The Measure of All Things

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Photo credit to internet search.  Not sure of original source.

 

“And so shall you do on the seventh day of the month for every one that errs, and for him that is simple; so shall you make atonement for the house.” Ezekiel 45:20

 
Who needs a sin offering offered up on their behalf? God says the one who errs and the simple ones do. In this future temple, is it just any prince who offers up this sin-offering? No. This is the Prince of Peace who has already become our atonement for sin through his life and sacrifice upon the cross and resurrection. So why will there be a day of future sacrifices? The sad thing is, that even when Jesus abides on earth before the final judgment, there will be those who err and those who are too simple to trust and see and follow. It’s the same story as today. It’s the same story as always.

 
In 2 Peter we hear Peter’s admonition to us. He’s telling us to be careful of erring and being “simple-minded.” Listen. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? But, according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, give diligence that you may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in His sight. And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation…”

 
God is giving us every chance He can and I’d say more than He ever has to because He isn’t even obligated to give us a second chance. And yet He does exert the most divine patience to warn and warn and prompt and prompt and remind and remind just to try to jar us out of our erring ways and out of the simplicity of our own foolish thinking. He takes the time to list things out for us with the uttermost of preciseness so we can understand if we want to. Of course, if I have no interest in understanding, it won’t matter how simple something is, I just won’t get it, will I? Over and over He gives us the measures and specifications to the minutest detail. Why? So we can understand righteousness, so we can understand and know Him. Actually, it goes beyond understanding. It’s totally wrapped up in knowing.

 
Measures matter. Measures make it right. Measures make the house strong and firm enough to stand. Take away the measures and regulations and you have squatters areas that are washed away in the floods. Measures make things just and balanced. We know what to expect. We know what to give. God calls for “just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath.” That’s a right measure and it’s not just that God was interested only in these three right measures. All of our lives and what we do with it ought to flow with right measuring.

 
Now that word for just comes from tsedeq. And that’s related to the word tsedeqa which has to do with the righteousness of God and all that flows from Him because of it. It’s all the goodness and loving-kindness and judgment and works and being that flow from Him. I have a box following the Hebrew example called a tsedekah which is a box that I put free will offerings in with the intent of it flowing out to do goodness in other’s lives. That’s tsedekah. But we are also called to be tsedeq because God is tsedeq. Righteousness isn’t just a cleanness; it’s the way of God from His life flowing through ours. It’s His measure being measured out through us.

 
We have right balances, and measure out grains and liquids fairly because God is all about doing the right thing not only for Himself but on the behalf of others. So our lives are to reflect that same level of caring and commitment. And part of understanding this righteousness or justness is to accept and be glad that God is the Standard Setter and not me.

 
Now, I won’t pretend to say that I understand all the stuff going on in the rituals in the Bible or why You do what You do all the time, Lord. I don’t know why You sometimes take people from this life and why You sometimes choose to leave others. I don’t know why You permit me to make some of the decisions I do and still be left standing on this earth. I don’t know why You choose to use sacrifices and the things of the temple one day with Your people again as Christ stands as High Priest for them, except that it fulfills all Your purposes. It teaches us. It shows us. It demonstrates to us all righteousness in action. And just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not good for me.
There are things that You have told Your people will be perpetually celebrated. I’m pretty sure when You said perpetual, that You meant perpetual, that what was meant for our benefit in understanding and trusting in the beginning shall always be useful for our understanding and trusting. And I want to be the first to admit that sometimes I am in error and sometimes I am simple. I don’t mean to be rebellious, it’s not like I’m trying to fight against You. That’s a different story with a different outcome. But sometimes, my thinking and reasoning become faulty and I err and sin against You. And it’s not that I wanted to but somehow I just got too caught up in what wasn’t right and wasn’t just until I realized where I was. And I am so glad that You are there for me to bring me back to Your thinking and back to You.

 
And sometimes, I’m just simple. Sometimes I’m just easily seduced, foolish, and make silly choices. And I’m so glad that You don’t give up on me or count me as less. I’m so glad that through all of this, there is a way for me not only to be forgiven but to be reconciled to You and to be commissioned in You. I’m so glad that I have a High Priest who can do for me what I need done to be accepted by You. I’m glad for His measures and that I need to measure up. And I’m even more glad that You make me measure-up-able in Christ.
Some day, I want to be able to experience all these feasts and festivals and worship in the temple with You as the full-head. I want to understand it and You in Your fullness. I don’t want to miss a beat. I want to see and know the significance of You in all that You’ve given us. And I firmly believe that one day, You will open our eyes and hearts and minds to understand all of Your word fully because Your word isn’t just words in a book, it’s all about You, the Living God who is the measure of all things.

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Just One

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“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” Ezekiel 22:30

 
“Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry?
Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die?
Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand?
 Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you damned?” Leonard Ravenhill

 
That’s pretty much the problem that stands out in Ezekiel 22. Of course, Lord, You declare to all what made the city a “bloody city” and You list her abominations. She had come such a long way from who she was created to be. She was Yours, but now she defiled herself from that image and looked like fake idols instead. Instead of caring for the stranger, they oppressed them. Instead of caring for the fatherless and widow, they vexed them. Instead of loving and adoring and seeking after Your holiness, they profaned it. They made fools of others and lacked respect. They were filled with lust and misused others for their own pleasure. Greed grew and generosity failed. They totally lost sight of You, God. Even the religious teachers and leaders were twisted in their thinking. So here they were, hearing the drowning cry and not reaching out to save them. They were drowning themselves and didn’t even know it. Here they were watching their people die, emotionless to the loss, as they were unwittingly dying themselves. Here they were watching men burn without pulling them from the fire because there they were in the middle of the fire with them but without realizing it. Yes, here they were, sitting at ease when the world was falling apart around them. But how can one help, if one is blind to the truth around them?

 
And I know that this is not just a message to be heeded in Ezekiel’s day so many years ago. This attitude matters today. I think of the words of Hanani to Asa, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him…” (2 Chronicles 16:9) So this idea of You, God, looking for someone to stand in the gap on Your behalf and on behalf of the people, is no novel idea. And it wasn’t like there weren’t Godly men in Ezekiel’s day. There was Jeremiah who was being tortured by being stuck in a pit and silenced. And here was Ezekiel, who we’ve already heard 22 chapters of standing for You. And there are probably others. But there is not one at this time who is able to build up the broken wall and stand in the breach before You to intercede on the behalf of those who have fallen and there is none who are able to turn the hearts of the people. Sometimes, all it takes is one person, one person like a Moses, or a David, or a Noah or a Job. Or one person like a Hudson Taylor, or George Muller, or a woman named Miriam whose real name I can’t share, or another named Isik.

 
And I don’t think this is about church leadership. I think this is about knowing You, God, and knowing You for real. It’s not about position, it’s about who we really are in You. It’s not about popping out pastors and teachers. Manson says, “O ye ministers of the Word, consider well that you are the first sheets from the King’s press; others are printed after your copy. If the first sheet be well set, a thousand more are stamped with ease. See, then, that the power of religion prevail over your own hearts lest you not only lose your own souls, but cause the ruin of others.” It’s true, the King’s printing press is at work. But it isn’t printing out professionals and workers and such. It’s printing out individuals after His own image to become His priests and His disciples and His representation on this earth. That has never changed. First and foremost I am to be modeled and made and molded after Your image. I’m not supposed to look like a pastor or teacher or missionary or whatever. I’m supposed to look like You, talk like You, think like You, act like You, be like You. How else can I stand in the gap?

 
But if I won’t let myself be copied faithfully after You and then I draw others to me, how many faulty copies, so far from the original am I guilty of? Why would I want people imitating me, instead of You? I want to point them to You. I want them to be printed off of the Master Press, not me. But I want to so order my steps that it will lead them to You. What good is a flawed master copy? What good is a watch that is out of time? Should others set their time by it and be off also?

 
The Lord reminds us in Chapter 14 that there isn’t a righteous person that can deliver the nation from judgment based on his own righteousness. Noah, Daniel, and Job wouldn’t even have been able to do that. Moses couldn’t even do it. When he stood in the gap for the people, it was based on God’s righteousness and image before the world. But here, in Ezekiel’s day, God couldn’t even find someone to turn the people’s hearts back like that.
Reading this sad truth that God could find no one to stand in the breach, made me wonder about Ezekiel. Surely Ezekiel was trying to stand in the breach! So it couldn’t mean that there were none who would stand for God. I’ve been reading 22 chapters of Ezekiel taking a stand. Stuart stated that it meant “that there were so few among the people who were righteous that the net effect was as if no one at all cared about God’s will.”

 

It’s not that God didn’t have faithful representatives. He had Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah too. But why were they so ineffective? Were they deficient? Or were the people just that defiant? And then I wonder if the faithful were faithful but not in the political positions necessary to turn a people? Like Hezekiah and Josiah who were kings and led people, as opposed to Jeremiah and Ezekiel who were prophets and instructed people. Maybe it matters if there is even just one king after God’s own heart.

 
Moses was one of those “gap men.” Psalm 106:23 tells us, “Therefore He said He would destroy them—had not Moses, His chosen one, stood in the breach before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them.” How could he do that? What if Moses understood what it was to be willing to accept the wrath of God for the salvation of those He loved and for the glory of the God He loved? What if this is the closest one can come to understanding the heart and compassion of God in Christ Jesus? What if this is how Jesus pleads for us, for mercy and malleable hearts and places Himself in the breach of God’s wrath for us? Do I really think that Moses stood there without any fear of God’s anger himself? Or what if he understood like Paul, when he said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” How’s that for extreme standing in the gap? Wow!

 
Is this about intercessory prayer? God used this expression back in Ezekiel 13:5 also, “You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord.” The Hebrew of “built up a wall” or “make up the hedge” is gadar gader. It’s all about building a wall “of security and assurance around a city or a life.” (Dr. W. A. Criswell) So, here is supposed to be a wall of safety, but there is this breach, this peretz. There is this hole that let’s harm enter the city. And when harm enters the city, it enters our lives. Nehemiah talks about removing the breaches or holes by repairing the walls. People stood in and did that. Isaiah calls God the “Repairer of the Breach.” God used Jesus to stand in the breach for us, to pour out His life for ours and for the glory of God, to offer us safety and security in Him. He intercedes on our behalf, yes, but He doesn’t only intercede in prayer. He intercedes by His life.
Think about it. Jesus did more than pray for His disciples and for us. Jesus showed us what God looked like walking on this earth. Jesus touched and healed and raised from the dead. Jesus suffered and yet loved those who persecuted Him. Jesus washed the feet of his followers. Jesus was patient. Jesus was zealous for God. He interceded with and through His whole life. That’s true worship.

 
What if You are looking for men and women and boys and girls like that? What if You are looking for people who will worship You with all of their being and stand in the gap for You and those around them? What if You couldn’t find any at that time because the ones that were, were actually being detained by the opposition? Like Jeremiah who was in a pit to die? Like Ezekiel who the people weren’t listening to?

 
God always seeks for one person at a time. Why? That’s how we must respond. He seeks for one to stand in the breach. He’s not looking for a ministry or an institution or a nation or anything like that. All it can take is one person. Persia took a Cyrus. Babylon took a Nebuchadnezzar. Greece took an Alexander the Great, Rome, a Caesar. Closer to home, America had a George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Oh, but those aren’t necessarily religious leaders, right? Maybe not the way we think of it but Scripture has God calling Cyrus his son that He raised up for this purpose and this time.

 
Now think about the individuals that God raised up that impacted whole countries for Him. What about George Muller, or Billy Sunday, or Martin Luther, or Charles Spurgeon. I think about the first believer from the Maldives and how God has used her to lead others of her people (a 100% Muslim country!) to Him as well as others where she is ministering. I think about Mother Theresa in India and the Dawsons in Venezuela and Timothy and Yvonne Kinyua in Kenya. They pray but that’s not all. They put their faith and prayers to their feet and their lives. They walk it out. They live it out. They take their lives and through them walk Jesus out to the people around them for miles and miles, whether it’s dangerous or not, whether it’s taxing on their bodies or not. That’s the kind of standing in the gap that You are looking for, isn’t it?

 
Think about it this way as Dr. W. A Criswell shares the account of Moses and God. “God said to Moses in that thirty-second chapter of [Exodus], ‘Now Moses, you stand aside, you stand aside and let My wrath burn against these people. I will destroy them out of My sight: and out of you will I raise up a nation to do My will’ (Exodus 32:9-10)” Wow! Wouldn’t that be great? Wipe out the people who are a problem and make me great, Lord! Only that’s not the heart of God, is it. But I am so grateful that Moses had the heart of God in his response. “And it was then that Moses stood in the breach and as you read, he interceded, saying, ‘If these people cannot live, I do not want to live. If You blot them out of Your Book of Life, blot my name out of the Book of Life.’ [Exodus 32:32] And God spared the nation for Moses’ sake. He stood in the breach. [Psalm 106:23]” And I don’t think it was just for Moses’ sake. I think Moses was thinking of God’s sake, of what the nations all around would think of God. And I think God honored that kind of thinking in Moses, that was concerned for God’s glory and God’s people more than he was concerned with his own comfort or rights or image. That’s that kind of person that You look for to stand in the gap. Am I that kind of person?

 
Give me a person of God, just one,
Whose faith shines foremost for the Son
Who covets prayer and time with God
And walks it out where ever He trods.
Give me a person of God, just one,
Who lives in the light of the Living One
Who bears the image of the Risen Son
And loves and serves and forgives wrongs,
Where God’s vision fills his heart with songs
That he sings and lives out all day long
So that it rubs off on the watching throng.
Give me a person of God, just one
To stand in the breach, though they be undone,
And I’ll show You a life strong in God’s grace
That’ll make a difference in every place.
Make me a person of God, that one,
Wholly undone in the Glorious One.

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?”

Strange Fire

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“‘Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 14:14)

 

The Lord is still pronouncing judgment on His people. Now, some of the leaders of Israel were coming to “inquire” of him before Ezekiel. And it appears as though God was asking, “Why? Why are they bothering?” Is that a strange question for God to ask? Or would that make sense if God new that all they wanted to offer was “strange fire” anyways?

 

Here is a God who knows man’s heart better than man knows it. That means that You, God, know our feelings, our intents, our thoughts, our motives, and how our will is inclined. And here is what you had to say about these leaders, “…these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face.” So, if these men weren’t coming before God to submit and agree with Him, why were they coming? That’s what You were asking. “Should I be inquired of at all by them?”

 

These leaders who should have lived lives of submission were anything but submitted, they were anything but obedient. They had set up their idols in their hearts. Do I know what that means? There is actually a New Testament warning against allowing this in my life today. “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) So, what’s the danger of idols? When I worship an idol, I’m attempting by whatever it takes, to try to shape the world according to my own will and my own desires. Think about it. Why would I placate a god? So that it treats me the way I want to be treated. Idol worship is a way to manipulate and control the world around me. Idol worship is the opposite of submission. It’s antagonistic to God.

 

But I would never worship an idol.  Really? The minute I try to control things and take God out of the picture I become an idol worshipper. My desire becomes my idol. I become my idol. My desire becomes my stumbling block. I become my own reason for falling. And I don’t even realize the perversity of it; I don’t realize how twisted my thinking and actions have become.

 

I can’t help but think about God only delivering Noah, Daniel, and Job. And why? Because of what their lives demonstrated, by the righteousness that they chose to live in, that came from the depths of their souls and flowed out into real life. It was the righteousness that flows from God and emanates from Him and they chose to uphold it. It wasn’t forced upon them. In a world where they were allowed to choose who to submit to, they chose to submit to Your ways, God. They chose to be under Your manipulation rather than manipulate the world around them. They trusted You more than themselves.

 

Maybe we think we can come up with and create our own righteousness but that’s a total lie. Psalm 103:6 tells us that “the Lord performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.” But that doesn’t just mean that God does good things. The Hebrew ‘ose(h) tsedaqot is about making righteousness. See, everything that He does is righteous. He is the originator of righteousness and anything righteous came from Him first.

 

And then we come to Psalm 106:3 which says, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” How can we do that? Well, I certainly can’t do it without submitting to the righteous One. And I certainly can’t do that if I make something else my idol. It would seem that if I want to do this, I would need to be in constant communication with the One who is Righteousness. Doesn’t God tell me that I can speak with Him any time? Even in the midst of my sin, doesn’t He tell me to come to Him and confess my sins? Can’t I respond to Him anytime? Can’t I answer Him? Can’t I converse with Him? Or am I just coming to try to placate Him and manipulate Him?

 

 
Was it that the elders couldn’t come before Him? Or was the truth that they would come before Him but without any desire to communicate? Their answers were in their idols. Their hearts had already chosen sides. They were in control and there was no way they would surrender that control to God. When we stop communicating with God it’s like we remove ourselves from reality. It’s like we already refuse to exist.

 

 
Maybe if these elders were more like the poor widow, their story would have been so different. Luke 21:2 tells of Jesus watching “a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” into the temple offering. The coins had little value. Each coin was worth maybe 1/4 of a penny. So how could Jesus say that she had put in more than all the rest of the people? Could it be because she placed more than coins in the offering? By that act, was she placing her submission in this God that she trusted utterly would care for her even though she had given everything? Was she done with manipulation? Was she ready to submit under the hand of her mighty God who is truly able to save? Is that kind of faith what dominated her life?

 

 

What does the story of this widow tell us? Remember, a widow in Jesus’ day had no human support, no property rights, and was left to fend for herself. Who would take care of her? She could choose to manipulate people or she could submit to and rely on God.
But that’s not all this tells me. This tells me that Jesus, that God, notices those in need. Of all the people He saw her. It wasn’t about her 100% donation. It was about her righteousness demonstrated by her heart of submission. Let’s think about this. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 tells how when we see someone struggling, “ you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Why would He say that? Because His righteousness is a righteousness that notices and meets needs.  As a matter of fact, righteousness is “more valuable than worship rituals.” Micah reminds us, ”With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And Hosea reminds us, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” And Proverbs 21:3 declares, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” So let’s not think it was the widows sacrifice. God noticed the heart behind her sacrifice. Without that, her coins would have left a hollow reverberation.

 

 
Do I notice the things the Lord notices like that? Do I act upon them like He does? Do I just want to placate God? Or am I submitted fully to Him clinging to His care for me? Do I have any idols in my heart that I need to repent from and tear down and utterly destroy? Am I somehow choosing to separate myself from You, Lord? The truth is, I am responsible for me. I alone can choose whether to live dependently in and under Your righteousness or by my own false self-righteousness. I can choose my idols like the elders. Or I can choose You. Each choice comes with it’s foretold consequences. It’s not like we haven’t been educated. Maybe it’s just that some of us refuse to be taught. I want to learn, Lord, from You and of You. I don’t want to hold on stubbornly to my idols. I want to hold on stubbornly to You. You give us the means to deliver our lives by righteousness in You. So let me be found in You displaying that righteousness which is of You and not of me.

Since Before Day One

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“…and begin at my sanctuary.” Ezekiel 9:6

 
I want to think about what it means to begin at Your sanctuary, Lord. Isn’t the reality that everything begins with You and at You and for You and in You? John reminds us that “All things were made by [You]; and without [You] was not any thing made that was made.” Paul tells us in Colossians 1:17 that You are “before all things, and in [You] all things hold together.” Maybe I would do better in life to remember this at all times and center my life around this.

 
Now, Ezekiel is a warning of coming judgment. But it’s not just about judgment on the lost world, or those who flagrantly refuse to acknowledge God from the pagan nations. Do you know where God begins the judgement? God begins judging in His sanctuary. Judgment begins on the ones who are supposed to know Him and represent Him in the world. That means that we who call ourselves believers are first in line. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are truly ready? Maybe we should examine our lives and our beliefs and our thoughts and see if God would have His angelic workers mark our foreheads as His. But that mark doesn’t just go on everyone. His workers go out and look for those who “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed…” Is that us? Is that me?

 
I keep reading about people who call themselves believers and support abortion. But if I go into the sanctuary with You Lord, and spend time in Your word, I find that You already know the plans You have for that embryo. You call children a blessing, not a curse or a burden. You value all life.

 
I suppose, as I look at Jesus Christ and how He gave up all His Divine rights to come to earth and to walk with us and touch us and suffer and give His life as a ransom for us, I don’t quite understand the rationale that I have rights that outweigh the rights of any other life. Thank God that Jesus didn’t decide He had a right to his own body and that we didn’t deserve to live. Because He sacrificed His rights for each of us, we can be born again into God’s family, instead of being aborted into eternal death.

 
But it’s not just about abortion. It’s about choosing and clinging to any abomination or twisting of Your plan and Your way. God said they were guilty of injustice. Do you know how Noah Webster defines injustice? It’s “any violation of another’s rights.” So think about it. We want our rights so much that we go around destroying every one else’s. Do you know that can be by fraud or not keeping our word, or by not giving someone what is due? It’s even in giving people more or less then what is due. It could also be about withholding praise or giving undeserved blame.

 
Have we come to a place in our thinking where we give everyone trophies for participating instead of trophies for excelling and working hard? Have we come to a place where we force people to believe what we value and withhold their choice? Why can Islam be taught in schools but not Christianity? Why can atheism be taught? Why can’t people have the right to choose for themselves?

 
But let’s look back inside the sanctuary. How long have “believers” been forcing others into the kingdom or out according to their timing or their way? How often have “believers” been seeking their rights and allowed divorce to flourish as strongly within its folds as in the secular world? Is that because injustice reigns and we are more concerned about our own rights than God’s will being done? Do we toy with spiritual warfare, playing with what we ought to be guarding ourselves against? Well, sure, I have the right to listen to whatever music I want to, or watch whatever I want to, or try whatever I want to. I can go to haunted houses, or drink in excess, or stay at home, or hang out with my buddies if I want. That’s my right. But somewhere along the line God made it clear that living wasn’t about my rights. Living was about something and someone greater than me living in me and through me. Living was about giving up my rights for something and someone greater and for the good of all.

 
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about rights. But he says he doesn’t use his rights. Even though he doesn’t have to be a servant, he’s free to choose his behavior, he chooses to be a servant of all. He chooses to give up his rights so that others may share in the blessings of God. Because he doesn’t want to be disqualified and miss that mark on his forehead.
The point is, that we who profess to know God, we know what God desires. He’s told us in His word. We are more responsible and more culpable than those who don’t know. And others will follow our example. God is still looking to and fro over all the nations, and seeing those who wear His mark and He knows those who wear the mark of their own rights. Let’s not think that we are safe because we wear a cross around our neck or are a member of a church or temple.

 
Actually, we only have one right, the right to decide to believe or not. 1 John 2:17 sheds more light on this, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” If we call ourselves believers and choose our own will over God’s, the reality of who we are is in the taste of the pudding. Hey, if chocolate pudding is made through chocolate pudding ingredients, and I choose to use other ingredients, say vanilla pudding ingredients, my pudding isn’t going to taste like chocolate because it’s not going to be chocolate. I can’t just call myself a believer. A believer agrees with God. A believer lives out God’s will and God’s ways. Jesus showed us how. God’s word and Holy Spirit make His will and ways known.

 
You can choose to paint any picture of God you want. I could too. But the reality is that God is God not according to my picture or yours but according to who He is. He’s a God of love but in that love, He is also a God of judgment and righteousness and so much more. And it’s not because we labelled Him those things. Those things came into being because of who He was and is and always will be. In other words, we know truth or goodness or justice because they came from Him.

 
Another truth is that our God is scary and good all at the same time. He is a God who has the right to say, “Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” But don’t forget how patient he was waiting for all these old men and young men and maidens and children and women to turn back to what they were created for—life and that life in Him.

 
My warning is to be careful whose rights you cling to. Am I more concerned about Your right to be God than my own? Maybe if I were more concerned with letting You be God in every area of my life, there would be a lot more angelic beings busy marking foreheads. And maybe if all those “within the sanctuary” started living and believing like God’s will mattered most, we’d see the world being turned upside down.

 
If you don’t like hearing about people dying in judgment, let’s do something about it. Let’s be the people of God in Jesus Christ that we were created to be. Let’s clean up the sanctuary and get back to His righteousness and His love by our choice. Let’s be who we were created to be. After all, that’s been God’s desire for us since before day one.

My Shepherd Farmer

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Photo credit to Herdwick Shepherd.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

I Can Taste the Music

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Photo credit to http://www.tastethemusic.co.uk

“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12

This is awful news.  The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold.  People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way.  They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others.  National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.

What is the example of the impending destruction that is used?  A household.  A household of 11 people.  Plague.  Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle.  And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned.  Why?  “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that?  Did the You say not to make mention of Your name?  F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it.  Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You?  I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name?  Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were?  I don’t know, but it’s a thought.

Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God, than to hear the truth about ourself?  Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up?  It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall.  You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us.  It didn’t start out bitter.  But twisted hearts twisted the taste.

I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words.  He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You.  Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled.  It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being.  It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life.  It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship.  It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You.  It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You.  It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness.  It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are.  It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship. 

Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from, to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember.  “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.”  In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing.  It is separate and distinguished.  It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful.  Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.

But everyone is given free will.  And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives.  We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things.  I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own.  I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong.  Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing. 

I love that word, tsedaqah.  It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-ness that flows from God.  It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way.  But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.

Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?”, we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?”  Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises?  Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day?  Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You.  Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building.  And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You?  Have we not taken to us power by our own strength?  Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?”  Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God.  But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.

Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us?  Why would You seem to forsake people?  Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied.  God is in exile; the world is corrupt.  The universe itself is not at home.”  If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers.  I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be.  It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness.  After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven.  Why doesn’t it happen?  Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways.  I won’t listen.  I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water.  Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it, I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.”  But who really is the foolish one?

The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits.  Oxen don’t go plowing in rock.  For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way.  It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day.  Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts  9:5)  Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today.  That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew.  It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle.  But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse.  Now think about that.  Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison.  Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us.  It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into.  And then the problem is we can’t find our way out.  We wind up trapped there. 

Is there hope?  Yes!  When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul.  We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?”  And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives.  I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord.  I will know Your will and do it.  I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it.  You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before. 

Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again.  Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them.  Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’”  Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song.  But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first.  I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever.  You are worthy, not me.  You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours.  Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me.  No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.