“Though All Hell Endeavour to Shake”

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“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9

I don’t obey for the sake of obeying.  That doesn’t mean that there are often times that I don’t find myself making myself obey when I don’t really feel like obeying.  I guess that’s part of what shows I’m more mature than some of my grandkids.  I say that, because they are here with me and I’ve seen lots of occasions of hearts winning out with their feelings over love of God and love of parents.  And that’s just human nature.  I have the same problem, but by God’s grace, I’m learning to be an overcomer.  They have that same hope.

It’s funny what we perceive as suffering.  Really, we turn anything that is the slightest frustration into suffering and persecution.  But we ought to realize the difference between discomfort and suffering.  It’s true, all discomfort is uncomfortable.  And let’s not forget that obviously, there is discomfort in our most personal relationships at times, especially if we are working under, or living with a non-believer, and even still when we’re both believers.  But we aren’t exempt even if those relationships are with other believers, are we?  Why would that be?

Maybe too often we forget to see things in the light of Christ because, like my beloved grandkids, we focus too much on ourselves so much of the time.  I want to know the remedy for not repaying evil for evil.  When someone or something frustrates me or belittles me or whatever, Peter tells me the remedy.  Sanctify the Lord God in your heart.  (1 Peter 3:15)  Be always ready as a testimony to why you can remain humble and fearless and full of hope, instead of bitter and angry and lashing back. 

Be careful of being self-righteous.  Peter says we have the same kind of blessing or state of bliss as Jesus talks about in those who live according to His values, His character He discussed in the beatitudes.  If we suffer for righteousness’ sake, that is, we receive that blessing of security and closeness in God.  I don’t think that’s based on my righteousness.  I don’t think that’s because I did what was right and now I’m suffering and that’s the righteousness this is based on.  I can look beyond the suffering because I’m not concerned with my righteousness, but with God’s righteousness.  If I am suffering because I sanctify the Lord in my heart and my life, then in the midst of that suffering I am still focussed on You and Your righteousness and it’s not about me but about You. 

Then, so what if I don’t deserve this treatment.  It’s not about me.  It’s about something and someone bigger than me.  Jesus didn’t deserve His treatment either.  But then again, even Jesus didn’t make it about Himself on the cross.  He sanctified the Lord and in so doing, sanctified us.  Even in the wilderness, Satan couldn’t lure Him to think otherwise by offering things that would build Him up.  He didn’t want to venerate Himself.  He wanted to venerate His heavenly Father.  So, what about me?

Peter wants me to know that God called me to be that same kind of blessing, just as Jesus was.  Why?  Because God has blessed me through Jesus Christ.  When He went to the cross and bore my punishment, the extremest of extreme persecution there was from man, plus the weight of the wrath of God upon Him for my sin, He did not render evil back to me.  He doesn’t sit in heaven now and rail at me for my cruelty and stupidity.  He invites me into intimate fellowship and blessing in the Heavenly Father!  And I am called to do the same to those around me.  How I respond in times of frustration and persecution shed light on my relationship with You, Lord, and how much I appreciate, how much I rejoice in how you have treated me and loved me instead of lashing back.

Are you suffering?  David Powlison says our need, “…is to hear God talking and to experience him purposefully at work.  That changes everything.  Left to ourselves, we blindly react.  Our troubles obsess us and distract us…You need to hear what God says, and to experience that he does what he says.  You need to feel the weight and significance of what he is about.  He never lies.  He never disappoints (though he wisely sets about to disappoint our false hopes).  Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear no evil, for he is with you.  Goodness and mercy will follow you.  This is what he is doing.  God’s voice speaks deeper than what hurts, brighter than what is dark, more enduring than what is lost, truer than what happened.  You awaken.  You take it to heart, and you take heart.  You experience that this is so.  The world changes.  You change.  His voice changes the meaning of every hardship.  What he does— has done, is doing, will do— alters the impact and outcome of everything happening to you.  Your faith grows up into honest, intelligent humanness, no longer murky and inarticulate.  You grow more like Jesus: the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, the man after God’s own heart, who having loved his own loved them to the end.”

I’m so thankful to Peter for calling me out on my attitudes and behavior.  I’m thankful for other believers who do the same.  There is an unnamed believer who wrote the hymn How Firm a Foundation who thought on these things too.  You know, it’s pretty usual for song writers or hymn writers to write from their perspective towards praising God.  But this author writes from God’s perspective to us.  So as I listen to these words, taken out of Scripture truths, I can imagine You, Lord, reminding me of who You are and of Your promises to me.  If that doesn’t help me to respond rightly because of the hope I have, I don’t know what else will!  So let me end with some of those thoughts, from God’s perspective to us, out of part of How Firm a Foundation:

“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,

my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;

the flame shall not hurt you; I only design 

your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

“E’en down to old age all my people shall prove

my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;

and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,

like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to his foes;

that soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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Let’s Be Sympathetic

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Credit for photo to Beaba.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”  1 Peter 3:8

Here’s the “definite point or goal” you’ve set out for.  That’s what “finally” signifies here.  We, as believers, have a point that was aimed at as our limit or the conclusion of our purpose here in life.  It’s not just Peter coming to a conclusion.  This is for us.  This is for me.  This is my aim as I identify as a believer in Jesus Christ,  “…all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

This is not just for slaves.  This is not just for wives.  This is not just for husbands.  Those were just some of the relations in life we have trouble knowing how to handle.  But this is to all believers, including slaves, wives, and husbands.  Actually, Peter is telling us that the relationship between believers goes oh so deeper than even that of a husband and wife, should the husband or wife be yoked to a non-believing spouse.  Why?  Because there is a oneness in Christ that pulls us all together here, a deepness in unity, that isn’t attainable outside of Christ. 

I’m not saying that a married couple can’t have the deepness and oneness of being “soulmates,” so to speak.  You can be like one even if both of you are non-believers.  But you can’t be like one if one is a believer and the other not.  Because believers have a unity of mind and spirit with Christ.   How could I be unified with You Lord, and learning to think like You and love the things You love the way You do, and be unified with loving the world and the things of it as a non-believer thinks?  It doesn’t happen that way.  There’s a lonely gap in the middle.  There’s a distance.  There’s misunderstanding.  There’s a hole.

But where there is a relationship in Christ, there is unity not only with Christ, but with other believers, no matter who they are.  So in a world where there are slaves and not slaves, or anything like that, we are not looking at people that way.  We see each other through the mind and eyes of Christ.  In Philippians 5, Paul goes more deeply into this.  Are you encouraged in Christ?  Are you comforted from His love?  Do you get to participate with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit?  Do you receive affection and sympathy from His?  If you have put your trust in Him, then the answer is, “YES!”  Well, then don’t just basque in it for yourself!  Spread it to others!  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  So I must ask myself, “Are you unified with Christ?  If so, would I give like Jesus for the sake of others?  How does my humility look?  Do I draw a line on my humility?  Do I say, ‘God, You can ask this of me, but not that.  I won’t go that far.  That’s just too much.’?  Or, would I truly love You enough to empty myself in the same mind and humble myself in the same mind and become obedient even to the point of death if You so required?

“But we have the mind of Christ.”  That’s what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:16.  But it’s not for the purpose of instructing God, that’s for sure.  We don’t become little God’s knowing everything He knows.  But we are blessed to be able to see God and others through the eyes of Christ, to have His understanding through unity with the Holy Spirit who brings us to know His will, to have His heart, to share His love. 

Therefore, everyone who is a true believer, ought to be unified in thought, in compassion to one another, fond of each other as brothers and sisters love each other, sympathetic and tenderhearted to one another, and courteous or kind to one another.  That ought to be a no-brainer, right?  But is this what my life looks like for real?  That’s what Paul and Peter and most importantly, Jesus, want me to ask myself.

I mean, let’s just look at being sympathetic.  Have you ever heard of a story where a husband winds up having pregnancy symptoms along with his wife?  It’s an actual syndrome because it happens occasionally.  It’s called Couvade syndrome or sympathetic pregnancy.  The partner experiences some of the things the expectant mother is experiencing.  Really.  Sometimes the husband experiences some weight gain, altered hormone levels, morning sickness, and trouble sleeping.  That’s quite a level of understanding, isn’t it?

Noah Webster defines sympathy as “Having common feeling with another; susceptible of being affected by feelings like those of another…”  He also defines sympathy as “Fellow feeling.”  But here’s the thing.  Our deepest sympathy should be with Christ.  If my deepest sympathy is with another person, I could be affected by their affections, which could lead us both where we don’t want to go.  But, if we are living in the mind of Christ, in that unity, we will be living in the deepest sympathy of Christ together, which is always for us, and not against us; which is always compelling us toward that unity in Him which brings us all into unity.

May Peters words remind me to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Let me “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that [I] may not grow weary or fainthearted.”  Let me remember, that You have given me Your mind, this same mindset toward others and especially toward God.  Now let me live in it.

The Millennial Treasure

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Photo credit to Evangelical Focus, an article by Will Graham.

 

“Thus says the Lord God; ‘If the prince gives a gift unto any of his sons, the inheritance thereof shall be his sons’; it shall be their possession by inheritance.’” Ezekiel 46:16

 
A millennium with Jesus, wouldn’t that be an awesome thing? Now I’ve seen some disagreement over whether this prince of Ezekiel’s vision is Jesus or not, but the Jewish rabbis looked to this prince as the Messiah. On the other hand, there is disagreement through commentaries upon whether this prince is Jesus or an appointed prince by God among the people. Frankly, I’m not an official Bible scholar, so I don’t know for sure, but when I read this, it sure makes me think of Him.

 
I wouldn’t have a problem with this being Jesus as the prince, after all, He is the Prince of Peace and He is the One who can atone for our sins. I’m just wondering why God would have anyone else approach the Holy of Holies now that the veil was torn through Jesus. What greater picture for all mankind at the time than to see Jesus standing in the place for us right before our very eyes?

 
But sacrifices? All that ritual? Why would Jesus die only to re-institute the sacrifices and rituals again? What purpose would that serve? What about a visual reminder? It seems to me that we as people need more reminders than we like to admit. And our reminders need to be pretty strong and visual. It’s not like a light nudge is often enough. Often, don’t we find that we need the cold water thrown on our faces to wake us up? Well, I don’t really look at these sacrifices as being cold water unpleasant. Let me explain.

 
What if the ritual and sacrifice we see in the Old Testament, that here God is saying He will re-institute in the millennium, isn’t about ritual experience? What if it never was about following ritual and obeying because you had to obey or else? What if walking through these rituals and walking through these sacrifices was always about understanding our relationship to God in different ways? What if it was about understanding different pieces of God, so to say? What if every step of obedience was supposed to be a step of love and adoration? What if understanding the reasons behind the ceremonies and celebrations and offerings was to understand more of our relationship with God and His relationship with us? Could there be a reason that God said these would be perpetual celebrations and perpetual offerings? Could they always have been intended as more than ritual and more than just commanded obedience? Is there more to this than meets our eyes?

 
Why can’t Jesus enter the East gate and offer up sacrifices for us? Wasn’t Jesus just as holy and just as much Jesus when He came to earth? Didn’t He obey all that God required of “Temple worship” and walking with others and submitting to authority then? If it wasn’t wrong for Jesus to participate then as an example before us of how we are to participate in the life that God has called us to, then why wouldn’t it be right for Him to continue to exemplify all things God for us, all things life for us?

 
Why are we so afraid of sacrifice and God’s ordained feasts and festivals and commandments? Is it because we really don’t understand them? What if they weren’t so foreign? What if it was all more about uncovering God like a glorious Treasure than following a ritual? What if participation was participation with God?

 
I can get stuck in the rut of ritual whether I am Jewish or Christian or any other religion or even not of any religion. That’s called a habit. But this isn’t about ritual and never was from God’s perspective. It’s always been about relationship. Abram didn’t follow after ritual. He followed a God whose voice he heard and who showed Himself on his behalf. He obeyed because He found a Treasure worth selling his whole life for! Moses would have followed ritual for sure at first. But God stripped him of that thinking. God brought Moses to the point where God was his Treasure, where the reality of life was the God of the burning bush. Moses became a man after God’s own heart, so humble, which was the total opposite of the Moses leaving Egypt.

 
I’ll skip ahead to the New Testament and look at Paul. Paul was a man of devout ritual. That wasn’t God’s choice. I know it wasn’t God’s choice because God confronted him about it. “Why do you kick against the goads?” And once Paul’s relationship with God changed through Jesus, the Treasure of worship in all the affairs of the Temple and Scripture opened anew to him and he was able to invite others, both Jew and Gentile, into the beauty of that Treasure! I must not forget that those first Gentile converts worshipped along with the Jews, not separate from them. Oh, the beauty of what was opened to their eyes! Even if it was only in part, the measure of the new understanding and beauty of God would be wonderful.

 
So, who are the sons of the prince? What if they are the children of God? What is the inheritance of the children of God? Isn’t the most precious inheritance to know God and be known by Him? Isn’t God through Jesus Christ our Treasure? I’m not sure what else there is to focus on. I mean, if you ask me, heaven isn’t as grand a treasure as God because heaven, without God, would be nothing but hell. Maybe if my real focus in life was the inheritance of God, you know, believing and acting as though God was my only treasure, then maybe I’d act a lot differently as I walked through this life. Maybe some things wouldn’t be so important any more. And maybe other things would be more important than ever.

 
But I do know this one thing, if there is a desire in my heart to spend a millennium with Jesus, I ought to start living in my inheritance now. I ought to start rejoicing in everything that represents the Treasure of my God every day because if I’m in Him, my inheritance in Him has already begun. I don’t get to be lazy. Because there will come a day, during that millennium when there will be people who turn from the Prince because He never was their Treasure and there will come a time when the Treasure passes judgement. And only those who know the Treasure will inherit the Treasure Himself. There is only one gift and the Gift is God Himself through Jesus Christ. I don’t ever want to ignore You.

On Being Who He’s “Put” You to Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Peculiar People, Most Uncommon!

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Photo credit to everydayfamily.com

 

“He measured it by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred reeds long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place.” Ezekiel 42:20

 
So here You are, Lord, continuing to give us detailed information about Your future sanctuary. And then at the end of this chapter You tell us You are making a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place. And I wonder if most of the time we just read over that like the reading itself is beneficial for us. Now I’m not saying the reading isn’t beneficial, but reading without thinking or understanding, where is the benefit? Reading and thinking this was only important then but not now, how beneficial is that? What if You want me to grasp some of this now? What if You do want it to be beneficial to me? What if it does matter today as well as then?

 
Maybe it would do me good to take time to see what You mean by this separation. Maybe I should try to understand Your meaning of sanctuary and what You mean by the profane place. Maybe all this would help me as I live out my life in You today.
The sanctuary in Hebrew is from the word qodesh. On the other hand, the profane place is from the Hebrew word chol. In one sense we can think of it as a separation (Hebrew badal) between the holy and the secular. But I think this requires a deeper investigation to understand. This word chol actually means profaneness or commonness. Qodesh, on the other hand, is sacred and holy. So right away we can see that there is a contrast between these two words, these to concepts.

 
If we jump back to Leviticus 10:8-11 we can see these words in play. “And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest you die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generation: and that you may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.” Is separating between holy and unholy and unclean and clean that important? It appears so. But what does that mean to us today?

 
Here were Aaron and his sons set apart by God to represent His holiness and to be the ones to come before Him in the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people of Israel. Not only were they to live and act separated unto Him, but they were to teach the people to be separated unto Him. But separated from what? Separated from the common, separated from the world, separated from the secular. But here’s the deal. Hey, we are secular, we live in the secular, so how can we be separate from what we are? After all, secular is just the stuff of the world without regard to the spiritual. It’s the mundane part of living without attaching the spiritual aspects. It’s the common stuff of life.

 
But maybe here’s the other part of the deal. We’re not just secular. Or at least we weren’t created to only be secular and common. We were created with a spiritual aspect in the image of God our creator. And the spiritual acts differently than the wholly common or secular. The spiritual knows there is something greater and far more valuable to life.
I can just stop and think about God’s words to Aaron and his sons. Wine and strong drink are common things, secular if you will. They are not inherently bad. But if Aaron and his sons have been chosen and set aside to point people to God and to act as intermediaries, then their focus and energy and hearts ought to be focussed on God and bringing people back into right relationship with God and each other. God is not common. God is holy and above all. God should be in control of our every thought, not alcohol. We are called to make a separation. What is important? No, what is beyond important for my life? What does holiness look like in my life? What needs to be separated out so that my focus truly is in God?

 
It’s important that I understand this. There are things that are not harmful but neither are they beneficial. There are things that are common but will only lead me to the common. And then there is the holy. And then there is the holy which can use some common things and make them holy. But be careful because some common things can make the holy, unholy, like strong drink that led Aaron’s sons to not be able to separate between holy and common. And they took a holy censor and offered common worship and were killed in their commonness. That’s a tragedy because they were set apart to be holy and to know holiness. They were called out of the common to lead others to holiness. But they didn’t understand and they didn’t let go of their commonness.

 
Yochanan Zaqantov explains that qodesh (holy) has nothing to do with being untouchable or more righteous or greater than we. Qodesh has everything to do with being set apart and made “not ordinary.” We can see that in Exodus 3:5 when Moses was told to approach the burning bush and told to take off his sandals because “the place on which you stand- it is holy ground.” What made that ground holy? Before the bush was burning, wasn’t it ordinary ground that Moses may have walked over many times before? But now, God had set this ground apart for a purpose and because God had set it apart, it was to be treated and responded to differently.

 
In Exodus 16:23 God reminded again that the Sabbath, that particular day of the week was to be set aside. It was set apart to be different from the others. Prepare for the Sabbath so that the Sabbath can be what it was set apart to be. We can treat it like any other day, but God has set it apart as no longer common. It has been set apart and made holy. Do I treat it as common? Am I guilty of the sin of Aaron’s sons?

 
In Exodus 28:36-38 God instructs a pure plate of gold to be made with “Holines for Adonai” engraved upon it. This gold plate was to be threaded onto Aaron, the high priest’s turban, over his brow so that “Aaron is to bear the iniquity of the holy-offerings that the Children of Israel offer, all their gifts of holiness; it is to be on his brow regularly, for (receiving) favour for them before the presence of Adonai (God).” So stop and think about that. Who was Aaron? Aaron was just a common man. In himself he had no ability to bear the sin of the people. But God called Him and separated Him unto Himself and equipped Him by Himself to be holy. God separated Aaron onto Himself and imparted His holiness upon him. But Aaron, like his sons, and like us, must choose to differ between the common and the holy and walk in the holy where and as told to walk.
So now I’ve seen where You, God, take the common and make it holy and You teach us the difference between holy and common. I saw Aaron’s sons die because they would not live by the difference. Are they the only ones?

 
Hear what God tells to his people through Ezekiel in Ezekiel 22:24-26. “Son of man, say unto her, ‘You are the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation. There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated My law, and have profaned My holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and the profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them…’” Do I get that? When I take what is holy and make it everyday and disrespect what God has set apart, I not only make it common or chol, I make God appear as common, as profane.
The priests themselves were guilty of doing this, were guilty of taking what they knew God had set apart for Himself, had set apart as holy, and they irreverently used it or displayed or misused it in common ways for their own purposes. And it destroyed the people because it marred the image of God before them. Do I want to be guilty of that? Do I want to profane what You have set apart, God? Do I want to take what is sacred and make it irreverent?  Do I want to be one that abuses Your sacred things and treats them and You with irreverence? Would I rather be filled with contempt than reverence for You? It’s what will happen if I don’t keep separated what You have already separated in my life and the life of others.

 
Let’s go one more place in the Old Testament. Here we are in Ezekiel 44 hearing about the sons of Zadok again. Ezekiel 44:15-24, “‘But the levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of My Sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me- they shall approach Me to minister to Me; they shall stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood-‘ declares Adonai. ‘They alone may enter My Sanctuary and they alone shall approach My table to minister to Me; and they shall keep My charge.’” Notice that in contrast to the previous priests who had profaned God’s separations, the sons of Zadok had been faithful when everyone else bailed out on God. Now, not all of Aarons descendants will be priests but only those of the line of Zadok.

 
If we keep reading further on, God separates the clothing they must wear, linen and not wool. He separates how they are to dress. He separates them from the people in the outer court and has them remove their clothing from the inner court so as not to “consecrate” the people by touching the clothing. Get that? God’s set apart clothing could set a person apart? Wow! He sets apart their hair style and their consumption of alcohol while on duty. He sets apart their future wives. He sets them apart as judges. Why? Because they know how to set things apart. They already know how to divide the holy from the common, the clean from the unclean. They understand the difference and they already chose to live by it in a time when everyone else abandoned it.

 
These sons of Zadok are set apart to instruct others in understanding and choosing what is sacred and what is profane, what is clean and unclean. They have been set apart to live in accord with God’s rules and to teach others to do so. They are set apart to preserve God’s teachings and laws and fixed occasions and Sabbaths. Why the sons of Zadok? Because they were set apart and accepted their set-apartedness when others rejected it. They lived as they were created to be by God. I have that same choice.

 
David got it. He was a common kid. Even his dad and his brothers didn’t think anything special of him. But God set him apart for purpose in Him. In Psalm 4:3 David says, “But know that the Lord has set apart him that is godly for Himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto Him.” The funny thing is that David wasn’t born godly, and neither was I. I think we’re born, all of us, with this godly potential. And God wants to set each of us apart into that godliness of Him. But not all of us accept His invitation when He sets us apart. Why? Because being set apart for God and in God means being separated from many other common things we are used to. Being set apart for and in God means we don’t use the common as common any more. We follow His lead on when to use and how to use and if to use it because He takes the common and makes it uncommon and holy in Him.

 
One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is in Revelation 17:14. It says, “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” God is still setting people apart for Him. He calls, He appoints, He separates and it’s up to us to be faithful to His calling, His appointing, and His separating.

 
Have I allowed God to separate me for His service? Am I allowing Him to separate me every day and every moment of my life? Am I living according to His separation? 1 Peter 2:8 tells me, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light…” See, peculiar is not strange. Peculiar means I’ve been acquired and set apart by God. And if that makes me peculiar by this world’s standards, it’s because I’m not just common and secular any more. I belong to a God who is changing me into His image instead of the image of the world. The common is being folded into something uncommon and holy. I am God’s masterpiece, learning to imitate Him as I conform to His separation. May I continually learn and live the difference between the common and the holy.

Walking with God in the Details

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Photo credit to http://www.shutterstock.com

 

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8

 
Today I’m back in Ezekiel reading about the measurements and specifications of the future temple, the future house of God. Only here I am quoting Genesis. Why? As I was reading and thinking about all the specifics in Ezekiel and about how the details matter to You God and how Your details ought to matter to us, I couldn’t help thinking about Noah and how You equipped him to build the ark.

 
Here was the condition of the world and the condition of the hearts of the people of the world in Noah’s day: “And the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repents me that I have made them.” Why did it repent You or make You sorry You had made us? Because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And that grieved Your heart because man, people like me, had so twisted who we were, by twisting our thoughts and our actions, that we no longer resembled what we were created for. And why couldn’t we resemble our purpose any more? Because we threw away the details. We wouldn’t pay attention to the Master plan. And get this. The Master Plan was someone we could know and respond to, like Adam and Eve or Cain or Abel. But like Cain, we turned to our plans instead of Yours and our lives became twisted.

 
But then comes this beautiful verse. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I see that as saying when God looked at Noah and examined his heart and life, He found within Noah a spark of something beautiful to God. What was it? What was that beauty in Noah? That Noah still held on to the presence of God in his life. That He remembered the stories and clung to the God he knew.

 
In this corrupt world of Noah’s time, He was just and perfect. What? Noah was a perfect man? Not in the sense that we think of perfect. He was “entire.” He was full of integrity and truth. He was without spot and undefiled. He was whole. He was perfect in God’s eyes because His heart clung to God and followed Him. He walked with God. Come on now. Look back at Adam and Eve. Isn’t that what we were created to do? Aren’t we to be walking with God every day of our lives? Hasn’t He designed us to know how and to do it? If a man without a written instruction book can figure out how to do that and do it, then what’s our problem? What’s my problem?

 
So Noah walks with God. That means that he cares about and acts upon what is on God’s heart. And God includes Him in what He’s doing. And here come all these measurements as God instructs Noah on how to build this ark, this first of it’s kind, this giant boat in this place where there isn’t even water to float it. But Noah doesn’t stop to say, “Hey, God, why are You giving me all these details? What’s up? Do I really need this? Is this important?” I think for Noah that this is a no brainer. He already knows that God’s way is the right way and the only way. He already lives like every detail matters because it does. And because He’s already living in God’s will, God is already protecting him and preparing him from the coming judgement. Not only that, but God is making Noah a beacon to others, an opportunity for others to walk with God instead and rejoice in God’s plan and in His details.

 
This has nothing to do with Noah’s abilities. He was just a man who walked with God. Because he walked with God, God walked with him. God gave him everything he needed to be His representative on earth. That’s what we were created for, to be God’s vessels on earth, to shine forth the power and love of God. And God does that work in us. Noah couldn’t build the ark without God. God gave Noah everything he needed from the detailed measurements, to the physical provision, to the skill to do so. And it didn’t stop there. God was the One who sealed Noah and his family safely inside the ark.

 
Which takes me back to Ezekiel. Chapter 41 starts with, “Afterward he brought me to the temple…” Doesn’t that sound like people walking together again? It does to me. It sounds like God is walking Ezekiel through something special here, something worth thinking about and valuing. And like Noah, if Ezekiel hadn’t already been walking with God, he would have missed this. And it’s not like this is just any building that You are showing Ezekiel. This is the temple that will one day be where every believer can walk into Your presence in Jesus Christ. This is the reality of You come to earth.

 
God’s word and instructions are all about being invited into an intimate relationship with our Maker. He gives us the details so we can participate fully with Him. They matter. As we participate with Him, we get to come to see and know things about Him. Building the ark wasn’t some mundane task that Noah was expected to do. It was amazing participation with God and amazing protection and salvation and deliverance. But if Noah had not participated with God? If Noah had disregarded the importance of the directions?

 
And what about Ezekiel. He didn’t get to build the temple but He paid close attention and then He declared what He was asked to declare so that this would be words of future encouragement. One day God is going to bring every one of those details to pass. Just like Noah had to wait for that appointed time before the ark was complete, so Ezekiel knew that the appointed time would come. So we can know also. What does this temple tell me? That God is coming, here to earth, to be with us. Jesus is coming back. Jesus will reign in His full capacity and I can look forward to that.

 
And since Jesus is coming back, we ought to be busy letting people know so that they can be ready for that appointed time. How do we get ready? We respond to God’s word by participating with Him in what He says. We pay attention to the details. Sometimes we hold onto it and ponder it in our hearts like Mary did until it was time for it to make sense. But all along, we obey. Listening isn’t listening unless the appropriate action to the listening follows. If I want God to be close then I ought to be close enough to His word to know how to be close to Him. And the only way to be close to Him is to participate with Him.

 
That’s why Jesus came. He redeemed us so that God’s glory could shine in us again. He redeemed us so that we could be reunited with God and participate with Him again in the way we were created to. Grace is there, always. But we won’t find it unless we find the One who offers it. Noah found grace because He walked with God. He found where grace flowed from and clung to Him. Ezekiel found grace because He walked with God and clung to where grace flowed from. What about me? May I cling to the One that grace flows from and walk with You in obedience and in intimate relationship by loving all Your words and allowing them to have their way in my life.

When God is Against Me

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“Be prepared, and prepare yourself, you, and all your companies that are assembled unto you, and be a guard unto them.” Ezekiel 38:7

 
Being prepared is a good thing. Well, it can be a good thing depending on what you are preparing for. I mean, right now, lots of people around the world are preparing for Christmas. That’s a good thing. But there are some people preparing for death. And depending on how they are preparing for that, it might or might not be such a good thing to them. Maybe someone is preparing to tell someone else some bad news. Or someone might be preparing for a graduation. What the land of Magog is preparing for is not a good thing coming their way. The land of Magog is preparing for coming judgement.
Why is Magog preparing itself? Why are they preparing for God’s coming judgement? Because like so many others, they would not prepare for the presence of God in their every day lives. Their every day lives were absent of the One who created them and gives them purpose in this life. Their faces and their lives were “set against” God. And so You God have set Your face “against” them.

 
That’s an interesting expression. You tell Ezekiel, “Son of man, set your face against God, the land of Magog…and prophesy against him…” (Ezekiel 38:2) In verse 3 you tell Ezekiel to say, “Thus says the Lord God; ‘Behold, I am against you, O Gog…” I think of that phrase used in the King James Version and I think of someone facing the other way, refusing to look at and acknowledge Magog, of someone who is working against them. But here’s the interesting thing. That’s not what it means. It really means that Ezekiel was told to set his face toward Magog. And it means that God, You were or are setting Your face toward Magog. It seems like Your back is no longer remaining turned and You are in a place of face to face confrontation. When this time comes, there will be no more ignoring You.
Since I’m trying to understand You and Your word better, I thought it would be good for me if I investigated what it means when You set Your face against someone, when You turn Your face to them. And why would You do that? What brings things to that point? So, into Your word I delve.

 
As I dig, I first come to Leviticus. In chapter 17, verse 10, I read, “And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eats any manner of blood; I will even set My face against that soul that eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.” This is God’s face, His paniym or countenance, being turned toward or near the one He is looking at or dealing with. That word paniym is the same word God used when He spoke of Cain’s countenance falling. And here, in Leviticus we have someone, who ought to know God and the things of God and what delights God and they just don’t do it. God says, “don’t eat blood.” Do I really need to know why? Does there always have to be a reason? Do I need to understand to trust God and obey? For whatever reason, this person who is a part of the people of Israel, which means they are a part of the family of God, eats blood anyways. So what? God sees. God knows. You look closely into that person’s heart and You have the ability to judge their devotion to You, their love, their intentions, their obedience, their everything. You see into every part of that person and know that by their choice, they don’t love and worship You. Why? They don’t honour and value Your commands and they lead others to dishonour Your commands. That’s dangerous, for ourselves and those around us. You won’t continue to ignore that. You will turn Your face to us and deal with us if we won’t deal with ourselves by preparing ourselves in You in the first place.

 
Then there’s the person who offers their child to idols like Molech. Oh, that means that they are worshipping an idol, another God. And You declare, “And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he has given of his seed unto Molech, to defile My sanctuary, and to profane My holy name.” (Leviticus 20:3) That’s pretty bad, isn’t it. Someone who calls themselves a believer in God, a child of Israel, who worships a foreign God? Yet they still continue as though everything is fine in Israel and in their home and in their life. But God sees and God knows. And this has nothing to do with life, but everything to do with death and emptiness. This has everything to do with tearing down and destroying God’s holiness and image before those surrounding this person. It has everything to do with dragging others into destruction with you as you continue with Molech. But God sees and God, You know. And You will not let it continue forever. You will step in, face to face, and confront the problem, and the truth about Who You Are will be made known. And the truth about who the twisted one is, will be made known to that twisted one. It’s good to make sure I’m not twisted. I would prepare myself well by making sure my heart is lined up rightly with the One who created it, before I wind up preparing to go face to face with God, because if He has to confront me in that way, I will lose.

 
Let’s not forget this one, “And the soul that turns after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.” (Leviticus 20:6) And here’s another to remember, “ And if you shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that you will not do all my commandments, but that you break my covenant… And I will set my face against you, and you shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and you shall flee when none pursues you.” (Leviticus 20:15,17) Oh, there’s more to think about: Jeremiah 21:8,10,  “Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death…For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, says the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire,” or Ezekiel 14:7,8 “For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separates himself from me, and sets up his idols in his heart, and puts the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and comes to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the lord will answer him by myself.  And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” And let me add Ezekiel 15:7 about the vine that is not meet for work when it is whole so it is just as useful burned. “And I will set my face against them:; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and you shall know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them.” Why? They have committed a trespass. That’s what the next verse says. So is that the problem here? What in the world is a trespass and why such severe penalties or judgement?

 
A trespass is from the Hebrew word maal, meaning treachery, sin- falsehood. It’s not an accidental slip up. This is deliberate defiance. This is when I know that God has said, “Don’t eat blood,” but I do it anyway because I want to or I don’t care what He says. This is when God says that we are to have nothing to do with idols, or familiar spirits and I run to them anyways. This is when God tells me I should delight in His word and I don’t give a hoot instead or I despise it and treat it with disrespect, any part of it. This is trespassing. This is maal. This is treachery against God, and against others. This is falsehood. This is sin. This is serious. This is worthy of having to be cut off from Him and from His family.  Yes, He will confront this.  He will get right in Your face like a good Father.

 
That other expression about God cutting him off, really stands out to me. It’s in Numbers 15:30 also, “But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among the people.” Maybe more of us ought to be preparing ourselves to hear and understand all of this better. It’s a pretty serious and bad thing to prepare to be cut off. I’d rather not have to prepare for that.  I mean who likes to get caught in the wrong and then stand before your father and have to be confronted over it.  I mean, we know what’s coming when it’s our earthly father, right?  Why do we think our heavenly Father won’t stop us in our tracks?

 
But what exactly is the impact of being cut off. It’s from the Hebrew word karath. It has to do with cutting off, cutting down, and cutting asunder. But it’s a word that’s used in the cutting of sacrifices. Remember when Abram had to cut the animals into pieces and while he was put into a deep sleep, God passed in between the sacrifice? It was a part of covenantal agreements. It’s there in the covenant of circumcision. There’s cutting and blood involved in His covenants. Why? Maybe so we would understand the seriousness not only of the covenant or promise, but the seriousness of the consequences.

 
There is another kind of cutting. There is the cutting of excommunication; the cutting off of relationship. There is the cutting off from community which is vital to us. Imagine being in the wilderness and being cut off from the community of Israel. What would that mean in real terms? It would mean that you were removed from your protection, you would be without any interaction, you would have no provision, and you would be without God. Pretty much, it was your death sentence. Yep, it was death.

 
When You Lord,  set Your face against us, You are turning Yourself directly to us and confronting our treachery face on. You are holding us responsible for it and giving us the consequences. Excommunication from You and others in You is the consequence. Sometimes that’s our immediate death, but even if not so, it’s the beginning of our destruction and our exclusion. Maybe that makes us ask why excommunication? Why death? Because for deliberate sin, for these trespasses, for this wilfulness there was no sacrifice that could be offered for their forgiveness. The sacrifices were for unintentional sins and mistakes, not intentional, not deliberate and wilful disobedience. For that, there is only this being cut off.

 
Wow! Where does that leave me or you? Don’t tell me you have never deliberately and willfully disobeyed. Is forgiveness not available for me? Thank God for something greater than the Jewish sacrificial system. Thank God for Your compassion that offered the sacrifice of Jesus Your Son who payed the price as our sacrifice able to forgive our deliberate sin. Thank God that Jesus bears all our sins away.

 
I need to get this. I need to be preparing in You and not waiting for You to tell me to prepare to meet the consequences of my sin. Trusting Jesus is willfully obeying, it’s determining that Your desires are best no matter how I feel. It’s learning to love Your ways above my own and follow them regardless where they lead here because they always lead to You. It’s about turning my face and my whole life to You When now in preparation so that when You look at me, it’s not in judgment, but to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It’s not some trivial thing we’re reading about today. It’s a matter of life and death, which You proposed to us already way back in the Old Testament. It’s not old and archaic. It’s a timeless truth. It’s life eternal. Sin will destroy me. It will destroy you. It will destroy us. Today should make me stop and think. I should think about the precarious and dangerous situation I am in if I am not right with God in Christ. He is here desiring to rescue and not excommunicate. But I can choose life or death. What will I choose? Lord, I want to choose Your fellowship and the fellowship of Your word. May I learn to delight in everything that is of You.