Got Heart?

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Artwork credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“…say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’…Likewise, thou son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, which prophesy out of their own heart…” (Ezekiel 13:2,17)

 
God is warning of some scathing punishment here. What for? Because the prophets and prophetesses were living and leading “out of their own hearts.” They should have been living and leading with hearts in tune with God’s heart, but instead they were telling lying prophesies and teaching false superstitious beliefs. There’s a terrible problem when we choose to follow our own heart if it’s not under the influence of God. After all, Jeremiah tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Well, obviously God can know it, and show it, and correct it if we turn our hearts over to Him.

 
Let’s not just think that we’re only talking about our feelings when we talk about our hearts in Scripture. Let’s remember that it incorporates our feelings, our intellect, and even our will. That’s the problem. We want to esteem our will, even above God’s will. We want our life and everyone else’s to be about our feelings, our thoughts, and our will. But it’s not. And we hate to admit that. We hate to think that there is something bigger and more to life than us and than now. But Jesus warned, “whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) See, none of us get to stand on this stone like a pedestal for ourselves. Jesus is the only foundation in God who is counted worthy of pre-eminence. The rest of us are called to fall before him. That takes submission. And we can’t come to God unless we submit to Him, and let Him change our hearts and mold them to His and His alone.

 

Watchman Nee said, “Faith is the principle by which we receive life, while submission is the principle by which we conduct our living.” Actually, I don’t see a way to separate the two. It takes submission to demonstrate faith and faith to submit. Why was tragedy preparing to strike God’s people? Because they were living outside of “the realm of God’s authority.” The sad thing is that those who had been acting like the authorities, like the head, should have known how to submit before God and others because they were the “religious” leaders. But maybe the truth is that some of us have never really known submission. And maybe it’s just as important to learn today, as it was then.

 

The truth is that God is Authority over authorities. All authorities are appointed by Him. Therefore, every one of us is called to submit, first to His authority, and then to those authorities He has appointed. God pronounced woe on the foolish prophets of Ezekiel’s time for following “their own spirit.” That’s that word ruach, which is also used of the Holy Spirit, and the spirit that was placed in man when God breathed life into him. But without God’s Spirit, the spirit of man is powerless and empty. Without a spirit of submission, we are nothing. Without being trained in submission we learn nothing. Look at Jesus’ training. Understand the magnitude of the example that Christ set for us. He submitted under parents. He submitted under the religious authorities. He submitted under the hurt and sick when He stopped to listen to them and asked their desire. He submitted to the Father by humbling Himself voluntarily to wash the feet of His disciples, and to withstand the cross. He was God. Did God deserve this? Didn’t He have the right to fight back? But Jesus was submitted to the will and Spirit of God and not even His own will. This is what I must learn. My life and the life of those around me depend on how well I learn and live our this lesson on submission.

 

Nadab and Abihu submitted to their own hearts instead of God. They submitted to their own hearts instead of the instruction of their Father Aaron, the priest. Therefore they served up strange fire before the Lord and were struck down. Why was it strange fire? It was unrecognizable as a sacrifice because it was not what was authorized and it was not given in a submissive spirit. Nadab and Abihu had something in common with the prophets and prophetesses of Ezekiel’s day. They refused to take orders and disregarded authority. They obeyed their own hearts instead.

 

We can’t serve God our way. It doesn’t work that way. God is so much more than us, how could we ever determine what is acceptable? God is even our “originator” so it makes sense that He would be the originator of what is appropriate for service to Him. Come on. I’m only human but if you want to give me a gift that shows me You care, give me a gift that touches my heart, not yours. That’s how I know You care about me. Is it so far fetched that one must know God’s heart to give Him what is acceptable to Himself? After all, we can only serve Him through submission to Him. When I submit to His heart and will and intellect, I am accepted. But strange fire is serving from my own heart, will, and intellect and not thinking about God at all. Strange fire is serving without submission. It may be zealous, but it’s zealousness over me and not over God.

 

It’s not the gift that is important to God; it’s the heart of submission. Samuel reminded Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) How we handle God’s authority matters. It’s a heart revealer. We need to not be so concerned with leading everybody but be most concerned with following first. If I can’t follow God, I can’t lead. And if I know how to follow God, then I know how to be a complement to the others following God around me. Submitting to God means I learn how to submit to others. Am I more than my Master who submitted?

 

The work is not up to me; it’s up to God, and God works always in unity. Therefore, the work is up to us, to work together in submission before God and one to another. We are one corporate body with the heart of God, not many individual hearts all doing their own thing. That causes division. I need to get rid of any individualist mentality I’ve been harboring. If I meet God first and foremost as my authority, then I can submit to those under Him as authorities in Him. They are not just fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters, but they are His chosen ones. I can’t serve God without submission.

 

A submissive heart to God cares for the things of God. When Saul was chasing David, David cut off the skirt of his cloak. He didn’t hurt Saul yet it bothered his heart. Why? Didn’t Jesus say that the thought is the same thing as doing the deed? Watchman Nee shared, “What we condemn is not just murder; even the cutting off of another’s garment with a little knife is wrong and is rebellion. Backbiting, an evil eye, or a grudge in the heart may not be murder, but they are similar to the cutting off of another’s garment, and they proceed from a spirit of rebellion.” This was a funny situation here. David had been anointed as king. Saul had been anointed first and already was king. Saul was in rebellion to God. Yet David knew he was still the anointed king. David, not Saul, was submitted to God and waiting on God’s timing. He was sensitive to the heart and will of God. He submitted to God and to King Saul by honoring Saul’s kingship. Why? Because He was submitted to God first and foremost.

 

Peter tells us, “For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” could this conscience toward God be for the heart of God and in submission to Him? Could it be because I care more for the honor and glory and person of God than my own welfare? Is that what David understood? Is that how Jesus lived? Was this concept perfected in them through their sufferings? Are sufferings the test of obedience? Would I rather complain and show frustration than learn to submit?

 

Do I want to be apart of establishing God’s kingdom on earth? Then I need to learn submission. Jesus never opposed God’s authority. What about me? What about the church? What about the fellowship of believers? Is God going to find our works perfect? Or are we offering strange fire? A little submission is a far cry from perfect submission.

 

Obedience, faith, and submission all go hand in hand. Do I really know God and obey the Gospel? (2 Thessalonians 1:8) If not, I’m in rebellion. Am I disobedient to the truth? (Romans 2:8) Believing is obeying. And what did Paul say first upon believing? “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10) He believed, obeyed, and submitted to His authority.

 

So many of us have strong feelings. We may even have strong feelings about sin. But somehow we have no feelings about rebellion. Oh, maybe rebellion in someone else against us, but not of our own rebellion. I need to recognize my own rebellion toward God and the authorities He has placed in my life. I need to seek His heart in my submission to them just like Jesus did or Paul did.

 

Am I too busy chasing the desires of my own heart? Or am I more concerned with Your heart, Lord? Am I willing to fall upon the rock of Jesus in willing submission, or am I waiting to be crushed in my rebellion? How deceitful is my heart? Will I turn it over to You, the only one who knows my heart and the only one who can change it and give me a new heart? Through salvation, God enables us to have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) In truth, do I understand that I am a servant? Therefore I am called to be obedient to those who God has placed as my “masters” and “serve with singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:5,6) Have I got a heart? If so, who does it belong to?

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Authority and the Universe

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Photo credit to grand_universe_by_antifan_real1.jpg

 

“He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power…” Hebrews 1:3

 

Well, I’m still thinking about what it’s like in Your eyes, God, for me not to be rebellious. And today I’m thinking about more of what Watchman Nee shared about You. He takes me back to Hebrews 1:3, “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power…” Now, to think that it’s just by His power and shear force isn’t the idea here, is it? Isn’t it “by the word of His power”? What does that mean? Does that mean by His authority? And in His authority, is His power demonstrated through His works?

 
Authority is crucial. This is telling us that God is the only authority in all the universe. To act otherwise, or to think otherwise is rebellion. I remember the story, that true story of the roman centurion who came to Jesus that day because his beloved servant was dying. And he knew what it was to be an authority over others. But he also knew what it was to be under authority. Because of that, he understood how Jesus only had to speak and it would be done. Why? Because he knew that Jesus had the authority from God. Therefore, he knew that Jesus had the power to go with it. And Jesus made this statement of the centurion, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9) I wonder if Jesus would find that kind of faith not only in the world today, but in the church, the body of Christ?

 
Remember what Watchman Nee said? “Sin is a matter of conduct; it is easy to be forgiven of sin. But rebellion is a matter of principle; it is not easy to be forgiven of rebellion.” This is such an important lesson to learn. If I can learn this, I can learn anything. Satan fell to the principle of rebellion through self-exaltation. He violated the throne of God by trying to set up his own throne higher. The principle came before the fall. The principle was the cause of the fall. Rebellion was the song of his heart, rebellion against the authority of God. That’s why he was condemned. He refused to submit and still refuses. It’s a matter of principle for him. Isn’t it always?

 
Therefore he tries to make it a matter of principle for us too. That’s why he doesn’t want us to submit to Christ’s authority. If I do, then my principles will change. I can’t serve two masters and I can’t live with opposing principles. Maybe what I have to realize is who the kingdom really belongs to. Is it God’s or does it belong to a usurper? If it’s God’s kingdom and His creation then it is truly and only under His authority. No one can steal that from Him. Will I submit fully to His authority? Or will I run around as though the kingdom is of my creation? Isn’t that shear foolishness?

 
What does it mean to preach the Gospel? Isn’t that bringing others under God’s authority? To do that, don’t I have to be under God’s authority first? How can I establish God’s authority on earth, you know, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” if I don’t already know and submit under Your authority?

 
Isn’t that the whole issue? Isn’t that the principle being fought over daily? Who has the authority? Who gets to determine if abortion is right or wrong? Who gets to determine if I can slaughter others because they don’t hold to my religious tenets? Who gets to tell me what I can or can’t do? Who gets to tell me what is evil or good? Who has the right to control me?

 
In all the universe, who has authority? Is authority with me who has no ability to create something from nothing? Is authority with me, the created? Or is authority with God, the Creator and Sustainer? And if authority is with God, then I must choose to submit myself to His authority and uphold it.

 
Watchman Nee related the story of Paul and Ananias. Remember Paul? He was following his own authority and the religious authority but unwittingly rebelling against God’s authority. But on the road to Damascus, he met God’s authority face to face. He realized it. Instead of pressing on and continuing to “kick against the goads” he asked, “What must I do?” He submitted. And God sent him to a house to wait. Then we have one of the most powerful, intelligent men of his time (yes, that’s Paul), being ministered to by this small, insignificant brother named Ananias. Yet, Paul submitted to this brother. He was no longer ruled by self-confidence. He let Ananias be used to remove his blindness instead of holding onto it in his pride. In his brokenness, he was learning to submit. Have I understood brokenness yet? Do I know what it is to submit? Do I live as though I understand Your authority, God? How am I at submitting to those around me that You place in authority?

 
“God’s greatest demand on man is submission.” Think about that. It’s also the hardest, isn’t it? And with submission comes obedience. But neither will happen unless I get self out of the picture. I suppose submission is a principle but obedience is about conduct. Therefore, our obedience could be selfishly given. But obedience in submission is about living in the spirit. It’s about expressing and responding to God’s will and not mine.
The best example is to look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. If I want to see true submission to God’s authority and to understand obedience in submission, here it is. Sometimes we tend to emphasize that Jesus came to earth to pursue the cross. But that’s not true. Jesus came to pursue the will of God. The will of God led Him to the cross. He got to the cross because He was fully submitted to the authority of God. His full submission gave Him the right to be the sacrifice on the cross. Any lack of submission on His part would have nullified the efficacy of the cross. The efficacy of the cross was in the submissive obedience of Christ to the authority of God.

 
What was the most important thing to Christ? Was it the cross? We hear Him ask “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” But He waited and listened for the will of God. To Him, the cross was not absolute, but the will of God was. It had nothing to do with His own will. Obviously, He was agonizing over the thought of going to the cross. But He knew it wasn’t about His own preference. “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” If the cross was God’s will, then it was His will also. Is my will the principle I live by or am I making His will the principle that I live by?

 
What did Jesus mean when He said, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38)? Or when He told His disciples again in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”? Is that about suffering and sacrifice? Or is it really about denying self and coming under the authority of God by full submission to His will no matter the cost? Does it mean that God’s will becomes my will and that I no longer have a will aside from His? Does that mean that my feelings don’t matter if they don’t agree with His will? Does that mean that His authority, His principles, His desire, and His will mean more to me than my own feelings, my own desires, and my own life? It did for Jesus.

 
Watchman Nee shares, “A will is the representative of an authority. Hence, when submission comes from knowing God’s will, that submission is a submission to authority. If there is no prayer and no willingness to know God’s will, how can there be submission to authority?” Jesus demonstrated His submission in the garden. When He knew God’s will, He immediately submitted, “Arise, let us be going.” (Matthew 26:46) Because of Christ’s submission to God’s authority, the cross is the center of the universe. It’s the utmost example of upholding the authority of God (His will) above everything.
Learning to submit to God’s authority is not something to be taken lightly. It means everything to my walk as a believer. Do we forget to listen to Jesus’ very own words? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) I have to do more than verbally and mentally acknowledge You as Lord. I have to submit to You as Lord of my life and all life. It’s not just to be used as a respectful title, this Greek word. It means to be supreme in authority, controller. If Jesus is my God, then I let Him be my God. If He is my Lord, then I let Him Lord over me. If He is my master, then He is truly my master. If this is who You are to me, then it is who You are all the time, every day, every moment.

 
If You really are Lord of me, then I don’t just do Your will because I’m following mandates. It’s really about this word I love, poieo. It’s like the art that flows out of an artist or the poem that flows out of the poet. It’s the will and pleasure of the Father that comes to flow out of me because You flow through me. If I say that You are my Lord and my will flows out and I call it Your will, it still isn’t Your will, but mine. Overturning Your authority is attempting to overturn You and it shows I don’t know You at all, because how can You be overturned? You are God. Acting on my own authority, my own will is rebellion and Scripture says it’s like the sin of “witchcraft, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry” ( 1 Samuel 15:23) because it’s rejecting God’s authority. Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus look at me and tell me He never knew me because all I ever did was do things my way instead of His? Imagine Jesus calling me lawless and telling me that I purposefully engaged in and ministered in wickedness. That’s what I’m doing when I don’t submit. That’s what I’m doing when I don’t hand absolute authority over to God.

 
I can’t have a true relationship with God without being truly submitted to His authority. Don’t be fooled. You can’t come to Jesus to get out of hell, if you don’t come to Jesus to live. Unless God’s authority becomes my life blood, I haven’t got life at all. Once I touch His authority, once I begin to understand it’s necessity in my life, then I can be conformed into His image, and then He can begin to use me as His instrument. This is when I begin to resemble Him as His very own child and not until then.

 
Working and living outside of God’s will isn’t a bad thing. It’s a tragic thing. It’s Satanic and we shouldn’t keep taking it so lightly. It’s the difference between life or death, blessing or damnation. Jesus wasn’t joking when He said that only those who do the Father’s will can enter the kingdom of heaven. Think about it. Think about Jesus as He walked on earth. Think about each situation. Think about the boat as He slept in the middle of the storm. Think about the kiss from Judas. Think about the agony in the garden. Think about disciples misunderstanding. Think about people saying mean things. Did Jesus account His response to His feelings? Did He just rotely shoot off a Scripture truth? Or did He know the heart of God, and did He seek the heart of God, before He responded? Is that how I respond to Your authority? Is that how I seek to know how You would want me to respond? Do You really control me or am I still letting my feelings and rights and hopes and dreams cling to control? Does my heart need to cry out, “Witchcraft! Stubbornness! Idolatry! Turn back! Turn back!”?

 
Whose side am I really on? Am I clinging to God’s authority and living in it and find comfort there no matter the circumstances? Or am I clinging to Satan’s rebellion. See, two things go hand in hand here: “believing unto salvation and submitting to authority.” I can’t separate the two or I’m not saved at all. I don’t get to trust or obey; it must be trust and obey. Sin is lawlessness and lawlessness is disrespect and disregarding God’s authority. It’s a matter of heart and attitude. Will I submit them both? Where am I? Whose side am I really on? What drives my conduct? Will You know me, Jesus, when I come before You, or will You not recognize me as Yours at all? I can know the answer now. I can know based on my submission to Your will each and every day. I can know by the life that flows out of me from You when You are truly Lord of me.

Throwing Rebellion Out the Door

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Photo credit to online source.  Sorry, I lost the URL.

 

“Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 12:2

 
Here I am in Ezekiel 12 and I have the account of God sharing His heart with Ezekiel, telling him what He is going to do. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel not just one time, but 5 times, in these 28 verses. And I need to understand that God’s judgment wasn’t about to fall on the pagan, but on the children of Israel, specifically Judah. This was a pronouncement on the family of God, the people of God, the “religious” people.
Well, those who were supposed to be leading the people closer to God weren’t concerned about God at all. So the people around them weren’t either. And Ezekiel was getting to stand out like a sore thumb here and declare their rebellion which wasn’t just about to be their destruction, but which had already begun to destroy them from within the minute they succumbed to that thinking.

 
Now, lest I think that I’m not like them at all, I had better check myself and understand what rebellion really looks like and how it begins. And I’ve come to the conclusion that rebellion is a lot closer than I thought and that there are a lot more children of God involved in it right now than you think, and it could be you or I.

 
The word used for rebellious here is the Hebrew meriy. It comes from marah. It’s a way to guarantee destruction. Marah mixes two components, one political and the other theological. It’s when we refuse to see God’s way or hear God’s voice. “This verb describes ‘the attempt of the subordinate to escape from a dependent relationship.’” (Skip Moen) But the problem is that we try to escape our dependency from our Creator God, from the absolute one, the One who alone rules by His divine right. It’s ludicrous. Think about it. I want to break free from the One who gives and sustains my life? I want to do my own way what I couldn’t even create in the first place? Instead of choosing the Tree of Life, I want to choose my own knowledge? Really? What good is it to know and experience good and evil instead of life? If life is on one side then death must be on the other. Adam and Eve weren’t the only ones who walked away from a relationship of full life and chose death in rebellion.

 
I mean, we’re dealing with God here. He’s our Creator, the Creator of everything. In Him is life and out of Him, where rebellion reigns, is His wrath. Isn’t it a shame that rebellion is so embedded in our hearts, that our hearts are so desperately wicked we don’t even know it? But God does and He can show us and change us.

 
The truth is that rebellion starts in our talk, and our thoughts, and our reasoning. We tend to call it rights and religion. But it’s really self-centeredness. We even think we are doing right and it’s harmless. Where’s our prophet when we need him?

 
What does the attitude of rebellion look like? Well, in the end it looks like Judah in Ezekiel’s day. But on the way, it looks like boys ridiculing a prophet for his baldness, or calling down fire and brimstone on a people because they don’t treat you right, or gossip, or talking your leadership down, or disrespect to your parents, or controlling someone else for your gain. It’s all the little steps of walking in your own way and your own plans and not seeking God’s will.

 
Skip Moen asks, “When the mystery of lawlessness operates, are we its restraints or are we its helpers?” The truth is that “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) Wait.  Sin is breaking God’s rules, right? When I don’t do what is “right” I’m a “bad” person. But when are my sins breaking laws? I’m allowed to do them by legal standards. But I break the law every time I sin?

 
Sometimes sin is translated as iniquity. Jesus uses this to describe wicked people. Paul uses it to tell what happens as we pursue our own desires instead of God’s. Is this what I”m like, am I filled with iniquity and terribly wicked?

 
Watchman Nee wrote, “Sin is a matter of conduct; it is easy to be forgiven of sin. But rebellion is a matter of principle; it is not so easy to be forgiven of rebellion.” Sin happens, but rebellion is birthed. Rebellion is mulled over and strengthened and chosen and latched onto. Rebellion is (that deep-seated principle within me that fights against the holiness of God, that wants to assert my independence and self-sufficiency.” (Skip Moen)  It’s about my attitude inside, in the heart of me. It’s the opposite of submission. Rich young rulers can keep rules much easier than they can submit. My basic rebellion is that I want to be in control. Submit? I don’t want to. It’s like spitting in the face of God. It’s pushing Him out of throne and putting me in His place. It’s like when Absalom made himself king against his father David. And we run around trying to do the same.
At that point it doesn’t matter if I’m obeying the rules or practicing the religious requirements. Rebellion is in my heart and flowing out. Even the wishing it were going my way is rebellion. Honestly, submission is hard. Our nature says, “No way!” But submission is the heart of finding God’s grace. Without it, all is sin, no matter what you call it or what you think it looks like.

 
Paul tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Now, I need to listen to this. If I want to be empowered, I need to submit. I need to submit to the one who is the ultimate delegate of authority and power. Only the Boss can give me this strength. See only, and I mean ONLY Jesus can supply this available power because it is His to supply. I don’t have it. I can just tap in. I’m just the vehicle. It’s not even about my authority and responsibility but about my usefulness. I’m the receptacle of His power, not mine. Rebellion is me being a power instead of Him. Not only can that not be but it’s ludicrous! I’m just the pipe built for Him to flow through.

 
So maybe I hear all this and I think I’m still not rebellious, maybe I should think a little more. “And if any one hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him, the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” (John 12:47-48) I can think I’m getting by.  I can think I’m God’s gift to the church and the people around me. I can delude myself and others. But when I’m measured up against the words of God and the words of Christ and I don’t match them, the truth will come out.

 
I don’t want to take this lightly. To reject Your sayings is to reject You. What are Your sayings? “But I say unto you…” How do you handle your anger? Do you call your brother “fool,” this person who was created in the image of God? Is reconciliation more important than being right? How about the thoughts in your head? Have you lusted already? Did you really love your wife as Christ loved the church and died for her, or was it all about you so that it was easy to leave her? I mean, what kind of oaths do I even have the power to make when I can’t even number my own days? Do I really let someone slap me on the cheek and then turn the other to him also, or do I retaliate? Do I love my enemies like You did? Do I bless those who curse me like You did? Do I do good to those who hate me, like You did? Do I pray for those who persecute me, like You did?
Are my thoughts and my reasons and my attitudes anything like Yours? Because the truth is that If I really want to be Your child, then I have to born of You, not of me, because that doesn’t come naturally from me. I have to learn to submit and submit and submit. And it’s not such a bad thing. It’s a hard thing but You can change my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh like Yours. I want to throw rebellion out the door. If it means that I have to stand alone for you like Ezekiel and dig through a wall and look crazy, then that’s what I want You to give me strength to do. Why? “That I may be [the child of my] Father which is in heaven,” because You are the One who makes the sun to rise and not me.

Eating the Good and the Bad

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Photo credit to David Bee Mallari.

 

“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you; Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” (Ezekiel 2:8)

 
Ezekiel carries God’s words of warning as well as words of encouragement from the Lord. But sometimes, both the warning and encouragement are hard to take and weighty for us. Bad news is always hard to swallow, but good news can actually be a hard road too. But then again, Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) Maybe Ezekiel will help me learn the truth of that.

 
So here is Ezekiel, called before this angel of God or Jesus Himself, but he is so filled with awe and fear at the presence that he cannot stand of his own strength. So he is told to stand. But here’s the thing. He’s not expected to do it on his own. The Spirit enters him and sets him on his feet and then he was able to hear what was spoken to him. How important is it for me, for each of us, to allow the Spirit to enter us so that we will firmly be planted in God’s ways? How important is it for me, for each of us, to allow the Spirit to enter us so that we can hear and understand and live out Your words, Your will, Your desires in faithful obedience and love?

 
And Ezekiel heard. It’s that word shama again. It’s never about just hearing and letting the speech go in one ear and out the other. It’s about hearing and discerning and acting upon that hearing. Is that how I hear? Do I lean in attentively to You? Or am I busier leaning into my own understanding? (see Proverbs 3:5) Do I incline all my being, my mind, my will, and my emotions into You? (Joshua 24:23) Do I realize that it is Your desire to incline my heart unto You, so that I might walk in all Your ways, and keep Your commandments and Your statutes and Your judgments? (1 Kings 8:58) If I expect You to incline Your ear toward me and hear me and act upon what You hear, do I expect the same of myself toward You, or do I hold myself to a lesser standard when it comes to hearing? (Psalm 17:6)

 
I want to really listen, no matter what the consequences, just like Ezekiel. So what was the bad news? Well, the bad news is bad news for rebellious people but it’s also kind of bad news for Ezekiel. God was appointing Ezekiel as a prophet of God to these rebellious people. I don’t think that Ezekiel jumped up and down and said, “Oh, thank You, Lord, thank You! This is so wonderful! I’m so excited! Woohoo!” He was being equipped and sent to tell a rebellious nation bad news. And here’s the bad news about that, they might not hear and act upon what they hear. They might just keep rebelling. Nothing might change. It might look like no good is being done. It might look like Ezekiel has been profitless. (No pun intended upon the prophet.)

 
That’s not all the bad news. It’s going to be scary stuff for a man to go through, even an anointed prophet filled with the Spirit of God. God prepares Ezekiel with these words, “and you, son of man, don’t be afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with you, and you dwell among scorpions: don’t be afraid of their words, and don’t be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.” Ezekiel is to keep speaking God’s words whether they hear and change or not.

 
But here is the good news. “Ezekiel, you, make sure you hear what I say to you. Don’t be rebellious like them: open your mouth, and eat what I give you.” What does that mean to eat what God gives him? Could that mean that Ezekiel has to take the bad tasting medicine as well as the delicacies? Does Your word and Your way sometimes seem like bitter medicine or bitter herbs to us? Do we want to refuse what is good for us because part of it is bad news for our own selfish desires or bad news to our egos or our own plans? Would we rather hold unto our rebellious faces than be changed into Your glorious image?

 
So here’s my question about what You want me to learn from You and Ezekiel here. Do I get it? Do I understand that hearing from You means doing and living out what I hear? Do I understand that being a follower of the Creator of the heavens and earth through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection means more than having a head knowledge of You? Do I understand it means tough times ahead? Do I understand that the “world” responds the same way today as it did in Ezekiel’s day? And do I understand that as a believer I am called to share with and in a defiant world just like Ezekiel? Will I hear and answer my calling?

 
If it doesn’t seem clear through Ezekiel, or maybe I shouldn’t transfer Ezekiel’s responsibility to me and other believers, let me listen to Jesus’s own words in John 17. “And now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world, that they [those who believe] might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Now, wasn’t that God’s desire all along, even back in Ezekiel? But I digress, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Is this like a deja vu? “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil.” Does it sound as though I need to be stood up straight and strong by the Spirit just as much now? “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Was Eziekiel like everyone else? Or was he different because of what he allowed You to do in him and how he clung to You? “As You have sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” Well there’s the clincher.

 
If Ezekiel was sent out into the world in the middle of bad and good news all wrapped up together, then wasn’t Jesus sent even more so? Jesus came knowing He would be crucified by a people He loved. But He never stopped loving and never stopped telling. God was everything and the suffering and hurt was a moment in comparison. And the truth is that all who would believe are called in the same way. We are called to hear and follow despite the pain, despite homelessness, despite ridicule, despite our health, despite the faces people make, and the deterrents along the way. We are called to hear and follow despite our feelings and our hopes and dreams. We are called to cast off our rebellion and follow wholeheartedly, counting the cost and understanding it will cost much. We are called to count God worth every cost and to live like it. That’s what I learn from Ezekiel today. And that’s what I learn from Jesus every day. But is that how I live?

 
Lord, I have not always lived as though You were the greatest worth. I admit that I cannot stand on my own. I am in desperate need of Your Spirit to stand me up firm on my feet so that I can hear You rightly and walk rightly in Your words and Your ways. I need Your Spirit to make me strong and keep me strong in a world that is rebellious. I even need Your Spirit to keep me from falling into rebellion myself or for getting out of it. But I also want to take the steps to seek You, to cling to You, to value You more than anything in life. When I’m weak, I want to fall on You, not on my weakness. I don’t want my weakness to rule me; I want You to rule me and guide me and strengthen me. I want to be ready for the good and the bad and the bad and good, however they come. And I thank You so much, that You do not leave us unprepared but that You fully equip us for every situation. So let me eat whatever You give me, the bitter and the tasty, so that I may dwell in the beauty and safety of You. And may others be drawn to eat from that same plate and count it more than worth it.

Writing on the Wall

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Photo credit to Keith Patschka.

 

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, ‘Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.’” (Daniel 5;17)

 
Today I’m thinking about seeing the writing on the wall. The problem is that most of us can see the writing on the wall but we have no idea what it means. There it is, right in front of us plain as day, but we are clueless to it’s impact for us. Sometimes we’re just as clueless as Belshazzar.

 
Belshazzar was king of Babylon. His reign followed that of Nebuchadnezzar. He’s also frequently referred to here as the son of Nebuchadnezzar. That’s a constant implication that he should have been more alert and have responded differently in his ruling than he chose to, considering the things that Nebuchadnezzar had learned about God before him. But let’s look back at the immediate story.

 
Let’s set the stage. It’s the beginning of the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. He calls a great feast with hordes of important people and lots of wine drinking. That can be a normal thing for kings. But then he decided that wasn’t enough. His pride got the better of him and he called for the sacred golden and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Those he would use to drink his wine and thank the the gods of his choosing. It was a way to mock God and say that He was no god. So they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, and of iron, of wood, and of stone —all those idols made by men’s hands and imaginations, and mocked the God of creation who created their very hands and the intimate workings of their bodies that were able to sustain them and enable them to even appreciate the taste of the wine they were mocking Him with.

 
I’m wondering if Belshazzar was aware of what Daniel knew, that the 70 year reign of Babylon was coming to a close?  I mean, after all, he was surrounded with all these counselors who would be aware of prophecies about the kingdom. Daniel himself was the chief of the chief of counselors. But Belshazzar was a human being like us, and sometimes we choose to ignore the truth and choose, instead, what we want to believe. But you can only ignore the truth for so long. See, lies are like idols. They are not real and have no weight when push comes to shove. But truth, it always comes through in it’s time. Truth will always make itself known. You can’t hold it back. Especially when it’s God’s truth.

 
And that’s what happens. God shows up. It’s pretty terrifying. These fingers of a human hand appeared. It was just the fingers; not the rest of the body. And it was big enough for everyone to see. Now that’s a party stopper! And these fingers write on the plaster of the wall of the palace. The king is watching and his color changes, and he’s thinking, “Holy mackerel, what in the world?!” He was terrified, his legs forgot how to hold him up, and his knees clattered together. He called for the Chaldeans, the wise men to come in and interpret the writing but not a single one could. He even promised to cloth the one in scarlet and with a gold chain and make him third ruler. It didn’t matter. Everyone could see the writing on the wall but not one knew what it meant.

 
Belshazzar’s face was probably white as snow. His leaders were just as perplexed. It seems that the queen was the only one with a little understanding as to how to find the answer. I wonder if that was because her heart might have contemplated differently about the gods and things she had seen and learned about Daniel’s God? I don’t know, but of all the advisors she was the only one with the advice that would lead to the answer. “There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers…”(Daniel 5:11) “ He is alive still and can show you the answer.”Why? Why can Daniel do this?

 
The queen actually lists 6 qualities or evidences of Daniel’s ability. Let’s look at them. The first was an excellent spirit. That didn’t just mean he had a great personality. That word for spirit is the same word, ruach, used for when God breathed His spirit into the first man Adam. This excellent spirit is the spirit of God Himself inside of Daniel that is over and above all spirits. This is the Only Spirit who is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20) The Holy Spirit of God Himself imparted wisdom and knowledge from above and of below to Daniel because that’s where Daniel sought his wisdom.

 
This Spirit of God imparted to Daniel that second quality of being able to rightly divine knowledge, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, and reason. I think it corresponds to how we relate our thoughts to the things around us like science and the things we’re conscious of. Maybe this is the practical and scientific application of what we know. And this most intelligent man above all others in the kingdom, retained his intelligence while retaining and promoting his personal belief in God in the midst of all he knew and in the midst of a foreign culture who didn’t know or want to acknowledge his God. Yet that knowledge and application of the inter-relatedness and power of his God in all of men’s affairs, was what led him to the top and brought him before the king of a whole nation as the only one with the answer.

 
When we as speakers of English see the words wisdom and knowledge and understanding, we think on the same terms. But these are different words in Hebrew and Chaldean and retain separate identities of meaning. Daniel had understanding, soklthanu, intelligence and understanding. How is that different? It’s from sekal which means to consider. So maybe truly understanding the writing on the wall around us only comes when we truly consider things God’s way. This is where we sit down and take the time to look at something closely, and set our minds or our eyes to it with attention. But I think this isn’t just looking at things and sitting down with them and thinking closely about them. That could bring us into a multitude of conclusions, each his own. But this is considering, sitting down with God, and thinking with Him, close by His side, and setting our thoughts to Yours, Lord. This is the kind of considering that led Daniel to be able to read the writing on the wall.

 
God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. That was evidenced by the time he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But Daniel could also figure out the solutions to hard riddles or enigmas that others could not solve. No matter how concealed by obscure language, Danielle had the ability to figure out the hidden meaning. Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” How do you find out something concealed by God? Do you seek it through false idols? Or do you go to the God who knows the answers? Daniel knew who to go to and God blessed him with the knowledge he sought from Him.

 
The last characteristic is that he could unravel riddles. The root of that is about freeing what has been captured. The King James Version says “dissolving of doubts.” Can you hear that? Some of our thinking and understanding and confusion over answers can cause us to be bound, to be knotted up. They can cause us to feel like Belshazzar. And we can be trapped and bound by those thoughts and feelings, feelings like guilt, pride, fear, insufficiency, worthlessness, superiority, anger, hurt, whatever. Or we can be set free by knowing the One who is the Truth, like Daniel knew Him. After all, Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19) This was the God of the Old Testament, the Isaiah 61 God, identifying Himself to the world in Jesus. This is the same God that Daniel worshiped and the same God who calls us to worship Him today.

 
So here is this woman, who seems to refer to Daniel more by his Hebrew name than his Chaldean name. And maybe that’s because she realized that Bel or Nebo weren’t gods who saved but Daniel’s God was. And you know, Daniel could care less about the scarlet robe or golden necklace or being third in the kingdom. Daniel just cared about God being made known. And he interpreted the writing. But before that, he reminded Belshazzar about the things he had forgotten or overlooked or chosen to ignore. Because Belshazzar should have remembered and acted upon those memories. Belshazzar should have remembered how all of Nebuchadnezzar’s power was given by the Most High God. He should have remembered what happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride and his spirit hardened to God, how he lived like a beast all those years until he remembered and knew that God rules the kingdom of man.

 
But Belshazzar was not like the queen. He had disregarded it all and lifted himself up against God. “Mene, mene, tekel, and upharsin.” Therefore, God had numbered his days and brought an end to his kingdom. He was weighed in the balance and found lacking. His kingdom would be divided and given to Medes and Persians just as had been foretold by Daniel according to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. And that very night, it came to pass. What did the purple robe, gold necklace, and third place in the kingdom mean to Daniel then? Nothing. It’s all emptiness if God isn’t in the heart of it. It was the end of Belshazzar and what a sad, empty end. But it was not the end for Daniel. The new ruler, Darius, noticed something about him and, get this, made him one of the three high officials. Belshazzar’s appointment didn’t matter. But God’s appointment does.

 
I want to be able to read the writing on the wall. I want my life to be totally guided by considering You and Your ways, Lord, all the days of my life. I want people to see something different in me that causes them to seek my two cents, my counsel on things. I don’t want it because they see me, but I want them to see something that leads them to You and to Your council. I want to be like a Daniel in this world today of so many gods. I want to live in Your wisdom, and knowledge, and blessing, and presence, and counsel. If kings won’t act like kings, I will. I’m not afraid to search Your ways and Your answers out, O Lord. So teach me to understand all that You are writing on the walls and floors and sky and people around me.

For three Transgressions and for Four Cont…

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“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept His statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked.” (Amos 2:4)

It seems that this theme of following lies is rather prevalent throughout the prophets.  Now I’m also thinking, that there must be some things that all men were aware of, some truths that were just self-evident, and part of the nature of being human.  Because it’s not just Judah and Israel being judged for their transgressions.  The Pagan or Gentile nations surrounding them are also being held responsible as though they should have known better and as though they should have known the right way to treat others. 

It’s not like there is uneven playing ground here.  All men are held to the same standard and it must be that somehow all men know intrinsically.  And somehow, all these people got caught up in abundant transgressions, in abundant pesha. This word pesha is about revolt and rebellion.  It’s that kind of sin.  It’s not where someone happens to sin by mistake or without realizing it.  This is full on and deliberate.  When you revolt, when you rebel, there is no question in your mind what you are doing.  You know it and you choose it.

And that choosing happens to be where the Lord is leading today.  Because the Lord also pronounces judgment on Israel and gives a long list of wrongs that they had rebelliously committed.  And after that list of wrongs, You remind them and us what You had done, and how they had corrupted that.  In Amos 2:11 You share, “‘And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites.  Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?’ declares the LORD.”  I was wondering about those sons and young men.  At first I was wondering if the sons were always sons, or sometimes daughters.  And I wondered about the young men, too.  And I found out something interesting about Your plan and expectation and design for men and even women from asking those questions. 

The Hebrew word used for the idea of sons can sometimes mean daughter, but the Hebrew word expressed in this “young men” is bachur.  Now, in Hebrew, the way to make bachur feminine is to add an “ah” to the end.  But You won’t find that used for woman anywhere in the Tanach or Old Testament.  Instead, you find betulah.  It appears that Jewish sages of old posed a question about this.  “What is the essence of being a young man?”  A contemporary rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Lapin answers, “being on the cusp of vital choices.”  He sites Exodus 17:9 as an example, “And Moses said to Joshua choose for us men…”  It’s why men choose wives and careers and ways of serving others.  A bachur is a chooser.

Rabbi Lapin says that’s why most often it’s the man who chooses his wife, not vice versa.  He is the proactive chooser.  And it’s not that she can’t choose.  She also chooses things like careers and ways of serving others and she also chooses her husband but through acceptance or rejection.  As I think about this politically incorrect concept, it makes sense.  The young man is on the cusp on one of the most important decisions of his and her life.  At creation, God set a standard for marriage.  One standard is that it be between a man and a woman.  The other standard is that it be in His image, in the image of a holy and righteous God.  Another standard is that it be in self-sacrificial love.  The man may even actually be in the process of this simple choosing of being tested.  “Will you obey my statutes?  Will you honor me here?  Or will you rebel against the fundamental truth of the nature of the creation of man and woman?”  Here is a story about “a young man on the cusp of choosing a wife and a young woman making decisions that value herself and encourage him to choose wisely.” (Rabbi Daniel Lapin)

If that idea makes you cringe because it seems to give too much power to a man and not enough to a woman, maybe you ought to check yourself and see if you’ve bought into some lies, if you might be guilty of three transgressions or four.  It just doesn’t stop here.  Let’s go back to the beginning, to Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”  That’s zakar for the male and neqevah for the female.  The root of zakar means to be sharp pointed, and the root of neqevah means to pierce.  As a verb though, zakar means to remember.  But in Hebrew, remembering isn’t just cognitive, it means doing what you remember.  You remember and take it to heart.  “[T]his cognitive activity is personal relational activity that results in volitional choice.  It is thinking that becomes doing.” (Skip Moen)  It’s this idea expressed in Psalm 103:18, “To those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.”  Could it be that the man, yes, the man has the first responsibility to to remember who You are and to remember how You are related to mankind?  Is he the one held responsible for remembering who You are and his obligation to You?  You set everything before him. 

In the garden, Eve wasn’t present yet when you commanded the man about eating or not eating of the trees.  Eve wasn’t present when you formed every beast of the dust of the ground.  But Adam was there and I suppose he saw and You brought them to Adam to name which was a way of establishing his authority bestowed by You.  As a matter of fact, Adam was created outside the garden and You placed him there to dress it and keep it.  And even with all that, God knew that Adam was not complete, that Adam could not live up to the task on His own.  Only Adam didn’t see it until he took part in naming all the animals.  But all Adam knew was something was missing.  But You God, knew what was missing.

So you put Adam to sleep and take of his own flesh to make a woman, the partner that Adam needed to know unity like You know.  Flesh of the same flesh.  Bone of the same bone.  We are one!  We are not the same, but we are one!  Now how does man know how to handle that relationship?  He remembers his relationship with You, God, for he became a living soul from your breath, breathed into him.  He remembers how You handed over Your authority to him to keep order over chaos.  He remembers the love You have for him and how You met his innermost needs and he extends all of that to Eve as he remembers and follows suit. 

Is it such a hard thing to want the man to remember who God is, and how he is related to Him, to remember where he came from, who he serves, and whom he depends on?  Is it such a bad thing for him to have been given the responsibility of reminding us?  Is it so bad to think that “man is human in the action of bringing to mind the necessity of obedience to God and doing what is required”? (Skip Moen)    Abraham Heschel says, “to believe is to remember.”  Even the Hebrew word ish used for man in Genesis carries the essence of remembering what God said and doing it.

And isn’t that the problem we keep hearing over and over again?  Isn’t it that the men who should be remembering where they came from and who is over them, have forgotten?  And as they forget, doesn’t their relationship with their wife or their family or their fellow man break down with it?  Isn’t it that the farther man walks from God’s ways and His presence into his own thinking, that the value of others diminishes in his eyes?  Isn’t it that the farther from remembering God that we are, the closer we are to selfishness and the less we think about self-sacrifice for the good of others?

Now, none of this negates the value of Eve or the woman.  God said Adam needed her and it wasn’t good for him to be without her.  But she was God’s gift to keep him in God’s boundaries.  Adam is the rememberer who is to act upon that remembering.  Eve is the boundary keeper, being alert and discerning so that they don’t overstep God’s bounds.  Authority unchecked becomes tyranny.  God knew that.  It doesn’t happen with You God, because You have no selfish motives.  But authority can be a dangerous thing in our hands if someone doesn’t help us keep watching the boundaries of Your will.  This is God designed unity.  This is what fell apart in the garden on that day the tempter came.  Eve believed a lie that she could care for Adam and help him better by greater wisdom.  Adam chose to remember his commitment to Eve more than his commitment to the God who created him.  And we’re still stuck in that rut of thinking today, just as they were in the day of Amos.

It certainly is a far cry from creation.  It certainly looks a lot less human than what was intended.  And maybe that’s the problem.  We’ve created a lie about what humanity should look like and maybe we need to get back to seeing humanity the way You intended it.  “It is indeed conceivable that man may continue to be without being human.  One of the most frightening prospects we must face is that this earth may be populated by a race of beings which though belonging to the race homo sapiens according to biology will be devoid of the qualities by which man is spiritually distinguished from the rest of organic creatures.” (Abraham Heschel, Who is Man?)  Eve chose to believe a lie.  Adam chose to follow another.  How long will we choose to follow our fathers instead of following God?  How long will we choose to believe lies?  How much more rebellion will fill our lives? 

I don’t want to fight against You, Lord.  I want to know the truth and follow it because I know it will set me free.  And it doesn’t just set me free for a day.  It establishes my life in freedom and joy no matter the circumstances around me because in the truth of You, I can finally be fully human and fully who I was created to be.  I guess that’s what I’m looking for.  I just want to search You out until I know who You created me to be.  And being isn’t just about knowing, but about doing.  But I can’t forget that in finding out who I was created to be, You show me who I was not created to be.  And You show me who others were created to be.  So help us each to be who You created us to be in unity with You and each other.  And let us not usurp or misuse or misguide each others true humanness in You.   Let’s repent of our transgressions of being what we weren’t created to be.  Let’s not reject Your order and Your ways and Your heart.  Let’s embrace it and live it out instead.

I Can Taste the Music

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Photo credit to http://www.tastethemusic.co.uk

“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12

This is awful news.  The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold.  People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way.  They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others.  National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.

What is the example of the impending destruction that is used?  A household.  A household of 11 people.  Plague.  Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle.  And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned.  Why?  “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that?  Did the You say not to make mention of Your name?  F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it.  Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You?  I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name?  Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were?  I don’t know, but it’s a thought.

Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God, than to hear the truth about ourself?  Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up?  It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall.  You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us.  It didn’t start out bitter.  But twisted hearts twisted the taste.

I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words.  He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You.  Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled.  It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being.  It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life.  It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship.  It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You.  It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You.  It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness.  It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are.  It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship. 

Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from, to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember.  “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.”  In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing.  It is separate and distinguished.  It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful.  Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.

But everyone is given free will.  And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives.  We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things.  I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own.  I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong.  Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing. 

I love that word, tsedaqah.  It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-ness that flows from God.  It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way.  But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.

Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?”, we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?”  Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises?  Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day?  Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You.  Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building.  And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You?  Have we not taken to us power by our own strength?  Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?”  Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God.  But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.

Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us?  Why would You seem to forsake people?  Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied.  God is in exile; the world is corrupt.  The universe itself is not at home.”  If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers.  I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be.  It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness.  After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven.  Why doesn’t it happen?  Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways.  I won’t listen.  I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water.  Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it, I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.”  But who really is the foolish one?

The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits.  Oxen don’t go plowing in rock.  For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way.  It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day.  Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts  9:5)  Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today.  That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew.  It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle.  But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse.  Now think about that.  Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison.  Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us.  It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into.  And then the problem is we can’t find our way out.  We wind up trapped there. 

Is there hope?  Yes!  When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul.  We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?”  And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives.  I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord.  I will know Your will and do it.  I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it.  You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before. 

Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again.  Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them.  Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’”  Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song.  But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first.  I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever.  You are worthy, not me.  You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours.  Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me.  No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.