How is Your Heart Set?

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Photo credit to Fine Art America.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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God, the Joy of my Desiring

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Photo credit from http://www.quora.com

 

“And as soon as she saw them with her eyes, she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea.” (Ezekiel 23:16)

 
Identifying the root of the problem is the beginning of fixing the problem. And if I’m honest, Aholah and Aholibah aren’t the only ones with the problem of seeing things and doting upon them. And if I’m even more honest, I’d admit that seeing things and doting upon them is a very tragic and dangerous rut to get stuck in.

 
Well, Aholah and Aholibah aren’t real people but they do set up a picture for us. And just as Samaria acted and Jerusalem acted, so can we as individuals. It starts somewhere before a whole people group turns. But what’s important is that here was Aholah, Samaria, who had been “birthed” and created to glorify the living God and to worship Him alone and yet she established her own tent and left His. And then there’s Jerusalem, or Aholibah, who had been “birthed” of God also and created to glorify Him and worship Him alone. There was His tent, His abode, His presence in the midst of her, and yet she turned her eyes and her heart elsewhere.

 
Here we see an age old problem that leads to death and separation and broken relationship. Think about it. Eve saw the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She saw it with her eyes. I bet she and Adam walked by that tree frequently. It wasn’t the first time she saw it but something different happened about how she was seeing it now that the serpent reintroduced it to her. Now she saw it and she doted upon it. Ezekiel uses the Hebrew word agab. It means “to breathe after, to love (sensually).” Noah Webster defines doting as being delirious, impaired intellect, where your mind wanders or wavers, silliness. He also equates it with being excessively in love, loving to excess or extravagance and actually shows Ezekiel 23 as an example.

 
So here was Eve, who became delirious and impaired, excessive in her desire for what she saw, just like Aholah and Aholibah, and just like I can. What? What was the problem with looking? Well, there didn’t used to be a problem with looking until the looking became twisted into craving what was not designed to be eaten. Truth is, God set a boundary in the garden and in our lives. It’s called trusting. In the garden it looked like the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He said, “You shall not eat of it: for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Why? Because only God knows what is truly good for man and how to give it to him, and it’s our blessing to learn that and live in that goodness. But, it’s our free choice “to not to.”

 
So Adam, who was given this boundary first hand from the mouth of God, relayed that message of great import to Eve. And they were fully OK with that, until….the serpent enters. “You shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…” What? God said it wasn’t good for food. How could something that you were not supposed to eat and that would surely bring death if you ate it, be good for food? Who’s word is true anyways? Why would what God didn’t make good for food become good for food because a serpent says so or because it looks good to you and because it would help you be a better wife or know more or whatever?

 
It’s not that this fruit wasn’t good. It was good. It was good for keeping God and life and who we are in a proper perspective. God already knows good and evil. God determined it already. I don’t get to decide on my own. God already determined the consequences of stepping out of His boundary of protection and provision. And it’s not just some mandate or a rule or a precept or a concept. It’s just the way it is. In God is life. Out of God is death. Why? Because You are LIFE. In God is provision and wholeness and fullness and peace and love and joy and fulfilled desire. Out of God is chaos and emptiness and unfulfillment. That’s what the tree was all about. It still is today because God hasn’t changed.

 
Eve, Aholah, and Aholibah, and you and I were created to be enthralled and loved on by this living God. We were created to be able to love Him back as He loved us. We were created to worship Him which is far more than doting. When God told us, “You shall worship no other god,” (Exodus 34:14) He wasn’t just implying that we weren’t to bend our knees or prostrate ourselves before anyone or anything else. Shachah means that but the Hebrew perspective takes it deeper. It’s about worshipping God in accord with His instructions on worshipping Him.

 
Now, don’t give me this, “Isn’t that expecting too much?” attitude. Let’s just look at things in a simple earthly way here. I’m married. I have a husband. There are things that portray to me that my husband loves and cherishes me. Most of those things have to do with how he pays attention to my heart and hears the real me and how he responds to that. Like, if I say I really hate something and that thing would be all he ever gave me, like it was his special gift to me, I certainly wouldn’t feel very loved or valued. But, if on the other hand, I said I really loved something, and that was what he pursued, I would know he listened and cared about my heart. I mean, a new vacuum might be handy and helpful around home, but if I’m the one spending most of my day or time home from work doing that kind of labor, it’s not showing that you understand my heart. Taking me away somewhere, where I could just appreciate being without working or deciding, would show you knew my heart. Nope, the vacuum won’t do it.

 
So, we see things and think, “Oh, this will help me serve God better or help this person better or it will help me know more.” So we choose to buy the vacuum and give it back to God like some great gift. Actually, what I’ve really done is bowed down before my self and taken Him off the throne. My doting, my desire just became an idol and I started worshipping it and took God off the pedestal. It’s the same thing that happened with Cain and King Saul. It’s not just a problem for women.

 
I’m not free to decide how I want to worship. God says, “This is what pleases Me. This is where a relationship with Me and in Me is found.” Do I worship Him as He says or do I listen to my voice or the voice of another instead? It’s not just about worshipping the Right One but about worshipping the Right Way. The object and the method matter.
That makes me wonder, if this word for worship, shachah, means “to bow down, to prostrate oneself,” why I don’t do that more? If that’s how You tell me I should worship You, maybe that’s how I ought to start. Maybe if I were on my knees more or on my face more before You, I wouldn’t start looking at things the wrong way because I’d be seeing You from and in the right perspective. Maybe I’ve already been guilty of doting and idolatry by simply not bowing down before You in the first place.

 
In Deuteronomy You remind us, “You shall not bow yourself to them nor serve them, for I, Jehovah your God, am a jealous God.” What would turn my heart to do this? Pride? Arrogance? And then, what and whom do I labor after? Who am I really serving? Is my work dedicated to You? Then it’s worship. If it’s not, it’s dedicated to serving false gods. Work and worship go hand in hand. And worship isn’t doting. Worship is knowing and living life fully in that knowing by following through with doing that flows from that knowing.

 
The truth is that it is for our own good that we shall have no other gods beside You. It’s in our best interest to have You as our “exclusive sovereign.” God doesn’t just want what’s good for us. He wants the best for us. I can respond like Eve, or Aholah, or Aholibah, or Cain, or King Saul, and I have, and settle for what seems good instead. I can think that I know what’s better for me than God. But the truth is that without God, I am infirm, incapacitated, and dependent. To ignore God’s best, is to do so at my peril.

 
But the good news is that God can bring the best to pass in my life. It’s His divine purpose for each of us. It might not seem like the best at the time, but it is. It’s what will best equip me for “serving and worshipping Him.” If I want the best, I will choose to reject the forbidden fruit. I’ll run and cling to the One who wants the best for me and is able to give me the best. And if and when my eyes are diverted, I can throw away my pride and arrogance and fall down at His feet like I should have in the first place and get back to worship, true worship. I don’t have to keep my eyes on the lie. I can get them back on the truth. I can stop doting and return to worship.

 
I need to stop forgetting that You are the one who said, “I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:2) You were my God before I was ever Yours. Well, I mean, You were the One who claimed me before I ever even knew I needed You. You chose me. You drew me to You. You adopted me. You are my God. Mine. And I am Yours.

 
Because You are my God, I can live through anything because I know I can trust You and You will be forever constant. I can live through anything because I know that You will fully protect me and bless me. That doesn’t mean bad stuff won’t happen. It means You’ll always be there and give me the best of You. You’ll always stand with me and for me. You are my God. I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t even have to be in control because You are and You do it better than me. You are for me. You said it and You mean it and You just are. So, maybe it’s time I started desiring the fruit of You more than anything else. Maybe it’s time that You became better than life itself to me. Maybe it’s time that I fell in love with Your authority because it means falling in love with You, the God who loved me first. I need You, God. But You already knew that. After all, that’s why You declared, “I am the Lord your God.”

 
Satan is such a twister. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5) Why is it so important for us to know and experience everything for ourselves? Why would I want to experience shame and hardship? Why can’t I just trust? Why do I think it’s more important to know what God knows than to know God? Why is it more important to experience what God experiences than to experience God Himself? How could I ever think to experience all that God knows when He is my creator and I am a mere creation? Why isn’t it sufficient to revel in Him? Did you ever come to the conclusion that being god is just too weighty? I have. I’m so sorry that door was ever opened.

 
Here’s what’s real. “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” (Song of Solomon 7:10) Who can explain the intensity of God’s love for us? Not me. But that’s the kind of love I want to be wrapped in and that’s the kind of love I want to return. Which somehow brings me to the hymn, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
 Holy wisdom, love most bright;
 Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
  Soar to uncreated light.
 Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
 With the fire of life impassioned,
 Striving still to truth unknown,
 Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
 Hark, what peaceful music rings;
 Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
 Drink of joy from deathless springs.
 Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
 Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
 Thou dost ever lead Thine own  
In the love of joys unknown.

 

 

Maybe this is where my eyes ought to be, trusting in Your knowledge and not striving for my own. Maybe it would be good to spend more time bowing before You in worship then trying to be all I can be. Maybe then that would open the door for me allowing You to be all that You are. Maybe then You would truly be God, the joy of my desiring.

The Right Frame of Thinking

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Photo credit from Alaska Fish & Wildlife News (2003)

“Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is in the midst of them, and they know not the LORD.” (Hosea 5:4)

It’s not that I’m choosing things to depress here. I suppose I could choose all the flowery, happy feeling verses in Scripture and just share those. But if I were running toward the edge of an unforeseen cliff that would lead to my downfall or death, I’d certainly appreciate someone warning me and persuading me to turn from my desired path. Running off the edge to my death wouldn’t bring much happiness to me or my family. Turning and living out my days wisely and wonderfully would be a joyful thing. And maybe that’s what Hosea and God are trying to tell us. Maybe they are not trying to depress us but to call us back to a life of wonderful living in the One who created life to be lived to the fullest in Him.

Israel and Judah were running toward the edge of the cliff like lemmings. God was warning. You wanted them to live, not die. You wanted them to succeed, not fail. You wanted them to be victors, not defeated. The promise of Your Messiah was all about that. The promise of Your Messiah, trusting in You and Your provision, was all about Your people having life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, provision instead of want, relationship instead of duty. Jesus shared Your heart (which is His!) when He told us, “The thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s not just a little more abundantly. That’s actually super abundantly, excessively, over and above and beyond measure!

But instead, like Israel did, we revolt against that. We hide from You. We go after other ideas and things that can’t supply like that, things that have no real power. We take these powerless things and we give them power over our lives. We sell out to them. We hand over our lives and our thoughts and our families and our desires to things that steal from us, kill us, and destroy us and those around us.

Think I’m crazy? Think about it. A father kills his daughter. Why? Because she chooses a different religious belief. He sends his children off wearing bombs to kill others and be killed in the process. He still isn’t guaranteed paradise. They live to die, but is that really living?  Do they have abundant life? Do they receive joy in this? Or are they being robbed due to lies? They are being killed and destroyed all day. Their hearts are being made callous. Their ears being made deaf. They think they know God, but Allah is nothing like God. They don’t know, and they frame their doings after this thief instead of after a God who wants to love them superabundantly. They follow another spirit who kills and destroys, who is killing and destroying their own and using them to do it.

But what about us? What about the ordinary John Doe or Jane Smith out there? What about those of us who know about You and about what You care about and yet we toss it back in Your face. “I can do what I want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” You know, that doesn’t really work. Even this pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar came to that conclusion. Listen to his words, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”(Daniel 4:37) And that’s the heart of our problem then and now. Pride.

Hosea tells us that Israel’s pride testified to his face. Pride closes eyes. Pride seals the ears. Pride changes the heart. Pride leads one to kill their daughter or their sons, not love. Well, what about Abraham, some might ask? Abraham didn’t want to kill his son. When Abraham lifted the knife, he was believing that His God, the True God, would make good His promise that through his seed, which was Isaac, He would make a nation. God can’t make a nation through a dead person. He has to be living. Abraham was trusting in a God of life NOW, not just later! He was thinking, “I must obey God because only in God is there life.” Abraham threw his pride out the door. His pride was in God and trusting in him. Now that’s faith! How many others would say, “No, God, that’s not a good idea. I think we need to do something else?” Well, that’s pride to think we know better.

Pride causes us to not frame our doings to Your doings God. We choose to not frame our thoughts with Your thoughts. We outweigh You which is such a ludicrous thought because the fullness of Your glory would just crush us; the weight of Your glory is unbearable. Let’s take this home a little closer to life.

I was reading a verse in Revelation this morning, Revelation 2:10 which says, “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” What does it mean to have tribulation ten days? I’ve read some commentators that talk about 10 periods of persecution. I don’t doubt that, but what if You are telling us that we as believers can expect persecution? And what if we are to expect that persecution to last for some definite period of our life? After all, all 12 of the apostles were persecuted, 11 unto death, and one was sent into isolation. Each of them was persecuted for a set time and maybe that set time is like ten days in comparison with the superabundant complete life that You have planned for each of them and for us. How else could Paul honestly say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? The reality is that there is life in You even in the midst of persecution on this earth. We don’t have to wait to live till we die. We just continue living more fully after we die. To live is Christ, and to die is even more of Christ.

What happens when life throws all kinds of hard things at us? Do I handle it my own way? Do I try to manipulate my way through? Do I try to manipulate other people? Do I think that I shouldn’t have to go through this? Do I think that things are too hard for me or this just shouldn’t be happening to me or to those around me? Because of those thoughts, do I frame my own response and design my own actions based on my thoughts and feelings? Or do I trash my pride and frame my response and my thoughts according to Your thoughts and Your feelings and Your promises? Does that even really matter?

Do I think that only atheists and those following Islam are rebels? What about me when I won’t frame my doings after Yours? What about me when life is tough? Or when life is not tough? Who is my life framed after, me or You? Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” What does that mean? It means to be about what the Father is about. It’s not just about what He does, it’s about who He is and what He thinks and how He feels. Jesus’s frame of mind and life was based on the Father’s frame of mind and life. And that is what we are called to whether we come from an atheistic background, or an Islamic background, from Buddhist, or Christian, or Agnostic, or Postmodernism, or whatever. This is what we are invited into.

What difference could this frame of belief make in my life? Let me share two stories. Nik Ripken is a missionary from Tennessee that’s lived and loved in some really dangerous countries. While ministering and living in a neighboring country from Somallia, his son died of an asthma attack. The believers their surrounded Nik and his wife and family with prayer and provision and even came over and sang them to sleep every night before the funeral. Nik had called an office to share what happened with a friend who was a co-worker. The co-worker was not a believer. When the co-worker heard the news there was no answer. Nik thought it strange but figured he had been called away from the phone.

What really happened was that his co-worker started walking that instant from Somalia, across the border to where Nik was. Five days later the co-worker shows up bedraggled and smelly at his door with these words, “I came to bury our son.” At the funeral, he unculturally sat between Nik and his wife, all the while watching the response and listening to the words of all the believers around him. This muslim man, took hold of Nik’s hand and his wife’s hand. He sorrowed with them. But through this and the way the believers here framed their doings in the midst of tragedy, he came to see the life that Christ had for him. He saw the LORD. He came to know the LORD. And when he returned to his country, in the office with his fellow-workers where Nik had not shared for fear of death, this man shared the life that he had seen offered before him that day in the midst of a funeral.  Do you know what those other muslim workers asked, “If you knew this, Nik, why didn’t you tell us?” This is what it looks like when we frame our thoughts and our life after the One who is LIFE. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6) And Jesus does not lie.

My second story is about a friend I love. It could be about any of us. It’s a story about any of us who go down the road of not liking our hardships and just wanting to get out of them. It’s the story about focusing on my own feelings instead of God’s glory. It’s a story about giving up instead of running the race to the end. Paul warned, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) Later in the letter to Timothy, Paul shared of his own journey, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7) But this isn’t the story of hardship and a life lived fully I wanted to share. Paul’s story is Nik’s story if he continues in the faith. Paul’s story is the story of those believers in Nik’s life who kept their lives framed on Christ even to the last moment that it was taken from them to the point the what was once over 200 believers in Somalia became only 4 living believers remaining. Let us heed Paul’s warning.

If I don’t heed Paul’s warning, when life gets rough and my temporary hardships (temporary compared to eternity) become what frames my thinking and life, I quit. I quit on God. I quit on myself. I quit on my family. I go off the grid. I take care of things my own way. I abandon and rebel against Your frame of thinking and doing. I do it on my own, in my own strength, which I’ve probably just cried out to You saying, “Lord, this is too much for me! I can’t do it!” And then of all the stupid things, after saying it’s too much for me and I can’t do this, I take matters into MY OWN hands. Yes, I’ve been there and done that. And my friend has been there and done that. Only I reframed my thinking and got it back to Yours and my friend didn’t. My friend left the support of loved ones because Pride said, “You are a burden to others.” When he died or maybe took his life, there was no one there to pray with him, to hold him. The light that should have shone to encourage others, has become a discouragement. And yet, I believe that God can use my dear brother’s lonely story to save someone else from the cliff of a wrong frame of mind focused on self and suffering instead of on Him.

Here’s the truth that would have framed my brother’s thinking differently, or at least some of the truth (there is so much truth, how could I ever share it all!). “I am a burden to my brothers and sisters.” What a lie! Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:16 that God’s heart that should be in us is to “not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Why is that pleasing to God? Why is that God’s mind frame? Because He does not neglect to do good for us and to share what He has with us, so it is a blessing for us to do the same. For me to share that blessing with a brother in need is for me to demonstrate that I have the mind of Christ by having the same heart and demonstrating it by my life actions. Brother, why didn’t You give me and others that blessing to love on You like our Lord wanted to?

We are all in need, sometimes in our life more than at other times. And some of us are in greater need than others. Those of us in Christ have had our greatest needs met, and because of that, when we are in a state of having goods and opportunities and see a brother in need, we are to reach out and share our goods and opportunities and love with him. Why? Because that is how God demonstrated his love for us. When Scripture says that “God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” it’s not just saying because we were rebels against God. It’s saying while we were empty, lost, filthy, and in need, and without even realizing how much so, He opened His heart toward us and invited us in. That is love. That is what we are called to. That is what we are invited into.

Why did the Israelites and my friend lose their right frame of reference? Why do I lose mine sometimes? Paul answers that in part. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We focus too much on ourselves. We forget how our life effects those around us. We forget how our life effects the glory of God before others. We focus too much on our own interests and too little on Yours God, or on the lives of those around us. Self-pity is a form of pride and pride just leads to destruction. Thank You that Jesus didn’t surrender to self-pity and pride. Thank You that Jesus, though so agonized over going to the cross that He sweated blood, loved You and loved us more so that in Your interest and ours He gave His life and said, “Not my will, but Yours.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the proper and improper frame of thinking. It starts now, in this life, and not in heaven. Truth is, if we don’t think like God now, we won’t start to think like Him in the afterlife. It’s now or never. How do we handle caring for others now? Am I only thinking of my own hunger or do I notice others around me and care about feeding them? Am I only thinking about my own thirst or do I notice the thirsty around me and give them drink? Am I too worried about my loneliness or do I use it to help me see other strangers and lonely people and welcome them in. When I feel shamed and naked, do I see those around me being shamed and stripped and offer them clothing? When I am sick and hurting do I see those who are sick and hurting around me and lift them up and encourage them? When I feel imprisoned, do I notice the other prisoners and go to them?

Because if I have been delivered from any of these, then I know my Deliverer and I ought to be sharing the deliverance He gave me. And if I am in the midst of any of these trials, I need to be trusting in my Deliverer, even if it means trusting unto death. Look, I know it’s not easy, but the reward is ALL GAIN. Anything else, anything less is shear loss.
My brother may have surrendered his right to finish the race well. He finished. Maybe last. But he lost. He lost fellowship. He lost encouragement. He lost helping others. He lost meeting new brothers and sisters. He lost lots of life here and now. Not because he had to, but because he chose to frame his thoughts after his own thinking and not Yours.

He’s not alone. It’s a struggle many of us will go through or are going through right now. Multiple Sclerosis becomes so painful and constant and hard. You have to constantly focus rightly or it will guide your thinking. Constant back pain could do the same. Troubles from bullying or persecution from those who ought to be your friends. Problems with your children or problems with your parents or problems in your church or financial problems or other health issues like cancer or the loss of a loved one whether naturally or taken through violence are real. But how will we respond?

Hear this. Give ear. Don’t let it be a snare. Don’t let your own thinking and your own feelings be a snare. I know, I’ve been there. It’s not just about Israel or Judah or other nations. It’s about every man. We all have the tendency to be revolters. We all have a tendency to run like Adam and Eve from the Truth. We all have a tendency to frame our own doings and not turn to You, God. We all have a tendency to think we know You when we really don’t, because we won’t even agree with You.

Well, today is the day to choose to agree. Today is the day that I can hear the warning and avoid the cliff’s edge that leads to my destruction. Today is the day that I can choose to frame my thinking to Yours. But the choice is mine. What will I choose? Life or death? I can choose like Joshua did, to share the light of Life in my house and to my house and to all that are influenced by my house. What about you? Will you choose Light and Life no matter what or how you feel? Will your life somehow shine like Nik’s story? Or will you only choose Light and Life “if…” and leave your friends and loved ones feeling robbed and wishing you would have known the truth about how much you were loved? Are you even running the race yet? Jesus is inviting You because You can only finish well in Him. If You want Life, come to Jesus, because He is LIFE. Run in Him because He ran for you and He runs with us, that’s how we can cross the finish line no matter what. Frame your doings in Him and turn to Him who gives life super-abundantly.

Side note: Lemmings do not run off cliffs in mass suicide!  It was a Disney mis-truth made for a documentary.  Sometimes they migrate to where there is more food, and masses may dive into the water, but they can swim.  Sometimes they drown if they get too bogged with water.  You can check out the story under “Lemming Suicide Myth Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior by Riley Woodford” and other places on the internet.  So, I don’t want to promote an urban myth now that I know it is one, but we’ll use that imagery for today.

Loving the Gomer

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“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.” Hosea 2:16

 
I so wish that I had a strong knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. Why? Because there is so much I don’t want to be taking for granted and just passing over in Your word, Lord. I mean, if I read Hosea’s words and just read them as words and names and go on, I’ll miss so much. But if I take the time to search out what the words and names really mean and the magnitude of what You are saying through them, then these words impact my life so greatly. It’s not just a story. It’s not just Hosea and Gomer’s story. It’s not just Israel and Judah’s story. This is a living and continuing story. This is my story. And what I get from it can effect the outcome of my story and the next person’s story. And it’s not just any kind of story either. It’s a living love story.  And ultimately it’s God’s story, Your story.

 
You start out with two of Hosea’s children, the ones named Loammi and Loruhamah, the one who was not your people and the one who would have no more mercy. You took these pictures of what was going on with Your people who should have been living like Your people and enjoying the blessings of that relationship and instead were receiving the consequences of their choice to abandon You and You showed what it looked like. I mean, here is Gomer, having relations with other men who don’t care as much as Hosea does about her. And these two children may even be by these other relationships. Yet Hosea remains faithful. Why? Because it’s a picture of You and how You God, remain ever faithful to Your bride.

 
But therefore, that also means that this Gomer is a picture of the bride. And who is the bride? The people of God. And who are the people of God, only Israel and Judah? No. The people of God are all those believers who not only believe with their heads but believe with their lives. They are the ones who once acted on their own, like they were not Your people, but now they are fully Yours.

 
And how do You treat them? I mean, after the way they treated You? After all that unfaithfulness? You call them Ammi and Ruhamah, Yours and Beloved! And that’s how we are to look at each other also. But the intensity of the love doesn’t stop there. Look at how God treats Gomer. Look at what the problem was in Gomer’s heart.

 
Hosea says, “Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband…” Really? Gomer wasn’t Hosea’s wife? Yes, she was. But she was not living as though she was. She was not thinking as though she was. Instead of running to the arms that provided for her, she ran to other arms. And as she ran to the other arms, she saw them as caring for her. She thought they were better than Hosea. She chose not to be Hosea’s girl. She chose to not receive Hosea’s goodness. She was that deceived.

 
Here’s the thing. Gomer is like us when we think things are better outside of God’s care. We attest all our blessings to some other cause when God is really the cause. And then it takes losing it all before we ever get our focus right and see that it was You all along. It takes losing everything before we see how faithful You have been when we were not, how righteous, and loving, and merciful You have been through it all and despite it all. And after all that shameful behavior, You would still redeem us back to Yourself and make us Your own glorious people, Your beautiful bride, and then we will not only be Yours but we will understand what it is for You to be our God.

 
And that brings us to verse 16. “And it shall be at that day, says the Lord, that you shall call me Ishi; and shall call me no more Baali.” Now, because I’m not a Hebrew scholar, I’m just wondering if this form of Ish is a really personal form, like when I change Dad to Daddy. I ask, because it just tells something deeper about the relationship. That maybe, at one point, that false god Baal was looked at as “daddy.” That Baal was the one who ruled her world. And it seems that Baal rules the world by force so we might as well get what we can how we can because who knows if we’ll get what we want. And that’s the thing. Like Gomer, we can treat You God, like Baal. We can treat You as though You rule the world by force. Then that influences every part of our thinking and our acting.

 
How does it influence my thinking and acting if I believe that God rules the world by force? I follow suit and rule my world by force. Husbands rule wives by force. Parents rule children by force. Nations rule people by force. Religion rules by force. Power determines relationship. But that’s not God’s picture. That’s not the picture You painted through Hosea and Gomer. The picture You paint is that love rules relationships. Mutual loyalty rules relationships.

 
That ish thing is so important because it takes us back to the first man and woman and Your original intent. Adam rejoiced in Eve because she was part of him, not because she was less then him. It wasn’t good for man to be alone, to be cut off from the tree. Eve is part of Adam. Together they were mankind. Adam without Eve was incomplete. Mankind would not continue. They were created for mutual love, mutual loyalty, mutual care, mutual respect, and mutual reflection of Your attitude, God.

 
Force did not come until after the fall and it was a byproduct of the fall, a result of sin. Our purpose is still to reflect God’s glory and we can only reflect God’s glory by relating in love. God is not just some ultimate power. He is “the ultimate person, the Other in whom I find myself.” (Jonathan Sacks) In other words, You are not a moral policeman. That’s a pagan idea. I mean, if I look at the evidence and I see how Jesus, Your Messiah “deliberately changes the perceived hierarchy of master-slave to teacher-friend (John 15:15)” (Skip Moen) that throws that idea out the door. I can see how Jesus treated women and Samaritans and Romans and see that power play go out the door. The more I read, the more I listen, the more I see, it’s about joy in the presence of another.

 
God’s relationship with us is based on this joy just as much as our marriage should be based on this kind of mutual joy. I find my joy in the other person because I find God’s joy in them and in me. See, I am who I am because of who she or he is, just as I am who I am because of who You are God. My marriage relationship reflects my relationship with You.
It wasn’t like You forced Adam to name Eve. Adam was so overjoyed, so excited, so exuberant that he took his name, Ish, and voluntarily changed it to give it to Eve as Ishshah. Paul got it. That’s why he reminded husbands and wives, “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21) Mutual submission and loyalty and love and enjoyment isn’t a bad thing. It’s rejoicing in each other and rejoicing in what You, God, have done together.

 
The truth is that God wanted to rejoice in Gomer and Jezreel and Loammi and Loruhamah. But sometimes He has to take us to a place where we can learn the reality of His feelings for us so that we can return them in the same joy that He gives them. I mean, what if You had just cut them off? But You didn’t. You were long-suffering. You kept calling and waiting and loving and placing situations in their lives.

 
I think of a friend of mine who is missing. I think of how he has lost sight of how much the people around him love him. I think he lost sight of the fact that You were still acting for his benefit even in the tough, the really tough and heart wrenching things going on in his life. And I think how I want to put letters and notes all over the world for him just to let him know how much he is loved so he will come back. But I don’t even know where to look. But You, on the other hand, know just where to place Your love notes. And You go to the uttermost extreme. As though it wasn’t enough when Christ paid the price on the cross for each and every one of us, You put situations in our lives and people in our lives to help our blinded eyes see. You are always loving us more than ever we could deserve.

 
If I weep over my friend being lost and somewhere where I can’t demonstrate my joy in him, then think of how much more our Heavenly Father must feel for us when we wander or when we don’t even get it. Lord, I was Gomer and You were ever faithful. I don’t want to be a Gomer again. But what I do want, is for You to give me a heart for all the Gomers out there. And I pray that You would help me to help the Gomers and the Loammis and the Loruhamas know the joy You really feel for them. And I pray that Your joy over us would so infect our lives and attitudes that we would be filled with that same joy for You and Your ways. Thank You for Hosea and Gomer and all their kids. Thank You for Israel and Judah. Thank You for being a God who reigns by love relationship and by the joy of Your being and presence. Thank You for inviting us into You and into Your joy.

Finding Joy Despite the Locusts

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Photo credit to http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/madagascar-locust-crisis-in-pictures-9456788.html

“…so that joy has withered and fled away from the sons of men.” Joel 1:12

Here’s a little background. Joel was the son of Pethuel. That’s it as far as Joel’s background goes. Other than knowing about the time period he lived, that’s all we know about him. Oh, and that his name meant “Jehovah is his God” and that his father’s name meant “enlarged of God” or “the sincerity of God, “ or “godly simplicity.” So maybe who one is isn’t as important as who God calls you to be? Maybe our identity ought to be wrapped up in who You have created us to be and not who the world wants us to be or maybe even who we want to be. And maybe that means that anyone has just as good a chance at being used of You, Lord, as the next guy, whether we are big or little, important or insignificant in the eyes of others.

Well, actually there is more background to what was going on in Joel here. Here’s an unprecedented event that Joel is warning is about to occur. Here is coming this invasion so big that no one has seen one like it ever before. It will be something that should be remembered among the generations. And who is the invading army? Locusts.  Really? Locusts? Yep, and not just one type. Four kinds of invading locusts. There’s the multitudinous one. The palmerworm is a gnawer or biter. The canker-worm is the licker, or one who licks off. Then there’s the caterpillar who is the devourer and cuts off. As if one wasn’t enough, what the first doesn’t finish off, each successive locust will destroy. But why?

Because the people of Israel had lost their focus. Why does that keep coming up over and over again? Maybe because it is really easy to lose our focus on God. Maybe good times are easy times to forget Who brought us there. And maybe hard times are easy times to fight against our being there. Either way, we lose our focus. I suppose in the good times it’s a lot easier to just stop feeling like we have to be careful or alert or pay attention, but that’s the danger.

Danger hit those who were enjoying the juice of the grape too much. They were probably enjoying everything too much and getting caught up in that instead of being caught up in You, Lord. They needed a wake up call and nothing else would work. Sometimes I need a wake up call. I pray I don’t need one like that!

But the overdoers and the enjoyers of life weren’t the only ones being warned. The priests and the ministers are being warned too. Maybe Joel is helping us to see that we all stand on even ground whether we are “commoners” or “religious” people. We can all get our focus wrong if it’s not focussed on You. And when that happens, everyone around us suffers. It doesn’t just effect us alone.

When these locusts come in and destroy everything, that means that what used to bring joy will be gone. Hey, no more grapes? Doesn’t that mean no more wine? And no more wine means no more happy hour! And on a more serious side, no fruit of the field means no wave offering. Starving animals also means no burnt offering. There won’t be any meal or cereal offerings or drink offerings. All those things that the priests and ministers in the house of the Lord did toward our atonement, well, it all just went out the door. There went everyone’s hope of being made right. This was serious stuff. And if you know you can’t be made right with God, well there goes joy right out the door!

But God, You don’t let Joel leave us without hope! Even though tragedy is all around and the beasts groan and the cattle are perplexed, Joel tells us we can still call on You. Where is the answer? It’s in true repentance. It’s deeper than sackcloth. It’s accompanied with deep sorrow over sin. It’s when we give up everything to be right again; we would even fast. We would confess the state of our heart and sin before others and cry out together.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the products and fruit that God gives when He is supposed to be our joy. That’s why joy “has ceased or been taken away.” I need to check my heart that the products and fruits are not my joy as they were for the sons of men. I need to make sure that You alone are my joy. Self-examination, if continuous, keeps the locusts away. Self-examination ought to bring forth repentance and lamentation. Both turning from our wrong actions and ideas, and sorrow over them and the way they affect our relationship with You are both “outward signs of inward grace.” The sackcloth was just an outward symbol. In itself, it is not enough.

I could put on sackcloth just as easily as say I’m sorry and keep on acting the same way. But fasting and truly bearing my heart, take that to a new level. Well, I could fast and put on a facade. I could fake anything. But I can’t fool God and I don’t think I ever really fool myself either. But fasting can be a time of entreating the Lord, or changing our heart, of remembering and affirming that You are our Reason for everything. It’s an opportunity to humble ourselves before You, to prostrate ourselves as we should have been all along.
The locusts came and devoured everything off the trees so badly that Thomson wrote “their branches ‘made white’ in melancholy nakedness to the burning sun.” God always has a way of exposing our nakedness in a way that we can see. And in that, He shows us what it is to be naked without Him. And it’s no better now than it was when Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness. Life outside of Divine worship is empty and futile. Life outside of the Divine Presence is not life. Rotten seeds point to a rotten future. But a forgiving and holy and life giving God points to hope and so much more.

Here’s the problem. We sometimes act like the herds. We go around confused and wander up and down. They don’t know where to go for drink or pasture. But God has always told us where to go. He was telling the people through Joel’s mouth where they should go. He’s telling us. And You tell us all that we can find living water and the bread of life in Your Son, Jesus. The question is, will I wake up and run to Him? Will I run to You and be alert and surrendered to You? What will I find my joy in? Actually, Who will I find my joy in? I want to find my joy in the Lord all the days of my life, straight through eternity!

Small Things

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“For who has despised the day of small things?…” Zechariah 4:10

It’s so easy to overlook “small things.”  It’s so easy to look down upon something that just doesn’t seem to meet our expectations.  It’s so easy to think that something is less than what it is.  It’s so easy to find myself not truly appreciating what You are doing or what You have done because it isn’t meeting MY standards.  That’s so wrong of me.  I’m so sorry.

Here, in Scripture, something spectacular was happening.  In the midst of being exiles from their own land, having been taken over and under Darius’ authority, they were being blessed with the opportunity to rebuild the temple.  It had started during Cyrus’ reign and now Darius was continuing with their support. 

As I look back at this event in history, I could consider it a small thing.  After all, Darius was that kind of king who would solidify the “unity” of his vast domain by allowing the peoples to rebuild their religious centers.  He was doing the same for Egypt.  But the thing here is that Egypt’s god is not real.  Israel’s God is real.  The temple was being rebuilt for a reason by God, not just people.  Truly, Egypt’s religion was being rebuilt for their gods.  This temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt by God for the people.  Yes, it was God’s temple, but You didn’t need a temple to live in.  Your people needed a place to be reminded of meeting with You again.  Your people needed an encouragement and a reminder about the necessity of meeting with You, of coming before You, of spending intimate time with You, of looking to You and seeking You, and more.  This was a big thing. 

Daniel had lived through being taken captive from Israel into Babylon. Not only that, he had lived through the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, Labashi-Marduk, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius I, and Cyrus.  He had a long time to pray for God’s prophecy to be fulfilled in the rebuilding of the temple.  Daniel trusted the word of God and was rewarded for that trust.  And here that trust continues even beyond his days.  This is no small thing.  What You say You will do, Lord, You will do and You are doing.  Daniel could count on what would happen at the end of those 70 years of captivity because You promised.   Your promises are no small things.  I can count on Your promises in a big way also.

So now, here is Darius, continuing with what Cyrus has begun, unknowingly following God’s plan.  And the amazing “small thing” here is that You, Lord, already know the response of Your people before the temple is even finished being built!   You already know that some are going to look down on this temple because it’s smaller and less glorious than the memory of Solomon’s temple.  We have the evidence of that response in Ezra 3:12-13, “But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.”  The weeping was so great and so loud that you couldn’t distinguish it from the joyful shouting.  That’s something!

Were they missing the big thing You were doing in a small thing?  “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now?  Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord; ‘work, for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt.  My Spirit abides among you; fear not.’ For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in [or, “the one desired by all nations,” referring to the Messiah], and I will fill this house with splendor,’ says the Lord of hosts.  ‘The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,’ says the Lord of hosts.  ‘The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts; ‘and in this place I will give prosperity,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:2-9)  This smaller temple was no small thing.  This smaller temple was a sign of bigger things even more glorious than Solomon’s temple.  This smaller temple was a reminder of bigger and better things to come.

I mean, let’s face it.  Who was Zerubbabel?  He was just a man, a priest under captivity in Babylon.  What power did he have?  Yet You call this “small thing” of a man to make Yourself known.  “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  It’s not by Zerubbabel’s might or power or finesse or personality.  It’s by the fact that You choose to use “small things” to show the bigness of You.  You use the foolish to confound the wise.  You take Zerubbabel in the midst of captivity to show Your people Israel and the world a picture of what You are planning for our future and doing in the meantime. 

Your plans are unstoppable.  Every thing is a small thing compared to Your plans.  There is no mountain that can stand in Your way.  “Hey, Zerubbabel, is their a mountain in your way?  I shall flatten it into a plain so that You will see my promises come true.  And You will see the Rock that is the foundation arise.  You’ll see and hear nothing but grace.  Zerubbabel, I have One planned whose place you are standing in.  He’s laid this foundation that my “temple” is built upon.  He’s begun it and He will finish it.  He’s the High Priest forever.  You’re standing in for Him temporarily as a picture of Him.  You are going to see that this is all of the Lord.  My Messiah is coming to finish the job and wait until You see the glory of the completed idea here.  Who will need candles when He lights the whole temple with His beauty?  Just wait until all the peoples who have responded from each nation come to spend time in His presence.  Look at the right picture.  This is the beginning.  This is a BIG THING beginning to happen.  This is bigger than You, Zerubbabel, and bigger than my beloved Israel.  If You are going to cry, cry because of the joy of what is happening and what is to come.  It’s not so little like You see.  Look at it the way I see it.  Look at it beyond yourselves and in Me.  This is the day of great things, of things of awesome measures being shown and shared with You.”  So, that’s not in Scripture, that’s just my paraphrase of what’s going on. 

I need that paraphrase.  I need this historical story.  I need this truth.  Because I get caught up in seeing the littleness of things and being discouraged.  But You use these small things in my life also for Your bigger and greater purposes.  Just like Zerubbabel wasn’t the focus, because he wasn’t the one who would be high priest forever, I’m not the focus either.  Zerubbabel was part of that present day encouragement of the people of God and part of the bigger picture of encouragement for all people of all times.  He wasn’t the answer.  Neither am I.  But You can use me as part of the encouragement along the way.  Though Zerubbabel was to be part of the permanent heritage of Israel, it was through his lineage to the Messiah.  His blood line was passed down through Mary to Jesus.  So Jesus is being referred to as Zerubbabel.  But what a big thing for a small thing like one of us to be used as a picture of Christ!  And here You were, Zerubbabel, painting the future picture for us in your present of a future re-unification of King and Priest in Israel in the Christ.  That Branch we saw the other day, our Messiah, would be the King and Priest pulling all this together so that one day for always we who are His people would get to enter into His presence fully in His completed temple in all it’s perfection.

That’s the same thing I’m called to look forward to today and tomorrow and the next day.  What small thing are You inviting me to be a part of that is another beginning, another link in Your greater plan?  Oh, help me not to despise these days of small things.  Help me to even be awed by every small thing in my life.  How can I be an appropriate picture of You in everything I do?  How can I be an encouragement in the most menial thing?  What are the mountains around me compared to Your desires?  I want to rejoice and see Your hand in everything, Lord.  So, straighten my vision and help me to see Your truth Your way.  Help me to rejoice in the day of small things, no matter how many days of small things there are and no matter how many small things.  Continually remind me that Your greatness begins in rejoicing in the small things like little mustard seeds and a baby of “no account” origins born in some insignificant manger.  Don’t ever let me forget.  Don’t ever let me despise the day of small things.

Lola Patsy’s Laundry

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Photo credit to meetourclan.com

“…yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”  Habakuk 3:18

No one knows a lot about Habakuk.  He was alive and prophesying around the same time as Jeremiah in the end of the 7th century BC.  Israel had fallen because they had forsaken You, God, and Judah wasn’t far behind.  First, Habakuk was upset and complaining because Judah wasn’t listening and wasn’t repenting.  Then You told of how You were going to have the Chaldeans (Babylonians) bring terrible judgment on Judah.  So Habakuk had another question.  Why would You have someone even worse than Judah pass judgment on Judah?  Your answer?  That afterward, the Babylonians would face their own judgment from You.  And when Your people returned to You again, they would be restored. 

Habakuk wasn’t living in happy times, to say the least.  The book begins with Habakuk crying out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear?  Or cry to You ‘Violence!’ and You will not save?”  And it doesn’t stop there.  “Why do You make me watch such terrible injustice?  Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere?”  Is that how Habakuk really felt?  In all honesty, do I sometimes feel that way?  Is it OK to call out to You about it? 

What was Your answer, God?  “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.  For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”  That sounds great, doesn’t it?  It could be.  Maybe it depends on where I look and how I look.  Even today, depending on where we are or how we look we can see wonders that You are doing and be astounded, things we wouldn’t believe.  But in the midst of it, everything doesn’t look beautiful.  There are children being killed, people being beheaded or burned alive,  villages being slaughtered, immorality rising, a lack of respect for human life growing, families breaking, hearts hurting, people being misguided, loneliness, and depression.  But You tell us “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded, for I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”

Are You really doing a work through that “bitter and hasty nation” of the Chaldeans?  Did You really do a work through their violence and the captives they gathered?  Did You use “guilty men, whose own might is their god?”  Let’s think about this with Habakuk.  “So why do You tolerate the treacherous? And why do You stay silent while the wicked devour those who are more righteous than they are?”  Why do You today?

Habakuk and I can look at all the wickedness and all the foolishness that goes on and we can keep looking at it.  Or we can choose to look at the Lord and see You in Your holy Temple.  I can respond like Habakuk. “Lord, as I listen to what has been said about You, I am afraid.  Lord, revive Your work throughout all of our lives- reveal Yourself throughout all of our lives- when You are angry, remember compassion.”  Like Habakuk I can see and even be in the middle of all this awful stuff but I can still see You and choose to wait for You.  I love the conclusion he comes to.  These are some of my favorite truths in Scripture.  “Even though the fig tree does not blossom, and there are no grapes on the vines; even if the olive harvest fails, and the fields produce nothing edible; even if the flock is snatched from the sheepfold, and there is no herd in the stalls- as for me, I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will find my joy in the God who delivers me.  The Lord God is my strength-He will make my feet like those of a deer, equipping me to tread on my mountain heights.”  (Habakuk 3:17-19)

I suppose it’s like this.  How does my laundry get clean?  Here in the states I toss it in a washing machine that agitates it.  There’s something in the middle of the wash drum that twists back and forth in the water and soap in an attempt to knock the dirt out.  It’s not totally gentle on the clothes.  There’s a lot of rinsing and spinning that goes on too.  And I’ve learned to add fabric softener and let it soak in that.  Then there’s more rinsing and spinning.  From there I hang it to dry or put it in a dryer where it also takes a warm beating.  That’s where lint comes from, because it’s not a gentle product.  It takes all of that for my clothes to be clean.

But if I go the Philippines, or Kenya, I’ve learned that sometimes my clothes need a better cleaning.  Because that agitation in the washing machine isn’t enough to get the red dirt out of my socks in Kenya.   I have to take them off, and wash them by hand in the sink.  I have to scrub them part by part with a toothbrush.  I have to do it each day after I wear them.  And if I do, I get to see that red dirt flow down the drain and I get to hang up white socks on the line, not pink ones.

In the Philippines, I know I’m loved because Lola Patsy makes my clothes so clean.  If there is a stain, she doesn’t just drop it in the machine.  She scrubs it out by hand.  Then it goes in the machine.  From the machine it’s soaked in the fabric softener.  It’s spun out and then hung by hand.  It’s an all day process. And after it’s hung and dry, she irons it and folds it.  Then I get to wear it.  I put it on and I smell that wonderful fragrance of the fabric softener that make me happy like in the Downy commercials in the Philippines.  I wear it through even a hard and smelly day and guess what?  While I’m coming home on a Jeepney packed like a sardine in a can, I play scratch and sniff with my shirt.  I rub the material on my shoulder, and even after a long, hard day, that fabric softener aroma floats through the air to my nose and brings back that smile like when I first put it on. 

That’s what You are doing in our lives.  You design agitation in our lives so that we’re not just sweet smelling aromas at the start of the day but at the end of the day, no matter the circumstances in between, we are still giving off that sweetest of aromas that is You.  You never leave us and You never forsake us.  You are better and deeper than fabric softener.  Even the horrible, unimaginable agitations of life are for Your purpose and to remind us that our delight is in You.

We’re called to be living sacrifices.  Since when is it supposed to be easy to be a sacrifice?  But I do know one thing about sacrifices, a true sacrifice, a right sacrifice always sent up a soothing aroma, a pleasing aroma to You.  We have to go through that terrible washing machine of life for a reason.  You are making us a pleasing aroma that is acceptable unto You.  This is our opportunity to be used by You to reveal Your holiness among us, so the entire world can see (Ezekiel 20:41) and smell!  Paul tells us, “To God we are the aroma of the Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are being lost.” (2 Corinthians 2:15)  And he reminds us “Live lovingly, just as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us as an offering and sacrifice, a fragrant aroma to God.” (Ephesians 5:2)  Lord, may I be a fragrant aroma, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to You.  Lord, even if it hurts, scrub me by hand so that I am sweeter smelling at the end of the day to You and to others than Lola Patsy’s clean laundry.