God’s heart in chapter 57 verse 15, “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” He is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

 
You know, Moses was a smart man. He was smart because he wouldn’t take a step without knowing God was present with him. Listen to his own words, “Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favour in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’” (Exodus 33:15-16) Didn’t God honour that attitude with His presence? Didn’t God take Moses and the people through the waters and stay with them? Didn’t He keep the rivers from overflowing on them? Did He keep the flames from scorching and burning Shardrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Wasn’t He in their midst? Wasn’t He their warrior? Do You know that He rejoices over His people?
Paul shares in 1 Corinthians 14 about the reaction of someone coming under conviction of God’s Spirit. Now understand that you can’t come under conviction of God’s Spirit without His Spirit being present, right?

 

So what happens when we realizefaith the presence of God’s Spirit working in us? The secrets of our heart are disclosed, we fall on our face and worship God, knowing and declaring that He IS HERE among us. Jesus taught us to teach each other to follow and obey God’s commands and that He would be with us always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) It’s not a light thing that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:16 tells us that as believers we are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us. The temple was designed by God as a place where He would make His presence known with His people. That ought to effect my life, shouldn’t it? John 14:18 tells us that Jesus will not leave us as orphans but will come unto us. Paul in Ephesians 2:22 reminds us that we are being continually built together into a dwelling place of the Spirit of God. How closely present is that! Yes, Jesus wants to be present not just with us, but in us. John reminds us in 1 John 3:24, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” Yes, God’s presence is a reality. It’s a glorious reality!

But here’s the thing. I can choose to live in the glorious reality of His presence by following Him and following His ways and living in them. Or I can choose to deny this glorious reality of His presence by living my own way. My choice to deny His presence won’t change His glory but it will change my ability to show forth His glory in and by my life. And it will mean that instead of experiencing the presence of the Lord in my life, I will experience his absence, but that is not by His choice. His choice is that each one of us would know Him and live and walk in His presence. And some day, God knows when, there will be a day when all the people on the face of the earth will know and experience and walk in His presence. And you would think that everyone would think that the most awesome experience ever and that no one would want to turn back to our old ways or our own selfish ways. But you know, the millennium only lasts for that, a millennium. And when the end of the millennium comes, do you realize there will still be people, who even after living in a millennium of perfect peace in the presence of God Himself, they won’t be satisfied and they will rise up against God one more time? Well, I want to so enjoy and thrive on the presence of God even now, that nothing else, ever, would satisfy me or draw me away. I want to know You God for who You are, all of You, so that nothing else compares to You. I want to be so taken and overwhelmed by You that You are my everything forever. Guide me that closely in You, Lord, until You alone are my Everything even today until forever.

Deja Vu

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“And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail; it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing.” Ezekiel 47:12

 
Deja vu! I’ve heard this before. David’s words come alive here from Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law does he meditate 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.” (italics added) But I have to notice one word here. It’s the word “like.”

 
I was looking at part of a commentary on the words of Ezekiel 47:12 which remarked that “by these ‘trees’ are meant truly gracious souls, converted persons, real Christians, true believers in Christ; who like trees have a root, are rooted in the love of God, in the person and grace of Christ, and have the root of the matter in them, the grace of the blessed Spirit; and who also is their sap, of which they are full, and so grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ; grow up in him, and grow upwards and heavenwards in their affections and desires, and in the exercise of faith and hope: they are the trees of the Lord…” (John Gill) But I want to be very careful of not just “spiritualizing” things in Scripture when the way God has already made it is already spiritual His way.

 
God is describing to Ezekiel this new temple. He is very exact and precise with the measurements that His messenger is giving Ezekiel. Ezekiel is guided room by room, feature by feature, purpose by purpose to the minutest details and who will be in charge of the different responsibilities. This is clearly a vision of a physical representation of the future temple that will be serving a God-ordained purpose in the spiritual lives of God’s people, all of them whether naturally children of Israel or sojourners who have joined with the children of Israel in the worship of the one true God in the Messiah.

 
Therefore, there is this actual life-giving river that flows out from the temple. After all, the Messiah is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1, 2,3) And I could spiritualize the river here if I wanted to but that wouldn’t make it right and it wouldn’t make it true. Because this river is not “like” something. It is this way. This river flows out with healing and life. There are spiritual applications to us elsewhere, but here is a real river with real life flowing in it whose source is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in God.

 
So, why must we spiritualize the trees? The people in this vision are actual people down to the details being ancestors of particular people, like ancestors of the sons of Zadok. We’re told who enters by which doors and what sacrifices are to be offered. And here we are told about this gloriously wonderful river that flows from under the East gate, that gate that only the Prince enters and exits from. And here on its banks are trees growing that will be for meat, for food. They are the real deal. They are not like something else. They are real trees, growing real food, soaking in the real life giving water. They are real trees whose leaves will never wither or fade because of that water. This fruit shall never fail. It will never stop producing. Every month it will bear new fruit. Why? Because of the waters. And the fruit shall be food and the leaves shall be for healing.

 
John was also privy to a vision from God. Here’s what he was shown. “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1,2) Now, I’m not sure if the tree of life is one tree that sprouts as many like the bamboo does from one shoot, or if John saw one tree in his vision, or just called the many trees “the tree of life” because that’s what each was, but I know that these two men were learning of the same future truth and same future hope and it’s not a spiritualization but an actual physical reality.  Actually it is a spiritual and physical reality, because both are wrapped up together in Christ.

 
The trees are not the servants of God. John continues by saying, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads.” We, by this point, ought to be like those trees as David said. But those trees planted by the river, are trees for our benefit, and for the benefit of all those from all the nations. They are for our healing and for our nourishment for service.

 
I just don’t want to lessen the awe of God. It’s an awesome thing that God can plant us in His living waters and give us life where once there was nothing but death and warped purpose. It’s awesome that He can change and renew me from the inside out as I root myself in Him and rely on His life and power in me. Yes, that is awesome, how He can and does change our lives. But it is also awesome how He can create and be the source of a river that gives life wherever it flows, real physical life, not just spiritual life. And it’s awesome how God creates trees that bear fruit with just the right nourishment and with leaves that bring healing, and I don’t think we’re talking some healing here, I think this is total healing. This is God we are talking about here. This is God with us in all His fullness and majesty. He can do whatever He wants and all that He does is right and good and true. This is God and I don’t want to forget it or minimize it.

 
So, God, if you choose to show “me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” like You showed Ezekiel and John, I think I will just be amazed as they were. And I hope that like them, when I see and hear, that it will make me fall down and worship You more. I hope it doesn’t make me feel smarter or more knowledgeable but that the more I learn, the more awesome and powerful and loving and mighty and righteous I see You as. I pray that this never becomes information that I handle but that every word, every vision, every moment spent meditating on You becomes more and more of the truth and reality of who You are. May every jot and every tittle make more of You and less of me. And someday, when I stand in the future place with You, may I be so overwhelmed by the “deja vu” that I forever understand the greatness and eternity and reality of Your word and its manifestation in You.

The Millennial Treasure

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Photo credit to Evangelical Focus, an article by Will Graham.

 

“Thus says the Lord God; ‘If the prince gives a gift unto any of his sons, the inheritance thereof shall be his sons’; it shall be their possession by inheritance.’” Ezekiel 46:16

 
A millennium with Jesus, wouldn’t that be an awesome thing? Now I’ve seen some disagreement over whether this prince of Ezekiel’s vision is Jesus or not, but the Jewish rabbis looked to this prince as the Messiah. On the other hand, there is disagreement through commentaries upon whether this prince is Jesus or an appointed prince by God among the people. Frankly, I’m not an official Bible scholar, so I don’t know for sure, but when I read this, it sure makes me think of Him.

 
I wouldn’t have a problem with this being Jesus as the prince, after all, He is the Prince of Peace and He is the One who can atone for our sins. I’m just wondering why God would have anyone else approach the Holy of Holies now that the veil was torn through Jesus. What greater picture for all mankind at the time than to see Jesus standing in the place for us right before our very eyes?

 
But sacrifices? All that ritual? Why would Jesus die only to re-institute the sacrifices and rituals again? What purpose would that serve? What about a visual reminder? It seems to me that we as people need more reminders than we like to admit. And our reminders need to be pretty strong and visual. It’s not like a light nudge is often enough. Often, don’t we find that we need the cold water thrown on our faces to wake us up? Well, I don’t really look at these sacrifices as being cold water unpleasant. Let me explain.

 
What if the ritual and sacrifice we see in the Old Testament, that here God is saying He will re-institute in the millennium, isn’t about ritual experience? What if it never was about following ritual and obeying because you had to obey or else? What if walking through these rituals and walking through these sacrifices was always about understanding our relationship to God in different ways? What if it was about understanding different pieces of God, so to say? What if every step of obedience was supposed to be a step of love and adoration? What if understanding the reasons behind the ceremonies and celebrations and offerings was to understand more of our relationship with God and His relationship with us? Could there be a reason that God said these would be perpetual celebrations and perpetual offerings? Could they always have been intended as more than ritual and more than just commanded obedience? Is there more to this than meets our eyes?

 
Why can’t Jesus enter the East gate and offer up sacrifices for us? Wasn’t Jesus just as holy and just as much Jesus when He came to earth? Didn’t He obey all that God required of “Temple worship” and walking with others and submitting to authority then? If it wasn’t wrong for Jesus to participate then as an example before us of how we are to participate in the life that God has called us to, then why wouldn’t it be right for Him to continue to exemplify all things God for us, all things life for us?

 
Why are we so afraid of sacrifice and God’s ordained feasts and festivals and commandments? Is it because we really don’t understand them? What if they weren’t so foreign? What if it was all more about uncovering God like a glorious Treasure than following a ritual? What if participation was participation with God?

 
I can get stuck in the rut of ritual whether I am Jewish or Christian or any other religion or even not of any religion. That’s called a habit. But this isn’t about ritual and never was from God’s perspective. It’s always been about relationship. Abram didn’t follow after ritual. He followed a God whose voice he heard and who showed Himself on his behalf. He obeyed because He found a Treasure worth selling his whole life for! Moses would have followed ritual for sure at first. But God stripped him of that thinking. God brought Moses to the point where God was his Treasure, where the reality of life was the God of the burning bush. Moses became a man after God’s own heart, so humble, which was the total opposite of the Moses leaving Egypt.

 
I’ll skip ahead to the New Testament and look at Paul. Paul was a man of devout ritual. That wasn’t God’s choice. I know it wasn’t God’s choice because God confronted him about it. “Why do you kick against the goads?” And once Paul’s relationship with God changed through Jesus, the Treasure of worship in all the affairs of the Temple and Scripture opened anew to him and he was able to invite others, both Jew and Gentile, into the beauty of that Treasure! I must not forget that those first Gentile converts worshipped along with the Jews, not separate from them. Oh, the beauty of what was opened to their eyes! Even if it was only in part, the measure of the new understanding and beauty of God would be wonderful.

 
So, who are the sons of the prince? What if they are the children of God? What is the inheritance of the children of God? Isn’t the most precious inheritance to know God and be known by Him? Isn’t God through Jesus Christ our Treasure? I’m not sure what else there is to focus on. I mean, if you ask me, heaven isn’t as grand a treasure as God because heaven, without God, would be nothing but hell. Maybe if my real focus in life was the inheritance of God, you know, believing and acting as though God was my only treasure, then maybe I’d act a lot differently as I walked through this life. Maybe some things wouldn’t be so important any more. And maybe other things would be more important than ever.

 
But I do know this one thing, if there is a desire in my heart to spend a millennium with Jesus, I ought to start living in my inheritance now. I ought to start rejoicing in everything that represents the Treasure of my God every day because if I’m in Him, my inheritance in Him has already begun. I don’t get to be lazy. Because there will come a day, during that millennium when there will be people who turn from the Prince because He never was their Treasure and there will come a time when the Treasure passes judgement. And only those who know the Treasure will inherit the Treasure Himself. There is only one gift and the Gift is God Himself through Jesus Christ. I don’t ever want to ignore You.

The Measure of All Things

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Photo credit to internet search.  Not sure of original source.

 

“And so shall you do on the seventh day of the month for every one that errs, and for him that is simple; so shall you make atonement for the house.” Ezekiel 45:20

 
Who needs a sin offering offered up on their behalf? God says the one who errs and the simple ones do. In this future temple, is it just any prince who offers up this sin-offering? No. This is the Prince of Peace who has already become our atonement for sin through his life and sacrifice upon the cross and resurrection. So why will there be a day of future sacrifices? The sad thing is, that even when Jesus abides on earth before the final judgment, there will be those who err and those who are too simple to trust and see and follow. It’s the same story as today. It’s the same story as always.

 
In 2 Peter we hear Peter’s admonition to us. He’s telling us to be careful of erring and being “simple-minded.” Listen. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? But, according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, give diligence that you may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in His sight. And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation…”

 
God is giving us every chance He can and I’d say more than He ever has to because He isn’t even obligated to give us a second chance. And yet He does exert the most divine patience to warn and warn and prompt and prompt and remind and remind just to try to jar us out of our erring ways and out of the simplicity of our own foolish thinking. He takes the time to list things out for us with the uttermost of preciseness so we can understand if we want to. Of course, if I have no interest in understanding, it won’t matter how simple something is, I just won’t get it, will I? Over and over He gives us the measures and specifications to the minutest detail. Why? So we can understand righteousness, so we can understand and know Him. Actually, it goes beyond understanding. It’s totally wrapped up in knowing.

 
Measures matter. Measures make it right. Measures make the house strong and firm enough to stand. Take away the measures and regulations and you have squatters areas that are washed away in the floods. Measures make things just and balanced. We know what to expect. We know what to give. God calls for “just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath.” That’s a right measure and it’s not just that God was interested only in these three right measures. All of our lives and what we do with it ought to flow with right measuring.

 
Now that word for just comes from tsedeq. And that’s related to the word tsedeqa which has to do with the righteousness of God and all that flows from Him because of it. It’s all the goodness and loving-kindness and judgment and works and being that flow from Him. I have a box following the Hebrew example called a tsedekah which is a box that I put free will offerings in with the intent of it flowing out to do goodness in other’s lives. That’s tsedekah. But we are also called to be tsedeq because God is tsedeq. Righteousness isn’t just a cleanness; it’s the way of God from His life flowing through ours. It’s His measure being measured out through us.

 
We have right balances, and measure out grains and liquids fairly because God is all about doing the right thing not only for Himself but on the behalf of others. So our lives are to reflect that same level of caring and commitment. And part of understanding this righteousness or justness is to accept and be glad that God is the Standard Setter and not me.

 
Now, I won’t pretend to say that I understand all the stuff going on in the rituals in the Bible or why You do what You do all the time, Lord. I don’t know why You sometimes take people from this life and why You sometimes choose to leave others. I don’t know why You permit me to make some of the decisions I do and still be left standing on this earth. I don’t know why You choose to use sacrifices and the things of the temple one day with Your people again as Christ stands as High Priest for them, except that it fulfills all Your purposes. It teaches us. It shows us. It demonstrates to us all righteousness in action. And just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not good for me.
There are things that You have told Your people will be perpetually celebrated. I’m pretty sure when You said perpetual, that You meant perpetual, that what was meant for our benefit in understanding and trusting in the beginning shall always be useful for our understanding and trusting. And I want to be the first to admit that sometimes I am in error and sometimes I am simple. I don’t mean to be rebellious, it’s not like I’m trying to fight against You. That’s a different story with a different outcome. But sometimes, my thinking and reasoning become faulty and I err and sin against You. And it’s not that I wanted to but somehow I just got too caught up in what wasn’t right and wasn’t just until I realized where I was. And I am so glad that You are there for me to bring me back to Your thinking and back to You.

 
And sometimes, I’m just simple. Sometimes I’m just easily seduced, foolish, and make silly choices. And I’m so glad that You don’t give up on me or count me as less. I’m so glad that through all of this, there is a way for me not only to be forgiven but to be reconciled to You and to be commissioned in You. I’m so glad that I have a High Priest who can do for me what I need done to be accepted by You. I’m glad for His measures and that I need to measure up. And I’m even more glad that You make me measure-up-able in Christ.
Some day, I want to be able to experience all these feasts and festivals and worship in the temple with You as the full-head. I want to understand it and You in Your fullness. I don’t want to miss a beat. I want to see and know the significance of You in all that You’ve given us. And I firmly believe that one day, You will open our eyes and hearts and minds to understand all of Your word fully because Your word isn’t just words in a book, it’s all about You, the Living God who is the measure of all things.

On Being Who He’s “Put” You to Be

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“And the Lord said to me, ‘Son of man, mark well, and behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears all that I say to you concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and all the laws thereof; and mark well the entering in of the house, with every going forth of the sanctuary.’” (Ezekiel 44:5)

 
When I hear God saying, “Mark well…” it makes me think I’m really supposed to be paying attention. It seems to be confirmed when He follows it up with “behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears.” And what am I supposed to be paying attention to? The ordinances of the someday sanctuary of God, of it’s laws, and even who gets to enter and exit through the different doors. Well, really this was told to Ezekiel. And Ezekiel was to relay it to the children of Israel. But God allows us to be privy to this information today. So I would assume that we also ought to mark it well, to behold with our eyes and hear with our ears because some day, when that day comes this will be an experience shared by all believers, including those already with the Lord. So, I may not understand fully now, but there will come a day when I will appreciate fully the significance of every utterance of God concerning this.

 
But that’s me thinking about this as a 20th century Gentile. And it’s not totally wrong thinking. But if I stop to think about the Hebrew words, it makes me think and respond even more. Like that word “mark” is from the Hebrew word “siym”. It actually means “to put”.  Genesius’s Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon gives the first definition as “to put, to set, to place.” It can mean in that respect “to plant, to beget children, to construct a nest or habitation, to dispose an army or to set an array, to constitute, to found, or to set a statute or place.” It’s next definition can be “to put, to place, or to lay inanimate things.” In that case it’s used like “in putting garments on, laying down a pledge, putting or imposing on someone something to be done, putting or imposing a name on anyone, putting before one’s own eyes as in highly regarding, propounding or explaining to someone, laying up in a treasury, or laying up on the heart.” Even the third definition has to do with “putting, placing, or setting as in directing to turn in any direction.” It’s like “setting the eye on, to see, setting the face on or towards, setting the heart upon, attending.” Next is the definition “of making or rendering anyone so and so.” And lastly, “to make, to prepare for anyone.” After reading all of those and thinking about it, it’s less like just a warning or good advice and more like a commission or anointing in a sense. Let me share another verse which leads me to think that this is God’s way of saying, “Here is my purpose for you, here is where I’m placing you and equipping you, so understand and then live accordingly.”

 
Let’s go back to the beginning. That’s always a good place to start. So we go back to Genesis 2:8, “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.” See that word for placed? It’s the same word “siym” as “marked”.  I’m not saying that one word can’t have multiple meanings. But I’m wondering if it still doesn’t carry some of those meanings over. Here, Adam was being put in the garden. He didn’t start out there. He was put or placed there by God for a purpose. God placed Ezekiel in the temple. He was placed for a purpose. God places each of us where He will and it is for a purpose. Am I accepting and living out His purpose in my placement?

 
God has a plan. He had it for Adam and beyond Adam. God still has a plan. He had it for Ezekiel and beyond Ezekiel. God still has a plan. He has it for me and beyond me. He has it for you and beyond you. Guess what? God is even in charge of our geography! Oh, wait a minute! But Adam was placed in a perfect paradise, my life isn’t. Was Adam placed in a perfect paradise? As I recall, God planted the garden and everything in it. God planned the tree, that tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was the downfall of man. From the beginning, that tells me that the Garden had the potential for what we know as “evil” from the start.

 
But what I do know is that God placed Adam in the garden for His purpose and to have a fully untainted relationship with Him, and to be able to eat of the tree of life. God fully nourished man there and provided everything he needed and man was able to exhibit his own free choice. It was a fully satisfying place, yet a dangerous place. But it was “only dangerous because it contains the possibility of disobedience.” (Skip Moen) God knew what He was doing. None of this is a surprise or oops moment. God planted and placed that tree in the Garden, the one that Adam chose over Him. Does that make you stop and think? It does me.

 
Being planted and placed carries a heavy responsibility and commitment to the One who plants and places. I have to continually realize and be reminded that I am not and never have been the planter and placer of myself or anyone else. God is my planter and placer. God is the planter and placer. I better mark this well because my life depends on it. My satisfaction depends on this. My nourishment depends on Him. I better understand the purpose and importance and significance of my placement in life by God. I better use my eyes for their correct purpose, to see and obey His will for my life and those around me. I better use my ears to hear and obey Him. I better surrender my whole body and being to His purpose or I am fighting against my very purpose in life.

 
Where has God planted me? Am I marking His planting and responding according to Him? Are His ordinances and laws and ways of life and love flowing from me where He has put me? I’m here for His purpose, not my own, and yet at the same time He has made His purpose the very purpose of my being. Am I fulfilling that in Him. Am I preparing the way for others to fulfill His purpose in them or am I making my own plans and spreading them? Adam spread his own plans. And look how it affected his family and others down the road. But Ezekiel was spreading God’s plans even to the point of spreading them to you and me today.

 
I suppose that even those who are placed with a purpose must learn the difference between holy and profane and how to discern between the unclean and clean. And that means to me, that there had to be a choice from the beginning. But it’s a sad thing to have to learn the hard way that we should have chosen God all along. Lord, may I cling to that which is holy and of You so tightly that the profane no longer has any appeal for me. I pray that my desire is so strong to fulfill Your purpose that I would stop thinking about my purpose and just let Yours more than suffice in me. May I continually come to the Tree of Life for Your sustenance and direction and may knowledge not even be an interest because knowing You and knowing You are in charge is all I need to know to live.

 
“The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man.” Want to be whole? Want to fulfill your God-given purpose? Mark God’s word. Be who He’s “put” you to be in Him.