Since Before Day One

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“…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.

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Put Down Your Branch, Get on the Train

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Photo credit goes to someone on the internet.

 

“Then said He unto me, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, ‘The Lord doesn’t see us; the Lord has forsaken the earth.’” Ezekiel 8:12

 
So now this fiery figure of God comes to Ezekiel and takes him in a vision of God to Jerusalem to the temple. And as Ezekiel was told to look, he was shown the “image of jealousy in the entry.” But it didn’t stop there. God says, “There’s worse abominations to see here.” God brought Ezekiel to the door of the court and showed him a hole. Then He told Ezekiel to dig there and Ezekiel found a door. He went in, beyond the wall, I guess inside the wall, and found creeping things, and abominable beasts, and idols all portrayed on the wall round about. Not only that, there were 70 men and Jaazaniah offering incense to these idols.

 
As if all that wasn’t bad enough. Then God says, “There’s more.” He brings Ezekiel to the door of the gate and there are women weeping for Tammuz, a Phoenician diety. Let’s keep going. Now, to the inner court, between the porch and the altar, were 25 men with their backs to the temple worshipping the sun to the east.

 
God called it “putting the branch to their nose.” What in the world does that mean? I’m pretty sure it’s a Hebrew idiom. Some think it was a part of worshipping idols where the worshipper picked up a twig or branch and placed it over their face as to shield their face from the diety, like the sun. But to God it would be like sticking your thumb to your nose and sticking out your tongue in defiance. Whatever it was, it was gloating in your abomination before God. It was digging in your heals, and inviting violence into your own land and your own life. It was asking for God’s anger to be ignited, provoking the fire to burn.

 
You know, what we think we can get away with in the dark, eventually comes out in the open. What was hidden behind walls and in men’s and women’s minds and hearts is not hidden from God, and he showed it to Ezekiel. The truth is that God knows what is going on in the “chambers of man’s imagery.” What is that? Could that be more than what we do hidden in a room? Could that mean that God knows what is in the secret chambers of our imagination? I think so.

 
I guess we have this idea that God has nothing to do with the dark. Maybe we think that God, being God, can’t go into the darkness. But Psalm 139:12 tells us, “Yes, the darkness doesn’t hide from You; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” The truth is that You “form the light, and create darkness: [You] make peace, and create evil: [You] the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

 
There is no place that God cannot go and that God is not in control. You see into the “secret” places even of our hearts, way beyond our dark closets because nothing is hidden from You. The problem is that we get involved in labeling things our way instead of Yours. Isaiah said, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” The people of Israel had God, they had You, they had what was good. But they started to chase after other ideas of good, after other standards, and adopt them as their own.

 
But they are no worse than us. We sit back and say, “How can a good God allow evil?” What kind of God would create evil? Why even let that be part of the picture? Because we’ve labelled You as a good God based on our idea of goodness. We make You who we think You should be instead of who You ARE. The truth is that You are all that You are before we even understand it. Your goodness is even in how You create evil.

 
It’s there for a purpose. Just because I don’t see that purpose doesn’t mean it’s not for ultimate good. Think about it. God created the garden with the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before Adam and Eve were created. Do you really think God created that beautiful angel of light who fell and made an “oops”? I can’t explain God’s intent with evil, but darkness is a part of the plan, and none of it, and none of the plan is hidden from God’s intimate knowledge.

 
Maybe there are too many multiple connections going on in my brain today. But I know this, it’s not You, God, who doesn’t see. We’re the ones who don’t get it. And maybe if we would be honest enough to admit it, and get off our high horses, and set our thumbs and our branches down from our nose, we just might start to see and get it right. Well, we can keep on thinking we’re getting away with the stuff we do in “secret,” we can even think it’s time to come out in the open because God won’t do anything, but Paul warned in Romans 2:5, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

 
Do you really feel badly for the branch wavers who provoke and tease and defy? Do you really think they haven’t been given ample time to listen and turn and repent? What about me? If I stand in front of an oncoming train and wave that twig in it’s face defiantly, who is going to lose? Didn’t I have time to get out of it’s track? Did the train invite my death or did I call it on myself? God says, “Therefore I will also deal in fury: My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” (Ezekiel 8:18) Is that Your fault, God? Or has the train whistle not been warning enough? It’s not like it just snuck up unaware. If I choose to ignore the warning whistle, over and over again, the train won’t have pity, and it will be my own fault.

 
There is a time for everything. There’s a time to see, and to listen, and to hear, and heed. There’s a time to seek pity and receive it. There’s a time to hear from God and to cry out to Him. There’s a time that God hears and it’s a reciprocal time. In other words, if we won’t hear God, neither will He hear us. Maybe it’s time to put down our branches and get off the track. It’s a much more glorious decision to board the train and go where it’s going, under it’s protection than to be run over by the train.

 

P.S.  I’ve read that this gesture can be interpreted by some as a very vulgar statement.  I wasn’t aware of that earlier.   I choose to include it, because those being addressed in Scripture before Ezekiel were being THAT rude to God and sometimes we are too.  Sometimes, we are THAT deliberately offensive.

On Life and Fulfillment

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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.

Vehement Exploits

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“…but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.” (Daniel 11:32)

 
Here is the angelic being in the book of Daniel, telling of coming conquerors, and one who “shall return into his land with great riches; and his heart shall be against the holy covenant; and he shall do exploits, and return to his own land.” This is one who is busy doing wickedly, conspiring with those who despise God and His people, polluting the sanctuary and making it an abomination before all. And here is this word used, this word exploit, and I really wanted to understand it’s meaning, as to how strong this word was back then, because I see it being used for the faithful also not many verses down. Only, surprise of surprises, that’s not the word of the original Hebrew.

 
But let’s look at the exploits of this ruler for a moment anyway. I can’t help but think of how he is honing in on the people of God, focussing on oppressing their beliefs. And this is not gentle bullying.  It’s like what’s spoken of in Psalm 146:7-8,  (when we think of who’s doing the oppressing and how) “Who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.” These are the oppressed, the ‘ashaq of Hebrew thinking. It’s a guttural word. “Gerstenberger points out that guttural words like this one are almost always connected to some form of violent or aggressive action in nearly all Semitic languages.”(Skip Moen) This word, at it’s root, is connected with the words “destroy,” “deal violently with,” “slaughter,” and “quarrel.” It’s a threat against well-being and focussed on “negatively construed actions and states.”

 
This is more than “injustice.” It’s violent. It’s truly abusing and taking advantage of others terribly. It’s inhumane and godless actions towards others. God will judge the perpetrators for their violence. But who are the exploited, the ones violently mistreated? The righteous! The Lord, YOU, protect Your own. You vindicate us. We, believers, Your people, are the ones who will be found being exploited. We will be the hungry, the imprisoned, the humbled and blind. Have I ever experience this kind of treatment? Or am I too much like the world and not enough like You that the world would be offended by me as it was by You?

 
Am I rejected and exploited, then maybe I’ve found true success. Does Satan feel threatened by my stand? Is he trying to reak terrible and violent damage against me? Then I should know I’m doing just fine. God loves me and has given Himself that I might give myself away for Him. What am I doing with me? Is my life my own or is it truly Yours? What am I willing to do? What length will I go? How far shall I be spent? Will my dying to self be total?

 
By context or association, our interpreters of the King James Version translated the Hebrew asah as doing exploits. Well, asah is about doing in many senses. It’s how You brought the firmament into existence and how You enabled the fruit tree to bear fruit. It’s what You did when You took and formed Eve from Adam. It’s the serpent’s actions and choices in tempting man and woman in the garden. It’s the action and thinking in Cain taking the life of his brother. I suppose it’s more than exploits and sometimes less than but this is always about choices and actions that follow. And it’s about how greatly we can decide to do and live out that which seems to benefit ourselves yet violently disregards others, as well as God. Or, it can be about how greatly we can decide to do and be and live out that which delights God, so that it delights us, and benefits all those around us even though it appears to bring our own earthly demise.

 
See, the people of God, well, we don’t need man’s flatteries. We know You and we desire Your praise and Your presence. We know You. It’s all about yada. We know the vehemence of Your feelings for us. We know the measure of Your love and devotion. We know that You are going to vindicate us, more than MacArthur returning to the Philippines. We know Your passion. We know Your power. We know with our emotions, our will, and our intellect, every part of our being.

 
This is what You have always been about, God. “For I desired loyal love, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”(Hosea 6:6) What more loyal love has been displayed than Yours for Your people? What more loyal love has there ever been than the unselfish sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah upon the cross? If yada includes “an act involving concern, inner engagement, dedication, or attachment to a person,” (Heschel) then didn’t God first demonstrate that for us? If it “also means to have sympathy, pity or affection for someone,” didn’t God go beyond that?

 
Nations were rising up and doing things for their glory, creating life the way they wanted it to be, and doing whatever they wanted to without any dedication or attachment to anyone but themselves. The fruit of that tree is violence towards others who stand in the way. I mean just look at the first example of the one who first turned away from God and sought after his own ambitions- Satan. And what came of that? Violence against all who would side with God, the One who stands in his way. Our actions speak the volumes of what is in our hearts or the lack thereof. Great doing in opposition to God leads to terrible exploitation. It’s so sad that we would come to so emphatically do that which defies our very purpose of existence.

 
But there are people who know God, who experience His affections for them and reciprocate them. There are people who God engages with and are engaged with Him. These are those who do and create and live vehemently for the One they know because He makes Himself known in and through them. They live extraordinarily and they die extraordinarily. They suffer extraordinarily and they shine extraordinarily. They have strength that surpasses knowledge in the midst of persecution. They have understanding and teach others. They fall by the sword and by flame and captivity and spoil, yes, they fall but shall never be broken. Why? “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

 
Therefore, don’t be afraid of prophecy and rulers whether here or to come. Instead, choose whose side you will be on. For those of us who choose You, Lord, You too will choose to be on our side and we will not have to fear in the midst of all this. After all, whatever man can do onto me is only temporary, not eternal. I want to boldly say and believe and live in the truth that You are my Helper so that I will not fear what man shall do unto me. I want You to be great in me. I want to cling to You all the days of my life here on earth and into eternity. Though I be violently exploited, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and He will make my feet like deer feet, and will make me to walk upon my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:18,19)

Oh, To Be Greatly Beloved

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“At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I am come to declare it; for you are greatly beloved; therefore look into the word, and understand the vision.” (Daniel 9:23)

 
Can you imagine God sending Gabriel, an angel who stands before Him waiting for His command, coming to you and telling you that God has heard your prayers and made a declaration according to them and, to top it all off, that you are greatly beloved? Now I’m going to leave arguments over the prophesy to others today. But I want to examine Daniel’s heart. I want to see what it is that causes God to delight in someone like that.

 

Why? Because I want to be that kind of a person. I want God to experience shear delight in me. Isn’t that what we were created for? Isn’t that part and parcel with glorifying God?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts off by asking this question, “What is the chief end of man?” And then it answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Where did they get this from? Well, you can read Psalm 86, Isaiah 60:21, Romans 11:36, and 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 10:31 to see. But don’t forget to look at the clincher in Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” Am I bringing God pleasure with my life? Am I fulfilling my God-given purpose on this earth? Or have I given myself some other foreign purpose? And if I have adopted some foreign purpose for my life, is that really even living at all?

 
I can’t help but think how fully alive Daniel was. He’s lived through at least two kingdoms being overthrown, probably the death of his parents or at least total separation from them and another nation trying to wipe away his identity. But how does he respond? He holds on to his identity, but not with bitterness, and clings to You God and Your ways in a nation where it was anything but easy. But it’s as though he were living for You and living to please You in all he was. He wouldn’t eat what would be unpleasing to You. He wasn’t rude to those around him or why would they find favor in him? Was that a typical Jewish response to Gentiles and overthrowers? That was a God response in a young man or boy who cherished You.

 
He didn’t stop there. As a man, he not only wanted to save his life and that of his Jewish brothers, but cared for the lives of the other “wise” men and trusted You for the interpretation of the king’s dream. But he was not self-confident. He asked his brothers to pray and fast and did likewise because His confidence was in You, the One he delighted in. Even fear of the king’s anger at the outcome of a dream did not hold him back from sharing Your truth.

 
How boldly he stood before Belshazzar when summoned, probably in his 70’s and yet he had not forgotten all that You had done before. He held Belshazzar accountable before You and the people for not remembering and being moved to action by what he knew about You. He was so delighted in You that he cared nothing for the rewards offered by the king.

 
On the other hand, You were so delighted in Daniel that when the kingdom was overthrown, You gave those rewards and more to Daniel anyway. Because of You and his love and honor of You in everything, Daniel’s character stood out in every reign and he was continually chosen as a leader and advisor even to the kings. Which brings me back to this saying, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

 
I can’t help bringing up this verse again and again. What does it mean, especially in context today? I mean, God, You are continually concealing things and giving us, like Daniel and the kings, things we need to search out but that You know the answer to. And maybe that’s the point. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. You carry the weight of knowing everything and when is the right time to reveal it and who are the right people to reveal it to lest it be like pearls trampled by the swine. But is it really only for kings to search it out? Or do we receive the honor of a king, are we acting like a king ought to act, when we, whoever we are, like Daniel search out every matter according to You and in You? Daniel was not a king and yet he received the glory of a king by kings and from You. Why?

 
Could it be because Daniel delighted in the King of kings? It’s so hard for us to grasp this since we live in a democracy because Your kingdom God is not a democracy. You are King. If Your thumb is up we live, if down, we die. What You say goes, despite what we say. Skip Moen shares, “It is the King’s right and prerogative to involve himself in any aspect of any life under His authority. Furthermore, since God is the King of all the earth, everything belongs to Him. He doesn’t have to prove ownership in a court of law. He cannot be stripped of His property. What He decides to do with His possessions (including you and me) is entirely up to Him. And He holds everyone under His domain accountable for their treatment and stewardship of His resources. There are consequences for refusing to live according to the will of the King. In the days when we are awash in political rhetoric and the promises of leadership, it is well to remember who the King really is. No matter who we choose to lead us, they must answer to Him. So must we for our choosing. If we choose leadership that does not honor Him, we will pay the price. There is only one King, and He is not on the ballot.” And Daniel shows us how to live according to the True King who is not on the world’s ballot.

 
Kings would be wise to search out matters God’s way who conceals and reveals. But it’s not just for kings. We can reap the honor of kings, and especially our King, to live as the kings aren’t living, to love the One the kings aren’t loving, to honor the One the kings ought to honor. Earthly kings and kingdoms are temporary. Come on, look at history. But the True King and His Kingdom are forever. Like Daniel, I better learn how to live under and for Him now. Like Daniel, I want to love and enjoy service under my King all the days of my life.

 
Daniel’s heart was so sensitive to You Lord. He not only thought of himself but of those around him. He lifted up the whole nation and advocated for them, identifying in their sin against You. He set his face unto You. You alone were His source of help and sustenance and answer to the things he didn’t understand. He was serious about hearing from You, so serious he fasted and prayed. He knew You and knew Your word. He sought You out everywhere, looking for Your evidences all around him. There was confusion and shame where You were not, but righteousness with You, and that, or rather You were what he sought. From You and in You were the mercy and forgiveness he sought. He understood that they belonged to You and weren’t just things You gave out. To find them, one must be in relationship with the One who emits mercy and forgiveness because they are part of His essence.

 

Daniel had been doing the job the kings should have done, seeking answers from God. But they weren’t. But since he was, God delighted in his delighting and gave him the answer of kings from Himself, the King of all.  And You send Gabriel to bring the answer to this man who has been spending his life delighting in You, to this man who You hold as beloved. You send this angel named Gabriel from Your presence into his, to share a prophecy. Now, whether that was concerning “Messiah the Prince,” search it out like a true king, I won’t tell you. But the next two times that Gabriel shows up, he’s telling Zacharias that his son will be a forerunner before the Lord, and he tells Mary that her son will be called “the Son of the Most High.”

 
There are a lot of things in our lives that aren’t clear to us, a lot that is concealed before us. If I want to know the truth about it, I need to seek it out from one Source, God alone. I need to stop living like the world and start living like You and loving like You and delighting in You above everything else around me. I need to be willing to sacrifice my comfort in this world, to be comforted by and in You. If You aren’t my most beloved then how can I expect to be Your beloved? We reap what we sow, right? How much of myself am I truly sowing in You? When I think of all that You have sown into people who continually fail You and disregard You, I am amazed and shocked. Because I have been one of those. And yet You love me, and gave Your Christ to return me into Your glory that I might love and serve You again and be loved by You. I guess we’ve always been loved. But it’s maybe greater to be beloved because it’s a reciprocal relationship experienced and treasured by both parties. That’s the kind of relationship Daniel had. And that’s the kind of relationship I want, no matter the cost.

Destitute and Bereaved No More

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“…for in You the fatherless finds mercy.” Hosea 14:3

 
Since I was a young child, I have had a heart for the orphan. I remember probably being around five years old and somehow knowing that You, Lord, watch over, care for, and love and invite a kingdom of orphans in to Your presence. To me, it was like all your children were orphans caring for other orphans. And then my parents ( when I was about 13) adopted my first brother! He was an answer to my prayers, that chubby, brown baby boy. And after I was married, my parents adopted five more siblings. So I know that there are lots of ways one can become “fatherless.” And I also know that there are ways that people don’t have to remain “fatherless.”

 
But what are You talking about here, when You speak about the fatherless? I believe that there is that level of understanding that means what it says outright. There are people in the world who don’t have their fathers in the picture. And You are there for them. But what’s so bad about being fatherless? The Hebrew word is yathom. It means lonely or bereaved, like a fatherless child or orphan. But what does bereaved mean? Webster’s dictionary says it means “deprived; stripped and left destitute.” And what is it to be destitute? Again, Webster says it means “to set from or away, not having or possessing; wanting; needy; abject; comfortless; friendless; one who is without friends or comfort; forsaken; deprived.” It’s not even that you once had it and then lost it. It’s that you may not have ever had it in your possession.

 
Now I have to ask, why do You pay attention so much to the fatherless? Why do You “execute justice for the fatherless and the widow, and love the sojourner, giving him food and clothing”? Have You set Your heart like that of a Father over us? Are You the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribes? (Deuteronomy 10:18) Why do You call Your people to feel the same way about the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow? (Deut. 14:29) Why do You command us to all rejoice together? (Debt. 16:14) Why do You have us hold back some of our harvest for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow? (Debt. 24:19)

 
The Psalmist tells us, “the poor commits himself unto You; You are the helper of the fatherless.” You care for the fatherless and the oppressed. You are a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows. You defend the poor and fatherless, and do justice to the afflicted and needy. You preserve strangers; relieve the fatherless and widow. And over and over again, like in Isaiah 1:17, we are called to do the same, “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” James took this thought and reaffirmed it for us in the light of Jesus who was all about His Father’s business and heart.  Pure religion, pure worship that’s undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless (like God manifests himself to us, really coming to us!), and widows in their afflictions and troubles, right where they are in the reality of their lives and conditions, and to keep oneself unblemished from the “world view” by living out God’s view.” (That’s my “paraphrase.”)

 
So here’s the question I have. Who is really fatherless? Who is really the widow? Who is really the stranger? Aren’t we all? Until we surrender to God, until we know Jesus, we are on our own, alone. There’s something we are missing and something we are striving for that we can’t attain until we have You, Lord. But the good news is that You are just waiting to adopt us joyously into Your arms.

 
It’s like being the worst kind of orphan because we left You. It’s like we approached the law and said, “I don’t want to be His child. I want to be my own person.” And we got it. And some of us have learned what a destitute place that is to be outside of You. All our friends, all our doings, all our fame or fortune, all our adventures can’t fill the hole of what we are missing because that hole can only be filled with You. That’s why God used Hosea to call His people to return to Him. “Israel, you’ve fallen by your own choice, your own sin. Come back to me. Make it right. Don’t be alone any more. I am for you. I always have been. Only you haven’t always been for Me.”

 
“Come by your choice and your actions. Come by your words. Talk to Me. Speak to Me. Relate to Me. Admit you need Me to take care of you and your sin. Acknowledge that you understand. Use the “calves of your lips,” the sacrifice of your lips to praise Me instead of ‘dissing’ Me.” There needs to come a point where we understand that Asshur can’t save us, and our strong horses can’t either. There needs to come a point when we realize that it’s not by the work of our hands. Our hands only create worthless idols without You.

 
The truth is, without You I am fatherless. I am set far away. Without You I am wanting and destitute, needy, comfortless, and friendless. I am backslidden and need Your healing. I need a Father who loves me perfectly and wholly. I need You to grow me and bless me and make me fruitful for You. I need the safety of shade of Your shadow. I need Your revival. I need to give off Your fragrance as Your fragrance covers me. I need to hear You and observe You and receive my fruit from You. I want to be wise. I want to understand these things. I want to be prudent. I want to know and experience You. I want to walk in You and Your ways because You are right. I’ve been wrong. But I don’t have to keep being wrong. I can be right in You.

 
So, now that I think about it, before I ever thought about the fatherless, You were already reaching out. You are the Father of fathers. Our heavenly Father knew and knows our destitute condition and cared so deeply to get us back in His arms. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…” (1 John 3:1) John got it. He wants to help us get it. He shares, “Don’t love the world, or the things that are in the world. If a person loves the world, the love of the Father isn’t in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world…Who is a liar but he hat denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son. Whosoever denies the Son, the same doesn’t have the Father: he that acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” Our Father fights for us. He sent us an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the way to fellowship with the Father so we will never have to be bereaved again. A father of flesh is one thing but isn’t it better to be “in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9) May God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto Him. And may we all, understanding what it is to be fatherless, widowed, and strangers, reach out in Your love to the destitute and bereaved around us.

Dust in the Wind

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“Ephraim feeds on wind, and follows after the east wind: he daily increases lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.” (Hosea 12:1)

 
The group Kansas said it was the same old song. The lyrics continue, “Just a drop of water in an endless sea/ All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see/ Dust in the wind/ All we are is dust in the wind.” Well, it is the same old song. Our life is brief and fleeting compared to eternity. And since it is so brief and fleeting, it would behoove us to learn how to make the most of this short life we’ve been given on this side of eternity.

 
It’s interesting to see here that the word used in Hebrew for wind is also the word used for the spirit. It can mean wind, breath, or spirit. In Genesis 1:2 we hear, “…And the Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) moved upon the face of the waters.” In Genesis 6:17 it is used for the “breath of life.” In Genesis 8:1 it is the wind that passed over the earth that dried up the waters after the flood. Pneuma is the Greek equivalent found in the New Testament.

 
So how is it used in Hosea? And why is this important? Because “God’s Ruach is the source of life.” (gotquestions.org) You can deny that if you want, you can contradict the truth of it, you can refuse to grant it, you can neglect to acknowledge it, you can refuse to confess it, you can reject it and refuse to embrace it, but the truth remains no matter what you say. This Ruach, this Spirit of God, this Breath of God is the giver of life to all. He’s the One who put the “non-divine” ruach in each of us. We owe every breath we take in our life to His Creative Spirit. The God’s Word translation shares Moses’ words from Numbers 27:16 this way, “Lord, You are the God who gives the breath of life to everyone.” Job declared, “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils…” (Job 27:3) In his conversation with Job, Elihu shares, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.” (Job 33:4)

 
This thought carries over into the New Testament in the word pneuma. We see it shared from the mouth of Jesus in John 3. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John is using intentional word play here with pneuma (wind) and pneumatic (Spirit). In writing it’s called an inclusion, “a rhetorical device that ties its contents closer together. In this case, the inclusion contains the comparison between the actions of the wind and being born of the Spirit.” (throughandto.com)  The metaphor becomes stronger. We see how the movement of the wind helps us see the movement of the Holy Spirit. There is an “‘other’ origin, destination, and power—like the wind” that is not “centered in human initiative.”

 
But Ephraim, God’s people were forgetting that. They were feeding on the wind but not feeding on the Wind that fills. They were feeding on air, the wind that blows to and fro and sometimes doesn’t blow at all. They were feeding on wind, on that air, that just blows and has no means of nourishing the body or soul. They were feeding on emptiness. And they were pursuing after emptiness all day long. They were adding lie after lie to their lives. It’s pursuit was bringing more wasting and more desolation and ravaging into their lives. It’s like they were choosing oppression.

 
Remember, God has made a covenant with His people. It was a covenant of love and care and provision. It was a covenant of His presence. It was a covenant of His Spirit with them. In truth, God’s covenant was all about them feeding on His Spirit and being blessed by that. It was about them following after Him by the power of His Spirit. They were to follow and be empowered by the wind, the breath that issued forth life and joy and strength and goodness from His Creative Being. But what did they choose? They chose to make covenant with the Assyrians and the Egyptians for temporary protection and temporary wealth. They broke covenant with the Breath of Life to establish covenant with that which is fleeting, simple dust in the empty wind.

 
Isn’t it the same old song today? God is calling us to covenant with Him. He has given His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin of turning away and wanting things our way instead of His. He has given us a way to come home by faith. He stands with His arms wide open. Just as He breathed the precious breath of life accompanied by His Spirit into Adam, so He wishes to breath His life-giving Spirit into each of us. Do you really believe that the complexity of human life and all of creation occurred by accident? Is that even logical or reasonable? Is that really intelligent? When was the last time that a house just fell into place with every brick, every piece of wood and nail, aligned just right? You really believe that? I don’t.

 
I believe the song that Jesus sang in the beginning with God when He breathed that breath of life into humanity and shared of His Spirit. I believe in a personal God who longs for His children to return to Him, to return to that relationship of fullness. I believe that we can choose to chase after the empty wind or we can choose to be filled with the wholeness of His Spirit. I think if we sit back and think about it, if we look and remember, we’ll see God’s hand in our life. If only Ephraim remembered Jacob and how God had a plan for him even in His mother’s womb. How He was there in the midst of his struggles. How Jacob wept before Him. If only we would remember. Remember what? That the LORD God of hosts takes time for us. That though You are God, You get close enough to breath Your breath of life into us. You come close enough to touch us and warn us and share with us and love us and guide us.

 
It’s true. I can’t explain the wind. And I can’t explain how You do what You do or how Your Holy Spirit can be or do what He does. But just as I know there is wind, not only when I fly my kite, but by so many other evidences, so I know that Your Holy Spirit is at work by His many evidences. I can choose to follow any wind. I can choose emptiness if I want to. But I want to turn to You. I want to keep mercy and judgment and wait on You continually, God, because You take this mere speck of dust that is me and give me a life that matters and is filled with Your Spirit. You give me an eternity that begins in the here and now. You give me meaning and purpose not just for today, but forever in You. You don’t just give me life, You give me LIFE, because You are LIFE. May I feed on You and follow You and increase in You all the days of my life. And may I live forever in covenant with You. I may be dust in the wind, but in the Right Wind, I will not crumble but I will rise with You, I will see LIFE and know LIFE and live LIFE forever with You. This dust matters. This dust, when surrendered to You, comes together with the other dusts surrendered with You, and we bring out LIFE, like You brought forth life when You gathered the dust of the earth and formed Adam and breathed Your LIFE into him. If all I am is dust in the WIND, there is no stopping me.