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.

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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.

Our Perpetual God

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Photo credit to Pearls of the Torah, Ahavat Ammi

“Because you have had a perpetual hatred…” Ezekiel 35:5a

 
Can you imagine having a perpetual hatred for someone? This is a pretty strong hatred. God uses the Hebrew word olam. Strong’s Concordance likens it as being unto the vanishing point or time out of mind. Sometimes it’s used for eternity or without end. The Pulpit series called this feeling that Seir or Edom had for Israel a “hatred of old, or eternal enmity.” Now remember who Edom is. Edom represents Esau and his descendants. Esau is long gone. Yet here his people are, generations later, still carrying deep enmity against Israel. The story of Esau and Jacob perpetually lives on, never changing, never being resolved, never being reconciled. Can you imagine life like that?

 
It doesn’t just make me think about the effects of hatred, but it makes me want to look at that word perpetual, or olam, because I’ve heard it used before in Scripture. And it makes me think that there are some things that God wants us to “perpetualize” in our lives. What might that be?

 
When I look back to Genesis 9, I see God establishing the rainbow. It was established for perpetual generations and as an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature on earth. How many generations is that? Who knows? I mean, where is the vanishing point? Maybe there is no vanishing point and that’s the point. How long will this covenant last? To that same vanishing point, where ever and how far away in God it is. And I’m wondering if the vanishing point isn’t less of a time or place than it is a position in God? After all, He’s the one who established this covenant. It’s all on him. It really doesn’t matter what we do or how we respond. He’s not going to break His word and destroy the whole earth by a flood again. Out of love and faithfulness and His glory, He made this perpetual promise to be perpetually displayed before us.

 
Then there’s the land of Israel. In Genesis 13, God tells of a land that will be given to Abram’s seed for ever. It’s that same word olam. Now, Noah Webster says of the word perpetual that it is “literally true with respect to the decrees of the Supreme Being.” It’s never ceasing, continuing without intermission, permanent, and endless. Outside of God, what is? Maybe this olam is all dependent upon being in God. Face it, Seir and others are still fighting against Israel today, but there it still exists. Yet, does it exist as fully as God has decreed it would? Or will that existence solidify upon God being fully known and glorified in Israel? Yet try as you might to fight against God’s will, it’s a losing battle. God is this perpetual God and His will is perpetual and it will be as He declares. It really doesn’t matter how perpetual your hatred is. God’s glorious, loving, and righteous perpetualness is immensely more powerful and more real.

 
I could go on and on. Through Isaac, God established a perpetual covenant with his seed and those after. Get it, these perpetual covenants so far haven’t required action on man’s part. This is God’s doing, because He can and because His is faithful. In Exodus when God is telling Moses what to say to the children of Israel, He answers, “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me unto you: this is My name for ever [olam], and this is my memorial unto all generations.” Are we just talking about God having the same name forever? Or are we talking that He is always the same God whose every decree and every word is true and worthy of respect and is and was and will be exactly as He decrees?

 
As we progress through Exodus, we see God establishing the priests and giving them their office as a perpetual statute. It’s not just that God appoints who shall be priest. It’s that the priest must be so in Him as well. Their honouring His statutes isn’t legalism, it’s part of understanding the perpetual life-giving nature of God and His presence and power over our lives. Or what of the perpetual incense that Aaron was to burn? Is Aaron able to do something perpetually outside of God and the generations of priests that God would equip? Is the incense the point or is it the understanding and living in the perpetuallness of God?

 

Keeping and observing the sabbath throughout their generation was a perpetual covenant. Not eating fat or blood was another perpetual statute. Why? Because God was showing us something about Himself in all these things to help us grasp His perpetualness so that we could live in Him from day to day and not just some day in some far away future in some far away place. Maybe you disagree and that’s o.k. But I can’t help hear it again in Jeremiah 5:22 as God says, “‘Don’t you fear me?’ says the Lord: ‘won’t you tremble at My presence, who has placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it can’t pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet they can’t prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?’” It’s not just that God set these boundaries in motion for the waves. It’s perpetual. He’s always there controlling it. He’s never left. He’s not just in Heaven. He’s here, still, just as present and just as strong. All these things that mattered to Him still matter today. He’s never changed. We just missed out on what it means to fear Him. We forgot who and what He is. We forgot what it was to tremble at His presence because we live as though He’s not here.

 
It was Esau’s problem way back when. He didn’t get the perpetualness of God with Him and around Him. He forsook that birthright, that place in God and then despised his brother for treasuring it. God asks another good question in Jeremiah 8:5, “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slid back by a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.” And isn’t that Seir’s problem and our problem too often too? Instead of holding on to that which is truly perpetual, to God’s truth in Him and to His presence, we hold on to lies and deceit and hold on so tightly our lives our bound up in them. It could be hatred, or self-gratification, or pride, or whatever, but we ditch perpetual reality in God for perpetual falsehood because we like it better and figure the outcome is more to our immediate liking.

 

There are things that are perpetual in God that lead to blessing in Him and knowing Him and safety in Him and a future and a hope in Him. And there are perpetual things outside of Him that lead to perpetual sleep, perpetual desolation, and perpetual shame. This word olam or “perpetual” and it’s other forms is used at least 438 times in Scripture. Maybe it’s a truth God would like us to understand and live in.

 
Here’s a tidbit of Judaism. “Judaism advances the daring idea that man and God are partners in the work of creation. Faith is a call to human responsibility.” (Jonathan Sacks) It’s not that we can do it on our own. We must first partner with God in order for Him to partner with us. God created us for this purpose. Look back into the garden. God’s purpose, His perpetualness, was already in existence and already acting. Then He brought us into it, in Him and invited us to partner with Him in this work of spreading His perpetualness.

 

The problem with Seir is that they were not involved in any kind of intimate relationship with God. Life is all about embracing Him and all He does and thinks. Imagine having this kind of partnership with the One who created you! But Seir wanted none of it. Seir acted against it. We’re supposed to be intimately involved with Him managing His creation and being busy with restoration. We’re to be perpetually involved in what the Perpetual One is involved in. Eternal life doesn’t start in Heaven. It starts when we enter into the Perpetual One. Eternal Life has always been in Him. Eternal life is exhibited everyday and into forever.

 

Paul understood. That’s why he urged us, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1) It’s not just our spiritual service, it’s our perpetual service, and our perpetual position of being present in Him. This is life from now until eternity. This ought to change my every perspective.

 

Therefore, I’m still blessed in Him if people hate me and treat me poorly. Therefore I can love my enemies and do good to those who hate me. Why? Because I live in the One who perpetually loves and forgives. I live in the One who perpetually takes care of the hated and the forgotten. I live in the One who perpetually judges rightly and whose word and ways and decrees are true. I don’t just know about Him. I am intimately connected with Him through Jesus Christ. And because of this, I can enjoy Him now and look forward to an anticipation of something more to come in Him.

 

“In the Mishnah, one rabbi says, ‘This world is like a lobby before the Olam Ha-Ba. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.’ Similarly, the Talmud says, ‘This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and the Olam Ha-Ba is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat.’” (Jewfaq.org) I can choose to live life in and according to the perpetual nature of God, or I can choose to live according to my own nature, whether that be through hate, or whatever. One will leave me walking into God’s future for me with Him, prepared in Him. The other will leave me living outside of the presence of God, unprepared for a future with Him, devoid of His presence. What will my perpetual choice be? It doesn’t only matter for later. It matters each and every day of my life. What do I really want my perpetual story to look like? Maybe today is a good day to decide, before God must choose for me.

On the Cutting Edge

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Photo credit to Holme Christian Fellowship.

 

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

 
When you think of a sword, what do you think of? I think of a weapon used for more than self-defense. I think of a lethal weapon aimed at destruction of an enemy. I hold the sword in my hand and wield it against my opponent. Is this what You are talking about here, Lord? Is this about me fighting my enemy? Do I hold the word of God in my hand and wield it? Or is this talking about something totally different? Is this talking about how You wield Your word in my life and against those things in my life that stand against You? Oh! That thought stings!

 
Frankly, I am learning to rejoice that You value my life enough to allow me to feel the sting of Your sword, to feel the weight of Your words, directly and for real in my life. It proves or shows some things to me. Truly, the more I feel Your cutting words in my life, the more it brings a crisis of faith, the more I know that Your words are not just written symbols and good thoughts to memorize or pursue. I come to learn that Your word is alive.

 
This two-edged sword is more than a two-edged sword. It’s how You use these different events or crises in our lives to accomplish Your different purposes in our lives. But it’s more than that. But before we look at the “more than” part of the two-edged sword, let’s look at the “word of God” part.

 
Here, Paul, who was so familiar with the Old Testament, pulls this important phrase from the Old Testament. God said in Isaiah 55:11 of His word, “so shall my word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” I want to try to latch on to that concept. God’s word has a purpose and He will accomplish that.

 

Isaiah 49:2 talks of the Christ and says, “He made My mouth like a sharp sword.” How does God instruct and inform throughout the Old Testament? Isn’t it by “the word of the Lord”? I mean Paul was taking this concept from Scripture and applying what had come to life in Him in Christ. He knew that God spoke, really spoke to His people in different ways. He spoke through leaders, prophets, and through an audible voice. He spoke with authority and not just some authority, it was absolute authority. Today, I’ve diverted from the prophets again, but I’ve heard the promises and encouragement and heard the warnings and condemnation. I’ve seen the examples of those who clung to His authority and the examples of those who abhorred His authority.

 
God’s word works in wonderful and differing ways today. God has never changed. Abram didn’t have the written word. But He heard God. I know of people in countries where the written word of God is forbidden and yet people there have heard His voice just like Abram. I have met people who have received God’s written word in one of these countries, and as they read in secret, His word came alive, and they understood and heard the word of God speak to them. He is alive. Let’s face it, His word is so alive that it creates life, whether it is in the form of angels, trees, animals, or people. He’s not just the Way. He’s not just the Truth. He’s not just the Life. HE IS ALL. Yes, He is life in every aspect of real life. His word not only speaks life but creates life. Think about that.

 
See, this word for word is from the Hebrew root debar. It has to do with “speaking, declaring, commanding, promising, warning, threatening and conversing”. It’s not just about writing. But as I let the written word sink into my soul and into my mind and into my life, God speaks it into my life. I can lay in bed and hear His voice urging me to think about some words of His in Scripture and apply it in a deeper way to my life. I can’t explain His voice. But His word is urging me to get up and go to Him, get up and think with Him, get up and learn from Him, get up and follow Him, get up and obey Him, because there’s something I wasn’t quite understanding and obeying rightly.

 
When God speaks, how do I respond? It doesn’t matter if I’m in a jail cell, or hiding in my room from authorities, or in a classroom surrounded by people who don’t understand, or in my bed at 3 a.m., or sitting in my chair in a church service, how do I respond when I hear His still small voice tugging at me? Or how do I respond when it takes a life crisis to get me to hear and rethink my thinking?

 
God’s word has the power to do this in our lives, whether we want Him to or not, whether we respond rightly or not. His word is “living.” It’s alive. God’s word is living. It imparts life. It is the Creator of life. It is the breath of life. It is the sustainer of life. Paul shared with the Athenians, that God “gives to all life, and breath, and all things.” This is what the word of God does. This is it’s function. It gives us life and purpose and everything we need is found in God’s word. Why? Because it’s alive, it’s real, it’s actively creating. There is a Voice that commands and it happens. This is the voice of God by His word. Our life depends on His word. It cannot be ignored without consequence, without loss of life. God’s word has power.

 
God’s word is so powerful it is capable of results. It’s powerfully working His will out. And it is doing it effectively. He is actively operating out His will. And He is doing so more comprehensively, and more decisively by one fell stroke. In other words, His word impacts our life through significant situations that He introduces for the decisive purpose of directing us to obey and understand. His word is alive, so we must be confronted with it. We must get to the heart of it in real life and stand at a point of decision where we respond to it correctly, His way. He brings us to this crossroad by His sword, but not just by the thought of a sword.

 
See, this two-edged sword is able to get into the deepest and most hidden crevices of our lives and hearts. It’s like that surgeon’s knife that cuts precisely and with purpose between joints and marrow. The knife and the sword know what they are doing. They are removing what does not belong, what is harmful, what destroys life. Am I willing to submit to the sword? Am I willing to submit to the precision of the Surgeon’s knife?
But that word for sword is also the word for a double-mouthed river. Get it? A river has a mouth. Mouths imply speaking and words flowing forth, don’t they? God’s word is something that speaks into our lives. An amazing thing about it is how it can speak to one direction in my heart and in another direction in someone else’s heart through the same crisis or the same message. Yet, these are not conflicting words or messages we are hearing. God’s word is penetrating into our hearts and dealing with each of our hearts whether one needs to learn dependence on Him and another needs to learn independence from the world, whether one needs to learn the nuances to walking in faith more deeply, or the other needs to learn to take the first step of faith, whether one must learn to love by forsaking gossiping and another learn to love by sacrificing their life, whether one must learn to live, or one must learn to die.

 
The word of God is alive. I can therefore trust His word in my life to fill me with life as I respond in obedience. I can know that my life in Him has begun because life is in His word and from His word. I don’t have to wait for heaven. Life actually began the moment God created and especially the moment that He breathed life into man with His living word. But when we rebelled against His word through disobedience and distrust, we lost that life like Adam and Eve. We chose a cheap and temporary version instead. But by faith in Christ, through His sacrifice for us and His forgiveness, we are brought back into the life and power of the word that created us, we are brought back into unity, back into God’s purpose for us. What is His purpose for me? To be alive in Him. To display His life in this world. Heaven comes later. I was created for life here first. Yes, our purpose hasn’t changed from Genesis, “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” You know, the earth needs that life way more now than it did in the beginning, because now it’s like dead men walking. We’re here to give God’s gift of His word, His Life, His Power back to the world.

 
How will I respond to Your word today, Lord, or any day? What if You take everything from me? Will I listen and obey Your words to me in the midst of the crisis You bring into my life? When You throw my world upside down, will I stand on my head and do whatever it takes to hear and listen and understand what You are pointing out in my life, where I need to grow, what I need to turn from, how I need to obey? God, no matter what and no matter how strongly or deeply You must cut or speak, may I accept and listen and be healed as I respond in obedience. Teach me to obey that I do not suffer from choosing disobedience. Teach me to rejoice in the intervention of the cutting edge of Your word in my heart. Give me life and may I live in it.

How is Your Heart Set?

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Photo credit to Fine Art America.

 

“…Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said,’I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas;’ yet you are a man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God.” (Ezekiel 28:1)

 
I wonder how it felt for Peter that day that Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance for me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”? (Matthew 16:23) Not long before that, Peter had been commended on how God had revealed to him that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But now, “Get behind me, Satan!”? Ouch, that stings. It probably stings more for Peter who really cared about You God than maybe it stung for the king of Tyre. But if I were to put myself in the place of either, whether Peter or the king of Tyre, I would say that the king’s blow was even more of a sting in reality. I mean, Peter was thinking like Satan when he thought like every man thinks instead of thinking like the Spirit. But the king was not only thinking momentarily like Satan. He had taken Satan’s stand and taken God’s glory and claimed it as his own, and claimed God’s seat of authority, and made himself god in his own heart. Pride does that in a person.

 
Let’s face the facts here. The king of Tyre was one wise guy. You tell us that Yourself, Lord, “you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; by your wisdom and your understanding you have made wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries; by your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth…” But let’s stop to think for a second. Where does wisdom and understanding really come from in the first place?
Here’s a scriptural hint about where wisdom and understanding come from. “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore…” (1 Kings 4:29) Even before that, Moses was speaking of God’s statutes and rules and doing them and said, “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and our understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

 

Why would following statutes and rules of God show wisdom and understanding? Because, in Moses’ words, it would show that God was that near to them “whenever we call upon Him.” God is the one, after all, who forms every man, woman, and child.
Genesis 2:7 uses the Hebrew verb form yatsar for formed. The words of the verse say, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Later in time, You tell Jeremiah about his origins as the person he is. “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) God uses this verb, yatsar or formed, to not only describe how He forms the details of a person’s life but of how He fashions Israel itself. According to Otzen, “this verb connects human craftsmanship with divine activity.” Part of the problem is that we forget where and who our abilities came from in the first place. After all, had I not been formed first, I wouldn’t be forming these words on these pages right now. And neither would the king of Tyre have been orchestrating all his wonderful plans if he hadn’t been wonderfully planned first.

 
But maybe yatsar isn’t just about independent being or just being made and formed into something. Maybe yatsar is more specific and more relational than that. Skip Moen calls it a verb of partnership with God. I love his thoughts on this so let me share them here. Remember, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” On this Skip shares, “The clay isn’t inert. It responds to the potter. For Man to be Man, there must be a response to the divine action. For Israel to be Israel, there must be a response to the electing God. Yatsar is a relationship verb. When God “forms” the dust, He doesn’t just pile up whatever can be gathered with the sweep of a hand. He establishes a relationship with this “stuff,” and it is the relationship that identifies the uniqueness of this creative act. Yatsar is the God-human verb of the story.”

 
Genesis is the explanation of origins. It’s the origins of man. Skip continues, “God’s relationship—His choice, purpose and selection— is the essential factor in formation. Without the relationship, nothing exists…God’s fashioning activity and His infusion of the breath of life is the reason human beings are what they are. Removing the relationship inherent in the forming or withdrawing the infusion of the breath of life means that Man returns to what he was before these actions occurred. He returns to the dust. He ceases to be. In other words, there is no inherent quality, no spark of the divine, no ontological substance residing in Man so that he lives independently of the action of yatsar and the infusion of the breath of life. Man exists in relationship with His creation, always. His breath and his body are entirely dependent on God. Perhaps Paul captures this Genesis thought when he wrote, ‘in Him we live and move and have our being.’…you do not exist without dependence on God. If you think or act in ways that deny this dependence, you are simply deluded— and a fool.”

 
Pride deludes. The king’s heart was lifted up because of his riches. He totally forgot or ignored who formed him to be this way, Who gave Him the wisdom and understanding in the first place. He was so deluded that he thought of himself as god. A man or an angel can say and believe all they want that they are God, but it doesn’t make it so. I don’t know what angels came from before You made them, God, but I know that man came from dust and goes back to dust outside of You. But in You, what is formed and responds to You remains in You.

 
I’m still thinking about Peter that day Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” But there wasn’t a long story shared to go along with that. I wander though, if just saying that would have brought people back to Ezekiel’s words and the longer back story pronounced over the king of Tyre? And I wonder how Satan, or rather, Lucifer at the time, could forget where he came from and who formed him? I mean, at one point Lucifer wasn’t until God made him. It’s the same for me. It’s worth lamenting over the foolishness of forgetting this, over being deluded like that. Imagine the most beautiful, wise angel thinking he could be more beautiful or wise than God, the one who anointed him with that beauty and wisdom in the first place for a specific purpose!

 
And now I come to thinking about David after he sinned with Bathsheba and Nathan comes to him. See, David had been anointed, just like Lucifer, for a special purpose in God’s creation, just like each of us in whatever way God has decided for us. And Nathan says to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and It is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.’” (2 Samuel 22:7) We’re each called to holiness, not its evasion. Each of us has a purpose formed into our individual beings that only we can fulfill and only we will be responsible for avoiding.
Lucifer was that angel. The king of Tyre was that king. Peter was that man. David was that man for that time. I’m that woman for now. Sometimes I’m just like Satan too, just like Peter was and David and the king of Tyre. Sometimes I think I deserve what’s not mine to take. It might be a rest from leading because I deserve a break. It might be love, where I would walk into something I know I shouldn’t. I can rationalize with the best of them and decide to let my brightness shine brighter than it really is.

 
Yep. I’m the one that will need forgiveness. I’m the one who will suffer because of my pride and my delusional thinking to give more credit to myself than I deserve, or rather to just be busy taking the glory from You, Lord. That happens when I think more about me and my hurts and pains than I think about Your glory and Your brightness and Your wisdom and my dependence upon You to understand any of it. And that makes me the one who will harm those around me by my lack of participation with You in my God ordained purpose.

In Man of Fire Denzel Washington asked, “Do you think God will forgive us for the things we’ve done?” Well, I know the answer is yes. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Don’t forget though, that the innocent pay a price for the guilty who are forgiven. Jesus paid the price for us. Probably 1/3 of the angels paid the price for Lucifer’s sin. I’d say that guy who had his ear sliced off by Peter payed a price, even though Jesus was gracious enough to put it back. And what about the others who ran away because they had thought like Peter that they could control things, but it wasn’t really theirs to control, was it? And how many people payed the price for David’s delusion? Or for my delusions when I follow them?

 
I was just thinking, that Jesus’ words aren’t so mean after all. He was just reminding Peter to get in his proper place. Before we sin, we need to get behind Jesus instead of in front of Him. I need to be under You, God, and in You, and behind You and just let You be God and remember that I’m not. So Lord, don’t leave off reminding me, even if it sounds like an insult. Let me remember that when You tell me, “Get behind me, Satan,” it’s for my good and it’s the place I was created to flourish in. If only Satan listened and could get behind You again. May I never forget to respond to Your relationship with me and acknowledge You as God and me as Your beloved creation formed by You for Your purposes and not my own. And may I joy in my position in You and joy in You being God and not me.

The Value of a Vine

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Photo compliments of Brittany Cunningham.

 

“’Son of man, what is the vine-tree more than any tree, the vine branch which grew up among the trees of the forest?’” (Ezekiel 15:2)

What’s the value of a vine? Actually, what’s the value of a vine in Your eyes, God? Hearing this makes me think of Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” So maybe this whole vine idea wasn’t a new thing. Maybe it was God’s idea that we should find our life in Him from the start and that our purpose on earth is to bear His fruit and not ours.

Thinking of bearing fruit as a vine takes me to Genesis 49:2. Here are the words that Jacob uses to bless his son Joseph, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a fountain; its branches run over the wall.” Why was he such a strong vine? Look at his life. Joseph didn’t act like an oak tree instead of a vine. He didn’t rely on his own strength. He realized that his strength, the strength of his “vine” came from God. He looked to God for help and blessing. He let God fill him with the fruit he should bear. His brothers chose to bear fruit foreign to God, but Joseph clung to that which was of God.

Israel is referred to as a vine in Psalm 80:8,9. “You have brought a vine out of Egypt: you have cast out the heathen and planted it. You prepared room before it, and did cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.” Imagine that the Kudzu vine was a good thing here. It’s a creeping vine that is native to Asia but introduced to the U.S. in the 1800’s as an ornamental and for erosion control. Only it crowds out native species. So here in the U.S. it’s not a good thing. But God chose Israel from among the nations. They were chosen to be a good vine to go into the world and bear God’s fruit to the nations around them. The thing is, they started bearing their own fruit instead of His. They weren’t submitted to the One who gave them life and planted them and gave them what they needed to bear, fruit for the good of others and not just themselves. Israel isn’t the only one that can become like Kudzu. So can we, if we can’t submit and let God have His way in us.

Israel wasn’t always an empty vine, but that was God’s pronouncement in Hosea 10:1. “Israel is an empty vine, he brings forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he has increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.” Read the next verse and we see the problem, “Their heart is divided.” It’s not just focused on God. There is something else that is to be desired. God wasn’t their King of kings. Israel was producing “foreign” fruit, not fruit of God. Israel was producing fruit based on the world around them and not the God who created them and gave them life and sustained them. And the truth is, an empty vine doesn’t have much life in it. It’s fading, no matter how strong it believes itself to be. Take the Life Source away and there goes your life.

In Isaiah 5, God talks about a vineyard that He planted and dressed. The vines were planted on a fruitful hill. It was fenced in from predators. There were no stones. The vines were the best. There was a tower in the middle and a winepress. The vines should have brought forth the choicest grapes but instead brought forth wild grapes. What can be done? The vines must be destroyed and new vines planted. The time for pruning and digging has already been tried, over and over. The problem is that the vines wouldn’t acknowledge God. “[T]hey regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands. Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge” and the ones who ought to know are famished and dried up. They call evil good and good evil and put darkness for light and light for darkness. They’re wise in their own eyes. The wicked are justified and the righteous are treated as wicked. This is not what the vine was created for. Unfortunately, this is what the vine chose.

Isn’t it so sad to have been planted of the true vine but to have chosen “other vineness”? “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter…” (Deuteronomy 32:32) Maybe some introspection is due on the part of every believer. Maybe it’s a good thing to examine our own “vineness.” Whose vine do I resemble? What kind of fruits am I producing? Am I guilty of “other vineness” or am I producing the real and succulent grapes that I was created to produce for the glory of the One who established me in His vineyard?  After all, God asks, “Yet I had planted you a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then are you turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jeremiah 2:21) Maybe that question needs to be asked today? Maybe that’s a question I ought not avoid asking myself to make sure that I am who I was created to be and not someone masking as a vine I’m not.

It’s a sad thing to have started out as a vine full of life and fruit and to end up cast down, dried up, fruitless, and in the burn pile. The truth is that none of us have to end up like that. Israel didn’t and doesn’t and neither do any of us. We can choose to submit and stay in the One who gives us life and fruitfulness. I have to remember and submit to being a branch in the Vine I come from. I must bear Your fruit and Your life must course through me. Abiding in You isn’t just about a mental ascension or acknowledgment. It’s about utter dependence. I actually must know that without You I can actually do nothing. Without You I cannot live a real life. Without You I wither and am good for nothing and no one. But abiding in You isn’t just some passive thing. It’s a wholehearted submission and dependence. It’s listening to You and agreeing with You and then doing and acting upon the things of Your heart. It’s not just hearing Your words but it’s soaking up Your words and letting them flow forth in actuality from our life like fruit on a vine. When You say love Your enemies, it’s not just words I speak, but the grapes of love come out and are sweet nourishment to my enemies. When You say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” you aren’t just talking philosophy here. You want us to love as much as Christ loved and honored You and gave His life for us. Is my number one fruit to glorify You in everything? Do I care what grapes I offer my neighbor? Do I give him anything at all?

Being a healthy vine has everything to do with learning submission. God cares that I learn to render “tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.” (Watchman Nee) The life of the vine is in it’s submission. Choosing my own life, my own law, is classified as lawlessness by God, after all, He is the Creator of law, what do we know about it? Do I choose to restrain Your law and hold back Your grapes or do I help Your law and bring forth sweet fruit. We all have something lacking in us, only You fill it up. It’s useless to try to fill it on our own; we can’t do it.

I have the choice like Israel to rebel, but look where it leads. It’s a rejecting of grace and riches. It’s choosing poverty of spirit and life. But I also have the choice to surrender my life to You in love and worship and devotion.  It’s my choice if I want to live in the vine and bear Your beautiful fruit or not.  Seems like a no-brainer to me.  I want to learn to abide in You.  I want to be a vine bearing Your fruit.

On Life and Fulfillment

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Photo credit to Stephen Cunningham.

 

“Then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.” Ezekiel 6:9

It’s funny how we say this is an awful way for God to feel. But I wonder if we were married and loved the one we were married to with all our hearts and they “went a-whoring” and left us for others, how we would feel? And I’m not saying that anyone should run out and destroy their unfaithful partner. That’s not my point. Isn’t the truth that they have already not only begun destroying themselves, but destroying true intimacy itself? Aren’t they bringing turmoil into their own lives and into the lives around them? Aren’t they being caught up in twisted thinking that will one day lead to their own demise?

Had God’s people ever been warned? Had they witnessed the power of the true God versus the lack of power of the gods of other nations? Had they witnessed and been supplied by the provision of the true God? Did You, God, really cause their demise? Or were You there trying to continually call them back to the safety and provision of You?

The people were playing with what they shouldn’t be playing with, nations who didn’t care about them. They were making themselves vulnerable because they were no longer alert. They were allowing themselves to lose their identity in God, who was their strength, and falling into the lie of the nations that they were great of themselves. They were worshipping at empty altars that bring emptiness and desolation.

Paul talks of desolation, this word shamem in Hebrew, also. “For it is written, ‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more are the children of the desolate than the one who has a husband.’” (Galatians 4:27) What is this about? What is today’s reading in Ezekiel about? It describes “the inner barrenness of an unfulfilled life.” (Skip Moen) Shamem is about being desolate and amazed. It can mean one or the other or it can be both at the same time. It’s like looking around at the great desolation and destruction around you and being totally appalled and overwhelmed at the same time.

The reason judgment comes is because we refuse to live fulfilled lives. We were created to be filled fully with God, to bear His image throughout this world. This is true fulfillment, what we were created to be filled with, just like Adam when God breathed into him and he became a living soul. But we choose, yes we choose, to warp that image and defile it and create our own. We choose to live unfulfilled lives in these places of desolation, and we don’t even realize how appalling it is. But God does. He never intended us to walk in the wilderness. He hadn’t intended for Israel to walk there. They chose desolation instead of the kingdom. Aren’t we doing the same? And then we have the nerve to blame our consequences on God? And all You have ever been trying to do is to turn us back to our purpose, true life fulfillment in You.

The truth is that God doesn’t leave us alone in the wilderness. He was there for Hagar. He was there for the Israelites. He is there for us today, waiting to rescue us from emptiness and unfulfillment. We think self-sufficiency is the answer but the answer is in dependency on a God who is fully able. Think about it. Joseph couldn’t rescue himself from that pit his brothers placed him in. The Israelites couldn’t find their way out of the desert. Hagar couldn’t find water to keep her and her son alive. Moses couldn’t even lead a people on his own. The truth is not one of us is sufficient on our own.

Paul understood that. He was once a very self-sufficient man. But not once he met the risen Jesus. He shares, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God…” (2 Corinthians 3:5) God enables us in Him to do and to bear His image in this world, that we may fulfill our purpose in Him.

How could a barren woman have more fulfillment than the one with a husband? How did the desolate woman find more fulfillment? Because our fulfillment doesn’t come in our husband or in our job or in our position or in our ministry. Our satisfaction and fulfillment comes from God. This world is a wilderness and we have to learn to cling to God in the midst of it because clinging to the wilderness will always leave us empty.

Are you in an overwhelming place right now that seems totally desolate? Stop fighting God. Let Him come to You in the desolate empty place and let Him fill You. Run into His arms and let His ways become Your ways. Let Him redefine Your thinking and Your living by His standards, by His love, by His grace, and by His mercy. Let Him be the spouse that He promises to be to you and let yourself be His. Let go of the emptiness. Walk away from it and walk into His arms. You don’t have to stay there. You never did. He’s been waiting with open arms every minute of every day, right there with you, only you wouldn’t acknowledge Him or give Him the time of day. But He never stopped thinking about you or reaching out to you.

We can keep fighting a losing battle and trying to find fulfillment elsewhere. But it will always leave us empty and grasping for more. Or we can stop fighting and let the One who has always loved us, the One who created us, fill us full of Himself and we can live out our purpose in life and eternity. The choice is each of ours. Only, don’t get upset if you choose the consequences of self-fulfillment. It’s not like we’ve not been warned. The blame game is a losing game. Let’s take responsibility for our choices and let’s choose life and fulfillment.