Prayer and the End of All Things

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“ But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”  1 Peter 4:7

That is one sad phrase to hear, isn’t it?  “The end is here.”  That’s not even the whole of it but let’s just imagine a little bit of what that feels like.  Then end of vacation.  The end of visiting with family you don’t get to see much.  The end of Christmas day.  The end of the Fellowship of Christian Puppeteers National Conference.  The end of a life here on earth.  But the words here say “the end of all things is at hand…”

Yep, all means all.  My life as I know it, is in the process of coming to an end.  Every moment is in the process of coming to an end.  The world and everything in it is in that same process of coming to an end.  There is a limit to the time we and everything else have to experience life as we know it now.  There is a limit, a definite time or goal set by God, not just individually, but there is a day that You have set Lord, when all things as we know it will cease to be and the way that You know things ought to be and were created to be will come to be. 

I wonder if I’m living as though any day could be my last day?  It would be an awful shame to ignore the truth I know, and waste the days I’ve been given.  I don’t have an excuse for living ignorantly.  You’ve given me everything I need to know.  You’ve even given me Your Spirit to empower me.  But where am I focussed?  Am I focussed on things that are ending or am I focussed on life and things eternal?  Where am I in prayer?  Is my mind soundly set on You and Your ways?  Where do my thoughts and imaginations dwell?  Am I alert to the inclinations of the Holy Spirit?  Am I ever in-tuned to Your leading like a good soldier?  Am I alert to the things happening around me and to the open hearts or redirection of Your Spirit?  How is my prayer life?  How ready for each day, which may be my last, our last, am I?  ‘Cause we won’t be living like this forever.  You’ve got a new world full of Your ways, and extra full of You coming!

The Amplified Bible shares 1 Peter 4:7 like this, “The end and culmination of all things is near.  Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to HIm.]  The Complete Jewish Bible shares, “The accomplishing of the goal of all things is close at hand.  Therefore, keep alert and self-controlled, so that you can pray.”  Do I get the emphasis?  What is the way to handle the coming end of all things?  What is the most important way to prepare and be ready and to live in that in-between time once I know Jesus and am surrendered to You as Lord and Savior?  PRAYER.  If I don’t stay in constant communication with You, the rest is going to fall apart in my life.

The type of love and hospitality, the way I use my giftings, the kind of steward I am,  the words I speak and whether I glorify You or not will all flow from the kind of relationship I have with You in prayer.  Am I dependent upon my time with You?  Do I cry out to You in my neediness?  Or am I self-sufficient?  What is my prayer life like?  Is it powerless?  So will the rest of my life be.  Is there no urgency?  Is that because my thoughts are more lined up with this world than with You?

I don’t want to be like the scoffers in the end times, that Peter says are busy walking after their own lusts, their own desires.  I don’t want to get comfortable sitting on my haunches saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)  No, they aren’t.  The minute Adam and Eve chose their own way over You, that first sin of choosing something less than God in the place of You, that was the beginning of all things ending.  Sin brought with it death, the end of good things.  And just as You promised that all things would die, so You promised that all things would come to a final end, and be made new in You, so that some day, those who put their trust in You through Your promised Messiah, who came as a Bethlehemite and a Nazarene and suffered the cross for our reconciliation and Your glory, and who rose again, to make this picture clear for us, could bring us to You.  Jesus has paved the way so that the end is not the end for those who believe. 

It’s funny.  Now that I’ve been a full time missionary for over 2 years, I understand better how this world is not my home.  I can be “home” in Luray, Virginia, with my family, friends, and church, but I know it’s only for a time.  This is not my home any more.  And then I can be home in Manila, Philippines, with my family of God, and my husband, and friends, and I still know it’s only for a time.  This is not my home either.  I’m getting older, as we all do.  My body is changing.  I understand there is a limit not only on my life, but on that of the world as we know it.  And it still comes down to that one question.  How is my prayer life?  Am I in tune with You, Lord?  Am I where I need to be in You for the moments I have left?  Because if I’m not, others will lose out, and there is an eternity at stake here.  Lord, help my heart to love and cherish and long for time with You in prayer to know what I need to know and how I need go each day.

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The Same Way of Thinking Part 1

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“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”  1 Peter 4:1-2

Christ suffered in the flesh.  I’m supposed to think the same way as You, Jesus.  What does that mean?  Paul banked his whole being on this thought and encouraged us to do so as well.  “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a 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, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3:8-12, 14-15) 

Being human, being in the flesh, means suffering, whether I am a believer or not, but especially as a believer.  Why?  This flesh is not my forever home.  This flesh is wasting away.  I know that.  I was a baby once.  I was a toddler.  Then I was a child, a teenager, a young adult, and now, not to0 far off of being a senior.  We all age.  We go through aches and pains.  We wrinkle.  We can’t do what we could when we were younger.  Why spend my life satisfying what can’t be satisfied in this life?  Why live feeding an appetite that will never be full?  When living for God in Christ satisfies our deepest longing, when that was what I was created to do, why not live for God with all of my being and count everything else as loss that doesn’t matter, to gain what truly does?  The good news is that God, in Jesus and by the power of His Holy Spirit, helps me to think like this, like Jesus.  Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of His suffering, and because of His new life, I can know God personally and experience His power, which empowers me just as it did Jesus to walk in Him, to live in Him, to suffer in Him.

Maybe that sounds hopeless, but it’s anything but hopeless!  It’s because of the truth of the hope we have in God that allows us to press on when things seem unbearable.  Paul exhorted the believers in Thessalonica, “…we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.  And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.  For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved…” (1 Thessalonians 2:12-16)  How can I do this?  How can I think like this and live victoriously in the midst of suffering?  How can I want to?

I accept the word of God that I am encouraged here by as exactly that—the word of God.  I treat the word of God as truth, the final word of truth.  I bank my life on it.  I bank my joy on it.  I bank my eternity on it.  I even bank the lives of those around me on it.  And I let God have His way in me through it.  I let Him work in me as a believer as I walk in belief.

Peter brings it all together.  “For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…” (1 Peter 3:18)  “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1,2)  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

Why allow myself to suffer for Christ?  Because You suffered for me.  You suffered becoming man even though You are one with God.  Why?  For God’s glory and my redemption.  You counted the losses to You all as more than worth it for the glory that was to be revealed in the outcome You knew God had promised.  You call me to have that same mind set. 

Lord, let me look forward to Your final restoration of me, the full restoration of me, instead of trying to restore myself.  Let me look to Your confirmation of me and stop trying to confirm myself.  I’m so blind to my own faults and inadequacies.  How can I perfect myself when I am by nature imperfect?  I need someone who is perfect to perfect me.  Hmm.  That only leaves You!  Let me look to You to strengthen me, because my idea of strength has been skewed by the world.  Let me be established by You, because otherwise, I’m like a house built foolishly on the sand.  I don’t want to seem established here in this world.  I want to BE established for all of eternity.  I want to be all of this in You and by You no matter what it takes.  Let me honestly come to the point where I would count everything else loss, and accept my suffering as a gift to draw me closer to You and make me more like You.  Thank You that I am never alone in my suffering.  No believer is.

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.

Measuring Up

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Photo credit to readingrockets.org.

 

“You, son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern.” Ezekiel 43:10

 
God doesn’t just build houses to build houses. God is intentional. He has reasons for what He does. And He is intentional about inviting us into His reasoning. Whether it’s in the midst of directions on how to build a giant ark or in the midst of the instructions in a future temple that He will inhabit on earth with man, it’s more than just empty details. There’s something worth paying attention in it for us. It wasn’t just rules and regulations for the children of Israel either. God’s “patterns” matter. We, like the children of Israel need to learn to measure them as well.

 
But before we can learn to measure God’s measures in His patterns rightly, we need to measure our own hearts and lives before Him. We need to acknowledge, be ashamed of our own sin in our lives, and turn from them to Him. That’s part of real measuring. I have to measure up to God’s standards, not my own, not any one else’s, and definitely not the world’s. I don’t want to be weighed in the scale and found wanting. I don’t want to not measure up to God’s standard.

 
That’s what this word measure means. Over and over again, madad or measure, means to stretch that line for that measurement. There’s a comparison and a measuring against something, like when the manna was gathered and they “did mete it with an omer.” (Exodus 16:18) Wasn’t there a lesson in the manna and measuring it out? In Numbers 35:5, You had the Israelites measure a place for the Levites to live. It’s not just random. In Deuteronomy 21:2, if a man is found slain in the middle of a field, the elders and judges would measure the distance to the nearest city and those elders and judges would be responsible for making a sacrifice in order to make things right. They would be responsible for putting “away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when you shall do that which is right in the sight of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 21:9)

 
Boaz measured out six measures of barley for Ruth, using this word. David destroyed Moab and “measured them with a line…” (2 Samuel 8:2) And Elijah, when he stretched himself over the dead child’s body to bring him back to life, was using that “measuring” in the stretching. I wonder if that was like Elijah saying, “This is the power of God in me measured over against you, child. The measure of the power of God is life abundantly. Let us measure that out in you.” In Isaiah 40:12 we hear of You God, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?”

 
The thing is, this God who measures the waters and the heavens and the mountains and the dust, measures our hearts and actions. He lays Himself against us like Elijah layed against the boy, and by our response to our iniquities, our sin in Him, He determines His response to us. Like in Isaiah 65:7 we will all see how we stand up to Your measuring, Lord. “‘Your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together,’ says the Lord, ‘which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed Me upon the hills: therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom.’” Do I want my actions and decisions and works to be measured against me or for me? Am I blaspheming You in my walk in life? Or am I dependent upon You and walking in You? Because to have You turn Your face to me and measure Yourself against me is a terrible thing for me. I will lose in the measuring every time. There is no comparison. But to have You cover me by Your measure, to be totally dependent on You, to walk in You and love Your ways and receive Your grace and mercy and love, is a totally different story. It’s a story that measures me and finds me sufficient in Your grace, sufficient in You, loved and covered and empowered by You.

 
In Ezekiel alone, this word for measuring is used 35 times. Maybe it’s important that we each understand that we are being measured. Maybe it’s really important that we pay attention so we know what is required to make the measurement and what the consequences are for not measuring up. Our life today, tomorrow, and into eternity depends upon this measurement. If I want to live, I need to understand God’s measure. It’s the path to real life today, tomorrow, and forever.

 
So what are we measuring up to? A living God, actually, THE LIVING GOD. Like Israel, we all were once not a people, especially not Your people, God. But just like You called Israel out of Ur and made them a people, You call us out of this world and make us Your people, alive in You. You fill us with Your measure and make us sons of the Living God! (Hosea 1:10)

 
We’re called to measure the pattern. A pattern is a sum, it’s a picture of things that You want us to understand and it has a value. It adds up to something really important. Every one of it’s parts matter. The measurements, all of them, are integral to the formation of the whole thing. “How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139) It’s the substance, the completion, the height.

 
And sure, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Old Testament. But this isn’t just an Old Testament concept. This is a God concept, established from the start. That’s why it’s there already in the Old Testament and reiterated in the New Testament, because it’s a timeless truth. Paul tells Timothy of how God used him to show forth the pattern of believing. “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to everlasting life.” (1 Timothy 1:16) And that’s what we’re called to just as well. “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works [that measure up to God!-my note]: in doctrine showing incorruptness, gravity, sincerity…” (Titus 2:7) And Paul re-emphasizes how we are serving unto “the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, ’See,’ saith He, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern shown to you in the mount.’” (Hebrews 8:5)

 
So, who’s measure am I living by? Who’s pattern am I following? Lord, I want to live by Your measure and by Your pattern and not by my own because I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that my measure can never measure up and that my pattern is flawed. But not Yours. Your measure is beyond compare. Your measure is perfect and complete. Your measure is more than enough for me. And Your pattern is too beautiful for words. As You measure me, may I not be found wanting because You find me filled to Your measure of You. It’s not easy but there is nothing in life that is worth more.

When God is Against Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?”

Throwing Rebellion Out the Door

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Photo credit to online source.  Sorry, I lost the URL.

 

“Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 12:2

 
Here I am in Ezekiel 12 and I have the account of God sharing His heart with Ezekiel, telling him what He is going to do. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel not just one time, but 5 times, in these 28 verses. And I need to understand that God’s judgment wasn’t about to fall on the pagan, but on the children of Israel, specifically Judah. This was a pronouncement on the family of God, the people of God, the “religious” people.
Well, those who were supposed to be leading the people closer to God weren’t concerned about God at all. So the people around them weren’t either. And Ezekiel was getting to stand out like a sore thumb here and declare their rebellion which wasn’t just about to be their destruction, but which had already begun to destroy them from within the minute they succumbed to that thinking.

 
Now, lest I think that I’m not like them at all, I had better check myself and understand what rebellion really looks like and how it begins. And I’ve come to the conclusion that rebellion is a lot closer than I thought and that there are a lot more children of God involved in it right now than you think, and it could be you or I.

 
The word used for rebellious here is the Hebrew meriy. It comes from marah. It’s a way to guarantee destruction. Marah mixes two components, one political and the other theological. It’s when we refuse to see God’s way or hear God’s voice. “This verb describes ‘the attempt of the subordinate to escape from a dependent relationship.’” (Skip Moen) But the problem is that we try to escape our dependency from our Creator God, from the absolute one, the One who alone rules by His divine right. It’s ludicrous. Think about it. I want to break free from the One who gives and sustains my life? I want to do my own way what I couldn’t even create in the first place? Instead of choosing the Tree of Life, I want to choose my own knowledge? Really? What good is it to know and experience good and evil instead of life? If life is on one side then death must be on the other. Adam and Eve weren’t the only ones who walked away from a relationship of full life and chose death in rebellion.

 
I mean, we’re dealing with God here. He’s our Creator, the Creator of everything. In Him is life and out of Him, where rebellion reigns, is His wrath. Isn’t it a shame that rebellion is so embedded in our hearts, that our hearts are so desperately wicked we don’t even know it? But God does and He can show us and change us.

 
The truth is that rebellion starts in our talk, and our thoughts, and our reasoning. We tend to call it rights and religion. But it’s really self-centeredness. We even think we are doing right and it’s harmless. Where’s our prophet when we need him?

 
What does the attitude of rebellion look like? Well, in the end it looks like Judah in Ezekiel’s day. But on the way, it looks like boys ridiculing a prophet for his baldness, or calling down fire and brimstone on a people because they don’t treat you right, or gossip, or talking your leadership down, or disrespect to your parents, or controlling someone else for your gain. It’s all the little steps of walking in your own way and your own plans and not seeking God’s will.

 
Skip Moen asks, “When the mystery of lawlessness operates, are we its restraints or are we its helpers?” The truth is that “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) Wait.  Sin is breaking God’s rules, right? When I don’t do what is “right” I’m a “bad” person. But when are my sins breaking laws? I’m allowed to do them by legal standards. But I break the law every time I sin?

 
Sometimes sin is translated as iniquity. Jesus uses this to describe wicked people. Paul uses it to tell what happens as we pursue our own desires instead of God’s. Is this what I”m like, am I filled with iniquity and terribly wicked?

 
Watchman Nee wrote, “Sin is a matter of conduct; it is easy to be forgiven of sin. But rebellion is a matter of principle; it is not so easy to be forgiven of rebellion.” Sin happens, but rebellion is birthed. Rebellion is mulled over and strengthened and chosen and latched onto. Rebellion is (that deep-seated principle within me that fights against the holiness of God, that wants to assert my independence and self-sufficiency.” (Skip Moen)  It’s about my attitude inside, in the heart of me. It’s the opposite of submission. Rich young rulers can keep rules much easier than they can submit. My basic rebellion is that I want to be in control. Submit? I don’t want to. It’s like spitting in the face of God. It’s pushing Him out of throne and putting me in His place. It’s like when Absalom made himself king against his father David. And we run around trying to do the same.
At that point it doesn’t matter if I’m obeying the rules or practicing the religious requirements. Rebellion is in my heart and flowing out. Even the wishing it were going my way is rebellion. Honestly, submission is hard. Our nature says, “No way!” But submission is the heart of finding God’s grace. Without it, all is sin, no matter what you call it or what you think it looks like.

 
Paul tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Now, I need to listen to this. If I want to be empowered, I need to submit. I need to submit to the one who is the ultimate delegate of authority and power. Only the Boss can give me this strength. See only, and I mean ONLY Jesus can supply this available power because it is His to supply. I don’t have it. I can just tap in. I’m just the vehicle. It’s not even about my authority and responsibility but about my usefulness. I’m the receptacle of His power, not mine. Rebellion is me being a power instead of Him. Not only can that not be but it’s ludicrous! I’m just the pipe built for Him to flow through.

 
So maybe I hear all this and I think I’m still not rebellious, maybe I should think a little more. “And if any one hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him, the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” (John 12:47-48) I can think I’m getting by.  I can think I’m God’s gift to the church and the people around me. I can delude myself and others. But when I’m measured up against the words of God and the words of Christ and I don’t match them, the truth will come out.

 
I don’t want to take this lightly. To reject Your sayings is to reject You. What are Your sayings? “But I say unto you…” How do you handle your anger? Do you call your brother “fool,” this person who was created in the image of God? Is reconciliation more important than being right? How about the thoughts in your head? Have you lusted already? Did you really love your wife as Christ loved the church and died for her, or was it all about you so that it was easy to leave her? I mean, what kind of oaths do I even have the power to make when I can’t even number my own days? Do I really let someone slap me on the cheek and then turn the other to him also, or do I retaliate? Do I love my enemies like You did? Do I bless those who curse me like You did? Do I do good to those who hate me, like You did? Do I pray for those who persecute me, like You did?
Are my thoughts and my reasons and my attitudes anything like Yours? Because the truth is that If I really want to be Your child, then I have to born of You, not of me, because that doesn’t come naturally from me. I have to learn to submit and submit and submit. And it’s not such a bad thing. It’s a hard thing but You can change my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh like Yours. I want to throw rebellion out the door. If it means that I have to stand alone for you like Ezekiel and dig through a wall and look crazy, then that’s what I want You to give me strength to do. Why? “That I may be [the child of my] Father which is in heaven,” because You are the One who makes the sun to rise and not me.