Oh, To Be Greatly Beloved

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“At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I am come to declare it; for you are greatly beloved; therefore look into the word, and understand the vision.” (Daniel 9:23)

 
Can you imagine God sending Gabriel, an angel who stands before Him waiting for His command, coming to you and telling you that God has heard your prayers and made a declaration according to them and, to top it all off, that you are greatly beloved? Now I’m going to leave arguments over the prophesy to others today. But I want to examine Daniel’s heart. I want to see what it is that causes God to delight in someone like that.

 

Why? Because I want to be that kind of a person. I want God to experience shear delight in me. Isn’t that what we were created for? Isn’t that part and parcel with glorifying God?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts off by asking this question, “What is the chief end of man?” And then it answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Where did they get this from? Well, you can read Psalm 86, Isaiah 60:21, Romans 11:36, and 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 10:31 to see. But don’t forget to look at the clincher in Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” Am I bringing God pleasure with my life? Am I fulfilling my God-given purpose on this earth? Or have I given myself some other foreign purpose? And if I have adopted some foreign purpose for my life, is that really even living at all?

 
I can’t help but think how fully alive Daniel was. He’s lived through at least two kingdoms being overthrown, probably the death of his parents or at least total separation from them and another nation trying to wipe away his identity. But how does he respond? He holds on to his identity, but not with bitterness, and clings to You God and Your ways in a nation where it was anything but easy. But it’s as though he were living for You and living to please You in all he was. He wouldn’t eat what would be unpleasing to You. He wasn’t rude to those around him or why would they find favor in him? Was that a typical Jewish response to Gentiles and overthrowers? That was a God response in a young man or boy who cherished You.

 
He didn’t stop there. As a man, he not only wanted to save his life and that of his Jewish brothers, but cared for the lives of the other “wise” men and trusted You for the interpretation of the king’s dream. But he was not self-confident. He asked his brothers to pray and fast and did likewise because His confidence was in You, the One he delighted in. Even fear of the king’s anger at the outcome of a dream did not hold him back from sharing Your truth.

 
How boldly he stood before Belshazzar when summoned, probably in his 70’s and yet he had not forgotten all that You had done before. He held Belshazzar accountable before You and the people for not remembering and being moved to action by what he knew about You. He was so delighted in You that he cared nothing for the rewards offered by the king.

 
On the other hand, You were so delighted in Daniel that when the kingdom was overthrown, You gave those rewards and more to Daniel anyway. Because of You and his love and honor of You in everything, Daniel’s character stood out in every reign and he was continually chosen as a leader and advisor even to the kings. Which brings me back to this saying, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

 
I can’t help bringing up this verse again and again. What does it mean, especially in context today? I mean, God, You are continually concealing things and giving us, like Daniel and the kings, things we need to search out but that You know the answer to. And maybe that’s the point. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. You carry the weight of knowing everything and when is the right time to reveal it and who are the right people to reveal it to lest it be like pearls trampled by the swine. But is it really only for kings to search it out? Or do we receive the honor of a king, are we acting like a king ought to act, when we, whoever we are, like Daniel search out every matter according to You and in You? Daniel was not a king and yet he received the glory of a king by kings and from You. Why?

 
Could it be because Daniel delighted in the King of kings? It’s so hard for us to grasp this since we live in a democracy because Your kingdom God is not a democracy. You are King. If Your thumb is up we live, if down, we die. What You say goes, despite what we say. Skip Moen shares, “It is the King’s right and prerogative to involve himself in any aspect of any life under His authority. Furthermore, since God is the King of all the earth, everything belongs to Him. He doesn’t have to prove ownership in a court of law. He cannot be stripped of His property. What He decides to do with His possessions (including you and me) is entirely up to Him. And He holds everyone under His domain accountable for their treatment and stewardship of His resources. There are consequences for refusing to live according to the will of the King. In the days when we are awash in political rhetoric and the promises of leadership, it is well to remember who the King really is. No matter who we choose to lead us, they must answer to Him. So must we for our choosing. If we choose leadership that does not honor Him, we will pay the price. There is only one King, and He is not on the ballot.” And Daniel shows us how to live according to the True King who is not on the world’s ballot.

 
Kings would be wise to search out matters God’s way who conceals and reveals. But it’s not just for kings. We can reap the honor of kings, and especially our King, to live as the kings aren’t living, to love the One the kings aren’t loving, to honor the One the kings ought to honor. Earthly kings and kingdoms are temporary. Come on, look at history. But the True King and His Kingdom are forever. Like Daniel, I better learn how to live under and for Him now. Like Daniel, I want to love and enjoy service under my King all the days of my life.

 
Daniel’s heart was so sensitive to You Lord. He not only thought of himself but of those around him. He lifted up the whole nation and advocated for them, identifying in their sin against You. He set his face unto You. You alone were His source of help and sustenance and answer to the things he didn’t understand. He was serious about hearing from You, so serious he fasted and prayed. He knew You and knew Your word. He sought You out everywhere, looking for Your evidences all around him. There was confusion and shame where You were not, but righteousness with You, and that, or rather You were what he sought. From You and in You were the mercy and forgiveness he sought. He understood that they belonged to You and weren’t just things You gave out. To find them, one must be in relationship with the One who emits mercy and forgiveness because they are part of His essence.

 

Daniel had been doing the job the kings should have done, seeking answers from God. But they weren’t. But since he was, God delighted in his delighting and gave him the answer of kings from Himself, the King of all.  And You send Gabriel to bring the answer to this man who has been spending his life delighting in You, to this man who You hold as beloved. You send this angel named Gabriel from Your presence into his, to share a prophecy. Now, whether that was concerning “Messiah the Prince,” search it out like a true king, I won’t tell you. But the next two times that Gabriel shows up, he’s telling Zacharias that his son will be a forerunner before the Lord, and he tells Mary that her son will be called “the Son of the Most High.”

 
There are a lot of things in our lives that aren’t clear to us, a lot that is concealed before us. If I want to know the truth about it, I need to seek it out from one Source, God alone. I need to stop living like the world and start living like You and loving like You and delighting in You above everything else around me. I need to be willing to sacrifice my comfort in this world, to be comforted by and in You. If You aren’t my most beloved then how can I expect to be Your beloved? We reap what we sow, right? How much of myself am I truly sowing in You? When I think of all that You have sown into people who continually fail You and disregard You, I am amazed and shocked. Because I have been one of those. And yet You love me, and gave Your Christ to return me into Your glory that I might love and serve You again and be loved by You. I guess we’ve always been loved. But it’s maybe greater to be beloved because it’s a reciprocal relationship experienced and treasured by both parties. That’s the kind of relationship Daniel had. And that’s the kind of relationship I want, no matter the cost.

The God Who is Able

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“…and who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15

 
Of all the questions that King Nebuchadnezzar could have asked, this is the most appropriate. I have to thank the king for asking this question and setting up this whole situation to demonstrate the answer. Because there is no god who can deliver us. But there is one God who can. And it happens to be the same God who placed King Nebuchadnezzar on the throne for such a time as this, whether the king wants to give Him credit or not.

 
Now I have no idea whether this image, this grand idol, that he made was of himself or a god of his choosing. I’m not sure if that really matters. But to set oneself up as a god is a pretty dangerous image of oneself to have. And there will come a point when the one true God will show Himself just that. Hopefully, that’s before it’s too late for the self-elevated ones, that it’s while there is still time to turn to Him instead.

 
But there is more to this story than Nebuchadnezzar’s self-image or than setting up idols. It’s a story of a whole society falling down before a false idol at the command of a “strong man” because of fear. Why would the people fall down before this idol? Because they were afraid of being thrown into a fiery furnace. They were afraid of death. They were afraid of losing their life, their families, their wealth, their position. Rich or poor, they would lose it all by the power of death. So all the people fell down at the sound. Every people group represented bowed. All those people. All except three Jews.

 
Now there were other Jews who did bow down. I know that because there were representatives from every group, from every nation that was there, from every language that was represented there. That’s what was meant by all. And that makes me wonder. How long of a warning did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have to prepare? Did they lie awake at night knowing this moment was coming? Did they discuss what their response would be with fellow Jews? Did their stomachs turn thinking about it? I mean, even Jesus tormented over going to the cross so much so that He sweat drops of blood.

 

What of these men? Was it easy to remain standing when the whole world around them bowed down? I think I would have to be delusional to think this was easy for them.
Yet I do know that these men had made a resolve earlier in their lives, along with Daniel, to glorify the Lord. And it appears that the same resolve remained foremost in their lives. So, because of this resolve, it was told to the king that there were these particular Jews in high position, these three upstarts, who had disregarded the king, who didn’t serve his gods, and who would not bow down and worship the image per his command.

 
You just don’t do that or tell that to a king. He was enraged and commanded they be brought before him. “Is this true? I’m going to give you a second chance, but if you still don’t, it’s the furnace for you!” And I’m wondering why he would give them a second chance? Did he not truly trust the Chaldean accusers? Did he know the character of these three Jews? Even in his fury, did he actually care? Why didn’t he just throw them right in? Was truth and justice actually important to him?

 
The second chance was not accepted. Why not? I think to understand what is happening here, we have to jump back to chapter one and remember who these three young men are. These three young men are not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Those are their Babylonian names and we’re going to see how important that is. But even more important are their Hebrew names. Shadrach’s real name was Hananiah. It means God has favoured or God is gracious. Remember that. Meshach’s real name was Mishael which means “Who is like God?” And Abednego’s real name was Azariah, meaning “God has helped.” Hold those thoughts. See, names were very important in the ancient world. Names were a representation of who you were. This is what these young men had been brought up to believe and to live in their lives.

 
But now, enter captivity, and Babylon thought, “Ha, the jokes on you guys!” The goal was to meld them to the new culture. So they were given new names. Now pay attention here to the irony of the new names. Hananiah, “God is favoured” became Shadrach, “Command of the Moon-God.” Mishael, “Who is like God?” became “Who is what Aku is?” And Azariah, “God has helped” became Abednego, “Servant of Nabu (the Babylonian god of wisdom).” That’s a funny joke, isn’t it?

 
But the problem was that changing their names didn’t make them forget who they really were. They remained God’s children, regardless of their new names. Which brings me to their answer to King Nebuchadnezzar. I looked back at some of the Jewish translations of 3:17 as well as the King James Version, and do you realize it doesn’t say God is able to deliver us? It says, “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, He will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and out of thy hand, O King.” (Daniel 3:17 JPS) At first I thought, I don’t like that. But now it makes so much sense.

 
It’s like they were setting up Nebuchadnezzar and all of Babylon. “Let’s see who is the god who is able to deliver. Is it yours? Or is it ours? Who is God? Let’s see. If our God whom we serve is God, He will be able to deliver us from the fire and from you. If your gods are god, then we are doomed. If you are god, then we are doomed. So let’s see who is the true God? Let’s see if the Moon-god, or Aku, or Nabu are able here or if only God is able. Let’s see who the joke is really on.”

 
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were doing more than taking a stand of faith here. This was about more than three young men being strong on the part of their God. This was about displaying who God was before a whole nation. This was taking back the glory of God who had been ridiculed since they arrived. This was giving God the chance to shine as God before and over this pagan nation and all those that were bowing down to it. It was an opportunity to see God for who He really is and not just what we want to make Him to be.

 
Nebuchadnezzar had asked, “who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hands?” “Our God, Sir, if He alone is God is the One who is able to deliver us. If He is the true God, then He will deliver us from the furnace and from you. If He is not God, He won’t be able to deliver us and we’ll burn. So throw us in, because we’re putting our whole lives into the belief that He is God. We’re willing for you to use us as the guinea pigs, we believe so strongly. Because if it isn’t so, we might as well burn in the furnace anyway, because what would there be to live for?” That’s my paraphrase. You can check out Daniel 3 for their recorded words.

 
The king was so infuriated that he heated up the furnace seven times hotter than usual. He had them thrown in right there. It was so hot that the three guards tossing them in, where killed by the heat. But in they went. And among those amazing circumstances, Nebuchadnezzar is alarmed because though he sent three men inside the furnace, there were now four walking around inside, not burning up! And the other advisors saw and acknowledged it also. And none of those inside were hurt, and “the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” In other words, the fourth man resembled divinity, specifically God as though he were the son of God. Now maybe, Nebuchadnezzar was just saying he resembled divinity as in any son of any god, but I don’t think so. Don’t forget the play on words that was going on, and they all realized the play on words. It wasn’t a mistake. The Babylonians were mocking the God of the Hebrews and now the God of the Hebrews was turning the tables.

 
At that realization, Nebuchadnezzar calls the three men out of the furnace. They come out without even a smoke smell and no evidence of having been in the fire. Their hair and cloaks and bodies were unscathed. And right away, the king speaks, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed’nego, who has sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and have yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God…because there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort.” He didn’t know Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s real names but He saw their real God. He knew he hadn’t just seen any god. No god could do what God just did.

 
I guess here is what I get today, Lord. My outcome isn’t what I ought to look to. I ought to always be looking to Your glory.  How can I uphold You and Your image in the world around me when everyone else is bowing down before false idols? How I can I take my eyes off of me and focus them on You so that my actions shine You forth before people and draw them to You? How can I make my life and actions not point to me, but show You for all that You are? No matter what the world tries to feed me, do I really know who I am in You? Do I really know who You are? Do I really believe, “Who is like God?” Does my life demonstrate that? Am I willing to offer my life to give You opportunity to show who You really are? Would I be willing to die to not only my self, but to actually die if it would show the kind of God You are?

 
How long will I let the world use me as a pawn to mock You? Will I wear the name that the world gives me or will I display who I am in You by letting You be You at every opportunity no matter the cost? My name is important, but more important is Your name, God, because it’s all that You are. But You promise to give us new names, so special that only You and I know the measure of it, because it’s that personal. Listen, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the called out ones; to him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he that receives it.” It’s that personal, and so ought my relationship be with You God.

Spitting Image

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“…youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on, and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace…” Daniel 1:4

 
A prophet who doesn’t start shouting at us. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t being taught and aren’t being warned. Here’s a prophet that we get to do a little growing up with. We get to see him in his youth. We know part of the story of his beginnings. And maybe that will help us relate to what’s going on in his life.

 
The kingdom of Judah was still in existence with King Jehoiakim ruling. In the third year of his reign, Your judgment came, and Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief officer to bring into his royal court select children and youth of Israel, offspring of the royal line and of the nobles. He wanted “youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace.”

 
This makes me think about a lot of things. First, it made me think about bringing in the children of Israel. The first word for the children of Israel is the Hebrew word ben. That’s the word that says that you were born of someone, that you are an offspring. But then the word yeled is used for the children in whom is no blemish. What’s the difference? It can mean young child or even adults. Actually, Exodus 21:22 uses the same word to refer to an unborn fetus, acknowledging it as a child while still in it’s mother’s womb. Obviously, You are telling us that there is no distinction between a child in the womb or out of the womb in value as a living being. “A person is a person no matter where he or she happens to be.” (Skip Moen)  And here is this pagan king who happens to have at least understood that concerning the children and youth of this conquered people. Yes, he was selective, but he understood that there was worth in the offspring of this nation.

 
Now, where do you go to find children and youth with no physical or moral spots on them? Where do you find unblemished people at all? Well, you look at where they came from. You look at their appearance. You look at their character. Some have it “naturally.” Some have been raised in it. Some have been trained up in it. But still, you have to know it when you see it and you have to look throughout the land for it.

 
King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just want any kids. He wanted well favored young people in his court. He wanted them beautiful in appearance and in their thinking. He wanted to be surrounded by well-shaped individuals on the inside and the outside. Why? Because these kids would one day help him to rule his kingdom well. He would benefit from their skill.

 
So here he was, asking his chief eunuch Ashkenazi to select young people who were circumspect and intelligent. He wanted advisors to be able to see things on all sides. He wanted people who were prudent, and would carefully examine all the “circumstances that might affect a determination, or a measure to be adopted.”(Webster) He was looking for young people who would be skillful and wise. The king wanted youth with “yada,” real knowing. They needed to be cunning.

 

Let’s stop here at cunning momentarily. Cunning isn’t used here like a crafty deceiver. Cunning is someone who had not just knowledge but skill to do and apply. They had the skill and dexterity of artificers or “artists” and knowledge acquired by experience. (Webster) They weren’t just talkers. They were doers who knew what they were doing. Having yada was being observant, careful, instruct-able, advisable, aware, comprehending, diligent, friendly, feeling, transparent, respectful, teachable, understanding-even of future events by present signs.

 
These were to be young people who used their knowledge, that cunning with wit. Does that mean they were wise guys? Were they class clowns? Wit means using the intellect, having real understanding. It’s being able to associate ideas the right way, the natural way, but also in an unusual and striking way, so that others are surprised and pleased. It’s about putting ideas together quickly and well. It’s about associating ideas in a new and unexpected manner. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar was looking for.

 
These youth were not only to distinguish and discern facts and life intelligently but they were to be firm, filled with vigor and strength. And I’m not thinking this is only physical stamina but stamina of character. And these youths had to be teachable.

 
So Ashpenaz made his choice and among those he chose was Daniel. So here is Daniel, snatched from his home and his land and most of his people and taken into another nation. This isn’t a certainty, but some people think he may have been castrated. Whether that was imposed upon him or not, he was placed in the king’s court to learn to serve this king for the king’s benefit and for the benefit of his kingdom, this kingdom who had conquered his people and thrown his world upside down. So how does he handle all this?

 
Daniel has three years to figure it out before he would stand before the king. He had three years of beginning training. But there was something special about Daniel. All those qualities that the king desired, were already at work in Daniel. As a matter of fact, the chief of the eunuchs, Ashpenaz, saw something precious in Daniel so that God had brought Daniel “into favor and tender love” with him. Ashpenaz delighted in who Daniel was and had true compassion toward him. I’m thinking that was because Daniel knew You, Lord, well enough that despite his circumstances, he showed favor and compassion to those around him, including Ashpenaz who was over him.

 
Yes, Daniel was strong, but that was because he was grounded in You, Lord. I know that because he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, nor with the wine which he drank” and asked the chief of the officers that he might eat differently. And because of his favor with the officers, it was granted after a ten day test period. Now, here Daniel was, already favored, already chosen because of how he shone out among youths, and after this his countenance was even fairer, his flesh was fatter (a good thing here), than all the other youths eating the king’s food. But it didn’t stop there. His heart and actions found favor not only with man, but with You, Lord. And so You gave them even more knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom; and gave Daniel understanding in all, not some, in all visions and dreams.

 

And when the three years were finished, Daniel’s wisdom and understanding were unequalled (except for his three Hebrew “brothers”) in the court and he surpassed the others by ten times better!   As if that’s not extraordinary enough. This character exemplified his whole life through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and into the reign of Cyrus! This was no one time deal. This is who Daniel was. Daniel knew his God so well, that he could remain personally united with Him even in a kingdom of many gods where there was no one to keep him “on task.” So, I have to ask, what’s my excuse?

 
When the world looks around for people with character like this, will they find it in me? When they look at me will they see a “child in whom is no blemish.” Am I full of the things that the people around me really need for their true welfare? Do I have favor and skill and wisdom and cunning and knowledge and understanding and ability from the Lord? Or am I just sharing my own? Am I teachable, by God first and then able to put all other learning in it’s correct perspective according to Him?

 
Would I stand up not only for God’s character but for upholding it in me no matter how much it singled me out or what the consequences might be? Do I have such a pleasant but strong spirit that non-believing people of high character would be drawn to me, that I would warm people’s hearts in love? Would I have advocates who were even outside my faith? I mean, I just can’t get over how respectfully and lovingly it appears that Daniel treated his captors, that they would feel this way about him. And I think, what a picture of Christ! What kind of picture am I painting in the world?

 
Thinking about all these things and whether my life looks like Daniel’s isn’t a far fetched idea. Paul talks about what our lives out to look like in Ephesians 5:27. He could have even been thinking about Daniel as he thought about the sacrifice given at the temple and as he thought about what You are doing in us, Lord. Here’s what he said that Christ did for us by His life and sacrifice and resurrection. It was all about presenting us to Himself, this glorious people that were called out of the world and unto Him, these individuals who listened and answered that call and responded. And in Him, He does what He does so that we are spot free, wrinkle free, and free of any such things. Why? So we are holy and without blemish, not just like Daniel but like Jesus Himself who is like God Himself. And we can do this and be this and allow God to do this in us and we live life out in Him because of the precious blood of Christ, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:19)

 
God, You are the original real deal. You are the origin of Character. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 “Be you therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.” This mimetes, this imitating, isn’t like a flat 1 dimension image in a mirror. We’re talking about the real deal here. We’re talking about a God who through His Spirit creates the real deal in us. I’m not a flat copy and neither was Daniel. Imitation here is a call to real live action. It’s not an idea or a theology or a concept. It means doing what our God does. It shows with my life, not just my thoughts, how I align with You, Lord. It’s about how much I am really like my Father. Is there even a family resemblance? How strong is it? I’ll never be God but do my actions, and does my life duplicate His behavior? Am I a living duplicate of Your character, God?

 
Daniel wasn’t conformed to his circumstances because he was busy daily being transformed by the reality of his relationship with You, Lord. Because You are real and tangibly respond in our lives, we respond in the same real and tangible ways. That’s what walking in love is all about, it’s all about walking and responding and living in those real, tangible ways that You have shown Yourself to us. And character remains despite every situation. Your character never changes so neither does mine have to either. Life is about continually exhibiting Your character in me. It’s exhibiting obedience from my heart, not just compliance, but willingness from the depths of my heart.
I wonder if Daniel ever had a powwow with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the beginning? I wonder if he might have said something like this, “Be imitators of me, just as I am of God”? I’ll never know. But I know that Paul said that this way, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Does that seem awful prideful of him to say? Does that mean I’m not supposed to try to imitate Christ myself? Is Paul my example now? Paul’s an example just as much as Daniel is. I guess sometimes a copy is so good we can see the original almost perfectly represented by it. And the truth is that we are not called to be partial copies. We are called to be exact copies.

 
Now I was making a color copy of something that needed a signature. I like to sign official things in black. But my family made this point. It’s hard to tell that the black is original when the other copied words around it are black. So they suggested I sign in blue ink instead. But I see from that how much a copy can be like the original so that it’s so hard to tell what was copy and what was actual ink. That’s the kind of copies we are called to be of Christ.

 
We’re called to represent and reflect all the beauty of God’s character. He’s the One Original that is laying down on the copy machine for us to be represented from. I’m to reflect everything that comes from You, Lord, so much so that if we were placed next to each other, people shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Wow! Really? Isn’t that a far order?

 
It would be if it were all up to me. But it’s not. God’s heart desire is to produce Himself in me. He does that through His Holy Spirit. Like Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) We’re not just talking ability here, we’re talking power, power to do it. The power of the Spirit is strong enough to make us spitting images.

 
I pray that You would make my life that transparent, like Daniel and Paul who could make this kind of claim. “If you’ve forgotten what Jesus looks like, look at me and my life and you’ll see Him so clearly because my life is just like His. Watch me and you can see Him again and then, as you copy me, you’ll be copying Him.” Lord, may my heart be so tangibly tied to You that I become that transparent that people see You instead of me. May I make everything in my life about You, my eating and drinking and sleeping and thinking and doing. May my life be all about my Father’s business so that I am so filled with Your character that all I do looks like You. I’m not there yet, Lord, but bring me there. I know it’s doable because Paul and Daniel aren’t the only transparent images of You out there. I’ve seen others and I want to be one of them too. So my prayer today is , make me Your spitting image, Lord.

Where Does My Help Come From?

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in Me is your help.” Hosea 13:9

 
Sometimes it’s so easy to forget where we came from. We live in a world of the “self-made” and the “self-proclaimed.” Somehow we think we got ourselves where ever we are. If we stop to think about it, how did we even get to be born and exist? Did we determine it? Did we choose the country we were born in, or our culture, or our parents, or our circumstances? But somehow we find ourselves thinking that I am in control of my own destiny. And in so doing, we are like Israel and destroy ourselves, because we miss out on the reality of life, that life is in God and that God alone is our help.

 
Funny thing is that even the name or word Israel means “he will rule as God.” Now that is not implying that Israel will make himself a god. That’s implying that Israel will rule just like God, that Israel will think like God, and love like God, and act like God, and have the mind and heart of God in what he does. It means that Israel was created to bear Your image before the world.

 
But here we have this image bearer who has destroyed himself and his image because he stopped trusting in the One who was every help he would ever need. What does God mean when He says “but in Me is your help”? How is He a help? Is a helper that important? So do we mainly do it on our own and then get a little “help” from God? Is that the idea here?

 
This word for help in Hebrew is ezer. Let’s look at how it is used in Scripture. Actually, the first two uses of this word for help are in Genesis 2:18 and 20. “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” And in verse 20, “And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” Why was it so important to God that Adam have a helper corresponding to him? Why was this so important from the start? Why did the very first “perfect” man in the beginning still need help? Why was it not good for him to be alone? Alone how? Help from who? What kind of help? Why would God design Eve from the stuff of man to give the help he needed and to keep him from being alone? And why would God use a masculine word to describe Eve?

 
But those aren’t my only questions. Where did help really originate. I mean, Eve’s not masculine so maybe the origin is not in Eve. Maybe it’s origin, the origin of help itself, is in and from God and His alone to impart. What if ezer, that kind of help, is a “divine characteristic”? What if it has to do with God and Your relationship with Israel? How does that work? What does that look like? How are You a “help”?

 
It’s interesting. Hosea shares God’s words to Israel, “Yet I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; and you know no God but Me, and beside Me there is no savior.” This takes us back to Exodus 18:4 where we see ezer again. Moses named one of his sons Eliezer as a declaration “for the God of my father was my help [ezer], and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” The ezer delivers from oppressors and rescues from danger. We have something similar in the next occurrence in Deuteronomy 33:7: “And this he said of Judah, “Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries.” What does this tell us of the ezer? “God assists, supports, and reinforces Israel against her enemies.” (Skip Moen)
The ezer doesn’t stop there. Psalm 33:20 declares, “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.” What kind of help is that? He is the deliverer and the one who showers with loving kindnesses (hesed). He blesses and watches over. Armies don’t save kings, strength doesn’t deliver warriors, war horses don’t save or rescue but this God, this Help does! This ezer can deliver even our souls from death and fill us with gladness.
We hear an honest cry in Psalm 70:5, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!” Are we afflicted and in need? God provides. Why do we look elsewhere?

 
Why trust? Because only God is our help and our shield. “O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” (Psalm 115:9) The kind of help we need, the kind of shielding cannot come from anywhere else. Only God is mighty enough to save the way we need to be saved.

 
Why rely on God’s help? “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God…” (Psalm 146:5) This is where all blessing, all true blessing and hope comes from. This is where it exists in reality. This is its origin and creator.

 
This, all of this, is help. This, all of this, is ezer. This, all of this, is God and God alone. If I am to be a help, then I can only be a true help if it is in the image of the One who IS HELP. Israel is not the creator of help and neither am I. The truth is that “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2) I didn’t make heaven and earth. I didn’t create life. Even when I gave birth to my daughters, the stuff that conception occurred from, someone else created it because there it was in my body without me putting it there. I mean, I didn’t even have a hand in forming myself. And it was the same story for my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother and on and on. How easily we exalt ourselves and give ourselves credit for things we have no power over.

 
Like Israel we sin more and more because we started giving credit to ourselves where it wasn’t due. We start seeing ourselves as our own helpers, even though it’s been You God all along. We design our own way, our own help, our own worthless idols. We think according to our own measly understanding. We become fickle and think of nothing past the here and now. We lose the eternal perspective. We create little minds grasping after air instead of great minds molded by a great God grasping after Your gloriousness and seeing and declaring greatness that is You.

 
Instead of bearing Your great image and helping like You help us, we hurt and destroy ourselves and others. We’re like morning clouds instead, that are here and then gone and leave no effect behind of any value. We’re like the worthless chaff blown away by the wind or smoke from a chimney that no one is benefitted by.

 
But the truth is that God is God. God delivered Israel from Egypt by His help. Israel was helpless on his own. Only God saves. Only God. Only God walked with Israel in the wilderness keeping the shoes and clothes whole over all those years and providing food and water. Only God fills. But the danger is in our filling and in our wanting to be filled when we want to be filled with anything other than You, God. When we hunger for other things, we help ourselves, and that’s trouble. Actually, that’s worse than trouble; that’s sin.

 
Israel isn’t the only one who has destroyed herself. You and I could be in the middle of destroying ourselves right now. Who is my help? Is it You alone, Lord? I want to be like the Canaanite woman who had the daughter who was troubled by a demon and she came to Jesus worshipping Him and said, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25) Or like the father whose son was tormented by demons who came to Jesus saying, “And often it has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us!” (Mark 9:22) I want to be like that father who then cried out to the Lord, “Lord, help my unbelief!” Yes, I want to come to where help originates and true help is found and given. I want to go to where Paul invited us with God. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) Paul knew and I know that our help, every help we need, is only found in You and that is where I want to be found- in You, all the days of my life, for in You is my help.

My Shepherd Farmer

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Photo credit to Herdwick Shepherd.

 

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12

 
This is the standard, but this is not the reality for us all. “Sow to yourselves righteousness, reap in mercy…You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped iniquity.” Yes, that is the standard and it’s the possibility but it only becomes a probability when we follow and do what the words say.

 
“Sow to yourselves righteousness (tsedaqah), reap as mercy (hesed).” First, how do we determine what righteousness is? Is it just doing good things? By whose standards? Tsedaqah is more than doing good things. Tsedaqah is about everything that God does. He is the standard setter and the standard bearer. It’s everything right, pure, true, good, just and more. Think of the heart of God, think of the actions of God and you have tsedaqah. I think of the widow at the temple who put her last coin in the offering box (a form of tsedaqah). She put all her trust in God and His care. She put all her tsedeqah in God’s tsedeqah which is a bigger box than that offering box outside the temple. I think of Jesus who was made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30) I think of the Son of God, Jesus, who God made “to be sin for us, [He] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) I think of how Paul declared “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17)

 
I think of those things and see that righteousness is more than being good. Righteousness is a relationship with the heavenly father. It is a joy in all the things that bring Him joy and a distaste for all the things that are distasteful to Him. It is a joining in with Him in what He is doing and an absence of desire for what He is not delighting in. It’s self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Sometimes it’s painful but it is always good and always the best. It always glorifies God and never glorifies self. It always thinks of others.

 
Tsedaqah or righteousness isn’t about speaking in tongues, or having prophetic powers, or understanding mysteries, or having knowledge. It’s not about having faith that moves mountains or giving everything up or delivering ourselves over to death for the sake of something good. It’s about pure, unadulterated love from God and love of God. It’s letting the character of God flow through me and out to others. It’s what each of us was created for, to be vessels of God’s character, image bearers of our Creator in this world.

 
Because His love is patient and kind, we realize that which was planted in us and we plant that around us. We realize it’s not about us and it never was but it was always about You, God, and our boast that we plant, is in You. I’m not puffed up or rude but the humility You displayed is what I plant. You could have had Your own way in every life. You guide and You invite but You don’t insist. I plant those same seeds and give people the choice to choose righteousness or wickedness, life or death. You didn’t treat me with irritability or resentment, but love and forgiveness and I plant those seeds for the sake of others. You never rejoiced in doing wrong even if I deserved it, but You rejoiced in the truth and doing it and being it and living it and sharing it. So I sow, no matter what someone else might deserve. Your righteousness bore all my wrongs and all my injustices to You and yet You still loved me. I must sow the same to others. You believed in me before anyone else. I must do the same. You endure no matter how hard things are and so must I. Your love never ends and neither must mine if it is in You and from You. This is righteousness. This is only attained in relationship with You. But I cannot sow without it. At least, I cannot sow and reap hesed without You sowing in me first.

 
If I want hesed to spring forth from my life and its influences, If I want “mercy, lovingkindness, unwavering care and concern, goodness” and more to flow from my life I have to sow Your conduct and Your integrity. It takes my sowing the seed and breaking up the hard ground to give nature the chance to put the rain and sun and warmth and air together in such a way as to grow the seed and produce that which nourishes me as I eat it. But if I don’t sow, I don’t grow food, and I don’t get fed. Sowing righteousness doesn’t just feed others; in feeding others, I am fed. No man lives by that kind of bread alone.

 
What does that mean? Of course if all I ate was bread and no other nutritional source I would die because of lack of adequate nutrition. But what was Jesus trying to tell us by that? What did He mean when He said He was the Bread of Life? Am I not just to look to sowing? Am I in need of the reaping? Does the reaping and accepting from others feed me? Am I in need of being sown in myself? Do I need to know that I am not sufficient in myself and that I must be fed from You, Lord, and from what You feed others? Just a thought…

 
It’s time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon us. I can sow, but I can’t make it rain. I can sow, but I can’t make the sun shine and make it warm enough. So I can’t sow rightly without seeking You first, Lord. I sow, but You provide. I mean, You’re even the One who gives me the seed. I mean, unless I’m planting healthy, good seed, I’m not going to have a healthy, good crop. That’s got to come from You too.

 
But there’s a problem. I can plow iniquity. I can turn the soil and plant tainted seeds. I can plant seeds that are foreign to You. I can plant seeds of hate and distrust, of anger and shame, of pride and apathy. I can choose to plant those things. But then I will reap them in greater measure. And those around me will reap them. I mean, what do I want to feed on and feed others? Injustice? Lies? Is it really worth it to trust in my own way and in all the people around me instead of trusting in You, my Creator and the Lover of my soul?

 

Everyone will plow something. Everyone must harrow for himself. But what will it be?
You can blame it on God if you want to. But He didn’t invite injustice into the world. We did. We have the choice to sow righteousness or not. Why do bad things happen? Is it because God does not love? Or is it really because we don’t love enough to practice what God practices, to let Him have His way in us and in the world? Do we have injustice because it’s the logical consequence of sowing wickedness? Well, if we don’t like injustice, why not choose to sow righteousness in Christ instead?

 
I can plow wickedness by having a total disregard and contempt for Your ways, Lord, or I can sow righteousness by loving and adhering to Your ways. I can follow my false heart or follow You God who is always true. I can declare “We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king-what could he do for us?” I can do things on my own, my own way, but I better be ready for the outcome.

 

On the other hand, I can declare, “You are my King! Not only do I fear You, Lord, but I love You with every part of my being. You can do everything for me. You sing over me. You give me life. You give me purpose. You give me You. Yes, You can do everything for me for You are my Everything!” Lord, I want to sow everything I have in You. I want You to teach me to sow You in my life so that what is brought forth nourishes me and those around me in You. I love Your righteousness, Lord, and I want to live in it and draw others to it. You are the most amazing King I know. You are King, yet You are humble Shepherd and Farmer as well, and You are unashamed of teaching me step by step all that I need to know to follow in Your footsteps.

The Right Frame of Thinking

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Photo credit from Alaska Fish & Wildlife News (2003)

“Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is in the midst of them, and they know not the LORD.” (Hosea 5:4)

It’s not that I’m choosing things to depress here. I suppose I could choose all the flowery, happy feeling verses in Scripture and just share those. But if I were running toward the edge of an unforeseen cliff that would lead to my downfall or death, I’d certainly appreciate someone warning me and persuading me to turn from my desired path. Running off the edge to my death wouldn’t bring much happiness to me or my family. Turning and living out my days wisely and wonderfully would be a joyful thing. And maybe that’s what Hosea and God are trying to tell us. Maybe they are not trying to depress us but to call us back to a life of wonderful living in the One who created life to be lived to the fullest in Him.

Israel and Judah were running toward the edge of the cliff like lemmings. God was warning. You wanted them to live, not die. You wanted them to succeed, not fail. You wanted them to be victors, not defeated. The promise of Your Messiah was all about that. The promise of Your Messiah, trusting in You and Your provision, was all about Your people having life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, provision instead of want, relationship instead of duty. Jesus shared Your heart (which is His!) when He told us, “The thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s not just a little more abundantly. That’s actually super abundantly, excessively, over and above and beyond measure!

But instead, like Israel did, we revolt against that. We hide from You. We go after other ideas and things that can’t supply like that, things that have no real power. We take these powerless things and we give them power over our lives. We sell out to them. We hand over our lives and our thoughts and our families and our desires to things that steal from us, kill us, and destroy us and those around us.

Think I’m crazy? Think about it. A father kills his daughter. Why? Because she chooses a different religious belief. He sends his children off wearing bombs to kill others and be killed in the process. He still isn’t guaranteed paradise. They live to die, but is that really living?  Do they have abundant life? Do they receive joy in this? Or are they being robbed due to lies? They are being killed and destroyed all day. Their hearts are being made callous. Their ears being made deaf. They think they know God, but Allah is nothing like God. They don’t know, and they frame their doings after this thief instead of after a God who wants to love them superabundantly. They follow another spirit who kills and destroys, who is killing and destroying their own and using them to do it.

But what about us? What about the ordinary John Doe or Jane Smith out there? What about those of us who know about You and about what You care about and yet we toss it back in Your face. “I can do what I want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” You know, that doesn’t really work. Even this pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar came to that conclusion. Listen to his words, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”(Daniel 4:37) And that’s the heart of our problem then and now. Pride.

Hosea tells us that Israel’s pride testified to his face. Pride closes eyes. Pride seals the ears. Pride changes the heart. Pride leads one to kill their daughter or their sons, not love. Well, what about Abraham, some might ask? Abraham didn’t want to kill his son. When Abraham lifted the knife, he was believing that His God, the True God, would make good His promise that through his seed, which was Isaac, He would make a nation. God can’t make a nation through a dead person. He has to be living. Abraham was trusting in a God of life NOW, not just later! He was thinking, “I must obey God because only in God is there life.” Abraham threw his pride out the door. His pride was in God and trusting in him. Now that’s faith! How many others would say, “No, God, that’s not a good idea. I think we need to do something else?” Well, that’s pride to think we know better.

Pride causes us to not frame our doings to Your doings God. We choose to not frame our thoughts with Your thoughts. We outweigh You which is such a ludicrous thought because the fullness of Your glory would just crush us; the weight of Your glory is unbearable. Let’s take this home a little closer to life.

I was reading a verse in Revelation this morning, Revelation 2:10 which says, “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” What does it mean to have tribulation ten days? I’ve read some commentators that talk about 10 periods of persecution. I don’t doubt that, but what if You are telling us that we as believers can expect persecution? And what if we are to expect that persecution to last for some definite period of our life? After all, all 12 of the apostles were persecuted, 11 unto death, and one was sent into isolation. Each of them was persecuted for a set time and maybe that set time is like ten days in comparison with the superabundant complete life that You have planned for each of them and for us. How else could Paul honestly say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? The reality is that there is life in You even in the midst of persecution on this earth. We don’t have to wait to live till we die. We just continue living more fully after we die. To live is Christ, and to die is even more of Christ.

What happens when life throws all kinds of hard things at us? Do I handle it my own way? Do I try to manipulate my way through? Do I try to manipulate other people? Do I think that I shouldn’t have to go through this? Do I think that things are too hard for me or this just shouldn’t be happening to me or to those around me? Because of those thoughts, do I frame my own response and design my own actions based on my thoughts and feelings? Or do I trash my pride and frame my response and my thoughts according to Your thoughts and Your feelings and Your promises? Does that even really matter?

Do I think that only atheists and those following Islam are rebels? What about me when I won’t frame my doings after Yours? What about me when life is tough? Or when life is not tough? Who is my life framed after, me or You? Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” What does that mean? It means to be about what the Father is about. It’s not just about what He does, it’s about who He is and what He thinks and how He feels. Jesus’s frame of mind and life was based on the Father’s frame of mind and life. And that is what we are called to whether we come from an atheistic background, or an Islamic background, from Buddhist, or Christian, or Agnostic, or Postmodernism, or whatever. This is what we are invited into.

What difference could this frame of belief make in my life? Let me share two stories. Nik Ripken is a missionary from Tennessee that’s lived and loved in some really dangerous countries. While ministering and living in a neighboring country from Somallia, his son died of an asthma attack. The believers their surrounded Nik and his wife and family with prayer and provision and even came over and sang them to sleep every night before the funeral. Nik had called an office to share what happened with a friend who was a co-worker. The co-worker was not a believer. When the co-worker heard the news there was no answer. Nik thought it strange but figured he had been called away from the phone.

What really happened was that his co-worker started walking that instant from Somalia, across the border to where Nik was. Five days later the co-worker shows up bedraggled and smelly at his door with these words, “I came to bury our son.” At the funeral, he unculturally sat between Nik and his wife, all the while watching the response and listening to the words of all the believers around him. This muslim man, took hold of Nik’s hand and his wife’s hand. He sorrowed with them. But through this and the way the believers here framed their doings in the midst of tragedy, he came to see the life that Christ had for him. He saw the LORD. He came to know the LORD. And when he returned to his country, in the office with his fellow-workers where Nik had not shared for fear of death, this man shared the life that he had seen offered before him that day in the midst of a funeral.  Do you know what those other muslim workers asked, “If you knew this, Nik, why didn’t you tell us?” This is what it looks like when we frame our thoughts and our life after the One who is LIFE. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6) And Jesus does not lie.

My second story is about a friend I love. It could be about any of us. It’s a story about any of us who go down the road of not liking our hardships and just wanting to get out of them. It’s the story about focusing on my own feelings instead of God’s glory. It’s a story about giving up instead of running the race to the end. Paul warned, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) Later in the letter to Timothy, Paul shared of his own journey, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7) But this isn’t the story of hardship and a life lived fully I wanted to share. Paul’s story is Nik’s story if he continues in the faith. Paul’s story is the story of those believers in Nik’s life who kept their lives framed on Christ even to the last moment that it was taken from them to the point the what was once over 200 believers in Somalia became only 4 living believers remaining. Let us heed Paul’s warning.

If I don’t heed Paul’s warning, when life gets rough and my temporary hardships (temporary compared to eternity) become what frames my thinking and life, I quit. I quit on God. I quit on myself. I quit on my family. I go off the grid. I take care of things my own way. I abandon and rebel against Your frame of thinking and doing. I do it on my own, in my own strength, which I’ve probably just cried out to You saying, “Lord, this is too much for me! I can’t do it!” And then of all the stupid things, after saying it’s too much for me and I can’t do this, I take matters into MY OWN hands. Yes, I’ve been there and done that. And my friend has been there and done that. Only I reframed my thinking and got it back to Yours and my friend didn’t. My friend left the support of loved ones because Pride said, “You are a burden to others.” When he died or maybe took his life, there was no one there to pray with him, to hold him. The light that should have shone to encourage others, has become a discouragement. And yet, I believe that God can use my dear brother’s lonely story to save someone else from the cliff of a wrong frame of mind focused on self and suffering instead of on Him.

Here’s the truth that would have framed my brother’s thinking differently, or at least some of the truth (there is so much truth, how could I ever share it all!). “I am a burden to my brothers and sisters.” What a lie! Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:16 that God’s heart that should be in us is to “not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Why is that pleasing to God? Why is that God’s mind frame? Because He does not neglect to do good for us and to share what He has with us, so it is a blessing for us to do the same. For me to share that blessing with a brother in need is for me to demonstrate that I have the mind of Christ by having the same heart and demonstrating it by my life actions. Brother, why didn’t You give me and others that blessing to love on You like our Lord wanted to?

We are all in need, sometimes in our life more than at other times. And some of us are in greater need than others. Those of us in Christ have had our greatest needs met, and because of that, when we are in a state of having goods and opportunities and see a brother in need, we are to reach out and share our goods and opportunities and love with him. Why? Because that is how God demonstrated his love for us. When Scripture says that “God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” it’s not just saying because we were rebels against God. It’s saying while we were empty, lost, filthy, and in need, and without even realizing how much so, He opened His heart toward us and invited us in. That is love. That is what we are called to. That is what we are invited into.

Why did the Israelites and my friend lose their right frame of reference? Why do I lose mine sometimes? Paul answers that in part. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We focus too much on ourselves. We forget how our life effects those around us. We forget how our life effects the glory of God before others. We focus too much on our own interests and too little on Yours God, or on the lives of those around us. Self-pity is a form of pride and pride just leads to destruction. Thank You that Jesus didn’t surrender to self-pity and pride. Thank You that Jesus, though so agonized over going to the cross that He sweated blood, loved You and loved us more so that in Your interest and ours He gave His life and said, “Not my will, but Yours.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the proper and improper frame of thinking. It starts now, in this life, and not in heaven. Truth is, if we don’t think like God now, we won’t start to think like Him in the afterlife. It’s now or never. How do we handle caring for others now? Am I only thinking of my own hunger or do I notice others around me and care about feeding them? Am I only thinking about my own thirst or do I notice the thirsty around me and give them drink? Am I too worried about my loneliness or do I use it to help me see other strangers and lonely people and welcome them in. When I feel shamed and naked, do I see those around me being shamed and stripped and offer them clothing? When I am sick and hurting do I see those who are sick and hurting around me and lift them up and encourage them? When I feel imprisoned, do I notice the other prisoners and go to them?

Because if I have been delivered from any of these, then I know my Deliverer and I ought to be sharing the deliverance He gave me. And if I am in the midst of any of these trials, I need to be trusting in my Deliverer, even if it means trusting unto death. Look, I know it’s not easy, but the reward is ALL GAIN. Anything else, anything less is shear loss.
My brother may have surrendered his right to finish the race well. He finished. Maybe last. But he lost. He lost fellowship. He lost encouragement. He lost helping others. He lost meeting new brothers and sisters. He lost lots of life here and now. Not because he had to, but because he chose to frame his thoughts after his own thinking and not Yours.

He’s not alone. It’s a struggle many of us will go through or are going through right now. Multiple Sclerosis becomes so painful and constant and hard. You have to constantly focus rightly or it will guide your thinking. Constant back pain could do the same. Troubles from bullying or persecution from those who ought to be your friends. Problems with your children or problems with your parents or problems in your church or financial problems or other health issues like cancer or the loss of a loved one whether naturally or taken through violence are real. But how will we respond?

Hear this. Give ear. Don’t let it be a snare. Don’t let your own thinking and your own feelings be a snare. I know, I’ve been there. It’s not just about Israel or Judah or other nations. It’s about every man. We all have the tendency to be revolters. We all have a tendency to run like Adam and Eve from the Truth. We all have a tendency to frame our own doings and not turn to You, God. We all have a tendency to think we know You when we really don’t, because we won’t even agree with You.

Well, today is the day to choose to agree. Today is the day that I can hear the warning and avoid the cliff’s edge that leads to my destruction. Today is the day that I can choose to frame my thinking to Yours. But the choice is mine. What will I choose? Life or death? I can choose like Joshua did, to share the light of Life in my house and to my house and to all that are influenced by my house. What about you? Will you choose Light and Life no matter what or how you feel? Will your life somehow shine like Nik’s story? Or will you only choose Light and Life “if…” and leave your friends and loved ones feeling robbed and wishing you would have known the truth about how much you were loved? Are you even running the race yet? Jesus is inviting You because You can only finish well in Him. If You want Life, come to Jesus, because He is LIFE. Run in Him because He ran for you and He runs with us, that’s how we can cross the finish line no matter what. Frame your doings in Him and turn to Him who gives life super-abundantly.

Side note: Lemmings do not run off cliffs in mass suicide!  It was a Disney mis-truth made for a documentary.  Sometimes they migrate to where there is more food, and masses may dive into the water, but they can swim.  Sometimes they drown if they get too bogged with water.  You can check out the story under “Lemming Suicide Myth Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior by Riley Woodford” and other places on the internet.  So, I don’t want to promote an urban myth now that I know it is one, but we’ll use that imagery for today.

Unwrapping the Knowledge

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Photo credit to Minden-Press Herald.

 

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Hosea 4:5

Not just any people, but God’s people are perishing, are dumb, are silent, are failing, are being cut down and undone utterly. Why? For lack of knowledge. I’m wondering if “lack” here is the best interpretation of the Hebrew beliy. I mean, the truth is that Paul tells us “that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2) So there was no “lack” of “knowledge” as we think of these terms. It was there. They had it. So what was the problem?

You tell us the heart of the problem with your subsequent words, “because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you.” Therefore, I see, that one can have knowledge right there in their grasp and yet still not have knowledge. I can have a “form” of knowledge, yet it be totally worthless to me because I don’t acknowledge the knowledge for what it truly is.

The Psalmist in Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” But this is just the problem. The people of God turned their hearts to focus on worthless things and in so doing, treated their relationship with You as worthless and might I say, worth less. Your pleasure, Your will, Your image became to them good for nothing compared to the other things that lured them. They treated Your ways as garbage or trash and went after other gods who offered them things the way they wanted them. In treating You like garbage they fell into worshiping that which was garbage and that which couldn’t deliver anything but lies and harm.

That word translated as lack here is a strong emphatic word in Hebrew. It’s a pronouncement about the character of a thing and in this case, of a people. It’s usually about moral character. It’s about people choosing to “practice and promote disobedience to God and man” even though they have all the knowledge to know better and do better. But You look at their life and call it worthless, not because You see no value in them, but because they are depriving themselves of their own worth and their own purpose upon this earth. These people were choosing to defy God and practice and promote what was totally against Him. They would choose to defy their very purpose in creation. Now that’s a sticky situation.

So, what kind of knowledge was lacking or made worthless by the people? The knowledge of God. It’s the heart of all true knowledge. Solomon shared, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) That doesn’t just mean that we can know about things because we are afraid of God. It’s not just about a proper perspective on life. It’s about respecting and honoring God for who God is, for all the magnitude of who He is. And then it goes beyond respect and honor into a personal, intimate relation with Him as someone who is alive and cares and shows that care.

Do I know that God cares for me? Do I know the depths of Your caring? Later in Hosea, he will use the term “knowledge of God,” daath Elohim. And the truth is that knowledge in the Hebrew sense always means more than knowing with Your head or having a strong theological background. It’s all about being human, every range of it. Knowing, really knowing involves every aspect of the emotions, the will, and the intellect. The head and the heart work together. Head knowledge effects heart knowledge and, I suppose, vice versa. It’s not just cognitive. It’s not just rationalized thinking.

When examining the Hebrew word most often used for knowledge, yada, Heschel suggests it this way, “an act involving concern, inner engagement, dedication, or attachment to a person. It also means to have sympathy, pity, or affection for someone.” It’s the farthest cry from correct doctrine. It’s greater than obedience. It’s far greater.

“Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel: for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” (Hosea 4:1) God’s broken heart is crying out to his children. We see Your heart in the image of the marriage analogy. How would our hearts feel if that were to happen to us? Wouldn’t we feel it? Well, God feels it too because it’s not just reading about a relationship, it’s an actual real living relationship with real live attachment and commitment and hearts involved. God feels everything, all the hurt, the humiliation, the sorrow, the betrayal, and more. He knows the consequences of His lover’s choice. He knows what she is missing and what she will receive instead. Her problem is she is lacking a heart knowledge. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know Him at all or she would never leave His side. She didn’t even know what she had when she was there with Him. How tragic.

Knowledge is not about information. It’s about reciprocal feelings. It’s about reciprocal sympathy. It’s about feeling the way God feels, understanding how God understands, loving as He loves, acting as He acts, enjoying what He enjoys. And it’s not even about us each doing it on our own. It’s about doing all this along with You, God. It’s about a relationship of enjoying You as much as You desire to enjoy us. Knowledge is knowing You intimately and enjoying You intimately and personally as much as You enjoy us. It’s delighting in You as You delight in us.

But Israel and Gomer aren’t the only ones not weeping over the intimacy they are missing. Many nations and many of us in the nations are not weeping over the love we’ve thrown away and wasted and lost. We’ve numbed ourselves to the pain of separation. We no longer agonize over You, who ought to be our dearest One. There is no heart for You. And that’s the saddest part.

And then we read and hear about the divorce rate skyrocketing today. But here we have the contrast of God’s love. Because He holds on to the people of His own choosing. He refuses to let them go and give up even though they don’t even care about how He feels. They make love to everything You hate, and yet You continue to love and call them back. They choose to become animals instead of the Beloved. But You don’t give up hope.

No, it wasn’t because Israel lacked information. And it’s not that we lack information either. It’s that we lack “sensitivity, empathy with God.” (Skip Moen) Are we any different? Do I feel what You feel, Lord? Do I share the same sensitivity? Do I cry with You? Do I agonize over what You agonize over? Do I care enough about You to be willing to die to more than myself? Do I care enough about You to be willing to just die to whatever I had to, even if it meant death itself? Because this Husband gives more than I could ever imagine. His life, through Christ, was spent for mine, not out of duty, but out of immeasurable love. He owed me nothing, yet gave everything. And this is GOD who did that. This is GOD. This is the ONLY GOD who has ever and would ever go to those extremes for the love and redemption of His people, His own creation.

I can run around in the midst of my own lies, living any way I want, but it would just be an utter waste of my life. There is absolutely nothing that compares to You and Your love God. Absolutely nothing. I can choose my own way and disregard You and start perishing today. Or I can regard You in Your fullness and know You better than I know myself. I can delight myself in You, the only God who delights Himself in me. And in that kind of knowing and experiencing and living it out, I can see the desires of Your heart come to life in mine as Your love blossoms in me. It would be a shame to be destroyed for lack of knowledge when you held that knowledge right there all along and never experienced it because you never even opened it up and looked inside.