The Right Frame of Thinking

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Photo credit from Alaska Fish & Wildlife News (2003)

“Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is in the midst of them, and they know not the LORD.” (Hosea 5:4)

It’s not that I’m choosing things to depress here. I suppose I could choose all the flowery, happy feeling verses in Scripture and just share those. But if I were running toward the edge of an unforeseen cliff that would lead to my downfall or death, I’d certainly appreciate someone warning me and persuading me to turn from my desired path. Running off the edge to my death wouldn’t bring much happiness to me or my family. Turning and living out my days wisely and wonderfully would be a joyful thing. And maybe that’s what Hosea and God are trying to tell us. Maybe they are not trying to depress us but to call us back to a life of wonderful living in the One who created life to be lived to the fullest in Him.

Israel and Judah were running toward the edge of the cliff like lemmings. God was warning. You wanted them to live, not die. You wanted them to succeed, not fail. You wanted them to be victors, not defeated. The promise of Your Messiah was all about that. The promise of Your Messiah, trusting in You and Your provision, was all about Your people having life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, provision instead of want, relationship instead of duty. Jesus shared Your heart (which is His!) when He told us, “The thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s not just a little more abundantly. That’s actually super abundantly, excessively, over and above and beyond measure!

But instead, like Israel did, we revolt against that. We hide from You. We go after other ideas and things that can’t supply like that, things that have no real power. We take these powerless things and we give them power over our lives. We sell out to them. We hand over our lives and our thoughts and our families and our desires to things that steal from us, kill us, and destroy us and those around us.

Think I’m crazy? Think about it. A father kills his daughter. Why? Because she chooses a different religious belief. He sends his children off wearing bombs to kill others and be killed in the process. He still isn’t guaranteed paradise. They live to die, but is that really living?  Do they have abundant life? Do they receive joy in this? Or are they being robbed due to lies? They are being killed and destroyed all day. Their hearts are being made callous. Their ears being made deaf. They think they know God, but Allah is nothing like God. They don’t know, and they frame their doings after this thief instead of after a God who wants to love them superabundantly. They follow another spirit who kills and destroys, who is killing and destroying their own and using them to do it.

But what about us? What about the ordinary John Doe or Jane Smith out there? What about those of us who know about You and about what You care about and yet we toss it back in Your face. “I can do what I want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” You know, that doesn’t really work. Even this pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar came to that conclusion. Listen to his words, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”(Daniel 4:37) And that’s the heart of our problem then and now. Pride.

Hosea tells us that Israel’s pride testified to his face. Pride closes eyes. Pride seals the ears. Pride changes the heart. Pride leads one to kill their daughter or their sons, not love. Well, what about Abraham, some might ask? Abraham didn’t want to kill his son. When Abraham lifted the knife, he was believing that His God, the True God, would make good His promise that through his seed, which was Isaac, He would make a nation. God can’t make a nation through a dead person. He has to be living. Abraham was trusting in a God of life NOW, not just later! He was thinking, “I must obey God because only in God is there life.” Abraham threw his pride out the door. His pride was in God and trusting in him. Now that’s faith! How many others would say, “No, God, that’s not a good idea. I think we need to do something else?” Well, that’s pride to think we know better.

Pride causes us to not frame our doings to Your doings God. We choose to not frame our thoughts with Your thoughts. We outweigh You which is such a ludicrous thought because the fullness of Your glory would just crush us; the weight of Your glory is unbearable. Let’s take this home a little closer to life.

I was reading a verse in Revelation this morning, Revelation 2:10 which says, “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” What does it mean to have tribulation ten days? I’ve read some commentators that talk about 10 periods of persecution. I don’t doubt that, but what if You are telling us that we as believers can expect persecution? And what if we are to expect that persecution to last for some definite period of our life? After all, all 12 of the apostles were persecuted, 11 unto death, and one was sent into isolation. Each of them was persecuted for a set time and maybe that set time is like ten days in comparison with the superabundant complete life that You have planned for each of them and for us. How else could Paul honestly say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? The reality is that there is life in You even in the midst of persecution on this earth. We don’t have to wait to live till we die. We just continue living more fully after we die. To live is Christ, and to die is even more of Christ.

What happens when life throws all kinds of hard things at us? Do I handle it my own way? Do I try to manipulate my way through? Do I try to manipulate other people? Do I think that I shouldn’t have to go through this? Do I think that things are too hard for me or this just shouldn’t be happening to me or to those around me? Because of those thoughts, do I frame my own response and design my own actions based on my thoughts and feelings? Or do I trash my pride and frame my response and my thoughts according to Your thoughts and Your feelings and Your promises? Does that even really matter?

Do I think that only atheists and those following Islam are rebels? What about me when I won’t frame my doings after Yours? What about me when life is tough? Or when life is not tough? Who is my life framed after, me or You? Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” What does that mean? It means to be about what the Father is about. It’s not just about what He does, it’s about who He is and what He thinks and how He feels. Jesus’s frame of mind and life was based on the Father’s frame of mind and life. And that is what we are called to whether we come from an atheistic background, or an Islamic background, from Buddhist, or Christian, or Agnostic, or Postmodernism, or whatever. This is what we are invited into.

What difference could this frame of belief make in my life? Let me share two stories. Nik Ripken is a missionary from Tennessee that’s lived and loved in some really dangerous countries. While ministering and living in a neighboring country from Somallia, his son died of an asthma attack. The believers their surrounded Nik and his wife and family with prayer and provision and even came over and sang them to sleep every night before the funeral. Nik had called an office to share what happened with a friend who was a co-worker. The co-worker was not a believer. When the co-worker heard the news there was no answer. Nik thought it strange but figured he had been called away from the phone.

What really happened was that his co-worker started walking that instant from Somalia, across the border to where Nik was. Five days later the co-worker shows up bedraggled and smelly at his door with these words, “I came to bury our son.” At the funeral, he unculturally sat between Nik and his wife, all the while watching the response and listening to the words of all the believers around him. This muslim man, took hold of Nik’s hand and his wife’s hand. He sorrowed with them. But through this and the way the believers here framed their doings in the midst of tragedy, he came to see the life that Christ had for him. He saw the LORD. He came to know the LORD. And when he returned to his country, in the office with his fellow-workers where Nik had not shared for fear of death, this man shared the life that he had seen offered before him that day in the midst of a funeral.  Do you know what those other muslim workers asked, “If you knew this, Nik, why didn’t you tell us?” This is what it looks like when we frame our thoughts and our life after the One who is LIFE. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6) And Jesus does not lie.

My second story is about a friend I love. It could be about any of us. It’s a story about any of us who go down the road of not liking our hardships and just wanting to get out of them. It’s the story about focusing on my own feelings instead of God’s glory. It’s a story about giving up instead of running the race to the end. Paul warned, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) Later in the letter to Timothy, Paul shared of his own journey, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7) But this isn’t the story of hardship and a life lived fully I wanted to share. Paul’s story is Nik’s story if he continues in the faith. Paul’s story is the story of those believers in Nik’s life who kept their lives framed on Christ even to the last moment that it was taken from them to the point the what was once over 200 believers in Somalia became only 4 living believers remaining. Let us heed Paul’s warning.

If I don’t heed Paul’s warning, when life gets rough and my temporary hardships (temporary compared to eternity) become what frames my thinking and life, I quit. I quit on God. I quit on myself. I quit on my family. I go off the grid. I take care of things my own way. I abandon and rebel against Your frame of thinking and doing. I do it on my own, in my own strength, which I’ve probably just cried out to You saying, “Lord, this is too much for me! I can’t do it!” And then of all the stupid things, after saying it’s too much for me and I can’t do this, I take matters into MY OWN hands. Yes, I’ve been there and done that. And my friend has been there and done that. Only I reframed my thinking and got it back to Yours and my friend didn’t. My friend left the support of loved ones because Pride said, “You are a burden to others.” When he died or maybe took his life, there was no one there to pray with him, to hold him. The light that should have shone to encourage others, has become a discouragement. And yet, I believe that God can use my dear brother’s lonely story to save someone else from the cliff of a wrong frame of mind focused on self and suffering instead of on Him.

Here’s the truth that would have framed my brother’s thinking differently, or at least some of the truth (there is so much truth, how could I ever share it all!). “I am a burden to my brothers and sisters.” What a lie! Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:16 that God’s heart that should be in us is to “not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Why is that pleasing to God? Why is that God’s mind frame? Because He does not neglect to do good for us and to share what He has with us, so it is a blessing for us to do the same. For me to share that blessing with a brother in need is for me to demonstrate that I have the mind of Christ by having the same heart and demonstrating it by my life actions. Brother, why didn’t You give me and others that blessing to love on You like our Lord wanted to?

We are all in need, sometimes in our life more than at other times. And some of us are in greater need than others. Those of us in Christ have had our greatest needs met, and because of that, when we are in a state of having goods and opportunities and see a brother in need, we are to reach out and share our goods and opportunities and love with him. Why? Because that is how God demonstrated his love for us. When Scripture says that “God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” it’s not just saying because we were rebels against God. It’s saying while we were empty, lost, filthy, and in need, and without even realizing how much so, He opened His heart toward us and invited us in. That is love. That is what we are called to. That is what we are invited into.

Why did the Israelites and my friend lose their right frame of reference? Why do I lose mine sometimes? Paul answers that in part. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We focus too much on ourselves. We forget how our life effects those around us. We forget how our life effects the glory of God before others. We focus too much on our own interests and too little on Yours God, or on the lives of those around us. Self-pity is a form of pride and pride just leads to destruction. Thank You that Jesus didn’t surrender to self-pity and pride. Thank You that Jesus, though so agonized over going to the cross that He sweated blood, loved You and loved us more so that in Your interest and ours He gave His life and said, “Not my will, but Yours.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the proper and improper frame of thinking. It starts now, in this life, and not in heaven. Truth is, if we don’t think like God now, we won’t start to think like Him in the afterlife. It’s now or never. How do we handle caring for others now? Am I only thinking of my own hunger or do I notice others around me and care about feeding them? Am I only thinking about my own thirst or do I notice the thirsty around me and give them drink? Am I too worried about my loneliness or do I use it to help me see other strangers and lonely people and welcome them in. When I feel shamed and naked, do I see those around me being shamed and stripped and offer them clothing? When I am sick and hurting do I see those who are sick and hurting around me and lift them up and encourage them? When I feel imprisoned, do I notice the other prisoners and go to them?

Because if I have been delivered from any of these, then I know my Deliverer and I ought to be sharing the deliverance He gave me. And if I am in the midst of any of these trials, I need to be trusting in my Deliverer, even if it means trusting unto death. Look, I know it’s not easy, but the reward is ALL GAIN. Anything else, anything less is shear loss.
My brother may have surrendered his right to finish the race well. He finished. Maybe last. But he lost. He lost fellowship. He lost encouragement. He lost helping others. He lost meeting new brothers and sisters. He lost lots of life here and now. Not because he had to, but because he chose to frame his thoughts after his own thinking and not Yours.

He’s not alone. It’s a struggle many of us will go through or are going through right now. Multiple Sclerosis becomes so painful and constant and hard. You have to constantly focus rightly or it will guide your thinking. Constant back pain could do the same. Troubles from bullying or persecution from those who ought to be your friends. Problems with your children or problems with your parents or problems in your church or financial problems or other health issues like cancer or the loss of a loved one whether naturally or taken through violence are real. But how will we respond?

Hear this. Give ear. Don’t let it be a snare. Don’t let your own thinking and your own feelings be a snare. I know, I’ve been there. It’s not just about Israel or Judah or other nations. It’s about every man. We all have the tendency to be revolters. We all have a tendency to run like Adam and Eve from the Truth. We all have a tendency to frame our own doings and not turn to You, God. We all have a tendency to think we know You when we really don’t, because we won’t even agree with You.

Well, today is the day to choose to agree. Today is the day that I can hear the warning and avoid the cliff’s edge that leads to my destruction. Today is the day that I can choose to frame my thinking to Yours. But the choice is mine. What will I choose? Life or death? I can choose like Joshua did, to share the light of Life in my house and to my house and to all that are influenced by my house. What about you? Will you choose Light and Life no matter what or how you feel? Will your life somehow shine like Nik’s story? Or will you only choose Light and Life “if…” and leave your friends and loved ones feeling robbed and wishing you would have known the truth about how much you were loved? Are you even running the race yet? Jesus is inviting You because You can only finish well in Him. If You want Life, come to Jesus, because He is LIFE. Run in Him because He ran for you and He runs with us, that’s how we can cross the finish line no matter what. Frame your doings in Him and turn to Him who gives life super-abundantly.

Side note: Lemmings do not run off cliffs in mass suicide!  It was a Disney mis-truth made for a documentary.  Sometimes they migrate to where there is more food, and masses may dive into the water, but they can swim.  Sometimes they drown if they get too bogged with water.  You can check out the story under “Lemming Suicide Myth Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior by Riley Woodford” and other places on the internet.  So, I don’t want to promote an urban myth now that I know it is one, but we’ll use that imagery for today.

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I Don’t Have to be Overcome!

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“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…”  Isaiah 53:3

I wonder if I looked back in Scripture, how many people who knew God would I find that actually understood times of discouragement in their lives?  And I wonder if I could lean on them as a source of encouragement in my own life today?  And I also wonder if I could use them as a source of encouragement for others around me?  What started me thinking about this was a question I heard posed before me and others yesterday, “How much discouragement can you stand and still serve God?”  And I think that is a good question.  It’s a question I’ve already been confronted with in my own life.  It’s a question that God will ask us.  And it’s a question You won’t just ask us by words, Lord, but by hard situations and hard decisions in our life.

So what Bible characters had hard things in their lives where they could have become discouraged and stayed there?  I think of Adam and Eve who had everything they could imagine and more and lost it by their own choice even though they didn’t understand the magnitude of their choice.  Their son murders their other son.  Their lives are turned upside down.  But even in Eve’s simple statement when her son Seth arrives, I see a glimmer of hope.  “For God has appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.”  And it winds up that Seth had a son named Enos and “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Why would the people of Enos’ day start calling upon the name of the Lord all of a sudden?  Could the discouragement of life have been weighing on them?  It’s funny how Enos’ name means “weak or feeble”.  It implies “mortal” as opposed to “man”.  What if his dad and others by this time were starting to realize what mortality really meant?  What if people were realizing that mortality, that death, was affecting life even before one died?  What if they saw it coming in things like “broken relationships, broken promises, broken hopes- things that used to work that no longer work.”  What if they kept seeing the signs all around them?  Pain, toil, unhappiness were there and they progressively increased.  I mean, they had a long time to live and I suppose in that long time, they were faced with a lot of this going on, even amidst the happy stuff.  Death may not have come quickly, but it was creeping up into everything none the less.  Maybe, when you come to see that it’s not all going to be happily ever after, when I start realizing what my mortality really means, I start to cry out to a Sovereign God who can remedy things.

That calling that these people did is from the word “qara'”.  It implies a specific vocalization or message which most often is to a specific person and most often requires a specific response.  It’s not just some general cry to someone you don’t know.  It’s usually about approaching someone specific and specifically approaching God.  These people recognized their mortality and were attempting to return to relationship with You.  From this, I’d say that more than just Adam and Eve were going through discouragement.  But that discouragement, even that discouragement caused by their own destructive choices that led to expulsion, revenge, fratricide, egocentricity, disobedience to God and lots of other bad choices, brought them to a realization about their own mortality and therefore, their need for You.

But it doesn’t stop there.  What about Moses?  I think Moses had to overcome a lot of discouragement starting back in Egypt and throughout his leading the people of Israel.  And I come to the time when they were complaining again, and I think that Moses had come to this breaking point.  He went to You, Lord, like he should and fell on his face before You.  And You spoke and told him to take the rod and gather the people together, with Aaron, and just speak to a rock before them all, and it would bring forth water for the people and their beasts to drink.  And Moses took the rod and went out as You had commanded.  And Moses saw those people, and felt that pain resurge, and said, “Hear now, you rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” and he lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with the rod and the water came forth.  I think discouragement caused that response, but unfortunately, discouragement can lead to greater discouragement.

So why were You so rough on Moses, not letting him enter the promised land because of that slip in the midst of His discouragement?  What would You answer, God?  “Because Moses didn’t believe Me, he didn’t sanctify Me before the children of Israel.”  He absolutely disobeyed.  He didn’t trust You enough in this situation to listen and demonstrate You before the people.  He took matters in his own hands and demonstrated his anger.  He went through the motions, but his heart wasn’t in line because of discouragement.  Before the people, he announced from his own mouth, “Must we bring you water out of this rock?”  Where was the glory of God in that?  Moses didn’t handle the situation Your way, for Your glory and that rubs off on what people see and know of You.  And he was the leader supposed to lead them to You.  But here he was, too fed up and hurt to be most concerned with Your image.

See, the Hebrew words representing “believed Me not” imply that Moses’ action was deliberate and not just an “oops” moment.  This is something that strongly shouldn’t have built up, but did.  It’s a strong condemnation by God on Moses’ action.  It also implies stability, trustworthiness, and reliability.  That’s what Moses was supposed to be setting forth about God.  But what he did, usurped all of that.  Before all the people, he acted as though God’s word is not “utterly reliable.”  See, our actions can demonstrate a lack of trust in front of those around us, and our lack of trust diminishes God’s reliability in their eyes.  It’s a big deal, isn’t it?  Maybe bigger than we realized.  I’ve been there with Moses.  I’ve done that.  And now I understand.  But what do I do about it?

I think about Job.  If anyone suffered extreme discouragement, he did, right?  He was so bad off his wife encouraged him (that’s humorous!) to curse God and die.  But Job’s response was “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before Him.”  Wow!  Is that noble or what?  Well, yes, it is noble, and I think a lot of Job, but then he tacked on that second thought, “but I will maintain mine own ways before Him.”  And isn’t that what got Moses in trouble, that focussing on his own ways, his rights, his goodness maybe before these complaining rebels?  And what of Job?  Was discouragement causing him to focus on himself instead of fully on You?  I mean, what is our righteousness compared to Yours?  What ways does any person really have that we we can maintain or hold before You like it’s anything to boast about?

Job wasn’t being punished, so it wasn’t about that, was it?  Job was being tested.  There’s a difference.  Even if it feels the same and looks the same, there’s a giant difference.  And God knew that eventually, when Job came to his senses, He would pass the test.  That’s why He let Satan rake him over the coals, because God knew the man that He had created Him to be.  You knew Job’s heart better than he knew his own heart.  You know our heart better than we know our own.  I guess it takes these really hard situations to bring us to the end of ourselves so we can really get to the beginning of You, Lord.  Like Job who finally realized, “therefore have I uttered what I didn’t understand; things too wonderful for me which I didn’t know…I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees You.  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”  And You blessed Job’s “latter end” more than his beginning.  Shouldn’t that be the case for all of us?  Aren’t we supposed to run the race in such a way that we end with victory?  Then I better get ready for the hard stuff that gets me there.

And then Isaiah brings me to think about You, Jesus.  You were discouraged multiple times, discouraged in people, by people, even intimate friends.  You were discouraged by the circumstances in Your life.  Isaiah tells us You were “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces [You] were despised, and we esteemed [You] not.”  It continues, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  I suppose Isaiah was writing about Israel’s response to You, but the truth of the matter is that we all wind up responding like this.  It’s not just Adam and Eve, Moses, or Job.  It’s me too.  It’s not just Israel.  I’m right there too.  Sometimes, I forget the real value of who You are because I get so caught up in me.   But the truth is that You came to remedy me.  “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.”  I mean, it’s true Adam and Eve, Moses, Job, and me, no matter how great or good people may think we are or we think we are ourselves, well it really all boils down to us being dumb sheep on our own.  That includes all of us really.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

And when God laid our iniquity on Him, which certainly wasn’t fair, He didn’t respond like us bearing His anger on those rebels, or tooting His righteous virtues, or complaining and mumbling, or having a pity party, or blowing up and loosing His cool, did He?  No, You didn’t.  You were oppressed like we sometimes are, even worse though, and You didn’t open Your mouth.  You were afflicted like we sometimes are, even worse though, and You didn’t open Your mouth.  You were brought as a lamb to the slaughter, as a worthy lamb, unblemished.  Not so me.  And just like that sheep You came before the shearers dumb, You didn’t open Your mouth.  But here’s the thing, even that sheep points to more.

Did you know that rams resist shearing?  I didn’t know.  But ewes don’t.  It’s about voluntarily submitting.  Which leads me back to another example of someone who suffered discouragement and her name was Rachel.  So what does she have to do with sheep?  A lot.  Because the Hebrew of this verse actually says,   “ooch-rachel lifnei – like a rachel before her shearers.”  What does that mean?  The Hebrew pictograph of her name means “the person who controls what separates.”  “In Hebrew, rachel is a word that describes a female sheep (ewe), idiomatically, ‘one with purity.’  In contemporary Jewish understanding, Rachel is a name that means ‘innocence of a lamb.’  Perhaps it isn’t quite an accident that Jacob met Rachel fulfilling her task as a shepherdess.  Let’s go back to the pictograph for a moment.  What kind of woman is a woman who is in control of the fence around her?  Since the letter Chet also means ‘private or inner room,’ we might also ask what kind of woman is a woman who takes control of her own privacy, her own inner room?  Hebrew answers:  ‘A woman of purity.'”  (Skip Moen)  But it doesn’t stop there.  Rachel is also used in the Song of Songs describing the beauty of white teeth.  Here it’s “associated with overpowering love; love so intense that a man will work years of his life to enjoy it.” (Skip Moen)

Which brings us to that last verse in Isaiah where one comes “like a rachel before her shearers.”  It’s not just about innocence but the fact that You could resist, but You chose deliberately not to and You voluntarily submitted.  This ewe “controls her own inner room so what happens on the outside does not destroy who she is.”  That’s what You did.  That’s what this woman in Genesis had to do, watching the man who was supposed to be her husband lie with her sister and then having to wait another seven years.

It’s funny, who would have thought to notice a woman so intimately intwined in the midst of Your discouragement, and so used to help point us to the right response.  And it’s not that she was perfect, but it is that You take the imperfect and perfect it.  You took “rachel” to a new dimension that even Rachel had never gone.  And isn’t that what You do for each of us, for Adam and Eve, for Moses and Job, and for me? I’m Sharon but I’m called to “rachel,” to submit to You voluntarily and the things You bring in my life.  I’m called to submit so I can learn to focus on You and not on the circumstances or people bringing them into my life.  If I focus on and fight the situation, I will wind up doing something truly dumb or saying something truly dumb, and I’m not talking “rachel” here.  I will act deliberately from my own accord, my own emotions, my own righteousness.  I know I will.  I already have.  But, if I focus on You and submit voluntarily, I can guard the fences You’ve set up for me and control the sheep within Your bounds.  I can control my inner room when I’ve surrendered it fully to You because You are the one who keeps it best.  It’s like You teach the sheep, even the ewe, how to become a shepherdess.  And You lead the way.  Therefore, I don’t have to lose, I don’t have to fall, I don’t have to fail, if I keep my eyes and mind on the Lamb.  Discouragement, yeah, it will come.  But it’s just a tool to sharpen my love and faithfulness in You.  It’s just a fence builder so that Your love and boundaries around me can be dug in stronger.  Discouragement will come, but I don’t have to be overcome.

Against All Odds

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“And the LORD said unto her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.'”  Genesis 25:23

Rebekah, “the woman who’s favoritism brought sorrow,”  is the title of a commentary on this woman, wife, and mother from Scripture.  Really?  REALLY?  Is that all one sees when they read the story of Isaac and Rebekah?  Is that really how You, Lord, are remembering Rebekah?  Is that what You want each of us to get from her God story?

What was Rebekah’s character really like?  In Genesis 24 when Abraham’s servant goes to find a wife for Isaac, he sees this woman coming to the well, and she was beautiful.  But also, when he asked her for a drink, right away she gave him some and went beyond that to offer drink for all his camels.  I hear that giving water to thirsty camels is no easy task!  After that, the servant found out that she was hospitable besides.  I also think she was excited about things of the Lord, because when the servant is praising the Lord because of the way He has led him to Rebekah and his master’s brethren, she runs back to her house to tell the exciting news.  Not only that, but her family was hospitable.  They invited the servant in and washed his feet and the feet of those with him.  Wow!  The Pharisee who invited Jesus over never washed his feet and certainly not any of his disciples’ feet.

Now here is Rebekah, promised to a stranger.  She didn’t even have to leave right away with the servant.  Her parents wanted her to stay longer.  But her response was, “I will go.”  She seems like a brave woman to me.  That seems rather selfless and I might say, excited about what the Lord is doing, too.  I’m sure there are other qualities I’m missing in all the little things she does.  And I know that Isaac was smitten with her when he saw her.  I’m also thinking that as he was meditating in the field that day, he had probably prayed about his future bride, and then to open his eyes and see her there, an answer to prayer, wow again!  And there was something about this Rebekah that he loved and had affection for and there was something about this Rebekah that was comforting to him.

Now for some reason, Rebekah was having trouble conceiving.  And Isaac sought the Lord concerning this.  Then the Lord allowed her to bear twins.  Now these twins “struggled within her.”  It wasn’t easy on her and she enquired of the Lord about it.  The Lord answered her and said, “Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be seperated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.”  She heard this and she believed the word of the Lord.  I can’t help but think that she told this to Isaac.  But either way, she heard the word of the Lord and believed it and didn’t stop believing it.

So Esau is born first, which made him the eldest and Jacob followed behind.  The boys grew.  Esau became a clever hunter, I suppose a man’s kind of man.  But Jacob was just a plain, pious, gentle man remaining around the tents.  I suppose that since Esau was a man’s man, his dad Isaac had a special place in his heart for him.  Scripture actually says that Isaac loved Esau and really liked his venison he prepared for him, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  Now I’m not so sure that what’s being implied isn’t just that each parent identified more with one son than the other.  But regardless, Rebekah has the words of the Lord to hold on to.

Now, if I love the Lord, wouldn’t I want that to be what I admire most in my children?  But somehow it seems as though Isaac was admiring hunting skill over spiritual awareness.  I wonder if Rebekah was more sensitive to the Spirit of the Lord than Isaac?  And I wonder at the sensitivity of Esau to spiritual things.  Why do I wonder?  Because his birthright meant so little to him that he would sell it for some soup.  He actually swore over his birthright to Jacob.  Now, I’m thinking that our word has always been held to be binding before God.  You know, the let your nay be nay and your yay be yay thing.  I mean, doesn’t God hate lying?  Especially because there is no lie in Him.  What is it to swear and renig on the promise?  Scripture itself records that Esau despised his birthright.

Now, there comes a famine to the land.  And God tells Isaac to stay in Gerar.  But Isaac is afraid of the men there that they might kill him to gain his beautiful wife.  So he lied about Rebekah and said she was his sister.  I’m thinking, “Danger! Danger!” and that danger wasn’t for Isaac but for Rebekah.  Why?  Because now Isaac has put her in a situation where someone might want to take her for their own.  And the king Abimelech notices that Isaac is treating her like a wife and not a sister and he is taken aback.  Even he realized the danger in what Isaac had done.  He might have caused someone to be guilty because of not sharing the truth.  Maybe this pagan Abimelech was more righteous than Isaac because he charged all his people not to touch Isaac or Rebekah or they would be put to death.  Hm, its pretty sad when a pagan is more righteous than a believer, isn’t it?  But maybe that tells us something about Isaac’s sensitivity to the Lord, or lack thereof.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  Isaac is just as human as the rest of us.  And I’m not trying to say that Isaac wasn’t walking in faith.  But I am saying that Isaac was not perfect.  But God didn’t hold that against him, did He?  So where does that leave Rebekah?

But I’m so grateful that God loves us despite our failures and our fears.  Later, the Lord appeared to Isaac, reminding him, “I am the God of Abraham your father: fear not, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.”  I’m not so sure that Isaac was the man his father was, but despite himself, God would bless him for his father’s sake.

Esau chooses some wives who were not God worshippers which vexes his parents.  And why doesn’t Isaac think about the appropriateness of passing the heritage on to Esau?  Is tradition stronger than the word of God or wisdom?  So the point of decision comes, that point where some hold Rebekah so guilty.  And Isaac sends Esau out to get some meat and prepare it for him so he can lay the birthright upon him, you know, that birthright that Esau already sold to his brother.  And Rebekah hears.  What is she to do?  Rebekah remembers the words of the Lord.  Who should she obey?  What should she work toward?  If her husband is not obeying or seeing or hearing, should she turn a blind eye?  Really?  Maybe she was just being wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.  Maybe doing the right thing sometimes brings hard consequences.

What if Rebekah never felt she was to share that word of the Lord with Isaac?  I really don’t know if she did or did not.  Would that make her less responsible for listening to it herself?  What is Rebekah’s responsibility toward listening to the word of God?  She became a woman who took on responsibility under the Lord.   She became a woman who stood in the gap for her husband and sons.  She knew God’s will and she walked in it.  She “conspired” with Jacob to make savoury meat and to send Jacob in before Esau arrived back so that Jacob would be blessed in the place of Esau.  She was so determined that when Jacob had doubts she was willing to let the curse be on her.  She understood the consequences but was willing to pay them.

Yes, deception was used by Rebekah and by Jacob.  He lied to his father and said he was Esau.  And Isaac pronounced the blessing upon Jacob.  But think about it.  If Isaac thought it was Esau, why didn’t the blessing stick for Esau since that’s the name he used?  But maybe, Isaac was suffering from more than a physical blindness.  Maybe he was suffering from a spiritual blindness and this was God’s way to get the blessing on the right man.  See, God deals with us in our humanity, as men and women who are human and mere mortals.  He deals with us through our right and wrong responses and He can use all of them for His glory.  See, Isaac couldn’t discern rightly.  Maybe he should have relied on his wife’s discernment more.  Maybe he hadn’t payed attention to what she shared.  Maybe he was just set in his ways.

Maybe we don’t give discernment as much emphasis or credit as we ought to.  Maybe we need to just stop thinking so much about what we like or admire and start thinking more about what You, God, value.  Maybe we ought to value Your words above our own.

Sure, Rebekah’s deception made Isaac angry when he found out.  And it made Esau angry too.  But doesn’t it seem wrong that Esau has the gaul to say that Jacob had supplanted him two times, by taking the birthright away first and then the blessing?  Come on now.  Esau just handed the birthright over like it was worthless.  Where was his discernment?   But I wonder, is it worth obeying God even if it means being hated by some?

I’m just not ready to cast all the guilt upon a woman who used discernment, gumption, and obeyed the voice of the Lord.  All those years and she didn’t forget, but obeyed.  And then she continues to use discernment and sends Isaac off to find a wife so she can keep him safe from his brother.  And I don’t think it was just that.  I think that Rebekah was thinking of future generations and finding a godly wife for the sake of the heritage.  Who’s heritage?  Isaac’s and ultimately Yours, God.  And it’s interesting, but that discernment and contemplating of the Lord seemed to carry over in Jacob and not Esau.  Esau was of the earth, but Jacob was a man who contemplated God.

Did Rebekah and Isaac have consequences of their decisions?  Yes.  So did Esau.  So did Jacob.  So do we.  Rebekah never saw Jacob again while she was alive.  Is that because You cursed her, Lord?  I think not.  I mean, she is under the same curse of sin that each of us is.  But I think that Rebekah was a woman of God that was willing to pay the price to bring your will to pass.  And because she stood up for your will, even with using deception, even today nations are blessed.  It’s kind of funny.  God just blessed Isaac because he was Abraham’s son, the seed through which God’s promise would be made true.  But Rebekah had to stand up against all odds.  She had to take a risk.  And she was willing to do that to see Your will come to pass.  What about me?  Am I willing to take the risk to obey Your voice, Lord?  Do I have the discernment to see things Your way and the strength of character and love of the Spirit to walk in Your way and encourage others in Your way no matter the consequences?  Lord, I pray that You make me that kind of person.  I pray that You have already begun that work in me.  I wonder which brings more sorrow, to obey Your will or to follow after my own desires?

Singing, Because I’m in a Win-Win Situation

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Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rides upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.   Psalm 68:4

Sometimes, I just don’t automatically feel like singing, or praising, or rejoicing.  If I am going to be honest about it, that’s the honest truth, Lord.  Sometimes, I feel like just going somewhere by myself and crying out to You.  And sometimes I just feel like going to sleep because then You let my mind be quiet for a while.  I suppose, sometimes I just get tired and heavy laden and I just want rest.  But I don’t just want rest; I want rest in You.

But I’m learning that if I only get alone and cry, or run away and sleep, that the “perfect” rest will evade me.  Because both of those choices alone run me into the danger of meditating on the  wrong thing even though I’m running to You.  I’m in the danger of zone of pity.  And I may just wind up having a pity party for myself and making You listen.  And that is so far from Your desire.

I ought to run to You and cry out.  I ought to seek my rest in You.  But I also absolutely must not forsake or forget that both of those need to be balanced out with singing unto You, praising You, and rejoicing before You.  Because if I run to You with my tears and run to You for rest,  where am I showing the hope of Your intervention.  What if I wept all day?  Who would see hope?  What if I felt like sleeping the whole day away to avoid the hard stuff?  Who would see hope?  But what if I obeyed, and burst forth in the midst of the hard stuff, in the midst of a heart full of hurt and pain and sorrow, in the midst of life and feeling worn down, and I sang, and praised, and rejoiced?  What then?

In the midst of it all, I am to sing unto God.  I know we’ve talked about this before, the importance of singing.  But I need us to talk about it again.  Because the truth and how I handle it is more important than my feelings.  If this word, “shiyr”, is so important to my spiritual well-being, then I better not only understand it, but I better obey and embrace it.  In the Hebrew, singing was connected with worship.  “The pictograph tells us that the word is about deeds or work that consumes the person. In other words, singing ‘eats’ you up. It takes away what you were feeling and moves you to another experience. It is the divine transporter. This is why the Hebrew world considers singing to be praying.”  (Skip Moen)  Yes, sometimes I need to be divinely transported from the feelings of my own heart or mind and transported back to You.  That’s what singing does.

So, I could just cry, or I could run away in sleep, or I can choose to sing.  I wonder which exhibits greater faith, greater trust, greater love?  “There are three ways in which a man expresses deep sorrow: the man on the lowest level cries; the man on the second level is silent; the man on the highest level knows how to turn his sorrow into song.”(Siah Safre Kodesh)  It’s not that I won’t cry, it’s not that I won’t be silent, because there is a time for every season, a time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to speak and a time to be silent.  But the test comes when I can choose to see You above myself.  Anyone can cry and anyone can run silently, but only someone who can really “see” You can praise You by singing in the midst of it all.

What if, after Paul and Silas had been beaten wrongly and thrown in prison, they had just decided to cry and sleep it off until the new day came?  Would the prisoners and jailors have seen You, God, show up?  But instead, they chose to look at You and when we look at You, how can we help but sing Your praises?  So instead of wallowing in self-pity or bitterness or what-if’s, they chose to pray and sing.  They celebrated You in song.  And the prisoners heard.  And You heard.  And that made a difference.   It made a difference in their life.  It made a difference in the lives of the prisoners.  And it made a difference in the life of the jailor and his family.  Because You are the Difference.  And singing is acknowledging You in my life.  Singing lights up the world around me.  Singing Your song lights up not only me, but the world around me.

I want to look back at those three levels of sorrow again.  The man on the lowest level cries.  He hurts.  He calls out.  I think of David and Elijah.  Both men of God fled.  They cried out to You.  They also went to that silent place, hiding in the cave.  Who else was there to really hear?  Who was really getting to see the light of the glory of God shine in them to it’s fullest.  Not that it wasn’t dully shining, but was it shining to the fullest?  Did they ever come to the point of seeing that all the threats around them were inconsequential when compared to You?  “Your flight from your enemies is an expression of your lack of trust in the One you serve.  Unless He tells you to hide, there is nothing to hide from.  The fact that you have covered yourself with the dark simply means that you aren’t available to be the light He intended.”  (Skip Moen)  Did David and Elijah remain hermits in their caves?  Or did they wake up out of their darkness and run back into the light? Yes, there is a time for self-examination but it’s ultimate goal is to come out acting upon what we learn.

Do you know how David acted?  He didn’t run out and defeat all his enemies.  He didn’t run out and finish off Saul.  Look at the Psalms.  Psalm after Psalm, song after song, David glorified You, Lord.  David sang forth his confidence in You.  He sang forth the light of Your faithfulness.  “When surrounded by apparent overwhelming evil, praise is the weapon of choice.  To honor God is to defeat the enemy.” (Skip Moen)  I sing (shiyr) and make melody (zamar) not because it removes all this hard stuff, but because You,God are God and You are using me for Your glory.  In the midst of the trash, You have a divine purpose for me and You are fulfilling it.  I sing because I believe.

See, I don’t just sing, and I don’t just sing about what I want or the stuff going on, or how it’s going to be so wonderful soon.  I ‘m singing praises to Your name.  I’m extolling JAH, the Ever Existent One.  I’m rejoicing before You.  I’m taking my eyes of the trash and putting them on the Beautiful One.  I’m remembering Who You are and forgetting about the power of the trash.  I’m remembering Your honor, authority, and character.   And I’m reminding myself how much it outshines everything around me.  I’m mounding You up, “salal”.  I’m piling You higher and higher until I finally see You for who You really are, above everything that surrounds me.  I’m exalting You.  I can’t exalt You unless I know You, unless I know You intimately.

I’m singing praises to the One I know by name, JAH, my Lord, my Savior, my Everything.  And how can I help but rejoice before You?  How can I help but jump up and down for joy the more and more I think about You, the more and more I know You and experience You and believe in Your Truth.  You bring Your words back to my mind and I leap for joy at Your promises.  I leap for joy at Your deliverance.  I leap for joy at the shear presence of You.  I leap for joy in the love.  I leap for joy in Your acceptance of me.  I leap for joy that You have made me clean.  I leap for joy that You give me the power to carry on.  I leap for joy that in You I am an overcomer and I have victory!  I leap for joy that I can come before You!  Yes, no matter where I am or what mood I am in, I can stand, or sit, or lay, or even shower in the presence of my God.  Yes, I have to mention that one, because that is my favorite place to sing to You, Lord. (Well, right along with true corporate worship!)  Because if I must cry, You wash away the tears with the water as You cleanse and refresh me.  And You always put a song in my heart.  And sometimes it’s a song I’ve never sung before.  Sometimes it’s just a song about You.  I may never sing that song again, but that’s OK, because it was for You, that moment, straight from my heart.  And I suppose, at that moment, it was a gift from You to me, reminding me of Who You are.

Lord, I need a tremendous amount of help in honoring You in this area of singing.  Because I need to carry this attitude over into all the day, and not just my shower.  Instead of snapping at someone when I’m under stress, I need to have a heart of singing and praise.  What if today, I started practicing singing continually?  I mean, not always out loud, but in my heart and mind too?  What if I turned the things that caused me stress into song instead, songs honoring You.  How would my attitude change?

But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. ” (Isaiah 65:18)  Lord, I just need to keep my eyes continually on You.  I need to constantly remember, forever, that You are creating in me, the child of God that You desire me to be.  You are my creator just as You created Jerusalem to be something for You to rejoice over and a people to fill You with joy.  And in being rejoiced over and bringing You joy,  it ought to fill my joy full and lead me to reciprocate that rejoicing back to You.  Help me to remember, I’m living in a win-win situation here because I’m in.  And being in You deserves eternal singing, praising, and rejoicing.