Chaos or God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids”

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Picture credit to General Mills.

“Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace!…” Nahum 1:15

To look at a summary of the three chapters of Nahum’s prophecy is not a very bright outcome for Ninevah.  It starts with God’s wrath against Ninevah, proceeds to the destruction of Ninevah, and ends with the woe of Ninevah.  But at the same time, it’s a message of good news to those who will listen and be effected by that listening to choose God.

Nahum starts out by telling how You are a jealous God, and how You revenge against Your enemies.  At the same time he reminds all how You are slow to anger, and great in power, and a righteous judge who can’t and won’t acquit the guilty.  Who can stand before You, really?  And then Nahum reminds the hearer that You are good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and You know those that trust in You.  You know every one who truly trusts You in Israel, even though she be scattered or under oppression.  You know any one who truly trusts You that might exist in Ninevah.  You know any one who truly trusts You today.

And that takes me back to thinking about what it means for You to be a jealous God.  Often, jealousy now has a bad connotation.  Men twist jealousy and use it for their own desires.  But You are God, and You are holy and right.  And though all things are for You and according to Your desires, all Your desires are true and good and right and for our benefit because they glorify You.  So what is different about Your jealousy?  The Hebrew roots denote an idea of becoming deep red.  But it’s more than getting that angry red face, it’s a defining character or quality of life.  Love, hate, jealousy- they are all right there together.  The feminine form means ardor, zeal or jealousy. 

Now Proverbs 6 and 27 tell us that jealousy “enrages a man.”  Let’s admit it.  If someone finds someone else in bed with their spouse, there will be a whole different attitude than if the same person were stealing an apple because they were hungry.  Could that be because we don’t love or hate apples, but we do love and value our spouse?  In man, jealousy has to be checked.  God understood that.  In Mosaic law, he made checks to protect wives whose husbands were unrightly jealous.  At the same time, Ecclesiastes 4:4 sees competition as a form of jealousy that motivates men to skill and labor, and in 9:6 jealousy is equated with zeal and right there with love and hate.

Phinehas was described as being jealous with the jealousy of the Lord (Numbers 25:11), when he gored Zimri and Cozbi.  And the Lord blessed him.  When Scripture speaks of the marriage relationship between You and mankind, it comes up in accusations of adultery.  David felt it as we hear in his declaration, “Zeal for Your house has consumed me…” (Psalm 69:9)  It’s that feminine form of qanna.  You, Yourself Lord, confess that You are a jealous God in Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9 and more.  “In Exodus 34:14 it’s even stated that the Lord’s name is Jealous God (El-kana).” (Abarim Publications)

So maybe we need to re-evaluate what jealousy is really supposed to mean.  When I go to Webster’s dictionary and look at jealousy, it’s all about suspicion, and that’s just not what this Hebrew word is about at all.  But if I look in Webster at the word zeal, I start to see.  It’s “passionate ardor in pursuit of any thing.”  Only, God, You aren’t just pursuing anything.  You are pursuing Your glory which You deserve and our benefit because we were created to shine for You.  So You are all about being passionate for us and our purpose. 

Even Ninevah’s purpose was to shine for You.  But they had chosen another path.  Paul reminds us that there are vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor.  And God, in His infinite patience holds up His passion and pours it all out at just the right time.  Therefore, the vessels of dishonor become Your means of demonstrating the magnitude of Your passion for Your beloved.  It comes out as anger for those who injur Your beloved and mercy toward Your beloved. 

It’s not easy understanding this jealousy, but it’s worth taking the time to meditate on it.  Like in Exodus 20:5 where You say, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.”  Stuff like this seems really harsh.  But am I really understanding it?  Are You a jealous God who holds the children accountable for the sins of their parents?  Is that what this really means?  But maybe I have to understand paqad, visiting, also.  It’s a good guess the meaning has to do with  to ‘attend with care” or “take note.”  There is usually a “positive action by a superior in relation to his subordinates.”  It’s often the idea of “‘making a visitation’ and points to action that produces a great change in the position of a subordinate either for good or ill.”  Some have looked at the Paleo-Hebrew imagery in the word.  In that case, paqad could represent “the expectation of a future encounter.”  What if it’s all about God visiting?  What if God comes to those children just as He came to the parents and offered a relationship with Himself?  What if the third and fourth generations have the hope of You manifesting Yourself to them too?  What if personal involvement with You was something they could attain? 

What if You are not separate from our human affairs?  What if You are involved and visit us?  What if You are so personally involved that You are a part of our life, but You won’t force it on us?  What if You come calling to be involved in our everyday life, and we can accept that invitation or not?  What if You, the Superior, comes to us, the inferior, wishing to invite us into Your good will and we can accept it or deny it?  What if Your qanna, or jealousy, or zealousness is about Your expectation for us to understand this and expect us to expect You and get ready for You?  And when I don’t prepare for You and I deny You, I suffer the consequences of choosing to be Your enemy instead of Your child? 

The truth is that You invite every person to be passionately connected with You and intimately involved with You.  We’re not mere slaves and entertainment as men were to the Greek and Egyptian gods.  You are committed to us and to manifesting Yourself to us.  You are personally involved.  But with that commitment comes an examination and intervention.  You come to do something in us that we cannot do in ourselves.  You participate in our changing.  You guard us from ourselves.  You pay attention to us not because You need to be appeased but because You are truly Father.  Your care and concern extend into the future.  Your character of  qanna, zeal, that right kind of jealousy, enters into Your children but only because they have allowed You to enter in.  And it enters our children’s children if they let it. 

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus declares, “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  There’s this door that God has opened to us, since the garden of Eden, and He’s called the Tree of Life.  Once we could have entered it without having to deal with conviction or atonement or without any need for relief.  But now, we need all three.  We need redemption.  God is inviting us into relationship with Him, just like He invited the Ninevites way back in the time of Jonah, and still wanted to invite them, and just like He invited Israel.  But if You choose to avoid walking through the door of invitation, You reap what lies on the other side, outside of His protection.  And the beauty is, to walk into God, to enter into You, is to continue into something more beautiful than we could ever imagine. 

In the midst of whatever is going on in life, “the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble,” and You do know, intimately, those who trust in You!  There is so much now to see, when we behold upon the mountains the feet of him that brings good tidings and publishes peace!  Isaiah 52 reminds us that You are here with Your people, that You reign so closely and so intimately that Your beautiful feet walk the mountains with us and bring us good news and publish Your peace and bring us happiness, and salvation.  I know that this isn’t just about Nahum’s feet and missionary’s feet because You tell us, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)  The beauty is that You publish this peace in You to all people, and You invite us into it, and You invite us to publish this peace with You.  But it’s an invitation none-the-less.

The truth is, those that You love, You reprove and discipline.  And we have a responsibility under that reproof and discipline, to be zealous and repent.  But it’s our choice how we respond.  You stand there at that door and knock.  We can hear Your voice and open the door, or we can hear Your voice and head to another door.  But only those who hear Your voice and open Your door will benefit from a personal, intimate relationship with You.  Then You will come to them, You will visit them, no matter what there parents’ choices were, and eat with them and us with You.  That’s the beauty of choice and free will.  I can come of my own accord and choose to visit with You.  I can choose to be Yours because the fact is You’ve always chosen to be ours.  Silly humans to choose anything else.  “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.”  But God is for us and always has been and it’s ridiculous to choose anyone or anything but Him. 

 

“For GOD”

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Have I stopped to think about the immensity of what this is telling me?  Sure, isn’t it wonderful that Jesus, God, came down to earth as a man and God and lived and died and rose for us?  Isn’t that wonderful?  No, actually, it’s more than wonderful.  It’s unheard of in the history of the universe.  It’s unimaginable.  It defies reason.  It’s beyond amazing.  It’s unthinkable.  It’s so God that only our God would not only think about doing something like that, but only our God would actually do something like that.

And I’m wondering if we don’t skew our focus a little because we really don’t stop to think about the immensity of what You did here?  I mean perfect holy God, sinless and pure and all-knowing, high and lifted up, exalted above everything, and You choose to come down to earth in the form of a human and live among us as human and yet as God still.  Explain that.  I can’t.  I just know it’s true.  And it’s truly awesome, drop the jaw awesome.  And then we hear “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…” (John 3:16)  Yes, You love us that much.  But did I forget somewhere that Your love for me isn’t the most amazing thing in the picture here?  Did I forget that first and foremost it wasn’t about me but it is “For God”? 

Did I forget that it’s not Your love for me that compels You?  Did I forget or miss that it’s Your “Youness” that compelled You to love me despite myself and to give Your Son for me?  That’s why I’m responsible to believe in Your “Youness”.  See, the following verse in John 3 reminds me that I’m saved “through Him” by that “Youness” of You.  Before You and without You, I’m evil.  You came for me in my evil state.  I didn’t even have to kill anyone to be considered evil.  I only had to not be like You. 

You are Goodness.  You are Truth.  You are Love.  You are Lord of lords and King of kings.  You are Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.  You are God of Angel Armies.  You are our Healer.  You are so much, I can’t name all of You.  Your name goes on forever and ever.   Your name is everything that is needed.  Your name is who You are and what You are.  Your name is You.  But You made a way for me to not only find You but to enter into You so that I could be like You.  And John tells me it’s so that all may see that what happens in me has been carried out by You, has been “carried out in God.” (John 3:21)

John and John the Baptist tell me that Jesus, the Word, came to bear witness to me, to us.  What did He come to bear witness of?  My value?  No.  He came to bear witness that God is true.  What?  Does that mean that Jesus came to bear witness that God is real?  In a sense, yes.  It means that what was concealed about You has been made manifest to us through Christ.  It means that You are changeless, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  It’s part of Your character that You are truth and all that it means.  Every promise You have made will be actuated.  Everything about You, well, we can depend on ever bit of it.  There is no shadow of turning in You. 

Jesus’ first and foremost priority on earth was to “utter the words of God.” (John 3:34) Even as a boy of twelve Your response was, “didn’t you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father’s affairs?” (CJB)  Jesus tried to get us to understand who it was all about.  Lord, here’s what You tell us the Spirit of truth will do, “He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative but will say only what He hears. He will also announce to you the events of the future. He will glorify Me, because He will receive from what is Mine and announce it to you. Everything the Father has is Mine; this is why I said that He receives from what is Mine and will announce it to you.”  Jesus, You were all about sharing the character of God.  That glorifies You because it glorifies God.  Your number one purpose is and was and always shall be to glorify God.

So what does that make my number one purpose if it is Your desire that I be like You?  What does that make my number one purpose if it brings glory to You for me to be made like You?  Could my life purpose be to glorify You also? Has my focus been wrong for so long?  Have I been focussing so much on “God so loved me” that I forgot to focus on the first and most important part “For God”? 

Yes, God loves me so much I can’t explain the measure of it.  Yes, God loves You so much I can’t explain the measure of it either.  But first and foremost God.  No, first and foremost GOD.  Before we were here, before the earth was here, before the first atom- GOD.  I should just stop to think about that.  God was GOD before anything else.  Before the first angel, God was GOOD.  Before anything God was TRUE.  Before anyone knew love God was LOVE.  Before the first breath was taken God was LIFE.  God was MANIFEST before anything was there to be manifested to.  Just stop to think about it.

Now, it’s awesome that God would love me or you.  But it’s even more awesome that GOD would want to make Himself known in me, that the EVER EXISTENT EVERYTHING WHO IS GOD would be so personally involved with His creation that He is glorified by glorifying Himself in us.  It’s amazing and yet, at the same time, it all makes sense.  But it doesn’t start to make sense until we get personally involved with Him.

For God, for His glory, so loved us that He had created us to love Him back.  Love is like that.  Love involves the “inner person.”  All of Your character God, is involved in all You do, including the loving us part.  Let’s understand that better.  See, the word for love, that You are, is agape and it’s Hebrew equivalent is ‘ahav.  And truthfully, the words way back then had a sexual basis.  It was aimed to people and only metaphorically to loving things or acts.  This love is in Your personal nature.  When we love You we love Your person first and then we come to love Your word and Your ways.  Love comes with fervor and passion.  Isn’t that how husbands and wives are supposed to love each other?  Isn’t that how we love even our children, with fervor and passion.  But God, You are always bringing up the idea of comparing Your people and You to a husband and a wife.  Why?

You so strongly use examples of adultery and marriage when talking about covenant relationship with You.  Isn’t that about “intimacy, ecstasy, bliss, jubilation and euphoria”?  Maybe Your love is about more than religious virtue.  Maybe there’s no such thing as “arm’s length intimacy.”  You are interested in “personal, intimate involvement” as Skip Moen puts it.  You exemplify it.  You passionately involve Yourself with Your creation because that passionate involvement is at the heart of Your character.  We see the expression of that character in Genesis 1 in the fruit of Your expression, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” The problem is that we, like the men and women of Genesis 11 twist that and express it instead with this of our lives, “Let us  build  us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name…”  The sad thing is, You have already given us a name and it’s Yours.

Your name is all of who You are.  Your glory is in You.  You invite us into Your name by making us like You.  Outside of You we are lost.  There is no name that I can establish for myself on my own that will last into eternity.  Only You are eternal.  Only that which is in You is eternal.  If I am not in You, I am not.  Think about what all that means.  I am not true because You are Truth.  I am not alive because You are Life.  I am lost because You are the Way.  I don’t know love because You are Love.  Keep on thinking about it.  I can be like the people at the time of the Tower of Babel.  Really, isn’t that still going on?  Or I can realize that You are my name.  I can realize that You came so that I could see that and enter into the reality of that Truth, of You.  You came to give me a name, and it isn’t Sharon.  You came to give me Your name, Your character, Your love.

Why?  It’s bigger than me.  You glorify Yourself by making me all that You created me to be.  It glorifies You when my life becomes worship.  When my life becomes all in You, You are glorified back.  First, You were glorified forward by just being You, and then, You made us to glorify You back.  Yes, You made me me.  And somehow I’m still me when I invest myself into You.  But somehow still, You bring out Yourself in me, more and more every day, and though I’m me, people get to see more of You. 

I have to live keeping this in mind.  It’s so easy in today’s culture to focus on how much You love me.  But maybe I ought to be more focussed on loving You.  Because maybe if I were more focussed on the loving You back part, since You’ve already invested Your love in me, I’d be and act a lot more like You.  And maybe if You were my focus, other people would see You a lot more than me even though I’m still Sharon.  Because the fact of the matter is that You came to make Your name known in me, in each of us.  That’ s why Jesus came.  That’s why You created us.  That’s why nothing deserves our passionate love more than You.  So that’s my prayer.  Lord, I want to let You make me in Your image, after Your likeness, and let Your authority, Your rule flow through me to a world and people that You want to be intimate with.  Let Your kingdom come, let Your way, Your “Youness” be fulfilled in me and all those who bear Your name and worship You with their lives in spirit and in truth.

On Passion and Agendas

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“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Things have actually gotten pretty crazy here in the U.S.  We’ve lost the idea of sacredness.  We’ve lost the idea of right and wrong.  An idea of relativity has been adopted.  The way that seems right to a man, is the way people are being taught to go.  (Proverbs 14:12)  Whatever you want to do, do it, and hate the ones who don’t agree.  That’s a sad state of affairs.  When it’s more important to be right, or to have my way, than it is to care about someone else, even if they disagree, well, we’ve become less than human.

This idea that we ought to be holy because our God is holy isn’t just an old fashioned, Old Testament idea.  Peter reiterated it.  Why?  Because our natural tendency is unholiness.  What we see in the world today is man’s natural tendency.  This is what man is like without God.  But the thing is, we were created to be with God.  We were created for God.  We were created to bear His image in the world, not to be empty shells bearing empty, selfish images.  But it’s a supernatural undertaking to get back to being who we were created to be.  It takes surrender and surrender is a bad word nowadays.  But surrender is the only right response before a God who created us and gives us every breath we take.  And only when we surrender to Him do we find out who we really were meant to be.

So here is Peter in chapter 1 telling us how to surrender to God.  To be holy like Him we first have to surrender our minds and our thinking.  We have to fill them with His ways by His word and that’s not enough.  We have to prepare our minds to act on those truths.  Yes, America, there is a truth, and it belongs to this God who created us and everything that is.  And it belongs to this God who loves us more than we understand.  It’s His truth that will set us free, not freedom from His truth.  Freedom from His truth is just captivity to a lie and a liar.

So we must prepare our minds in Him and act on the truth we learn from Him.  Be sober-minded.  Stop being drunk.  Get out of your drunken stupor where your mind is distorted by sin and you can’t see straight so you wouldn’t know the truth if it hit you in the face.  In 1 Corinthians 15:34,  Paul says, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”  It’s a shame.  It’s a shame when we want to hold on to our bad habits that strongly even though they hurt us and our families.  It doesn’t matter if I’m a believer or not.  It’s a shame to choose the gutter over truth.

But sin gives us that buzz.  It’s all about my feelings.  It ceases to be about what’s right for anyone.  I just want to validate my feelings, despite those around me.  What happens to my morality?  It’s diminished.  My moral compass becomes skewed or non-existent.  My spiritual sensitivity becomes dull or void.  My ego gets high on itself.  Everything gets out of focus.  And the thing is that sin is worse than alcohol because there isn’t a single person who can tolerate even a drop of it without being effected.  And the more we drink, the more addicted we become.  The more we drink, the more we imprison ourselves in it’s power and lack of thinking.

But the truth is that there is power in God and in His word and in the truth of all that He is.  To reset our minds on Him is to have hope that as He reveals Christ to us day by day, more and more, until one day, we see Him return, that He is working Himself out in us.  I can choose to obey Him as my loving Father and be conformed to Him and walk away from the passions that I sought in ignorance.  I can choose the fullness and love of my Heavenly Father and be free from the passions that controlled me and made me empty.  He’s holy.  He’s Something Other, Something Above all I could imagine.  He’s better.  He’s fuller.  He’s love unimaginable and yet I can experience Him.  He’s relationship though I don’t deserve relationship.  He’s Faithfulness and Forgiveness and Fullness and Satisfaction and Joy and Hope and Peace.  Everything else is an empty sham.

I don’t care if you are a Christian, an atheist, or just John Doe out there.  If you think your money is your own, your wrong.  If you’re aiming at prestige and power, your missing it.  If your choices are made to protect your own best interests, how sad.  If all you want is recognition, how empty.  You can even be influential and look like a good American, a good person, but if you are just full of the wine of the world and drinking the best of it, you’re empty, you’re just a shell of what you were created to be.

There is a truth and there is a God and His will, will be done.  His will is that all men would come to know Him and what they were created for- to be in relationship with Him.  Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  And repentance isn’t just about being sorry for choosing against Him.  Repentance is acknowledging our wrongness and turning from it to Him.  Repentance is recognizing God for who He is and turning to Him in relationship because You realize that everything else is emptiness without Him.

It’s not only those who are not believers who are living in error and emptiness.  Error and emptiness also creeps into the lives of believers.  This isn’t a hate message, this is a call to be loved and to love as we are loved by God.  Paul tells this to the church, but it doesn’t just apply to the church.  It applies to all people, everywhere, because God is a holy God and He is calling all people unto Him in relationship in salvation.  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither sexually immoral, nor idolaters,  nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)  It’s not just people on the outside who choose to listen to their feelings over the truth.  Any of us can get drunk on ourselves, drunk on our anger, drunk on our feelings of what we think we deserve and how someone isn’t meeting that need that we think they should.  We can get drunk on our own passions and lose sight of You so easily.  And then we want to change the truth into a lie.

You know, I could explain that list of things that God is telling us is so foreign to what we’ve been created as and for.  And hearing that list is going to anger some people but that’s because they’re being angry drunks, letting lies control their minds and lives.  This isn’t who you were created to be.  Read the list.  Do you fall under any of those categories?  Are you feeling angry and empty and like people are against you?  Maybe it’s because this isn’t where you were created to be.  Maybe you were created to be loved in holiness and by Holiness.  And maybe you were created to be like Him, loving others in holiness, not selfishness.   Read the list, I have.  I’m a believer and I’m so glad that I didn’t stay in that drunken stupor.  I’m glad that You didn’t give up on me, God.  I’m glad that You remind me that the drunk I was, isn’t who I have to be now.  Yeah, I can pick up the wine of my passions again.  I can let them control me again.   It’s my choice, just like anyone else.  But You washed me, You sanctified me and set me apart for You, and You justified me in Jesus and by Your Spirit. I’ve lived in the drunken stupor, more than once.  I don’t want to go there again.

I don’t want my mind to be my own.  I don’t want my life to be about my passions.  That’s emptiness.  I want to live in the One who loved us so much that He sacrificed His passions by sacrificing His life for me a sinner and a rebel.  I want to give my all to the One who chooses to stick closer to me than a brother, to the One who gives of Himself to allow Himself to live inside of me.

People say today, “I can do whatever I want.”  They said that in Paul’s day too.  “All things are lawful for me.”  Paul was quoting that from the people of Corinth, not because it was truth, but it was the attitude.  He corrected that attitude.  Not all things add up when they’re added to our lives.  They’re just not profitable for us.  But why was Paul quoting that?  Because it was a misinterpretation of the people.  Paul was reminding that there is law, there is a structured order, and we are free to obey as we can in our culture.  It’s not license to sin.  It’s a freedom to obey even when we are restricted from obeying fully.

There is a law and it’s higher than man’s law, it’s the law of God.  We can acknowlege it or we can fight against it.  Surrendering to it brings peace and love and personal knowledge of God.  Fighting it brings pain and emptiness, it doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or a non-believer.  It doesn’t matter if you are involved in a homosexual relationship or a heterosexual relationship if you are going against God’s design.  It’s not about hate.  It’s about experiencing the love of God but we can’t if we are so caught up in loving ourselves we won’t even let ourselves see Him.  Look at the list.  Do I think that homosexuals are worse than the sexually immoral?  Do I think that adulterers are worse than idolaters?  Do I think that the greedy, or the thief, or the drunk, or the reviler, or the swindler is better or worse than the others?  No.  And neither does God.  Sin is sin.  All sinners are equal.  We all need to surrender to a God who knows and is the way to life.

I can choose to live according to my passions or I can choose to surrender to a God who created me to be filled with His passion.  He demonstrated the intensity of His passion for us through Jesus.  “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:9.10)  David understood what a lot of us are missing.  “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)  I don’t want to live for my own passions.  It’s too easy to be controlled by them and for my focus to get warped.  I want to live in Your presence where You fill me with everything that is right.  I want to live in Your presence by the power of Your Spirit in the power of Your resurrection because then I am loved and then I can love others rightly.

It’s funny.  There are so many angry people today.  They’re so focussed on their passions and their agendas that it’s all they can see, and they’re angry but don’t even realize how that doesn’t go together.  I mean the “tolerant” can’t tolerate anybody else.  How is that right?  But I could get there just as easily if I also choose to focus on myself, my passions, my agendas, my rights.  There’s a better way, and His name is Jesus. ” I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes unto the Father but by Me.”  ( John 14:6)  It’s true.  There is a right way.  There is one truth.  And there is real life.  I don’t want to live in an alcohol induced dream world.  I hope you don’t either.  I want to choose to seek the One who sought me out and continues to seek me out.  I want to choose to be sober minded and to actually know the One I follow.  I want Him to make me like Him, just like Him.  I want Him to be my passion but I want His passion to be what controls me.  I don’t want to look like the world.  I want to look like Something Other.  I want to be holy like He is holy because I want to help others be filled with all the goodness and love that is You, Lord and it can’t be found in ourselves without You filling us.

More Than Worth the Journey

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“Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  Matthew 5:48

I was looking through Scripture to see what the Scriptural picture of a hero is.  The word hero is never used in the Bible.  The word warrior is only used once.  Soren Kierkegaard, a theologian and philosopher says there are no heroes of the faith, only knights of the faith.  He says heroes are heroes because they do what everyone considers as “noble.”  On the other hand, he feels that “knights of the faith” are answering a call from God that only they hear.  To the populous, their actions would look crazy, not noble, or maybe even stupid.  Maybe their actions would even look downright wrong and fanatical.  And the crowd doesn’t wind up chanting in their hearts, “Oh, that I would be like that one.”  Because to be like that one would mean to wear a mark, a mark that is different from society and different from even the morality of society.

Our family had a bit of a Hobbit marathon last night.  And a quote just rang out to me.  In the Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, Galadriel asks Gandalph why he chose Bilbo, the halfling.  Gandalph answers, “I do not know. Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid… and he gives me courage.”  I think these things ring true in Kierkegard’s knights of faith, but I think it is more.  I think that there is something different that compells us, something deeper, that goes against reason.  I think that when we have faith, we don’t need others to understand, because we will answer the call regardless of their agreement or understanding or support.

If I stop and think about Gandalf’s words, I see some truth here.  I think that most people would agree with Saruman.  We look to those with great power to hold evil at bay.  But the thing about that is that those with great power risk falling into the same trap as the evil they fight did.  Because isn’t the problem with evil powers that they desire great power?  So how can one who seeks great power conquer the desire to seek great power?  They can’t because it’s their greatest temptation.  They are already guilty of it.

But what of the one who has no desire to seek great power or even power at all?  What of the one who values kindness and love and compassion instead?  What of that one?  That one who is often viewed as weak and foolish?   Maybe Gandalf understood his own temptation and was even afraid of that potential.  What if he saw the power and strength in a humble heart whose desire was for the good of others and not for power?  What if he saw strength and courage in that?  And that type of decision and the actions accompanying it gave even Gandalf courage and hope that he too could resist the temptation of power?

It takes me back to Your idea of a commendable person.  And it doesn’t look anything like what people expected.  Lord, why do you choose “halflings” by the world’s standards?  Why do you choose the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and those who are reviled and persecuted on Your account?  Why are those the things that make Your heart sing when You see them in a person?

In Matthew 5 we read about who You considered blessed.  But blessed isn’t just a gift you give afterward.  It’s the Greek word “makarios” but its Hebrew equivalent is “esher”.  And it’s not saying what we are going to get but it’s saying that the one who exhibits these qualities already lives in this state of well-being in You.  So look at what the first character quality is- to be poor in spirit.  If I am a beggar before You, Lord, if I see that I need You for everything in my life, and I act as though I am desperate for You alone to meet my needs, physical, spiritual, and emotional, then I will live in the bliss of Your doing that.

Now what if I look at each of these statements in this light?  Will that change what I’ve been thinking they mean?  Like, what about those who exhibit a character of mourning?  What does that mean?  Should I ask You what I should be mourning over or for or about?  Is it that I feel for others?  Is it that my compassion for others drives me?  But if my bliss in You comes from exhibiting this character, and if the first quality was my dependence on You, then maybe this mourning dwells somewhere in that dependence.

So what does it mean to mourn?  Well, when that word “pentheo” is used in Scripture it’s usually associated with death.  And then we see the association with this word is comfort.  And the Greek word here is “parakaleo.”  That means, “to call near” like the idea of the Holy Spirit who is our “paraklete,” our Comfortor.  But is this just saying that death will draw me near to God?  What if it’s not just talking about what brings physical mourning, but a dying to self?  What if I let go of my selfish ambitions and my ambitions become Your ambitions, or more rightly, what if Your ambitions become mine?  What if Your good becomes my good?  What if it ceases to be about my will and it becomes all about Your will?  What if that is what my character becomes all about?  Then I will be living in the bliss of walking with You.

I look at this third character and I have to ask You, Lord, what in the world do I want to inherit the earth for?  And maybe, just maybe we’re not talking about the earth as it is, but the earth as it is when Your will is done upon the face of the earth.  And only the meek are part of that and necessary for that and called for that purpose of bringing in Your kingdom, You know, Thy will being done and Thy kingdom coming.  But what does meekness, does this “praus” look like?

This meekness is a quote from Psalm 37:11.  “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”  Here the Hebrew word is “anawim.”  If I want to know what meek looks like, I have to understand “anawim.”  It has to do with affliction.  It’s God’s mark on a life.  It’s how I live out the most important stuff You are teaching me.  It’s how I learn about and live out Your sovereignty in my life.  It’s anything but easy.  Hard stuff and bad stuff happens, but not by chance, never by chance.  It’s all under the hand of God.  And I have placed myself under Your hand no matter what.

There is hard pressing and I am choosing to remain under the pressing because it is Your pressing.  It is Your control and Your power in and over my life and those around me whether they acknowledge it or not.  But I will acknowledge and I will submit and You will guide my every movement and mold it to Your purposes.  It’s the hard way that You are using to shape me, to shape each one of us.  You discipline those You love.  You mold those You love.  You are changing me into Your image.  It’s not easy to change something broken into something unbroken, but You alone can do that.

Meekness hurts.  I have to stand face to face with that which goes against my nature and choose to go against it, whether it is my oppressor or my nature to not conform to You, Lord.  I have to actively choose to accept what You are “forcing” upon me.  Will I submit to this “forced submission”?  Will I submit to Your sovereignty?  What will prevail?  Will it be Your every will in me?  Will I respond as You respond?  Will I put Your will before my own?  Will I be self sufficient or will You be my sufficiency.  Is my power in my bondage to You?  Because if it is, then my inheritance is in You too.  But I can’t inherit You unless I am fully committed in You in the first place.  Am I meek enough?  Am I really meek at all?

And what of the hungry and thirsty?  What is it to hunger and thirst after righteousness?  Is it that I want to do good things or is it that I must have food and water above what nourishes my body?  Am I desperate for the life that comes from God, from His rigteousness alone.  “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy:  there is none that does good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:3)  Even Paul quoted this in his words, “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one:  there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God.”  (Romans 3:10)  But the only way I will find bliss is to find a way to seek after God with my every hunger, my every thirst, my every passion.

You have to make me hungry.  But I have to respond to that hunger.  And not just once.  It’s not about a fatal hunger that You can feed me and then I’m good for life.  This is my daily need for continued sustenance.  Unless I am desperate every day, every moment of every day for sustenance from You, I shall never be filled.  I can’t be filled with Your food unless I eat Your food continually and only Your food satisfies and fills and stengthens and gives life and answers and presence.  And if I’m learning anything about the Hebrew mindset, it’s not about just feeding my mind and spirit.  I must feast on You and allow the energy and essence of Your food to energize and feed others through me.  I must act upon my eating.  I don’t remain sitting at the table gorging myself.  I eat and I feed others, I eat and it is converted into action and life, or I have not eaten of You at all.  That’s the evidence of the bliss.  It’s living in it as I live in continual hunger and thirst in You.

Each bliss plays off the the other.  Each bliss is strengthened by the other.  But this bliss is always in You.  You are the root.  So, when I’m looking for mercy, who am I looking to receive mercy from?  Am I looking to receive mercy from man?  Will it come from my enemy?  Will it come from my friend?  If I rescue Thorin time and time again as Bilbo did, will I be assured that he will show me mercy?  But what when his kingdom and his gold draws near, will Bilbo receive mercy?  What of me?  My mercy shall be obtained and a surety, but only when I look to it from the hands of the Lord.  And only from Your hands will I learn to show that kind of mercy.  Who can understand this?  Only the one who has been changed by You.  Only the one who has submitted to Your mercy, Your rule.  Only the one who lives in Your bliss no matter the situation will understand mercy, because it is a Person, and only One Person.

These are such high standards.  And if you think we have gotten to the highest, listen up.  The pure in heart live in the bliss of You, Lord, and see You.  Imagine that.  You are without sin.  No sin or sinner may enter heaven.  There is none righteous, no not one, EXCEPT–You, Lord.  “He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend.”  (Proverbs 22:11)  That doesn’t sound like an earthly king to me because they seem to like to hear what they want to hear.  But this is the way of our Heavenly King.  You want to see purity on the inside and out.  You want our whole life, our words and our actions, to be an act of holy worship.  You are doing more than asking.  You are requiring that everything I say and do and think lines up with You.  That is living in Your bliss and I can only do it as I live in Your bliss.

I’m expected to relinquish much, everything I’d say.  I’m expected to relinquish my self-sufficiency, my comfort, my control, my self-protection and right to defend myself and my judgment.  I’m expected to relinquish my deepest desires and my own right treatment by others.  I’m asked to relinquish the things I’ve always thought were my inalienable rights as a person.

And then I come to something that requires me not just to do and exhibit something, but also to relinquish something in the  performance.  To be identified as belonging to the family of God, as a child of God, I must mirror God’s peacemaking.  What is peace?  A peacemaker, from the Greek “eireneopoios” isn’t just someone who keeps peace.  It’s someone who makes or does peace.  That “poios” part is this inherent part of You in Your child that must flow out.  It’s the art that flows out of the heart of the artist.  It’s the poem that flows out of the heart of the poet.  But what is this peace that flows out of the heart of the Peacemaker in us?

Is it man being right with man?  Partly.  Is it my well-being?  Maybe.  Is it man being right with God?  Those are all parts of what we look for in peace.  But only God’s peace can bring those three, yet at the same time, to exhibit this peace, I must relinquish it.  I must be willing to sacrifice my peace to bring peace with man.  I must be willing to sacrifice my well-being for the sake of another.  Even in order to be right with You,God, I must relinquish my rightness and receive Yours.  And I learn this all from You, Jesus.  Skip Moen puts it this way, “the peacemaker joyfully relinquishes his own peace for the sake of ending strife between men for no other reason than reflecting the character of his Father.  The peacemaker knows God’s peace is found in standing in conflict. The peacemaker knows that he can bring peace only by letting go of peace.  And God recognizes that this decision is just what He does.”  He adds, “Incredibly happy are those who deliberately step into their Father’s shoes in efforts to bring peace between men.”  God considers them symbols of His family image.  It’s about being conformed into the image of our Father.   I work toward reconciliation at my own expense just as You worked toward reconciliation for me at Your own expense.  Your nature becomes my nature.  I reflect You.  Reflecting You becomes my bliss.

Who enjoys the bliss of Your kingdom?  The ones who follow after Your righteousness.  See, this may be about persecution but this word translated as persecute, “dioko”, also means to pursue, to follow after.  And if I’m following Your example I can’t help but think it is all about my pursuit despite the persecution.  I think of You, Jesus, and all the ways You had to deal with persecution in Your daily confrontations all the way through to the persecution of the cross.  And it wasn’t that You received persection that set You apart.  It was how You handled that persecution that sets You apart.  It’s how You looked at that persection.  It’s Your focus and why You received that persection.  It came because of what You sought, because of What and Who You were following after.  You broke the rules of men to follow the righteousness of God.  Only the one who follows after You instead of men shall enjoy Your presence in their life.  And it’s not a one time deal.  This is continual.  I must continually choose to deny man and live for righteousness to continually live in the bliss of that Righteous One.

I’m commanded to rejoice in the hard road, the hard way, because to walk it is to walk it with others.  Not only that, but to walk it is to walk with the Lord.  But that’s not all.  I’m commanded to rejoice, to remain in that bliss of knowing that God, You are in control.  Because Your bliss continues; it never stops.  Your mercies are new every morning; they are unfailing.  I can jump for joy over this truth in You.  Because my persecution, my reviling, this evil I receive at the hands of man, is only temporary.  You control it because You are sovereign and my rejoicing is the evidence that I believe Your sovereignty.  I know this because the verb tense used for the persecution and reviling is that of a completed action.  And I am never alone in my struggle.  But my struggle is never out of Your control.

And when this becomes who I am, when my identity is all about Your identity, then I become a light in this world, not because of me, but because of You in me.  This, and only this, is how You shine through me.  This and only this is how people taste and see that You are good.  This is when I become salt, salt that is the flavor of You.  It’s so different from the natural response, from the world’s ways, it can’t be hid.  It stands out like a beacon of strangeness and uniqueness.  It looks to You like beautiful works that shine Your glory on us and back on You.  It’s the shining of Your righteousness and the destruction of man’s righteousness.

You said, “Except Your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:21)  How can my righteousness exceed that of the rulekeepers and rulemakers?  The righteousness of the Creator flows from me instead.  By Your grace and mercy at the cross, I can let go of my rules and the rules of the scribes and Pharisees and follow You as You impart Your righteousness to me.  I dwell in You and Your way, not in mine.  I adopt a new character as You adopt me into You, into Your family.  And I stop looking like the world and start looking more like an alien.  But to You, You know me, You recognize me, You call me Your own.  And my brothers and sisters recognize me.  And I recognize You and Your ways.  And I choose to live in them despite the cost, because You are worth it.

I must follow after Your goal for me, Lord, and not my own.  I must follow after Your goal for me, Lord, and not the goal of the world or anyone else for me.  And what is Your goal for me, for each and every believer?  “Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48)

Am I really being called to perfection here?  Is that what “teleios” means?  It means “complete” but it means complete in various respects  like in your labor or growth or character.  See, there’s this image of maturity.  Jesus is telling me I must become complete in Him, mature in Him.  I am to resemble my Father in His character.  And their is this growth toward perfection, because aren’t You, God, perfect?  My goal is to be perfect, complete, mature and altogether full of Your character.  That’s the mark.  And I’m not being told it’s unattainable or far off.  I’m being told that I can reach this mark but only in You.

But the only way I’ll ever be there, is to live in You, to breathe in You, to act in You, to respond in You, to embrace You with every part of my being.  I must live in Your bliss, in You.  I must apply You to my everyday living.  Your actions must flow out of me.  There are lots of things I’ve heard said, lots of ways man has interpreted Your Word, but I’m not to listen to their interpretation.  I’m to follow Your interpretation, Your actions.  I must go beyond the surface and live out the heart of Your Word because that’s living out Your heart.  It’s deeper than just not murdering someone else; it’s letting You control the roots of my heart.  It’s deeper than just not committing adultery.  It’s letting You impart Your righteousness to my every thought and esteeming the value of others over mine.  It’s deeper than keeping oaths out of duty, but it’s a duty to love born out of Love itself.  It takes my right to retaliate and relinquishes all into Your hands, taking that even deeper and forgiving the one who deserves punishment.  And yet it must go further because forgiveness of our oppressors is not close to the heart of God.  One must go beyond forgiveness and love their persecutor.

Now who can do this?  With man, this is impossible.  But for God, all things are possible.  And in You, Lord, this is more than a possibility for me.  This is Your command to me.  And if You command it, that is because You can do this in me.  I must do my part and relinquish all to You that I might receive the glory of Youness imparted in me.  Only then will I consider myself blessed.  Only then shall I know what it is to live in the bliss of You.  Teach me to walk in Your shoes continually.  Thank You for making me able.  Yes, the hard road is less travelled, but it is more than worth the journey.

The Passion of Faith

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Photo credit to https://www.facebook.com/PrayForPastorSaeedAbedini/photos_stream?tab=photos_albums

“And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”  Matthew 1:19

What do a genealogy with women, the announcement of Christ, and Abraham have in common?  The more I dig into them, one connecting thread I am finding along with others who have followed these threads before me is amazing faith.  I’m not just talking about faith here.  Because I’m not so sure there is something that is just called faith.  I’m thinking that faith that is actually faith has an amazing quality to it.  Yes, faith that is faith will look like actual living sometimes, but somewhere along the line, faith must show itself to be amazing.  And in it’s “amazing” nature, faith demonstrates itself passionately.

Lord, where do I start because I’m not even finished learning?  I’m not so sure that I ever will be finished learning.  Once I thought I would be finished when once I was finally with You.  But then I think I will have an eternity to continually be amazed at the things that I am learning from You and applying to my spirit.  But where do I follow Your path of learning today?  And how do I even try to express it?

I’ll express it feebly at best.  It will be a feeble expression because it is so much harder to see faith written, to put it into words, than it is to see faith lived out.  And it’s so much easier to watch faith lived out than it is to live it out for oneself.  But somehow, in a much less noble manner than Kenneth Bailey or Soren Kierkegaard, this peasant girl is going to try to sit and be amazed at some heroes of the faith, at some “knights of faith.”

I’m going to start as my treasure search started a few days ago.  Kenneth Bailey took me back to Matthew 1 to look at Joseph.  I’m introduced to Joseph in God’s Word and with Mr. Bailey’s help through his knowledge of the original languages our text was written in and his knowledge of the culture.  So he helps me to step back and see Joseph as a real man, in real times.  I step back and find Mary betrothed to Joseph.  And then what?  “Before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

Sometimes we take the walk of faith and the trial that led to that leap of faith so lightly.  Sometimes we don’t really sit down and dig into what it was like in real life.  Sometimes I think we try to paint a prettier picture so that faith becomes a little easier.  Maybe that’s why I’m so excited to read these two authors I’ve mentioned.  But even before reading them, I’ve come to the conclusion that true faith is absolutely anything but easy and convenient.  But even though it’s not easy and not convenient, it is full of one thing- passion.  But I must examine that passion of faith.  Why?  I must ask myself if I even have an inkling of it.

So here is Joseph.  And it is brought to his attention that Mary is pregnant.  Now Mary is the only one who at this point has seen and heard the angel’s news.  Joseph was not privy to that announcement.  Don’t try to tell me that Mary wouldn’t have sounded deranged to Joseph and her parents as well as all the townspeople!  And in the middle of this embarrassing craziness, we read that Joseph, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”  Is that significant?  Well, it starts to tell us something about the faith of Joseph.

What does “just” mean?  Kenneth Bailey says, “Such a phrase usually refers to a person who obeys the law and applies rules fairly to all.”  Well, what was the rule that should have been applied to Mary?  Let’s look back at Deuteronomy 22:23,24.  “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city,  and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife.  So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”  The following verses speak of a woman seized in the field where she cries out but noone is there to hear.  Then only the man is to be stoned.  So, what to do with Mary?  What would the just thing be?

Mary isn’t crying out foul play here.  She seems to be making up a wild story.  Remember, she’s just an ordinary girl to everyone, including Joseph.  She may have had a wonderfully godly character, and that might have been why Joseph chose her, but she was just an ordinary young woman.  This isn’t something that happens to ordinary people.  Would you believe this story if your spouse or fiance came home and told it to you?

Now, before I talk more of Joseph’s response, I want to look at his feelings.  Most interpretations of the Greek say he “considered” these things.  That sounds like he heard this news and took it all in stride.  But the Greek “enthumeomai” actually comes from the root word “thumos”  which has to do with “passion (as if breathing hard):- fierceness, indignation, wrath.” What if Joseph was fuming inside?  Oh, wait, that would make Joseph human, wouldn’t it?  That would make him like you or me having to struggle with his own feelings and reactions.  That would mean that this whole ordeal was actually a temptation for Joseph.  How would he respond?

So Joseph was angry, yet he was controlling his anger and trying to decide the right thing to do.  And somehow he felt there was a higher right thing to do for Mary than stone her even though he may have been as angry as a hornet.  And maybe he leaned towards Mary’s weakness and mercy because he understood her humanness and weakness, or maybe he just remembered something more of God.

Maybe Joseph thought back to Isaiah 42:1-3 about the Suffering Servant, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed will he not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”  See, reeds were used for pencils.  An unbroken reed was also used for houses.  Broken reeds were good for nothing but to be burned.  Reeds were weak.  Inside the house were oil lamps and the wick hung out.  If the oil went out the burning wick might fall on the floor and catch the house on fire.  So a bowl was kept on the floor underneath.  But this suffering servant wouldn’t raise his voice against this weak reed or snuff out that flame.  But it’s not really about reeds and flames.  It’s about being weak, or being tired, or being broken.  It’s all about the suffering servant showing mercy in His passion for the weak and the tired and the broken.

So where does this leave us with Joseph?  Maybe, contrary to what the ethical norms of culture and “religion” proposed, Joseph clung to this higher justice.  And that’s an amazing thing already because his anger probably wants something else, but he doesn’t respond to his anger.  His culture probably demands the stoning “justice.”  To deny his culture their justice is to make himself an outcast among them.  This is a man who was counting the cost.  I’m pretty sure it was tearing him up inside and out.

And I’m pretty sure that God commends him.  First, You, Lord had Matthew classify him as just.  Even though he was breaking the law, he’s written down as a just man.  Maybe he was obeying a higher law straight in You.  And beyond that, as he was struggling with these things, as humans do, You sent Your angel to appear to him, after his decision, to confirm his amazing step of faith.  “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…”  Obviously, his decision to not stone Mary was the right one.

Wait, but Joseph hadn’t decided to go on and marry Mary.  How was he exhibiting faith?  Maybe we should put ourselves in his shoes and see the difficulty of the decision he already made and then we might understand.  Maybe we need to start looking at the passion that must have driven that decision.  And sure, we all need You, Lord, to fine tune our faith and to show us how it really ought to be shaped, but he was taking a risk in the right direction.  And because he took that first risk on his own as he was trying to figure out Your will, he was able to join in with the greater risk of marrying her upon Your word.

Here is a man who was already preparing himself for a life of being shamed and shunned because honoring God was more important than honoring people, and compassion, passionate compassion mattered.  Like You, Jesus, are our Protector.  Joseph was becoming the protector of Mary and the baby she was carrying.  He was learning to love his wife as Christ loved the church.  That’s amazing faith.

But it doesn’t stop there.  From Joseph I was taken to Abraham through Soren Kierkegaard.  And we think how hard it must have been for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  And we think we can fathom it.  But how can we fathom it if we have not experienced it?  Again, here is a man who is going against all rules of culture.  Even then you did not sacrifice your grown son, your only son.  Maybe you might sacrifice a daughter, or a baby, but not this.  And beyond the cultural thought, what of his own heart?  How can a father who truly loves his precious one and only son, kill him?  This is murder.

Earlier I mentioned the word “temptation.”  I’m going to mention it here again.  Can I understand the temptation that Abraham is having to go through?  Can I imagine the thoughts and agonies and distress in his mind?  I think they may far surpass the thoughts and agonies and distress that Joseph felt.   Imagine every step to the mount.  Imagine watching his son.  Imagine knowing what you had to do.  Imagine explaining to your beloved son.  Don’t tell me he had faith that God would raise him.  I’m sure he did.  Would that make it any easier for you to plunge the knife into your own son?  Does that thought remove the pain he would feel at that moment?  Would that knowledge remove his temporary suffering that you would be inflicting upon him?  Remember, you alone have heard the voice of God, not Isaac.  Isaac has not been privy to the voice of God on this matter concerning his life/death.

What must you be thinking that Isaac is thinking of you?  Is Isaac saying, “How Father, can this be?  I have never known God to require this before.  How can this be of God?”  Did he really just lay there and say, “As you wish.”?  What was the look in his eyes?  Was there fear?  Were they closed tightly shut so he wouldn’t notice the moment?  Were tears coming down his face as he squeezed them tightly shut?

I’m sorry, but I see no easy door for Abraham.  And either he was exhibiting amazing faith or he was just a murderer.  Amazing faith takes amazing steps.  It takes breaking the ethical norms to obey God.  It may take breaking our own hearts, testing our own metal, giving up our safety, or position, or comfort.  But it’s realizing that relinquishing all of this, everything to You, Lord, gains more in return.

Amazing faith isn’t just about amazing actions.  It’s about the root of why you can demonstrate those amazing, culture defying actions.  The root is true passion.  Abraham was so passionate for God, that God gave him this test.  God new his metal.  And maybe it wasn’t to prove anything to Abraham and maybe it was to make sure his allegiance was lined up correctly.  But this test was presented to Abraham for me, just as much as Joseph’s test was presented to Joseph for not only him, but for me, and for you.

And lest I fall off on only making it seem as though men are called to amazing faith, let me look at Mary today.  After all, it was that genealogy that brought me here.  And Soren Kierkegaard, while sharing about Abraham, also shares of Mary as being a “knight of faith.”   Oh, wasn’t Mary such a sweet and innocent girl!  Isn’t it wonderful how she got to bear the Christ child!  Really?  Do you think that in the bearing of the child that she felt sweet and innocent?  What about during the announcement?

Well, let’s look at the announcement.  The angel comes in and starts telling her wonderful things.  Luke 1:29 tells us her response was to be “greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”  She wasn’t just bothered by the angel’s presence.  She was afraid of the purport of even the wonderful words of affirmation he had just given her.  The angel knows and tells her not to be afraid.  And then he gives her the news.  “You’re going to have a baby and name him Jesus.”  And like this isn’t scary, she asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Here comes the really scary stuff here.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…”  Now, don’t tell me this isn’t scary stuff here.  Don’t tell me that you think that when Mary has to tell people that everyone is going to understand and give her kudos.  Don’t tell me that this young lady didn’t understand the ramifications of what this would mean in her culture.  Don’t tell me that Mary is not faced with a temptation here.  Don’t tell me this isn’t an extreme test from God here.  Because either Mary has to be a crazy harlot here or a woman of passionate faith.  Imagine what she was really thinking and really saying when she responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

This was not a simple decision.  To bear the miraculous child was no easy effort.  The whole time during her season of carrying that baby, don’t tell me there wasn’t the constant dread and distress of being shunned.  Not even Joseph was privy to the message until later.  The angel didn’t gather all the young girls, her friends, and let them in on the message.  Who would understand her?

I’d like to share Soren Kierkegaard’s thoughts here, “Nevertheless, when she says, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’–then she is great, and I think it will not be found difficult to explain why she became the Mother of God.   She has no need of worldly admiration, any more than Abraham has need of tears, for she was not a heroine, and he was not a hero, but both of them became greater than such, not at all because they were exempted from distress and torment and paradox, but they became great through these.”  So what makes me think that Joseph, and Abraham, and Mary are examples I can look to of passionate true faith?

They make me think about myself in terms of realness and the decisions and actions I make.  They make me think about what I do with what God requires of me.  Am I exempt from trial and temptation?  How shall my faith be demonstrated?  If I am exempt from trial and temptation, is it because I exempt myself because I don’t want to pay the cost?

Soren Kierkegaard poses a good question.  “Why then did Abraham do it?  For God’s sake, and (in complete identity with this) for his own sake. He did it for God’s sake because God required this proof of his faith; for his own sake he did it in order that he might furnish the proof.  The unity of these two points of view is perfectly expressed by the word which has always been used to characterize this situation: it is a trial, a temptation.  A temptation–but what does that mean? What ordinarily tempts a man is that which would keep him from doing his duty, but in this case the temptation is itself the ethical … which would keep him from doing God’s will.   But what then is duty?  Duty is precisely the expression for God’s will.”  So if that was Abraham’s duty, what is my duty to God, to You?  And if Abraham, and Joseph, and Mary were that passionate about their duty to You,  how deep is my passion for You?  What tests would I pass, what tests would I be willing to take for You?

I suppose everyone wants to become a hero.  And there are lots of heroes we can read about.  And heroes can get there by their own power.  But we can’t become a “knight of faith” by our own powers.  This is more than a hero.  Everyone roots for the hero.  Everyone admires the hero.  They all understand him.  But not so the “knight of faith.”  The “knight of faith” must be willing to stand on his own, with nothing but the Lord on his side.  “When a man enters upon the way, in a certain sense the hard way of the tragic hero, many will be able to give him counsel; to him who follows the narrow way of faith no one can give counsel, him no one can understand.  Faith is a miracle, and yet no man is excluded from it; for that in which all human life is unified is passion,* and faith is a passion.” (Soren Kierkegaard)  Yes, faith is a passion for God beyond all other passions.  It is a passion so deep that it outweighs all other fears, desires, dreads, temptations.  It’s a passion that converts itself into more than talk.  It’s a passion that acts upons itself and its beliefs.  Yes, faith is a passion that stems from the heart of God Himself, into the lives and hearts and minds of those who have placed their trust in Him.

And this amazes me.  Abraham could know how to respond, despite his own desires, because he knew and understood the heart of God.  Did Joseph understand the heart of God that well, that he responded like the suffering servant?  Did Mary know the heart of God so well that she could rely on her Redeemer and Comforter alone, should not even Joseph understand?  Yes, faith is amazing.  It’s absolutely unexplainable but it’s within each of our grasps.  God is offering us opportunities called trials and temptations.  Am I willing to follow after His heart no matter the cost?  If so, someone just might see the faith of Abraham, or Joseph, or Mary, in me, thanks to the Lord.

My Love is Better Than Wine?

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Photo Credit to fotolia/Subbotina Anna

“How fair is your love, my sister, my spouse!  How much better is your love than wine!  and the smell of your ointments than all the spices!”  Song of Solomon 4:10

Now, it’s one thing for me to say, “God, Your love is way better than wine!”  And of course that is more than true.  But I have to stop and think about what I’m reading today.  Well, at least, if Song of Solomon is also a picture about You, Lord, and Your bride, then I really have to pause here.  Why?  Because You, God of the Universe, Redeemer of our souls, God of Angel Armies, the Mighty One is saying something so profound and so unexpected here, I need to take a seat to take it all in.  What if this is You, God, speaking to me and to all the body of Christ?  Because here is what You are saying to each of us and to us as a whole, “Your love is much better than wine!”  Who’s love?  MY LOVE?  Yes.  My love!

I’m not sure if I can fathom that You, Lord, are saying my love is that wonderful.  How could my love ever taste that good to You, the Perfect, Holy One?  I can’t help but think of Ezekiel again describing Your choosing Jerusalem even though no one else saw her worth.  And how You cleansed her and raised her and how YOU GAVE HER BEAUTY.   And that is so much what this is about.  So I have to look back at Song of Solomon chapter 4 here and ask some questions as I read along.

You call Your bride fair.  That means beautiful, and I would suppose You are talking of both inner and outer beauty.  Well, who made her beautiful?  If I think of Ezekiel, I know it’s because of what You did for her.  If I think about me, I know it’s what You are doing in my life.  Because I certainly am not beautiful unless I’m clothed in Your righteousness inside and out.

Who made my form?  Who made my eyes that You notice?  Who designed my hair?  Who formed my teeth and my lips?  You notice my temples and lips and so much about me.  And You are so much more than just a Husband.  You created each part of me and You are personally invested in every inch of me.  I am Your handiwork.  But I am not just a weekend project.  I am Your handiwork of love.  I am Your glory.  I wonder if I can even explain that?

Now, this minute that I am living and breathing on earth, I’m not fully there yet.  But this is how You look at me because there is no doubt that the work You have begun WILL be finished in me.  You are God and I can count on that because I can count on You, ALWAYS.  And You actually delight in Your work in me.  Not only that, but You delight in me.  You enjoy the fragrance of You that comes from me, the fragrance that You bathed me in.  You look at me and all my spots are gone because You make me beautiful in Your holiness and Your spotlessness.  The Lover says, “You have ravished my heart.” (Proverbs 5:5)  “You delight Me to ecstasy!”  This is how God looks at us!  This is how strongly He feels for us!

See, if I read this and I don’t even have to think about it very hard at all, You, Lord, are pretty “excitedly intoxicated” over Your love here.  This love is beautiful, exciting, and pure.  It’s the same love my husband ought to demonstrate for me, just as intensely.  It’s the same love I ought to demonstrate for him, just as intensely.  But here’s my question.  How could our love not be that intense?  Is my love for You everything it ought to be?  Do I really realize the immensity of the love that You have lavished on me?

And if I look at my own marriage, my physical marriage on earth, does it model Your love on both sides?  As  wife, is my desire toward my husband to build him up into all that You are building him to be, Lord?  Am I looking at him through the eyes that You are looking at Him?  Because You look at Him with the same eyes You looked at me.  I was left naked and bloody as a baby out there on my own with no one who saw my true value.  So was he.  We all were.  But You chose me out of that and You cleaned me up and You loved on me and cared for me and adorned me in Your beauty.  And You are still doing that.  And You are passionately involved in doing that still.  Do I look at him through Your eyes and see his worth and value and beauty in You?  Because Your desire is toward us.  You are making him for me for You and I ought to join in with You in that lavishing love kind of self-sacrificial way.  And if we were all understanding our parts, well, my husband would look at me through Your eyes in that same way too.

And if we were all looking at this love thing through Your eyes, Lord, we would run to the “fountain of gardens” and “the well of living waters” You were forming in each of us because it would be like running to You.  We would each be a haven of refreshment for the other because You would be flowing forth.

What if both men and women understood this concept better?  Right now I can’t even put it all into words.  But what if there is this bride of Christ and men and women fall under that domain.  What if every man who trusts in You and every woman who trusts in You must understand what it is to be loved by the Groom?  What if every man and every woman must understand what it is to be the bride of Christ and to have His love lavished on us, before we can really understand what our love is supposed to look like in this world?  It just seems awfully humbling to me to think that You, God, expend Yourself for me and value me, and that Your desire is toward me.  That is just crazy.  It’s the craziest love I know.  And if my Holy God can want and lavish the best over something that wasn’t like Him at all and make it into His own image just because of love, then surely, I can catch that passion and love others in that same crazy way.

You know, I never deserved the immensity of the love that You have bestowed upon me.  Nothing I have ever done has warranted this feeling of Yours toward me.  But this is who You are.  You are love.  And You make me loveable.  Knowing this, how could I not be ecstatically head over heals passionately in love with You? 

That brings me to 1 John 4:19.  “We love Him, because He first loved us.”  And I wonder if that only means because You loved us first, Lord?  That Greek word for first is “protos.”  Strong’s says it means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance).”  So what if it means more than first?  Because everything I’m reading about You is telling me that.  I mean, yes, You loved us before we loved You.  So You did love us first in that order.  But didn’t You even put us foremost in importance?  You gave of everything of Yourself including Your Son.  You gave Your honor.  You are PROTOS.  You desire and delight to impart Your protos in us.  It’s more than You loving me first.  It’s all about You and Your Chiefness and the Beginning of Beginnings and the Best of the Best making me like You.   I love You passionately because You are the only way that I ever, ever can realize the immensity and beauty and gift of being loved and cared for and made into Your beautiful image.  I love You because You have taken on this task above all tasks, to impart Yourself to me.  Yes, this is the craziest love I’ll ever know, but no other love will ever satisfy.  Yes, I love You, Lord, because You have chosen to so love me and I am Your priority.