Dry Bones Among Dry Bones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Our Perpetual God

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Photo credit to Pearls of the Torah, Ahavat Ammi

“Because you have had a perpetual hatred…” Ezekiel 35:5a

 
Can you imagine having a perpetual hatred for someone? This is a pretty strong hatred. God uses the Hebrew word olam. Strong’s Concordance likens it as being unto the vanishing point or time out of mind. Sometimes it’s used for eternity or without end. The Pulpit series called this feeling that Seir or Edom had for Israel a “hatred of old, or eternal enmity.” Now remember who Edom is. Edom represents Esau and his descendants. Esau is long gone. Yet here his people are, generations later, still carrying deep enmity against Israel. The story of Esau and Jacob perpetually lives on, never changing, never being resolved, never being reconciled. Can you imagine life like that?

 
It doesn’t just make me think about the effects of hatred, but it makes me want to look at that word perpetual, or olam, because I’ve heard it used before in Scripture. And it makes me think that there are some things that God wants us to “perpetualize” in our lives. What might that be?

 
When I look back to Genesis 9, I see God establishing the rainbow. It was established for perpetual generations and as an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature on earth. How many generations is that? Who knows? I mean, where is the vanishing point? Maybe there is no vanishing point and that’s the point. How long will this covenant last? To that same vanishing point, where ever and how far away in God it is. And I’m wondering if the vanishing point isn’t less of a time or place than it is a position in God? After all, He’s the one who established this covenant. It’s all on him. It really doesn’t matter what we do or how we respond. He’s not going to break His word and destroy the whole earth by a flood again. Out of love and faithfulness and His glory, He made this perpetual promise to be perpetually displayed before us.

 
Then there’s the land of Israel. In Genesis 13, God tells of a land that will be given to Abram’s seed for ever. It’s that same word olam. Now, Noah Webster says of the word perpetual that it is “literally true with respect to the decrees of the Supreme Being.” It’s never ceasing, continuing without intermission, permanent, and endless. Outside of God, what is? Maybe this olam is all dependent upon being in God. Face it, Seir and others are still fighting against Israel today, but there it still exists. Yet, does it exist as fully as God has decreed it would? Or will that existence solidify upon God being fully known and glorified in Israel? Yet try as you might to fight against God’s will, it’s a losing battle. God is this perpetual God and His will is perpetual and it will be as He declares. It really doesn’t matter how perpetual your hatred is. God’s glorious, loving, and righteous perpetualness is immensely more powerful and more real.

 
I could go on and on. Through Isaac, God established a perpetual covenant with his seed and those after. Get it, these perpetual covenants so far haven’t required action on man’s part. This is God’s doing, because He can and because His is faithful. In Exodus when God is telling Moses what to say to the children of Israel, He answers, “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me unto you: this is My name for ever [olam], and this is my memorial unto all generations.” Are we just talking about God having the same name forever? Or are we talking that He is always the same God whose every decree and every word is true and worthy of respect and is and was and will be exactly as He decrees?

 
As we progress through Exodus, we see God establishing the priests and giving them their office as a perpetual statute. It’s not just that God appoints who shall be priest. It’s that the priest must be so in Him as well. Their honouring His statutes isn’t legalism, it’s part of understanding the perpetual life-giving nature of God and His presence and power over our lives. Or what of the perpetual incense that Aaron was to burn? Is Aaron able to do something perpetually outside of God and the generations of priests that God would equip? Is the incense the point or is it the understanding and living in the perpetuallness of God?

 

Keeping and observing the sabbath throughout their generation was a perpetual covenant. Not eating fat or blood was another perpetual statute. Why? Because God was showing us something about Himself in all these things to help us grasp His perpetualness so that we could live in Him from day to day and not just some day in some far away future in some far away place. Maybe you disagree and that’s o.k. But I can’t help hear it again in Jeremiah 5:22 as God says, “‘Don’t you fear me?’ says the Lord: ‘won’t you tremble at My presence, who has placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it can’t pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet they can’t prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?’” It’s not just that God set these boundaries in motion for the waves. It’s perpetual. He’s always there controlling it. He’s never left. He’s not just in Heaven. He’s here, still, just as present and just as strong. All these things that mattered to Him still matter today. He’s never changed. We just missed out on what it means to fear Him. We forgot who and what He is. We forgot what it was to tremble at His presence because we live as though He’s not here.

 
It was Esau’s problem way back when. He didn’t get the perpetualness of God with Him and around Him. He forsook that birthright, that place in God and then despised his brother for treasuring it. God asks another good question in Jeremiah 8:5, “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slid back by a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.” And isn’t that Seir’s problem and our problem too often too? Instead of holding on to that which is truly perpetual, to God’s truth in Him and to His presence, we hold on to lies and deceit and hold on so tightly our lives our bound up in them. It could be hatred, or self-gratification, or pride, or whatever, but we ditch perpetual reality in God for perpetual falsehood because we like it better and figure the outcome is more to our immediate liking.

 

There are things that are perpetual in God that lead to blessing in Him and knowing Him and safety in Him and a future and a hope in Him. And there are perpetual things outside of Him that lead to perpetual sleep, perpetual desolation, and perpetual shame. This word olam or “perpetual” and it’s other forms is used at least 438 times in Scripture. Maybe it’s a truth God would like us to understand and live in.

 
Here’s a tidbit of Judaism. “Judaism advances the daring idea that man and God are partners in the work of creation. Faith is a call to human responsibility.” (Jonathan Sacks) It’s not that we can do it on our own. We must first partner with God in order for Him to partner with us. God created us for this purpose. Look back into the garden. God’s purpose, His perpetualness, was already in existence and already acting. Then He brought us into it, in Him and invited us to partner with Him in this work of spreading His perpetualness.

 

The problem with Seir is that they were not involved in any kind of intimate relationship with God. Life is all about embracing Him and all He does and thinks. Imagine having this kind of partnership with the One who created you! But Seir wanted none of it. Seir acted against it. We’re supposed to be intimately involved with Him managing His creation and being busy with restoration. We’re to be perpetually involved in what the Perpetual One is involved in. Eternal life doesn’t start in Heaven. It starts when we enter into the Perpetual One. Eternal Life has always been in Him. Eternal life is exhibited everyday and into forever.

 

Paul understood. That’s why he urged us, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1) It’s not just our spiritual service, it’s our perpetual service, and our perpetual position of being present in Him. This is life from now until eternity. This ought to change my every perspective.

 

Therefore, I’m still blessed in Him if people hate me and treat me poorly. Therefore I can love my enemies and do good to those who hate me. Why? Because I live in the One who perpetually loves and forgives. I live in the One who perpetually takes care of the hated and the forgotten. I live in the One who perpetually judges rightly and whose word and ways and decrees are true. I don’t just know about Him. I am intimately connected with Him through Jesus Christ. And because of this, I can enjoy Him now and look forward to an anticipation of something more to come in Him.

 

“In the Mishnah, one rabbi says, ‘This world is like a lobby before the Olam Ha-Ba. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.’ Similarly, the Talmud says, ‘This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and the Olam Ha-Ba is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat.’” (Jewfaq.org) I can choose to live life in and according to the perpetual nature of God, or I can choose to live according to my own nature, whether that be through hate, or whatever. One will leave me walking into God’s future for me with Him, prepared in Him. The other will leave me living outside of the presence of God, unprepared for a future with Him, devoid of His presence. What will my perpetual choice be? It doesn’t only matter for later. It matters each and every day of my life. What do I really want my perpetual story to look like? Maybe today is a good day to decide, before God must choose for me.

Sheepish Thinking

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Apetite for Beauty

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Photo credit to WWW.THEENTERPRISINGKITCHEN.ORG/

 

“…I am of perfect beauty.” Ezekiel 27:3

 
You walked into the party
/ Like you were walking on a yacht
/ Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
/ Your scarf, it was apricot
/ You had one eye on the mirror
/ And watched yourself gavotte
/ And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner
/ They’d be your partner, and/ You’re so vain
/ You probably think this song is about you/ 
You’re so vain,
I’ll bet you think this song is about you/ 
Don’t you?
Don’t you? (Lyrics by Carly Simon)
I think of these words and Tyre’s thoughts of herself, “I am of perfect beauty,” and I start to think, “Well, what’s the problem with beauty?” But I won’t just reason it out in my own head. I want to look at it through the eyes of Scripture and see it Your way, God. I mean, who doesn’t want to be beautiful? Who doesn’t love to look at beautiful things? Isn’t that why we get excited about sunrises and mountain views and Grand Canyons and art and music and so much more? Is that bad? No, absolutely not. I know beauty in itself is not bad because You created beauty. But there is something about beauty that can become it’s own antithesis. And that happens when we forget where our beauty originates.

 
Here was Tyre, this powerful, lucrative, sea port. They were strong. They had all kinds of nations working with them. They had knowledge and wisdom. There builders were phenomenal. They had access to the finest wood and craftsmen. Their ships were to rave about. They received the finest goods in trade from Egypt and the isles of Elisha. Wise mariners were their pilots from Zidon and Arvad. Even their caulkers were wise men. They had armies. They guarded their walls and were upon the ships. Their many merchants brought in items like silver, iron, tin, lead, slaves, brass, horses, horsemen, mules, horns of ivory and ebony, emeralds, purple, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, agate, wheat, honey, oil, balm, wine, white wool, cassia, calamus, chariots, lambs, rams, goats, spices, precious stones, gold, blue clothes, and chests of rich apparel. Imagine the sight of this city!  Imagine it’s pride and the pride others bestowed upon it! And imagine the beauty that God blessed Tyre with, becoming the beauty that Tyre believed she had attained through all her own works. Imagine Tyre never even acknowledging God as her bestower of beauty. Imagine the glory of Tyre as Tyre revels in itself with no thought of God who is the Giver and Bestower of beauty. Imagine that which was made beautiful thinking it made itself that way.

 
I wanted to think on these things this morning, so I searched out Your word about beauty. I found Psalm 50:2 which states, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.” And I think, really? Is Zion so beautiful now? Is it what we think of as beauty? And I wonder if we can take what God intends for beauty and strip it of it’s beauty in how we handle it? I have no doubt that Zion was created to reflect God’s beauty in perfection. And I have no doubt that it is still retaining a faint reflection right now. And I have even more confidence that God will reinstitute the beauty of Zion as He changes men’s hearts and returns His image of beauty to Zion in Christ who is perfect beauty in God. But, for a while, Zion is Tyre, who took their God-given beauty and twisted it into some form of their own, which totally distorted things.

 
Now, when I read Scripture, I think that God wants us to think about it all. That it’s not just parts for women and parts for men, but it applies to all mankind. I mean, after all, Paul said when we’ve put on Christ that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:28,29) So I’m not going to write off something as only for men or only for women because a woman or man was being addressed. I hope the reader won’t either. Because in God’s word, what’s good for the goose is so good for the gander too.

 
So in Proverbs 31:30 we have, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” The truth is that Solomon was sharing wisdom with his son. Do you know, that if he was sharing this with his daughter, it would apply just as much and God probably would have led him to say, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a man who fears the Lord, he shall be praised.” And maybe he would have chosen some different masculine words, but the truth would have been the same because charm and becoming full on one’s own beauty isn’t just a female problem. And You don’t just praise the woman who knows where her beauty comes from. You praise the man who acknowledges You as His beauty.

 
But the problem begins when the Jew or the Greek, or the slave or the free, or the male or the female twist the source of their beauty. Then, instead of being a sweet perfume to God and those around us, “there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.” (Isaiah 3:24) The sad news is the beauty is not ours to own outside of and separate from God. It will corrupt us. It will bring us to the point of facing judgment for stealing that which was not ours. We’ll be brought down from our self-appointed high place where we’ve built our tower above God because the truth is, we aren’t God. God will always be the Beauty of beauties. God will always be God. And one day, if we don’t choose to humble ourselves before You on our own, You will need to humble us. I mean compared to You we might as well start lamenting, “Is this the city of which they said, ‘The perfection of beauty , a joy to all the earth?’” (Lamentations 2:15) “How can this be a joy to all the earth? They only care about themselves. They destroy others for their own gain. They ignore God.” But God is God and will be God because He can’t be other than who He is. Only, we try to be other than who we are. What a sad pretense.

 
This is an old, old story. It’s actually much older than the story of Zion or of Tyre and definitely so much older than you or me. Ezekiel brings up this issue of beauty frequently. See, we can start trusting in our beauty instead of trusting in the Giver of our beauty. That’s dangerous. That’s when we start building our own high places and deciding our own version of right and wrong and following whoever or whatever tickles our fancy. But I digress.

 
If we jump ahead to Ezekiel 28 we find God equating Tyre with someone else. All of a sudden, as God is talking of Tyre, He begins relating the story and sin of Satan. Think- king of Tyre= Satan. “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” Notice that God had created Satan (Lucifer) and established him with everything he was supposed to be, full of wisdom and beauty to the point of perfection. But that was not enough for Lucifer. God continues, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you.” Beauty devoid of God failed for Lucifer. It failed for Tyre and for Zion. And it will fail for me.

 
Let’s just think about this a little more. I’m even wondering how Jesus would compare to the sight of Lucifer. After all Isaiah 53:2 tells us “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Wait, are you telling me that Jesus is not beautiful? I find that hard to believe because I’m pretty sure that God is beauty, pure and unadulterated. But I do think that in His beauty, Jesus didn’t attract attention for His own glory, for His own beauty, for looking at Him but that what shone forth and was shone forth by Christ was the glory and beauty of the Father. And unless we’re looking for that, we won’t see it and we won’t desire Him.

 
But Lucifer was all about his own glory and being noticed for himself. So when we have our hearts set on being noticed and made more of or commended or patted on the back, we notice “people” like Lucifer. we see him, and we’re attracted to him, and we desire him because that’s what we want for us. I guess that’s what the expression, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” means. What we value is what we consider beautiful. But beauty isn’t up to our consideration. Beauty is God. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anything else is a dead imitation.

 
I need to learn to say, “You, Lord, are perfect in beauty!” Lucifer has no concept of love or grace because even in his high position and close proximity to God he was totally warped in his perception of God and dragged down many others with him. I mean, I wonder how he could be right there in the presence of God and not get it? But I guess, whether we’re angels or men and women, boys and girls, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, it all depends on what we want to see and what we’re really looking for.

 
I’m so glad that Jesus, being God, still chose to shine forth God’s glory and not His own, even though he had it to flaunt it. But flaunting wasn’t important to Him. Showing us the way to God was. Showing us where true beauty lies was. Showing us the beauty of love and grace and obedience and sacrifice was. Beauty, in and of itself, will lead us away from God like Lucifer led so many other angels. But the beauty of God in Christ Jesus, who for the glory of God and our salvation sacrificed Himself on the cross, gave up His own beauty for God first and for our well-being second, has been shed abroad for us. This is love. This is beauty.

 
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” ( 1 Peter 3:4) Sorry, but I’m pretty sure that Lucifer would have done well to have understood this truth, and that Tyre and Zion would have done well too. Our beauty, no matter who we are, married-unmarried, male-female, child-adult ought to be the outflow of Christ in us. That’s the inner man. Because without Him in us, without some way for God to flow out of us, we’re heading for our own downfall and the downfall of all those that follow us. There is only one thing that is not corruptible, that will never perish, and that is God and life in Him through Christ. Unless He’s our ornament and our beauty, we have no beauty that counts. And if we have His beauty emanating from us like it does from Jesus, well, then we’ll have a quiet and meek spirit just like Jesus’. Get it? Our life will shine forth with the beauty of Jesus. And then others will follow Him in God’s beauty.

 
C.S. Lewis said, “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves.” But the truth is God has invited us into the unity of His beauty from the very beginning. Dostoevsky’s prince in The Idiot stated, “Beauty will save the world.” “The appetite for beauty comes inscribed into every soul and it is a very large appetite. ‘By nature men desire the beautiful,’ says St. Basil the Great (circa 379 A.D.)-and I might stress that they desire it immensely.” (Andrew Cuneo) Beauty is a God-given appetite but our appetite was designed to be after God’s beauty and to let it adorn us. Think about it, if we want to be united with beauty so much, why not enter into the Maker’s beauty? Why would I want it on my own?

 
Lord, I totally get what C.S. Lewis said. More than anything I know my heart longs to be united with beauty. But sometimes I run to the short-cut or I grab for it now and I settle for less. I don’t want to settle for less because less is just emptiness and air and nymphs and elves. I want to be united in the Real Deal. I want to know real Beauty from the Source, and that’s You and only You. Lord, I want You to be my perfect beauty. May I cast off all that’s of me and let You clothe me in all that is You. I want You to look at me, like in the beginning of creation and say that I’m good, because then I’ll know that You’ve made me beautiful in You according to Your standards.

Losing the Delight of Your Eyes

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Photo credit to wikimedia.

 

“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16)

 

I’m wondering if when we sit down and read Ezekiel if we really understand what it was like for him? What was it like for the people? What was reality? I mean, I ‘m here in chapter 24 within a month or two of reading in the mornings and meditating. But what about Ezekiel? When was the last time I stopped to think about how long You were taking Ezekiel through these things with You? Maybe today was the first time. And just to get to this point of Chapter 1 up to what’s happening in chapter 24 is a span of a man’s life of about 5 years. Imagine that. How would I feel after 5 years of being a prophet and going through all this? But how would I respond to this day in Ezekiel’s life, to this day when Ezekiel becomes the most personal picture of God He could ever imagine?

 

Oh, let the word of God come unto me. Really? Have you counted the cost? Do you really understand what that could mean? Are you really ready to stand for God no matter what? Ezekiel was. Ezekiel was fully Yours, Lord, in such a way that so greatly inspires me and tests me today. You know, I’ve read Your word lots of times. But I don’t remember this. I don’t remember this ever being significant before and I don’t understand how I ever could have read this before and not been stopped by it. This is hard stuff. This is the stuff of real faith, of make it or break it faith. This is that moment of love tested and love proved. This is purging and testing and creating the man or woman we really are and not just who we want to be. This is the making of a servant of God. This is true worship, true devotion.

 

It’s one thing to declare Your words and judgment on a people who deserve it. It’s easy for us to get smug, and holier than thou, and detached, and emotionless. It’s easy to get like Jonah who cared less if the “nasty Ninevites” got what was coming to them. Or if the Jews who had prostituted themselves from their God and involved themselves in atrocities paid the price. But You, God, don’t become detached and emotionless in the midst of it. In the midst of judgment You stay off Your pain for them because You must, not because You feel no pain. After all, here are the ones You would have brooded over and hidden under Your wings like a mother hen but they won’t have it.
Now here’s the clincher today. Ezekiel is setting up another picture of the judgment of the people. Jerusalem is like this nasty pot filled with nasty stuff and being purged over a fire. Right away, that word purge conjures up negative thoughts for me. But it shouldn’t. The Hebrew word, taher, means to be bright, to be pure. Let’s look at that kind of purity a little closer. It means physically sound, clear, unadulterated; Levitically uncontaminated; morally innocent or holy; at least according to Strong’s Concordance. It’s about ritual cleanness which prepares us to enter the presence of God undefiled. That’s what David was asking for when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) He understood that only God could prepare him for that. That’s still true for every one of us today.

 

It’s not a scary truth. Even Noah Webster defines purging as a positive thing. It’s “to cleanse or purify by separating and carrying off whatever is impure, heterogenous, foreign, or superfluous…to clear from guilt or moral defilement…to clear from accusation or the charge of a crime…to remove what is offensive; to sweep away impurities.” When did that become negative? Maybe when it became painful to do so because it means passing through the fire and passing the test.

 

Why would I think a prophet doesn’t have to pass through the fire to be purged? Why would only a renegade nation or person have to pass through? Don’t we all have to pass through because we all need to be purified by God His way? Who makes us holy? Who makes us pure? Who makes us sound? Does it just come easy and naturally? I think not. I think the Divine is not natural or easy at all. I think the Divine takes reliance on the Divine and not on me or my way or the prophet or his way or the will or strength of a nation and a people and their way. I think that purity, Divine purity, is a foreign affair that we have to learn the culture of and that even prophets like Ezekiel still had room to learn.

 

Here’s the clincher that hit me today. I was OK with judgment being foretold and the the image of the pot over the fire. But now You speak to Ezekiel these words: “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke: yet neither shall you mourn nor weep, neither shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16) Do you know what that means. To paint a picture for Ezekiel and the people, God was going to take from Ezekiel the wife that he so loved. And Ezekiel was going to have to withhold his mourning for her. Imagine that. “My faithful servant, I’m going to take your wife now, the one you love so much. In the midst of all your other suffering and the suffering to come, I’m taking her suddenly today. And you can’t cry or do the normal funeral stuff.” What? This is a loving God? Really?!

 

Yes. This is. This is a loving God who must serve justice as well as grace. You can’t separate them from who You are. This is a God who understands the pain of those you love rejecting You. This is a God who understands what it is to sacrifice that which You love the most for the good of those who don’t get it or value the sacrifice. This is a God who understands love but because we don’t, He gives us experiences where we can come to understand what He feels and what He has done for us.

 

So Ezekiel and his wife became a picture of God’s love. There is this tremendous poem written a long time ago by Barbara Miller called Ezekiel. It’s too long to share here, but I would if I could. This story of Ezekiel effected her too and she wrote a poem about Ezekiel and his wife and what it must have been like. And she shares this through the eyes of Ezekiel’s wife:
“If God had willed,
I would have gladly stayed; but we are His,
And it is sweet to do a little thing
For Him who loves us so.  He needeth me
To be a sign for Him, –my death to stand
A figure to my people, of the things
Which He will do on them, except they turn
And seek His face.  And I am so content
To die for this!  I could not speak for God,
As thou hast done so well; but I can die
For God, and for my people,– and for thee–
To aid in thy great work.
“Forbid me not;
Deny me not to Him. A day shall come
When He shall give His Dearest to the death,
For thee and me!” The clouds had parted now,
The love of God was shed abroad, within
My broken heart. I could not say Him , Nay;
Or question Him. I laid my sacrifice
Upon His altar, not denying Him
Mine only one.”

 

I really don’t know that Ezekiel’s wife understood about how Jesus, God’s own Son, His own beloved, would be the sacrifice for our sins or not. Did Abraham fully understand when he was willing to offer up his only son? Did Ezekiel understand? Am I supposed to always understand You God, or am I called to trust You, to listen and hear and act upon that hearing showing that no matter what, whether sacrifice of pain or joy unspeakable, You are God and Your plans for Your kingdom, for me and for every person on this planet is a plan for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope? (Jeremiah 29:11) Is that future and hope, is that welfare worth being purified? What is my future and my hope? Is it You? Because You alone are that future and that hope and if my future and my hope is anything else, I am lost and filthy and defiled from my purpose.
Could I respond like Ezekiel’s wife? Could I respond like Ezekiel? Any other response is wrong and not just wrong. Any other response is sin because it places something else before God. The twenty-four elders worshipping before Your throne remind us continually, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) Paul tells us in Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation and that “by Him all things were created; in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

 

So what does that matter? Through Him the fullness of God dwells and through Him God is reconciling us to Him. Jesus is our purifier. God makes known to us His love not only through words but through His actions. Am I called to less? Am I only to love God in words and not my actions? Is there a limit to my love? A price it won’t go beyond to pay? Did God have a limit for me? No! He makes known His love. And in demonstrating and not just telling us about His love, He makes us able to reciprocate that love through our lives. He enables us, in Him, to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” He strengthens us with all the power and might and endurance and patience it takes to go through the fire with Him so that we shine just like Him.

 

It’s this kind of stuff that makes us or breaks us as believers. This is the stuff that causes those around us to stop and rethink the status quo. Responding to God when it goes contrary to the world, causes people around us to stop and ask, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting like this?” (Ezekiel 24:19) Does it seem senseless or pointless? It’s not. It means more than we could ever imagine and maybe more than we’ll ever know on this side of heaven. But how far am I willing to demonstrate my love? All the way or only as far as it doesn’t hurt?
So, I thought I was finished with this yesterday, but I can’t get it off of my mind. And then I heard Psalm 62. I can imagine Ezekiel saying these words, just as David did, and I’ve heard myself cry them out. “My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at ALL (emphasis my own) times; you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah”. But then David doesn’t stop. He shares, “God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God. Also unto You, O Lord, belongs mercy: for You render to every man according to his work.” What was Ezekiel’s work that it was worthy of the sacrifice of his beloved wife?

 

What if our work isn’t just about what we do or how we act? What if our work, our maaseh or maiseh is more about the story, the real story of who we are in God. That word, Maaseh Bereishit, is used when You God worked the creation of the universe. In Yiddish it’s the word for a story. Literally, it means an act or deed and ones from the word for making or doing. In Hebrew, stories are always synonymous with doing. In Greek I think of the word poeio which is the doing that flows out of being, like that of an artist or one who knows God. And I’m thinking that is the concept of work and doing and acting that David is talking about here.

 

Ezekiel knew God. He knew what it was to have God’s spirit flow through him. But he still had to trust in God. I am sure his heart told his soul to cry out to this God he trusted, to his rock and his salvation even in the midst of the loss of his wife, his beloved wife. Because maybe Ezekiel’s work was understanding and knowing and experiencing the heart of God. And when you finally start, I mean even start to understand and know and experience the heart of God, your actions and thoughts and hopes and dreams change. And your life can be turned upside down, and you can sacrifice your only son or beloved wife and give them back to the God who gave them to you in the first place, trusting, just trusting that God is God and You will still be God to those we love and those of us left behind. It’s what You do because it’s who You are. You render, You complete, You befriend and reciprocate and amend, and finish, and fulfill, and perfect and perform and prosper and restore and reward all that place themselves in You. It’s not just about prophets and kings. It’s about anyone trusting wholly in You so much that we place our whole being inside of You and accept You as You are. That’s when we receive You back as who You are. That’s the only deed, the only work that is acceptable in us, that let’s You do Your work, Your will, Your way in us, even if we must let go of our beloved. Because nothing should be more beloved than You.

 

So, Lord, what will I walk away with today? Will I remember this and will my life and thinking be changed by this? Where am I in You? Who is my most beloved? Is my heart so entwined with Yours that I know how You feel and that my actions flow from You? What story is my life displaying? Thank You, Lord, for the true story of love, commitment, and devotion that Ezekiel and You and even his wife display before us. May I love You that much, Lord. And may others be changed by the love that You have given me.

Just One

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“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” Ezekiel 22:30

 
“Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry?
Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die?
Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand?
 Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you damned?” Leonard Ravenhill

 
That’s pretty much the problem that stands out in Ezekiel 22. Of course, Lord, You declare to all what made the city a “bloody city” and You list her abominations. She had come such a long way from who she was created to be. She was Yours, but now she defiled herself from that image and looked like fake idols instead. Instead of caring for the stranger, they oppressed them. Instead of caring for the fatherless and widow, they vexed them. Instead of loving and adoring and seeking after Your holiness, they profaned it. They made fools of others and lacked respect. They were filled with lust and misused others for their own pleasure. Greed grew and generosity failed. They totally lost sight of You, God. Even the religious teachers and leaders were twisted in their thinking. So here they were, hearing the drowning cry and not reaching out to save them. They were drowning themselves and didn’t even know it. Here they were watching their people die, emotionless to the loss, as they were unwittingly dying themselves. Here they were watching men burn without pulling them from the fire because there they were in the middle of the fire with them but without realizing it. Yes, here they were, sitting at ease when the world was falling apart around them. But how can one help, if one is blind to the truth around them?

 
And I know that this is not just a message to be heeded in Ezekiel’s day so many years ago. This attitude matters today. I think of the words of Hanani to Asa, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him…” (2 Chronicles 16:9) So this idea of You, God, looking for someone to stand in the gap on Your behalf and on behalf of the people, is no novel idea. And it wasn’t like there weren’t Godly men in Ezekiel’s day. There was Jeremiah who was being tortured by being stuck in a pit and silenced. And here was Ezekiel, who we’ve already heard 22 chapters of standing for You. And there are probably others. But there is not one at this time who is able to build up the broken wall and stand in the breach before You to intercede on the behalf of those who have fallen and there is none who are able to turn the hearts of the people. Sometimes, all it takes is one person, one person like a Moses, or a David, or a Noah or a Job. Or one person like a Hudson Taylor, or George Muller, or a woman named Miriam whose real name I can’t share, or another named Isik.

 
And I don’t think this is about church leadership. I think this is about knowing You, God, and knowing You for real. It’s not about position, it’s about who we really are in You. It’s not about popping out pastors and teachers. Manson says, “O ye ministers of the Word, consider well that you are the first sheets from the King’s press; others are printed after your copy. If the first sheet be well set, a thousand more are stamped with ease. See, then, that the power of religion prevail over your own hearts lest you not only lose your own souls, but cause the ruin of others.” It’s true, the King’s printing press is at work. But it isn’t printing out professionals and workers and such. It’s printing out individuals after His own image to become His priests and His disciples and His representation on this earth. That has never changed. First and foremost I am to be modeled and made and molded after Your image. I’m not supposed to look like a pastor or teacher or missionary or whatever. I’m supposed to look like You, talk like You, think like You, act like You, be like You. How else can I stand in the gap?

 
But if I won’t let myself be copied faithfully after You and then I draw others to me, how many faulty copies, so far from the original am I guilty of? Why would I want people imitating me, instead of You? I want to point them to You. I want them to be printed off of the Master Press, not me. But I want to so order my steps that it will lead them to You. What good is a flawed master copy? What good is a watch that is out of time? Should others set their time by it and be off also?

 
The Lord reminds us in Chapter 14 that there isn’t a righteous person that can deliver the nation from judgment based on his own righteousness. Noah, Daniel, and Job wouldn’t even have been able to do that. Moses couldn’t even do it. When he stood in the gap for the people, it was based on God’s righteousness and image before the world. But here, in Ezekiel’s day, God couldn’t even find someone to turn the people’s hearts back like that.
Reading this sad truth that God could find no one to stand in the breach, made me wonder about Ezekiel. Surely Ezekiel was trying to stand in the breach! So it couldn’t mean that there were none who would stand for God. I’ve been reading 22 chapters of Ezekiel taking a stand. Stuart stated that it meant “that there were so few among the people who were righteous that the net effect was as if no one at all cared about God’s will.”

 

It’s not that God didn’t have faithful representatives. He had Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah too. But why were they so ineffective? Were they deficient? Or were the people just that defiant? And then I wonder if the faithful were faithful but not in the political positions necessary to turn a people? Like Hezekiah and Josiah who were kings and led people, as opposed to Jeremiah and Ezekiel who were prophets and instructed people. Maybe it matters if there is even just one king after God’s own heart.

 
Moses was one of those “gap men.” Psalm 106:23 tells us, “Therefore He said He would destroy them—had not Moses, His chosen one, stood in the breach before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them.” How could he do that? What if Moses understood what it was to be willing to accept the wrath of God for the salvation of those He loved and for the glory of the God He loved? What if this is the closest one can come to understanding the heart and compassion of God in Christ Jesus? What if this is how Jesus pleads for us, for mercy and malleable hearts and places Himself in the breach of God’s wrath for us? Do I really think that Moses stood there without any fear of God’s anger himself? Or what if he understood like Paul, when he said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” How’s that for extreme standing in the gap? Wow!

 
Is this about intercessory prayer? God used this expression back in Ezekiel 13:5 also, “You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord.” The Hebrew of “built up a wall” or “make up the hedge” is gadar gader. It’s all about building a wall “of security and assurance around a city or a life.” (Dr. W. A. Criswell) So, here is supposed to be a wall of safety, but there is this breach, this peretz. There is this hole that let’s harm enter the city. And when harm enters the city, it enters our lives. Nehemiah talks about removing the breaches or holes by repairing the walls. People stood in and did that. Isaiah calls God the “Repairer of the Breach.” God used Jesus to stand in the breach for us, to pour out His life for ours and for the glory of God, to offer us safety and security in Him. He intercedes on our behalf, yes, but He doesn’t only intercede in prayer. He intercedes by His life.
Think about it. Jesus did more than pray for His disciples and for us. Jesus showed us what God looked like walking on this earth. Jesus touched and healed and raised from the dead. Jesus suffered and yet loved those who persecuted Him. Jesus washed the feet of his followers. Jesus was patient. Jesus was zealous for God. He interceded with and through His whole life. That’s true worship.

 
What if You are looking for men and women and boys and girls like that? What if You are looking for people who will worship You with all of their being and stand in the gap for You and those around them? What if You couldn’t find any at that time because the ones that were, were actually being detained by the opposition? Like Jeremiah who was in a pit to die? Like Ezekiel who the people weren’t listening to?

 
God always seeks for one person at a time. Why? That’s how we must respond. He seeks for one to stand in the breach. He’s not looking for a ministry or an institution or a nation or anything like that. All it can take is one person. Persia took a Cyrus. Babylon took a Nebuchadnezzar. Greece took an Alexander the Great, Rome, a Caesar. Closer to home, America had a George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Oh, but those aren’t necessarily religious leaders, right? Maybe not the way we think of it but Scripture has God calling Cyrus his son that He raised up for this purpose and this time.

 
Now think about the individuals that God raised up that impacted whole countries for Him. What about George Muller, or Billy Sunday, or Martin Luther, or Charles Spurgeon. I think about the first believer from the Maldives and how God has used her to lead others of her people (a 100% Muslim country!) to Him as well as others where she is ministering. I think about Mother Theresa in India and the Dawsons in Venezuela and Timothy and Yvonne Kinyua in Kenya. They pray but that’s not all. They put their faith and prayers to their feet and their lives. They walk it out. They live it out. They take their lives and through them walk Jesus out to the people around them for miles and miles, whether it’s dangerous or not, whether it’s taxing on their bodies or not. That’s the kind of standing in the gap that You are looking for, isn’t it?

 
Think about it this way as Dr. W. A Criswell shares the account of Moses and God. “God said to Moses in that thirty-second chapter of [Exodus], ‘Now Moses, you stand aside, you stand aside and let My wrath burn against these people. I will destroy them out of My sight: and out of you will I raise up a nation to do My will’ (Exodus 32:9-10)” Wow! Wouldn’t that be great? Wipe out the people who are a problem and make me great, Lord! Only that’s not the heart of God, is it. But I am so grateful that Moses had the heart of God in his response. “And it was then that Moses stood in the breach and as you read, he interceded, saying, ‘If these people cannot live, I do not want to live. If You blot them out of Your Book of Life, blot my name out of the Book of Life.’ [Exodus 32:32] And God spared the nation for Moses’ sake. He stood in the breach. [Psalm 106:23]” And I don’t think it was just for Moses’ sake. I think Moses was thinking of God’s sake, of what the nations all around would think of God. And I think God honored that kind of thinking in Moses, that was concerned for God’s glory and God’s people more than he was concerned with his own comfort or rights or image. That’s that kind of person that You look for to stand in the gap. Am I that kind of person?

 
Give me a person of God, just one,
Whose faith shines foremost for the Son
Who covets prayer and time with God
And walks it out where ever He trods.
Give me a person of God, just one,
Who lives in the light of the Living One
Who bears the image of the Risen Son
And loves and serves and forgives wrongs,
Where God’s vision fills his heart with songs
That he sings and lives out all day long
So that it rubs off on the watching throng.
Give me a person of God, just one
To stand in the breach, though they be undone,
And I’ll show You a life strong in God’s grace
That’ll make a difference in every place.
Make me a person of God, that one,
Wholly undone in the Glorious One.

Chaos or God

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“This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation.” Ezekiel 19:14

 
Life in itself is hard stuff. It’s emotional. Life without God is even harder and even more emotional. We’ll all go through lamentations, times when all we can do is beat on our breasts, but we don’t have to become a lamentation ourself. God’s desire is that our joy would be full, not for us to become a lamentation. So what happens to change that?

 
We take what was designed for good in us and twist it to our own desires. We forget where our strength and our fortune came from and we manage our own lives. Instead of letting Christ be our guide, we guide ourselves. Instead of loving like Christ, we take matters in our own hands. We adopt violence as good. We devour those around us and see nothing wrong with it. But even people around us can see the problem.

 
That’s what had happened with Israel and its strong princes that God had raised up. They cozied up next to the pagan nations and became like them instead of like the Lion of Judah. So the stronger nation put a stop to it. God humbles those who won’t humble themselves and He can use nations, or life circumstances to do so.

 
And whose fault is it? Is it God’s fault? Really? He didn’t force us to respond this way. He didn’t force us to respond outside of His will. We’re plucked up because of our taunting. We didn’t appreciate what God wanted to give us, what He was giving us, His hand stretched out to us. And now we’ve wound up in the wilderness, dry and thirsty. Somehow, we’ve even managed to burn ourselves and our fruit is gone, as well as our strength. And we’ve become a byword, a lamentation. Now where is our glory?
Actually, our glory is the same place it’s always been, in God. We have no glory of our own. If we want to shine, You must shine in us and through us. Outside of You we have no light. In You there are Psalms; out of You there are lamentations.

 
What is a psalm anyway? One Hebrew word used for psalm is mizmor. Skip Moen shares, “The word in Masoretic script means, “a song of praise, a psalm.” But the Paleo-Hebrew carries the message, ‘Chaos cut off from chaos secures the person.’ How in the world can this tell us anything about a song of praise?” He reminds us that Hebrew is a language of remembering. Each psalm isn’t just about itself but takes us back to the first psalm and reminds us. The first song is Exodus 15:2 where Moses sings his song of praise to God after the victory over Egypt. What happened? The chaos of oppression of Egypt was cut off by the chaos of the water and God secured his people.” After all, when we really think about David, do we remember him for being king or do we remember him mostly because of his thinking and feelings that were expressed over God?

 
God wants to fill us with psalms, not lamentations. Actually, we were created to be psalms, not lamentations. The Pulpit Commentary shared, “True poetry has its fountains in deep emotion. Thus a living religion naturally finds expression in song, and the spiritual experience of men is uttered in psalms. That religion which is satisfied with the cold statements of intellectual propositions has not yet touched the heart, and is no living experience. There is a fire of passion in true devotion…The Book of Lamentations may be taken as the reverse of the Book of Psalms. Psalmists celebrate the emotions of true religion; the “Lamentations” is a dirge sung over those who have been unfaithful to their religion.” That’s something to think about. Only, maybe we need to take out that word religion and replace it with relationship with God. It seems to me that a Psalmist is someone who knows God and experiences Him and can’t help but bubble over with Him. Actually, our relation to God “is so intimate and vital that it should rouse deep feelings” in our hearts followed by appropriate actions.

 
The people of Ezekiel’s day had ceased having emotion for God. They left off feeling for Him. That’s sad. Why? Because Jeremiah says, “You will say this word to them, ‘Let my eyes flow down with tears night and day, and let them not cease; for the virgin daughter of My people has been crushed with a mighty blow, with a sorely infected wound.” It’s sad when we have a God who weaps over us and we have no heart response in return. Our perfect God, who isn’t subject to the sways of passion, does have passion. How do I juggle the glory of God with a God who feels? My God is so glorious and righteous and unchanging that He can handle all His emotions rightly, unlike me. But could you imagine a God without emotions? Or a God with emotions that were so fickle like that of the Greek and Roman gods?

 
But here we have this God, full of glorious emotion. We have this God who created us in His glorious image, to be emotional about the things He is emotional about and yet to hold those emotions in check under Him. It’s a heart connection, straight to the heart of God. It’s a living Psalm. Zephaniah tells us, “The Lord your God in the middle of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing.” The Psalm starts in God. The Psalm is found in God. The Psalm resides in God. This is where joy is found. This is where rejoicing originates. This is where rest is. This is where love is. This is where salvation is. This is where might is. It’s all found in the middle of God, in the middle of His sovereignty, in the middle of His majesty and glory and righteousness and emotions.

 
This is why God uses that marriage metaphor so frequently in Scripture. God is intimately connected both to Israel first, and to His people of other nations who have placed their trust in Him. God is connected with us, He suffers with us, He redeems us and empathizes with us. If you don’t think so, You haven’t contemplated Jesus’ life. God’s covenant with us is greater than a moral covenant. I should hope that my covenant of marriage with my husband and his with me is more than a moral covenant or our marriage has nothing but emptiness and sorrow to look forward to. It ought to be an “outcome of overwhelming and compelling love” (Skip Moen) just like God’s covenant with all His people.

 
So, how do I respond? Do I choose my own way and disregard this God who passionately loves me? Do I keep following my own path until my feelings for God are dulled and null and void? Will I let myself stubbornly resist until I have dug my feet in so firmly that I bring myself to the point of no return? Will I not learn from Ezekiel’s warning? Would I choose to be a lamentation instead of a psalm?

 
But don’t forget, all were not lost in Ezekiel’s day. Listen to Lamentations 3:1-2, “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath. He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not it light.” That’s terrible, isn’t it? But what if walking in darkness reminds me of my need for the light and my desire to be in the light? Well, then it’s a blessing, isn’t it?

 
In reality, God is our filter. Remove God, and anything goes. Remove God, and chaos ensues, darkness invades. Remove yourself from God’s hand of mercy, and chaos reigns. That’s what darkness is, life outside of God’s mercy. He doesn’t have to inflict it on Israel or Egypt or us. All we have to do is walk away from His protection. Then life just becomes what it is without Him. If I want to know affliction, I just need to step outside of His will or step into a place where others are living outside of His will. Living life without God brings affliction. Life without God is hell. Don’t you realize that the worst thing about hell is that you’ll be forever separated from the love of God there? Forget the fire and gnashing of teeth. Forget the presence of the demons it was created for. It’s for those who choose to remove themselves from God’s hand of mercy and from His presence. And that’s what you get, what comes with the absence of God.

 
That’s what many Israelites got in Ezekiel’s day. It’s what many people run after today. Don’t be fooled. If you think life is hell, it may well be that you are already on the road walking away from God’s hand. But while you live in the land of the living, it’s not too late to return and surrender to the God of the living who loves You and feels for You and invites You to live in Him and with Him and through Him in this life and into eternity. Hell wasn’t created for you. You don’t have to choose it. You can choose to be a psalm instead of a lamentation. Skip Moen sums it up this way, “A man without God is pointless.” But our suffering can point us to God. It can help us understand the pain of others. Don’t be fooled to think that He can’t and won’t use suffering in our lives to draw us closer to Him. After all, am I more than my Master, Jesus, who suffered for me? Yes, we have been called into this chaos so that God’s “chaos”, His love and power and might can overcome. It’s our choice. Who will rule me? Chaos or God?