Lousy Leaders No More

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.”   Luke 6:12

When was the last time I sat up the whole night to pray?  That has been a long time and I think only once ever, and part of that time was spent focussing on God through songs as well and the words therein.  But this word, dianuktereuo, means exactly that, to sit up the whole night.  Lord, did you spend other nights in your life sitting up and praying all night long, or was this that only night?  I mean, I know you prayed many nights.  I’m sure you prayed every night and more than at night.  I’m sure that you walked in constant prayerful thought.  But this is the only time in Scripture that it is pointed out that you sat up the whole night in prayer.

But what we have in the Scripture is a sampling of you anyway.  As John says, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.  Amen.” (John 21:25)  But there was this time, at least, that you sat up all night in prayer.  And since that was pointed out, I”m pretty sure that even if it was once, we ought to think about it.

Here I come to that word “ginomai” again.  And it seems a “by chance” word, but I don’t think it is by chance.  “And it came to pass”  means, for Jesus, that it didn’t just come to be but it was caused to be.  That night had a purpose.  It was chosen by God.  He didn’t just happen to pray all night long that day.  It was by design.  He didn’t just stumble on prayer that night and then 12 apostles just happened out of it.  This is design by purpose.  This is timing by purpose.

You chose this night specifically.  You chose to commune with the Heavenly Father all night long because you had some important choices to make and you didn’t want them to just be your choice.  You wanted this choice to be what your heavenly Father wanted.  If you had chosen, according to the man side of you, you probably would have chosen differently.  I mean, how hard was this?  John tells us, “And [Jesus] needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:25)  So, how do you make a decision to choose 12 apostles to represent you, to represent the heart of God when they have the heart of men and you know what is in them?

But even though you were in the form of God, you humbled yourself as a servant, obeyed God as His son, and served with flawed men unto death. (Philippians 2)  How hard is it to love us?  I mean, some of us wanted to throw you off a cliff for telling the truth.  And the majority of us wanted to put you in a box of what we wanted to believe.  We still do.  We want to pick and choose what parts of you we like to obey and throw away the difficult things.  How hard is it to love us when we are like that because we are like that most of the time, aren’t we?

But you still love us, despite all that.  You kept telling the scribes and Pharisees the truth.  You kept telling the lost, the broken, and the acknowledged sinners the truth.  And you sat up all night with God praying until you knew who your 12 apostles would be.  These weren’t just disciples.  These were apostles, something more, imparted with a little bit more of you, just enough to get the world looking and paying attention so we could see that you were more than a man, that you were different, that you were truly of God, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, the Lord and Saviour of the world.

What does it even really mean to pray like that?  What are the hints that you give us along the way?  “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”  What if loving your enemies, blessing them that curse you, doing good to those that hate you, doesn’t happen unless we pray?  What if prayer is the creator of a right heart in me and to skip prayer, real prayer is to refuse all these things because I can’t do them in my own strength?  How can I love, bless, do good, and pray for those people?  Why should I?

“That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love them which love you, what reward have you?  Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others?  Don’t the tax collectors do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)  Jesus was praying for the Father’s guidance in creating children of God after God’s own heart.  This is the kind of love it entails.  It takes some all night prayer.  And all day prayer. And prayer here and there.  And it takes a lot of investing of yourself, but always staying invested first and foremost in God.

Maybe you weren’t just picking out people who would be good at loving and living like this.  Maybe you were picking out people who fit in these categories and yet you would love deeply anyways.  You didn’t just pick your neighbours, did you?  You picked 12 enemies actually.  What?  Well yeah, aren’t we all?  I mean, that’s what Paul says we all were, which includes the 12 men Jesus chose that night.  “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 8:10)  Jesus chose 12 men he could put his words to practice in.  Jesus chose 12 men that he could apply God’s way towards.

Jesus took 12 enemies of God and turned them upside down for God and it all came to a head with staying up all night in prayer.  There was Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (Alphaeus’ son), Simon (Zelotes), Judas, and Judas Iscariot.  Yeah, we all know that Judas was an actual traitor to Jesus.  But we all knew after the fact.  But weren’t they all?  Didn’t they all run from the garden that day?  Who stood faithfully by and walked with Jesus when the soldiers came?  Come on.  Let’s be honest.  All 12 fell short.  All 12 denied Jesus in some way.  What if the truth is that Jesus doesn’t pick us according to our potential for leadership?  What if the truth is that Jesus chooses us because we need him?

What if the truth is that all these men would be lousy and terrible leaders without him?  What about Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathea?  They were religious men and should have been great leaders right?  Or Caiaphas, the high priest then?  What kind of leaders were they without you changing their hearts to know God?  Lousy leaders directing people to hell in the name of God.  And the 12 chosen apostles were in the same boat as them without you, and so am I.

Jesus knew exactly who he was choosing.  He wasn’t surprised about any man, let alone Judas Iscariot.  But what better way to put his teaching to practice than to chose 12 enemies to love every day of his life and through his crucifixion and into his resurrection and into eternity?  What better example? 

So yeah, maybe that would take a whole night of struggling with the Father’s decision and surrendering.  It wasn’t like Jesus never asked God to change His mind.  I remember the night in the Garden of Gethsemane.  “Then came Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and said unto the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray there.’  And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.  Then he said unto them, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: wait here, and watch with me.’  And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, ‘Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as You will.’  And he came unto the disciples, and found them asleep, and said unto Peter, ‘What, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’  He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.’  And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.  And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.  Then he came to his disciples, and said to them, ‘Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that betrays me.’” (Matthew 26:36-46)

Hmm.  It appears that Jesus spent at least another night in prayer.  And it appears that things only got more difficult the more faithful you were to the Father.  But I see that two things didn’t change:  your love and faithfulness to your heavenly Father, and your love for us unfaithful people.  Yeah, it’s hard to love people.  We let you and others down all the time.  We don’t get you because we’re too focussed on ourselves.  We betray you.  We can’t even stay awake when you need us praying for you.  I know that I’m not any different than those 12 men.  And if anyone else thinks they are better than them, they are mislead.

The truth is that you so loved the world not because we are gifted but because we need you so we can receive the gift of You.  You chose twelve disciples as apostles so You could teach them what the love of the Father translates like into our lives and out towards others.  So today is about prayer and about surrender to God and about loving our enemies.  And today is about realising that apart from Jesus’ prayer and surrender to God and loving me, an enemy of God, I would be lost forever.  But because of that day, praying for God’s direction, and choosing those 12, countless others have been chosen to follow ever since then, and I am one of them!  Not because I deserve it but because I was an enemy of God and lost without Him.  I needed Him.  We all do.   

And here’s the wonderful thing.  You don’t just call us from enemy to disciple.  You call us to be sons and daughters of Almighty God! (2 Corinthians 6:18)  You don’t just call us from enemy to disciple.  You call us friends, more than servants.  We get to hear the Father’s heart and know it and do it.  Oh, may I follow your example and love those who are as unloveable as me, just as you have chosen and love me!

Be Careful of Mob Mentality

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Artwork credit to Jan Rombouts

“One of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.  And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” Luke 5:17

Don’t you find it interesting that Luke doesn’t say, “As Jesus was teaching, all the sick people were sitting there…”  Neither does he say, “As Jesus was teaching, all the common people were sitting there…”  And again, he doesn’t say, “As Jesus was teaching, a mixed crowd was sitting there, Pharisees, teachers of the law, sick people, and lots of other people as well…”  No, when Luke paints the picture for us, he points out the effort the Pharisees and teachers of the law made to come to see Jesus. 

Why were they here?  To listen to his teaching and believe?  That doesn’t appear to be what the evidence of Scripture says.  It’s more likely they were coming to find fault in him and prove that he wasn’t who he said he was.  They came to find fault, not truth.  But there is good news for those of us who are like the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Despite our agenda, God’s agenda is stronger!  The King James Version says, “…and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.”  Heal who?  So far, the only people Luke has mentioned are the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  God can heal even the hardest of the hard-hearted.  That is good news.

I wasn’t there,  but I wonder if my picture of that day is skewed.  I mean, I know there is a crowd and today, crowds can become dangerous when they mob and riot.  Crowds are often political motivators now-a-days.  But what was this crowd?  Were crowds normal things?  It appears that in Greek thinking, the crowd was not a good thing, associated with the lowest strata of the population mobbing.  The whole idea stood against democratic thought.  For the Romans, it spoke of irregularity.  So these people gathered today, during Roman rule in Israel on this day, let’s just consider it all an immense irregularity that could defy the way people usually conduct their lives, even defying their “rationality.”

We know that Jesus was inside a house because we are going to read of these men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof so that Jesus could heal him.  So let me see this picture.  Jesus is in a house.  He’s been prepared for this day, because he has taken time to withdraw in the wilderness and pray sometime before this takes place.  Now, here he is, inside this house teaching.  Hopefully, I’m not assuming wrongly, but I’m reading that the main people in that house that had gathered around him, sitting there, are the Pharisees and doctors of the law who had come from afar.  I think that house was full of Pharisees and teachers of the law, so full that no one else could fit inside.  And I wonder if they would have anyways, or would it have been frowned upon for your ordinary person to sit down in that crowd gathered there? 

Was it regular for so many Pharisees and lawyers to be gathered together in one place?  Were their thoughts the regular thoughts of the men of their religious leadership?  Who is this crowd?  What is the purpose of the crowd?  Will something good come from this crowd?

Enter the men and their paralytic friend.  There are too many people to bring him in the house into the presence of Jesus.  They are forced to do something irregular as well.  They go to the roof.  Was there a crowd outside?  I have no idea.  Does it matter?  The crowd inside was the problem.  The crowd inside had their own agenda and they could care less about anyone outside, especially some ordinary guys and a paralytic sinner on a mat.  Maybe the quietest crowds can be the most dangerous, huh?

Usually a crowd is thought of as rabble, but what if that wasn’t the case with the crowd today.  What if the rabble was what was going on in their minds?  What if the crowd mentality was fighting not against democracy, but against God’s will?  What if the crowd mentality needed healing and that is why Jesus was there that day, to heal this crowd of Pharisees and teachers of the law who were acting like rabble without even realizing it?

What if these men and their paralytic friend were a God send, sent for the healing of these religious men sitting in this room, this crowd gathered inside around Jesus?  What if I need to read this like Luke said, that the “power of the Lord was present to heal them,” to heal the ones sitting on the floor in that room, those religious leaders and the men and their friend being lowered from the ceiling was the lesson for their healing?

Look at the picture.  All these religious leaders who each should have been leading sinners to Jesus, but what was happening?  All these religious leaders were holding people back from Jesus, back from God.  Here comes someone seeking healing, but they can’t find it through the religious leaders.  Why?  The leaders are uninterested in the plight of the men.  The religious leaders are too focussed on their own plans, their own agenda.  So God takes a different route. 

He sends the men up on the roof.  They do something irregular.  They take apart the roof and go directly to Jesus.  Why?  Because they can’t get to Jesus through the people they are supposed to get to Jesus through.  So God takes the leaders out of the picture and sends the men in need directly to the Source.  They lower down their friend, before Jesus and before the whole crowd of religious leaders.  They demonstrate faith.  These sinners who weren’t “worthy” of the religious leaders’ attention, are the ones demonstrating faith!  And Jesus says, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  What?! 

Now all the scribes and Pharisees are in an uproar because only God can forgive sins.  Obviously, no one there believes that Jesus is of God.  Well, except for the men with faith on the roof and the paralytic.  None of these leaders believe Jesus is who he says he is.  None of them believe he is who God says he is.  Then again, anyone can say, “You are forgiven.”  Those are just words, right?  So you could argue over whether that guy is forgiven or not.  Words are just words.  Words are not necessarily proof, right?

If that is true, that God alone can forgive sins, is there a way that Jesus can prove that He has been given the authority by God to forgive sins?  Jesus tells them to follow out their reasoning.  If that is true, there should be a way to prove it.  If God alone can forgive sins, and Jesus can forgive sins, then they should be able to come to an obvious conclusion about Jesus.  So he takes it a step farther.  Is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven?”  or is it easier to say, “Rise up and walk?”

Well, which is easier?  It’s easy to say either one.  Both are just words.  Well, both are just words if that is all they are.  Any words are easy to say.  I could say, “I am the Son of God.”  It’s easy to say, but for me it wouldn’t be true.  It would just be words.  But that’s not the case for Jesus.  It’s just as easy for him to say “You are forgiven.” as it is for him to say “Rise up and walk,” because He has the power and authority of God to do both.  It’s not only easy for Him to say.  It’s easy for Him to do.  The lesson wasn’t for the friends that day, although they benefited tremendously.  The lesson was for the skeptical religious leaders.  When Jesus forgives, God is forgiving.  He has the authority of God because He is God’s Son, the Messiah.  He and the Father are One.  When He says “Rise up and walk,” it happens, because He has the power of God to forgive sins and do the will of God.  That day, they heard Jesus forgive sins, and they saw him heal a paralytic. 

The power of the Lord was present that day to heal them, all of them if only they would be healed.  You know, I wonder if Nicodemus was there that day, or maybe even Joseph of Aramathea?  Wouldn’t it be a shame to be offered the power of the Lord for your healing and pass it by?  I don’t know how many other people were there, but Luke says, “they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’”  For a moment, they were caught up in astonishment.  Their regular thinking was all shaken up.  All of them, every one of them, was in a dilemma because their thoughts were all displaced.  This was not what they expected.  This was divine.  This blew their ideas out of the water.  This was evidence and they had to deal with it one way or another.  They had to glorify God.  The man was healed.  That was undeniable.  And it frightened them.  Why?

Do we ever become frightened when we know the truth and don’t want to do it?  If they honored the truth, that Jesus was who He and God said He was, their lives would have to change.  They would have to hand authority over to Him.  They would have to say that He was right and they were wrong.  They would have to suck up their pride before all the people.  That’s a scary thing.  And, it’s a scary thing to decide to go against God as well.  I suppose there was a lot to be afraid of that day.  It was scary.  It was a paradox before them.  This was all contrary to their expectations.  What they called absurd, you know, Jesus being able to forgive sins, was being shown to be true, fact. 

So why weren’t all these religious leaders believers after that?  Maybe Paul sheds some light on that.  “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God,” ( Romans 1:21-23) for other things and other thoughts.  They didn’t rearrange their thinking to line up with the truth they learned that day.  They just held on to their own thinking, and clung to their foolish pride, and dishonoured the God who sent healing their way.  We can do the same thing.

Sometimes we get too caught up in glorifying ourselves.  We allow ourselves to be temporarily amazed by God and then we slide right back into our own glorification.  That wasn’t so with Jesus.  He didn’t glorify himself.  He always let God glorify him.  (Hebrews 5:5)  These religious leaders were so busy with their own glory, that they were no longer glorifying God and He could not, therefore, glorify them.  They should have been speaking for God’s glory, not their own.  They should have been serving by His strength, but they were serving in their own strength.  (1 Peter 4:11)  They were glorifying themselves and there is no glory to God in that.  Their purpose should have been to glorify God and give Him dominion, but they were so busy thinking and wanting others to think they were flawless teachers and unerring in Scripture so that they wouldn’t even check out Scripture to verify the truth of Jesus. 

I don’t want my pride to cause me to act foolishly.  I don’t want my pride to cause me to lessen what You are doing in my life or what You are showing me because I refuse to act upon Your truth.  I don’t want to be like Babylon in Revelation 18:7, who glorified herself and lived as she pleased and said “I sit as queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.”  I don’t want to rule myself.  I want You to rule me.  I want to be the daughter of the King; I don’t need to be queen, nor do I want to be.  I am a widow, even though my earthly spouse is still alive.  Why?  Because I am desperate for Your care.  I am wholly dependent upon You for my provision of spiritual well-being as well as physical well-being.  And I know that I will see mourning, because You tell me in this world there will be troubles, but I am also encouraged by Your words that You have overcome, and because I am not my own, and I am not alone, and I am in You and You in me, I too am an overcomer because of You.  Don’t ever let me miss the lessons You present to me.  Don’t let me get caught up in myself so that I miss the truth of You. 

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness and truth, who keeps loving-kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6,7)  Thank You for being this Lord God that day in that room to those religious leaders.  Just because many of them missed their healing, doesn’t discount who You are.  Because the truth is, You are still reaching out to us just as compassionately and graciously.  And the truth is, it’s still up to each of us whether we will accept Your healing and compassion or turn from it.  I want to grasp it with everything I have.

If You Will, Make Me Clean

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“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Luke 5:12

Today’s account, when you stop and really think about it, is so powerful.  This isn’t just anybody who comes up to Jesus; this is a man full of leprosy.  If there was any disease that separated you from everything and everyone you loved in this life, this was it.  Leprosy banned you from the community and from fellowship with God.  Can you imagine that kind of isolation and shame and heartache? 

At the first sign of leprosy, a person was brought before the priest.  The priest would be the one to determine if it was truly leprosy.  If so, the person would be pronounced unclean.  “And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’  All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.” (Leviticus 13:44,45) 

Leviticus 14 goes through the process of how the priest would affirm that leprosy was gone in a person.  It shares how they were ritually cleansed and the offerings made to bring them back into relationship in the community of the people of God and with God Himself.  I wonder how often priests saw people healed of their leprosy?  What a testimony that would be!  What a joy for the former leper and his family!  Could you imagine having to go through this?

But that’s what we have today, a leper approaching Jesus.  He couldn’t have been in the crowd with the people.  Maybe he was at the edge listening there when Jesus shared from Simon’s boat.  Somehow, he heard.  Somehow, he saw.  And he knew that Jesus was the answer to his isolation, to his shame, to his uncleanness.  But he doesn’t just run up to Jesus, face to face.  He knows his condition.  It’s harmful to him and it’s harmful to others.  He’s bad off.  He’s awful.  Yet he knows he can come to Jesus even when he can’t come to anyone else. 

How does he come, though?  He falls on his face before You, Lord.  He comes as a beggar in need.  And he knows only you can fill that need.  “Lord, if you will, you can make me me clean.”  It’s not like our english will where it just means someone can do or is going to do it or wants to do it.  I think it’s a lot of things but it’s more than just a word.  How do you explain it?  We talk about God’s will all the time, but do we really stop to think about what it is and what it means? 

I can’t help but go back to Genesis.  “In the beginning God created…”  He didn’t have to think about it.  He didn’t have to lay out a design.  He just knew.  He just did.  God is that way.  He’s not like us where He has to take a while to figure things out.  He knows.  He is all-knowing already.  It doesn’t even take Him a moment.  In the moment, every moment, He already knows.

When God said, “Let there be light” and there was light it was because that instantaneous, eternal knowing is combined with instantaneous, eternal doing or action.  God’s thought and action are one.  What You think and know, Lord, You do, You act upon, all at the right moment. 

Somehow, this is the idea of God’s will.  It’s not like desires and whims we have and have to figure out.  It’s not just a feeling that we follow up on.  It’s Your purpose that You already know and the expression of that purpose.  You always know it, but we are in the process of getting in tune with You so we can understand Your purpose and live in it as well.

Somehow, You opened the heart and eyes of that leper, to see that quality about You.  “If You will, you can make me clean.”  What You will is a done deal.  Later, Jesus taught that thinking, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  Our problem is that we too often don’t want Your will.  We want our own.  Even Jesus hoped he really didn’t have to fulfil Your will upon the cross, but he knew it was the only way and surrendered to it as he determined, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

It’s like saying to God, if this serves Your purpose, the one You already have in mind, I know You will make me whole.  I mean, after all, You created everything from nothing.  How much easier is it for you to heal me, especially if it was Your purpose already? 

Does Jesus ever confirm this thought?  Remember the blind man in John?  Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)  And what about Lazarus?  “This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)  And what of this man’s leprosy?

“I will; be clean,” Jesus answered, stretching out his hand and touching the leper.  He could have just spoken the words over him but he didn’t just do that.  He touched the leper while he was a leper and did the will of His Father.  Can you imagine being touched by Jesus when no one for how long had dared touch you?  Well, at least no clean person had dared touch you.  And then to be healed instantly!  “Let there be light.”  And there was!

And then Jesus tells him, “Go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”   Did he do that?  Did he go to the priest?  Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law and the prophets; he came to complete them, to fulfil them.  Did the leper continue walking in the will of God or did he just decide to live life his way from then out?  Did he go to the priests and go through the process? 

Why did Jesus want him to go through that process?  Did You want him to be a witness to the priests?  If people had been better witnesses to the priests, would more of the priests have trusted in You?  Does following the will of God mean obeying His will?  Does obeying His will lead to others coming to know the truth?  Does our disobedience to follow Your will Your way, lead to us leading people away from You despite our testimony about You because it winds up not being an accurate testimony about You?

It’s one thing to start understanding the will of God and see our utter dependency on You in time of distress and need.  But it’s a whole deeper understanding to honor Your same will when our needs are met and we have no more want.  The truth is that Your will never changes and my dependency on You bringing Your will to be in my life shouldn’t fluctuate depending on my need or lack of need.  I should always be as much in need of You having Your will in my life every day of my life, because without Your will being formed in my life, I am just a poor leper outside of Your fellowship. 

Lord, I want to be in Your will and reaping the benefits of being in Your will every moment of my life.  I don’t want to step out of Your will in the good times.  I don’t want to handle things according to my feelings.  I want to abide in You and by You.  Help me, Lord, because my natural tendency is to run around like the healed leper and forget Your will in the meantime.  Let me be more concerned with Your will than my own and everyone else’s so that I can be an instrument for You in helping others to come to know Your will, experience it, and act accordingly upon it in their lives.

The Purpose of Christ

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Picture credit from chabad.org

“but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’” Luke 4:43

What was the purpose of Jesus?  Why did He come?  Why was He sent by God?  He tells us here, in part:  to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.  I say in part not because this isn’t enough but because this is His purpose in a nutshell.  This purpose is what everything He said and did hinges on.  He came to announce the good news of God, that He had prepared a way back into fellowship with Him in His kingdom.

But Jesus was more than a herald of the good news, like John the Baptiser.  Jesus was the Herald.  Jesus had the words of life and the power of life.  He was putting His words to the test before the people.  Just before today’s reading, in another part of Galilee called Nazareth, Jesus had declared the Scripture being fulfilled.  He had declared that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, that He had been anointed by God to preach the Gospel, the good news.  He was saying that He was the Good News and that He, the Messiah, was standing there before them, announcing life and fulfilment.  He was the one to not only tell the good news, but to show the good news to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.  He would not only tell them about good news, but He would deliver them and meet their needs.  And the time was now.

What is the “acceptable year,” (eniautos dektos)  that Jesus was preaching of?  Acceptable or dektos refers to “a person or thing who has been regarded favorably.”  And a year, eniautos, is that just 365 days?  Actually, it’s “a cycle of time used of a particular time marked by an event; to mark a space of time; of that which takes place every year.” (W.E.Vine)  But that still doesn’t answer my question.  What do those words mean to me?  What should they have meant to the Jews who heard them or read them?  How do You want us to understand those words, Jesus?

It’s all about “the year of Jehovah’s grace.” (Watchman Nee)  Jubilee was something that we have never seen or experienced, but the Jews had.  And even though they had seen it and experienced it, they had lost it, in part because they ignored it, and now because they were ruled by another.  Jubilee is found in Leviticus 25 where God explains it and institutes it and it is found as prophecy in Isaiah 61.  Every seventh year in Israel (during the twelve tribes) was a Sabbatical where the land was to be rested and debts forgiven.  After every 49th year, the 50th year was the year of Jubilee of “the year of Jehovah’s grace” (Watchman Nee), in which the land was given an agricultural rest (no agricultural work), land property was returned to it’s original owner, and jews who had become slaves to other Jews were set free.  It was named from the “ram’s horn” that sounded it off, proclaiming “liberty…for all its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:9)

Jesus’ coming was declaring His jubilee on more than the land!  He had come to “proclaim the year of God’s acceptance of man…The year of jubilee is the time when God forgives and accepts man.” (Nee)  Something had happened worse to man than losing their land or slavery to other men.  Man had been created by God to be a vessel containing Himself so that man could be the expression of God.  God had given Himself to be man’s possession, not for us to control, but that we might be filled with Him to live for Him.  He was our inheritance.  What else should matter?  We should want nothing more than to receive God as our “real possession.”  Want fulfilment?  Receive God as your possession.  Want joy?  Receive God as your possession.  Want life?  Want peace?  Want direction?  Want fulness?  Want purpose?  Receive God as your possession.  Adam had God as his possession for a short while.  But then Adam let go of God, he forsook Him.  Adam chose to possess Eve, or whatever, over possessing God.  When he “fell into the world” he “sold not only his own possession but also himself.”  It’s the same problem for every one of us.

The sad story is that “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”  Paul continues by reminding us, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  (Ephesians 2:12)  What happened?  We gave up our possession, God, and we became slaves without a real home of our own, hopeless and without God.  We’re all the same, regardless of our social standing, ethnicity, age.  And what’s worse is that we have sold ourselves to “sin and Satan,” the ruler of this world.  “No, we haven’t,” you say.  Are you calling God a liar?  God is truth and cannot lie.  Have you sold yourself to “extravagant eating and drinking, sexual indulgence, gambling, and drug addiction;” or to something less obvious?  Do you really have control over your own will, or does your “will” control you?  “I am fleshy, sold under sin.” was Paul’s remark in Romans 7:14.  Are you wholly delivered from slavery?  Have I been?  Or do we allow some slavery in our life to be retained?  Am I free indeed because the promise is “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

When Jesus says this in the record in John 8, he’s having a similar conversation with the Jews.  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  So then they come back with a rebuttal, insulted by his words.  After all, to not be free, meant you were a slave.  So his words meant he was telling them that without him, they were slaves.  Slaves to what?  “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ‘You will become free?’”  If in truth they were sons of Abraham, then they would possess Abrahams genes.  In the bigger sense, it’s pointing to being God’s people through Abraham.  But if they were God’s children, then they would possess God.  They would overflow with what flows out of Him.  The would practice what He practices.  What was Jesus’ answer to them?  “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the  house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  (John 8:31-36)  A slave works.  A son belongs.  A slave works.  A son owns what is his fathers.  A slave works.  A son enjoys.  A slave works.  A son has a relationship.  When Jesus sets a slave free, the former slave becomes a son of God.  His/her whole life changes.  His/her whole perspective changes.  But first, they have to understand that they are slaves to a harsh master before they can ever come to God, the Good Father.

Jesus brings in the Jubilee of God’s grace.  He returns us to our lost possession- God, and frees us from the slavery of sin.  Is Jesus my real jubilee?  Do I have Jesus?  Do I possess Him?  Does He possess me, all of me?  “Abide in me, and I in you.” (John 15:4)  “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:6 )  What causes me to abide in You?  Is it some magical process?  No.  It is my choice to surrender my life to You, to trust You with all of my being, every day, day by day.  And so, whose choice is it if I do not abide in You?  Again, it is my own choice.  And the sad things is that to choose to live outside of You is to choose to be thrown outside and wither.  I make the choice.  I can choose not to believe, not to continue believing, not to abide.  I can choose to never come inside, or to walk out the door of my own accord.  I can exclude myself from Your grace.  It’s my own initiative.  I can choose to stay a slave or I can choose to return to being a slave even though I have been set free.  How sad, either way, huh?

I don’t have to live as a slave.  The truth is that in Christ, I have been set free from sin and saved.  I am God’s possession again and I possess Him!  I no longer have to work like a slave because I’m a son.  My purpose has changed.  My reward has changed.  My life is in Him.  God is my inheritance.  “Come to Me all who toil and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28)

Lord, I don’t want to be foolish.  You have declared the Jubilee.  You ARE the Jubilee!  In You, I am free.  In You, I am God’s and He is mine.  I can’t help but think of some of my favorite words in Isaiah 25.  “O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure…For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat…On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him  that he might save us.  This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:1, 4, 6-9)  I choose to know You and be known by You.  There is no other possession I want more than for You to be mine and me to be Yours.  How can I ever thank You enough for setting me free and making me Yours.  What a joy to be able to say in truth, “O Lord, You are MY GOD!”

What is the Father’s Business?

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“…Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke 2:49b

Remember the movie Home Alone?  I couldn’t imagine forgetting my child when it came to leaving on a flight.  But to be honest, I did lose track of time and forget to pick up my teenage daughter one day.  And another time, I thought my other teenage daughter was with her father on the van at church, so I left without her.  So as a parent, when I read about this day when Jesus was 12 years old and left behind at the temple, it really makes me stop and read and think.  How could this happen? 

We’re not just talking about a matter of a half hour or an hour or two.  Mary and Joseph, when they left with their caravan, supposed Jesus was in the company with them.  They traveled a whole day’s journey before they realised he was not in the company at all.  So they turned back to Jerusalem.  It took them three days to find him.  Imagine the feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

Why did it take three days?  They were only a days journey away when they turned back.  Where were they seeking him all that time?  You know, I never wondered before.  But now, his answer makes even more sense.

Where did they find Jesus?  In the temple, sitting in the middle of the masters and teachers, not only hearing them, but asking them questions.  When the scripture says that all who heard him were astonished at his level of understanding and his answers, it’s not just talking about the crowd.  It’s talking about these masters and teachers because they were the crowd there and they were the ones astonished at the understanding of scripture and God that this twelve-year old had.

This is where Mary and Joseph find Jesus and they are astonished as well, but more that he was there instead of with them, than for what was transpiring.  So Mary says the motherly thing, “Son, why have you treated us like this?   Your father and I have been searching for you and distraught.”  What is Jesus’ answer?  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” They didn’t understand this answer.  Most of the time, I don’t think we do either.

I suppose that Mary and Joseph could have saved themselves a lot of sorrow if only they had focussed on what Jesus’ driving source was, or rather Who it was.  If they knew that Jesus was so wrapped up in God’s will that He was his first thought and first interest, where would the likely place be that Jesus would be directed to spend his time?  Where the heart of God was most sought and valued, right where they eventually found him.

I don’t fault Mary and Joseph.  I think this was not under their control.  I think Jesus meant to do just this, not for the grief of his parents, but for a learning experience for all.  “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  His parents did not know it.” (Luke 2:43)  This greek word hupomeno, in this case means to remain or tarry behind.  So Jesus chose, at this moment in time, not to go with his family, but to remain here, at the temple, busying himself with his Father’s business.

I wonder if this moment of Jesus remaining behind was in order to allow his “remaining” to influence his family, those around him, and us?  Hupomeno, for Jesus just meant to remain, but it also means “to remain under the test in a God-honoring manner, not seeking to escape it but eager to learn the lessons it was sent to teach.” (therecoveringlegalist.com)  At other times, the word is used for “holding ones’ ground” or “persevering in spite of difficulty.”  It’s often translated as “patience” and “endure.”

Now, I can’t take hupomeno and just make it mean whatever definition I want it to mean.  For Jesus, it here means “remained.”  But I can’t help thing that this was also a test for those around him, including his parents.  Did they just want to get the finding over with and escape this horrible moment, or would they remain in it and let God teach them what He wanted them to learn?

Scripture says that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand Jesus; they didn’t understand what he was saying to them, what he meant in being about his Father’s business.  But Jesus returned with them and submitted to them.  Hmm.  First, he was submitted under God.  Yet, he was also submitted under his parents.  And Mary didn’t just forget the lesson.  She didn’t understand yet, but she “treasured up all these things in her heart.”

I don’t think it was until after the resurrection that Mary put it totally all together.  I don’t think any of us can put it all together until we go beyond seeing Jesus as a child prodigy grown into a great teacher, but as the Son of God.  We can’t put it all together until we see Jesus as more than just a brother, a son, or a man, but as God and man.  We can’t put it all together until we see Jesus submit under the authority of God and man and physically receive the brutal punishment of the scorn and beatings and crucifixion at the hand of man to pay the price for our very own sins, none of which were his, for he was without sin.  We can’t put it all together until we see Jesus bearing the wrath of God for us as he died, descending into hell, taking back the keys to “Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18) and setting the captives free.  We can’t put it all together until we see the absolutely necessary, eternal value of the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  We can’t put it all together until we see the power of the Resurrection, the truth of God’s promises fulfilled.  And we can’t put it all together until we, like Jesus, Son of God and son of man, learn to remain in God’s will first and always.  And I can’t learn to submit to God’s will if I don’t know Him.  But the wonderful thing is that I can know God!  I can experience a real relationship with God through a relationship with Jesus!  Jesus came to reconcile me to God and to my fellow men.  Jesus set the perfect example so I could trust Him and remain in Him.  In Him, I have  everything I need to know and make doing my Father’s will a reality.  Jesus came so I could put it all together.

Do I want to increase in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man? (Luke 2:52)  Do I want to be reconciled?  Then I must give my all to God.  What is your all?  Entire consecration.  We must not be about our Father’s business sometimes, or even most of the time.  We must be about our Father’s business all the time.  Our Father’s business must become our business and our life.

When I wake up, my first thought ought to be, Lord, I delight to do your will today; Your law is within my heart! (Psalm 40:8)  And what if my day does not go as I thought it would?  What if my day seems to be loss?  Then it is not my loss, but God’s loss, because I was His and all of the day was His.  I have lost nothing if I have given all to God, as Jesus did.  It is God’s to gain or God’s to lose.  But if I am delighting in my Father’s will, then I can continue to delight in Him, win or lose.

I cannot be the Son of God, for there is only One who is, was, and ever will be.  But because of Jesus, the Son of God, I have become a son/daughter of God in Him.  Do you know what the will of God was that Jesus was pursuing?  Do you know what His Father’s business was.  It wasn’t summed up in obeying the law.  That just naturally flows out of knowing God and revering Him.  That is a natural outflow of faith when one has a relationship with their heavenly Father through Christ Jesus.  Jesus’s business, the business of God, was “to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)  He came to reconcile us to God.

If It was the desire of God to reconcile us to Hm and that was the business that Jesus was delighting in, then shouldn’t I be delighting in that as well?  There is strength and power in what Jesus is teaching us today, as only a 12 year old.  “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and for wonders…” (Isaiah 8:18)  Jesus, and those who are His, are “a token; something by which another thing [God, in this case] is shown or represented.” (Noah Webster)  We are the “visible mark or representation” of God in Jesus.  But our representing God is not to show off who we are.  It is to share who He is so that others may come to delight in Him and in doing His business as well! 

Here is the heart of the matter, in Jesus’ own words, where He prays this for us.  “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  I do not ask only for these only [this isn’t a prayer only for the disciples back then!] but also for those who will believe in me through their word [that’s us!], that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am , to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  (John 17:17-28)

When my heart wants that for others, I will have found myself being about the Father’s business.  When my whole purpose in life becomes to make Your name known to others, and my motivation is to continue to make You known, for the singular purpose of others sharing in the love that You have shared with me, then I have found and will be fulfilling my purpose in life.  Oh, that I had learned so early that being in the middle of Your will, God, was the most valuable ambition in life.  Oh, that I would really know that today and forever.  That even though, I have not always known that or lived as though I knew it when I started to see it, even today, I can live in this truth and it can be the actuallity of my life.  Forgive me for all the times I have not been about Your business.  I want to be as fully about Your business, as fully in You and as delighted in You as Jesus.  Do whatever You need to in my life to get me there and may I be as faithful on my end, to do everything on my part to devote myself, wholly, not holding any part back, in You.

Blessed is the One Who Believes

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“…but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’” Luke 1:60

Let’s not forget the God-inspired words of Elizabeth earlier in Luke 1:45, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  I think this really matters, because now we come to another part of this same story.  To rehash the earlier parts of the story: an angel comes to Zechariah as he is in the Holy of Holies.  Zechariah is told that he and his wife will conceive a son named John, even in their old age, and he will herald the messiah.  Zechariah wants a sign since they are beyond child bearing age.  In other words, he’s saying, “How can I believe this?”  Yeah, that’s doubting.  So, he’s struck with the inability to speak until the baby is born and named.  Well, maybe that’s not really it.  Maybe, it’s until he finally gets it and believes by naming the baby because he finally sees that this baby, John, of his and Elizabeth’s is the fulfilment of what was spoken to him from the Lord.

But where does Elizabeth fall into all this?  Zechariah can’t speak.  But we know he can write things down.  He must have told her the story.  I don’t think she responded like Zechariah.  I think that this was such good news to her, and she wanted it so much, that she started looking forward to it right then.  I think that she didn’t ask for a sign.  She just did what the Lord implied and let Him do the rest.  I think she could speak these words to Mary because she understood them herself, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  I think that she also was one who believed like that.  And that’s why she was sensitive to the spirit when Mary came.  That’s why she knew her baby wasn’t just kicking from gas pains.  That’s how she knew Mary was with the Son of God and her baby, John, who was called to be His herald, was already heralding Him.  That’s faith.  That’s the walk and life of faith.

Sometimes, it’s not the man who hears and believes God first.  Sometimes, the woman is more sensitive for whatever reason.  Zechariah was a priest, for goodness sake!  You would think if anyone would be sensitive to the Lord, it would be him!  But even those who ought to be the most sensitive, can have their own preconceived notions about God or life or the way things are done.  Elizabeth wasn’t as “practical” as her husband, was she?  Why could she remember the scriptures better than Zechariah, to know that this was easy for God?  I don’t know.  All I know, was that when Zechariah was not sensitive, his wife was.  She saw things more accurately spiritually than her husband , the priest.  And spiritual and physical are intertwined.

In that intertwining we see Elizabeth, ministering and being ministered to as she is with Mary.  We see her knowing things that only God has revealed.  We see joy that can’t be self-contained, but must be shared.  We see confidence, not a self-confidence, but a confidence in upholding the word of God, over and over again.  And we see God fulfilling His words in her, not only in John’s birth, but in the way that God drew near to her.

So the time comes for Elizabeth to give birth, for God’s word to come to fruition in the birth of this child in her womb.  And she gives birth to a son.  Traditionally, it’s expected for the first born son to be named after his father.  Everyone is expecting this bundle of extra special blessing to be named, Zechariah, after his father.  But, Elizabeth is the first to answer with an adamant, “No, he shall be called John.”  Why?  Because this was God’s baby first and He had already named Him and given Him a purpose.  Why would Elizabeth, who believed God, want to change that?

Well, sometimes people don’t understand when God does a work in our heart or lives.  They can’t see what He’s shown us.  So the people didn’t like her answer.  So they went to Zechariah.  Now, in all the time from the announcement of the angel until this day, Zechariah has not been able to speak.  Remember the proclamation of the angel upon him, “And, behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:20)   Now, I’m a little confused why the people are making signs to Zecharias about what he wanted the baby to be called.  He wasn’t deaf, just mute.  Maybe, again, they were still busy making assumptions. 

But Zechariah was an integral part of the fulfilling of this prophecy.  What?  The angel had proclaimed, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth…” (Luke 1:13-14)  Zechariah’s belief was part of the prophecy!  Maybe You knew it wouldn’t be a hard stretch for Elizabeth to believe, Lord.  You knew that Zechariah needed this to grow in his faith.  It wasn’t enough for Elizabeth, for his wife to believe.  Zechariah had to become a believer too.  God knew all along that Zechariah was the one who needed to believe that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to him from the Lord.  Zechariah needed to be the one to show he believed that this was God’s baby, formed for God’s purpose.  Zechariah needed to agree with God and be the one to name the child John according to God’s word and purposes.

Why would that bring joy and gladness and rejoicing?  Because, that’s what God brings when we surrender to Him and His will.  That’s when we can see Him, know Him, experience Him in our lives.  That’s when things start to make sense.  That’s when His spirit can speak to us and tell us things we would never see otherwise.

If you are like Elizabeth, keep trusting.  God’s fulfilment of what was spoken to us by the Lord, will never cease.  We can always “bank” on His word.  But if you are like Zechariah, be careful that your doubts, your preconceived notions, your “practicalness,” don’t keep you from trusting in the Lord.  Here’s the thing, God can be working in us before we actually have trusted in Him.  But until we place all our trust in Him, we won’t have any good news to share because we can’t.  We can’t share what we don’t even believe, can we?  Oh, we can go through the motions, just like Zechariah.  You could even be a priest.  But a priest who doesn’t really trust in the word of God for His every day, isn’t really a priest in God’s eyes, is he?  Thank goodness, that God was still at work in Zechariah’s life, so that he could have the joy of being a real priest one day, by knowing and experiencing the effect of real faith in God.  Have you come to that point?  If not, you are missing the blessing.  Don’t forget, blessed is the one who believes that there will be a fulfilment of what was spoken to us from the Lord.

Drawn in to the Excellence of You

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“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence…” 2 Peter 1:3

When I was a baby, I couldn’t walk on my own.  I needed the help of parents to get me started walking, to even help my legs to get strengthened, to start learning balance, and everything else.  I needed people who taught me how to write and read and do math.  I needed someone to teach me about God, real truth, not just my ideas. 

As an adult, I still need help in areas of my life.  Sometimes I’m not physically strong enough for a task.  Sometimes I have to learn a new skill I didn’t know before.  Sometimes my body’s metabolism changes and I have to relearn how to handle my feelings or the new changes in me.  I’m not always enough for me.  I need outside help.

I mean, I could struggle through it all on my own, but it’s not going to come out as well.  But God didn’t design me to struggle through life on my own.  He didn’t bring me into this world to live on my own without the help of others and without the help of Him.  That’s the good news in 2nd Peter.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t brought in to this world just for the sake of me either.  I was brought into this world to glorify God.

For the person who has put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires.” (1 Peter 1:3,4)  Listen to that truth again, part by part. 

This is better than the help of my mom and dad.  This is better than the help of my spouse.  This is better than the help of a teacher or all my friends and family put together.  Why?  Their help is not divine.  Their help does not naturally come with divine power.  But You, Lord, give Your divine power to help me and enable me to do not just some things, but all things that pertain to life and godliness.  All things!  You’re the One that enables me to be able to glorify You, to fulfil my purpose in life!

Now, if it doesn’t pertain to life that leads to You, to real and eternal life, You won’t help me with those things.  I get that.  And sometimes I might not like that or agree with You on that, but if I’m on target with my thinking and lined up with You, I know that’s the way it should be and I’m wanting the wrong thing for me.  Why should You, who love me, give me what would harm me, right?  But if I set my heart and mind on those things, whatever they are that are all about life, eternal life, real-now-living-life-in-and-with-You stuff, and godliness, walking-talking-living-thinking-breathing-feeling-like-and-with-and-in-You stuff, that’s exactly what You want to enable me to do more.  And You do.

But I have a responsibility.  If this is what I want, I only get there through really knowing You.  The good news about that is that is exactly where You have called us to be, in the middle of knowing You by being in Your Word and getting to experience Your own glory and excellence in my life and around mr as I walk and live according to Your promises and what I learn about You.  You become more real, more alive, more involved, more of everything every day I spend getting to know You more.  It doesn’t mean that I know all the answers.  That’s never going to happen!  Why?  Because, God, You are so much more than I can contain, but even knowing the part of You I can, is overwhelming and wonderful!

And when You call us to Your own glory, it’s not just about seeing Your glory and excellence.  It includes having that glory and excellence rub off on us.  How do I know that?  Look at Moses.  He asked to see Your glory.  Since he couldn’t handle the fullness of Your glory, You hid him in a cleft of the rock, shaded his face with Your hand, and as You walked by, You allowed him to see some of the glory of just Your back.  When he walked back down to the people, they couldn’t handle seeing him because he shone with Your glory.  They made him wear a veil to tone it down.  If people don’t see Your glory and excellence in us, Your people, how can they know that You are God of our lives?  You are a God of transformation, it has to show in me.  Knowing You isn’t just an affiliation, it’s transformation; Your person must shine through me.

You call us and enable us to live a life of excellence.  What is this excellence? (Like we don’t know what excellence is?)  Isaiah 35:2 says, “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”  Some translations use excellence for that idea of majesty.  But I see that it is equated with Your glory, Lord.  Isaiah 12:5 says, “Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously [excellently]; let this be made known in all the earth.”  So, You ARE excellent and You DO excellence!  Moses sang of the greatness of Your excellence, that by that excellence You overthrow your adversaries, and by Your excellence You care for Your children. (Exodus 15)  Your excellence is everything You are and do.  It’s Your holiness and glory.  So what?

Well, as a believer, I am called to that holiness and glory, that excellence that You are and display.  At least four times in Leviticus God says, “be holy, for I am holy.”  Peter reiterated that In 1 Peter 1:15,16 when he reminded us, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”  I don’t get to just conduct myself any way I want.  I don’t get to let my feelings rule me.  Look at Cain.  That’s not the way I want to go.  I was created by an excellent, holy God who created me to represent Him.  I was created to be excellent and holy as well.  How am I conducting my life?

So I’m called to God’s glory and excellence in my life as well.  What does that translate into?  What does that look like?  A lot of grandeur?  Actually, it starts with the little things.  If I can’t be excellent in the little things, how can I be excellent in the big things?  I mean, look at Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, who left heaven and came to earth as a baby and lived the life of a mere man, a mere human even though He was God.  And what did He do to show His excellence?  Sometimes He performed miracles only God could do and demonstrated that kind of excellent, glorious power.  But what about most of the time during Your 30 years of life?

He obeyed his mom and dad.  He learned his trade.  He noticed people other people didn’t notice.  He cared for the little things.  He did the stuff of everyday life even though He was God.  He did His chores.  He studied in school.  He obeyed His authorities.  He spent time with his friends.  He picked things up.  He straightened things up.  He ate and made sure others were fed.  God did the little stuff of day to day life.  And how did He do it?  With glory and excellence, as God does what God does because God is who God is.

So who am I?  You have given me thousands of promises in Your Word and by Your Word.  Do I walk in them?  Do I listen to Your still small voice as I walk through each day, because You are with me?  Am I excellent in every step?  Do I even think about reflecting Your excellence in every step?  Joyce Meyer talks about being in a store and dropping an item on the floor and hearing that still, small voice say, “Pick it up and put it back.”  Excellence is picking it up, listening to the Holy Spirit’s gentle prompt.  Excellence actually goes beyond that and picks up other people’s messes too.  Am I listening to You as You prompt me to excellence or am I ignoring Your promptings?  Am I too busy shooting for grandeur and glory and missing it because I don’t know how to humbly be excellent in my “real” life?

Do I want to attain to Your glory without partaking of Your divine nature?  I can’t.  I have to deal with excellence in the little, daily things of life first, just like Jesus did.  Thirty years You dealt with humility, exhibiting self-control and discipline in that kind of stuff.  Thirty years of humility by choice before God’s time for You to show Yourself for who You are.  So, why would my route to You be any different?  I’m just human.  I would think, in comparison, I need to learn self-control and discipline even more.  I need Your divine nature even more, because I struggle with sinful desires.  But I don’t have to.  If only I would learn to be excellent in the little things, every day, for all of my life.  Then I would be resting and living in Your divine power all the time. 

I don’t have to live big for my life to be divine.  You can take little things, little excellence, and build it up into something great and glorious.  That’s Your prerogative.  I just get to exhibit Your excellence, Your way, in everything, and then that opens the door for You to take me where You will in that excellence of You.  My goal and desire is to live in that excellence, with self-control and discipline, and allow You to do the rest with what You bring out of me.  I want to love You like that, like Jesus did, not just with the bigness of my heart, but with the littleness of the things around me.  I will trust in Your promise of Your divine power to lead me in Your way of excellence that others will see the excellence of You and be drawn into that excellence to know You.

On Being Who He’s “Put” You to Be

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“And the Lord said to me, ‘Son of man, mark well, and behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears all that I say to you concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and all the laws thereof; and mark well the entering in of the house, with every going forth of the sanctuary.’” (Ezekiel 44:5)

 
When I hear God saying, “Mark well…” it makes me think I’m really supposed to be paying attention. It seems to be confirmed when He follows it up with “behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears.” And what am I supposed to be paying attention to? The ordinances of the someday sanctuary of God, of it’s laws, and even who gets to enter and exit through the different doors. Well, really this was told to Ezekiel. And Ezekiel was to relay it to the children of Israel. But God allows us to be privy to this information today. So I would assume that we also ought to mark it well, to behold with our eyes and hear with our ears because some day, when that day comes this will be an experience shared by all believers, including those already with the Lord. So, I may not understand fully now, but there will come a day when I will appreciate fully the significance of every utterance of God concerning this.

 
But that’s me thinking about this as a 20th century Gentile. And it’s not totally wrong thinking. But if I stop to think about the Hebrew words, it makes me think and respond even more. Like that word “mark” is from the Hebrew word “siym”. It actually means “to put”.  Genesius’s Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon gives the first definition as “to put, to set, to place.” It can mean in that respect “to plant, to beget children, to construct a nest or habitation, to dispose an army or to set an array, to constitute, to found, or to set a statute or place.” It’s next definition can be “to put, to place, or to lay inanimate things.” In that case it’s used like “in putting garments on, laying down a pledge, putting or imposing on someone something to be done, putting or imposing a name on anyone, putting before one’s own eyes as in highly regarding, propounding or explaining to someone, laying up in a treasury, or laying up on the heart.” Even the third definition has to do with “putting, placing, or setting as in directing to turn in any direction.” It’s like “setting the eye on, to see, setting the face on or towards, setting the heart upon, attending.” Next is the definition “of making or rendering anyone so and so.” And lastly, “to make, to prepare for anyone.” After reading all of those and thinking about it, it’s less like just a warning or good advice and more like a commission or anointing in a sense. Let me share another verse which leads me to think that this is God’s way of saying, “Here is my purpose for you, here is where I’m placing you and equipping you, so understand and then live accordingly.”

 
Let’s go back to the beginning. That’s always a good place to start. So we go back to Genesis 2:8, “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.” See that word for placed? It’s the same word “siym” as “marked”.  I’m not saying that one word can’t have multiple meanings. But I’m wondering if it still doesn’t carry some of those meanings over. Here, Adam was being put in the garden. He didn’t start out there. He was put or placed there by God for a purpose. God placed Ezekiel in the temple. He was placed for a purpose. God places each of us where He will and it is for a purpose. Am I accepting and living out His purpose in my placement?

 
God has a plan. He had it for Adam and beyond Adam. God still has a plan. He had it for Ezekiel and beyond Ezekiel. God still has a plan. He has it for me and beyond me. He has it for you and beyond you. Guess what? God is even in charge of our geography! Oh, wait a minute! But Adam was placed in a perfect paradise, my life isn’t. Was Adam placed in a perfect paradise? As I recall, God planted the garden and everything in it. God planned the tree, that tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was the downfall of man. From the beginning, that tells me that the Garden had the potential for what we know as “evil” from the start.

 
But what I do know is that God placed Adam in the garden for His purpose and to have a fully untainted relationship with Him, and to be able to eat of the tree of life. God fully nourished man there and provided everything he needed and man was able to exhibit his own free choice. It was a fully satisfying place, yet a dangerous place. But it was “only dangerous because it contains the possibility of disobedience.” (Skip Moen) God knew what He was doing. None of this is a surprise or oops moment. God planted and placed that tree in the Garden, the one that Adam chose over Him. Does that make you stop and think? It does me.

 
Being planted and placed carries a heavy responsibility and commitment to the One who plants and places. I have to continually realize and be reminded that I am not and never have been the planter and placer of myself or anyone else. God is my planter and placer. God is the planter and placer. I better mark this well because my life depends on it. My satisfaction depends on this. My nourishment depends on Him. I better understand the purpose and importance and significance of my placement in life by God. I better use my eyes for their correct purpose, to see and obey His will for my life and those around me. I better use my ears to hear and obey Him. I better surrender my whole body and being to His purpose or I am fighting against my very purpose in life.

 
Where has God planted me? Am I marking His planting and responding according to Him? Are His ordinances and laws and ways of life and love flowing from me where He has put me? I’m here for His purpose, not my own, and yet at the same time He has made His purpose the very purpose of my being. Am I fulfilling that in Him. Am I preparing the way for others to fulfill His purpose in them or am I making my own plans and spreading them? Adam spread his own plans. And look how it affected his family and others down the road. But Ezekiel was spreading God’s plans even to the point of spreading them to you and me today.

 
I suppose that even those who are placed with a purpose must learn the difference between holy and profane and how to discern between the unclean and clean. And that means to me, that there had to be a choice from the beginning. But it’s a sad thing to have to learn the hard way that we should have chosen God all along. Lord, may I cling to that which is holy and of You so tightly that the profane no longer has any appeal for me. I pray that my desire is so strong to fulfill Your purpose that I would stop thinking about my purpose and just let Yours more than suffice in me. May I continually come to the Tree of Life for Your sustenance and direction and may knowledge not even be an interest because knowing You and knowing You are in charge is all I need to know to live.

 
“The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man.” Want to be whole? Want to fulfill your God-given purpose? Mark God’s word. Be who He’s “put” you to be in Him.

The Details Matter

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Photo credit to modernobserver.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dry Bones Among Dry Bones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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