Pulling Off an “Ezekiel”

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Photo credit to unknown internet source.

 

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment.” (Ezekiel 4:4)

 
Can you imagine lying on your side out on the ground where everyone is walking by for 390 days? And then doing it again on your right side, the other side, for another 40 days? Now, before that you were asked to make a sketch in a clay brick or maybe use those clay bricks to lay out a model of the city of Jerusalem under siege. And here you are, laying down, which isn’t an easy task physically, so God Himself helps you to be strong enough to do it. He places “cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other” until the days are completed. If that’s not bad enough, you have to eat what God tells you, this unpleasant mix of grains that isn’t even tasty and maybe even considered unclean by Hebrew standards. Let’s take it a step further, because then it’s supposed to be cooked over human dung.

 
Human dung! Are you kidding me? If mixing grains and beans was unclean, then what about cooking over human dung!  Now, Ezekiel didn’t object until this point. And I’m not surprised that he cries out to the Lord. “God, I’ve never defiled what went into my mouth. Please don’t make me now.” So the Lord, has mercy and tells Ezekiel he can cook over cow dung instead. Now that still seems nasty here, but in many cultures with lack of wood for cooking, there’s nothing unusual about that.

 
Speaking of unusual though, this whole thing is pretty unusual, pretty far out there, don’t you think? This is an interesting way to warn the children of Israel and Judah of their impending doom if they don’t repent. But as I read it, it’s not just a story about Israel and Judah and their sin, it’s a story about the call of God on a man and about the faithfulness of that man. And it goes even deeper. It’s about the call of God on any of us, and the evidence of the measure of our faithfulness to that call.

 
The call of God has nothing to do with ease and a life of bliss. It has nothing to do with living life in the wonderful by and by and escaping the here and now. I mean, really, look at Ezekiel. Ezekiel was chosen by God to be His representative and did he live a life of ease? Or was he expected and called to do hard things, things that most ordinary or “normal” men wouldn’t ever humble themselves to do? Where was his wealth? Where was his ease? Where was his blessing as we think of and expect blessings? Was he counting down the days until he died so he could go to heaven? I think not, because the Jews in that time period didn’t have that concept of heaven. What would compel Ezekiel to obey?

 
Why would Ezekiel allow himself to be bound like this? Why would Paul, some 600 years later, allow himself to be bound? “And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:11) And I wonder if it all has some bearing on this man in the middle of both, this man who was also God, whose name is Jesus, who allowed them to bind him and lead him away and deliver him over to Pilate the governor? (Matthew 27:2)

 
It’s funny. Jesus allowed a lot of people to bind him. First there was the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews who arrested him and bound him. (John 18:12) Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:24) And even after his death, those who loved him took his body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:40) But I guess it really doesn’t matter how man binds something. Because ultimately, Jesus broke all those bands when he rose again. But he had to wear those bands. He had to take on that burden.

 
What was that burden? It was the burden that God was placing on Ezekiel, the sin of the people. And Ezekiel was bearing it symbolically. Even so, he needed God to help him bear it. And Paul, he was carrying that burden from God too. That’s why he went all over the world preaching the good news of Christ that others might be set free. But Jesus, He’s the one who can actually bear the whole burden. He alone can carry the full weight.
Ezekiel was a picture for all to see. But it was a picture bigger than Ezekiel. It was God using Ezekiel to display what He was doing and what He was going to do.

 

Do you want to see the whole picture? Let’s look at it in Isaiah 53. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 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. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

 
You know, I forgot to mention that while Ezekiel was lying on the ground on his side, he was told to lie down like that with his arm outstretched. Is that supposed to be a Deja Vu? “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God…” (Exodus 6:6-7) This is the word, sabal- to bear, from the Hebrew siblot. It’s the word used in Isaiah 53 where the suffering servant bears our iniquities. It’s the relieving of the burden of those things that enslave and cause servitude, of those things that cause punishment and penalty. This is what the suffering servant, Jesus can bear and do for us. He is our Deliverer who can show Himself strong on our behalf in miraculous ways.

 
But the word of bearing that Ezekiel was called to do and like that which Paul would do or I is a whole different word. In Ezekiel its the word nasah. That’s a word used about testing and trying and proving. It’s like when God tested the faithfulness of his children when they were coming out of Israel. Only at Massah, they didn’t only just quarrel. They accused God and Moses of not being sufficient and of not caring. They basically said that God was impotent and indifferent because He wouldn’t do it there way. It was a challenge to God’s power and goodness despite the prevalent evidence all around.
The truth is that God has already demonstrated His faithfulness and goodness time and time again. It’s not up to Him to prove Himself. We are called to be proven. We’re the ones that need to pass the test, not God. Do we really get who God is and what He has already done? Are we just willing to be used to be witnesses of Him and not ourselves? Am I truly willing to bear His image and forsake my own? Can I forget my needs and desires for the sake of God’s glory and His desires to be manifested by me instead?

 
Am I willing to adopt a Biblical view of my calling or am I going to make it fit my own design?  Because that’s not the way God works. If Jesus came and allowed Himself to be bound and to suffer at the hands of men so that God’s glory would be manifested, and He’s our Master, then how could we be called to anything less? What if my goal wasn’t about receiving blessings but about manifesting the glory of God by a life humbly submitted to His will no matter what He required?

 
What if Ezekiel’s message is a message of choosing God’s will no matter the cost? What if that is what real faith is all about? It takes me to Matthew 19:29 and Jesus’ words, “And every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” That word for forsake is aphiemi. And it does mean to leave, but it also means “to dismiss, to send away, to let go.” There’s a personal involvement on our part just like there was on Ezekiel’s part. He had to decide to go with God’s plan. He had to decide to lay down and stretch out his arms each day in front of everyone. He had to make a conscious choice to manifest God’s picture through Himself despite what others would think and despite how they would treat him.

 
So the question is, am I willing to bear the burden that You place on me God, that shines forth Your image in this world that so badly needs to see You and know You? Do I know You so well that I would be willing to do whatever You required of me so that You could shine through me? Would I be willing to look like a fool to those who don’t understand so that You can look like God to those who will understand? How faithful am I really? Am I faithful enough to pull off an Ezekiel? God, make me able. As I consciously choose You, bind me in that decision in You.

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The Good Life

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Photo credit to Psyche Angelik Mendoza Villacillo-Zuhura.

“And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.”  Zechariah 10:9

Sometimes we think the life of being redeemed in You is a life of ease.  That’s anything but the truth.  Here, Zechariah and Israel are getting to be a part of a great thing- the rebuilding of the temple.  But let’s not forget that this is happening while being under the rule of a foreign nation.  All of prophecy has not come to pass yet for Israel or for us.  And even though this great thing was happening according to Your plan, God, there was more greatness to come.  Only that greatness would come through and after many more great trials.

How would the people of Israel wind up sown among other people?  Were they deliberately going out and sowing themselves of their own accord?  I mean, You did tell them that they were to be a light unto the Gentiles and that all nations would be blessed through them.  And if we go further back in Scripture to the very beginning, Your mandate to mankind was to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.  How do you do that if you stay in one place? 

Why were the people building the tower of Babel?  Because they were ignoring Your desire.  They wanted to accomplish their own greatness.  So You confounded their languages.  Was Israel doing the same thing for so long in their greatness?  Was there something they were missing about how to be a light to the world?  Is Your way of doing things radically different than the way we would choose for ourselves?

Israel didn’t sow themselves among the people.  You brought persecution that sowed them all over the world as it is today.  But You are still not finished.  They have yet as a nation of scattered candles to remember You in those far countries and be witnesses and return to You.

But what about us?  What do we do when our plans and desires are confounded?  What do we do when the mountains in our life seem insurmountable?  What do we do when the pain seems unbearable?  It’s not that the pain isn’t real.  Betrayal really hurts down deep.  The death of a loved one leaves a deep and lasting pain.  Losing everything leaves an emptiness.  Watching everything ripped from your hands, suffering through cancer or MS, being defamed, abuse, addiction, disappointment, failure…The Israelites would experience things like this and have to continue living.  So will we.  But what will our choice be, to continue living by digging deeper into the God who can keep us?  Or will we dig deeper down into our selves and our self-preservatory ways?

If “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction , for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” (2 Timothy 3:16,17) then maybe we should take note of tough times more carefully.  Because it’s not like we don’t have a God who understands now, is it? 

We look at suffering and we think, “Oh, why am I being punished?”  Or “They must have done something bad.”  Or we just get really upset about it if we think it’s undeserved.  Our attitudes about suffering haven’t really changed much since Biblical times and probably before.  Jesus noticed the attitude.  “You think these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things?” But Jesus said, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”  And He repeated that twice.  You know, that word repent, metanoeo in Greek, means to think differently, to reconsider.  And I don’t think You are asking us to rethink what we think about the Galileans.  I think that You are trying to get us to rethink about who You are and how our lives line up with You.  Maybe we need to return to what is really important- our relationship with You and our focus on You.  Maybe that is what sustains us through the ups and downs and tragedies of a life made chaotic by the entrance of sin.

I mean, why do we think that we should be able to avoid suffering?  Paul suffered on numerous occasions.  Wasn’t he God’s man?  And God let him suffer?  God let him be beaten?  God let him be stoned three times and left for dead?  God let him be shipwrecked?  Where was God when he needed him?  Right there all along.  God is still God, even when our life is threatened or waining.  You know, we don’t hear Paul complaining about these things.  We here Paul telling others that this will be a part of our life so learn to suffer victoriously and well in the Lord. 

Paul, a sufferer, and physical sufferer too, stated “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith…”   Why?  “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” (Philippians 3:8-10)  Because by faith, one day, when the end did come, he would experience the resurrection of the dead unto eternal life.  But the fellowship doesn’t start then.  The fellowship is already. 

The fellowship is already because Jesus suffered and we are not above our Master, are we?  On the walk to Emaus, Jesus reprimanded the two disciples.  “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”  Suffering was an imminent and necessary part of being the Messiah.  Because Jesus suffered being tempted, He is able to relieve those who are tempted.  By suffering, the Son learned obedience.  He suffered as a sacrifice for others.   So Peter tells us, “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) 

What was His example?  When he was reviled, He didn’t revile back.  When He suffered, He didn’t threaten the one inflicting the suffering nor did He threaten God.  But what did He do?  He committed Himself to God, to the One that judges righteously.  He trusted Himself and His outcome to God even though the results on this earth stunk, to put it lightly.  He trusted God to make it right in His time and in His way.  And that’s where our problem lies, doesn’t it?  We don’t want to let God do it in His way or His time.  We aren’t surrendered in that kind of trust.  We want it fixed now, now, now!  Who’s plan is it about anyway?  Mine or God’s?  Isn’t that what it comes down to?

But thank God that Jesus didn’t think like us or He never would have gone to the cross.  But He obediently suffered for us and now, in Him, no matter what transpires in my life, I am able to think just like Him and experience suffering as victoriously as Him.  But if I don’t finish the course, I can’t be victorious.  And Peter again reminds all those who are living their trust in Christ, “But the God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make You perfect, establish, strengthen, settle You.”  (1 Peter 5:10)

How do I make it through this suffering?  I trust.  I believe that God understands the bigger picture.  If Jesus believed that and obediently suffered all He did faithfully, and a mere man named Paul could have the strength to do so based on his trust in You, then what’s my problem?  Doesn’t it boil down to a lack of trust?  Because if You are the I AM, and You ARE the I AM, then it’s not an issue about You doing anything.  Whether You do or You don’t, You are worthy and You are bringing Your will to pass the way You see fit that is right and pure and true and holy.  And I need to trust You just because You are You.  I need to trust You when life is rotten or when life is grand, because though my life changes, You do not.  Am I striving for a good life or am I looking with all my heart at pursuing fellowship with You?  Because the truth is, You are the only Good Life.

A Love So Deep

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“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”  John 15:11

Yesterday, in the morning church service, I can’t even remember what it was exactly, but You struck me with a question, Lord.  Maybe it was a left-over thought from Small Group that morning, or an overflow from the thoughts in the singing, I don’t remember.  But I didn’t want to forget, so I picked up my journal and wrote it down.  “Am I willing to experience pain and keep on loving like You?”  That’s the question. 

And somewhere, after that thought, we sang Forever Reign.  Now, You made me so that words mean so much.  So here are those words spoken to my heart, “Am I willing to experience pain and keep on loving like You?”  And then You add to them the words from this song.  You reiterate Your goodness and my lack of goodness.  You reiterate Your love displayed so publicly.  You reiterate Your light that overcomes darkness.  You reiterate Your hope that covers my sin and goes beyond.  You reiterated Your peace that conquers my fears.  You reiterate Your truth despite my wandering time and time again.  You reiterate Your joy that is why I sing.  You reiterate Your life which means more than me not being afraid of death.  And then I come to these words, “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms!  The riches of Your love will aways be enough.  Nothing compares to Your embrace.  Light of the World forever reign.”  And then the list of what You are and who You are went on.  But all I could think of was how desperately I need to run to Your arms.  All I could think of was about the riches of Your love and how Your mercies are new every morning, every moment despite me.  All I could think about was that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, compares to Your embrace.  Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, compares to Your presence and Your nearness and You.

“You are more than my words will ever say,”  how close to home that hits.  Look at me and how I love to write and I love words and living them but all my words pale in comparison to You.  All I can share is some little glorious particle of You.  You are so much more.  You are Lord and even creation declares it whether we listen and acknowledge or not.  You are here.  I can know and experience Your presence.  Without it I am empty.  In You I am whole.  You are God.  That’s all that matters.  I can let go of everything else and hold to the thought that is You and I will be O.K.  No, I will be better than O.K.  Because it’s what makes my heart sing.  You make my heart sing.  You are my song. 

But that’s the problem.  Sometimes our hearts want to sing a different song.  Sometimes we look for our completeness elsewhere in other people or things.  But not one of them is a viable alternative.  And maybe sometimes we aren’t even interested in looking anywhere.  But there is no other name, no other person, no other thing where completeness and wholeness and well-being and love and peace and joy and perseverance can be found except in the person of Jesus. 

I know that because there is no one who has ever loved me to the extent that You have, Jesus.  In Isaiah 46:6, You call Israel to remember.  You say, “Remember this, and show yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O you transgressors.  Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me…”  Do I think that Israel is the only child who needs to be reminded?  No, I get lost in misplaced trust also.  I get lost in selfishness.  I get lost in my feelings.

Time and time again, the Israelites got lost in their circumstances and their desires.  And sometimes God had to bring bigger, harder things into their lives to get them to realize their dependence on Him and emptiness without Him.  Besides that, we just forget.  We forget that You have a plan and that none of these adverse circumstances or terrible events in our lives changes or stops that plan.  We forget who You are and give more power to these circumstances.  I suppose we let these things in our life become idols that control us.  But You wake us up, harshly if You have to, because You love us.  You say, “ Listen to Me, you stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness…”  I suppose we can interpret that as stubborn but it’s only stubborn because we’re refusing to acknowledge that God is still sovereign, still in control.  See, it’s a brave thing to be stout-hearted under the right commander, but not if Your heart is following the wrong leader.

Through all the junk in life we experience, through all the heart-ache and suffering, God is in control.  You are having Your way.  And the secret is to remember You and draw near to You and Your righteousness.  You tell us it’s not “far off” and Your “salvation shall not tarry.”  Just like You promised Israel, You promise us and You made good on that promise and You make good on it.  As a matter of fact, Jesus went through more junk than we’ve been through for our sake and for God’s glory.  And it’s by this that we know love.  It’s by this that we experience fellowship with You, God.  By what?  “That He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

Think about that.  What was Jesus’ attitude to all the crud of life that happened and stood against Him and His?  “For the joy that was set before Him” He “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)  You were controlled by the joy of what would ensue, what would come.  You despised the shame, You deliberately chose to look at the shame and the meanness and the horror with contempt.  You chose to not regard it.  You chose to regard the joy of bringing people into God’s kingdom more than the horror You were experiencing.  Maybe the horror was just momentary, but You knew the joy was eternal.

How could You look to the joy over the pain?  Because God was Your focus.  And God’s focus was on our good.  And God was so worth it, and was holding us so worth it, that it was all You could think about.  It was all You could think about, to bring Your children, Your brothers into Your kingdom with You for the glory of God and the fulfillment of His pleasure.  It was worth Your death to You.  It was worth the pain and suffering because Your love was so great.   “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  You know, that’s true, and I can’t get over it.  But then again, I’m not supposed to.

But it was never meant to stop there.  “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.  And You also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26,27)  That’s what 1 John 3:16 is reminding us.  “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  I can’t be a true witness for You if I’m not like You.  I can’t be a true witness for You unless I respond to circumstances like You did, for the joy set before me.  See, I have brothers and sisters out there, some who don’t even know they are yet,  and the way I respond to life’s circumstances will be a demonstration of what I believe about You.  My life is my witness to who You are that others will see.  Every day You ask me to follow You.  Every day You ask me to lay down my life for others in the same way You laid down Your life for me.  Will I lay down my life by keeping my focus on God’s glory, by clinging constantly to Your presence, and by never forgetting the love of my brethren and looking toward their benefit over my own?  That’s the question, isn’t it?

Am I willing to experience pain and keep loving like You?  It’s not easy.  But I’m starting to learn.  I’m starting to stop focussing on the pain because I do love You more.  And I love the ones You’ve put around me.  I want them to finish well and if I don’t, well, I might lead them down the path of death instead of life.  I don’t want that.  Lord, I want to be able to suffer in righteousness keeping my eyes on You and not the pain.  I want to look at You and think about the joy of those others who will look to You unwaveringly too.  Maybe it’s not even about being strong.  Maybe it’s about a love so deep that it conquers even in weakness.  I want to love that deeply that there is no conquering that love because it’s straight from You.  And in that love is where my joy is complete.  And in that love is where the joy of my brethren will be complete.  And in that love is where I want to be, because that’s where You are.

On Existing and Contentment

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“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Philippians 4:11

“One often learns more from ten days of agony than from ten years of contentment.”  Now that’s a quote from someone named Harold Coffin and I have no idea who he is.  But I think that what he is saying is true although, I think the point of the agony is to teach us what it is to be truly content and how to be truly content.  Henri Frederick Amiel said, “True humility is contentment.”  If so, how do I learn true humility and what is contentment?  Well, what is contentment according to You, Lord?  What should it look like in my life?  Even Dahli Lama felt that ” When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied.  But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yes, I already have everything that I really need.”  Is this really what contentment is?  And how to I find contentment?

Now Paul was trying to commend the Philippians on how they had encouraged him through giving even when others had not.  But he wasn’t focussing on the part about being in need.  He was focussing on the fact of existing.  And Paul existed sometimes in great need and dire distress and agony at times and at other times he existed in situations and circumstances of abounding provision and pleasurable times.  Don’t we all?  But Paul was telling the Philippians and us that he had to learn something through it all, and that was how to be content in every situation, wherever God chose for him to exist at the moment.  So the question for me is, how do I respond to how God chooses for me to exist?

If I read the following verse I hear Paul telling me how God taught him and initiated situations in his life that abased him, or brought him to humility.  I suppose some of those situations, Paul willingly humbled himself in but I also suppose that there were many situations in his life where others abased him or humiliated him against his desire.  But Paul is telling me that both situations were given of God, our Sovereign, who loves us and who has plans to prosper us in Him, to learn contentment.  Isn’t it interesting that Paul lists firsts the abasement before listing that he learned to abound?  What if I didn’t learn contentment in suffering first?  Would I not really appreciate abundance as much?  Would I forget how to be humble?  Whereever we exist, whenever we exist, whoever we exist with, whatever situation we exist in, God is teaching how to respond to fullness with abundance and to craving desperately in need.  He is teaching us how to abound and how to suffer, because we have to learn contentment.

Well here I am back to the question, “What is contentment?”  It’s Hebrew equivalents stem out of two words, ‘avah and ya’al.  According to Skip Moen, ” both words convey the idea of choosing.  ‘avah is about being positively inclined to respond.  Ya’al is about making a decision to act.  Neither one conveys the idea of simply waiting around for something.  To be content is to choose a certain frame of mind, a certain kind of external activity, a certain way of being in the world.  That’s why contentment has to be learned.”  It’s all about choosing to exist in God and where he places us at whatever time.  It’s not about choosing to be content with someone or something or even our feelings.  It’s about being satisfied in Him.  It’s about trusting that He is at work, that He has designed this situations for my growth in Him and my growth for the good of others.  It’s a learning process that He has designed for me and my measure of contentment reflects what I think about Him and whether I am yielded to His true control of my life.  It tells whether I truly believe that He has my best interests in mind.  It’s all about whether my contentment is truly found in You, Lord, or in my own desires.

Contentment boils down to me truly learning to delight in the Lord to the extent that You, Lord, become the desire of my heart and Your pleasure in me and over me becomes what I desire more than any other situation, circumstance, or treasure in my life.  It’s about me choosing a life based on Your provisions, Your purposes, Your plans, Your care and love for me.  It’s about absolute trust which is somethingwe lost in the garden and have to be taught to regain.  So every one of these situations keeps teaching us and drawing us closer to You when we learn to respond not to the situation or trial but to You again.

And the best part of it all is that none of us have to learn alone.  I can do it, and we can do it, because You gave us Christ to strengthen us!  I can abide in Him and He abides in me.  That’s a living that is existing.  I exist in Him and He exists in me.  What if I stopped forgetting that?  What if I remembered that in every situation and took my eyes off of people and how they wrong me or disappoint me and off of situations that are so painful and kept my eyes and heart in You?  What if I just kept running to You, dwelling in You, soaking up that existing and relishing in You?  I wonder if I would learn true contentment then?

Well, Lord, I do thank You for the hard things You’ve been bringing in my life and even in my emotions.  I see how You are teaching me contentment in You.  Every day You become more precious.  It’s hard learning.  But You become so much more, as You ought through all of it.  I am so glad that You designed us to learn this way, through experiencing existing and I am so glad that You understand all that You bring me through because Christ also existed as God and man on earth.  So, Lord, as I continue to experience existing in You, use everything in my life to teach me contentment in You.  May You be Satisfaction in every circumstance.

My Great Reward

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

“Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:  otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:1

Am I living for a reward mentality?  Am I supposed to be living this “Chrisitan life” because I’m aiming towards receiving a reward one day when I get to heaven?  Is that what this and all my righteousness, all my good “deeds” are about?  Or is it something more?

Jesus, here You are warning me.  Be careful.  Be careful about what?  Be careful that when I’m doing the things that delight You, that I”m doing them for Your delight and not the delight of men instead.  Does it matter if anyone else knows what I’ve done, what “good” thing has transpired?  Does anyone else need to know it was from me?  Ultimately, was it really from me?  Because when I really get down to Your word, it’s actually You who are doing every good work in me.  If it’s a good thing and it comes out of me, it’s because I surrendered to You so that You could have Your way in me.  So whose good work is it anyway that I’m taking credit for?

What?  If I take credit for it before men, I won’t have a reward in heaven?  Why?  Aren’t there endless rewards?  Are Your rewards limited?  What reward am I looking for anyway?  And what reward do You desire to give to someone like me who doesn’t even deserve a reward based on my own merits?

Well, the Greek word is about a reward for work or payment for hire.  Misthos definitely has to do with action, effort, and behavior.  And I suppose there is always some sort of reward for our actions, for our behavior, for our efforts; there is always some type of consequence, whether good or bad, reward or punishment.  So if I receive my “full” reward now, then the just reward will go to those who have waited on You and there will be nothing but lack for those who wouldn’t wait.  So some recieve their “reward” now and will recieve suffering later because they’ve used their reward.  But others receive suffering now, and receive the reward in the Kingdom.  Didn’t Paul say,  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)?

We’re all working toward something.  We’re all expending our efforts on something.  The problem is that some of us are expending our everything on something that will leave us nothing in the long run.  But some of us are waiting on You, Lord, and You are what we are expending everything on and that is the only thing worth working towards.  Why?  Because You are coming quickly,  and You tell us, “I am coming quickly, and My reward with Me, to render to each as his work is.” (Revelation 22:12)  I think that there is something significant for me to understand there, that Your reward is with You.  It’s with You.  It’s not separate from You.  It’s with You.

At one point, You told Your disciples, Jesus, that they always had the poor with them, but You were not always with them.  That was before Your resurrection.  But afterwards, You told them the work You wanted them to be about, teaching others to observe all things whatsoever You had commanded them, and You went on to tell them that now, because of Your resurrection, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)  Hm.  The reward is with You.  You are with me.  That means that when I am with You, the reward is with me.  At least I think it does.  Therefore, the reward is always found in You.

Is that what my walk is all about?  Is it all about You and being with You and fulfilling Your desires?

2 John 1:8 tells us to watch ourselves, “so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.”  It continues to talk about people walking ahead and not abiding in Your teachings and not having God.  I suppose they have their reward and they didn’t consider You that reward worth clinging to.  But I consider You my reward and everything else emptiness.  So give me the desire to do the work that You require and that You delight in, because I want to be there doing Your Father’s work with You.  I want to be right in the midst of the rough of it with You because that’s where my reward is, wherever You are.

See, I’ve already had this glorious taste of the reward when I tasted You.  And as I remain in You and join You in Your work, I know that the full meal is coming to fruition when I will know You as I am known.  You will fill my cup and it will overflow with You.  Your promise to me is true.  You have already begun the work that will lead me to the final installment of Your peace and presence.

So after all this, I ‘m going to get personal.  What is my reward?  Do I complain when things don’t go my way,  when things that I believe are Your plan for me appear thwarted?  What is my treasure really?  Is it what I do or how I serve You?  So what if I can’t?  What if I was put in prison like Paul or so many present day martyrs in other countries?  Has that defeated me?  Has that defeated Your plans?  What if my family seems to be falling apart?  What if noone understands what You’ve layed on my heart?  What if everything goes wrong and falls apart around me?  What is my reward?  Where is my reward?

Sometimes, I forget that my focus is on You, Lord.  I get all caught up in what’s going on around me and the people around me.  I don’t even try, but it just happens.  I guess it’s kind of like Madonna’s song, I’m a “material girl” just by nature.  But I’m not a material girl by  the power of Your spirit in me.  I need to focus on You instead.  When You say that the “mountains may depart and hills be removed, buy My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” (Isaiah 54:10) I need to trust that and that alone.  See, You are the One who has compassion, true compassion on me.

I may feel afflicted, storm-tossed, and discomforted, but maybe it’s just a test of my faithfulness.  Maybe this is just a test of where my treasure is, of Who and where my reward really is.

The choirmaster in Psalm 46, one of the Sons of Korah, I think, learned this lesson through hard things. It appears that You were his treasure and his reward.  He put it to song.  He said, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  He must have stopped looking at the people and events around him.  He must have been surrounded with trouble but found Your presence even stronger in the midst of it.  He must have allowed himself to receive the reward of Your presence and strength and refuge in the midst of whatever was going on.   I doubt he started there.  I think it took the earth giving way sometimes, and the mountains being moved into the sea around him, and the waters around him roaring and foaming, and the mountains still trembling and the waters swelling.  But that’s when he realized that if it weren’t for You being with him, he would have perished.  That’s when he realized that if it weren’t for Your being a place of refuge, he would cease to exist.

This Son of Korah learned to focus his heart on You despite the storms around him.  And isn’t that what You warned me?  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  Where do I keep all my stores of treasure?  What is most valuable to me?  Is the reward what I get or what I get to do, or is my reward really You?  Then, even if the world should fall apart around me, if You are my treasure, if You are my Great Reward, what changes, because surely You never change.

Maybe I need to take Isaiah’s words in chapter 11 more to heart.  Maybe I need to delight in the fear of the Lord and stop judging by what I see with my eyes, or deciding by what I hear with my ears.  Maybe I need to remember the words to Abram, “I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.”  (Genesis 15:1)  Maybe I need to remember and not just remember, but really take it to heart and live like I believe it with all my heart and all my mind and all my life.

When Boaz was noticing how much Ruth had taken You to heart, Lord, he said these words to her, “The Lord recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to trust.” (Ruth 2:12).  What was he talking about her recompense being for trusting in You and living in that trust?  It sounds to me like the full reward was of You Lord.  I mean, maybe he meant that a full reward would be given from You, but I can’t help but think that You Yourself are the full reward that You give to those who seek You and display that seeking in trustful actions.

Where is my reward?  Isaiah tells me, “Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.  He shall feed His flock like a shepherd:  He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”  Though Israel has sinned and has reaped that price, their comforter is coming and His reward is with Him.  There’s a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  Sound familiar?  The glory of the Lord is revealed.  Could Jesus be the reward?  Could God’s redemption and forgiveness and grace and everything He gives us in Him be the reward?  What glorious work is before Him?  Is creation the climactic work of His hands or is a redeemed people with new hearts, a redeemed people after His own heart, a renewed people abiding in Him in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit His climactic work that stands as a testimony before Him?

Isaiah was really given to think about this reward.  “Behold, the Lord has proclaimed unto the end of the world, ‘Say you to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, His reward with Him, and His work before Him.'” (Isaiah 62:11)  Like Israel, God, You are continuing to make a people.  Your work is still going on.  You are still making a holy people, redeeming Your own, seeking us out, not leaving us forsaken.  You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with Yourself.  You are rewarding those who don’t deserve such a reward with the sacrifice and love of Your one and only Son, Your beloved Son.

The reward is my relationship restored in and with the God of my creation.  Everything that I lost by my choice to relate my being to my self and to the delight of others is restored when my delight in You is restored.  And the amazing thing is that You did all that work to get me back to delighting in You again.  You sought me so intimately that I experienced my need for You again, that I experienced my delight in You again.  You awoke in me what was lost and returned to me the reward I had forsaken.  It is You.  It was You.  But my focus was averted to other worthless things that had no power to reward because they are not the Reward itself.  There is One Reward above all rewards.  And I will only find it in my Father in heaven.

Circumstances can’t give me that reward.  All the blessings showered upon me from above can’t give me that reward.  No man can give me that reward.  No amount of good things I do will give me that reward.  No beautiful thoughts I have or any many shares can give me that reward.  I have no reward of my own to give back to You or to others if it is of myself or of other men.  If I want to have a reward to share with others, it must not only be of You, if must be You.  Simply stated, You, the Reward, must be my alms.

In Luke 11:40-41 You told the religious people, “You fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also?  But rather give alms of such things as you have; and behold, all things are clean unto you.”  Obviously it wasn’t the good stuff they had that made them clean.  They were like beautiful cups that were filthy on the inside.  They were empty of the real reward.  And You can’t give what you don’t have.  But if You have the Alm of Alms within, then beautiful stuff flows from within, the good stuff that God is made of, the good stuff that makes us clean and holy like Him and capable of God goodness and God love and God compassion and God giving.  See, I’m not blessed because I hear and do the good things I hear.  Jesus tells me in Luke 11:28 that I’m blessed, that I live in this blessed state because I hear Your voice, and keep it.  I guard it like my treasure because it is my treasure.  I value above everything Your reward.  Your reward is my life.

What You were telling that woman that wanted to “bless the paps which You had sucked,” is that unless I truly have a relationship in You, my relationship with You is empty.  The Word of God is a person.  This Person is my Reward.  Either I am in Him, and all of my being is placed in ultimate trust and dependency and preservation in Him, or my trust is elsewhere.  You are not just a good person, good idea, good thing.  You are the only Good One and the only One who can make me good.  Are You not only my most valuable treasure, my greatest reward, but are You my only treasure and my only reward?  Why?  “Because where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  Lord, I just pray that You would be what brings every beat of my heart to life and that my heart would continually run after You and with You.  I guess my prayer is that just as Your reward is with You, that my Reward would be with me and I would be with my Reward always, moment by moment.  May my alms come from You and may they be brought forth for Your glory, regardless of what others think or do.

Conquering Hard Things

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“Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad:  for great is your reward in heaven:  for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”  Matthew 5:11-12

You would think that our “blesseds” would just keep continuing.  Blessed are you this, blessed are you that, you know, on to different topics so we could keep on growing.  But all of a sudden we hit this truth about living like a believer in the midst of persecution, and Jesus, You just don’t stop.  You go into greater detail, I mean, unless reviling, and persecution, and having evil things spoken against you doesn’t fall in that category of what it looks like and feels like and is like to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  And it’s not just that You tell us to expect this, but You are also telling me that it’s an opportunity for me to rejoice and that I’m not alone.  I think maybe there are some things here You really want me to understand.  It looks to me as though You’ve spent three verses on explaining this one.   And it appears to me that You taught me what I needed to know in seven verses to get to the point where I could understand, comprehend, and respond appropriately at this point.

This is not easy stuff.  This is the stuff that takes three verses to explain.  Actually, it takes a lot more verses and experience than that to really get it.  Why?  Because this type of persecution is really hard to deal with.  It’s hard to accept.  It’s hard not to fight against it and wish yourself out of it.  But this is what is going to come into our lives because we believe, because we’ve chosen sides, because we have attached ourselves to the One who is above the world and all it’s systems.

The “world system” stands in the face of Your system, God.  Moment by moment the world and Satan desire to defame Your system.  And because that is the goal, then I can expect the world and Satan to attempt to defame me, to rail at me about my foolishness, to chide me, and to taunt me.   The world and Satan will pursue me for my harm, for evil purposes, for my pain just like Satan pursued Job for his pain.  I can also expect the world and Satan to say all kinds of evil things against me, even make false accusations.  I mean, we’re not talking just hurtful stuff here, we’re talking vicious slander that cuts deep.  Well, that’s a grand invitation to become a believer, isn’t it?

Well, it is.  Because tough stuff is going to fall in everyone’s life, not just the believer’s.  But the believer has this promise- “great is your reward in heaven” and I think that probably ought to have some exclamation marks after it!.  See, right now, in the midst of our tribulation we have already received our partial reward.  Jesus, You are with us!  We are residents of the heavenlies!  We are already seated in Your court, just not fully yet.  We belong to Your kingdom!  We are comforted by Your presence eternally with us.  Your inheritance is our inheritance!  I am being filled with You, God, and one day I will be full!  I have obtained mercy, and I will continue to obtain mercy.  I have seen You, God, and I will see You fully!  I am a child of God and I will fully be a child of God without flaw one day!  I am a part of bringing the will of God, the kingdom of heaven, to fulfillment upon earth as in heaven, and one day it will be fully so!

When a friend doesn’t trust you and accuses you wrongly, that stinks.  When people who you have never harmed gossip about you… When you are doing good and the recipients pretend to gun you down…  When your gifts of sincere love are disregarded… When you are abandoned… When you are considered as trash or something to be beaten or used…When you are outcast… When you are reviled in these ways, when you are persecuted like this or worse, when your good is evil spoken of, what is your reaction?  Does it change you?  Who do you listen to?  Who created You and who gave you your identity?  Did they?  Or did He?

I can’t help but think of the story, the true story where Peter was up on the roof top praying.  And Peter became very hungry but fell into a trance.  In this trance, this vision, he “saw heaven opened, and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.  In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.  And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’  But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ [ie. unholy]  And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’  This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.” (Acts 10:10-16)  Peter didn’t get it until the Lord started sending people that would pull the picture together for him.  The Lord was sending him to bring salvation to a Roman centurion!  The Jews had considered Romans unclean.  Jews weren’t even supposed to enter their houses.  But You, God, were rocking Peter’s world here and telling him, “My system is different Peter.  You are going to have to let me teach you from my system.  And then You are going to have to learn to stand by it and remember whose you are now and whose system is yours now. “

So what’s my point?  No one, including me, has a right to call or treat what God has made clean as though it’s not clean.  No child of the kingdom should be guilty of this sin.  We are to build one another up because we are of one mind and one body.  Who would harm their own body or their own mind unless they had some sickness they couldn’t control?  No healthy person would do that.  No believer, no healthy believer walking in the Lord would do that.  But some of us are guilty of that.  It’s time to repent.  And some of us are guilty for not standing up firmly against that sickness and being honest with our sick members of our body.  Because if you don’t treat a sick member of the body, a sick appendage, it winds up like my grandfather’s leg.  Gangrene sets in and it has to be amputated.  The whole body suffers.  If it’s not amputated the blood will infect the other organs and it will lead to death of the whole body.   Oh, let us not be the ones guilty of persecuting our sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Yes, sometimes persecution comes from within.  I find it far better and easier to accept when it is from those on the outside.  But Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”  God has a reason for bringing, yes, bringing both types of persecution and reviling into our lives.  He is making us more like Him and we must stand the test.  Daniel 11:35 tells us, “And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end:  because it is yet for a time appointed.”  Oh, is this part of the process of God making us holy?

Do these situations offer me the opportunity to truly come to believe that God is sovereign, that He is even sovereign over Satan’s rule in this world?  Do I truly understand that every, and I mean every circumstance is ordained by God for my sanctification?  Satan may be the “ruler of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air,” or a “cosmic power over this present darkness” but Jesus, THANK GOD!, did not bow to him!  So we are children and heirs of the ONE who rules over the “ruler of this world”!  We are children of the ONE who rules over “the prince of the power of the air”!  We are children of the ONE who is THE COSMIC POWER OVER THIS PRESENT EVERYTHING!  Yes, Satan plays havoc in the world.  People like Hitler, Isis leaders, Stalin, and others bow to him and perform heinous murderous atrocities.  But God gives permission, appoints the times, and appoints the limits.  Read Job.  Satan may have a plan, but God’s plan prevails, because he’s using Satan for his glory and our sanctification.

Lord, help me to live in the truth.  And the truth is that You are in charge and that You have already won the victory.  And as a believer, I am living in You.  That means that You are in charge of my life and circumstances and You have already won my victory.  Listen to 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  Why can Peter say this?  Because he knows that You, Jesus, have even the devil under control.  And anyone who is Yours, who is living under Your control and authority has Your power to resist Satan’s devouring.  See, I don’t get to avoid Satan prowling around me and trying to get me all ruffled up.  I can’t avoid him bringing things into my life to try to destroy my faith.

So how does he try to destroy my faith?  Well, this devouring is kind of interesting.  Actually, it’s even worse than first glance.  The Greek word to devour here is “katapino” and it’s not the usual word for ripping something apart and eating it.  This word is more about gulping something down.  How do you gulp down a solid?  You don’t until you change it to a liquid.  So maybe Satan is trying to attack our identity in Christ and he’ll go the extreme to do it.  Will I let him?  Will I hand over to him that power over me?  Am I forgetting that God has all ultimate authority and power over my life?  Am I forgetting whose blood I am identified with and by?  Am I forgetting that it is Christ’s blood who gives me life and power and identity?  Will I let the devil drain me of His blood running through my veins?  Or will I stand firm and hold fast in character within my Lord Jesus Christ?

Am I truly acknowledging who is in control even in the hurtful and terrible situations and the pressing times of my life?  Peter makes this statement in 1 Peter 3:17, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”  See, God sometimes wills that I suffer for doing good.  After all, my Jesus did, didn’t He?  And as the Master goes, so do His followers.  If You, Lord, will that I suffer for doing good, well, then I will suffer.  And vice versa.  It’s really Your say and not the lion’s.  And ultimately it’s for my good though it seems evil at the time.  Think of Joseph.  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  (Genesis 50:20)

What if my suffering isn’t just for my benefit?  What if my trusting in faith through all the suffering not only is beneficial to me, but brings about that MANY people would be benefited and brought to life in Christ?  I think of Job and how he is an encouragement to everyone who reads and understands.  Imagine the countless people influenced through Job and his story.  Or Joseph.   I think of a missionary, friend, and sister named Miriam and how her story of suffering and deliverence and continued times of suffering have drawn people to the Lord.  I think of another missionary friend and how my own life and ideas and walk with the Lord have been influenced.  But these people have learned to take their focus off of themselves, their tormentors, and their pain, and to keep their focus on You, Lord, who loves them, sustains them, never leaves them, empowers, and equips them.  And You give them a love for their oppressors that far surpasses human understanding.

I think of You, Jesus, and how they arrested You to take You to eventually be crucified.  And that lion and the people thought they were in control.  But You were the one in control over it all.  You knew it already and You surrendered to Your will.  Before it happened You made this statement, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from My Father.”  God is in control of everything, even life and death, or especially life and death.  And if Jesus, the One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, had full control over every situation then, well, that means that He still is the One with full control over every situation today and tomorrow and forever.   Will I acknowledge that control to You?  It will make every difference in my life and in my character and in my fruitfulness.  And it will allow me to be a part of You, God, delivering many other people.

In life or in death, in pain or in suffering, You, God, are sovereign.  Jesus acknowledged Satan as being a murderer (John 8:44).  And on the outside that appears tragic and terrible and out of control.  But God is sovereign even over every life taken.  Yes, there will be some persecuted to the point of death.  Right now Al-shabaab comes to mind.  Not all will be delivered from worldly persecution.  Will I accept this as part of Your greater plan for me to not only bring about my good but the good of many after me?  You warn us in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  Lord, You call Your believers not only to faith but to faith unto death.  And there is no way that I would be ready for that without learning faith through multiple persecutions first.  Why?  Because every instance of persecution is an opportunity for me to learn to respond within Your character and to learn to depend wholly upon You, and to cling to You more tightly, and to praise You and worship You more adamantly.  It’s always for my good and other’s good.  And You are always in control.  I must remember that these are Your own words,  “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).   Everything happens according to Your will.

In all things, if You, Lord, will it, it will happen and if You do not will it, then it won’t.  You are always the One making the final call.  Our lives are in Your hands.  You make the ultimate decision whether in life or death, or natural or unnatural disasters.  Who will I focus on amidst my trials and persecutions?  Will I focus on the one who plans my harm?  Or will I focus on the glorious One who is the lifter of my head and the planner of my good?  Job chose to focus on You, God, the One who gives and the One who takes away, but blessed be Your name!  John Piper says he found “more  security and more relief and more hope and more support and more glorious truth in despising Satan’s hateful hand and looking straight past him to God for the cause and for his mercy.”  In the midst of it all, before it all, after it all, will I take time to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God”? (Job 37:14)  Oh, Lord, that my first impulses would be as those of Job’s first impulses.  That years later, just as Job’s testimony was of steadfastness in the midst of trials and persecution, so would my testimony be.  And that people would see the purpose of the Lord and Your compassion and mercy.

What about sickness and disease?  Does sickness and disease mean you are punishing someone?  The disciples asked upon seeing a man blind from birth, “Who sinned, him or his parents?”  But Your answer was, “This is so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Does Satan have the upper hand?  I see that woman who had been bent over for eighteen years.  You heal her on the Sabath and share, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”  So it appears that Satan caused this illness for an appointed time.  Well, if God doesn’t choose to heal me, does that mean that Satan wins?  Absolutely not!  God will always do what is best for us and those influenced by us, and sometimes our best is in a later healing.  God is not obligated to always give us what we ask for, but You, Lord, will always give us what is best for us.  It’s Your promise.  (Romans 8:2)  I must remember here who is still in control.  You, Lord, gave Satan permission to afflict Job with boils.  It was so bad, his wife told him to “Curse God and die.”  But Job’s response was firm in You, and he looked beyond the finate circumstances that Satan was inflicting to the ultimate Controller God, and said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not accept evil?”  Even after the persecution passed and Job was restored, his friends came to him and “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” (42:11)  Who get’s the tribute?  Not Satan.  You, Lord, get the tribute.  In Your own words, “Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)

All things were made by Jesus including the microscopic plants and animals.  Again, their purpose is to glorify God.  Now Satan uses even these things to twist that purpose.  He can use lions like in the Coliseum, or fleas, or rats, or flies, or birds carrying avian flu.  He can use pit bulls and bacteria that cause ulcers.  He can use ticks and sharks or giant fish.  But they can never act in ways that God forbids them to.  God commands the animals and plants.  Think of the gnats in Egypt and the frogs.  Think of the fish swallowing Jonah and then spitting him out on ground.  Think of the speaking donkey.  Think of the lions whose mouths were shut in Daniel’s presence.  Think of the plant that covered Jonah.  Scripture says that God appointed the fish to act that way.  And Scripture says that God appointed the plant to grow up for Jonah and appointed a worm the next day to attack the plant.  Satan can use these things but only according to God’s hand and plan.  See, the reality is that God’s purposes cannot ultimately be twisted.   I mean, we know this, or we ought to know this, and really get it and live it out that “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Finding our delight in You, Lord, and Your ways,  is our strength.  “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.”  It delights You back.  “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:24)  The Bible calls Satan “the tempter.”  That’s actually an antonym for delight.  He’s been attacking us that way since Adam and Eve.  His desire is to rob us of delighting in You, Lord, and to make us undelightful to You.  It’s his attempt to bring us harm.  Or actually, it’s his attempt for us to bring harm to ourselves and others.  It’s the opposite intent of Yours to us, Lord, because You are working all things for our good and the good of many.  But suffering is often brought about through my sin or the sin of others against us.  Yet still You are in control.  Even when Satan entered into Judas who betrayed You, Luke tells us that it was just a fulfillment of Your Word.  “The Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16).  Even in Your suffering and crucifixion, Satan was not in charge, but You were.  Man did not deliver You up.  Satan did not deliver You up.  You delivered Yourself up.  Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

When the fiery trial comes, it shouldn’t surprise me.  It’s a test designed by God, a proof to show who I am in Him.  (1 Peter 4:12)  God proves who we are while Satan tries to disprove us.  It’s interesting but that’s the same word that is used for God testing us and Satan tempting us- “peirazo.”  Satan at times will tempt us by sifting us like wheat, just like he did with Peter.  But just like Peter, we have been warned and prepared by You, Jesus.  Our denial happens because we forget the warning.  Our success comes when we remember You and look to You instead of the situation or circumstances.  Satan wants to destroy our faith.  He wants to not just pour it out on the ground, he wants to gulp it down in mockery.  But Jesus told Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  See, Your plan is for our turning.  We will turn and then we will be used for the good of others.  Your plan is bigger, better, and more powerful than Satan’s.  Satan has a short leash.  You gave it to him.  But You hold the leash and You guide the leash and You reclaim the leash fully at Your will.  Yes, You Lord, are sovereign over me and those I love.

Jesus came to give sight to the blind and to set the captives free.  Satan attempts to blind us and enslave us.  He knows he’s a doomed foe.  He wants to drag others to his doom with him.  The only way he can do that is by keeping us blind to the Gospel of Christ.  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, ” “In their case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” But even here, Satan isn’t sovereign!    Move on to verse 6 and read about God’s over-trumping power!  ” “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Because God is sovereign, this is why any of us have received His salvation.

Not only does Satan try to blind us to God’s truth, but He enslaves us using misery and suffering.  He uses those things in our life to encourage us to loose trust in You, Lord.  “Look, God does not have Your best interest in mind.  How could He?  If He did, why would He let this happen to you?”  And on the other hand he uses prosperity and pleasure to forget our need for You, Lord.  But You use both to drive us to our knees in desperate need or desperate emptiness until we cry out in repentance for freedom from this bondage.  You alone are good and trustworthy, always.  And nothing compares to You.  You deliver us from all bondage.  You have the power to set us free like the demoniac that no man could help.  Do I want to know the secret to deliverance from bondage?  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. ” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)  Is that how I act towards others?  Or am I the one who needs to humbly seek repentance in order to receive escape?  God is sovereign over the captives.

Well, I’m not in this alone.  First and foremost I have Jesus praying on my behalf.  First and foremost I have the power of Christ in and for me.  First and foremost He is in control over everything.  This is hard and sometimes terrible stuff we have to go through, but I must remember, Lord, that every part of it is for my good, for building my character, for drawing me closer to You, for giving me more wisdom in understanding You and Your ways.  And lest I seem selfish, my surrendering and acknowledging You leads to the good of many others.  It’s not just for me.  This is about Your glory being spread throughout the earth.

You call Your children super conquerors.  And I want to finish this meditation over these past days by going back to 1 Corinthians 3:3.  Paul was speaking to brothers and sisters in Christ who weren’t acting like brothers and sisters in Christ.  They should have been thinking spiritually but they weren’t.  They weren’t maturing.  They weren’t ready.  Here’s why, “for you are still of the flesh.  For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”  Did you get that?  Sometimes I behave like a human.  That’s that word “anthropos” and it means a human being.  But here’s the problem.  Before Christ, I was just any human being.  I was of the world.  But in Christ, I have been reborn, remade, renewed, reunited, revived.  I’m not just any human being now.  God is supernatural.  His supernatural being is at work in me.  Now I am a supernatural being because I am in Him.  Well, I’m not fully supernatural yet, though one day that will come when we are fully with Him.  But how am I living today in these hard situations?

Am I living like a mere man, a mere human, in my responses to tough stuff?  Or am I fully relying on Your power and Your grace and Your sufficiency, and Your sovereignty over all situations?  I don’t want to act in a human way.  I don’t want to respond to my trials and suffering in the flesh.  I don’t want to be a bearer of jealousy and strife, of gossip and inflicting pain, of bitterness and sorrow, of hopelessness and the sword.

Am I responding as You responded and as You still respond?  When I am mistreated do I respond in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and more love?  Do I respond by prayer and praise?  Are my eyes continually on You?  Is my hope continually on You?  Or am I often distracted?

Yes, there is a perfect purpose in my persecution for righteousness’ sake.  “And we know that for those who love God ALL things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things [like persecution and suffering…]?  If God is for us [AND HE IS!], who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the One who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceeding for us [just like for Peter].  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are all being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors [this is talking supernatural stuff here!] through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:28-39)

Oh, Lord, let me stand up and rejoice in You in the midst of trials.  Let me remember who You have made me and who You are molding me after and let me respond in Your spirit as the supernatural child of God that You have made me and called me to be.  Actually, that You have called me into being.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was.”  Just as You have called the light into being so You have called each of Your children.  As rough as it is, Lord, allow me, allow us, to blossom forth into who You have called us to be above our circumstances because You reign.

He Can Take You Through Anything

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“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:10

Really?!  Am I supposed to be happy when I’m persecuted?  Happy?  Because that’s what some versions like the Good News Bible say, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires…”  Somehow, I think happy and blessed don’t measure up.  I think that’s like saying that You, Jesus, were happy to go to the cross.  If You were so happy about it, why did You sweat drops of blood the night before and ask that the Father would take this cup from You?  Is that happy?  Or is that something different?

Your crucifixion, Your suffering for us, Your persecution is the ultimate example for us.  To understand this beatitude, I must understand Your response to persecution.  And it’s not just a response to any persecution, but to persecution that results because we uphold You and Your ways in our lives and before the world around us.  It shows that we are kingdom related, that we belong and are inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven–Your kingdom–with You.   So what does this mean for me in the reality of my every day life?

First, I need to understand that this being blessed isn’t talking about me receiving a reward because I’m persecuted, or meek, or mourn, or am a peacemaker, or whatever.  It’s all about the way I am.  This blessed is my condition of heart and thinking and living.  The Greek word for blessed, makarios, translates back into the Hebrew word, esher.  This esher is a state of bliss.  It’s a state that we live in.  I enjoy heavenly bliss because I live and walk in it.  It’s the state of my heart as it walks in the bliss and well-being of walking in godliness, reflecting God’s character.  It’s better than being happy, because there are painful circumstances which will not leave me happy, but even in those painfful circumstances I can still live in this state of bliss in You, Jesus, and in all that God has done and is doing.  This state of bliss describes me, it describes how I live and how I think and what makes me tick.

Even in the midst of persecution I keep ticking for You, Lord.  I keep rejoicing in You and Your presence and You and what You have done and You and how You will never leave me even in the midst of my toughest trials.  I rejoice that You are here.  You are my God.  And I am Yours.  And though my life should fall apart around me and my health fail and I suffer excruciating pain beyond what I ever thought I could bear, You carry me through.  You carry me through for Your sake, for righteousness’ sake.  Because this glorifies You and shows how amazingly powerful and loving You are.

So what does it mean for me to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake?  What if this isn’t just about when I’m persecuted?  What if this word for persecution means more?  This Greek word, dioko, means “to persecute, to pursue, to prosecute.”  Those are not very delightful words.  Now, if I’m pursuing and not being pursued, that could be in a positive light.  I found that the Septuagint actually uses the Greek dioko to translate the Hebrew word radaph which actually means “to pursue” instead of to persecute.  So what if this beatitude is about pursuing?  And what if this would apply in every situation of my life, whether persecution or plenty?  What if it’s all about me pursuing righteousness no matter what?  Whether I’m in the deepest persecution or bountiful living or somewhere in between?

Skip Moen states, “Those who pursue righteousness are experiencing the kingdom as a present reality.”  Think about that.  If I’m one of those pursuing righteousness, I’m living for the kingdom right now.  It’s not just a future goal.  What does God say about that?  Hear the words of Jesus in Luke 11:2, “And He said unto them, ‘When you pray, say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”  So God desires we live out His righteousness now, not just in heaven.  This isn’t about a future earth.  This is about every day I live, in every circumstance good or bad I am confronted with.  And something I’m starting to learn is that EVERY situation in my life, good or bad, is placed there by God to provide an opportunity for me to choose His righteousness and glorify Him.

I suppose the point is that I can’t be persecuted for following righteousness if I’m not following righteousness in the first place.  Peter talks about this theme.  “And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?  But and if  you suffer for righteousness’ sake, [makarios] are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled: but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear…” (1 Peter 3:13-15)

I guess the easiest way for me to understand righteousness is to replace it with Your name, Jesus.  Everything that Jesus values, that He did, that is of His character, what He loves, what He abhors, that’s righteousness.  Righteousness is exhibiting the character of God.  It’s following His ways and His heart.  It’s knowing Him and living in that knowledge.  And that takes the power of God, in Jesus Christ, by His Holy Spirit to enable me to do that.  I must live a life of trust and dependency no matter my circumstances.  And Jesus and Peter are telling me that I can and this is how and this is why.

1 Peter 3:12 tells me, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers…”  God doesn’t just look for looking’s sake.  God is looking for those who are inviting Him to do His will in their lives.  He sees those who are living in Him and He brings His righteousness to life in them.  He hears their cries, their pleas for more of Him, and He acts upon that righteous desire that He has begun in us.    He is looking for people who have responded to His character by pursuing Him in their own lives.  These are His.  These will suffer in the world because of choosing Him and sometimes just because, because all people suffer at some time.  But if pain is imposed on my life because I am taking a stand for and in Jesus, I won’t break, I won’t fall apart.  My relationship, my strength, my confidence, my dependency, my love, my joy, my hope in the Lord will not be broken because it is real and it is firmly rooted and grounded in His love and He is firmly rooted and grounded in me.

Persecution doesn’t change my relationship with You, Lord.  It strengthens it.  It draws me closer to You.  I pursue You more.  I cling more tightly.  I hold faster.  And You do the same for me.  You show up in special ways, personal ways.  I’ve experienced that.  I’ve heard missionaries who have been through far more persecution that I as they stood firm in You say, ” If it weren’t for Jesus I would have gone mad or recanted.”  But You, Lord, gave the strength to stand in You.  This is way deeper than happy, and I suppose the only way You can describe it is to just experience it, which means to know, you have to experience Jesus for Yourself.  To know what this is to be blessed You have to surrender fully to Christ and let His character take over Yours.  I have no choice but to stand up for God, because there is nothing, absolutely nothing else worth standing for.

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  It’s a win-win situation.  I’m covered at both ends.  I’m covered by the grace and love and power of God before persecution as I walk in Him and abide in Him and exhibit His character and follow His ways in my life.  But this also, as I demonstrate the reality of who I am in the Lord, demonstrates that I belong to His kingdom.  The Greek actually says this, “For of them is the kingdom of the heavens.”  So, what if pursuing the kingdom is part of bringing the kingdom to be?  And what if those who are pursuing righteousness, find it in Christ, and experience Him, which is bliss, and they can’t stop pursuing Him because He is everything and His pursuit is brought into the world around them because we pursuers want those who aren’t pursuing yet to know Him and His bliss?  I’m starting to believe that persecution for standing for Jesus, is just an opportunity for God to allow us to usher His kingdom into our world because it drives us and others closer to Him.

Sometimes love is a painful pursuit, but real love doesn’t give up that pursuit for anything.  God’s love is the only real love.  He demonstrated the magnitude of His love through Jesus Christ who pursued our well-being and our intimacy with His own glory and life.  He suffered persecution and death for each of us not for a prize but because He knew what the bliss of God was like.  I mean, what kind of prize am I?  Yet Jesus died and rose again to draw this sinner into His righteousness, into His loving, powerful arms.  Why?  Because of the joy set before Him.  And what was that?  I used to think it was Him thinking about me being reunited with Him.  But now, I think it was for the goal of oneness with God, to fulfill His will no matter the cost, to be in full unity with Him again.  And in doing so, He made a way for us to be re-unified.  I must choose life in Him, life within the Father, in the Son.  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Those aren’t just words in a prayer.  It’s not just some vain repetition.  This must become my heart’s desire and my way of life.

“As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.”  Jesus was sent to bring the kingdom of heaven to us.  He is the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Am I going to seek and pursue first above everything the kingdom of God, and His righteousness?  I will gain everything I ever needed in Him to do so.  This is serious stuff.  Because if I’m not willing to pursue Your righteousness no matter the cost, then I’m not part of the kingdom either.  Because the only ones that live in this bliss are the ones that do Your will, that live in and by it.  And that “do” is that word I love.  It’s that “poieo”  which is the doing of Your doing.  It’s when You flow from us and can’t be stopped.  So the one’s who do Your will, know You, and You are flowing out from inside.  This is the one that You can take through anything.