The Same Way of Thinking, Part 2

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“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”  1 Peter 4:1,2

How could Jesus suffer in the flesh like that, without retaliating and looking forward to the joy set before him?  Joy?  Peter tells me later that Jesus had given himself over.  He had given himself over to God, fully.  How do I find myself coming to the same thinking and actions as Jesus when I suffer?

I must arm myself.  I must take up arms.  This is a military term.  I must be prepared with my weapons in hand because this is warfare.  But it’s not warfare against men or even demons.  This is warfare against my flesh, against my own thinking that is contrary to God’s.

We are at war against our own human passions.  The Greek word is epithumia.  It’s often translated as lust.  What exactly is this problem with my passion or lusts?  In this case, it’s something like a feeling or desire that controls me.  I don’t control it.  It controls my very thinking and therefore it controls my every action and response.  Peter exhorted, “Beloved, I exhort you as aliens and exiles, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)  Skip Moen describes the meaning behind epithumia this way, “Lusts— the Greeks knew the underlying essence of lust.  Lust is what makes you boil over.  Lust is that force that grips you with its power and causes you to explode.  Lust is passion unbridled.  In fact, the Greek word itself shows us this background.  Epi and thumos combine to mean ‘out of violent movement of the mind’.  Lust is the volcanic reaction that occurs when your mind says, ‘I’ve got to have that now!’ It isn’t accidental that the word thumos is also associated with wrath and anger.  Lust drives us insane.”

It’s the problem that Adam and Eve were overcome by in the garden when they couldn’t stop thinking about eating the fruit.  It’s the whole process of the thoughts they entertained that brought them to that point, that led to not thinking about what they knew as true.  It’s the problem that Cain had when he wouldn’t control his thoughts about God and his brother Abel.  Cain was just boiling over, wasn’t he?  He just kept letting his thoughts dwell, and dwell, and grow and grow.  “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:5)  Do I ever get like that?  Do I take someone’s response to me, whether it was mistreatment or just a response I don’t like, and dwell on it and dwell on it in my thoughts?  Do I let my thinking focus on someone else’s actions?  Do I let my mind, my thinking, let its guard down?  Do I set down my weapon of my mind, and stop thinking about Your truth You have given me?

That is dangerous territory.  That opens my passions to the same path as Cain.  God warns me as well, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”  (Genesis 4:7)  I’m a soldier in a battle right now.  So was Cain.  As soldiers, we don’t have the right to lay down our weapons until the war is over.  And it’s not over.  If I care about being a good soldier, a faithful warrior, a good and faithful servant, I can’t be driven by my desires, lusts, and passions.  I must be driven by the truth.  I must let my mind control my heart, not my flesh. I must let You be in control.  I need to submit my thoughts to You. 

It’s not easy.  Naturally, sin is just waiting for the opportunity to control me.  It’s just waiting for me to lay down my weapon for one second.  Like a crouching beast of prey, it’s lurking for that opportunity to attack when I’m not thinking rightly, when I’m letting my feelings reign, instead of the mind of Christ.  It’s not easy, but what is impossible for man, is “possible with God.” (Mark 10:27).

It’s a reality that as a believer, God, through His son Jesus, has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to think and do according to His will.  Lord, You have not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.  (2 Timothy 1:7)  And here is the reality, here is what that self-control looks like.  It looks like me, surrendering myself to You by surrendering myself within the suffering.  When I experience this sensation or expression that causes me to feel pain, I surrender that experience or sensation to You.  I don’t respond without thinking first.  I don’t let my flesh or my desires or my pain do my thinking.  I take up the weapon of my position in You.  I remember who I am in You.  I remember how Your word shows me to respond.  I lift up the weapon of Your Word and Your love and Your life and Your resurrection and Your Holy Spirit.  And when I stop relying on my feelings to guide me, I come to the point of ceasing to let sin control me because my passions aren’t in control, but You are.

This is serious business.  This is what I am called to as a believer.  I am called to divine warfare and the battle is played out in my mind!  It’s real, not psychological, but if I can’t control my thinking, then my part of the battle is lost!  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”  How?  “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4,5)  My thinking must be lined up with God.  I am responsible to take every thought captive, to submit it under the authority of Christ under God.  I am responsible to rebuke and cast away and destroy every thought that is contrary to You.  Then, I will be able to obey You, to think like You, and to act like You in these situations.

I want to cease from sin.  I don’t want to be controlled by anything but by You.  I want You to be my Lord and Master, my God, not by word alone, but I want my actions and responses to be a living testimony to what I believe about You.  I don’t want to lay my weapon aside and let my emotions rule over me.  I want to be fully surrendered to You.  Let the same way of thinking be in me that was also in Christ Jesus.

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The Millennial Treasure

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Details Matter

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Photo credit to modernobserver.com

 

“And the man said unto me, ‘Son of man, behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you; for to the intent that I might show them unto you are you brought here: declare all that you see to the house of Israel.’” (Ezekiel 40:4)

 
Here we have Ezekiel again. He’s in the middle of a vision from God. That would be something, wouldn’t it? And he sees this man whose appearance looked like brass and he was holding a line of flax in his hand like a measuring reed. He takes Ezekiel and walks him through the chambers of this future temple, giving the measurements of every room and even telling what the rooms are for and who will stay in them. Detail by detail God has the “brass man” walk Ezekiel through. It seems pretty exact to me. It’s one of those passages that maybe we want to speed through because it’s just “measurement details” over and over again. It’s kind of like the books about the priesthood and the sacrifices and all those other detail by detail things. You know, it’s the stuff we want to skip over to get to the “good stuff.”

 
But what if the good stuff lies in paying attention to these minute details? Wouldn’t it seem that those things which God takes the time to stop and give us the little details about just might be that important that He stopped to give us all the little details? Have I stopped to think about that?

 
As a Gentile, you know, a non-Jew, it’s not like I grew up with an understanding of the Jewish feasts and festivals or much of anything that was a part of Jewish life according to Scripture. But it’s in God’s word. Could it be there because He wants me to know about it and understand more about it? Could all these things that seem so foreign and trivial to me matter in my life now and in His future kingdom? Could they tell me something about Him that He really wants me to know? I think so.

 
I was reading a commentary about Ezekiel 40 and the future temple being described here. The commentator referred to this temple as a resurrected temple. I wonder where he got that idea from? It pretty much seems to me that this temple was not resurrected but started fresh. I’m thinking it’s got brand new walls and brand new everything, except for maybe the ground where it will stand.

 
Another commentator, John Parson’s shared his commentary in Hebrew for Christians. This new Temple is to be raised during the Messianic era, that time when Jesus returns and dwells on earth and the Jewish nation returns to God and He reigns. John shares how some of the Jewish sages have had trouble with understanding the book of Ezekiel and even holding it as objectionable. One reason is because of Temple service laws that are different in this vision than in the Torah. That doesn’t sound like a totally resurrected Temple, does it? Some rituals and rules have been changed from the earlier temple service to this one. But here the temple is, important again in it’s role. Would God make the temple important again in the millennial age? I suppose this raises some questions for Christian believers also. Why would God have temple sacrifices again? Hasn’t Jesus already been the ultimate sacrifice for all?

 
Well, yes, He has and He is and He always will be. But what if the temple and the festivals aren’t about pointless ritual or religious service? What if all this is about worship and understanding and knowing? What if we need to see and experience certain things that God has designed to help us to see and remember Him more? What if that is what the God ordained festivals are all about? What if that is what the Temple and it’s service is all about?

 
It’s interesting. In this new temple, not even the priesthood is the same. The priesthood will come from the line of Zadok. That means that not everyone from the line of Aaron will serve as priest. Zadok had remained faithful to David. He is believed to be the direct descendant of Phinehas who was promised “a covenant of priesthood for all time.” You can read about this later in Ezekiel 44. Remember Phinehas? He was the grandson of Aaron the high priest who saw his people worshipping Baalpeor and bringing Midionite women into camp. Moses called the judges of Israel to slay those that were doing such. When Phinehas saw it happen right in front of him, he immediately rose up and took a javelin in his hand and drove it through the perpetrators. Wow! That’s harsh! But flagrant defiant sin infects. If the disease is not eliminated, how many more will be lost forever in God’s judgement by their own choice? God is looking for individuals who know Him and will follow Him and will allow Him to hold their thinking and their lives.
Now don’t get me wrong. God isn’t expecting us to drive a javelin through a rebellious couple or anyone else. But God is expecting me to love and be so devoted to Him and to His ways that I would live in them as though my life depended upon it. I should be so influenced by His word and His Spirit in all the minute details of my life and living that it not only changes my life and makes me live like Him, but so that others around me are influenced by those changes He’s brought into my life. See, the little details matter. It shows that I understand that God doesn’t just mandate. He mandates because He cares and He knows what is best for me because He is the One who created me and knows what He created me for and all of my capabilities, both good and bad.

 
God knows all the consequences of every choice I will make before I even make those choices. The problem is that if I’m not paying attention to God, if I’m not paying attention to His details, I won’t be prepared for the consequences and I won’t be able to avoid them because I will have stepped right into them just like the couple that invited the javelin into their lives. Oh, you may say, “How would they have known?” A Hebrew knew. They had been told. It was all laid out before them. But sometimes they, like us, didn’t care about God’s details, and wanted life their own way. Now, maybe the Midianite woman didn’t know, but I’m not so certain about that either. As I read it, the surrounding nations knew about the God peculiarities of the children of Israel. Their reputation spread like wildfire everywhere.

 
We have a choice. We can pay attention to God’s details and understand that they are for our good to grow in Him. Or we can ignore God’s details, flagrantly defy them, and even mock them. The choice is ours. But our choice will not negate the consequences. God has already established the consequences when He shared the details. What will I choose, the blessing or the curse, life or death?

 
Maybe we, like Ezekiel, have been brought before God today for a purpose. Maybe we, like Ezekiel need to stop and behold with our eyes what God is telling us and showing us. Maybe we, like Ezekiel, need to hear with our ears what You are telling us and set our hearts upon it all. God is very intentional here with Ezekiel and I’m pretty definite that God is very intentional throughout all of His word. May we have eyes to see and respond correctly. May we have ears to hear and respond in obedience. May we have hearts that follow and act and receive and live out Your ways and bind ourselves to You. There’s a reason I’m here today in Your word. There’s a reason You have brought me where You have brought me. The details matter. You are there in the midst of them. Let me not ignore them, but respond to them wholly.

When God is Against Me

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“Be prepared, and prepare yourself, you, and all your companies that are assembled unto you, and be a guard unto them.” Ezekiel 38:7

 
Being prepared is a good thing. Well, it can be a good thing depending on what you are preparing for. I mean, right now, lots of people around the world are preparing for Christmas. That’s a good thing. But there are some people preparing for death. And depending on how they are preparing for that, it might or might not be such a good thing to them. Maybe someone is preparing to tell someone else some bad news. Or someone might be preparing for a graduation. What the land of Magog is preparing for is not a good thing coming their way. The land of Magog is preparing for coming judgement.
Why is Magog preparing itself? Why are they preparing for God’s coming judgement? Because like so many others, they would not prepare for the presence of God in their every day lives. Their every day lives were absent of the One who created them and gives them purpose in this life. Their faces and their lives were “set against” God. And so You God have set Your face “against” them.

 
That’s an interesting expression. You tell Ezekiel, “Son of man, set your face against God, the land of Magog…and prophesy against him…” (Ezekiel 38:2) In verse 3 you tell Ezekiel to say, “Thus says the Lord God; ‘Behold, I am against you, O Gog…” I think of that phrase used in the King James Version and I think of someone facing the other way, refusing to look at and acknowledge Magog, of someone who is working against them. But here’s the interesting thing. That’s not what it means. It really means that Ezekiel was told to set his face toward Magog. And it means that God, You were or are setting Your face toward Magog. It seems like Your back is no longer remaining turned and You are in a place of face to face confrontation. When this time comes, there will be no more ignoring You.
Since I’m trying to understand You and Your word better, I thought it would be good for me if I investigated what it means when You set Your face against someone, when You turn Your face to them. And why would You do that? What brings things to that point? So, into Your word I delve.

 
As I dig, I first come to Leviticus. In chapter 17, verse 10, I read, “And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eats any manner of blood; I will even set My face against that soul that eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.” This is God’s face, His paniym or countenance, being turned toward or near the one He is looking at or dealing with. That word paniym is the same word God used when He spoke of Cain’s countenance falling. And here, in Leviticus we have someone, who ought to know God and the things of God and what delights God and they just don’t do it. God says, “don’t eat blood.” Do I really need to know why? Does there always have to be a reason? Do I need to understand to trust God and obey? For whatever reason, this person who is a part of the people of Israel, which means they are a part of the family of God, eats blood anyways. So what? God sees. God knows. You look closely into that person’s heart and You have the ability to judge their devotion to You, their love, their intentions, their obedience, their everything. You see into every part of that person and know that by their choice, they don’t love and worship You. Why? They don’t honour and value Your commands and they lead others to dishonour Your commands. That’s dangerous, for ourselves and those around us. You won’t continue to ignore that. You will turn Your face to us and deal with us if we won’t deal with ourselves by preparing ourselves in You in the first place.

 
Then there’s the person who offers their child to idols like Molech. Oh, that means that they are worshipping an idol, another God. And You declare, “And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he has given of his seed unto Molech, to defile My sanctuary, and to profane My holy name.” (Leviticus 20:3) That’s pretty bad, isn’t it. Someone who calls themselves a believer in God, a child of Israel, who worships a foreign God? Yet they still continue as though everything is fine in Israel and in their home and in their life. But God sees and God knows. And this has nothing to do with life, but everything to do with death and emptiness. This has everything to do with tearing down and destroying God’s holiness and image before those surrounding this person. It has everything to do with dragging others into destruction with you as you continue with Molech. But God sees and God, You know. And You will not let it continue forever. You will step in, face to face, and confront the problem, and the truth about Who You Are will be made known. And the truth about who the twisted one is, will be made known to that twisted one. It’s good to make sure I’m not twisted. I would prepare myself well by making sure my heart is lined up rightly with the One who created it, before I wind up preparing to go face to face with God, because if He has to confront me in that way, I will lose.

 
Let’s not forget this one, “And the soul that turns after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.” (Leviticus 20:6) And here’s another to remember, “ And if you shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that you will not do all my commandments, but that you break my covenant… And I will set my face against you, and you shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and you shall flee when none pursues you.” (Leviticus 20:15,17) Oh, there’s more to think about: Jeremiah 21:8,10,  “Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death…For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, says the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire,” or Ezekiel 14:7,8 “For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separates himself from me, and sets up his idols in his heart, and puts the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and comes to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the lord will answer him by myself.  And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” And let me add Ezekiel 15:7 about the vine that is not meet for work when it is whole so it is just as useful burned. “And I will set my face against them:; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and you shall know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them.” Why? They have committed a trespass. That’s what the next verse says. So is that the problem here? What in the world is a trespass and why such severe penalties or judgement?

 
A trespass is from the Hebrew word maal, meaning treachery, sin- falsehood. It’s not an accidental slip up. This is deliberate defiance. This is when I know that God has said, “Don’t eat blood,” but I do it anyway because I want to or I don’t care what He says. This is when God says that we are to have nothing to do with idols, or familiar spirits and I run to them anyways. This is when God tells me I should delight in His word and I don’t give a hoot instead or I despise it and treat it with disrespect, any part of it. This is trespassing. This is maal. This is treachery against God, and against others. This is falsehood. This is sin. This is serious. This is worthy of having to be cut off from Him and from His family.  Yes, He will confront this.  He will get right in Your face like a good Father.

 
That other expression about God cutting him off, really stands out to me. It’s in Numbers 15:30 also, “But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among the people.” Maybe more of us ought to be preparing ourselves to hear and understand all of this better. It’s a pretty serious and bad thing to prepare to be cut off. I’d rather not have to prepare for that.  I mean who likes to get caught in the wrong and then stand before your father and have to be confronted over it.  I mean, we know what’s coming when it’s our earthly father, right?  Why do we think our heavenly Father won’t stop us in our tracks?

 
But what exactly is the impact of being cut off. It’s from the Hebrew word karath. It has to do with cutting off, cutting down, and cutting asunder. But it’s a word that’s used in the cutting of sacrifices. Remember when Abram had to cut the animals into pieces and while he was put into a deep sleep, God passed in between the sacrifice? It was a part of covenantal agreements. It’s there in the covenant of circumcision. There’s cutting and blood involved in His covenants. Why? Maybe so we would understand the seriousness not only of the covenant or promise, but the seriousness of the consequences.

 
There is another kind of cutting. There is the cutting of excommunication; the cutting off of relationship. There is the cutting off from community which is vital to us. Imagine being in the wilderness and being cut off from the community of Israel. What would that mean in real terms? It would mean that you were removed from your protection, you would be without any interaction, you would have no provision, and you would be without God. Pretty much, it was your death sentence. Yep, it was death.

 
When You Lord,  set Your face against us, You are turning Yourself directly to us and confronting our treachery face on. You are holding us responsible for it and giving us the consequences. Excommunication from You and others in You is the consequence. Sometimes that’s our immediate death, but even if not so, it’s the beginning of our destruction and our exclusion. Maybe that makes us ask why excommunication? Why death? Because for deliberate sin, for these trespasses, for this wilfulness there was no sacrifice that could be offered for their forgiveness. The sacrifices were for unintentional sins and mistakes, not intentional, not deliberate and wilful disobedience. For that, there is only this being cut off.

 
Wow! Where does that leave me or you? Don’t tell me you have never deliberately and willfully disobeyed. Is forgiveness not available for me? Thank God for something greater than the Jewish sacrificial system. Thank God for Your compassion that offered the sacrifice of Jesus Your Son who payed the price as our sacrifice able to forgive our deliberate sin. Thank God that Jesus bears all our sins away.

 
I need to get this. I need to be preparing in You and not waiting for You to tell me to prepare to meet the consequences of my sin. Trusting Jesus is willfully obeying, it’s determining that Your desires are best no matter how I feel. It’s learning to love Your ways above my own and follow them regardless where they lead here because they always lead to You. It’s about turning my face and my whole life to You When now in preparation so that when You look at me, it’s not in judgment, but to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It’s not some trivial thing we’re reading about today. It’s a matter of life and death, which You proposed to us already way back in the Old Testament. It’s not old and archaic. It’s a timeless truth. It’s life eternal. Sin will destroy me. It will destroy you. It will destroy us. Today should make me stop and think. I should think about the precarious and dangerous situation I am in if I am not right with God in Christ. He is here desiring to rescue and not excommunicate. But I can choose life or death. What will I choose? Lord, I want to choose Your fellowship and the fellowship of Your word. May I learn to delight in everything that is of You.

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.

A Rejoicing Multitude

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“‘…rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” Joel 2:13

 
What does it really mean to rend my heart? To rend, qara, is from the root “revile, paint the eyes, as if enlarging them.” It can mean to cut out, to tear, which is how it is usually used in Scripture. Of course there is this look alike, qara, that has a different pronunciation and is accented differently, and I wonder if it isn’t slightly related?  This other qara is about crying out to someone specific, and it’s also an onomatopoetic word, meaning, it sounds like what it says. Now I’m no language specialist here so, I’m just wondering.

 
But let’s look at the picture here. People were going through the motions of what they ought to do, you know, the outward motions, without the inward motions reflecting the same beliefs in their living. They could rip their garments in feigned repentance because it was what they thought they were “supposed to do.” But You never desired for us to be robots going through the motions of obedience. It’s not just our actions that count, but our hearts. Our heart, our lebab, isn’t just some organ that beats in our chest. What You are referring to here is something different and something more. You are referring to our will, thoughts, and emotions. That’s what You mean when you refer to our heart.

 
The truth is that fixing up the outside of me won’t ever change me. I can tear up my garments to shreds and it won’t change my attitude one bit. I’ll still be the same on the inside. Until I revile any thoughts of my own that stand against You, until I see how grotesquely painted my will is over Yours, until I cut out my emotions that don’t agree with You, I might as well just be running around in torn clothes. I may look pitiful on the outside, but I’m just as full of myself on the inside.

 
Jesus warns us, “Not every one that says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) You can run around saying, “Lord, Lord,” all you want in your torn garments but if you aren’t internally and externally determined to choose His ways and desire what He desires and taking pleasure in what pleases Him, don’t fool yourself, because you can’t fool Him.

 
What does that mean? What is the Father’s will? Jesus told the people to figure it out. What does it mean when God says, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”? And Jesus followed that by reminding us that He came to call sinners to repentance. What is the Father’s will? Rote obedience? Or joyful obedience because we realize the immeasurable mercy that has been shown us through Christ and through every breath we are given? Do we stop to understand the grace and mercy and steadfast love You have shown despite our own behavior toward You? Do I realize how patient and slow to anger You have been with me? Do I realize that I ought to be that sacrifice, yet You spared me? Because I wouldn’t have been a worthy sacrifice at all. I would have been rejected. Yet by faith in You I am made acceptable.

 
But being made acceptable doesn’t mean I’m perfect as I am. It doesn’t give me the right to be more of me. It gives me the freedom to let You be made manifest in me. It gives me the freedom and vision to see and know that You are the only truly good thing in me. The best thing I can do is tear up my own will and my own thoughts and my own desires and throw them in the trash and take on Yours which way surpass mine any day.

 
You can’t really turn partly to the Lord. It just doesn’t work. The Lord says, “turn to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God…” Of the 1050 times that shub, or turn, is used in Scripture we have it repeated twice here because it’s so important for us to get. God wants to help us change our future. He wants to give us a new destiny. The answer is in turning away from evil and turning toward good. But it’s not just about good things. It’s about turning to God and to the things that are pleasurable and delight Him. It’s all about repentance. If I’m all about turning to God, than God guarantees my path. If I want to be radically changed than I have to get on board with the Radical One. Life in the Radical One means a radical life and a radical future.

 
But what if I don’t want to turn? What if I want to hold onto my own will, my own emotions, my own desires? Well, I can. But if I never turn, neither will my future. The locusts will still come and I will be left desolate in the middle of my will, my feelings, and my desires. I’ll have what I thought I wanted. Sounds like the beginning of hell to me. And I don’t say that because I’m holier than thou or being judgmental here. I say that because there have been times when I didn’t want to let go of my will, when my feelings outweighed what I knew was right, when my desires overrode Yours, and it’s a battle. But I have found that You are worth every inch of fight that I have. And the beauty of it is that You fought right there with me. It’s always Your voice that brings me through. Because the last place that I would ever want to be is a place apart from You. That’s the worst part of hell, that You aren’t there.

 
I’ve read true stories about people martyred for professing their belief in You. And I think of this one martyr who was burned at the stake. He went in singing and he had told his people that he would raise his hands over his head and clap them together if he could bear it. He sang till he could sing no more and as the skin was melting off his hands, he raised them over his head, clapped them together, and went to be with the Lord. It’s not the fires of hell that are the worst part. Everything is bearable if You are there. But that’s just it. You are not present in hell.

 
I don’t want to just say I love You or love You with my things and possessions. I want to truly love You. I want You to have my heart, my feelings, my emotions, my dreams, my desires, my will, my plans, my attitude, my everything inward and outward. You are more than theology, You are Real and You are God. You can’t be fully described because You are so great. Your grace and mercy and kindness can’t be measured. Your anger is terrible. And Your desire is to bless us who don’t deserve it. And if I only understood what an immensity it is to be blessed by You, by Your presence, by Your love, by You caring about all the little and big things in my puny little life. If I really stopped to put this all into perspective of who You are and why You would even stop to notice me and ask me to turn to You, I would be stopped in my tracks. It doesn’t make sense.

 
But what would make worse sense, is not responding to a God who loves us so much and would go out of His way this much for us. What would be ludicrous is to refuse Him and to turn away and choose our own measly, temporary way when He wants to give us so much more. I suppose I can choose to think that eternity doesn’t matter and just live for the moment. But the more I read, and the more I see You God, the more I see that eternity has already started. And I can live today like I will live into eternity in You, or I can throw it all out the door. I can begin my weeping now, or I can allow my own choices to so destroy my destiny that instead I choose to be brought to weeping and gnashing of my teeth when I finally have to realize that choosing anything other than You was the most detrimental life decision I could ever make.

 
Lord, I am so grateful that You are a God that cares, that You long for us and seek and save those who are lost. I want a heart like Yours. I want to live out Your will. I want Your desires to be my desires. I want to feel like You feel about things. I want a real heart like Yours, so that even in my nakedness, I would be the same person before You and others. And I want others to want that too. I want them to understand. I want them get it. Because You don’t just call one person to this truth. You are calling together all those who will turn, a whole multitude to rejoice and live in You. `

Poor Edom’s Not Alone

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Photo credit to soulsheparding.org

“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.’” (Amos 1:11)

Poor Edom.  More talk of their punishment.  But it’s not just Edom’s doom being told of here.  Judgment is pronounced on Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, and the Ammonites.   And the list continues in chapter two with Moab, Judah, and Israel.  And maybe it would be good to look at a couple things here.  Maybe it would be a good idea to look a little bit at Amos, who God chose to share this news.  And then maybe it would be good to look at why these nations surrounding Israel were being judged.  And later we’ll get to why Judah and Israel were being judged.  Why?  Because I’m pretty sure it’s a warning not only to them, but to us today.  So it would behoove us to learn.

Amos lived during the reign of king Jeroboam of Israel.  In that time Amaziah the priest of Bethel had an issue with Amos’ words.  He went to Jeroboam and said, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel.  The land is not able to bear all his words.  For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘ O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’ Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, ‘I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.  But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.’”(Amos 7: 10-16)  Isn’t that amazing how You raise up Your people to serve You from the unexpected?  I mean here was Amos, a nobody and a nothing by most people’s standards, a shepherd and tender of figs.  He hadn’t been born of a prophet, and he wasn’t a prophet from the start.  But when You told him to go prophesy, he went, and left it all.  Was there any thought in Amos’ head that lots of people wouldn’t care for what he was going to be saying?  I think so.  But he must have had some intense love and respect for You going on, Lord, to go anyway.  A number of commentators believe that he received ill treatment at the hands of those he was prophesying against.  And yet he obeyed. 

It reminds me of a face book post I read yesterday by Gary Dawson who has lived in the jungles in Venezuela among the Yanamamo since he was a little boy.  He says, “Full time missionaries are now becoming obsolete.  Missions and churches are pulling out their people from all around the world because of danger and hardship.  When has it ever been no danger, no hardship?  The most frustrating thing for me, is to see the great need of so many hurting poverty stricken sin bound people and not have enough to minister to everyone.  I see my sisters with their tiny supply cooking for the old, the blind, and sick from their meager supplies.  I have witnessed us as a family give until we have no more to give.  The biggest challenge is who to give to?  Who needs it the most?  I was reading once again in Matthew 25:35-46 and it says this.  I am going to paraphrase it.”

“Jesus is speaking of the future when He separates people some to the right some to the left.  He says to them on the right side.  He tells them to enter into glory blessed by the Father into a place that was prepared for them since the beginning of time.  He says it is because when he was hungry they fed him, when he was thirsty they gave him drink, when he was a stranger they took him in.  When he was naked they clothed him, when he was sick they visited him, and when he was in prison they came to him.  The righteous will ask him, ‘When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked?  When did we see you sick or in prison?’ He will answer and say, ‘Verily, I say unto you.  Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me.’  Wow!  You just have to love that promise.  But now the scary promise.”

“He then turns to the ones on his left and says to them, ‘Depart form me, you are cursed into everlasting fire. (sort of cools the jets of those that do not believe in hell) prepared for the devil and his angels.  I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in, I was naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  They will reply, ‘But Lord, when did we see you hungry, when did we see you thirsty or a stranger, or naked or sick, or in prison and we failed to minister to you?’  He will answer, ‘Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it not unto one of the least of these, you did it not unto me.’  Wow! do we all ever need to do a whole lot more.  We become so wrapped up in making our lives more easy and more comfortable that we lose the vision of the heart of God.”

But Amos held tightly to the vision that Israel, Judah, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Tyre, Gaza, and Damascus refused to see or grasp.   Of all the people that should have been lights, there were only a remnant and Amos was one of them by choice.  And Gentile or Jew, we have to determine if we are going to live under the Father’s blessing by choosing to obey and agree or we can choose our own way, which will meet judgment instead of blessing, no matter how much we think we were in the right. 

God is all about true compassion not just from a compassionate heart, but from His heart.  Lots of people can show a form of compassion and do good things, but without God, it’s not good, because only God is good.  A good deed without God in the midst of it is empty.  It leads to destruction.  Why?  Because only God offers life because He is life and that’s why He sent Jesus.  No one else could die and rise from the dead as Jesus did.  No one else could live a perfectly holy life by Your standards, without sin, and be fit as the sacrifice for all our sins.  Thank You, Lord, that Jesus didn’t choose comfort and ease instead of reaching out to us and meeting our needs.  That’s the heart of God for others and that’s what we are called to exhibit in You.

It’s not that those who met the needs of the poor and thirsty and imprisoned and naked around them weren’t sinners.  We’re all guilty of three transgressions and four, which means repeated, abundant, and in excess.  But those are they who choose to surrender for forgiveness and accept the heart and ways of God through Christ Jesus and let Him live it out in their lives.  Just like the grace they received, they let it flow out to others.  And it’s not like that other group didn’t have a chance.  It’s not like those eight nations couldn’t have chosen otherwise.  It’s not like people today don’t have a choice.  We all do and they all did, since the beginning of time.

Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament shared, “In this comprehensive pronouncement of God against sin in all these nations, there looms the tremendous fact that God is a God of all nations, and not merely of Israel, and that he will judge and punish sin wherever it exists.  Moreover, the sins denounced are not merely those of violence, cruelty, oppression, injustice, and social wrongs.  Violators of solemn covenants, innovators, and corrupters of the true worship are likewise guilty and will suffer the judgment of God.”  Truly the heart of the problem then and the heart of the problem now is with the heart.  And the heart is controlled by the mind.  And somehow we have this tendency to think too highly of ourselves and too little of the God who created us and holds everything together by His word.  Yes, nations, what holds everything together is not your thoughts or your actions, but the word of God who created us. 

Well, it’s still our choice.  We can choose to surrender to the hand who created us for a purpose and for His glory, or we can choose our own way.  I can be like Edom and despise my birthright.  I can desire something, anything more than You.  And then when I reap the consequences of that choice, I can choose to be angry and take it out on You and those who choose You.  But the truth is, we were all created to know You like that.  We were all created for a relationship with You.  Every nation.  We were created to be brothers and sisters from one Father, only we fell prey to the lies of another father, the father of lies.  One Father brings life, the other father brings death.  One Father only speaks and does truth, the other father only lies and lives those lies.  Amos is warning us about what happens when we lose sight of our real Father.  Instead of becoming like Him and living and leading others into life, we devour and are devoured, we exile and are exiled, we break covenants and are broken ourselves, we forsake pity and are eaten by our own anger, we forsake brotherly love and feel unloved ourselves, we despise the life inside of pregnant women and lose the value of our own.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Because there is a true Father who wants to restore us and our way of thinking back to HIs way of LIFE. 

We can choose life or we can choose death.  Moses said that this choice wasn’t so hard that we couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t so far off that it couldn’t be attained.  It’s not so far away that it’s in heaven and we can’t reach it.  It’s not someplace beyond the sea that we have no access to.  Well, for some it has been and some, it still is.  But for most of us, we have access to God’s word.  It’s near us, it’s in our house, or in the motel drawer, or next door, or around the corner.  I mean, for most of us, it’s even closer.  We’ve heard it.  It’s even in our mouths and hearts so we can actually do it and live by it.  It’s nothing new.  The choice has always been there.  From creation You have set before us life and good, death and evil.  Which I choose depends on what I do with Your words and Your commands.  To obey You, to love You, by walking in Your ways and keeping what You say by agreeing and doing and living it out, is to enter into a relationship with You and to reap those benefits.  To turn my heart away, to not listen and not obey, and to worship anything else or even myself is a death wish and emptiness.   Choose life that you may live in Him.  Choose life that your children may know Life and live.  Love God.  Obey His voice.  Hold fast to Him in Christ Jesus.  There is hope and it is only in You, God.  “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, Who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)