Tragedy Before Perfection

Standard

Image credit to theWallpaper.com

 

“As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Ezekiel 21:6

 
Imagine judgment so terrible that God cuts off both the righteous and the wicked. Imagine judgment so full that it is against all flesh. Once Abram said to God, “That be far from You to destroy the righteous with the wicked.” (Genesis 18:25) But just because Abram said that, does that make his thinking right? Is it not Your holy right and prerogative to do as You will and as must be done for righteousness? If that wasn’t the case, why would Paul be able to say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? Why would he have proceeded that statement with these words, “…with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death”?

 
Is this a hard realization? Yes. The hardest ever. It’s called faith, real faith. Jesus warned us about this kind of faith. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28) Was Jesus just joking? Or was he for real? Has God ever been joking? Or has He been for real like this since before time began? Maybe we’re the ones who have been living like jokes.

 
How is that fair, you ask? How is it fair that the righteous and the wicked would both be killed during judgment? Is it fair that all flesh, that all people everywhere would know that God is Lord? I think it is fair that the Creator of all flesh would be seen and glorified and known as the Creator, Sustain-er, and Redeemer of all flesh. I think it’s a hard bite to swallow for us prideful flesh-dwellers, but if we swallow it, it actually tastes divine.

 
Well, maybe that’s fine if I’m talking about someone else’s demise, right? Maybe some other people in some other country? But not here, not me, right? That’s what makes it easier to swallow? No. It could be me. I could fall by the sword because It’s been appointed for man or woman or boy or girl to die once, and after that—judgment. If I escape death by the sword, I won’t escape death by the hand of God. It is He alone that gives life and takes it away. When He says my days are done, He doesn’t need a sword to finish them, He just takes it back. After all, it was His to give and His to take away, isn’t that what Job said?

 
I don’t know where our rosy picture of life came from. It’s certainly not Biblical. I mean, life before the fall was beautiful and painless. But then, life-after-sin entered the picture, and repainted things. Jesus didn’t come and tell us everything was rosy again. At least not yet. In Matthew we hear Jesus warning us, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”

 
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” What does that mean? If Jesus is my teacher, my master, my mentor, and I am His pupil, His disciple, His child, then I follow in His footsteps and His ways. I eat like He eats and drink like He drinks and sleep like He sleeps and act like He acts and walk where He walks and talk like He talks and think like He thinks. His culture is my culture. After all, He originated the culture of God. If the sword was against Jesus because of judgment, the perfectly righteous One, why would it be against me, His disciple any less? Outside of Jesus, I have no righteousness and I’m rounded up with the wicked. But here was God’s righteous One, crucified under judgment for my sin and yours. If anyone didn’t deserve judgment, here is that One.

 
Let’s face it, anyone who is good by God’s standards can only be so by faith in God, by faith in Jesus Christ’s perfect provision and perfect sacrifice. For man, the righteous and the wicked are all sinners. But not so for Jesus. Am I above my Master? Am I more righteous than He? Absolutely not. To be angry at God is to deny God who He is. This isn’t paradise and I’m not called to live like it is. Paradise is only with God. Paradise is only where the will of God has come and is perfected. Right now, this is not the kingdom of God. This is still in control of the prince of the air. But Jesus showed us the way to bring in the Kingdom of God. But to do so, I have to be willing to count the cost. And I have to let God be God no matter what it means.

 
The truth is, we’re all Jobs. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t all in the same sentence. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face.” (Job 13:14) Maybe I should start understanding that Your ways are higher than my ways and Your thoughts than mine. (Isaiah 55:9) Job finally realized the error in his thinking. Maybe it’s time I realized the errors in mine and let You be God.

 
What does that even have to do with God’s words to Ezekiel? “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.” Whose heart is my heart lined up with? Is it lined up first and foremost with the righteous and the wicked? Am I stepping in as their advocates more than I advocate for You God? Or am I here as Your advocate? How did Ezekiel know how to feel? God felt it first and Ezekiel was so close to You, Lord, that he felt the groaning and the breaking of Your heart and the bitter grief. Ezekiel knew You and knew what His people were losing out on and that was the bitter sorrow for all.

 
See, the truth is that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Take this life from me by the sword or the hand of God and that’s all you do. You take this life. But You don’t take LIFE from me. I have it in Christ. I am a child of God. I am Yours and You are mine. It might be sad, or full of suffering and pain on the way out, but taking away the visible won’t rob me of what is invisibly mine, because what is invisible is far stronger and eternal. But what a tragedy for those who chose wickedness instead, who are the children of wrath and not of God. That makes me want to groan, and breaks my heart to think of what they will enter- an eternity of suffering outside of the will and presence of God. And it’s not like You haven’t been giving us a choice over all these thousands of years. That’s how much You care. What a tragedy to miss that.

Advertisements

The Good Life

Standard

Photo credit to Psyche Angelik Mendoza Villacillo-Zuhura.

“And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.”  Zechariah 10:9

Sometimes we think the life of being redeemed in You is a life of ease.  That’s anything but the truth.  Here, Zechariah and Israel are getting to be a part of a great thing- the rebuilding of the temple.  But let’s not forget that this is happening while being under the rule of a foreign nation.  All of prophecy has not come to pass yet for Israel or for us.  And even though this great thing was happening according to Your plan, God, there was more greatness to come.  Only that greatness would come through and after many more great trials.

How would the people of Israel wind up sown among other people?  Were they deliberately going out and sowing themselves of their own accord?  I mean, You did tell them that they were to be a light unto the Gentiles and that all nations would be blessed through them.  And if we go further back in Scripture to the very beginning, Your mandate to mankind was to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.  How do you do that if you stay in one place? 

Why were the people building the tower of Babel?  Because they were ignoring Your desire.  They wanted to accomplish their own greatness.  So You confounded their languages.  Was Israel doing the same thing for so long in their greatness?  Was there something they were missing about how to be a light to the world?  Is Your way of doing things radically different than the way we would choose for ourselves?

Israel didn’t sow themselves among the people.  You brought persecution that sowed them all over the world as it is today.  But You are still not finished.  They have yet as a nation of scattered candles to remember You in those far countries and be witnesses and return to You.

But what about us?  What do we do when our plans and desires are confounded?  What do we do when the mountains in our life seem insurmountable?  What do we do when the pain seems unbearable?  It’s not that the pain isn’t real.  Betrayal really hurts down deep.  The death of a loved one leaves a deep and lasting pain.  Losing everything leaves an emptiness.  Watching everything ripped from your hands, suffering through cancer or MS, being defamed, abuse, addiction, disappointment, failure…The Israelites would experience things like this and have to continue living.  So will we.  But what will our choice be, to continue living by digging deeper into the God who can keep us?  Or will we dig deeper down into our selves and our self-preservatory ways?

If “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction , for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” (2 Timothy 3:16,17) then maybe we should take note of tough times more carefully.  Because it’s not like we don’t have a God who understands now, is it? 

We look at suffering and we think, “Oh, why am I being punished?”  Or “They must have done something bad.”  Or we just get really upset about it if we think it’s undeserved.  Our attitudes about suffering haven’t really changed much since Biblical times and probably before.  Jesus noticed the attitude.  “You think these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things?” But Jesus said, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”  And He repeated that twice.  You know, that word repent, metanoeo in Greek, means to think differently, to reconsider.  And I don’t think You are asking us to rethink what we think about the Galileans.  I think that You are trying to get us to rethink about who You are and how our lives line up with You.  Maybe we need to return to what is really important- our relationship with You and our focus on You.  Maybe that is what sustains us through the ups and downs and tragedies of a life made chaotic by the entrance of sin.

I mean, why do we think that we should be able to avoid suffering?  Paul suffered on numerous occasions.  Wasn’t he God’s man?  And God let him suffer?  God let him be beaten?  God let him be stoned three times and left for dead?  God let him be shipwrecked?  Where was God when he needed him?  Right there all along.  God is still God, even when our life is threatened or waining.  You know, we don’t hear Paul complaining about these things.  We here Paul telling others that this will be a part of our life so learn to suffer victoriously and well in the Lord. 

Paul, a sufferer, and physical sufferer too, stated “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith…”   Why?  “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” (Philippians 3:8-10)  Because by faith, one day, when the end did come, he would experience the resurrection of the dead unto eternal life.  But the fellowship doesn’t start then.  The fellowship is already. 

The fellowship is already because Jesus suffered and we are not above our Master, are we?  On the walk to Emaus, Jesus reprimanded the two disciples.  “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”  Suffering was an imminent and necessary part of being the Messiah.  Because Jesus suffered being tempted, He is able to relieve those who are tempted.  By suffering, the Son learned obedience.  He suffered as a sacrifice for others.   So Peter tells us, “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) 

What was His example?  When he was reviled, He didn’t revile back.  When He suffered, He didn’t threaten the one inflicting the suffering nor did He threaten God.  But what did He do?  He committed Himself to God, to the One that judges righteously.  He trusted Himself and His outcome to God even though the results on this earth stunk, to put it lightly.  He trusted God to make it right in His time and in His way.  And that’s where our problem lies, doesn’t it?  We don’t want to let God do it in His way or His time.  We aren’t surrendered in that kind of trust.  We want it fixed now, now, now!  Who’s plan is it about anyway?  Mine or God’s?  Isn’t that what it comes down to?

But thank God that Jesus didn’t think like us or He never would have gone to the cross.  But He obediently suffered for us and now, in Him, no matter what transpires in my life, I am able to think just like Him and experience suffering as victoriously as Him.  But if I don’t finish the course, I can’t be victorious.  And Peter again reminds all those who are living their trust in Christ, “But the God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make You perfect, establish, strengthen, settle You.”  (1 Peter 5:10)

How do I make it through this suffering?  I trust.  I believe that God understands the bigger picture.  If Jesus believed that and obediently suffered all He did faithfully, and a mere man named Paul could have the strength to do so based on his trust in You, then what’s my problem?  Doesn’t it boil down to a lack of trust?  Because if You are the I AM, and You ARE the I AM, then it’s not an issue about You doing anything.  Whether You do or You don’t, You are worthy and You are bringing Your will to pass the way You see fit that is right and pure and true and holy.  And I need to trust You just because You are You.  I need to trust You when life is rotten or when life is grand, because though my life changes, You do not.  Am I striving for a good life or am I looking with all my heart at pursuing fellowship with You?  Because the truth is, You are the only Good Life.

A Love So Deep

Standard

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”  John 15:11

Yesterday, in the morning church service, I can’t even remember what it was exactly, but You struck me with a question, Lord.  Maybe it was a left-over thought from Small Group that morning, or an overflow from the thoughts in the singing, I don’t remember.  But I didn’t want to forget, so I picked up my journal and wrote it down.  “Am I willing to experience pain and keep on loving like You?”  That’s the question. 

And somewhere, after that thought, we sang Forever Reign.  Now, You made me so that words mean so much.  So here are those words spoken to my heart, “Am I willing to experience pain and keep on loving like You?”  And then You add to them the words from this song.  You reiterate Your goodness and my lack of goodness.  You reiterate Your love displayed so publicly.  You reiterate Your light that overcomes darkness.  You reiterate Your hope that covers my sin and goes beyond.  You reiterated Your peace that conquers my fears.  You reiterate Your truth despite my wandering time and time again.  You reiterate Your joy that is why I sing.  You reiterate Your life which means more than me not being afraid of death.  And then I come to these words, “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms!  The riches of Your love will aways be enough.  Nothing compares to Your embrace.  Light of the World forever reign.”  And then the list of what You are and who You are went on.  But all I could think of was how desperately I need to run to Your arms.  All I could think of was about the riches of Your love and how Your mercies are new every morning, every moment despite me.  All I could think about was that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, compares to Your embrace.  Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, compares to Your presence and Your nearness and You.

“You are more than my words will ever say,”  how close to home that hits.  Look at me and how I love to write and I love words and living them but all my words pale in comparison to You.  All I can share is some little glorious particle of You.  You are so much more.  You are Lord and even creation declares it whether we listen and acknowledge or not.  You are here.  I can know and experience Your presence.  Without it I am empty.  In You I am whole.  You are God.  That’s all that matters.  I can let go of everything else and hold to the thought that is You and I will be O.K.  No, I will be better than O.K.  Because it’s what makes my heart sing.  You make my heart sing.  You are my song. 

But that’s the problem.  Sometimes our hearts want to sing a different song.  Sometimes we look for our completeness elsewhere in other people or things.  But not one of them is a viable alternative.  And maybe sometimes we aren’t even interested in looking anywhere.  But there is no other name, no other person, no other thing where completeness and wholeness and well-being and love and peace and joy and perseverance can be found except in the person of Jesus. 

I know that because there is no one who has ever loved me to the extent that You have, Jesus.  In Isaiah 46:6, You call Israel to remember.  You say, “Remember this, and show yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O you transgressors.  Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me…”  Do I think that Israel is the only child who needs to be reminded?  No, I get lost in misplaced trust also.  I get lost in selfishness.  I get lost in my feelings.

Time and time again, the Israelites got lost in their circumstances and their desires.  And sometimes God had to bring bigger, harder things into their lives to get them to realize their dependence on Him and emptiness without Him.  Besides that, we just forget.  We forget that You have a plan and that none of these adverse circumstances or terrible events in our lives changes or stops that plan.  We forget who You are and give more power to these circumstances.  I suppose we let these things in our life become idols that control us.  But You wake us up, harshly if You have to, because You love us.  You say, “ Listen to Me, you stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness…”  I suppose we can interpret that as stubborn but it’s only stubborn because we’re refusing to acknowledge that God is still sovereign, still in control.  See, it’s a brave thing to be stout-hearted under the right commander, but not if Your heart is following the wrong leader.

Through all the junk in life we experience, through all the heart-ache and suffering, God is in control.  You are having Your way.  And the secret is to remember You and draw near to You and Your righteousness.  You tell us it’s not “far off” and Your “salvation shall not tarry.”  Just like You promised Israel, You promise us and You made good on that promise and You make good on it.  As a matter of fact, Jesus went through more junk than we’ve been through for our sake and for God’s glory.  And it’s by this that we know love.  It’s by this that we experience fellowship with You, God.  By what?  “That He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

Think about that.  What was Jesus’ attitude to all the crud of life that happened and stood against Him and His?  “For the joy that was set before Him” He “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)  You were controlled by the joy of what would ensue, what would come.  You despised the shame, You deliberately chose to look at the shame and the meanness and the horror with contempt.  You chose to not regard it.  You chose to regard the joy of bringing people into God’s kingdom more than the horror You were experiencing.  Maybe the horror was just momentary, but You knew the joy was eternal.

How could You look to the joy over the pain?  Because God was Your focus.  And God’s focus was on our good.  And God was so worth it, and was holding us so worth it, that it was all You could think about.  It was all You could think about, to bring Your children, Your brothers into Your kingdom with You for the glory of God and the fulfillment of His pleasure.  It was worth Your death to You.  It was worth the pain and suffering because Your love was so great.   “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  You know, that’s true, and I can’t get over it.  But then again, I’m not supposed to.

But it was never meant to stop there.  “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.  And You also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26,27)  That’s what 1 John 3:16 is reminding us.  “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  I can’t be a true witness for You if I’m not like You.  I can’t be a true witness for You unless I respond to circumstances like You did, for the joy set before me.  See, I have brothers and sisters out there, some who don’t even know they are yet,  and the way I respond to life’s circumstances will be a demonstration of what I believe about You.  My life is my witness to who You are that others will see.  Every day You ask me to follow You.  Every day You ask me to lay down my life for others in the same way You laid down Your life for me.  Will I lay down my life by keeping my focus on God’s glory, by clinging constantly to Your presence, and by never forgetting the love of my brethren and looking toward their benefit over my own?  That’s the question, isn’t it?

Am I willing to experience pain and keep loving like You?  It’s not easy.  But I’m starting to learn.  I’m starting to stop focussing on the pain because I do love You more.  And I love the ones You’ve put around me.  I want them to finish well and if I don’t, well, I might lead them down the path of death instead of life.  I don’t want that.  Lord, I want to be able to suffer in righteousness keeping my eyes on You and not the pain.  I want to look at You and think about the joy of those others who will look to You unwaveringly too.  Maybe it’s not even about being strong.  Maybe it’s about a love so deep that it conquers even in weakness.  I want to love that deeply that there is no conquering that love because it’s straight from You.  And in that love is where my joy is complete.  And in that love is where the joy of my brethren will be complete.  And in that love is where I want to be, because that’s where You are.

On Existing and Contentment

Standard

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Philippians 4:11

“One often learns more from ten days of agony than from ten years of contentment.”  Now that’s a quote from someone named Harold Coffin and I have no idea who he is.  But I think that what he is saying is true although, I think the point of the agony is to teach us what it is to be truly content and how to be truly content.  Henri Frederick Amiel said, “True humility is contentment.”  If so, how do I learn true humility and what is contentment?  Well, what is contentment according to You, Lord?  What should it look like in my life?  Even Dahli Lama felt that ” When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied.  But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yes, I already have everything that I really need.”  Is this really what contentment is?  And how to I find contentment?

Now Paul was trying to commend the Philippians on how they had encouraged him through giving even when others had not.  But he wasn’t focussing on the part about being in need.  He was focussing on the fact of existing.  And Paul existed sometimes in great need and dire distress and agony at times and at other times he existed in situations and circumstances of abounding provision and pleasurable times.  Don’t we all?  But Paul was telling the Philippians and us that he had to learn something through it all, and that was how to be content in every situation, wherever God chose for him to exist at the moment.  So the question for me is, how do I respond to how God chooses for me to exist?

If I read the following verse I hear Paul telling me how God taught him and initiated situations in his life that abased him, or brought him to humility.  I suppose some of those situations, Paul willingly humbled himself in but I also suppose that there were many situations in his life where others abased him or humiliated him against his desire.  But Paul is telling me that both situations were given of God, our Sovereign, who loves us and who has plans to prosper us in Him, to learn contentment.  Isn’t it interesting that Paul lists firsts the abasement before listing that he learned to abound?  What if I didn’t learn contentment in suffering first?  Would I not really appreciate abundance as much?  Would I forget how to be humble?  Whereever we exist, whenever we exist, whoever we exist with, whatever situation we exist in, God is teaching how to respond to fullness with abundance and to craving desperately in need.  He is teaching us how to abound and how to suffer, because we have to learn contentment.

Well here I am back to the question, “What is contentment?”  It’s Hebrew equivalents stem out of two words, ‘avah and ya’al.  According to Skip Moen, ” both words convey the idea of choosing.  ‘avah is about being positively inclined to respond.  Ya’al is about making a decision to act.  Neither one conveys the idea of simply waiting around for something.  To be content is to choose a certain frame of mind, a certain kind of external activity, a certain way of being in the world.  That’s why contentment has to be learned.”  It’s all about choosing to exist in God and where he places us at whatever time.  It’s not about choosing to be content with someone or something or even our feelings.  It’s about being satisfied in Him.  It’s about trusting that He is at work, that He has designed this situations for my growth in Him and my growth for the good of others.  It’s a learning process that He has designed for me and my measure of contentment reflects what I think about Him and whether I am yielded to His true control of my life.  It tells whether I truly believe that He has my best interests in mind.  It’s all about whether my contentment is truly found in You, Lord, or in my own desires.

Contentment boils down to me truly learning to delight in the Lord to the extent that You, Lord, become the desire of my heart and Your pleasure in me and over me becomes what I desire more than any other situation, circumstance, or treasure in my life.  It’s about me choosing a life based on Your provisions, Your purposes, Your plans, Your care and love for me.  It’s about absolute trust which is somethingwe lost in the garden and have to be taught to regain.  So every one of these situations keeps teaching us and drawing us closer to You when we learn to respond not to the situation or trial but to You again.

And the best part of it all is that none of us have to learn alone.  I can do it, and we can do it, because You gave us Christ to strengthen us!  I can abide in Him and He abides in me.  That’s a living that is existing.  I exist in Him and He exists in me.  What if I stopped forgetting that?  What if I remembered that in every situation and took my eyes off of people and how they wrong me or disappoint me and off of situations that are so painful and kept my eyes and heart in You?  What if I just kept running to You, dwelling in You, soaking up that existing and relishing in You?  I wonder if I would learn true contentment then?

Well, Lord, I do thank You for the hard things You’ve been bringing in my life and even in my emotions.  I see how You are teaching me contentment in You.  Every day You become more precious.  It’s hard learning.  But You become so much more, as You ought through all of it.  I am so glad that You designed us to learn this way, through experiencing existing and I am so glad that You understand all that You bring me through because Christ also existed as God and man on earth.  So, Lord, as I continue to experience existing in You, use everything in my life to teach me contentment in You.  May You be Satisfaction in every circumstance.

He Can Take You Through Anything

Standard

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:10

Really?!  Am I supposed to be happy when I’m persecuted?  Happy?  Because that’s what some versions like the Good News Bible say, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires…”  Somehow, I think happy and blessed don’t measure up.  I think that’s like saying that You, Jesus, were happy to go to the cross.  If You were so happy about it, why did You sweat drops of blood the night before and ask that the Father would take this cup from You?  Is that happy?  Or is that something different?

Your crucifixion, Your suffering for us, Your persecution is the ultimate example for us.  To understand this beatitude, I must understand Your response to persecution.  And it’s not just a response to any persecution, but to persecution that results because we uphold You and Your ways in our lives and before the world around us.  It shows that we are kingdom related, that we belong and are inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven–Your kingdom–with You.   So what does this mean for me in the reality of my every day life?

First, I need to understand that this being blessed isn’t talking about me receiving a reward because I’m persecuted, or meek, or mourn, or am a peacemaker, or whatever.  It’s all about the way I am.  This blessed is my condition of heart and thinking and living.  The Greek word for blessed, makarios, translates back into the Hebrew word, esher.  This esher is a state of bliss.  It’s a state that we live in.  I enjoy heavenly bliss because I live and walk in it.  It’s the state of my heart as it walks in the bliss and well-being of walking in godliness, reflecting God’s character.  It’s better than being happy, because there are painful circumstances which will not leave me happy, but even in those painfful circumstances I can still live in this state of bliss in You, Jesus, and in all that God has done and is doing.  This state of bliss describes me, it describes how I live and how I think and what makes me tick.

Even in the midst of persecution I keep ticking for You, Lord.  I keep rejoicing in You and Your presence and You and what You have done and You and how You will never leave me even in the midst of my toughest trials.  I rejoice that You are here.  You are my God.  And I am Yours.  And though my life should fall apart around me and my health fail and I suffer excruciating pain beyond what I ever thought I could bear, You carry me through.  You carry me through for Your sake, for righteousness’ sake.  Because this glorifies You and shows how amazingly powerful and loving You are.

So what does it mean for me to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake?  What if this isn’t just about when I’m persecuted?  What if this word for persecution means more?  This Greek word, dioko, means “to persecute, to pursue, to prosecute.”  Those are not very delightful words.  Now, if I’m pursuing and not being pursued, that could be in a positive light.  I found that the Septuagint actually uses the Greek dioko to translate the Hebrew word radaph which actually means “to pursue” instead of to persecute.  So what if this beatitude is about pursuing?  And what if this would apply in every situation of my life, whether persecution or plenty?  What if it’s all about me pursuing righteousness no matter what?  Whether I’m in the deepest persecution or bountiful living or somewhere in between?

Skip Moen states, “Those who pursue righteousness are experiencing the kingdom as a present reality.”  Think about that.  If I’m one of those pursuing righteousness, I’m living for the kingdom right now.  It’s not just a future goal.  What does God say about that?  Hear the words of Jesus in Luke 11:2, “And He said unto them, ‘When you pray, say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”  So God desires we live out His righteousness now, not just in heaven.  This isn’t about a future earth.  This is about every day I live, in every circumstance good or bad I am confronted with.  And something I’m starting to learn is that EVERY situation in my life, good or bad, is placed there by God to provide an opportunity for me to choose His righteousness and glorify Him.

I suppose the point is that I can’t be persecuted for following righteousness if I’m not following righteousness in the first place.  Peter talks about this theme.  “And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?  But and if  you suffer for righteousness’ sake, [makarios] are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled: but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear…” (1 Peter 3:13-15)

I guess the easiest way for me to understand righteousness is to replace it with Your name, Jesus.  Everything that Jesus values, that He did, that is of His character, what He loves, what He abhors, that’s righteousness.  Righteousness is exhibiting the character of God.  It’s following His ways and His heart.  It’s knowing Him and living in that knowledge.  And that takes the power of God, in Jesus Christ, by His Holy Spirit to enable me to do that.  I must live a life of trust and dependency no matter my circumstances.  And Jesus and Peter are telling me that I can and this is how and this is why.

1 Peter 3:12 tells me, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers…”  God doesn’t just look for looking’s sake.  God is looking for those who are inviting Him to do His will in their lives.  He sees those who are living in Him and He brings His righteousness to life in them.  He hears their cries, their pleas for more of Him, and He acts upon that righteous desire that He has begun in us.    He is looking for people who have responded to His character by pursuing Him in their own lives.  These are His.  These will suffer in the world because of choosing Him and sometimes just because, because all people suffer at some time.  But if pain is imposed on my life because I am taking a stand for and in Jesus, I won’t break, I won’t fall apart.  My relationship, my strength, my confidence, my dependency, my love, my joy, my hope in the Lord will not be broken because it is real and it is firmly rooted and grounded in His love and He is firmly rooted and grounded in me.

Persecution doesn’t change my relationship with You, Lord.  It strengthens it.  It draws me closer to You.  I pursue You more.  I cling more tightly.  I hold faster.  And You do the same for me.  You show up in special ways, personal ways.  I’ve experienced that.  I’ve heard missionaries who have been through far more persecution that I as they stood firm in You say, ” If it weren’t for Jesus I would have gone mad or recanted.”  But You, Lord, gave the strength to stand in You.  This is way deeper than happy, and I suppose the only way You can describe it is to just experience it, which means to know, you have to experience Jesus for Yourself.  To know what this is to be blessed You have to surrender fully to Christ and let His character take over Yours.  I have no choice but to stand up for God, because there is nothing, absolutely nothing else worth standing for.

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  It’s a win-win situation.  I’m covered at both ends.  I’m covered by the grace and love and power of God before persecution as I walk in Him and abide in Him and exhibit His character and follow His ways in my life.  But this also, as I demonstrate the reality of who I am in the Lord, demonstrates that I belong to His kingdom.  The Greek actually says this, “For of them is the kingdom of the heavens.”  So, what if pursuing the kingdom is part of bringing the kingdom to be?  And what if those who are pursuing righteousness, find it in Christ, and experience Him, which is bliss, and they can’t stop pursuing Him because He is everything and His pursuit is brought into the world around them because we pursuers want those who aren’t pursuing yet to know Him and His bliss?  I’m starting to believe that persecution for standing for Jesus, is just an opportunity for God to allow us to usher His kingdom into our world because it drives us and others closer to Him.

Sometimes love is a painful pursuit, but real love doesn’t give up that pursuit for anything.  God’s love is the only real love.  He demonstrated the magnitude of His love through Jesus Christ who pursued our well-being and our intimacy with His own glory and life.  He suffered persecution and death for each of us not for a prize but because He knew what the bliss of God was like.  I mean, what kind of prize am I?  Yet Jesus died and rose again to draw this sinner into His righteousness, into His loving, powerful arms.  Why?  Because of the joy set before Him.  And what was that?  I used to think it was Him thinking about me being reunited with Him.  But now, I think it was for the goal of oneness with God, to fulfill His will no matter the cost, to be in full unity with Him again.  And in doing so, He made a way for us to be re-unified.  I must choose life in Him, life within the Father, in the Son.  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Those aren’t just words in a prayer.  It’s not just some vain repetition.  This must become my heart’s desire and my way of life.

“As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.”  Jesus was sent to bring the kingdom of heaven to us.  He is the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Am I going to seek and pursue first above everything the kingdom of God, and His righteousness?  I will gain everything I ever needed in Him to do so.  This is serious stuff.  Because if I’m not willing to pursue Your righteousness no matter the cost, then I’m not part of the kingdom either.  Because the only ones that live in this bliss are the ones that do Your will, that live in and by it.  And that “do” is that word I love.  It’s that “poieo”  which is the doing of Your doing.  It’s when You flow from us and can’t be stopped.  So the one’s who do Your will, know You, and You are flowing out from inside.  This is the one that You can take through anything.

The Suffering Soldier

Standard

“Blessed are the meek:  for they shall inherit the earth.”  Matthew 5:5

So, here I am on the third beatitude.  First, Jesus, You take me to look deeply into what it really means to be poor in spirit.  We’re talking utter dependency and humility here.  Then I take one step farther and You lead me to try to understand what it is to be a mourner.  And that is humbling and dependent in itself upon You and Your way.  And now, You call me to meekness.  You call me to affliction, oppression, and humbleness under the hand of God, in this fallen world.  It’s like I’m a slow learner.  Because it just seems like different ways to continue to live in and learn the same lesson; how to be humble like You.

And today’s searching, just even the tip of it, already knock’s my socks off.  You’ve already got me in tears.  Because it just keeps getting harder and more personal.  But I see Your hand and I feel it even more as You draw me closer through Your truth.  And the harder it gets in my life, and the more You reveal Yourself in Your Word, the greater You become though my situations or circumstances may grind me into the ground.  Yet there You are, rising above the affliction, standing strong in the midst of the oppression, unchanging, and continuing in control.  And You are my God.  And You will always Be.  And You will never cease being Who You Are.  And a meek person knows that.  And a meek person clings to that.  Because a meek person clings to You no matter what.  And You never let go.  “My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.”  Those are the words of Jesus, of God.  And I can count on them.  Because I can always depend on Him.  Yes, I can ALWAYS depend on You, Lord.

This word meek is “praus” in Greek.  But Jesus is directly quoting Psalm 37:11 here.  “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”  Meek here is the word “anawim” or the root “anaw”.    David uses it again in Psalm 25:9 when he says,  “The meek will He guide in judgment:  and the meek will He teach His way.”  Actually, it’s used over 200 times in the Tanakh, or Old Testament.  So what does this Hebrew concept of “meek” mean?

This is a pretty deep word.  If it doesn’t well up some emotions today, I don’t know what will.  Because it’s basis isn’t really about any moral or spiritual condition.  That’s just an extension.  This is about life and the reality of life and what is inflicted upon us and how we are to look at it and respond to it.  This root, this word, “carries the sense of being forced into submission or being inflicted with pain for punishment.”  It’s always in scenes such as “conflict, oppression and war.”  You know what’s worse?  “It is even used as a description of what God does to His enemies and the ‘humbling’ of captured women.”  Not sounding good, is it?  Pretty sad stuff.

Yes, this is sad.  It seems that humble mourners just became humbled mourners.  I mean, it’s one thing to humble myself, but a whole other thing to be humbled by someone else.  This is painful stuff.  So what does it mean and who does it look like?  Well, Moses is an Old Testament example.  Numbers 12:3 states “(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)”  This is being stated in the midst of conflict, where Miriam and Aaron are not only opposing Moses, but opposing God’s authority in Moses itself.  But look back on his life.  I see lots of affliction and oppression.  But I also see a man, who though he couldn’t see himself being a leader, submitted to God’s authority anyway.  And he continued to submit no matter how tough it got.  And he was so submitted that the tougher it got to lead, the more he was willing to offer himself as a sacrifice in place of the people who were causing the conflict with him and against God in situation after situation.  Sounds like Someone Else I know.

Here’s the ultimate example–Jesus.  “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.”  Of all those who have ever been persecuted, oppressed, inflicted with pain, and forcefully humbled, Jesus rises above them all.  In the midst of being humbled by man, Jesus humbled himself before them.  “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”  Why?  Because Jesus understood that our persecution, our troubles, our oppression, our battles, are testing grounds and are all under the control of our heavenly Father.  This wasn’t man’s battle.  This was God’s battle.  God has it all under control.  He did and He still does.  Am I meek enough to believe that just as Moses did and just as Jesus did?  They didn’t just believe it; they knew it.  And they lived it.  And they died it so they continue to live it forever.

So, all this terrible stuff going on in my life, or yours, or those in countries where women and children are being raped and boys and fathers are being shot, is that just because some evil men are in control?  Are earthquakes and tsunamis and typhoons in control?  Are they just blind catastrophes?  Or is God using affliction.  Is this a mark of His hand on our life?  Do I need affliction to learn what I must learn?  If I can’t surrender to God in affliction, am I truly surrendered to Him at all?

I must remember that I am not a victim.  God is in control.  No matter what, He is in control.  Paul reminds Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8, “Don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor me His prisoner: but be a partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel according to the power of God.”  That’s strong stuff.  “Hey, Timothy, don’t be afraid of the life and example and death of Jesus.  Don’t be afraid of partnering in that life now.  It’s the same power of God that brought Jesus through.  It’s His power that brings me through.  And it’s His same power bringing You through every one of those similar afflictions.”  I don’t want to stop at verse 8 because I think the rest empowers us to trust amidst the most terrible of afflictions, to walk in that “meek” spirit of surrender to an almighty God “who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace [that’s made known through what we see as the terrible pressing of our oppressors but is really His working (my insight here)], which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but now is made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel…”  Yes, this Gospel is coming to life in my life and the life of every believer through our being brought through the deepest afflictions.  How else can we be partakers with Christ?  How else can we ever understand His sufferings?  How can we understand anyone’s sufferings?

But it’s not finished yet.  So, for the sake of Christ and for the sake of those yet to know Him, Paul suffered.  He submitted under the hand of God, to be hurt by sinful men, that someone might come to know God by the power of God shining through a suffering soldier.  “For which cause I also suffer these things:  nevertheless I am not ashamed:  for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”  What had Paul committed to Jesus?  What had Paul committed to God?  Everything.  All of Himself.  All of his hopes and dreams.  Everything he called religion.  All of his belief.  All of his trust.  All of his body.  All of his pride.  All of his shame.  His whole purpose.  His whole life.  His whole death.  His friends.  His enemies.  His circumstances.

Fate does not rule.  Chaos does not rule.  Circumstance and evil men do not rule.  There is One who is sovereign in the midst of all of this.  He is guiding it all to His purposes.  Will I trust Him?  Will I trust Him when it hurts?  Will I trust Him when I don’t understand?  Will I trust Him when the pain seems unbearable?  Because God is working in me.  He has not forsaken me.  He is busy molding me to be like His Son, like the suffering servant.  Yes, all this affliction and trouble in my life has purpose.  It’s not without meaning.  God is shaping me to be more like Him, will I submit to His shaping.  Will I start looking to Him and stop looking at the oppression.  Because if I start looking at You instead, Lord, I can start seeing and hearing what You want me to learn.  And I can walk like Joseph saying, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”  I want to keep my eyes, and heart, and mind, and life on what You mean, Lord.  Keep me focused on You so I can walk like You in the midst of affliction and lead others to You in the midst of their affliction.

Carry Me In Your Delight

Standard

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (John 21:18)

These are Your words, Jesus, to Peter here.  And John tells me that these words were to show Peter what kind of death he would receive to glorify You.  But the fact that it’s followed by Your telling Peter these words, “Follow Me,” makes me think that it doesn’t just tell about Peter’s future death.  It tells me that this is also a story about Peter’s current and continual death.  And therefore, it’s an opportunity for me to learn about the benefit of my death also.

Now this isn’t supposed to be creepy with all this talk about death and talk about my death.  I’m not talking about my martyrdom here like You were talking about Peter’s future martyrdom.  But Peter’s future martyrdom didn’t start in the future.  Peter’s future martyrdom was not an unrelated future event to the things starting to take place.  And this is important stuff for Peter to grasp just as it is important for me to grasp.  Any time You repeat “truly, truly” You are saying, “Pay attention here.  This is important.”

You start with Peter at the beginning.  You start with Peter at the beginning of himself.  And where was he at the beginning of himself?  When he was young, he used to dress himself and walk wherever he wanted to.  When he was young, he was in charge of himself.  He did what he wanted to.  He made his own decisions.  He put on what he wanted to put on.  He conducted himself in his life the way he desired to conduct himself.  And isn’t that true for me, for each of us?

When I was young, before I knew the Lord, I made my own decisions based on what I felt was right.  I went my own way.  I felt what I wanted to feel.  I acted the way I wanted to act.  I did what I wanted to do.  I conducted my life based on my feelings, my hopes, my dreams, my idea of what was right or what was wrong.  I didn’t realize it, but my life was all about me.  It was all in my hands and up to me.  Or so I thought.  And it was the same for Peter.

That’s because there was a time when I “girded” myself, when I dressed myself, when I “zonnumi”ed myself.  I was a prisoner all tied up in my own affairs.  But that time doesn’t have to remain for all of us.  There can come a day when I’m a different kind of young.  What if my youth is changed by regeneration?  See, that word for young, “neos,” can mean new, or youthful, or fresh, or regenerate.  And what if my life comes to that point where I am regenerated in You?  What if it comes to the point where I see that girding myself is not sufficient?  What if I turn to trust and faith in You, Jesus, and allow You to gird me?  What if, instead of dressing myself, instead of tying my hands in the way I want them tied, and tying them to the things I want them tied to, I allow myself to be under Your control?  What then?

Does it happen all at once?  When I surrender to Your control over my hands and feet and mouth and spirit and soul and body and mind, am I all there at once?  Even in my regeneration, aren’t I learning to allow myself to be girded by You?  Aren’t I still learning in my youth as a child of God what it is to fully surrender into Your hands?   And even though it’s the best and safest place to be, isn’t it the scariest place for me to be at the same time?  Is it not hard to give up my control?  Is it not going to be accompanied with some struggle and some battles as I surrender?

So Peter must learn and I must learn.  And there is no one who escapes the learning.  We must undergo a change of total character.  Peter once conducted his life in the ways he had determined.  Now he must conduct his life in the way You would determine.  He once determined his conduct based on his subjective impulses.  Now he conducted his life based on Your desires for him.  See, once Peter walked where he delighted to walk, where it brought him pleasure.  But not so now in the same sense.

Now, as Peter would mature, his walk would change.  And one day would come when he would willingly stretch forth his hands and allow someone else to physically bind them for torture.  He would choose to submit.  Actually, in his submitting, according to historical accounts, he offered more than just his hands.  He offered to be crucified upside down so as not to be equal to the Lord he had once denied.  He did not fight.  He surrendered.  Because in surrendering to these men, he knew he was surrendering to God.  And this didn’t happen all at once.  Because he chose to walk the path that led to this “end.”  He chose the path that led him where he “would not,”  the path that was not his delight, that was not “thelo.”

“Thela” has to do with expressing “definite action, completed execution, divine desire and absolute readiness. It does not express wishful hope, cognitive acknowledgment or good intentions…If you are willing to do the thelema of God, you do it! You don’t analyze it, think about it, contemplate it or imagine it. You do what He says. It’s not actually a matter of willing to do it. It is in fact doing it. To thele to thelema is to execute and perform.”  (Skip Moen)  Now think of that.  At one point we are wanting to do our own way because we want to feel good.  But doing Your way, God, isn’t about feeling good.  It doesn’t even make sense in human nature terms!  I mean think about it.  I might have to die for my faith!  I might have to forgive someone who was responsible for murdering a loved one or who did terrible things to me!  I might have to give up all my rights!  And what else?  Wow, this is hard!  This is following You.  This is following You?

So this is the promise You give to Peter here?  This is his encouragement to follow You?  And Peter didn’t turn away?  Others turned away at less than that and said, “This is too much for us.”  Why not Peter?

Peter knew.  He understood.  He didn’t get it all yet.  Who does?  But he already knew that there was no one else he could turn to.  Jesus was Eternal Life.  This was the One.  And if the One paid such a price for him, how could he expect anything less from his own life?

It’s not at all about what Peter delights to do or what he delights in. It’s not about what I delight to do or what I delight in.  It’s only about Who Peter delights in.  It’s only about Who I delight in.  And that will compel me to withstand every trial, every hardship, every heartache.  Why?  Because Jesus, You alone are our Joy and our Delight.

And actually, when I line my vision up with Yours, that makes so much sense.  Why?  Because it means I’m finding delight in the One Who purposefully found delight in me.  When I stop to contemplate that it’s actually baffling.  I mean, when I think of all You left, all You stepped down from, all You actually suffered for me for the “joy that was set before” (Hebrews 12:2)  You, I just can’t fathom it.  You went to the depths of suffering the wrath of God for me.  How did I ever become worth that to You?  There is nothing, absolutely nothing I have ever done in my whole life or that I will ever do that could ever warrant You owing me that or anything else.  Why would You choose to do that?  Why would You choose to walk that totally undelightful (to say the least!) way for me?  Why would You stretch out Your hands and let others bind You and carry You where You had no delight in going?  Yes, You did that for me.  You did that for Peter.  And when I really understand that, and when I understand the depth of Your delight for me, that You would do that for me, then that does something about the depth of my delight in You.  And frankly, there is nobody on earth that has ever loved me and delighted in me as deeply as You have.  Who else has demonstrated this intensity of love for us?

Peter followed because he knew that it was more than following teachings.  Peter followed You, Jesus, because Your love drew him after You.  Your love strengthened and encouraged him.  Peter knew that following You wasn’t easy and it comes with a price, maybe many prices and steep prices.  But he also knew that the delight in being delighted in by God is worth the most extreme price.  I think Peter would have sold every last pearl he had just to follow You.  Yes, he gave up his earthly treasures to purchase Your delight.  And I’m not talking about him wanting to make You happy here.  That would be trivial.  I’m talking about experiencing the delight of living in the delight of the Lord, in the middle of Your way and Your will.  I’m talking of walking with You, of standing with You.  I’m talking about being so wrapped up in participating in the things that delight You that it fully delights You.  I’m talking about revelling in the joy of a God who revels in the joy of us being His.  And I’m talking about revelling in it so much that I would pay any price with my life to stay right there in the middle of that joy of Your presence.

You are still telling me the road ahead is rough.  There will be pain and suffering.  It will be hard.  And You are still saying, “Follow Me.”  If You are truly my delight, then I will have to follow You no matter what.  To not follow You would be to lose my Delight, to lose my Joy.  And because You suffered greatly for me because I was Your joy, well, let me be so strong in You that I would be able to withstand every trial not because I’m strong, or anything special, but because I can look beyond them all and wait for and look forward to my final joy being fulfilled in You.  May Your love for me, compel me toward the same love for You.  May Your joy over me, and for me, and in me, fill me with the same joy over You, in You, and for You.  I dont’ have to enjoy what’s happening in my life.  But I can always delight in You.