Ditching the Attitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s Get Over Ourselves

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Photo credit to theknot.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Fake God Culture

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos or God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bad Dream

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Picture credit to illusionspoint.com

 

“‘…Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:32

 
I’m up early this morning because I had a dream. It wound up being a bad dream. There was a small child next to me and he wanted to go with another person and didn’t listen when the other person said, “No.” He was at the top of a multiple flight of stairs and someone was on the partial flight slightly below. So he just jumped out for the person to  catch him anyway, only that person didn’t catch him. I couldn’t believe it. He just fell past down the flights to the floor below. And I ran and told the person to call 9-1-1 because I knew it wasn’t good. Actually, I was pretty sure the fall killed him. And I ran and held him in my arms and then I woke up. It was just a terrible feeling. There were so many reasons why it didn’t have to happen. Why couldn’t I stop him? Why didn’t he listen? Why didn’t the other person even try to catch him? How could they not hear the sound of his head hitting? Why weren’t they running to him? Why was I even having a terrible dream like this?

 
So then I get up, because now I can’t sleep any more anyway and I continue reading in Ezekiel and I almost have to ask some of the same questions. Because here I see God asking those kinds of questions of Israel and in asking those kinds of questions of Israel, You make me think about them in terms of me too. They aren’t just things to think about for people of the past, but it’s what we ought to be thinking about today as well. You ask the same question, “Why will you die?”

 

I had no pleasure in watching the death that transpired in that dream. For so many reasons it didn’t have to happen and yet it did. God, You tell us the same thing. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, so turn, and live. Step back from what you want and listen to Me. I want you to live and live abundantly. I’m not trying to keep you from something. My plans are for better things for you than you even know.”

 
And God, You aren’t like the person who didn’t even try to catch the child. Because You make every effort to turn Israel’s heart just as You make every effort to turn mine. You treat every one of us individually. That’s so amazing. You tell us, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) That means that children aren’t held responsible and counted guilty for the parents’ sins, nor vice versa. We are each held responsible for our own sin or righteousness.

 
You continue, “‘If a man is righteous and does what is just and right [that means according to You]—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live,’ declares the Lord GOD.” If a man walks faithfully in the ways of the God who created Him, trusting in Him and His Word and His ways, then he’s counted as righteous, just like Abram. If this man, who here happens to be a father, walks faithfully in God’s ways, he will be saved from God’s wrath and punishment because he’ll have a relationship with the God who wants to care for him. He’ll demonstrate how much he thinks of His God by living like Him. He won’t worship anyone else, because his heart is for You alone. He’ll honor and respect women because he honors and respects You. He won’t misuse others by collecting interest and being more concerned about his profit than their welfare because You are concerned about his welfare. He won’t only refrain from injustice but he will make sure that things are just between people, because justice is of You. He’ll walk in Your statutes, Your ways, and Your will, and obey You because he knows You and honors You as God and as heavenly Father and Lord.

 
But should his son choose otherwise, no matter what he’s seen in his father, then his son will be judged for his own choices. Should he choose violence and shedding blood instead (periyts and shaphak, in Hebrew), then he chooses his own way, that dishonors and defies the God who created him and those around him. He commits violence against God and others, he breaks what God intended, he robs God of His glory and murders the image of God in man. Instead, he chooses to worship idols, dishonor women, oppress the poor and needy, he cruelly takes from others, isn’t concerned with restoration, is involved in things that stand against God, is more concerned about interest and profit than people or God. This son will be judged for his choices.

 
Because that’s what it is, it’s our choice. Because this son, could have a son who has seen all the wrong things that his dad was doing. And his own son could decide to not do likewise. So God, You will judge him alone for his choices.

 
And You even are so merciful as to take it a step beyond. Because there are those who are wicked, who do all those terrible things, and all of a sudden they see what they’re doing and they turn away from their sin and commit themselves to You and now they keep Your statutes and do what is just and right and live for You. You even let this person live; he will not die. You pull him back from the flames. You hug him to You just like the one who was already there by Your side. The one who turns shall surely live too.
You are a righteous and just judge and You alone are qualified to judge us since You created us and You established the bar. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” So maybe a right question to ask now would be, “On which side of the fence do I fall? Who am I lining my life up with? Whose statutes am I following, Yours or my own? Am I standing at the top of the stairs and jumping without listening? Am I violently falling into my own demise?”

 
My dream was rotten. It left a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach and clouded my thoughts. God says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” As rotten as that dream was for me, which thankfully is only a dream and didn’t really happen, imagine all the real life death and spiritual death that God must watch due to our own choices. Imagine the heart of God for those He created for His glory and to receive His love as He watches so many reject their purpose and His love and step into their own demise, into their own violence.

 
But the good news is that should we turn to the Lord, we live. You have no pleasure in the death of anyone. You have no pleasure in the death and separation from You of a willfully wicked person, nor do do You have pleasure in the death and separation of a righteous person who turns to wickedness. Well, I guess they’re both the same, aren’t they? And I guess it’s all about my will or our will and whether we understand that Your will is sovereign and Your will is best. So it’s a matter of me lining up my will with Yours and living in Your will. Because as much as I want to be, I’m not in control. I didn’t create me or the next person. I didn’t create the universe and I don’t hold it together by my word. But You do. And that ought to count for something. Actually, that counts for everything.

 
I don’t want to be a tragedy or a fatality. I don’t have to be. You share Yourself in such a way that I can know You and I can live in You and for You. As a matter of fact, for those who choose to surrender their lives back to You who created us, You don’t make us do all this on our own. You actually dwell in us by the person, power, and presence of Your Holy Spirit. And the beauty of it all is that Jesus showed us what life in You is like. And we can have it through His resurrection when we follow by dying to ourselves and our violent wills and live to Your will. He paid the price for us to be forgiven, so that our wickedness wouldn’t be remembered against us, so that God will look upon us as righteous. We follow in faith and trust. We wait for God to say, “Jump now. I’ve got you.” We don’t just do it in our own time and our own way lest we fall to our death. And what pleasure is there in that, for anyone involved? Everyone in the dream was brokenhearted. But it doesn’t have to be. God has a better way. And His name is Jesus. And I can turn to Him and live in Him and for Him. I can turn, and live. The question is, “Will I?”

The Value of a Vine

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Photo compliments of Brittany Cunningham.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authority and the Universe

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Photo credit to grand_universe_by_antifan_real1.jpg

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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