God is God Through It All

Standard

Picture credit goes to Bryce.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’  And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

These are the words spoken of by a girl by our modern standards.  By Jewish tradition then, a girl could be betrothed at the age of 12.  Most Biblical scholars believe that Mary was 15 or 16 at this time.  This is a pretty foreign and scary concept for us, but it was life then.  And once we get over the fact of her age, can we see beyond that to see the maturity of her response?

Whether she was 12 or 15 when the angel spoke to her, we know that she was “highly favored” (Luke 1:28) of God.  There was something special about this girl’s heart and thoughts toward God.  He noticed.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t afraid when the angel appeared.  She was.  That’s a normal response.  But she controls her fear and listens openly to radical stuff that’s going to change her life as she knows it and change the world.  Talk about world rocking news, her life would never be the same.  And it wasn’t going to be easy for her.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Come on now, that’s wild stuff to hear.  She could have asked, “What sign will you give me so I know this is true?”  “How will I know this is true.  The conditions aren’t quite right.”  But that wasn’t the way she asked.

She didn’t ask “How will I know this will be?” or “How will I know this is true?”  She demonstrated “pure faith and obedience.”  “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  That’s like saying, “How will you do this, considering I am a virgin?”  She didn’t doubt God.  She asked to understand.  And God grants understanding to those who want to know so they can obey.  So the angel explained God’s plan for her.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”  God will do it, in His power, His way, by His Holy Spirit, so what is done and who is formed is holy—the Son of God.

And because she believed already, because she asked for direction and to be included in His plan, God let the Angel give her extra encouragement by sharing a sign to confirm.  “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  This is crazy stuff to a man’s mind.  But this is glorious stuff to a man’s mind set on God.  And for this girl, this was glorious God stuff, because she knew that nothing was impossible for God.  This wasn’t new news for her, his ability to do wonders.

So here is this young girl who doesn’t shed any doubt on the situation like Zechariah.   She doesn’t lay out a fleece, again and again, like Gideon.  She believes and obeys.  She answers, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:35-38)  Later, when she greets Elizabeth and sings her praise to the Lord, her song is full of probably “10 quotations of and allusions to the Old Testament.” (GotQuestions.org)  This girl knew scripture.  This girl knew what to expect because she was waiting for what God had promised.  And she wasn’t only waiting for it, she was walking in those promises, living in them and for them, and she was only a girl.  I’m an adult, is my walk, is my faith like that?

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”(ESV)  “For no word from God will ever fail…” (NIV)  “Every sentence of the Lord’s Word is full of power (Luke 1:37).  Not only in creation or in salvation, but also in war, whatever He says is accomplished.” (Watchman Nee)  Do I believe that like Mary?  Do I believe that every sentence of the Lord’s Word is full of power so that whether in birth or death, joy or disaster, I believe and can rejoice in God being God through it all.  Mary was a girl with her head on her shoulders firmly.  She knew that this news was not easy news, but it was God news.  She didn’t know all of the ramifications, but she knew those that mattered most.  This was God’s promise coming true and He was including her as part of it.  If that was true of me, would I be busy worrying about the rest or would the joy of that fact overwhelm my heart with joy at the thought?

The miracle in Mary was a different miracle than that in Elizabeth.  The miracle in Elizabeth was God’s miracle using “human essence” and filling John the Baptist with His Holy Spirit by His divine power.  John was still a mere man, but filled with the Holy Spirit of God.  The miracle in Mary was different.  “The conception of the Savior was God’s incarnation (John 1:14), constituted not only by the divine power, but also of the divine essence added to the human essence, hence producing the God-man of two natures—divinity and humanity.  Through this, God joined Himself to humanity that He might be manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) and might be a Man-Savior. (Luke 2:11)” (Witness Lee)

What was being done in Mary was something never done before.  And she didn’t argue it.   She said, “Lord, do with me as You please.”  It’s like making stew.  You add all the ingredients together and it becomes stew.  Stew is different than soup or spaghetti.  It’s stew.  But the ingredients in stew are still distinguishable.  The potato remains potato; the meat remains meat.  But they are stew.  And this is what God was doing in Jesus, mingling the human essence of Mary and the divine essence of God together in one God-man.  Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines “mingle” as “to combine or join (one thing with another, or two or more things together), especially so that the original elements are distinguishable in the combination.”  The original elements are still distinguishable.

Mary didn’t have to understand everything.  She just needed to trust in God’s Word, and she did.  She didn’t understand everything that God was doing in Jesus, but she trusted that He was doing whatever He had to inside of her, and she let Him.  I don’t know if she thought about how Jesus had her essence and how Jesus had God’s essence at the same time; that He was both human and divine at the same time.  I don’t know if she thought about how  “Jesus was a mingling of God and man.” (Witness Lee)  This was the beginning of her journey to understanding the God—man, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. 

But she couldn’t have understood if she didn’t believe and if she didn’t follow that belief with obedience.  Oh, that I would so readily believe the Word of God, even if it took me into uncomfortable situations.  Oh, that I would follow that belief with obedience, no matter the cost, because the blessing of being in the will of God, of knowing and belonging to God in the God-man Jesus, of knowing and being known by Him, outweighs everything else.  Oh, that my maturity in You and Your Word would bring forth that kind of response, over and over that I would be a lifetime witness to Your miracles of life and faith.

The “Gentleness” of Jesus’ Correction

Standard

Picture credit to lifeplusreality.worpress.com

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”  Hebrews 12: 11-13

I’ve changed topics today but I couldn’t help it.  I just wanted to think about correction.  Because sometimes, it’s hard to take correction.  Sometimes, some of us take it even harder than others.  There are some of us who want all our correction “candy coated,” you know, kind and gentle and sweet, without pain, I guess.  There are some of us who are just not going to listen no matter what, because we’ve been so hurt in the past, we just block it out, because we take it as an affront, and offense to who we are a person.  There are those of us who hear but then shrug it off because we just don’t take it seriously; our thoughts are elsewhere.  And sometimes, maybe sometimes, we listen and take it to heart and let it change us.

On the other hand, there are those who feel someone needs correction.  There are the outright abusive correctors who attack the person and their character, beating people down with their words.  There are those who are so gentle in correction, that they affirm the character they want to correct.  There are those who are direct and to the point on the issue at hand.  And there are those who can correct, like Samuel with David, indirectly but it takes it home directly in a receptive heart.  How are we supposed to correct?  Are we supposed to correct?  Can we just let people continue on a path that hurts them in their spiritual walk and life walk?  What was Jesus’ correction like?  I wanted to think about that, especially if You, Lord, are to be my example.

As I read it, and you can read and see it too, I’m sure, Jesus was direct and to the unmistakeable point, even in his parables.  I just looked through the book of Matthew alone to see how he responded to people.  And the first place I came to was Matthew 3 where Jesus is approaching John at the Jordan to be baptised by him.  And John would have stopped him.  Why?  “I need to be baptized of you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, that’s a good idea.  Sure.  I’ll do that.”  He answered, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  And John consented.  Well, that’s not so rough for correction, is it?  But maybe that’s like Jesus telling John, “Remember, you don’t get to decide what righteousness is.  God does.  And don’t forget who I am.  If I say it’s righteous, it’s righteous.  Just do it so we are one in righteousness, you, me, and God before all the people.  Is that what You were implying, Lord.  Because right after the baptism, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”  If John saw that, I think he stood corrected in his prior thinking.  No matter what, I am to listen to this guy!”

You even corrected Satan as You resisted him in the wilderness, always correcting him according to the word of God, and that is how You resisted him, despite Your weakened state.  Again, God blessed You and affirmed Your approach at obedience, which included the correction of others.  “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4)

You didn’t run to John the Baptist when he was imprisoned.  You didn’t rescue him.  The only encouraging words that You sent were the accounts of what was happening, which John should have known agreed with Scripture and prophecy.  Maybe those things should have reminded John of that day at the Jordan?  He was a mature believer, right?  After all, he was a prophet with special insights.  Why didn’t You go to him?  Was he being corrected, given a time to learn that “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see,” (Hebrews 11:1) even when you know you are going to be beheaded?  That’s a hard lesson, isn’t it?  But isn’t it also the lesson we need to learn?  Will avoiding losing our head get us there?  What if, sometimes, losing our head is what it takes to learn faith like that?

When Jesus began his ministry, what was his first message?  “I love you guys.  Mwuah.”?  No.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4)  That’s like saying, “Change now because God is here and actively bringing things to a close.  You can’t stay the way you are.  Prepare for Him or miss Him.

He did not conjole or persuade.  He commanded and promised God’s will to be fulfilled in the lives of those who obeyed.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  (Matthew 4:19)

His goal was not to heal people of their sickness and oppressions and seizures and paralysis.  His goal was to restore their relationship with God, to direct them to repentance.  The miracles enforced who He was.  If He had the power to heal like this, then surely He had the power to forgive sin as well.  But miracles were not the focus, ever.  They were only proof that Jesus was given the power of God to forgive and restore us and be the propitiation for our sin, the problem.

And so You taught.  You taught the Beatitudes, the life and spirit character that leads to joy in the Lord and relationship with Him.  But You also taught that if one refuses restoration, refuses to live in God’s blessings, there are severe consequences. 

He set tough standards.   “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)    “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22)  “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)  “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)  “But I say to you, ‘Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” (Matthew 5:34-35)  “But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…”  (Matthew 5:39)  “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’” (Matthew 5:44)  “You therefore must be perfect [complete in character], as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48)  This is what He set for us to measure up to.

For every encouragement Jesus gave, He also gave warnings.  “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, but beware, no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve god and money.”  (Paraphrased from Matthew 6: 19-24) 

He was direct and to the point.  If you were wrong, you were wrong and he was not afraid or amiss to point it out.  “Judge not that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1)  Then You go into more detail in case we say, “Oh, I don’t understand what you really mean by judging.”  I mean, when you say, “”Oh, let me take the speck out of your eye, friend,’ when there is a giant log in your own eye that you won’t take care of!’”  And it’s not just that You relate a parable or a helpful visual aid.  You call a hypocrite a hypocrite!  You imply that people are acting like dogs to their vomit, or like pigs having no regard for precious things, or that they are acting like vipers, poisonous snakes.

Correction can not always be gentle.  Sin is serious, deep stuff.  If left unchanged, if left intact, it will lead to death.  How gentle should one be?  So gentle, one is not nudged to face oneself?  So gentle, one is not urged to step off the fence in one direction or another?  Should I be so gentle that someone else would be eternally lost because their sin was not made much of?  Was Jesus that gentle with me?  If so, why did and does my sin bring me to tears?  If so gentle, why would a prostitute change her life?  If so gentle, why would any Pharisee be converted?  If so gentle, why was Paul knocked off his donkey, blinded, and left to dwell on it for a predetermined time by God?

If the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few, why are we looking for an easy, effortless way to God?  ((Matthew 7:14)  Correction is serious stuff, face it.  Accept it.  “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Matthew 7:19)  Don’t be one of those.  Be corrected.  Your are recognized by your fruit or lack of fruit.  Be corrected before you have to be thrown out!  Be corrected before Jesus has to say to you, “I never knew you; depart form me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)  Why was I lawless, because I refused to be corrected by God.  How?  Maybe I refused to accept correction from my parents or my spouse or my friend or my co-worker or my boss or my pastor or my teacher or my discipler or whoever God sent to correct me.  Maybe I refused to be corrected by His word.  I read it.  I agreed with it.  But that’s it.  I was on par with the demons who believe and take a step farther and tremble at what they know.  But I didn’t let Your word correct my life and behavior and thoughts and ways.  I didn’t apply it.  I didn’t live it.  I didn’t absorb it and let it flow out.

Come on, don’t be ignorant.  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand…and great was the fall of it.”  (Matthew 7:26,27)  Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush with our sin.  You expect us to be corrected.  You expect us to be more than astonished at your teaching. 

When the Roman centurion asked for healing for his servant and told You that You didn’t need to come to heal him, all you needed to do was to speak the words and Your authority would take care of it. You were blunt with Your statement, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:10)  Tell me that the Jews, especially the leaders, being told that a Roman’s faith, a Gentile’s faith was greater than theirs, didn’t offend the hearers that day!!  Yes, sometimes the truth hurts but to withhold the truth is to allow us to live a dangerous lie.  Jesus loves us too much to let us live that lie to our own destruction.

Sometimes, Your correction came in the form of making us eat our words.  “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  “Really?” you think.  “Ok, then, come with me and sleep on the rocks because I don’t really have a home that I stay in all the time.”  What did that man do?  Did he stay?  Or did he go back home to his bed in a house?  Was he for real or not?  “Lord, I want to follow You, but first I need to take care of my inheritance.”  “If you really want to follow me, don’t worry about your inheritance from your dad; you have a greater inheritance to follow.”  Did he cling to his father’s inheritance or God’s?  Did Jesus leave them to think that “vice” was tolerable to God?  Was that thinking ok?  Was it permissable?  (Matthew 8:19-22)

When the disciples, those closest to You, were in the boat and the storm arose, and they woke you saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”  Did You answer them gently?  “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”  Would that sting?  Should that sting?  Should that stop me in my tracks and make me think about my choice, about my belief, about my God?  (Matthew 8:24-27)

When the paralytic was forgiven and the scribes whispered, “This man is blaspheming,” You knew their thoughts.  Did You handle gently, so as not to offend?  “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” was Your correction.  Tell me that didn’t sting.  (Matthew 9)  Continue and see Jesus at Matthew’s house with the other tax collectors and “notorious” sinners.  And when the Pharisees question why Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answers, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”  Did You just tell the teachers to go learn like a student?  Tell me that did not offend them.  But why would You do that?  Because if they don’t learn, if they don’t accept correction, they will be lost and they won’t ever know God for real.

Jesus likened the people, right to their faces, to fickle children who couldn’t make up their minds.  (Matthew 11)  He denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum for not repenting.  It was not gentle, but direct and honest and a warning.  (Matthew 11)  In Matthew 12 when You say to the Pharisees, “Have you not read…”, that was like saying, “You act as though you don’t know and understand this from the Scripture.” 

Do you think the parables were sweet stories?  The Jews understood the point that Jesus was making.  They heard what they wanted to hear and didn’t hear what they chose not to hear, but they knew when the parable was  pointing out correction they needed, only, instead of allowing correction, they took offense.  The disciples said to Jesus one day, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12)  But it’s not just the Pharisees who can take offense.  What about the disciples like Peter, when Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”(Matthew 14:31)  You can’t let it go.  Jesus said, “Let them alone; they are blind guides.  And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”  But You weren’t easier on Your disciples.  Peter asked, “Explain the parable to us.”  And You said, “Are you also still without understanding?”  That was not a pat on the back!

Don’t think that being a disciple excludes us from correction.  “O you of little faith; why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not perceive?  Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?…”  (Matthew 16)  Oh, and THEN they understood.  Maybe sometimes, a lot of the time, we need to be woken up out of our stupour, out of our rest.

One day, Peter confesses Jesus as the the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Wow!  Does he get a pat on the back!  But, I imagine, maybe days later, Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him for telling of His coming death.  Were You gentle with Peter?  “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  (Matthew 16)  Whoa!  I wonder which Peter thought about more in that moment, the pat on the back or this reprimand?  Which stuck more?  I wonder if he was offended?  I wonder if he was hurt?  I wonder if he was more likely to have meditated and rehearsed his pat on the back, than this reprimand now?  I wonder if he just wanted to erase it from his mind, or if he was willing to think about it and meditate on it?

You know, sometimes Jesus doesn’t speak correction at the moment, like when Peter said at the transfiguration, “Lord, it is good that we are here…”  You had more important things to focus on other than Peter’s stupidity in that moment.  But God, He took care of it by His very voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  (Matthew 17)  It’s not good that Peter was there.  It was good that Jesus was there.  That’s the point.  Because Jesus was there, Peter could be, or else Peter would be dead.  Falling on your face and being terrified, though, is that gentle correction?

“Why did Moses allow divorce?” asked the Pharisees.  “Because of YOUR hardness of heart,” answered Jesus.  Ouch!  “I obey all the commandments,” said the rich young man.  “Great, show it.  Live it.  Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  (Matthew 19)  You overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons in the temple and said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21)  Gentle? 

You aren’t a push-over.  “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Why?  Because they weren’t seeking the truth anyways, just an argument.  If they wouldn’t admit the truth about John the Baptist, why would they admit the truth about You?  “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”  (Matthew 21)  No, instead, when they heard your correction and percieved it was directed at them, they dug in their heals more deeply and stubbornly and sought to arrest him, but in some way that wouldn’t offend the people.  Instead of being corrected, they plotted how to entangle You.  (Matthew 22)  Maybe we don’t do that.  Maybe we just justify and justify and justify our own actions.  But isn’t that just-as-bad?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…blind guides…blind fools!…blind men!…hypocrites!…blind guides…hypocrites!…blind Pharisee!…hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.”  Gentle or direct?  Honest or not?  Urgent or passive?

When the disciples corrected the woman for pouring her alabaster flask of expensive ointment on You, Jesus, You corrected them.  “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”  (Matthew 26)  Well, that was an unexpected pat on the back for the woman, but not so for the disciples.  They stood corrected, in front of a woman on top of that! 

Jesus, You knew who would betray You.  You sat at dinner with him and said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  You were saying, “Don’t be fooled.  I know what You are doing.  I know who You are.”  Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so.’”  Did You baby him?  Were You gentle?  “”The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  Does that seem awful?  Does it make me want to follow the same path or avoid it?

“I will not fall away, Lord!  I will be faithful to the end!  They may not be, but I will!”  That’s the kind of thing Peter said.  But Jesus didn’t pat him on the back for his encouraging thoughts.  “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  (Matthew 26)  “No way!  Not me!” answered Peter.  But what happened?  Yes, way.  It was him. 

“Can’t you even watch and pray with me for one hour?!” (Matthew 26)  That’s not so gentle, but it wasn’t so harsh as to keep the disciples awake, was it?  Funny how we can be so insensitive to correction.

“I would kill for You!” and the disciple pulls out his sword when they come for Jesus.  “Put your sword back into its place.  For all who take the sword will perish by the sword…”  The crowds of guards and religious leaders have come to take him away, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?  Day after day I sat in the temple teaching; and you did not seize me.  But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”  Yeah, they were in the wrong and were being corrected, but they wouldn’t accept the correction.

Caiaphas and the council were corrected but wouldn’t have it.  Judas hung himself because he never accepted correction.  Pilate wouldn’t accept correction, he valued the favor of the people and Caesar more.  The soldiers woudn’t be corrected.  But here’s the beauty and glory of Christ.  Jesus, who did no wrong, suffered our correction for us, the ones who didn’t want to be corrected, the ones who didn’t deserve Jesus to stand in for us, and yet that’s exactly what You did.  For every time You corrected me and I refused to accept it, You bore the price on the cross.  It was the only way to win back to God an ungrateful, hard-necked, stubborn people, who don’t want to accept correction, but who need it desperately.

Maybe, in our heart we want to argue, “Oh, no.  That’s only for Jesus to correct like that.  After all, He says, “Be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)  But that’s not the kind of gentle this word means.  I mean, I owned doves, the small, white ring-necked doves like you see Noah holding in pictures.  They have no defense.  They really can’t fight.  Is that what this is?  No!  The word used for gentle implies unmixed and pure, like a mind or life that is free from evil, free from guilt, innocent and simple according to God.  It takes correction to be able to get there because none of us are naturally there at the start.  Paul said, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, [BUT] I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” (Romans 16:19)  We won’t learn this without correction.  What does God want in me?  “…[T]hat you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:15)

I don’t like correction.  It hurts.  But, I need correction desperately.  If left to my own, I would feed my own lusts.  That’s just the way we are.  Lord, I wan to learn to value correction immensely, no matter how much it hurts my ego.  Maybe, if I learn to be corrected, my ego would shrink and I’d be better off anyway.  I want to be like Paul who held Your word so fast, so tightly that he felt he could be proud in the day You return.  I want to be like Paul who isn’t afraid of being poured out like a drink offering for others. I want to be glad and rejoice when I am corrected because it allows me to become more like You and less like the old me.  I want to be trained by correction to be more like You, even if that correction is painful.  Wake me up out of my stupor, whatever it takes, so that I may be changed into Your image.

The Same Way of Thinking, Part 2

Standard

“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.

The Millennial Treasure

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

“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

Standard

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.