Getting Out of the Rut

Standard

Photo credit to 4-wheeling-in-western-australia.com

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Luke 3:4b

Imagine going out into the wilderness to hear this man dressed in camel’s hair, with a belt of animal skin around his hip, who ate locusts and wild honey.  Today, that would be really unusual, but even back in Jesus’ day, that was unusual.  Even the most basic Jew would have worn a tunic, this “simple, one-piece robe, usually belted at the waist, with a hole for the head and two holes for the arms.” (Msgr. Charles Pope)  Most people wore both an inner tunic and an outer tunic.   The inner tunic only, was not a very respectable thing to wear by itself.  It was like a loose T-shirt dress coming to the knees, made of linen, cotton, or soft wool. Over the inner tunic, an outer tunic was worn, that often had tassles on the corner called Tzittzit.  If you were feeling penitential, like John or a prophet or the people of Ninevah, you might have worn sackcloth or camel hair.  That means that this John the Baptist guy, preaching in the wilderness was quite a site in his camel hair paired with the message he was preaching.   Here was a man demonstrating great humility in all areas of his life, calling everyone to humble repentance.  Could John’s message be so important that he would choose to humble himself before God and the people to declare it?

What was John’s message?  He was preaching the need for “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (verse 3)  John was preaching the need.  He was telling us all that without repentance, without turning from our sin, we can not be delivered from it, forgiven of it.  But it doesn’t just take repentance.  It takes the baptism of repentance.  I could repent on my own.  I could be sorry and turn myself around.  But that wouldn’t be the baptism of repentance. 

John’s baptism was a picture.  He dipped people in the waters of the Jordan River or where ever.  But in truth, the Jordan River can’t take away our sins.  So John was preaching something more powerful, but using a baptism that we could see to help prepare us for understanding how much we needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ to do the job for real, to do the job that we could not.

This baptiser was a voice in the wilderness crying out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (verse 4-6; Isaiah 40:3-5)  So, John’s “job” was to prepare people for Jesus.  His job was to make Jesus’ path straight.  What does that mean?

I don’t know exactly.  But it makes me stop and think.  Jesus didn’t need the earth leveled out to walk on it, so this is a word picture.  What is the picture that God is trying to paint for me?  How do you prepare the way for the Lord to enter?  Enter what?  Enter the earth?  Or enter a man’s heart and life and mind?  What if people need to be prepared to be able to look straight at Jesus and see him for who he really is and ourselves for who we really are?  That word for path is like a worn rut, you know, like where the cows go back and forth every day, or a lion paces back and forth in his zoo cage.  It makes a rut.

Then there’s that word “straight.”  It can also mean level.  And I’m thinking that’s it here.  Why?  Because we have ourselves in ruts in our lives.  A rut isn’t level; it’s a depression in the soil.  And then we come to the next word.  We hear valleys being filled, mountains and hills being leveled, winding roads straightened, and rough ways made smooth.  And when all this happens, boom, the salvation of God!

This is the call to repentance.  We are called out of our ruts.  We are called to get off our mountains and our high hills.  We are called to walk away from perversity and crookedness.  We are called to smooth out our rough and jagged edges.  But then again, we can’t do that on our own.  We need someone who can do this in our lives.  We need someone who has the power to make the path straight, to fill and level the valley, to bring down the mountains of pride, to overcome perversity and crookedness in our lives, to smooth out our rough and rocky edges, to make us able to know our God and His salvation.

Who warns us to flee from the wrath to come, to flee from the anger of God?  Who warns us to come to Him, to draw near to Jesus, to find refuge and forgiveness and power in Him?  Unless it’s God working in us, it’s not real.  The reality of God working in us and calling us unto Himself through His Son Jesus, works in us the fruit of real repentance.  I will know that I can’t do any of this on my own.  I will know that I need Him.  I will know that I am lost without Him and He is my only hope for life, now and forever. 

What shall I do, then, Lord?  If you would hew down those who don’t bring forth good fruit, how can I be one who bears good fruit?  If I can’t set the path straight on my own, how can I at all?  Is it enough if I give one of my coats to someone in need?  Is it enough if I am honest in my affairs with others?  Is it enough if I refrain from violence, don’t accuse others falsely, and am content?  No, that is not enough, but those things are the fruits of repentance, the fruits of one who is being humbled and humbling oneself.  These are the fruits of one whose way is being prepared for the Lord.

John was not the Lord.  But he was helping people be prepared.  Jesus was coming.  Jesus would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Which we will be baptised with depends on if we let Him level our “playing ground” by humbling ourselves before him or if we refuse to let him.  We can choose to hold onto our mountains of pride, our valleys of self-pity, our crooked ways of perversion, our habitual ruts.  Or we can allow Jesus to lay them all out straight and flat so that they aren’t obstructions to our following His will any more, so that they are not obstructions to us knowing and following Him.

It’s my choice.  I can humble myself before the One who humbled Himself on my behalf and gave His life a ransom for mine.  He took the fiery punishment I should take so I wouldn’t have to.  Why wouldn’t I humble myself to His love and His power and His ways?  Why wouldn’t I submit to letting You, Lord, straighten me out and level me out so that You shine as the Highest of highests in my life?  Why would I refuse, and bear the fiery punishment instead?

The truth is that all flesh, all people, shall see the salvation of God.  “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)  It doesn’t matter who you are or who I am.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve allowed the Lord to humble you or if you have stood firm as the mountain against Him.  The truth is, God will reveal His glory; we shall both see it.  The only difference is that one of us will run to Him as our refuge, our God, our Father, our Saviour, because we are humbly covered by the blood of the Lamb, even as imperfect as we are.  But the other, will be cast away, cringing in terror and eternal loss.  Because as the Lord stands there before us both, purging the floor before him, fanning the wheat and the chaff, who will you be?  The wheat he collects, but the chaff, He will burn with unquenchable fire.

Lord, I want to be Your wheat.  I want to be humble and humbled.  I want to see You as You are and other things as they truly are.  I want my path made straight in You.  And I want to be faithful like John and help prepare others to find your path, because there aren’t many paths.  You have made one path for all.  May I follow that as I follow Your leading, and may I be an instrument to draw others to Your path of You as well.

The “Gentleness” of Jesus’ Correction

Standard

Picture credit to lifeplusreality.worpress.com

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”  Hebrews 12: 11-13

I’ve changed topics today but I couldn’t help it.  I just wanted to think about correction.  Because sometimes, it’s hard to take correction.  Sometimes, some of us take it even harder than others.  There are some of us who want all our correction “candy coated,” you know, kind and gentle and sweet, without pain, I guess.  There are some of us who are just not going to listen no matter what, because we’ve been so hurt in the past, we just block it out, because we take it as an affront, and offense to who we are a person.  There are those of us who hear but then shrug it off because we just don’t take it seriously; our thoughts are elsewhere.  And sometimes, maybe sometimes, we listen and take it to heart and let it change us.

On the other hand, there are those who feel someone needs correction.  There are the outright abusive correctors who attack the person and their character, beating people down with their words.  There are those who are so gentle in correction, that they affirm the character they want to correct.  There are those who are direct and to the point on the issue at hand.  And there are those who can correct, like Samuel with David, indirectly but it takes it home directly in a receptive heart.  How are we supposed to correct?  Are we supposed to correct?  Can we just let people continue on a path that hurts them in their spiritual walk and life walk?  What was Jesus’ correction like?  I wanted to think about that, especially if You, Lord, are to be my example.

As I read it, and you can read and see it too, I’m sure, Jesus was direct and to the unmistakeable point, even in his parables.  I just looked through the book of Matthew alone to see how he responded to people.  And the first place I came to was Matthew 3 where Jesus is approaching John at the Jordan to be baptised by him.  And John would have stopped him.  Why?  “I need to be baptized of you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, that’s a good idea.  Sure.  I’ll do that.”  He answered, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  And John consented.  Well, that’s not so rough for correction, is it?  But maybe that’s like Jesus telling John, “Remember, you don’t get to decide what righteousness is.  God does.  And don’t forget who I am.  If I say it’s righteous, it’s righteous.  Just do it so we are one in righteousness, you, me, and God before all the people.  Is that what You were implying, Lord.  Because right after the baptism, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”  If John saw that, I think he stood corrected in his prior thinking.  No matter what, I am to listen to this guy!”

You even corrected Satan as You resisted him in the wilderness, always correcting him according to the word of God, and that is how You resisted him, despite Your weakened state.  Again, God blessed You and affirmed Your approach at obedience, which included the correction of others.  “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4)

You didn’t run to John the Baptist when he was imprisoned.  You didn’t rescue him.  The only encouraging words that You sent were the accounts of what was happening, which John should have known agreed with Scripture and prophecy.  Maybe those things should have reminded John of that day at the Jordan?  He was a mature believer, right?  After all, he was a prophet with special insights.  Why didn’t You go to him?  Was he being corrected, given a time to learn that “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see,” (Hebrews 11:1) even when you know you are going to be beheaded?  That’s a hard lesson, isn’t it?  But isn’t it also the lesson we need to learn?  Will avoiding losing our head get us there?  What if, sometimes, losing our head is what it takes to learn faith like that?

When Jesus began his ministry, what was his first message?  “I love you guys.  Mwuah.”?  No.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4)  That’s like saying, “Change now because God is here and actively bringing things to a close.  You can’t stay the way you are.  Prepare for Him or miss Him.

He did not conjole or persuade.  He commanded and promised God’s will to be fulfilled in the lives of those who obeyed.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  (Matthew 4:19)

His goal was not to heal people of their sickness and oppressions and seizures and paralysis.  His goal was to restore their relationship with God, to direct them to repentance.  The miracles enforced who He was.  If He had the power to heal like this, then surely He had the power to forgive sin as well.  But miracles were not the focus, ever.  They were only proof that Jesus was given the power of God to forgive and restore us and be the propitiation for our sin, the problem.

And so You taught.  You taught the Beatitudes, the life and spirit character that leads to joy in the Lord and relationship with Him.  But You also taught that if one refuses restoration, refuses to live in God’s blessings, there are severe consequences. 

He set tough standards.   “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)    “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22)  “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)  “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)  “But I say to you, ‘Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” (Matthew 5:34-35)  “But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…”  (Matthew 5:39)  “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’” (Matthew 5:44)  “You therefore must be perfect [complete in character], as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48)  This is what He set for us to measure up to.

For every encouragement Jesus gave, He also gave warnings.  “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, but beware, no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve god and money.”  (Paraphrased from Matthew 6: 19-24) 

He was direct and to the point.  If you were wrong, you were wrong and he was not afraid or amiss to point it out.  “Judge not that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1)  Then You go into more detail in case we say, “Oh, I don’t understand what you really mean by judging.”  I mean, when you say, “”Oh, let me take the speck out of your eye, friend,’ when there is a giant log in your own eye that you won’t take care of!’”  And it’s not just that You relate a parable or a helpful visual aid.  You call a hypocrite a hypocrite!  You imply that people are acting like dogs to their vomit, or like pigs having no regard for precious things, or that they are acting like vipers, poisonous snakes.

Correction can not always be gentle.  Sin is serious, deep stuff.  If left unchanged, if left intact, it will lead to death.  How gentle should one be?  So gentle, one is not nudged to face oneself?  So gentle, one is not urged to step off the fence in one direction or another?  Should I be so gentle that someone else would be eternally lost because their sin was not made much of?  Was Jesus that gentle with me?  If so, why did and does my sin bring me to tears?  If so gentle, why would a prostitute change her life?  If so gentle, why would any Pharisee be converted?  If so gentle, why was Paul knocked off his donkey, blinded, and left to dwell on it for a predetermined time by God?

If the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few, why are we looking for an easy, effortless way to God?  ((Matthew 7:14)  Correction is serious stuff, face it.  Accept it.  “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Matthew 7:19)  Don’t be one of those.  Be corrected.  Your are recognized by your fruit or lack of fruit.  Be corrected before you have to be thrown out!  Be corrected before Jesus has to say to you, “I never knew you; depart form me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)  Why was I lawless, because I refused to be corrected by God.  How?  Maybe I refused to accept correction from my parents or my spouse or my friend or my co-worker or my boss or my pastor or my teacher or my discipler or whoever God sent to correct me.  Maybe I refused to be corrected by His word.  I read it.  I agreed with it.  But that’s it.  I was on par with the demons who believe and take a step farther and tremble at what they know.  But I didn’t let Your word correct my life and behavior and thoughts and ways.  I didn’t apply it.  I didn’t live it.  I didn’t absorb it and let it flow out.

Come on, don’t be ignorant.  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand…and great was the fall of it.”  (Matthew 7:26,27)  Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush with our sin.  You expect us to be corrected.  You expect us to be more than astonished at your teaching. 

When the Roman centurion asked for healing for his servant and told You that You didn’t need to come to heal him, all you needed to do was to speak the words and Your authority would take care of it. You were blunt with Your statement, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:10)  Tell me that the Jews, especially the leaders, being told that a Roman’s faith, a Gentile’s faith was greater than theirs, didn’t offend the hearers that day!!  Yes, sometimes the truth hurts but to withhold the truth is to allow us to live a dangerous lie.  Jesus loves us too much to let us live that lie to our own destruction.

Sometimes, Your correction came in the form of making us eat our words.  “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  “Really?” you think.  “Ok, then, come with me and sleep on the rocks because I don’t really have a home that I stay in all the time.”  What did that man do?  Did he stay?  Or did he go back home to his bed in a house?  Was he for real or not?  “Lord, I want to follow You, but first I need to take care of my inheritance.”  “If you really want to follow me, don’t worry about your inheritance from your dad; you have a greater inheritance to follow.”  Did he cling to his father’s inheritance or God’s?  Did Jesus leave them to think that “vice” was tolerable to God?  Was that thinking ok?  Was it permissable?  (Matthew 8:19-22)

When the disciples, those closest to You, were in the boat and the storm arose, and they woke you saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”  Did You answer them gently?  “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”  Would that sting?  Should that sting?  Should that stop me in my tracks and make me think about my choice, about my belief, about my God?  (Matthew 8:24-27)

When the paralytic was forgiven and the scribes whispered, “This man is blaspheming,” You knew their thoughts.  Did You handle gently, so as not to offend?  “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” was Your correction.  Tell me that didn’t sting.  (Matthew 9)  Continue and see Jesus at Matthew’s house with the other tax collectors and “notorious” sinners.  And when the Pharisees question why Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answers, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”  Did You just tell the teachers to go learn like a student?  Tell me that did not offend them.  But why would You do that?  Because if they don’t learn, if they don’t accept correction, they will be lost and they won’t ever know God for real.

Jesus likened the people, right to their faces, to fickle children who couldn’t make up their minds.  (Matthew 11)  He denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum for not repenting.  It was not gentle, but direct and honest and a warning.  (Matthew 11)  In Matthew 12 when You say to the Pharisees, “Have you not read…”, that was like saying, “You act as though you don’t know and understand this from the Scripture.” 

Do you think the parables were sweet stories?  The Jews understood the point that Jesus was making.  They heard what they wanted to hear and didn’t hear what they chose not to hear, but they knew when the parable was  pointing out correction they needed, only, instead of allowing correction, they took offense.  The disciples said to Jesus one day, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12)  But it’s not just the Pharisees who can take offense.  What about the disciples like Peter, when Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”(Matthew 14:31)  You can’t let it go.  Jesus said, “Let them alone; they are blind guides.  And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”  But You weren’t easier on Your disciples.  Peter asked, “Explain the parable to us.”  And You said, “Are you also still without understanding?”  That was not a pat on the back!

Don’t think that being a disciple excludes us from correction.  “O you of little faith; why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not perceive?  Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?…”  (Matthew 16)  Oh, and THEN they understood.  Maybe sometimes, a lot of the time, we need to be woken up out of our stupour, out of our rest.

One day, Peter confesses Jesus as the the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Wow!  Does he get a pat on the back!  But, I imagine, maybe days later, Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him for telling of His coming death.  Were You gentle with Peter?  “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  (Matthew 16)  Whoa!  I wonder which Peter thought about more in that moment, the pat on the back or this reprimand?  Which stuck more?  I wonder if he was offended?  I wonder if he was hurt?  I wonder if he was more likely to have meditated and rehearsed his pat on the back, than this reprimand now?  I wonder if he just wanted to erase it from his mind, or if he was willing to think about it and meditate on it?

You know, sometimes Jesus doesn’t speak correction at the moment, like when Peter said at the transfiguration, “Lord, it is good that we are here…”  You had more important things to focus on other than Peter’s stupidity in that moment.  But God, He took care of it by His very voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  (Matthew 17)  It’s not good that Peter was there.  It was good that Jesus was there.  That’s the point.  Because Jesus was there, Peter could be, or else Peter would be dead.  Falling on your face and being terrified, though, is that gentle correction?

“Why did Moses allow divorce?” asked the Pharisees.  “Because of YOUR hardness of heart,” answered Jesus.  Ouch!  “I obey all the commandments,” said the rich young man.  “Great, show it.  Live it.  Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  (Matthew 19)  You overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons in the temple and said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21)  Gentle? 

You aren’t a push-over.  “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Why?  Because they weren’t seeking the truth anyways, just an argument.  If they wouldn’t admit the truth about John the Baptist, why would they admit the truth about You?  “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”  (Matthew 21)  No, instead, when they heard your correction and percieved it was directed at them, they dug in their heals more deeply and stubbornly and sought to arrest him, but in some way that wouldn’t offend the people.  Instead of being corrected, they plotted how to entangle You.  (Matthew 22)  Maybe we don’t do that.  Maybe we just justify and justify and justify our own actions.  But isn’t that just-as-bad?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…blind guides…blind fools!…blind men!…hypocrites!…blind guides…hypocrites!…blind Pharisee!…hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.”  Gentle or direct?  Honest or not?  Urgent or passive?

When the disciples corrected the woman for pouring her alabaster flask of expensive ointment on You, Jesus, You corrected them.  “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”  (Matthew 26)  Well, that was an unexpected pat on the back for the woman, but not so for the disciples.  They stood corrected, in front of a woman on top of that! 

Jesus, You knew who would betray You.  You sat at dinner with him and said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  You were saying, “Don’t be fooled.  I know what You are doing.  I know who You are.”  Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so.’”  Did You baby him?  Were You gentle?  “”The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  Does that seem awful?  Does it make me want to follow the same path or avoid it?

“I will not fall away, Lord!  I will be faithful to the end!  They may not be, but I will!”  That’s the kind of thing Peter said.  But Jesus didn’t pat him on the back for his encouraging thoughts.  “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  (Matthew 26)  “No way!  Not me!” answered Peter.  But what happened?  Yes, way.  It was him. 

“Can’t you even watch and pray with me for one hour?!” (Matthew 26)  That’s not so gentle, but it wasn’t so harsh as to keep the disciples awake, was it?  Funny how we can be so insensitive to correction.

“I would kill for You!” and the disciple pulls out his sword when they come for Jesus.  “Put your sword back into its place.  For all who take the sword will perish by the sword…”  The crowds of guards and religious leaders have come to take him away, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?  Day after day I sat in the temple teaching; and you did not seize me.  But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”  Yeah, they were in the wrong and were being corrected, but they wouldn’t accept the correction.

Caiaphas and the council were corrected but wouldn’t have it.  Judas hung himself because he never accepted correction.  Pilate wouldn’t accept correction, he valued the favor of the people and Caesar more.  The soldiers woudn’t be corrected.  But here’s the beauty and glory of Christ.  Jesus, who did no wrong, suffered our correction for us, the ones who didn’t want to be corrected, the ones who didn’t deserve Jesus to stand in for us, and yet that’s exactly what You did.  For every time You corrected me and I refused to accept it, You bore the price on the cross.  It was the only way to win back to God an ungrateful, hard-necked, stubborn people, who don’t want to accept correction, but who need it desperately.

Maybe, in our heart we want to argue, “Oh, no.  That’s only for Jesus to correct like that.  After all, He says, “Be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)  But that’s not the kind of gentle this word means.  I mean, I owned doves, the small, white ring-necked doves like you see Noah holding in pictures.  They have no defense.  They really can’t fight.  Is that what this is?  No!  The word used for gentle implies unmixed and pure, like a mind or life that is free from evil, free from guilt, innocent and simple according to God.  It takes correction to be able to get there because none of us are naturally there at the start.  Paul said, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, [BUT] I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” (Romans 16:19)  We won’t learn this without correction.  What does God want in me?  “…[T]hat you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:15)

I don’t like correction.  It hurts.  But, I need correction desperately.  If left to my own, I would feed my own lusts.  That’s just the way we are.  Lord, I wan to learn to value correction immensely, no matter how much it hurts my ego.  Maybe, if I learn to be corrected, my ego would shrink and I’d be better off anyway.  I want to be like Paul who held Your word so fast, so tightly that he felt he could be proud in the day You return.  I want to be like Paul who isn’t afraid of being poured out like a drink offering for others. I want to be glad and rejoice when I am corrected because it allows me to become more like You and less like the old me.  I want to be trained by correction to be more like You, even if that correction is painful.  Wake me up out of my stupor, whatever it takes, so that I may be changed into Your image.

He’s Not Slow, But Patient

Standard

“The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

“Why doesn’t God act right now?  Why doesn’t He do something?  Why does He let bad things happen if He is a good God?”  It’s not that those are bad questions.  Honestly, maybe even the most sound believer has asked one of those questions at a difficult time in their life, so how much easier for a non-believer to ask those questions.  How much easier for a mocker to say, “Show me God,” or “He hasn’t shown up this far, what makes you think He still is?  Everything is the same as always.”

None of this should flabbergast me (surprise or astonish me) or get me all worked up.  I can expect to hear these thoughts.  But I don’t have to join in, even if my own mind winds up saying something like this.  I just need to remind myself and remind others Who You Are and What Your Character Is.  If I do that, I find that what others mock is because they don’t know You.  But if I know You, I see that none of this is out of character for You.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness…”  You do have slowness but not slowness in the way man is thinking, that You are slow or tardy.  What looks like slowness to man is because you are holding back and delaying Your arrival until it’s appointed time.  Though people think that You are not fulfilling Your promises, You will fulfil every promise in its appointed time.  You always have and You always will.

Peter reminds us of Your creation of the world and everything in it, including us, by Your word.  And then, while men had the same attitude against God, by the water above and the water below the earth that You had created by Your word, and by Your same word, You brought the deluge, the flood by which all but 8 people perished.  This is the same word and the same power and the same God who keeps creation in check now, until the day You have appointed for judgment.

Time is different for You than it is for man.  You are eternal, therefore, for You, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day.”  You can cause the sun to stay up extra long and alter a day if you want, and you have.  But time is Yours, so how can You be slow or out of sync with it?  People were waiting for the birth of a Messiah.  He didn’t come when Israel was at their highest, did he?  He came in the midst of Roman rule, fulfilling prophecy after prophecy of his arrival.  You God, know what You are doing every moment.  It’s just that we don’t and we don’t like that.

Don’t overlook that point.  Just because we don’t see or get what You are doing, doesn’t mean You aren’t doing it.  I need to not overlook that fact, that You God, are in control and time is Yours, not ours.  That’s why I need to live my time wisely in You, because if it’s not surrendered to You, I won’t know what’s going on in my life.

You have purpose in every moment of every day.  You know the times intimately and know the direction You are taking things.  You have a purpose much bigger than me and yet Your desire is to include me in arriving at Your purpose.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…”  Another truth is that You is longsuffering.  You are forbearing and patient.  You patiently endure even the evil.  You patiently endure rebellious attitudes.  Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says You don’t “lose heart,” that You are “patient in bearing the offences and injuries of others,” and You are “mild and slow in avenging.”  The Greek word is made from two words, makros and thumos.  The thumos part means “passion, angry heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again.”  (The Way Magazine)  That’s what the wrath of God will be like.  But look at the love You have for mankind in the fact that You stay off this anger.  You don’t just show this anger the minute You feel it.  God, You are full of self-control, and You are staying of Your anger until it is time.  Thank God!  But when is that time?

Don’t overlook that God is patient; patient beyond our patience.  Bill Mounce describes this patience as “to exhibit internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action.”  But the question is, why do You delay action?  Why do You let this go on?

“The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish…”  Here’s the reason for Your seeming slowness—You aren’t disposed, Your mind isn’t towards, You don’t intend, it’s not Your desire to destroy us.  Yes, You will have to, if we refuse You.  But You are longsuffering so that You give every one of us time and opportunity for repentance.  Here’s the scary thing: even a murderer can come to actual repentance, or a wealthy person, or a poor person, each with the help of God and only the help of God alone. 

Maybe that’s part of the problem.  Some of us don’t want some people to be saved.  What if someone took my child’s life?  Would I want You to have mercy on them if they had no mercy on my child?  But, is it too extreme for each of us to put ourselves in the category of murderer?  Isn’t it because of each of us that Christ was crucified?  If it weren’t for my sin and your sin, would He have been killed?  Truth is, the only way to be free from my guilt is to place my trust in His judgment and His payment, and to accept that I have been crucified with Christ, therefore it is not longer I, but Christ lives in me.  Christ forgives.  He paid the price for the murderer and for me.  Who am I to not forgive?  Forgiving is not excusing.  Forgiving is placing someone else in God’s hands and taking them out of mine.   Forgiving is placing myself in God’s hands and letting You be the judge, Lord, and not me.  The love of God is that You don’t want to lose anyone, so You give us all ample time so we don’t have to perish.

Well, what’s it mean to perish.  It means to be destroyed.  This same use of apollumi, means to destroy fully, to lose.  If we find the like meaning passages in scripture we see Jesus using it when he says it’s better to pluck your eye out and cast it away (really meaning to confront sin in our life).  If that member of your body, your eye perishes, after being plucked out and cast away, what happened to it?  Do you get the picture of perishing?  It’s not pretty.   It’s also what the disciples were afraid of when they were in the boat in the storm.  “We perish!”   That also implied death, something they needed saving from.  Or Jesus used it of old wine bottles that explode when new wine is put in.  It’s their destruction; it’s the opposite of being preserved.  In Jesus’ parable of the 99 sheep, it’s equated with the lost sheep.  When they came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Jesus, telling the disciple to put his sword away, said, “they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”  That’s pretty clear, what he was saying there, right?  You die by swords.  And it goes on.  But I think that paints the picture the Lord is painting here for us to see. 

Don’t overlook that God doesn’t want that for you or me.  You don’t want us to perish.  Remember His goal, His desire, His heart?  “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  Because of the danger of perishing, we need repentance; it’s the only way to avoid or escape perishing.  Listen to Jesus’ words, “No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  (Luke 3:3, 5)  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that Jesus is talking about something bigger than death here.  Why?  Because he’s talking about two different groups of people who had died.  One group had been slaughtered by Pilate as they were sacrificing, the other group was killed when a tower fell on them.  Is Jesus saying, unless we repent, we will all die like that, one way or another?  I don’t think so.  Death happens to everyone, those who repent and those who don’t.  Death is not a sign of individual sin; it’s a part of the curse of sin.  But, unless you repent, there will be a different perishing still coming after death.  So there is some kind of other perishing for all who will not repent. 

So how do I repent?  I change my mind, or rather, I let God be sovereign in my mind and heart and soul and I allow You, Lord,  to change my mind and conform it to Your way of thinking.  Don’t think that repentance is “about regret or guilt or shame” because it’s not.  It’s about deciding “to turn around, to face a new direction.”  (www.metanoia.org) “…[R]epentance is to take a different view than before. It is to see things in God’s light, a light that is from above…Repentance is to deal with one’s problems of the past. It means that there were great mistakes in what we did and that we should now have a different view.”  (Watchman Nee)

I’d like to think a little more about what Watchman Nee shares of repentance, because I think this needs to ring home.  “Hence, we can see the true meaning of repentance according to the Bible. It is a new concept of one’s past. Repentance sees oneself, in the same way that faith sees the Lord Jesus. When one believes, he sees the work that the Lord Jesus has done for him. When he repents, he sees the deeds that he himself has done in the past. To see what one has done in the past is repentance; to see what the Lord Jesus has done on the cross is faith. If we want to see what the Lord Jesus has done for us, we must first see what we have done ourselves. Unless the thief who was crucified next to Jesus had said clearly with his own mouth that what he was suffering was what he deserved, he could not have said to the One crucified next to him, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). If he were to curse the magistrates as agents of the imperialists, and if he had not seen that what he suffered was what he deserved, he would not have seen who the Lord was. When we do not see ourselves, we do not see the Lord. When we see ourselves, we see the Lord. This is repentance.”

Don’t be one who overlooks the truth!  “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  God is so loving and patient that He gives us time to see our wrong doing and our wrong thinking.  You give us time to see the work You are doing.  But how can I see the work You are doing, if I can’t see that I’m the one with the sin problem, not You, Lord?  I wonder, if that one thief had never had to suffer the cross that day, next to Jesus, if he would have repented?  It didn’t cause the other thief to repent, but it was what was needed for that one lost sheep.  I want to see myself rightly now, so I’m not stuck living in a messed up past.  I want to live for the future, alive in You, not dead in my sins.  Life is sometimes tough, seemingly unbearable, but not if I learn to repent, get honest about myself, and commit myself to You.  Then I can live with hope and joy in Your promises instead of my failures.

Crocodile Tears

Standard

Photo credit to doc_ | sxc.hu

 

“Ezekiel, son of man, condemn the king of Egypt and tell him I am saying, ‘You act like a lion roaming the earth; but you are nothing more than a crocodile in a river, churning up muddy water with your feet.’” (Ezekiel 32:2)

 
Crocodiles and uncircumcision, those are the words for today from Ezekiel chapter 32. What in the world do crocodiles and uncircumcision have to do with my spiritual walk today? They can have a lot to do with it. I’m not quite sure why the King James Version chooses to interpret the Hebrew word tanniyn here as whales, but I think that since it was interpreted as crocodiles back in chapter 29, it’s safe to assume that crocodile fits best here too. I mean, after all, crocodiles were a big part of life in Egypt. As a matter of fact, to Egypt, they were part of the divine. Let’s face it, they were worshipped as gods. It’s how Pharaoh saw himself. Of course, the crocodile wasn’t the only god. There were other gods, but this was the god that Pharaoh admired for it’s strength. This is how Pharaoh saw himself. This was the god Pharaoh modeled his heart after.

 
But the truth is that crocodiles aren’t gods. Cows aren’t gods. Cats and frogs and flies and fleas aren’t gods. And Pharaohs aren’t gods. Just because we choose to worship something, it doesn’t make it god. The truth is that only God is god no matter how we feel. And God alone has the power, the ability, the strength and might to prove Himself.
God will prove Himself, always and forever, but He also gives people time to see His proofs before they fall before them. I think it’s something how God takes that major god image, the crocodile, or Pharaoh, and how He uses the imagery here. I mean, here He is, going to catch this terrifying beast in a net. How authentic is that? I mean, is this really getting home to Pharaoh?

 
The Expositor’s Bible puts Pharaoh Hophra there at Ezekiel’s warning. And I was wondering how much this imagery of catching a crocodile in a net would be familiar then. So I did a little research on crocodiles and Egypt. I found that some Egyptians reverenced crocodiles and some Egyptians hated crocodiles. There is a writing, translated and shared by Richard B. Parkinson, where Pharaoh Amenemhat “boasts of having tamed a lion and taken a crocodile prisoner.” (Paul Sheridan) Isn’t that interesting that God compared the Pharaoh to one who was comparing himself to a lion among nations and a crocodile? Seems our Pharaoh wasn’t the only one who viewed himself this way.

 
But did they use nets. First I read of a story shared where a hook was baited with a live pig and the screaming of the pig would lure the crocodile who could then be captured or killed. But then, the Library of History by Diodorus, tells us that heavy nets or iron spears were used from boats. So it seems to me that God is turning back familiar imagery, familiar practices back upon Pharaoh. I guess God has always employed parables, using everyday life to help us understand heavenly truths, God’s view.

 

 

Now, this is pretty hard reading because there will be violence upon Egypt all for the purpose of Egypt and all men knowing that God is God and there is no other. And maybe you think, how can that be a God of love, to violently destroy people like that? But then I was reading how over and over again God says He is going to cast these people down to death where the “uncircumcised” before them lay, the land of the dead. He will cast them down with all those who thought themselves mighty but were slain in their own strength, every nation that so chose and so lived, no matter how strong. Every one uncircumcised and now laying with the other circumcised with those who die and die. But the truth is, it didn’t have to be so. Because there is a place that men can go with those who die and yet live. Whose path would I choose to follow? To die with those who die or to die with those who live?

 

 

Who in the world are the uncircumcised? What does that mean? Does that mean that everyone but Jews were forsaken by God? Or does it mean that all those who forsake God are the uncircumcised? I tend to lean toward that second choice. I mean, after all, not all the Jews entered into His rest. Why? Though circumcised physically, did they forsake God’s ways spiritually as they walked through life? Yes. That place of eternal death will be lined with Pagans and Jews alike who forsake God. Nationality doesn’t matter. There are those who desire to trust in their own strength and their own greatness and their own way. It could be me just as well as Pharaoh. It could be Paul of Tarsus before he understood God’s real thinking. But there really is only one Lion of lions and His name is the Lion of Judah. And there really is only one Crocodile of crocodiles. Well, He’s bigger than that because He’s over all the crocodiles and catches them with ease and controls all the frogs and flies and kings and mighty men everywhere of all time.

 

 

To think myself a lion of lions or a crocodile of crocodiles is to live like the uncircumcised. It’s to live Godlessly. Oh, I can have all the gods I want. But I won’t have God. I can think I am as powerful as I want and that I can decide my own life and my own ways, but in the long run, I don’t and I can’t because I’m not God. I can’t extend my life or shorten it without His permission. Have you seen people go to every extent to lengthen their lives just to have it end anyways? Or have you seen someone who has attempted suicide and yet could not die? I have.

 

 

That’s the sad thing here. All along God wanted the Egyptians to know Him. He had shown Himself before them. But they, like others before them, and others after them, wanted their power to be their own. And the truth of that reality is that it’s not our own. All power comes from God. He raises kingdoms for His purposes and He lays kingdoms down for His purposes. But His ultimate purpose always has been for men and women, boys and girls of all kingdoms to lay themselves at His feet under His power for His protection and love and guidance.

 

 

Here’s the truth. There have always been God scoffers who would rather design their own gods for their own ways. Peter warned of them but they have always been there and still are today. The question is, am I a God scoffer? Am I, like Pharaoh following my own sinful desires instead of God Himself? Am I, like Pharaoh, deliberately overlooking “this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not over look this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:4-9)

 

Have I come to repent of denying God His goodness in my life and those around me? Have I come to repent of deliberately overlooking Him and deliberately refusing to acknowledge Him in my life? If not, now is my warning, before I die and join the Godless down below. I can trust in anything I want, but I must know that my gods can’t follow me and they won’t be there for me. But if I trust God, He already is there for me, He already has me, and He has got a place for me with Him that I can start abiding in now. When I die, I want to die and join God in the world of the living, and since He is the living God, that place is found in Him. No crocodile tears for me. I’m moving from one life into greater life in Him!

A Personal Revelation

Standard

Photo credit to Madeline Tejano Mostrales.

 

“…that the living may know that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will, and sets up over it the basest of men.” Daniel 4:7

 
You would think that Nebuchadnezzar would have learned already. I mean, there was Daniel to interpret his dream that no one else in the kingdom could even tell, let alone interpret. What did Nebuchadnezzar gather from that? Well, he worshiped Daniel, fell prostrate before him. That’s definitely a humbling experience for him, but pretty much a “no-no” according to God. Yet he did come to the conclusion that Daniel’s God “is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets” (Daniel 2:47) That’s good to know and it’s good to put God at the top of the list, and know that God can do what the other gods can’t. But it’s also still saying that there are other gods even though God is the Top Dog. It seems as though Nebuchadnezzar still was giving himself lots of choices to run to, although Daniel’s God was the best of the best. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not arriving at the destination at all yet.

 
After that lesson, he raises up that larger than life image. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down and worship it, are thrown into the fiery furnace, and come out unscathed. Nebuchadnezzar announces how their God “sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in Him…and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.” Now that was a novel idea for this polytheistic kingdom. These guys worshiped one God and only one God, while the world around them worshiped many. But what did the king learn? Obviously not that God was the only true God. But he did learn that there was “no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

 
Now, I don’t want to fault King Nebuchadnezzar more than any of us. Sometimes we are just as thick-headed and dull as he was. Sometimes, I suppose, it’s much easier to hedge our bets, and hold onto what we’re used to. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with tradition and not rock our boat or anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s easier to let someone else be bold and make a stand and just be the one to commend them. Sometimes it’s just easier to accept it all than to count the cost and take a side. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay where we are because it’s comfortable and we are in control. I mean, who really wants to admit that I’m really not in control? Who is ready to hand that control over so easily to a God who is all powerful and may decide to do things differently? Might as well hold on to the control. Then I can decide, right?

 
So now we come to chapter 4. And Nebuchadnezzar starts off by saying he’s telling this story and that he wants to tell about the wonder and might of that high God in his own personal life. We find that God sends another dream to Nebuchadnezzar. This time again, none of the counselors can interpret the dream except for, guess who? Daniel came in, yeah, Daniel is his real name, because the king admits he changed his name to Belteshazzar after the name of his own god. Maybe he was starting to realize the irony of that act. Because here was Daniel’s God continually showing Himself.

 
Now Daniel hears the dream. And what was his reaction?  He was devastated. It really bothered him. For an hour he was handling within himself what he knew. And the king saw but told him not to worry, but to interpret it. So Daniel told him that as great as he was, and as great as his kingdom was, that God was saying he was going to be driven from men and live among the beasts, not by other men, but by these angels, these watchers of the dream. He would be like a beast of the field, eating grass like the oxen, wet with dew, for seven years, until he acknowledged that God rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to who he will. And at the end of the seven years, when the king learned this lesson, he would be returned to his kingdom’s rule.

 
Did Nebuchadnezzar stave this off? Daniel counseled him, “break off your sins by righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.” But 1 year later the king was walking and thinking of his kingdom and shared, “Isn’t this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” Boom! A voice from heaven, (yes, this is dramatic! but God is that way) “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken; ‘The kingdom is departed from you…” And the dream was fulfilled that same hour. Nebuchadnezzar was driven from men, ate grass like the oxen, his body was wet with dew, his hairs grew like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds claws.

 
Thank goodness he had good counselors that kept his kingdom during this time. Maybe Daniel was in charge and reminding them, “This is only for seven years and God will return him to his position. Let’s just keep everything going till then.” But at the end of those seven years, Nebuchadnezzar looked up instead of to himself, and became a thinking man again, and remembered God and blessed the most High, and “praised and honored Him that lives for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation.” So what else did he learn? “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and no one can stay His hand, or say unto Him, ‘What are You doing?’ He learned that God is the King of heaven, all His works are truth and His ways just, and that those who walk in pride, He is able to abase.

 
And this is where we are left with Nebuchadnezzar. But maybe the question is, where does that leave me?  Am I left like Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging that God is the best choice among lots of choices? Do I acknowledge the wonderful things He does but refuse to surrender to Him alone? Do I keep seeing His hand in my life and lives around me, but I refuse to worship Him? Am I excited and living for moments and miracles instead of living for the One True God?

 
Daniel knew God. God shared things with him. God shared things with him in a way that flowed out to others. Nebuchadnezzar knew about God. He watched from the other side of the fence as God interacted with Daniel. But I even wonder if at the end, when Nebuchadnezzar felt the touch of God, if he just looked up or if he became His like Daniel. Was God his Counselor? Or did he remain his own final counsel?

 
Back in Daniel 2 the king had told Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”  Jesus, in both Matthew and Luke declares, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” The beauty of revelation is that even in the Old Testament to this pagan king, God was doing everything to make Himself known, not for His sake, but for the sake of Nebuchadnezzar and all the people under his influence.

 
I think of Paul, who was a persecutor of believers, who was like Nebuchadnezzar only puffed up in religious pride. But then God humbled him also, this great man by the world’s standards and probably his own. And he makes this statement, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) And he’s not talking about knowing about Jesus. He really means KNOWING Jesus, and knowing Jesus so much that he would be found “in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own…Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3)

 
Yes, God uses even the basest of men and women, boys and girls. He puts us each where He wants us and for His purposes. I can’t explain it all and I never will be able. But I know that You, Lord, give every one of us the opportunity to know You if only we would humble ourselves before You. People may be angry, they may ask, “God, what have You done? What are You doing?” What’s the answer? “I’m trying to reveal myself to you, if only you would get it. Child, I’m doing everything just to reveal myself to you.”

No Better Cake

Standard

“…and I will save them by the LORD their God…” Hosea 1:7

 
Hosea was a prophet of God over a pretty long period of time, like maybe 70 years. That’s a whole average life span today! He shared the words of God over the reign of four or more kings, both influencing Judah and Israel. As I spend time going through Hosea, chapter by chapter, I really want to think about it. I want to think about what was going on and why. I want to think about what life was like for Hosea as Your representative during those times. I want to think about the things You required of Hosea and his attitude to Your requirements. I want to look at Your heart and Hosea’s heart and the people’s hearts and my heart.

 
Right at the beginning of Your words to Hosea, Lord, You help us to see his wife and children. You tell Hosea to go out and marry a whore. Wow, that’s strong language! What a requirement! What does Hosea do? He does it! You told him “Marry a prostitute, and have children with that prostitute. The people in this land have acted like prostitutes and abandoned the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2) So Hosea marries Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Do you know what Diblaim means? It means “two cakes.” I can’t help but think of that expression, “have your cake and eat it too.” So I guess his daughter, Gomer, liked multiple cakes at the same time too.

 
Why would Hosea do that? Why would he marry a known prostitute? Why would he choose someone who was already unfaithful? Was it just obedience to You, God? Or was it more? Was it just fear of You? Or was it more? Could Hosea have truly understood Your heart for people and could it have been the heart that filled him for them also?

 
Hosea took Gomer as his own despite her background. Don’t You do the same with each of us? Didn’t we all start out as sinners; men, women, and children who prostitute Your ways and run after others more than You? Are we that far off from Gomer and Israel? All I can think of is how much love and mercy and patience this prophet Hosea must have had. He could have despised Gomer just as You could despise Israel or us. But Hosea took Gomer unto himself. And isn’t that what You do for us? You take us unto Yourself to make us Yours and make us holy in You.

 
Hosea doesn’t despise her but is intimate with her. From the fruit of that intimacy comes a son. God names him Jezreel, “God will sow.” All along, God is using this family as a picture to the people. It’s a picture of the reality of who Israel is, running after other gods, other “loves,” other pleasures. It’s a picture of our own hearts. It’s a picture of Your faithfulness, God, in the midst of when we don’t deserve it because of our lack of faithfulness. It’s a picture of unconditional love and love beyond imagination. It’s a picture of warning and long-suffering. You reap what you sow. But God is the Final Sower. And in the midst of all the junk we throw around in our lives and at God, You’re busy sowing love and patience and seeds for repentance and a return to relationship and forgiveness and restoration.

 
But there’s a price to pay. We can’t stay the way we are. Our strength in ourselves and our pleasures has to be broken. So that’s not so bad to be named Jezreel, and to be a warning to Israel, is it? But then Gomer conceives again and bares a daughter. Hopefully this is from Hosea’s loins. But wherever she was from , God named her Loruhamah. Now that’s a sad name. It means, “not pitied.” Why? Because this is how God would act toward Israel; no more mercy. He’ll take them “utterly” away. Can you imagine having a name like that? Ow!

 
But again, You will have mercy on Judah, and here’s the great part I got excited over- You will save them by the LORD their God, not by bow or by sword or by battle or by horses or horsemen. It’s so easy to look towards things to save us. “Oh, God, send Your angels to watch over me!” “Oh, God, do this or do that…” But You don’t need bows or swords or armies or horses or horsemen. Maybe we look for salvation in all the wrong ways and all the wrong places. Maybe salvation is in You and You alone. Maybe salvation is in our relationship with God who gave Jesus so He could take us unto Himself and make us His very own.

 
What if life isn’t about my mission or my job or my ministry or my family or my wealth or my whatever? What if life is all about who I am in God? What if everything else is effected by that relationship? What if true living is getting that relationship right? What if Hosea was successful despite the “crazy” things he had to do because he understood the One He was listening to? What if Hosea is a great man not because He was a great prophet but because he walked with God in relationship step by step no matter what? What if that is why God chose to speak to him? What if that is why we’re still reading about him today? And what if that walk and that relationship is what makes the stories of Gomer and her children a beautiful story of love and redemption by a man who got it because he understood the God who gives it and is it?

 
And if this family doesn’t seem sad enough, another son is born and God names him Loammi- not my people. And not being God’s people implies that neither is God your God. But this is not without hope! God says that in the same place where they were called Loammi- not my people, one day it would be said again there that “You are the sons of the living God.” And in that day there will be a great gathering together of Judah and Israel and they’ll appoint themselves one head. I think that head is more than a ruler but that head is One Source. That these sons of the living God will understand together that they have become sons because of Jesus, the Son of God who sacrificed His life to restore them to His Father. There is coming a time when those who ran from the Creator will run to Him in awe.

 
That word for head in Hebrew is rosh. It’s the same word used in Rosh Hashanah which is the Hebrew new year. And it’s all about recognizing and acknowledging the Source of everything. As a matter of fact, Rosh Hashanah begins the time period on the Hebrew calendar known as the Days of Awe. And I think, Lord, that’s pretty much where You were trying to lead the people during Hosea’s time, back to the reality of awe in You, not because it was ritual but because You are so worthy of awe. We are nothing without You. The problem is that we are so prone to forget the truth.

 
Here You are, King of the Universe, Creator of everything, and yet we won’t even give You the time of day. Sometimes You just have to blow Your shofar loudly enough for us to hear it and be startled out of our self-induced slumber. And sometimes a shofar isn’t loud enough so it takes hard things in life to wake us up. We need to remember who we really are and we can’t remember that until we remember who You really are and that we wouldn’t exist without You. According to rabbinic teaching, “the sound of the shofar, then, is meant to stir the heart to fear and to inspire teshuvah (repentance).” Here in Hosea, Your story through the words and through Isaiah’s family was like a shofar. It was sounded to turn people back to You, to draw Gomer to Hosea and to You, to give his children a hope and a heritage, to give the people a way to return.

 
But it’s not just for Hosea, and Gomer, and Jezebel, and Loruhamah, Loammi, and Judah, and Israel. This is for us too. This is for me and this is for you. I’m just as much in need of redemption as Gomer; we all are. Jezreel isn’t the only one who will reap what he sows. And I’d rather reap what You sow, Lord. I can choose to live my own way and not accept Your pity. But I don’t want to. I want to be a Loruhamah who runs to You to receive the pity that You want to show me. Once I was not Yours, just like Loammi. But that was then. Now, I am Yours and You are mine. And if there is hope for me, then there is hope for anyone. I guess what happens is determined by how we respond when You blow the shofar. I just know that I want to wake up and listen. I want to wake up and hear. And I want to go even farther. I want to do what the shofar is signaling. I want to run to You for safety and salvation and belonging and purity and love and security and power.

 
Salvation is getting back to the relationship in the garden before the fall. It’s getting over me and never getting over You. You are the wonder of salvation. Jesus personified You for us but You are so much more. You are so much more that Jesus can change us and fill us with Your Spirit. You are so much more that You can be there in the midst of a prison or country where we are stripped of everything, yet we are not stripped of You. Our hope is not in any thing. Our hope, our reality, is in You. It is You. Oh, Lord, why do my eyes look at lesser things when You are every thing? You are It. That’s all I know. And maybe that’s all I need to know to think rightly.  You can choose your cake and eat it too.  But as for me, there is no better cake than Jesus.

Slicing the Pie and the Valley of Decision

Standard

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

 

“…for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14)

 
I suppose we as humans think that it’s a great gift to be able to make our own decisions. Deciding is a right and we cherish it. But I’m not so sure that deciding is a right. I think it’s more of a responsibility. Because with my decision, with every decision, comes consequences. So, if I really think about it, this whole “deciding” thing can have some nasty teeth to it.

 
Now, this verse which actually says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision,” isn’t such a wonderful day for the multitudes. It’s actually a day of judgment. That Hebrew word for decision is charuts. It carries meanings like properly incised. You know, that means to cut. It can mean a trench that’s dug. Or it can refer to gold as it’s mined. It can also refer to a threshing sledge with it’s sharp teeth. So, yes, figuratively it can mean determination, or decision, or diligence while at the same time represent pointed and sharp things. It doesn’t seem like our idea of decision, does it?

 
We’ve been thinking about the choices that Israel made, like the choice to focus on things other than You God and Your ways and Your desires. I guess they layed Your ways out against their ways and when they took the threshing sledge of decision, they threshed Your ways out of there and kept their own. And now we’re looking at the choices the invading nations made. And it seemed like they chose to cut things the same way. They chose to run the knife down so as to slice You right out of the picture.

 
You ask Tyre and Sidon and Philistia this question, “Are you paying Me back for something?” Well, that’s a dangerous slice of pie to cut. Because Your reply is, “I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily.” What goes around, comes around. Is that really a surprise?

 
Well, maybe you say, “Oh, what kind of God is that! That’s terrible!” Really? Listen to decisions the nations had made, to the cuts they had decided to inflict. They had “traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” Do you really think that anyone has the “right” to do that? Is that their decision to devalue another’s life like that, to cheapen it so, to be the blade that cuts it off and scars it for life? Like this is only an ancient problem? Like there aren’t too many people to number who are still taking boys and girls and selling them for their own gain and for the children’s harm and other’s perversions?

 
“For you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.” Do you really think that God, who owns the universe, was concerned over silver and gold? Don’t you think that God was concerned over His people and that they were His silver and gold being carried away from Him and His presence? Sure, the silver and gold were taken from the temple. But You are concerned with the people You created. You care. You even care about the invaders. But the invaders have to come to care about You. And they have to make that cut before the day of the valley of decision, because that’s the day You make the cut.

 
Here’s the thing, all the other nations could have stopped and heard what Joel was saying. I’m thinking that somehow, in that day, Joel said this in a way that they could hear. But instead of really listening and understanding, like Ninevah when Jonah came, they decided to keep slicing things the way they always had. And that’s a decision each of us can also make. I can decide to keep slicing things the way I always have. I can not listen to anything You say. I can mock everything I want. I can keep slicing the piece of pie to whatever portion I want. Yes, it’s my choice. But it’s not my right. It just may be that I’m slicing up my own way to destruction.

 
The truth is that I can make any decision I want. I have that freedom. But I don’t think that making the wrong decision is freedom at all. Because you and I aren’t the final judge. There is One who created us and He alone is the final judge of our “decisions.” Slice that as we may, but there will be no way of slicing our way around that day. And it won’t just be a few that don’t meet the slicing requirements; it will be multitudes upon multitudes!

 
Well, that’s harsh! If that’s so harsh, why don’t the multitudes pay attention now? Why don’t we change our ways and slice our lives and choices differently? Why don’t we choose to slice the way of the One who wants to give us eternal slices of life instead of destruction? Why did the the multitudes turn away from Jesus and say that His ways of thinking were too much for them? Why do people mock Scripture without ever really looking into it to see if it bears truth?

 
Joel 3 ends with these words, “for the LORD dwells in Zion.” Despite all the cutting of the invading nations, despite all the straying of the people of Zion, and no matter who was inhabiting Zion, You were there God. It wasn’t that You dwelt there. It wasn’t that You would dwell there. In the midst of it all You dwell there. And in the midst of all the cutting against You we do with all our decisions, You are still here calling us and waiting for us to turn to You. Jew or Gentile, You are “not slow to fulfill [Your] promise as some count slowness, but [You are] patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

That’s kind of funny, but not in a “ha-ha” sort of way. But that word for repentance is metanoia. And it’s partly about, reversing your decision, so I suppose it’s a reversal of your cutting plan. Instead of cutting things my way, I decide to cut them Yours, Lord. And that’s a privilege which leads to life.

 
In truth, when we see the wrath of God upon man, let’s look at the many years that God called out and suffered the pains of watching and waiting patiently before retribution came. He literally suffers through the waiting as He affords people the opportunity to repent. I don’t know of any person outside of Jesus Christ who would suffer as much for as long and still love so fully. And then we want to fault You for that?

 
Jesus could have decided to cut us all off with one slice. But He didn’t because God is love. But God is also righteous and holy and judge and has to do what’s right. Yeah, it’s my decision and I can slice it any way I want but God will be the final judge of my slicing. He created the whole cake, not me. He gave Himself for it through Jesus. It’s His decision and not mine. I only fulfill my purpose when I line my slicing up with His. Lord, may my decision resemble Your decisions more and more every day so that when the day of the valley of decisions comes, You’ll recognize me as Your own possession, Your silver and Your golden treasure. Really, I don’t want to wait for then for You to recognize me. I want to be that recognizable treasure now!