Sheepish Thinking

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Photo credit to http://www.beingwoven.org

 

“For thus says the Lord God; ‘Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.’” Ezekiel 34:11

Lord, I just want to see You for who You are and how You are. I mean, if I can’t look at You rightly, how can I respond to You rightly? If I think that my life is about pleasing You, doesn’t that skew my idea of me? Don’t I therefore try to make myself pleasing? And wouldn’t I think that I am more arrived at that then others around me? And then I think I would get an attitude like these shepherds who would trample on the people they should be leading because the pitiful sheep just don’t understand like I do. You know, I could judge people or just be angry with them for not getting it. It seems like that’s what would happen.

But what if my focus was on You and just all about knowing You. Would I judge less because I would realize I am under the scrutiny of the Greatest Judge? Maybe I would remember continually, “Judge not that you be not judged,” if I remembered who I was standing before. What if I was so concerned with remaining in Your presence and being accepted by You, it didn’t matter if anyone else accepted me or approved of me? Would that change my behavior? What if I was so intently focused and drawn by Your love that whether I was loved by others wouldn’t occupy my thoughts, rather, loving others regardless of their returned actions or feelings would be my response? What if being a sheep is all about knowing the shepherd? And what if I can’t be a sheep unless I am of the shepherd?

That’s a little weird, isn’t it? I mean sheep are sheep from the start, right? Well, physical sheep are.  But what about spiritual sheep? I don’t know. Maybe some sheep are really goats thinking that they’re sheep and acting like sheep and eating like sheep and hanging with the sheep but they’re not sheep at all. A sheep is a sheep. It has wool. Goats don’t have wool. The wool is shed to clothe others. Sorry, but sheep are needy and dumb. Goats aren’t. They’re pretty proud and tend to take care of themselves with finding their own food and getting around. They don’t fall on their backs and need to be turned over by a shepherd. They don’t need to be led to green pastures. Both are eaten, sometimes, but when the sheep goes to the slaughter, she goes without a sound. Somehow, I just don’t think we start out as sheep. I think, if we’re honest, we’re more like goats being goats or maybe goats acting like sheep when it suits.

But the truth is that I must know that You Lord, You alone are God. I have to get that as more than a concept in my head. I have to get that as a reality of my life, as a part of me that inhabits everything I do and think. Psalm 100:3 reminds me that You made us. You made everything, every last particle and ability that consists in my being. I didn’t do it. You created us to be Yours. That’s reality. But the lie is that we can be our own, that we can choose to be sheep or goats. But we weren’t made to be goats. We were made to be Your sheep, glorifying You by being the sheep of Your pasture.

What’s the problem then. David hits upon it in Psalm 95:7,8. “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart…” Today, this very day, and every day, and every moment, I must listen and follow Your voice, the voice of the Shepherd with all of my being. That’s what sheep do, not goats.

Maybe we’re too busy wanting to be shepherds, but I’m thinking that a shepherd in God’s flock can’t be a shepherd if he isn’t a real sheep first. How can you lead sheep if you don’t know sheep? Ezekiel 34 is beautiful. It’s all about shepherds and sheep according to God’s view. Well, it’s about shepherds not being shepherds and about the Shepherd of shepherds who was to come and has come. But here we see shepherds who were shepherding for themselves and their gain and not shepherding in God. They were busy exploiting the sheep instead of feeding the sheep. There’s lots of ways to exploit the flock if your focus isn’t on the One who created the flock. If you start to think you are in charge of the flock, well, you tend to not care so much about the sick and weak or the broken or the lost or driven away. If you care more about your image, you won’t care so much about the sheep. And if you don’t care about the sheep, well frankly, you’re not a shepherd.

Here’s the beauty of Ezekiel 34 to me. God cares about every sheep. He is angry when those who ought to be shepherding them with His same care, don’t. He cares about His sheep. He loves them. They are His. He is a God who delivers His sheep. He searches for each and every one. He seeks them out. Listen, this is God we are talking about. When earthly shepherds fail, He does not! There is no where that a sheep can be, whether he has wandered or been driven away, that God cannot find him and gather him back to Himself! He can bring us back!

Where does He bring us back? Where is this pasture? Is it heaven? No! It is Him. Some day it will be a place with Him but now it is wherever we are with Him. You will feed us continually and never exploit us. You will give us peace so we can lie down. Hear these beautiful words again to Israel and to all lost sheep outside the fold, “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.” (Ezekiel 34:16)

This just hits home so much. I understand the way that God truly seeks us out when no one else is. I think of when I was just a new believer and entered college. I didn’t mean to stray, but I had no shepherd to help me stay in the flock. I was on my own. And I followed the goats in lots of ways. I didn’t even realize I was a being a goat. But I certainly wasn’t living like a sheep. In all my four years, hardly any shepherds approached me. But God did not let me go. In my fourth year I heard His still quiet voice remind me, “This isn’t who I created you to be.” That’s what it took. That’s all. My Shepherd, seeking me out, Imagine that. Here I was, this “saved” sheep wondering off. I should have known better but I didn’t. But my real Shepherd wasn’t judging me or forgetting me or writing me off. My real Shepherd wasn’t too busy to think about me. I was on His heart. In one sense, He didn’t ever have to come to me. He doesn’t have to do anything for me. But He does and He chooses to come. This God who chooses to be my Shepherd is above anything I can imagine.

But on the other hand, I have to remember, it’s not just about me and it’s about something bigger than me. It’s about Your glory, God. It glorifies You to redeem me and to bring me back into Your fold and to wash me white as snow so that I will shine forth Your glory in You. It’s not a me thing because this little sheep is so special. It’s a God thing because You are so overwhelmingly wonderful and full of grace and love and glory and righteousness and so much more than I can ever totally fathom. Just the wonder of You thinking and acting this way is worthy of awe.

What kind of god searches for lost sheep? My God. The true God. The only God. What kind of god would send a baby to become the savior of the world? My God. Jesus came to draw back the lost sheep of Israel first, but He also came to lead back the other sheep not of that fold so they would all be of one fold. He is a God who looks at the multitudes and is moved with compassion on them because they are scattered and have no real shepherd. (Matthew 9:3, Mark 6:34) He is the kind of God who would search out one, just that one sheep who needs to be found, like me, or like you wherever you are. And then He’s the kind of God who will rejoice over you.

But I have to respond. Am I listening to my Shepherd’s voice? Do I hear and follow and obey? Am I letting him lead me or am I choosing my own way like a goat? Am I dependent upon Him? Am I spending so much time in His presence that I know His voice? There may be great shepherds of the church around me, great mentors who love me, but are my ears and heart tuned in most closely to my lead Shepherd’s voice and will? After all, Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep… I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep…I am the good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Whose voice am I listening to? Do I know Your voice above all the rest? Whose voice am I following? Am I following You? If I am following You, am I truly feeding Your sheep as You would feed Your sheep? How am I caring for them? Like You? I suppose, the extent to which I care for others will display the extent to which I understand Your shepherding of me. May I fully live in the power and care of Your shepherding presence so that I may extend that power and care to others. May Your fold grow and grow as we journey out together to those who have been scattered like I was. I want them to know that they are not alone and they are not forgotten. I want to share the heart of the Shepherd for them.  I want every sheep to know that if they’ve fallen on their back and can’t get up, Jesus is here to set them on their feet better than before.

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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.

An Apetite for Beauty

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Photo credit to WWW.THEENTERPRISINGKITCHEN.ORG/

 

“…I am of perfect beauty.” Ezekiel 27:3

 
You walked into the party
/ Like you were walking on a yacht
/ Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
/ Your scarf, it was apricot
/ You had one eye on the mirror
/ And watched yourself gavotte
/ And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner
/ They’d be your partner, and/ You’re so vain
/ You probably think this song is about you/ 
You’re so vain,
I’ll bet you think this song is about you/ 
Don’t you?
Don’t you? (Lyrics by Carly Simon)
I think of these words and Tyre’s thoughts of herself, “I am of perfect beauty,” and I start to think, “Well, what’s the problem with beauty?” But I won’t just reason it out in my own head. I want to look at it through the eyes of Scripture and see it Your way, God. I mean, who doesn’t want to be beautiful? Who doesn’t love to look at beautiful things? Isn’t that why we get excited about sunrises and mountain views and Grand Canyons and art and music and so much more? Is that bad? No, absolutely not. I know beauty in itself is not bad because You created beauty. But there is something about beauty that can become it’s own antithesis. And that happens when we forget where our beauty originates.

 
Here was Tyre, this powerful, lucrative, sea port. They were strong. They had all kinds of nations working with them. They had knowledge and wisdom. There builders were phenomenal. They had access to the finest wood and craftsmen. Their ships were to rave about. They received the finest goods in trade from Egypt and the isles of Elisha. Wise mariners were their pilots from Zidon and Arvad. Even their caulkers were wise men. They had armies. They guarded their walls and were upon the ships. Their many merchants brought in items like silver, iron, tin, lead, slaves, brass, horses, horsemen, mules, horns of ivory and ebony, emeralds, purple, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, agate, wheat, honey, oil, balm, wine, white wool, cassia, calamus, chariots, lambs, rams, goats, spices, precious stones, gold, blue clothes, and chests of rich apparel. Imagine the sight of this city!  Imagine it’s pride and the pride others bestowed upon it! And imagine the beauty that God blessed Tyre with, becoming the beauty that Tyre believed she had attained through all her own works. Imagine Tyre never even acknowledging God as her bestower of beauty. Imagine the glory of Tyre as Tyre revels in itself with no thought of God who is the Giver and Bestower of beauty. Imagine that which was made beautiful thinking it made itself that way.

 
I wanted to think on these things this morning, so I searched out Your word about beauty. I found Psalm 50:2 which states, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.” And I think, really? Is Zion so beautiful now? Is it what we think of as beauty? And I wonder if we can take what God intends for beauty and strip it of it’s beauty in how we handle it? I have no doubt that Zion was created to reflect God’s beauty in perfection. And I have no doubt that it is still retaining a faint reflection right now. And I have even more confidence that God will reinstitute the beauty of Zion as He changes men’s hearts and returns His image of beauty to Zion in Christ who is perfect beauty in God. But, for a while, Zion is Tyre, who took their God-given beauty and twisted it into some form of their own, which totally distorted things.

 
Now, when I read Scripture, I think that God wants us to think about it all. That it’s not just parts for women and parts for men, but it applies to all mankind. I mean, after all, Paul said when we’ve put on Christ that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:28,29) So I’m not going to write off something as only for men or only for women because a woman or man was being addressed. I hope the reader won’t either. Because in God’s word, what’s good for the goose is so good for the gander too.

 
So in Proverbs 31:30 we have, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” The truth is that Solomon was sharing wisdom with his son. Do you know, that if he was sharing this with his daughter, it would apply just as much and God probably would have led him to say, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a man who fears the Lord, he shall be praised.” And maybe he would have chosen some different masculine words, but the truth would have been the same because charm and becoming full on one’s own beauty isn’t just a female problem. And You don’t just praise the woman who knows where her beauty comes from. You praise the man who acknowledges You as His beauty.

 
But the problem begins when the Jew or the Greek, or the slave or the free, or the male or the female twist the source of their beauty. Then, instead of being a sweet perfume to God and those around us, “there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.” (Isaiah 3:24) The sad news is the beauty is not ours to own outside of and separate from God. It will corrupt us. It will bring us to the point of facing judgment for stealing that which was not ours. We’ll be brought down from our self-appointed high place where we’ve built our tower above God because the truth is, we aren’t God. God will always be the Beauty of beauties. God will always be God. And one day, if we don’t choose to humble ourselves before You on our own, You will need to humble us. I mean compared to You we might as well start lamenting, “Is this the city of which they said, ‘The perfection of beauty , a joy to all the earth?’” (Lamentations 2:15) “How can this be a joy to all the earth? They only care about themselves. They destroy others for their own gain. They ignore God.” But God is God and will be God because He can’t be other than who He is. Only, we try to be other than who we are. What a sad pretense.

 
This is an old, old story. It’s actually much older than the story of Zion or of Tyre and definitely so much older than you or me. Ezekiel brings up this issue of beauty frequently. See, we can start trusting in our beauty instead of trusting in the Giver of our beauty. That’s dangerous. That’s when we start building our own high places and deciding our own version of right and wrong and following whoever or whatever tickles our fancy. But I digress.

 
If we jump ahead to Ezekiel 28 we find God equating Tyre with someone else. All of a sudden, as God is talking of Tyre, He begins relating the story and sin of Satan. Think- king of Tyre= Satan. “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” Notice that God had created Satan (Lucifer) and established him with everything he was supposed to be, full of wisdom and beauty to the point of perfection. But that was not enough for Lucifer. God continues, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you.” Beauty devoid of God failed for Lucifer. It failed for Tyre and for Zion. And it will fail for me.

 
Let’s just think about this a little more. I’m even wondering how Jesus would compare to the sight of Lucifer. After all Isaiah 53:2 tells us “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Wait, are you telling me that Jesus is not beautiful? I find that hard to believe because I’m pretty sure that God is beauty, pure and unadulterated. But I do think that in His beauty, Jesus didn’t attract attention for His own glory, for His own beauty, for looking at Him but that what shone forth and was shone forth by Christ was the glory and beauty of the Father. And unless we’re looking for that, we won’t see it and we won’t desire Him.

 
But Lucifer was all about his own glory and being noticed for himself. So when we have our hearts set on being noticed and made more of or commended or patted on the back, we notice “people” like Lucifer. we see him, and we’re attracted to him, and we desire him because that’s what we want for us. I guess that’s what the expression, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” means. What we value is what we consider beautiful. But beauty isn’t up to our consideration. Beauty is God. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anything else is a dead imitation.

 
I need to learn to say, “You, Lord, are perfect in beauty!” Lucifer has no concept of love or grace because even in his high position and close proximity to God he was totally warped in his perception of God and dragged down many others with him. I mean, I wonder how he could be right there in the presence of God and not get it? But I guess, whether we’re angels or men and women, boys and girls, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, it all depends on what we want to see and what we’re really looking for.

 
I’m so glad that Jesus, being God, still chose to shine forth God’s glory and not His own, even though he had it to flaunt it. But flaunting wasn’t important to Him. Showing us the way to God was. Showing us where true beauty lies was. Showing us the beauty of love and grace and obedience and sacrifice was. Beauty, in and of itself, will lead us away from God like Lucifer led so many other angels. But the beauty of God in Christ Jesus, who for the glory of God and our salvation sacrificed Himself on the cross, gave up His own beauty for God first and for our well-being second, has been shed abroad for us. This is love. This is beauty.

 
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” ( 1 Peter 3:4) Sorry, but I’m pretty sure that Lucifer would have done well to have understood this truth, and that Tyre and Zion would have done well too. Our beauty, no matter who we are, married-unmarried, male-female, child-adult ought to be the outflow of Christ in us. That’s the inner man. Because without Him in us, without some way for God to flow out of us, we’re heading for our own downfall and the downfall of all those that follow us. There is only one thing that is not corruptible, that will never perish, and that is God and life in Him through Christ. Unless He’s our ornament and our beauty, we have no beauty that counts. And if we have His beauty emanating from us like it does from Jesus, well, then we’ll have a quiet and meek spirit just like Jesus’. Get it? Our life will shine forth with the beauty of Jesus. And then others will follow Him in God’s beauty.

 
C.S. Lewis said, “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves.” But the truth is God has invited us into the unity of His beauty from the very beginning. Dostoevsky’s prince in The Idiot stated, “Beauty will save the world.” “The appetite for beauty comes inscribed into every soul and it is a very large appetite. ‘By nature men desire the beautiful,’ says St. Basil the Great (circa 379 A.D.)-and I might stress that they desire it immensely.” (Andrew Cuneo) Beauty is a God-given appetite but our appetite was designed to be after God’s beauty and to let it adorn us. Think about it, if we want to be united with beauty so much, why not enter into the Maker’s beauty? Why would I want it on my own?

 
Lord, I totally get what C.S. Lewis said. More than anything I know my heart longs to be united with beauty. But sometimes I run to the short-cut or I grab for it now and I settle for less. I don’t want to settle for less because less is just emptiness and air and nymphs and elves. I want to be united in the Real Deal. I want to know real Beauty from the Source, and that’s You and only You. Lord, I want You to be my perfect beauty. May I cast off all that’s of me and let You clothe me in all that is You. I want You to look at me, like in the beginning of creation and say that I’m good, because then I’ll know that You’ve made me beautiful in You according to Your standards.

Ditching the Attitude

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“‘Son of man, because that Tyre has said against Jerusalem: ‘Aha, she is broken that was the gate of the peoples; she is turned unto me; I shall be filled with her that is laid waste…’” Ezekiel 26:2

 
Attitude matters. Promises are for real. Relationship counts. Integrity is more important than success. Loving our neighbors isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command.

 
Today, Ezekiel, that prophet of the Lord, brings up the strong city of Tyre. Tyre was a famous island city with a portion on the mainland. It’s king and his son covenanted with David and Solomon. That’s where the cedars of Lebanon came from. It was an important sea town and relied on Jerusalem for food. The men of Jerusalem and the men of Tyre ventured out together on sea trade. There was a relationship. It happened to be mutually beneficial.

 
Sometimes the king of Tyre acknowledged Jerusalem’s God. But they never left their own gods. As a matter of fact, at one point in history, the king switched over from temple worship of Baal and Asherah to Melqart who was more politically oriented and included the people more. They were very proud of their city and of their god and of their wealth. How hard was it to acknowledge another god if he helped them in their image? Only I guess they didn’t really realize who they were dealing with and that he wasn’t just some god, but God. And I guess they didn’t realize that there was more to life than self-exaltation, that our alliances are not just for our own benefit. Life is much bigger than us and our plans.

 
It’s so easy to be like Tyre and to think we’ve got it all together. It’s easy to be happy with other people when they help us obtain our desires, but it’s hard when they succeed more than us. It’s easy to become a friend, but it takes work and humility to stay a friend. It’s easy to lose sight of the real deal in the midst of it all and throw away the thing that was the real reason for our success.

 
The truth is that God has a purpose. It’s for You, God, to be glorified. You draw people to You to do that. Israel was Your very own people, born and raised for that purpose. And in that purpose, they would draw others to You, others like Tyre and Sidon, if they would come. I can’t help but think about that phrase in verse two that says of Jerusalem, the one that was “the gate of the peoples.” I can’t help but think that the phrase refers to more than a city of prosperity and trade but that Jerusalem was this source of light to others who came to her and got to know You, like the Queen of Sheba. I can’t help thinking about the magi that searched out the baby king of Jerusalem. This was a special city and a special people to God. This was Your own. This was Your chosen. Jerusalem was Your bride, Your light to the gentiles. And Tyre was more than a friend. Tyre was in covenant with Israel. That’s strong stuff. It’s supposed to be unbreakable.

 
Tyre’s life was wrapped up with Israel. By covenant they were bound together historically and as far as welfare goes. Understand that a covenant was an indissoluble commitment. Listen to what God’s word says in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, When He separated the children of men, He set bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel, for Jehovah’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.” But does Tyre want to hear or remember that? Does any other nation want to hear that Israel is chosen of God? I mean, who really wants to be humble? Who doesn’t want to be noticed and commended and famous and strong and powerful and beautiful and the best?

 
I suppose it is painful to think that someone else is the center of our universe and that everything revolves around them. That’s how it is with Israel. But it wasn’t like Israel said, “Hey, God, pick me because I’m the best and the most worthy!” Remember how God chose Israel? There was this man name Abram who listened to God and just followed Him even though all the people around him didn’t. That’s the credit Israel gets for being God’s bride. That’s the credit any of us get. We listen and we obey and we follow and we cling to a real and living God. And this is God’s design. This is the picture and the way that You want us to follow. This is what You wanted Tyre to see and do.

 
But they didn’t like the attention that Jerusalem got. Maybe they didn’t like Israel’s attitude. That could be, because she might have gotten a little puffed up in herself. But she was still Your bride. She was still and still is today “the hub of the nations and all things revolve around this people of destiny.” (David Cooper) God chose Israel for a reason and purpose. Don’t forget to look back at how it first happened because that’s the example of where faith begins.

 
Bu the story of Tyre is about something other than faith. Tyre didn’t choose to follow their brother in faith. Tyre didn’t choose to follow God. Tyre chose jealousy of their brother in covenant. Tyre chose to gloat over the calamity that befell their covenantal partner. Being that their animosity was toward Israel, that makes it anti-Semitism. And the problem with that is that it’s going against God. It’s like telling God, “You’re wrong in Your choice. I don’t agree with You.”

 
So, this nation Tyre, who should have been on Israel’s side, rejoiced about their downfall. “Hey, this is great! Now our opportunities will open wide. More riches for us. I get what was coming to her now. Thank goodness she’s laid waste so I can get it all!” And if the thought wasn’t bad enough, I’m pretty sure there was rejoicing over her downfall that went with it. That sad thing is that hate can well up out of jealousy. We can feel stiffed or slighted because we aren’t doing as well as someone else, even as a friend, and we can become jealous and bitter and gloating just like Tyre. Isn’t it sad when we would wish ill on someone else just for the benefit of goodness for ourselves?

 
But God cares about how we treat His bride and how we treat His people because He loves them. And another truth is that He is such a sympathetic God that He invites others into that relationship with Him and His people. He had invited Tyre in to that relationship, but it wasn’t the relationship they wanted most. They gave up on their sympathy toward others, for wealth and fame. And in doing so they brought on their own downfall.

 
Attitude matters. Integrity matters. Compassion matters. Love matters. And most of all, God’s will matters above all. Why? Because there is a Judge who has set the standard. And it’s not about being strong or wealthy or noticed or significant or whatever. It’s about listening and hearing and obeying and following and belonging and being Yours. Israel is represented in Abram. That’s how any of us come to God, just like Him.
Jesus came because God knew we would have trouble getting it. Jesus came for the Jew first. Oh, now I’m jealous, just like Tyre. But so what if Jesus came for the Jew first? Wouldn’t you want to rescue your own child first? But first doesn’t mean only. He’s reaching out for anyone else who wants to listen and come and follow and be His. I’d rescue my own child but I’d also rescue as many other children as would let me. And then, once rescued they could become my own. That’s how adoption works. It makes me a whole child that belongs wholly. Why would I need to be jealous? We are brothers and sisters together. We have the same Father.

 
I don’t want to be guilty of anti-Semitism or jealousy or hatred against Israel. I love Israel. Israel is my heritage in the Lord. Jesus came out of Israel. Abram is a spiritual father to me and example. They were my first light. I owe so much to them. Why should I be jealous or angry? God called them so I could hear Him calling me.

 
And what about someone who might be prospering in some way around me? Am I going to resent them because of their prosperity and my lack of prosperity? I hope not. Maybe I can just keep loving them and being faithful to them and their prosperity will bless my life, not because I’m using their prosperity but because I care about them more. Being less can hurt, but judgment hurts way more. And learning how to be less and be content and make more of others is the beginning to knowing God. After all, Jesus became a man so He could make much of God and something of us so that by becoming less, we can make much of God and something of others. I pray that I learn from Tyre to ditch the attitude and cling to gratitude instead.

Let’s Get Over Ourselves

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Photo credit to theknot.

 

“…Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel…” Ezekiel 25:6

 
This chapter in Ezekiel really resonates in my life today. Here God was filling Ezekiel in on judgment of seven nations: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistine, Tyre, Zidon, and Egypt. And each one was pretty much guilty in one of the same ways—contempt. God starts with Ammon who was guilty of “despite against the land of Israel.” That means they treated it despitefully, pushed her aside with contempt. Moab and Seir called the people heathen, like animals or a flock of locusts. Edom despised them as a people also. They were just filled with vengeance, and revenge, and offense toward them. Philistia added to that hatred. Now I’m not saying that the other nations weren’t guilty of hatred. I’m just saying to think about these character markers of these nations that God condemned for their actions. And maybe think about our very own nation and how we respond to one another and others.

 
Here’s part of the bad thing. John Gill shares that the clapping of hands and stamping of feet were gestures that showed joy and gladness. He goes on to say, “they had a secret joy in their heart, which they expressed by gestures, in the most spiteful and scornful manner they were capable of; which showed the wretched malignity of their dispositions against the children of Israel; they hated them with a perfect hatred.” Now, stop a minute. It’s one thing to disagree with a person or to even dislike them. But it’s a whole other ballpark to hate a person and to despise them, to see them not as people any more but as animals and locusts. That is the saddest state of affairs.

 
Here’s the problem, we’re all people. We’re all people of one nation or another. And people of any nation can choose for themselves who and what they will serve. But the truth is, every one of us belongs to this One God who created us, whether we believe it or deny it. Truth does exist and it exists in the Ever-Existent One. By nature of how we were created and Who created us, we each, individually, and as nations, have a divine purpose. We each, individually, and as nations, are given the opportunity to choose to live in and fulfill this purpose in God or reject it. The choice is ours. But, then again, so are the consequences. And here they are, being layed out in Ezekiel for those who would have none of God.

 
But just so one can know that I’m not just pointing fingers at “pagan” nations, let’s look at Israel herself. Why would God judge her, His own daughter? Let’s go back a little earlier in Ezekiel 22:6-10. “Behold the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood.  Father and mother are treated with contempt in you,; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and widowed are wronged in you.  You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.  There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst.  In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual purity.” Here’s that despising going on again, that counting others as of little worth. You know, it really matters. It doesn’t matter who is doing the despising if the despising is being done. This treating others as though they have no worth is against God, it’s against creation, it’s against humanity. And I don’t give a hoot if a Republican, or Democrat, or Millenial, or American, or Asian, or German, or White, or Black, or Fuchsia, or LGBT, or Heterosexual, or Alien, or National is guilty of it toward another, they are guilty. And this is a bad kind of guilty, folks! And it’s gonna be our destruction if we can’t see it in ourselves and eradicate it in our own hearts if it’s there.

 
Regular people get caught up in this, not just nations and political affiliations. David despised the Lord, Uriah, and Bathsheba when he committed adultery. He didn’t give a hoot at the moment about the community of Israel or the fear of the Lord because of his feelings about what he wanted. What about Esau? He’s remembered by God and man as despising his birthright. Poor Esau? Really? He kept throwing it away like it was trash, and worth less than a bowl of stew! Michal thought less of David for his religious zeal.
We can get so caught up in ourselves, we loose sight that we belong to God. And when we lose sight of belonging to God, it’s indicated in our lives, just like in the city, when she forgot her purpose. Holy things of God become of no worth. They’re done away with. In Israel’s day it was the festivals, Temple implements, the Levitical priesthood, the rituals, God’s Sabbath. They become unnecessary, burdens, worthless to fulfilling our desires because life now has become about us and not about God. And everyone has to feel my way. If prayer is useless to me, it can’t be useful to anyone else. Remove it. If listening to God’s word is useless to me, it can’t be useful to anyone else. Remove it. I can’t ask you to have someone else bake your cake or do your flower arrangement even though I want to value God’s value and purpose. And I still value you even though you don’t agree with me. That’s why I politely declined and shared why I couldn’t be the one to make your cake. But someone else can. I didn’t persecute you, I just said, “No, I can’t do that because even though you are valuable to me, my God’s ways are even more valuable.”

 
In reality, this whole thinking is idolatry. It’s valuing my desire over God’s. It’s so easy to do it though. I can find reasons for rewriting all of Scripture if I want. But there is just something about worshipping God’s way. And it’s so hard in today’s world. But obviously, it wasn’t easy in Biblical times either. God is God or I am god, it’s one or the other. It’s His Sabbath or it’s mine. He either determines the times and seasons and their sanctity, or I’m busy making up my own calendar and my own world and disengage from God. Then I say, “Look at me. This is what was always intended.”

 
I think about the verse about Jesus in Isaiah 53:3. “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” We think of that part of Jesus being despised as being looked on with contempt and as worthless and pushed aside. And maybe that’s true. But there’s this older Isaiah scroll found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Lancaster and Monson who did extensive study on the Masoretic older text shares that it portrays the servant as “unremarkable and ignored (disregarded).” In other words, the suffering servant “gave no evidence of exulted status.” Skip Moen says, “Moreover, to those who knew him he was chadal shim, ‘lacking the importance of me.’” No wonder the community of Israel didn’t give him a thought.

 

It doesn’t stop there. Lancaster and Monson believe the phrase “like one from whom men hide their face” should be translated “as one concealing his face.” “The point is that the Servant disguised his true identity, not that people turned away from him.” (Skip Moen) And doesn’t that make sense when we look at Paul’s writings? It wasn’t like God put a crown on his head for everyone to see. Even Jesus said of Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven.” Maybe, just maybe everyone isn’t as obstinate as we think when it comes to denying God. Maybe our eyes had to be opened. Maybe we had to have a reason to look for Him. What if we can just be so content with our own truth we don’t even want to look for the real deal? And what if the Servant keeps His true identity secret until someone starts diligently seeking Him and the truth?

 

But what does this have to do with seeing others as worthless? Maybe it matters if I look at Jesus’ extreme example, of God’s glory and His love and faithfulness to us. In Philippians 2:3, Paul shares, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” We just saw God’s thinking. Here’s Jesus, who didn’t take being equal to God as something to wear like a robe. Here was God, who humbled Himself so that He looked and was just like everyone else around Him. Only He wasn’t really. He was still God. But God can only be perceived and experience spiritually.

 

Humility. Christ set the example. We really hate it, humility that is. It’s engraved in Greek thinking as deplorable. Aristotle, who most non-Jewish believers were later influenced by, declared “whatever prevents the development of virtue makes a person humble.” In other words, humility works against our being better people. To be someone, throw out humility. Can you see that in the world today? But that’s not what the Gospel shows. We can turn the world upside down through humility. We can turn the world upside down by becoming “servants, slaves, and lowly of heart.”

 

Do you want to see the truth of where despising people and despising God takes us? Listen to his part of Ezekiel 22:8-10 again. “You have despised My holy things and profaned My sabbaths. Slanderous men have been in you for the purpose of shedding blood, and in you they have eaten at the mountain shrines. In your midst they have committed acts of lewdness. In you they have uncovered their fathers’ nakedness; in you they have humbled her who was unclean in her menstrual impurity.” And we say, “Really, what difference does menstrual impurity mean anyway? Legalism!” That’s not what this is about. This is about sexual mores in society. It’s about how God purposed for us to be treated and to treat others versus our version of what we and others deserve. If you want to know where a country’s heart or a person’s heart lies, check out it’s sexual mores. Sex was established as part of a covenant relationship. Our sexual conduct tells a lot about that relationship or lack thereof.

 
When a society becomes so wrapped up in sex, everything else becomes unimportant. Education, health, public works, prosperity, politics, all fall to the wayside. Who is concerned about stopping terrorism when sex is the focus? Who is concerned with worldwide persecution of girls and women when sex is the focus? Who cares about right and wrong if sex has become the focus?

 
Stop and think about what God is sharing with Ezekiel. Is it important when men commit incest with mothers? That’s what “uncovering your father’s nakedness” really means. We’re not talking about genitals being exposed here. It’s an idiom about a guy having sex with his father’s wife. Hey, that was a capital offense in Leviticus. Now, so what if a guy has sex with a woman during her menstrual period? It’s not about that. It’s about humbling someone else, meaning NONCONSENSUAL SEX. Um, that means RAPE. Forced. Like, she didn’t want to disobey the law but he didn’t give a hoot, because he wanted it right then.

 
Is it really so hard to refrain for a time? It’s like a fast. When did sex become more valuable than obeying God? I mean, you can’t wait seven days? Are you gonna die? Really? You don’t have that much self control or respect for God or even for her? I guess not if sex is the food you hunger after instead of panting after God like a deer for water.
Let’s not be blind. Israel was also guilty of adultery with the neighbor’s wife, sexual lewdness toward their daughters-in-law, and incest with their sisters. (Skip Moen) Do you see an interwoven theme of violence? Can you pick up on the sexual aggression. Do you see the same thing happening around us today. “I demand ecstasy. Who needs honor, respect, and love?” Let’s open our eyes. Let’s look at our own hearts. Let’s stop pointing fingers and change our hearts and humble ourselves and be world changers.

 
Despising God and despising others is a dangerous place to be. Maybe it’s time to humble ourselves and live like we love others or else we’ll go the same way as all these nations. Don’t think we’re not close. Listen to these statistics shared by Skip, “In America there is a sexual assault of some type every two minutes. 44% of the victims are under the age of 18. 29% of these victims were under 11. 27% of these victims were raped by a family member. One out of six women in America has been the victim of rape or attempted rape…But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Internet pornography allows fantasy sexual aggression without criminal repercussions. The statistics are hard to pin down, but this much seems clear. One porn site had 100 million page views per day. Another site reported 4.46 billion page views from 350 million unique visitors. And there are no limits on sexual behavior via the internet. Ezekiel’s indictment of Jerusalem pales in comparison.”

 
Can I really go blissfully along my way. When I see people kicking and hurting others because of who they voted for, can I not do anything? When I see people so afraid they’re going to be persecuted when it’s not even happened yet, crying in safe zones on college campuses, I’m thinking, maybe it’s because you despised people so much now you’re afraid they’re going to despise you as greatly as what was in your own heart. It doesn’t have to be. There will always be people who know God and know what it is to value another person despite what they believe and there will always be a God, who sent His Son, to be the Savior and Lord, of all who really want to personally know and experience the truth. There is love just waiting to be seen and experienced. Let’s get over ourselves, and humble ourselves before God and others.

You Can’t Fake God Culture

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

 

“And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’” Ezekiel 20:7

So here come the elders to “inquire of the Lord” by coming before Ezekiel. They sit down with him to “seek” God. It’s this Hebrew word darash. It means “to search,” “to seek,” “to examine,” and “to investigate.” God says, in Jeremiah 29:13-14, “And you shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found of you…” And that is great news. But something is not right here.

What’s not right? The elders have come to inquire, but God “will not be inquired of” by them. Didn’t You say that if people would seek You, they would find You? But how can they find You if You don’t let them seek You? Or was something missing here? Does everyone who looks, find? Or is there something about our looking that determines the fruitfulness of our finding?

You actually established a condition in Jeremiah. Let me flip flop it. When you shall search for Me with all your heart, then you shall seek Me, and find Me, and I will be found of you…Were these elders searching for You with all their heart? Remember, heart or lebab, isn’t just that mushy-feely thing that pumps blood and oozes out emotions. In Hebrew thinking it’s that part of us that feels, thinks, and wills. Therefore it’s the determiner of our actions and the truth of our actions. God knows our hearts, those desperately wicked things that we think are so clean and tidy, that we sit before Ezekiel like we’re all that, seeking God’s interests, when our lives have been anything but about God. And the truth is that God won’t let us fake our seeking Him.

God knows what is in our hearts and on our minds and the way our will is leaning, whether towards His will or not. He sees the secret rebellion that others may miss. He knows what our eyes are focused on, where our heart’s allegiance lies, how truly dirty we’ve made ourselves, and what we really worship. That’s why He alone can say, “Cast away every one of you the abominations of your eyes, and stop defiling yourselves with all these idols around you. I am the Lord your God. It’s Me. Know Me. Acknowledge Me. Stop faking it.”

See, the eye is from the Hebrew word ayin. It’s thought of as a fountain, a fountain that can flow with life or death. We can choose to have or be an evil eye or a good eye. I can be stingy or giving. I can be evil or good. I can choose my own way or God’s. That’s a dangerous thing if we choose wrongly. You would think the choice would be easy. I mean, who wouldn’t choose generosity, or goodness, or God, right? Well, obviously not the elders and obviously not me all the time either.

Do I think I don’t need this warning? Do I not have to be careful of the abominations of my own eyes? What things that are shiqquts- disgusting and filthy and idolatrous to You Lord, am I focusing my attention on? Oh, I’m not looking at bad stuff. I don’t do pornographic stuff. Well that’s good. But what I see about God and what I see God doing, do I really see and understand and obey? Because that’s a part of Hebrew seeing. A good eye is one that sees and acts appropriately on what they see. It’s the spiritual light of God flowing through our lives. Is it? Or is darkness flowing from me instead? Am I relying on my own strength or am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to allow me to see and understand and know and act upon what I behold of the radiance of Your presence? Or do I just sit before You with my inquiries designed after my own desires and plans? There’s a big difference.

It’s so easy to place the blame on God. But these elders had eyes to see. Their hearts led them to choose their paths. It was a matter of will, only it wasn’t truly Your will they were seeking. Their hearts weren’t panting after You like the deer pants for water. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t surrendered to You in the first place. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t devoted to the ways of the Beneficial One. They didn’t want to pay the price to be wholly Yours. They had things they didn’t want to let go of. They chose to hold them closer than You.

It’s a lack of humility.  It’s thinking that I can tell You, God, my Creator, what to do. It’s loosing touch with reality.  It’s coming to You like it’s our little pow-wow time and I’m Your equal. Well, I’m not. In all reality, I need You, I desperately need You. I need You because it’s so easy for my good eye to be taken over by my evil eye and for me to become a slave to sin instead of to You and get caught up in the evil impulse without even realizing it. Rashi said, “The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body: they lead a person to transgress; the eyes see, the heart covets, and the body transgresses.” Yes, even I need to be wary of the abominations, the detestable things of my own eyes.

So, now that I see that, do I really understand Your desire? Just a little earlier in Ezekiel 20 You let them know how they had fallen. You remind them and us of Leviticus 18:26, “But you shall keep My statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” This is not some new idea here. You warned against this antithesis to Your worship, this disgustingness that we could fill our lives with, this rebellion against You and our created purpose. What didn’t the Israelites understand? What didn’t they see? What don’t I see? Do I not understand what an abomination is? Do I not understand what idolatry is? What about them? What excuse do any of us have to not see and know and understand?

This is bad stuff. I better get it or it will be the ruin and death of me and those around me. Let’s look more at God’s words to Ezekiel. “But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they didn’t walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned…because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols…I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey My rules, and keep My Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” Later God says the problem was “their eyes were after their fathers idols.” See, their eyes weren’t really on God. Where are mine really? Let’s stop and think about whether they really had a right after all this, to come and sit before God and ask Him what they wanted? Really? Because in verse 31, this is how they were busy living their lives: “For when you offer your gifts, when you make your sons to pass through the fire, you pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.” Come on, can I really run around and offer my children as burnt sacrifices before Molech and then come sit down before You? Who am I kidding? Where is my heart? It’s where my actions and thoughts are.

Now, don’t give me that lousy excuse that God’s rules and regulations are too hard and too many. Because the word for rules here is mishpat. And it’s not about something that governs our conduct. It’s not some enforceable measure over our behavior. It’s not something I do because some authority, God in this instance, makes me do it or else. God’s rules are about “exemplars.” This is the way that people live who are a part of God, a part of His culture. It’s why I can expect certain things of my Filipino friends, because their culture is so deep and important to them. Do you think someone has to make them be or act Filipino? Are you kidding me? They are so proud to be Filipino because of the beauty of their culture. Who has to force them to be Filipino, to be who they are? Are you really going to tell me, that if I realize who I am in Christ, God will have to force me to act like His? You have to be kidding!

Mishpat or rules here aren’t about morality. It’s about the character of God and life of God in Christ in us. Remember, God said, “As I live…” He is alive and His character and all that He is and does lives on and He designed it to live on in and through us, His created masterpieces. If I am in the culture of God, I act like God. If am in the culture of Christ, I act like Christ because I am His. His values become my values. What He embraces, I embrace. His behavior becomes my behavior. My life demonstrates my values. My God does not have to regulate my behavior if I value Him.

But abominations are those things that are offensive to the culture. I mean, if you are outside the culture, it won’t look offensive to you, but if you’re inside the culture it will. See, God defines our culture in Him. It’s His culture first. And He determines what is an abomination within His culture and community. If we can’t see that, our own choices will punish us and we’ll condemn ourselves.

Just look around us in the culture of this world. It’s so different than God’s culture. God asks again, through Jeremiah, “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say ‘We are delivered!’- only to go on doing all these abominations?” Maybe we need to be careful of what we’re trusting in. Maybe there are more of us trusting in words instead of trusting in God. Maybe there are more of us who need to come to God on Your terms instead of on ours or the worlds and maybe then, once we start searching for the truth in You with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, and will, we’ll finally really find You and be found by You. Maybe it’s time to want Your culture no matter the cost so that we can really find You. Because there is no deliverance and no salvation in anyone else or anywhere else. Outside of Your culture, outside of You it’s all empty words with no meat. Salvation is a “dynamic relation” (Skip Moen) and if I haven’t got that dynamic relation that’s lived out in You overflowing culture through me, I haven’t got anything at all.

Chaos or God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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