Since Before Day One

Standard

“…and begin at my sanctuary.” Ezekiel 9:6

 
I want to think about what it means to begin at Your sanctuary, Lord. Isn’t the reality that everything begins with You and at You and for You and in You? John reminds us that “All things were made by [You]; and without [You] was not any thing made that was made.” Paul tells us in Colossians 1:17 that You are “before all things, and in [You] all things hold together.” Maybe I would do better in life to remember this at all times and center my life around this.

 
Now, Ezekiel is a warning of coming judgment. But it’s not just about judgment on the lost world, or those who flagrantly refuse to acknowledge God from the pagan nations. Do you know where God begins the judgement? God begins judging in His sanctuary. Judgment begins on the ones who are supposed to know Him and represent Him in the world. That means that we who call ourselves believers are first in line. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are truly ready? Maybe we should examine our lives and our beliefs and our thoughts and see if God would have His angelic workers mark our foreheads as His. But that mark doesn’t just go on everyone. His workers go out and look for those who “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed…” Is that us? Is that me?

 
I keep reading about people who call themselves believers and support abortion. But if I go into the sanctuary with You Lord, and spend time in Your word, I find that You already know the plans You have for that embryo. You call children a blessing, not a curse or a burden. You value all life.

 
I suppose, as I look at Jesus Christ and how He gave up all His Divine rights to come to earth and to walk with us and touch us and suffer and give His life as a ransom for us, I don’t quite understand the rationale that I have rights that outweigh the rights of any other life. Thank God that Jesus didn’t decide He had a right to his own body and that we didn’t deserve to live. Because He sacrificed His rights for each of us, we can be born again into God’s family, instead of being aborted into eternal death.

 
But it’s not just about abortion. It’s about choosing and clinging to any abomination or twisting of Your plan and Your way. God said they were guilty of injustice. Do you know how Noah Webster defines injustice? It’s “any violation of another’s rights.” So think about it. We want our rights so much that we go around destroying every one else’s. Do you know that can be by fraud or not keeping our word, or by not giving someone what is due? It’s even in giving people more or less then what is due. It could also be about withholding praise or giving undeserved blame.

 
Have we come to a place in our thinking where we give everyone trophies for participating instead of trophies for excelling and working hard? Have we come to a place where we force people to believe what we value and withhold their choice? Why can Islam be taught in schools but not Christianity? Why can atheism be taught? Why can’t people have the right to choose for themselves?

 
But let’s look back inside the sanctuary. How long have “believers” been forcing others into the kingdom or out according to their timing or their way? How often have “believers” been seeking their rights and allowed divorce to flourish as strongly within its folds as in the secular world? Is that because injustice reigns and we are more concerned about our own rights than God’s will being done? Do we toy with spiritual warfare, playing with what we ought to be guarding ourselves against? Well, sure, I have the right to listen to whatever music I want to, or watch whatever I want to, or try whatever I want to. I can go to haunted houses, or drink in excess, or stay at home, or hang out with my buddies if I want. That’s my right. But somewhere along the line God made it clear that living wasn’t about my rights. Living was about something and someone greater than me living in me and through me. Living was about giving up my rights for something and someone greater and for the good of all.

 
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about rights. But he says he doesn’t use his rights. Even though he doesn’t have to be a servant, he’s free to choose his behavior, he chooses to be a servant of all. He chooses to give up his rights so that others may share in the blessings of God. Because he doesn’t want to be disqualified and miss that mark on his forehead.
The point is, that we who profess to know God, we know what God desires. He’s told us in His word. We are more responsible and more culpable than those who don’t know. And others will follow our example. God is still looking to and fro over all the nations, and seeing those who wear His mark and He knows those who wear the mark of their own rights. Let’s not think that we are safe because we wear a cross around our neck or are a member of a church or temple.

 
Actually, we only have one right, the right to decide to believe or not. 1 John 2:17 sheds more light on this, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” If we call ourselves believers and choose our own will over God’s, the reality of who we are is in the taste of the pudding. Hey, if chocolate pudding is made through chocolate pudding ingredients, and I choose to use other ingredients, say vanilla pudding ingredients, my pudding isn’t going to taste like chocolate because it’s not going to be chocolate. I can’t just call myself a believer. A believer agrees with God. A believer lives out God’s will and God’s ways. Jesus showed us how. God’s word and Holy Spirit make His will and ways known.

 
You can choose to paint any picture of God you want. I could too. But the reality is that God is God not according to my picture or yours but according to who He is. He’s a God of love but in that love, He is also a God of judgment and righteousness and so much more. And it’s not because we labelled Him those things. Those things came into being because of who He was and is and always will be. In other words, we know truth or goodness or justice because they came from Him.

 
Another truth is that our God is scary and good all at the same time. He is a God who has the right to say, “Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” But don’t forget how patient he was waiting for all these old men and young men and maidens and children and women to turn back to what they were created for—life and that life in Him.

 
My warning is to be careful whose rights you cling to. Am I more concerned about Your right to be God than my own? Maybe if I were more concerned with letting You be God in every area of my life, there would be a lot more angelic beings busy marking foreheads. And maybe if all those “within the sanctuary” started living and believing like God’s will mattered most, we’d see the world being turned upside down.

 
If you don’t like hearing about people dying in judgment, let’s do something about it. Let’s be the people of God in Jesus Christ that we were created to be. Let’s clean up the sanctuary and get back to His righteousness and His love by our choice. Let’s be who we were created to be. After all, that’s been God’s desire for us since before day one.

Advertisements

On Life and Fulfillment

Standard

Photo credit to Stephen Cunningham.

 

“Then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.” Ezekiel 6:9

It’s funny how we say this is an awful way for God to feel. But I wonder if we were married and loved the one we were married to with all our hearts and they “went a-whoring” and left us for others, how we would feel? And I’m not saying that anyone should run out and destroy their unfaithful partner. That’s not my point. Isn’t the truth that they have already not only begun destroying themselves, but destroying true intimacy itself? Aren’t they bringing turmoil into their own lives and into the lives around them? Aren’t they being caught up in twisted thinking that will one day lead to their own demise?

Had God’s people ever been warned? Had they witnessed the power of the true God versus the lack of power of the gods of other nations? Had they witnessed and been supplied by the provision of the true God? Did You, God, really cause their demise? Or were You there trying to continually call them back to the safety and provision of You?

The people were playing with what they shouldn’t be playing with, nations who didn’t care about them. They were making themselves vulnerable because they were no longer alert. They were allowing themselves to lose their identity in God, who was their strength, and falling into the lie of the nations that they were great of themselves. They were worshipping at empty altars that bring emptiness and desolation.

Paul talks of desolation, this word shamem in Hebrew, also. “For it is written, ‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more are the children of the desolate than the one who has a husband.’” (Galatians 4:27) What is this about? What is today’s reading in Ezekiel about? It describes “the inner barrenness of an unfulfilled life.” (Skip Moen) Shamem is about being desolate and amazed. It can mean one or the other or it can be both at the same time. It’s like looking around at the great desolation and destruction around you and being totally appalled and overwhelmed at the same time.

The reason judgment comes is because we refuse to live fulfilled lives. We were created to be filled fully with God, to bear His image throughout this world. This is true fulfillment, what we were created to be filled with, just like Adam when God breathed into him and he became a living soul. But we choose, yes we choose, to warp that image and defile it and create our own. We choose to live unfulfilled lives in these places of desolation, and we don’t even realize how appalling it is. But God does. He never intended us to walk in the wilderness. He hadn’t intended for Israel to walk there. They chose desolation instead of the kingdom. Aren’t we doing the same? And then we have the nerve to blame our consequences on God? And all You have ever been trying to do is to turn us back to our purpose, true life fulfillment in You.

The truth is that God doesn’t leave us alone in the wilderness. He was there for Hagar. He was there for the Israelites. He is there for us today, waiting to rescue us from emptiness and unfulfillment. We think self-sufficiency is the answer but the answer is in dependency on a God who is fully able. Think about it. Joseph couldn’t rescue himself from that pit his brothers placed him in. The Israelites couldn’t find their way out of the desert. Hagar couldn’t find water to keep her and her son alive. Moses couldn’t even lead a people on his own. The truth is not one of us is sufficient on our own.

Paul understood that. He was once a very self-sufficient man. But not once he met the risen Jesus. He shares, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God…” (2 Corinthians 3:5) God enables us in Him to do and to bear His image in this world, that we may fulfill our purpose in Him.

How could a barren woman have more fulfillment than the one with a husband? How did the desolate woman find more fulfillment? Because our fulfillment doesn’t come in our husband or in our job or in our position or in our ministry. Our satisfaction and fulfillment comes from God. This world is a wilderness and we have to learn to cling to God in the midst of it because clinging to the wilderness will always leave us empty.

Are you in an overwhelming place right now that seems totally desolate? Stop fighting God. Let Him come to You in the desolate empty place and let Him fill You. Run into His arms and let His ways become Your ways. Let Him redefine Your thinking and Your living by His standards, by His love, by His grace, and by His mercy. Let Him be the spouse that He promises to be to you and let yourself be His. Let go of the emptiness. Walk away from it and walk into His arms. You don’t have to stay there. You never did. He’s been waiting with open arms every minute of every day, right there with you, only you wouldn’t acknowledge Him or give Him the time of day. But He never stopped thinking about you or reaching out to you.

We can keep fighting a losing battle and trying to find fulfillment elsewhere. But it will always leave us empty and grasping for more. Or we can stop fighting and let the One who has always loved us, the One who created us, fill us full of Himself and we can live out our purpose in life and eternity. The choice is each of ours. Only, don’t get upset if you choose the consequences of self-fulfillment. It’s not like we’ve not been warned. The blame game is a losing game. Let’s take responsibility for our choices and let’s choose life and fulfillment.

Eating His Words

Standard

“Moreover he said unto me, ‘Son of man, eat what you find; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.’” Ezekiel 3:1

 
So here is Ezekiel still listening and being instructed and being equipped by the Lord. These words being given are not just any angel’s words. These are words of truth and judgment from God. And Ezekiel isn’t just supposed to hear them. He’s to hear and do, to hear and follow through, to hear and heed, to hear and be changed. And I thought I was going to talk about that hearing in verse 10, but I can’t get past a word in this first verse. It has just stopped me in my tracks. And that’s ok, Lord, because isn’t that part of hearing and listening, that I defer from my plan and pay attention to yours? And if one little word says, “Listen to me and don’t pass me by,” shouldn’t I obey?

 
Ezekiel can’t eat Your words until he “finds” them, can he? And eating Your words is important because they are our life sustain-ers. We have to imbibe them so that they become a part of us from the inside out. They have to become our sustenance to show that You are our very Sustenance.

 
Now, if I just look at Strong’s Concordance, I think of this word “find” or “matsa” in Hebrew maybe as something I just happen upon, that maybe exists upon my way or comes forth to be. Is there much significance to me if I just happen to attain something? Is there a difference between me finding or acquiring and my taking hold on something? Maybe it would behoove me to try to understand this finding better.

 
Remember that our problem here is a rebellious, hard-hearted people who should have known and loved and obeyed their heavenly Father. But they were rejecting Him and Ezekiel was to be their messenger to give them the opportunity to turn back to God. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have all the information that they needed to already find You, God, and love and serve You. It wasn’t like Ezekiel was being sent to a lost tribe who didn’t even know about You.
Let’s go all the way back to 1 Chronicles 28:9 to try to understand this finding, this word matsa. “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” This isn’t new stuff here, but it certainly is serious stuff.
If you read and listened closely enough so that you really heard the words, you see that idea or reality of seeking God and finding Him. It’s attainable. It’s doable. But it’s not something we can do all on our own. We have to take part in that action, but You actually let Yourself be found by us!

 
Matsa’ is a word about finding. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for someone, some place, or some thing, matsa’ is that word that you use when you discover what you have been looking for. In this verse in 1 Chronicles it’s not used any differently than that. But we learn more by understanding the form of the word. The form here “tells us that the action is [a] continuous, present tense, passive event…instead of me finding God, He actually finds me—but He lets me think I’m doing the work because He wants me to be encouraged for my effort.” (Skip Moen) It’s the same thing You’re telling Ezekiel. “You eat, Ezekiel. You find My words and take them in, and then follow through on them.” But did Ezekiel make up the words? Did he find without God showing him? Absolutely not. God, You prepare the table for Ezekiel and You prepare the table for each of us.

 
So here is this table, this table of abundance, filled with more than satisfaction, and it’s all right here before us. Just like in Psalm 23, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” The problem is, we handle it wrongly. We whine, “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers.” (Isaiah 58:3) Here, the people find their desire. It’s still that word matsa. Remember how it means “to find” and also “to come upon, reach, attain”? It’s that same word as in Deuteronomy 4:29, “ But if from thence you shall seek the LORD your God, you shall find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” This kind of finding comes from seeking. But in Isaiah, they were fasting not to seek God, but to seek being noticed, or to seek the reward of the blessing. The sad thing is that we can seek the delights from God without ever seeking the delight of God Himself.

 
How can someone seek delight from You without seeking You? I can seek an emotional satisfaction from knowing I’ve done a good job. My practicing of my “religion” can give me a good feeling about myself. I can delight in that feeling. I can delight in how people view me. I can delight in my own goodness. I can delight in the monetary blessing or position of being valued and listened to. I can delight in a ministry. I can delight in my own works. I can delight in my own image or my own ideas.

 
Whether I eat from Your table or refrain from it in order to fast, my goal is not all about the table. My eyes and heart ought to be set on the One who provides the table. My goal ought to be righteousness and restitution and repentance, not feeling better about myself. My goal ought to be knowing You more and worshipping You with all I am and delighting in Who You Are and how You even arrange things in my life so that I CAN find You. It ought to be all about GIANT YOU even finding tiny little me, and REVELLING IN THE TRUTH AND JOY OF IT SO THAT I MUST JUMP UP AND DOWN AND DO HANDSTANDS UNCONTROLLABLY AND THEN FOLLOW THROUGH IN TOTAL OBEDIENT LOVE! (Oh, did I get a little excited there? ) The proof of the pudding is in whether my actions change my expectations or demands on myself and on others. Has my heart been transformed? Or am I just looking for a good feeling? What have I really found? Anything, or just some pretend idea? You want us to really find You.

 
So why was Ezekiel able to find You when what seemed like the rest of Israel couldn’t? “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Nope, it wasn’t new stuff here. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what to do. I think it’s the same for most of us today. It’s not new stuff. And it’s not like we don’t know what we ought to do and what we need to do.

 
We’re all running around asking, “What is the meaning of life?” Well, the answer has always been right in front of us. “The answers to life are found in seeking God.” (Skip Moen) God promised that those who seek Him would find Him. When Jesus shared, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” (Luke 11:9) He wasn’t coming up with some new idea. He was restating what should have already been known. From day one of creation, it’s what our lives were designed to be. We were created to seek the kingdom of God above and before everything else, and to seek His righteousness, and the rest of what we were designed for flows from that to us. And you can’t seek the kingdom and God’s righteousness without seeking Him.

 
Jeremiah uses this other word for seeking. It’s about diligently searching for knowledge. And that’s what causes a problem for many of us. Because we start thinking knowledge is about what we do, like religious activity, instead about who we know, like You God. We start replacing You with good works and ritual and rules and books about You and people’s testimonies. That’s why we burn out and feel empty.

 
Mary, in the middle of a busy day, found God in His temple. How? In her house, in all the business, she sat down at the feet of Jesus. She chose the place of a disciple, the place of closeness and intimacy, of quietness and learning, of being filled and restored. Martha was choosing service and doing the proper thing, the good thing. But Jesus said that Mary chose what was better? Was Mary lazy? No. But she was willing to drop everything to enter the kingdom of God and sit in His presence. She was seeking His kingdom first. She was soaking up His righteousness. And from that, she would be able to take those things to those around her.

 
Unless we eat of Your flesh and drink of Your blood, unless we are that intimate with You that You are changing us from the inside out, how will You or anyone else recognize us as Yours? Here’s the thing, we get to choose to seek You or not. “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me.” (Proverbs 1:28) It’s not unusual to lose things and find them. It’s a very common occurrence in life. So it’s easily understood. But there’s a problem when we think we can seek God’s kingdom and wisdom but we choose to reject His rule. It doesn’t work that way. We become blinded. We grope and won’t find even when the answer is right within our grasp. We could put our hand right on it and not recognize it. The answer becomes invisible to us. The sad thing is that it was right there for us, it was ours, but by our own foolish decision we lost the gift that should have been ours all along.

 
I want to find what You place before me. I want to see You and know You and revel in knowing You and following You and walking in Your ways. I want to know how You feel about me by experiencing You. I want to know the power of Your resurrection and the power of Your love and the power of everything that is You. I want to know the beautiful wonder of You. And with that wonder comes hard things for me, just like for Ezekiel. Imbibing You, dwelling in You, means I can’t dwell in the world the way it is the same way. Knowing You and finding You means knowing and finding the power of Your resurrection and the fellowship of Your sufferings. But if I am really Yours, if I want to really find You and know You, then I must let myself be found and found fully. I must let You have all Your power over me. Because Your desire is to make us a nation of priests after Your own heart, influencing the world around us in You. Your eyes run to and fro, back and forth, over the whole earth waiting to show Yourself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are complete in You. Why would I want to ruin such a good thing?

Slicing the Pie and the Valley of Decision

Standard

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

 

“…for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14)

 
I suppose we as humans think that it’s a great gift to be able to make our own decisions. Deciding is a right and we cherish it. But I’m not so sure that deciding is a right. I think it’s more of a responsibility. Because with my decision, with every decision, comes consequences. So, if I really think about it, this whole “deciding” thing can have some nasty teeth to it.

 
Now, this verse which actually says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision,” isn’t such a wonderful day for the multitudes. It’s actually a day of judgment. That Hebrew word for decision is charuts. It carries meanings like properly incised. You know, that means to cut. It can mean a trench that’s dug. Or it can refer to gold as it’s mined. It can also refer to a threshing sledge with it’s sharp teeth. So, yes, figuratively it can mean determination, or decision, or diligence while at the same time represent pointed and sharp things. It doesn’t seem like our idea of decision, does it?

 
We’ve been thinking about the choices that Israel made, like the choice to focus on things other than You God and Your ways and Your desires. I guess they layed Your ways out against their ways and when they took the threshing sledge of decision, they threshed Your ways out of there and kept their own. And now we’re looking at the choices the invading nations made. And it seemed like they chose to cut things the same way. They chose to run the knife down so as to slice You right out of the picture.

 
You ask Tyre and Sidon and Philistia this question, “Are you paying Me back for something?” Well, that’s a dangerous slice of pie to cut. Because Your reply is, “I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily.” What goes around, comes around. Is that really a surprise?

 
Well, maybe you say, “Oh, what kind of God is that! That’s terrible!” Really? Listen to decisions the nations had made, to the cuts they had decided to inflict. They had “traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” Do you really think that anyone has the “right” to do that? Is that their decision to devalue another’s life like that, to cheapen it so, to be the blade that cuts it off and scars it for life? Like this is only an ancient problem? Like there aren’t too many people to number who are still taking boys and girls and selling them for their own gain and for the children’s harm and other’s perversions?

 
“For you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.” Do you really think that God, who owns the universe, was concerned over silver and gold? Don’t you think that God was concerned over His people and that they were His silver and gold being carried away from Him and His presence? Sure, the silver and gold were taken from the temple. But You are concerned with the people You created. You care. You even care about the invaders. But the invaders have to come to care about You. And they have to make that cut before the day of the valley of decision, because that’s the day You make the cut.

 
Here’s the thing, all the other nations could have stopped and heard what Joel was saying. I’m thinking that somehow, in that day, Joel said this in a way that they could hear. But instead of really listening and understanding, like Ninevah when Jonah came, they decided to keep slicing things the way they always had. And that’s a decision each of us can also make. I can decide to keep slicing things the way I always have. I can not listen to anything You say. I can mock everything I want. I can keep slicing the piece of pie to whatever portion I want. Yes, it’s my choice. But it’s not my right. It just may be that I’m slicing up my own way to destruction.

 
The truth is that I can make any decision I want. I have that freedom. But I don’t think that making the wrong decision is freedom at all. Because you and I aren’t the final judge. There is One who created us and He alone is the final judge of our “decisions.” Slice that as we may, but there will be no way of slicing our way around that day. And it won’t just be a few that don’t meet the slicing requirements; it will be multitudes upon multitudes!

 
Well, that’s harsh! If that’s so harsh, why don’t the multitudes pay attention now? Why don’t we change our ways and slice our lives and choices differently? Why don’t we choose to slice the way of the One who wants to give us eternal slices of life instead of destruction? Why did the the multitudes turn away from Jesus and say that His ways of thinking were too much for them? Why do people mock Scripture without ever really looking into it to see if it bears truth?

 
Joel 3 ends with these words, “for the LORD dwells in Zion.” Despite all the cutting of the invading nations, despite all the straying of the people of Zion, and no matter who was inhabiting Zion, You were there God. It wasn’t that You dwelt there. It wasn’t that You would dwell there. In the midst of it all You dwell there. And in the midst of all the cutting against You we do with all our decisions, You are still here calling us and waiting for us to turn to You. Jew or Gentile, You are “not slow to fulfill [Your] promise as some count slowness, but [You are] patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

That’s kind of funny, but not in a “ha-ha” sort of way. But that word for repentance is metanoia. And it’s partly about, reversing your decision, so I suppose it’s a reversal of your cutting plan. Instead of cutting things my way, I decide to cut them Yours, Lord. And that’s a privilege which leads to life.

 
In truth, when we see the wrath of God upon man, let’s look at the many years that God called out and suffered the pains of watching and waiting patiently before retribution came. He literally suffers through the waiting as He affords people the opportunity to repent. I don’t know of any person outside of Jesus Christ who would suffer as much for as long and still love so fully. And then we want to fault You for that?

 
Jesus could have decided to cut us all off with one slice. But He didn’t because God is love. But God is also righteous and holy and judge and has to do what’s right. Yeah, it’s my decision and I can slice it any way I want but God will be the final judge of my slicing. He created the whole cake, not me. He gave Himself for it through Jesus. It’s His decision and not mine. I only fulfill my purpose when I line my slicing up with His. Lord, may my decision resemble Your decisions more and more every day so that when the day of the valley of decisions comes, You’ll recognize me as Your own possession, Your silver and Your golden treasure. Really, I don’t want to wait for then for You to recognize me. I want to be that recognizable treasure now!

From Judgment to Song

Standard

“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12
This is awful news. The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold. People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way. They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others. National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.
What is the example of the impending destruction that is used? A household. A household of 11 people. Plague. Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle. And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned. Why? “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that? Did the You say not to make mention of Your name? F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it. Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You? I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name? Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering? Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were? I don’t know, but it’s a thought.
Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God than to hear the truth about ourself? Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up? It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall. You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us. It didn’t start out bitter. But twisted hearts twisted the taste.
I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words. He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You. Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled. It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being. It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life. It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship. It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You. It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You. It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness. It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are. It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship.
Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from , to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember. “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.” In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing. It is separate and distinguished. It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful. Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.
But everyone is given free will. And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives. We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things. I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own. I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong. Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing.
I love that word, tsedaqah. It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-kindness that flows from God. It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way. But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.
Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?” , we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?” Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises? Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day? Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You? Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building. And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You? Have we not taken to us power by our own strength? Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?” Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God. But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.
Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us? Why would You seem to forsake people? Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied. God is in exile; the world is corrupt. The universe itself is not at home.” If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers. I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be. It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness. After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven. Why doesn’t it happen? Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways. I won’t listen. I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water. Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” “archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.” But who really is the foolish one?
The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits. Oxen don’t go plowing in rock. For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way. It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day. Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5) Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today. That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew. It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle. But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse. Now think about that. Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison. Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us. It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into. And then the problem is we can’t find our way out. We wind up trapped there.
Is there hope? Yes! When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul. We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?” And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives. I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord. I will know Your will and do it. I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it. You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before.
Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again. Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them. Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’” Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song. But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first. I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever. You are worthy, not me. You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours. Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me. No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.

Seek Me and Live

Standard

“Seek Me and live…” Amos 5:4
Hear this. If you want life, seek God. I’m not just saying this. These are God’s words. These words are so important to hear and follow through on that You repeated them two verses later. “Seek the LORD and live, lest He break out like fire…” And knowing that we don’t get things sometimes, You restated it a little differently for our understanding in verse 14. “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you…” See, I can’t seek good if I don’t know You, God. Jesus, You Yourself pointed out that “No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) And if people were to see You as good, then they must equate You with God. If I am to be good, I must be identified with God but not just by name. I must be identified by You by Your character within me that is seen shining out. If I want life, I must seek You for real. I must seek You and not just Your “idea.” I must seek Your character and Your presence until I find You and You find me, because life is only found in You.
There is a reason that Jesus, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  God invites us into Life and Life enters by faith as we trust in His way of Life.  Jesus Christ took our place and bore our sins upon the cross because only He was the righteousness of God, without sin.   He was God even though He was man at the same time. Now, who doesn’t want life? Who wants death when they can choose life?
Repeated things are important things, things we really need to grasp. Did you know that Proverbs repeats this thought, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”? And isn’t that what was going on in the time of Amos? And isn’t that what is going on in the world today? The people, Israel, who should have known right judgment weren’t choosing it. What does judgment mean here anyways. It’s the word mishpat. It’s the enforcement of government but the ultimate enforcement of government is under God and by His wisdom. Israel knew that. But they refused it. And it’s not like the nations didn’t know. At some point they refused it and adapted their own government and rejected God. That way seemed right to them. But the truth is that it leads to death.
Micah tells us what the Lord requires of us. He shows us what goodness looks like in Him and what it acts like in a person. It translates into obeying and living out and trusting His “mishpat”, His “government.” It’s loving mercy like He shows and showing it to others. It’s walking humbly with Him. That means submitting to Him and His ways and not making our own way.
Zechariah also elaborates on this. God’s word to Zechariah was, “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” That’s that word mishpat again. How do you “rule with true judgments”? Is it up to some political body? It wasn’t then and it shouldn’t be now. The power to rule rightly was personally given in the hands of a leader, or tribal chief, or a patriarch or king. These individuals are personally in charge and liable for rendering God’s directions. The essence of true religion and right leadership is in understanding who God is and “experiencing intimacy” with Him. Jeremiah 9:24 puts it this way, “but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…” J. A. Thompson believed, “True religion consists in acknowledging the complete sovereignty of God in life and allowing Him to fill life with those qualities of steadfast faithfulness, justice, and righteousness which He possesses, in which He delights, and which He desires to find in His people.”
But instead of taking delight in You God, and Your rulings and ways and character, we turn them into something bitter and leave them altogether. It doesn’t seem to register about how good what You say really is. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to us that You are the One who placed the Pleiades and Orion in the night sky, that You alone make death something not to be feared because it ushers a new day in You. We don’t stop to think about the consequences of defying You either. How You can turn the day dark as night or call the waters of the sea and pour them out on the earth at Your will. We forget that the LORD is Your name and not ours.
Even when people raise up against people, they can’t do it without Your permission. You send people to warn and tell and teach, and yet, just like then, there are those who hate to hear and act against those who would tell. They keep the poor, poor and never give them a way out. They take away their livelihood. They meet their own needs and leave others without. Men revolt and offend against You repeatedly and deliberately and lead others to do so. They afflict those who want to follow You. Money means more than holiness. They ignore people’s real needs. They ignore the truth. Those who ought to speak up for the truth, stay silent. And when man has played enough at being his own judge of life, True Judgment will come.
I can pretend that I am all that, that I can decide right and wrong for myself, or that there is no real truth, that I can determine it according to my feelings. I can run around and play that game for a while. Because that’s all it is, a game. A really dangerous and hurtful game that goes against nature and against God. But the truth is, the Truth will come out. The real Maker of the stars and the planets, and molecules, and us will show Himself. He will enforce what He alone established as the only One with the right to enforce His will. And if I am not living already in the middle of His will, living in and according to and by Your mishpat, then I will be overcome by them.
I don’t have to be on the receiving end of Your judgment God. There is hope for us. There is time for turning; there is time for loving God’s ways and learning and living them. There is time for a relationship with the God who created us for a purpose. There is love and life and mercy waiting for us and calling to us. We can choose to hate the evil and love the good, and establish judgment at the gate, whether it’s at the gate of our house, or the gate of our neighborhood, or the gate of our town, or state, or country, or the nations. We can choose wailing and woe and have it our way. We can let judgment run down over us like waters that drown, and have God’s righteousness overcome us as a mighty flooded stream. Or we can let judgment run down over us like living waters giving life to all around. And like righteousness flowing mightily out to all that the mighty stream touches. The choice has always been left up to us. It still is.
The truth is that I can neither rule nor live until I submit to You. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:11, “It is a faithful saying: ‘For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him…’” What is this about dying just to live? It’s this word sunapothnesko. The sun means with, apo is like an exclamation point, and thnesko means “to separate soul from body- to die.” Jesus’ death MUST be connected with ours. What??? That old man that wants to rule things our way, we have to crucify him so that he will be extinguished. We can’t be risen with Christ unless we die first. “Paul knows that the miracle of resurrections, which is entirely in God’s hands, is preceded by an act of submission. That act of submission is in our hands. We decide to die. Until we do, God’s hands are tied. God does not resurrect the living, only the dead.” (Skip Moen) Once we choose to die to self, that decision ushers us into the realm of living with God. So anything before that time isn’t really living at all. It’s not enough to just seem alive. The walking dead seem alive, don’t they?  But they aren’t. And neither am I until I choose to die to self and be raised in Christ.
Life will never be found in our own way. Only Jesus has life in Himself and we can only find that true life, that real life if we are in Him and living in His life and light. Truth is truth, no matter what you say. And life is Christ and Christ alone is good. What will I choose for all the days of my life? Will I choose real life or do I just want to choose a temporary form of something that is a weak imitation of life? Well, I want to choose Real Life in Christ, even though it costs the death of myself and submission to You. I mean, wow, I’ve been resurrected! And I am looked after by the One in the whole universe who loves me and has the power to keep me more than anyone else. His words don’t just matter; they are Life itself.  I don’t know about you, but I am more than OK with that.

I Can Taste the Music

Standard

Photo credit to http://www.tastethemusic.co.uk

“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12

This is awful news.  The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold.  People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way.  They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others.  National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.

What is the example of the impending destruction that is used?  A household.  A household of 11 people.  Plague.  Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle.  And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned.  Why?  “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that?  Did the You say not to make mention of Your name?  F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it.  Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You?  I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name?  Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were?  I don’t know, but it’s a thought.

Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God, than to hear the truth about ourself?  Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up?  It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall.  You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us.  It didn’t start out bitter.  But twisted hearts twisted the taste.

I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words.  He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You.  Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled.  It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being.  It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life.  It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship.  It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You.  It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You.  It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness.  It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are.  It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship. 

Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from, to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember.  “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.”  In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing.  It is separate and distinguished.  It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful.  Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.

But everyone is given free will.  And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives.  We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things.  I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own.  I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong.  Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing. 

I love that word, tsedaqah.  It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-ness that flows from God.  It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way.  But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.

Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?”, we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?”  Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises?  Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day?  Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You.  Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building.  And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You?  Have we not taken to us power by our own strength?  Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?”  Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God.  But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.

Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us?  Why would You seem to forsake people?  Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied.  God is in exile; the world is corrupt.  The universe itself is not at home.”  If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers.  I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be.  It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness.  After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven.  Why doesn’t it happen?  Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways.  I won’t listen.  I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water.  Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it, I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.”  But who really is the foolish one?

The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits.  Oxen don’t go plowing in rock.  For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way.  It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day.  Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts  9:5)  Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today.  That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew.  It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle.  But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse.  Now think about that.  Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison.  Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us.  It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into.  And then the problem is we can’t find our way out.  We wind up trapped there. 

Is there hope?  Yes!  When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul.  We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?”  And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives.  I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord.  I will know Your will and do it.  I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it.  You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before. 

Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again.  Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them.  Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’”  Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song.  But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first.  I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever.  You are worthy, not me.  You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours.  Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me.  No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.