Diminishing God

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“Wherefore, as I live, says the Lord God; surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable things, and with all your abominations, therefore will I also diminish you; neither shall My eye spare, neither will I have any pity.” Ezekiel 5:11

 

How often do we think of desolation of the Temple as coming from within? This is so easy to miss. When thinking about the destruction of the Holy Temple we think about Rome coming in and forcing a pig to be offered to desecrate the Temple. Or maybe we think of the final desecration of the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem before the last days, and an anti-Christ who does the same. But God is telling us in Ezekiel that desecration is closer than we think, that God’s own people desecrate the temple.

Isn’t that a terrible thought? The Jews themselves were guilty of defiling the sanctuary and bringing detestable things within its walls. The Jews themselves, yes, the people of God, were bringing abominations in. Really? Were they bringing pigs and things like that in? No. But they were busy bringing diminished ideas of God inside His own temple.

 

That word for diminished is gara in Hebrew. It means “to clip, diminish, restrain, keep back, withdraw.” Now listen to what Eliphaz said to Job, “Do you hear the secret counsel of God, and limit wisdom to yourself? (Job 15:8) That’s a good question. Do I hear God’s word and then think I can interpret it how I want? Do I really understand everything as I ought? Can I really know it on my own or do I need the Holy Spirit, the forefathers and other believers who have really dug in? Is this a process of becoming or do I know all right now? Can I decide for myself or is this something I live out in the community of believers? Would I really think so highly of myself as to “limit God’s wisdom to my understanding?”

Do I forget that though God comes to us individually and leaves the 99 for the 1 that is lost, the goal is to bring the 100 into the fold? Do I forget that the power of God exists in community, in unity with God and with other believers? Do I forget that I need accountability? Do I forget that I need others to help me see in myself what I’m blind to? Do I forget that the Holy Spirit will never teach me or lead me in a way that is against God’s words?

But that’s what happens when I diminish God and His word. Yes, God comes to people personally, but not for us to be our own people. He comes to us personally so that we can choose to become His people, grafted in as one, grafted in not only with each other, but grafted in with Him. Therefore, we live like Him and love like Him and respond like Him and make much of Him because He becomes our everything and all those who are held so dear to Him become dear to us.

When I think I am the gift of God, I make living about me, not about God and not about His people. I make my goals and my desires more important. I diminish God and make myself a type of god. I think I have the right to point out specks in other people’s eyes and not see the log in my own. (Luke 6:41) I bear fruit of my own liking and not of God, bad fruit instead of good, bad fruit that I somehow convince myself tastes and looks good. (Luke 6:43) I call God, “Lord,” but I don’t treat You as Lord because really I’m my own lord. (Luke 6:46) I hear what You say but I don’t do it because I’ve diminished Your agenda and glorified my own.

When I take care of number 1, you know, me, I desecrate Your Holy Temple because that’s not what You desire. Your command is to love God and to love others. Acts 4:32 expressed true “temple” worship, “and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” And that’s the truth that doesn’t defile. Everything I have or am is because God has given it to me or in me. The Temple belongs to God. The instruments are His, the design is His, how it works is His idea. My purpose is to fulfill His idea, not mine. My purpose in life is to be fit in like His divine puzzle piece. I don’t even have the ability to fit myself. To think I do is the greatest farce. This is God’s playwright, He wrote it, it’s His, and we’re His players, and that’s the best place to be, looking to Him as Director so we get it right.

Lord, I don’t want to diminish You by having an attitude that I have it all under control or even know what I’m doing. I want to live under Your direction and I want to be sensitive to the direction of those who have heeded before me and along with me. I want to remember that I’m not a lone player and that I don’t get to write the script, or my script, or any one else’s script, but that You are the Script Writer. I don’t want to look clean on the outside and be a nasty cup on the inside because I’m in control. I want You to be in control, because who in the world am I to even think otherwise? I concede. After all, the temple was just a model of something greater. And Jesus, You told us, “something greater than the temple is here.” And I’m more than willing, I’m desperately in need of surrendering to You because the one who created the temple is greater than the temple. I want You to be God. Don’t let me diminish You in my life or in anyone else’s life. Let me let You be God in my life and all those around me. You know, You’re gonna be God because it’s who You are and I or anyone else can’t stop it. But I can keep myself and others from seeing it. Lord, don’t let that happen. I want to see You as You are. And I want to be an instrument that allows others to see You in Your fullness also.

Our Own Doing

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Photo credit to Amado Roberto Jimenez Abreu, Jr.

 

“And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before My face.” Hosea 7:2

 
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) These stories of the ancients aren’t just stories of them and times long past. These stories are repeats of the hearts of mankind. Read Hosea 7. It’s a story of yesterdays. It’s a story of today. Why? Because the heart of man is unchanging unless it’s made new by surrendering to the Lord who made us.

 
It’s sad. You would have healed Israel. It’s what You wanted to do and were waiting for the opportunity to do. You were inviting them into healing. Imagine that. But they refused to accept that healing Your way. They wanted to do things their own way. They refused healing. Who would do that? Who would refuse healing until it’s too late?

 
I think of some people. I think of my grandfather, my Opa. He had an infection in his leg. He didn’t trust doctors and hospitals. He was told to go to the doctor but he wouldn’t go. Finally, gangrene started to set in. Then he HAD to go. And so did his leg below his knee. Part of his leg had to be amputated because he refused to seek help and healing when he first needed it.

 
He’s not the only one I think of. Jim Henson, that talented puppet maker and puppeteer. He was much more than that to many and well loved. Mr. Henson was sick. Same story in a way as my Opa. Was sick but never went to the doctor for help. By the time he did, his pneumonia was so bad, he couldn’t be helped. He died.

 
Well, this is the story today. It’s a story of letting our sickness keep baking in the oven. But it’s not a story of physical illness. It’s a story about spiritual sickness. It’s a story of iniquity. What does iniquity mean? It’s the Hebrew word avon here. It’s about perversity. It’s taking what God has said is right and good and twisting it into what it is not, and that’s evil. Tied into the word is the understanding that this “perversifying” of God’s ways will receive punishment.

 
But this sad and twisted story continues. It’s about falsehood, sheqer, about living a sham, being caught up in deceit and emptiness. It’s about being robbed and spoiled and letting yourself be. And it’s a problem easily fixed except no one will stop to consider their own hearts and consider that God sees and knows what’s going on. No one will stop and consider and say, “Hey, this is wrong. This isn’t what I was created for! This is twisted and warped. This is not what our Creator envisioned for us.”

 
With their mind, will, and emotions; what we call the heart, they only consider their own ways and not the God of their creation. They forget that God has never stopped watching and waiting and inviting them into His healing. But they refuse. Like the song, “I’ll have it my way,” they will find out that if that is their choice, they will have it their way. And if that’s my choice, I WILL have it my way too. Only, having it my way means that my own doings will beset me about. My own doings will surround me and encompass me on every side instead of having healing surround me and encompass me on every side. But yes, it is every man’s choice.
I can choose to make myself temporarily glad, or to make people glad. I can choose to run after whatever I think gives me pleasure. My heart can be like a burning oven. I can pile things into it and wait. I can let the baker who is over me sleep and wake up to this burning, flaming fire in the morning. I can let it get so hot that everything good is burned up in flames. I can be an oven where I don’t follow the baking directions and food doesn’t get turned and burns on one side or just gets scorched altogether. I can let this baker who has no knowledge of baking lead my baking if I want. But then I’m nothing more than a silly dove without heart.

 
I’ve had doves before. They are beautiful birds. I can hear them cooing. But they have no defense. Except by the grace of God, I have no idea how they survive in the wild. They don’t bite or scratch. In self-defense they run and flap their wings. And maybe, when we run to our own strength, we are like that beautiful but silly and defenseless bird. How can something defenseless run to itself or others like it for defense?

 
There is One who could defend His people. That same One can defend any who would turn to Him. Don’t flee from Him. Run to Him. Fly to Him. Destruction is everywhere where He is not. When God says that destruction comes to us because we have transgressed against Him, He’s not cursing us, He’s warning us about the consequences of our choice. When we choose to break away from His authority and His protection and His safety and His presence, we get what lies outside the walls of our Safe Tower. Inside the castle and it’s walls you have the protection of the King, but outside is a different story.

 
God had redeemed Israel and invited them into the castle walls. But they were choosing to delight themselves outside the walls where the enemy lurks. Are we choosing the same? Are lies being spoken about God today? I wonder if even “believers” are spreading some lies about You today by the way we live our lives and act out our faith or rather lack of faith. Do we really cry out unto You with our heart, with our mind, will, emotions, and every part of us? Do we really honor Your ways? Do we live in the strength that You give us or in our own strength?  And when I return, am I really returning to You or just to some of the ways I agree with? And am I getting caught up in rage instead of being caught up in You? What is my joy, who is my driving force, what is my life running after? Is it You and Your delight alone? Or is it something else?

 
You offered healing. You still offer healing today. If you want to know the secret to healing let me share Psalm 37. It starts with trusting in the Lord and following Him in His ways. Trusting in Him means delighting yourself in Him and you’ll see that what He desires becomes your desires and they’ll come to pass before your very eyes. When we trust in Him and delight in Him we also willingly commit our ways to Him. His righteousness starts to shine forth through us. Here we are, trusting and delighting and committing even in the tough stuff and yet we find rest in Him and wait patiently for Him no matter what. We don’t have to be angry, or rage, or fret because we know the experience of being kept in His care, so closely in His castle, that we are no strangers to the King.

 
There is still time to consider with our our will, emotions, and thoughts. There is time to consider You, God. There’s time to consider our own actions and wickedness. There is time to consider and remember, to consider and open our eyes to the truth and act upon it. There is time to consider life outside Your gates versus life in Your presence. And there is time to act. There is time to return. But there will come a day when that time has passed. Let us consider and respond rightly before our healing passes by and we are left where we chose to be, on the side of total destruction, not by Your choice, but by ours.

 
God has always offered healing in Himself. He still does today. He went to the extremes to get us to understand by sending Jesus to show what His desire translated into in a way that we mere humans could grasp. Jesus claimed the words of the prophet Isaiah because He could. Standing in the synagogue He proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”  Go on, look back at the heart of God in Isaiah. Compare it to the heart of Jesus. Hear His cry for your healing. Come to the One who would choose to pay the price of your rebellion for you. Come to the One who would rescue someone who owed everything to Him, when He owed nothing to us. This is the love of God demonstrated for us in Christ Jesus. This is the glory of God. Let Him heal you. Return to your Maker. Live in relationship to Him who is the Author of relationship and the Author of life. Or die alone. It’s each man’s choice. May we each choose wisely by choosing life and healing in You, Lord.

Hope Deferred

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  (Micah 5:2)

Hope deferred.  Noah Webster defines the word defer as meaning to delay or to put off; to postpone to a future time.  Solomon thought about this too.  In Proverbs 13:12 he shared, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” 

That’s interesting.  Here that word is again being used in Song of Songs 1:4.  “Draw me after you: let’s run!  The king has brought me into his bedroom.” The word in Proverbs is mashak.  It can mean to draw, continue, defer, extend, forbear, handle, make long, scatter, and stretch out.  Here in Song of Songs, it’s the related word moshkeni.  It can also mean “to draw up, to raise, to extend, to draw in, to entice or allure, to draw out (as with a weapon) and to drag or seize.” They are different words, but related, and maybe that matters today.

I mean, here we have this woman who has been waiting.  She has kept herself pure and now is rejoicing wholly in her groom who rejoices just as much in her.  She has waited and now she gets to enjoy the reward of that wait, intimacy with the one she loves.  She calls her lover and at the same time she offers herself to him.  No one forces anyone.  There is “vulnerability and submission along with honor and glory” in love.  Lust, on the other hand, is about domination.  There is none of that here.  Intimacy is about love.  And this verse in Micah, about the ruler coming from Bethlehem is all about that type of love and that type of intimacy and how we miss out on it because we chase after others and other things.  It’s about a “God who loves through surrender and vulnerability leading to glorification.” (Skip Moen)

The story in Micah is about love twisted.  Israel should have been saying to God, “Draw me after You: let’s run!”  They should have been saying, “Draw me after You: let’s do life wholly together!”  “Bring me into Your bedroom so I can know You intimately and You can know me intimately, so that we can be one.”  But they were drawn to others and were void of intimacy with the One who truly loved them and could provide all they could ever desire that was wonderful and good and pure and true. 

Hope deferred leads to something; it leads to a sick heart.  It’s the Hebrew word chalah.  This means “to be rubbed or worn; to be weak, sick, afflicted, or to grieve, make sick…(be) diseased, (put to) grief, be grieved, (be) grievous, infirmity…be wounded.”   So hope deferred leads to this. Which makes me think if this Hebrew idea of hope, tocheleth, is a hope based on a specific expectation, or a specific Person, and if that expectation is twisted, this is what results.  But if our hope is where it was meant to be in our original design, in You, Lord, then our hearts won’t be sick, chalah.

Proverbs reminds us that when the desire, the ta’avah, comes, when what we hoped and longed for expected is here and we hold it in our hands or in our being, we will be delighted and satisfied.  Not only that, but it will be a tree of life.  Solomon is taking us back to the garden of Eden.  What happened when hope and desire were twisted then?  Adam and Eve lost the tree of life.  But God is telling us there is a way back to the Tree of Life.  There is a way back to Him.  There is a way that we can untwist our hope and desire and set it back on the One who rightfully deserves it. 

Sickness of heart comes from a distorted reality.  It grows as we grow away from who we were created and intended to be and to worship.  Sickness of heart comes from keeping ourselves from the One who gives us true hope and joy and fulfillment and life and love.  Sickness of heart is brought on by our own twistedness.  But God loves us so much that You add to our sickness of heart so that we might learn to yearn for You again.  When Solomon said in Proverbs 13:25, “The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want,”  it’s the same thing going on here.  Either my hope is in You, God, who fully satisfies my soul, and I eat of You and want nothing more than to be engulfed by You and for You to draw me to You wholly, or my soul fills my life with things that disappoint and cannot satisfy.

Hope deferred.  It may not seem like it in the present, but it’s worth it.  The suffering that Israel went through was terrible but it wasn’t pointless.  It was for a purpose, to untwist twisted hope.  And sometimes hope is so twisted that it takes generations to reshape it.  Because here is the promise of hope in the midst of hardship for the people of God to wait for and look forward to, this ruler to come out of Bethlehem Ephratah, to rule Israel; “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  Here’s the lover who has always been waiting to draw His people to Him in complete intimacy and will not give up on her.  Here’s this prophecy and many others that His people have and had and yet when the time came, when Jesus, the lover of their souls, fulfilled this prophecy, many who should have known, refused to acknowledge the truth.  They refused to submit, they didn’t want Him to draw them to Him.  They wanted to force Him to come their way.

The truth is that we still act the same way today.  It’s not that those particular children of Israel were so bad and worse than us.  We’re just like them, just as stubborn, just as twisted by our own desires and hopes that we’ve set up so that we lose sight of the truth which is only found in God, the one who created us.  The funny thing is that sometimes we think God looks so small compared to everything else going on in our lives.  What a misconception.  But the smallest things are often of the greatest importance and not so small as they seem.  Like Bethlehem, that everyone made fun of, “like, what good thing comes from Bethlehem?”  But then again, the King of the Universe was born there as a little baby, a little baby who came to deliver the world through sacrificing Himself for our sins as he deferred hope to just the right time.

Some things have to be deferred to the right time.  Like a caterpillar in its chrysalis has to go through the whole hard process or it won’t succeed in being a butterfly.  A woman has to wait until the right time for delivery or the baby may be endangered.  And so to Israel and even us, those who come to believe and be grafted in, can’t be returned or be grafted in until our hope is no longer twisted, but in the One who is Hope personified for us. 

What am I longing after?  What and who do I want to be drawn to and what and who do I want to draw to me?  Is my every desire toward You, like it should be?  Is it on You because it ought to be or because how could I think of anyone else?  Are You truly the One who is satisfying my deepest needs and desires?  Are You my delight?  Do I run to You and cling to You and care if You cling to me?  Do I want nothing more than to spend intimate time with You?  Can I get enough of You?  Because if I can, something is wrong, something is seriously wrong. 

In this world, some hope in You is deferred until I enter eternity with You.  But because You sent Jesus into Bethlehem to fulfill the hope of Your people Israel and the hope of mankind we can know that our hope is not deferred forever.  He has come!  And we can run to Him!  Run Israel, into the arms of the lover of your soul!  Run, Gentile, into the arms of the lover of your soul!  “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” 

And they did.  Because it’s not a secret.  God has made Himself known through His word and through Jesus Christ.  Come and see your Savior.  Hope is here.  Draw after Him and He will draw after You.   “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)  Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)  May our heart cry and our hope be “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3)  You know it’s not only our prayer, but it’s Jesus’ prayer too.  He asked not only for the disciples, but for those who would untwist their thinking and draw to Him, that “they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us…”  I want a lover who wants me just as much as I want him.  And maybe, the reality is, that Jesus, the Lover of our souls, loves us more than we could ever know how to love Him.  But, I want to learn to love back like that, and I want to be enveloped in His love as I learn.  Hope doesn’t have to be deferred.  It can be experienced in a relationship with Jesus Christ if I only submit and and respond.

To Sing and Rejoice Where Others Balk

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Photo credit to Betty Westmoreland.

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  Habakkuk 3:17

Habakkuk lived through some really good things and some terribly awful things.  He saw the end of King Josiah’s reign as King over the people of God.  With King Josiah had come a revival.  But after the death of King Josiah, came a change in the heart of the people toward God.  Habakkuk was witness to invasion by a conquering people.  He saw judgment rain down on his people.  He was foretelling of judgment that would come by God upon their oppressors, the Chaldeans.  With the terrors that he had witnessed, he could have embraced the horror, the depression, the hopelessness, the lostness, but he didn’t.  He was radical.  Just think about it.

“An embrace” is the meaning behind Habakkuk’s name.  He could have embraced what was going on around him, embraced the circumstances and gotten caught up in them by allowing them to control his character.  He could have just acclimatized to the new culture, embraced it, and adapted to it and its gods.  But he didn’t.  He embraced God through it all, and he embraced Your character and conduct.  He embraced every thought about You.  He listened to Your words and kept his eyes on Your vision, the vision of You. 

That embrace is apparent in chapter 3.  You would think that this prophet would just write about You or tell about You vehemently to get people to believe and hope or change their ways.  But what Habakkuk does is write a song.  “I’m going to sing a song that tells about the greatness of You, God, and what You are preparing to do.  I am going to write a song and give it to those who make it into music to be sung by others.  And then they will teach others to join in and sing this song.”  How do I know that?  Because verse 1 tells me this was his prayer upon Shigionoth.  Easton’s Bible Dictionary tells us shiggayon “denotes a lyrical poem composed under strong mental emotion; a song of impassioned imagination accompanied with suitable music; a dithyrambic ode.”  That’s pretty radical thinking, isn’t it?  In the midst of rough times, looking forward to God’s victory and restoration, but still in the midst of the tragedy, he sings. 

But what is the song about?  What is this song I should be able to sing?  It’s a song about the fear of the Lord, this God who puts nations in place and removes them in His timing.  It’s about a God who in the midst of His wrath never forgets mercy.  It’s about a Holy God whose glory covers the expanse of the heavens and whose praise fills the earth.  It’s about a God whose brightness outshines the sun and who has real power coming out of His hands yet He controls that power and withholds it as He wills.  He is what everything is measured against.  The mountains and the water, the sun and the moon tremble at Your voice and obey more readily than we do.  But You don’t go forth for the salvation of the mountains and water and sun and moon.  You come and go to the extremes for the salvation of Your people, for every one who will one day turn to You as their only salvation and as their only hope.

This is the attitude, this is the character of those who believe and trust in You, the God who uses nations to bring His people back into relationship with Him. This ought to be our attitude toward the God who rebukes nations for their treatment of His people.  This ought to be the character of those who love You and owe everything to You, the God who all of nature obeys.  “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.”  (Habakkuk 3:17-19) 

I want to thank You, Lord, for using Habakkuk to speak to the people of his day and to speak to me today.  I want to be continually reminded that no matter what else, You are what matters most.  I could lose everything, yet You are still my God.  Of all things that could turn against me or could be stripped from me, it won’t be You because You are ever faithful and everlasting.  You are worth more than the figs on the trees or the fruit on the vines or the olives or the flocks or the herds.  They may sustain me for a time, but only temporarily.  You sustain me forever and ever in You.  So even when my life is threatened, I still have reason to rejoice because though I die, yet shall I live. (John 11:25)  Like Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  (Philippians 1:21)  I think Habakkuk had that same notion about God.  And Job got it too when he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15)

The thing is, we usually are in the process of learning, like Job, who wanted to argue his righteousness before God.  We get caught up in arguing why these things shouldn’t happen to us.  Lord, this is why I shouldn’t have this sickness, or why my loved one shouldn’t die, or why I shouldn’t lose my job, or why these people shouldn’t block my goals, or why my husband or wife should respond this way.  The list goes on and on.  But if we saw things the way Habakkuk saw the reality of You, we wouldn’t have room to complain any more because we would hear Your voice and our bodies would tremble at Your holiness and power and mercy.  Our own lips would quiver at the sound because we’d think of what has come out of them and disappointed Your holiness.  Rottenness would enter our bones and our legs would tremble as we saw ourselves for who we are apart from You.  We would look a lot more like the ones we want justice met upon than we would ever care to.  But the good news is, if we start realizing that You alone are our righteousness and wholehearted surrender is the only way to experience the fullness of You, then I can begin to learn to quietly wait for You and Your day.  Then I can learn to rejoice in You, the God of my every moment salvation.  Then I will surrender to let You be my strength.  Then I will let You lead my attitudes and invade my character.  So I guess it’s not just about You invading the enemy.  It’s about You being invited by me to invade me with Your Spirit so that Your character becomes mine, so that I can sing and rejoice where others balk.

More Than Robots and Rubber Bracelets

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Photo credit to redrocketmedia.

“…And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God.” Zechariah 6:15

Here You are, Lord, in the middle of telling Your plans to Zechariah.  You are telling him Your immediate plans as well as plans for the future good of all people in the One who is the BRANCH and who will inhabit and rule from Your ultimate temple as King of Kings and High Priest eternal.  But You give a warning to Zechariah for the people of Israel.  “…And this shall come to pass, IF you will DILIGENTLY OBEY the voice of the Lord your God.”  And if they didn’t obey?

What’s the idea of having to obey You?  That’s such a hard concept for people today.  Submission, what a tough idea.  Servant, who wants to be a servant?  But over and over again throughout the Old Testament, or should I call it the First Testament, because it’s still relevant and not outdated, You emphasize the importance and necessity of obedience. 

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:1)  Why would You set Israel above the other nations if they faithfully obey You and do what You desire?  Is it so You can show what good little robots they are?  I don’t think so.  Obedience to You shows our alignment with You.  If we love someone, I mean really love them, we care about what they care about.  We care about what’s on the heart of the one we love.  We desire to do things that bring them joy.  We understand their feelings.  And when we know that someone else loves us, truly loves us, we know that their heart is for us.  You know when someone adores You.  You know when someone wants to protect You.  You know when someone truly cares for You by the things they do.  And You know if they don’t care as much as they ought.  You know if some of their love or all of their love is lacking by their actions and attitudes.  And those actions and attitudes rub off on the people around you that look up to you or that stand in the background and mock you.  And since You, Lord, love Your people so much to go to such extremes to show it, faithful obedience is the least we could give back to show the measure of our love for You.  Because it matters.  The nations are watching and if we say You are the True God and then don’t treat You like the True God You are, we make a mockery of our relationship and who will be drawn to a relationship like that?

“And He said, ‘If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.’” (Exodus 15:26)  You want Your people to earnestly heed Your voice.  It’s one thing to hear, but it’s a totally different thing to hear and do, to hear and care enough to act upon what we hear.  I have to heed Your voice and do what pleases You; I have to give ear to You and complete that action by keeping and doing what You say.  Does that mean I’ll never be sick?  No.  It meant for the people of God that they would not be plagued with the diseases that came as a judgment for denying You and worshipping false gods. 

“But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” (Exodus 23:22)  The Angel of the Lord went before Israel in the wilderness.  In trust and commitment, they were warned to “truly obey his voice and do”.  Trusting is following through with doing.  And God always makes good on His promises.  Trusting and obeying and acting upon that trust leads to You standing in for us against our enemies.  You become our number one Advocate.  You even stand in for those who stand in for Your own.  But if I want You to stand in for me, I am called to stand in for You.

I wear a little black rubber bracelet that says, “He who belongs to God hears what God says…” (John 8:47)  And that’s not just about hearing Jesus speak and walking away.  It’s about being changed by his thoughts.  It’s about agreeing with His thinking.  It’s about finally understanding and desiring things God’s way instead of our own and seeing how much better it is not just for us, but for the world.

“But you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst.”  (Exodus 23:25)  Pride is a terrible thing.  Pride will keep us from the truth, just like it did for the people in John 8:47 that Jesus was speaking with.  Wanting to be on top and not willing to humble yourself to serve sets us against You, Lord, because here You are, God and Creator of the universe and every person.  You are the highest and the mightiest and the smartest and yet You humbled Yourself to come as Jesus, as a baby birthed through that inglorious method that all babies are born through.  You humbled Yourself to become a man, yet God, and serve those You created.  It’s the most glorious thing ever!  And it’s love beyond measure.  So is it so much to ask that kind of service of us back to You and to those around us?  I’d say pride is a major sickness that would be removed with that type of service.  Maybe we’d all be healthier for it in other ways too.

The other day, I heard someone share the Gospel, the good news of how we can not only know God but be His.  And it centered around the doctrine of believing that Jesus is God, that He came to earth to be the sacrifice for our sins, that He died on the cross to pay our penalty, and that he rose again to give us new life.  That’s all absolutely true.  And we must believe that to be saved and to be His.  But unless we believe and obey that belief, it’s nothing but doctrine.  When You said, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out…” in Leviticus 26:3, You were telling us that actions must follow our belief.  Doctrine is just doctrine unless I let it change my life.  Doctrine is just doctrine unless I commit to act upon it with all of my being.  I must trust and obey or I don’t really trust at all.  I must believe and confess and then live in that belief, in the fellowship of what You have done for me.  I cannot trust and my life not be changed.  I cannot trust and my attitude not be changed. 

“Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers.” (Deuteronomy 7:12)  Is this really sounding like God rewarding us for our good works?  I don’t think so.  This sounds to me like God rewarding us with a close relationship with Him.  It sounds like the more I lean my ear into You, Lord, and listen and agree with You and act upon that agreement, that our relationship deepens and I get to experience and see and revel in Your lovingkindness which You have just been waiting for me to experience along with You.  Is obedience so tough?  I mean, if the reward is a deep, personal, generous relationship with You, Lord, well then, I so much want to obey You no matter the cost.  It certainly seems more worthwhile to obey You than not to.

I could keep sharing Scripture after Scripture.  But I’m so happy that I’m sharing this one, “It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul…” (Deuteronomy 11:13)  Do I get that?  It’s about true love for You God and true love is exhibited by what we do and how we serve the one we love.  True love is love that gives our whole heart and soul.  I mean, how is that too much to ask from us?  You’ve shown every evidence that You have given Your whole heart and soul for our benefit?  Who am I to refuse that and mock the love You’ve shown?

The truth is, I can choose to ignore Your love and withhold my love from You.  You warned against that.  “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods and worship them…” (Deuteronomy 11:16)  We’re all going to worship something.  We’re all going to cleave to something.  Everyone is diligent about something, it’s just not always the right something.  And what we choose to cling to, well, we’re going to lead others to cling to it too, whether it leads them to life or to death.  Are we willing to take on the responsibility of leading others to death?

But what if I choose to diligently keep all You say, and what if I choose to do it, and love You, Lord, and walk in all Your ways, and cleave to You like I’m glued, because I want LIFE and I want to lead others to true life?  When the disciples saw Jesus calm the sea, they marveled, asking “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!”  The winds and sea have to obey because they are just matter and You are in charge of matter.  But You give me a choice to obey.  I think it’s a much more marvelous thing for a man or woman to choose to obey than for the winds or sea to calm.  I don’t think the angels in heaven marveled as much that day at the calming of the winds and sea as they do every time one sinner obeys and turns in love away from his old life and into Your new life. 

I mean, even demons obey you.  The people were all amazed again at how you commanded unclean spirits and they obeyed.  “What new doctrine is this?”  But it’s not a teaching.  It’s You, it’s Your life, it’s life in You.  And if a demon who won’t love You has to obey You, why would I, who can love You, choose not to?  See, it’s a way more amazing thing for me to choose to love You back than for a demon to flee.  I can run to You; he must run from You.  I can abide in You.  I can receive more than I ever imagined in You because I can become Your very own beloved, Your precious child and faithful servant.

Peter and the other apostles made that choice.  They came to their very own conclusion that, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)  That means obeying God rather than ourselves, too, because we are only mere men. 

And we’re not alone when we commit to You because You give us the Holy Spirit to be our resident witness within each of us that obey You.  We’re all going to serve somebody.  We’re all going to yield to something or someone to obey, either sin or death, or obedience that leads to righteousness. (Romans 6:16)  What will it be?  Or rather, who will it be?

I want to commit to love the author of my eternal salvation who was made perfect and complete before us all through His obedience to You.  I want to obey Him in love, that I may be part of Him.  I want to love You so much, that I obey You, that I love Your ways, even if they are hard, and even if no one around me gets it.  I want to press forward for You no matter how difficult, because You are worth so much more than I have to give and yet You still love and delight in my giving of myself.  I want to obey You because I appreciate You so much.  I want to obey You because I adore You and I am so grateful that You adored me first. 

On Passion and Agendas

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“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Things have actually gotten pretty crazy here in the U.S.  We’ve lost the idea of sacredness.  We’ve lost the idea of right and wrong.  An idea of relativity has been adopted.  The way that seems right to a man, is the way people are being taught to go.  (Proverbs 14:12)  Whatever you want to do, do it, and hate the ones who don’t agree.  That’s a sad state of affairs.  When it’s more important to be right, or to have my way, than it is to care about someone else, even if they disagree, well, we’ve become less than human.

This idea that we ought to be holy because our God is holy isn’t just an old fashioned, Old Testament idea.  Peter reiterated it.  Why?  Because our natural tendency is unholiness.  What we see in the world today is man’s natural tendency.  This is what man is like without God.  But the thing is, we were created to be with God.  We were created for God.  We were created to bear His image in the world, not to be empty shells bearing empty, selfish images.  But it’s a supernatural undertaking to get back to being who we were created to be.  It takes surrender and surrender is a bad word nowadays.  But surrender is the only right response before a God who created us and gives us every breath we take.  And only when we surrender to Him do we find out who we really were meant to be.

So here is Peter in chapter 1 telling us how to surrender to God.  To be holy like Him we first have to surrender our minds and our thinking.  We have to fill them with His ways by His word and that’s not enough.  We have to prepare our minds to act on those truths.  Yes, America, there is a truth, and it belongs to this God who created us and everything that is.  And it belongs to this God who loves us more than we understand.  It’s His truth that will set us free, not freedom from His truth.  Freedom from His truth is just captivity to a lie and a liar.

So we must prepare our minds in Him and act on the truth we learn from Him.  Be sober-minded.  Stop being drunk.  Get out of your drunken stupor where your mind is distorted by sin and you can’t see straight so you wouldn’t know the truth if it hit you in the face.  In 1 Corinthians 15:34,  Paul says, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”  It’s a shame.  It’s a shame when we want to hold on to our bad habits that strongly even though they hurt us and our families.  It doesn’t matter if I’m a believer or not.  It’s a shame to choose the gutter over truth.

But sin gives us that buzz.  It’s all about my feelings.  It ceases to be about what’s right for anyone.  I just want to validate my feelings, despite those around me.  What happens to my morality?  It’s diminished.  My moral compass becomes skewed or non-existent.  My spiritual sensitivity becomes dull or void.  My ego gets high on itself.  Everything gets out of focus.  And the thing is that sin is worse than alcohol because there isn’t a single person who can tolerate even a drop of it without being effected.  And the more we drink, the more addicted we become.  The more we drink, the more we imprison ourselves in it’s power and lack of thinking.

But the truth is that there is power in God and in His word and in the truth of all that He is.  To reset our minds on Him is to have hope that as He reveals Christ to us day by day, more and more, until one day, we see Him return, that He is working Himself out in us.  I can choose to obey Him as my loving Father and be conformed to Him and walk away from the passions that I sought in ignorance.  I can choose the fullness and love of my Heavenly Father and be free from the passions that controlled me and made me empty.  He’s holy.  He’s Something Other, Something Above all I could imagine.  He’s better.  He’s fuller.  He’s love unimaginable and yet I can experience Him.  He’s relationship though I don’t deserve relationship.  He’s Faithfulness and Forgiveness and Fullness and Satisfaction and Joy and Hope and Peace.  Everything else is an empty sham.

I don’t care if you are a Christian, an atheist, or just John Doe out there.  If you think your money is your own, your wrong.  If you’re aiming at prestige and power, your missing it.  If your choices are made to protect your own best interests, how sad.  If all you want is recognition, how empty.  You can even be influential and look like a good American, a good person, but if you are just full of the wine of the world and drinking the best of it, you’re empty, you’re just a shell of what you were created to be.

There is a truth and there is a God and His will, will be done.  His will is that all men would come to know Him and what they were created for- to be in relationship with Him.  Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  And repentance isn’t just about being sorry for choosing against Him.  Repentance is acknowledging our wrongness and turning from it to Him.  Repentance is recognizing God for who He is and turning to Him in relationship because You realize that everything else is emptiness without Him.

It’s not only those who are not believers who are living in error and emptiness.  Error and emptiness also creeps into the lives of believers.  This isn’t a hate message, this is a call to be loved and to love as we are loved by God.  Paul tells this to the church, but it doesn’t just apply to the church.  It applies to all people, everywhere, because God is a holy God and He is calling all people unto Him in relationship in salvation.  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither sexually immoral, nor idolaters,  nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)  It’s not just people on the outside who choose to listen to their feelings over the truth.  Any of us can get drunk on ourselves, drunk on our anger, drunk on our feelings of what we think we deserve and how someone isn’t meeting that need that we think they should.  We can get drunk on our own passions and lose sight of You so easily.  And then we want to change the truth into a lie.

You know, I could explain that list of things that God is telling us is so foreign to what we’ve been created as and for.  And hearing that list is going to anger some people but that’s because they’re being angry drunks, letting lies control their minds and lives.  This isn’t who you were created to be.  Read the list.  Do you fall under any of those categories?  Are you feeling angry and empty and like people are against you?  Maybe it’s because this isn’t where you were created to be.  Maybe you were created to be loved in holiness and by Holiness.  And maybe you were created to be like Him, loving others in holiness, not selfishness.   Read the list, I have.  I’m a believer and I’m so glad that I didn’t stay in that drunken stupor.  I’m glad that You didn’t give up on me, God.  I’m glad that You remind me that the drunk I was, isn’t who I have to be now.  Yeah, I can pick up the wine of my passions again.  I can let them control me again.   It’s my choice, just like anyone else.  But You washed me, You sanctified me and set me apart for You, and You justified me in Jesus and by Your Spirit. I’ve lived in the drunken stupor, more than once.  I don’t want to go there again.

I don’t want my mind to be my own.  I don’t want my life to be about my passions.  That’s emptiness.  I want to live in the One who loved us so much that He sacrificed His passions by sacrificing His life for me a sinner and a rebel.  I want to give my all to the One who chooses to stick closer to me than a brother, to the One who gives of Himself to allow Himself to live inside of me.

People say today, “I can do whatever I want.”  They said that in Paul’s day too.  “All things are lawful for me.”  Paul was quoting that from the people of Corinth, not because it was truth, but it was the attitude.  He corrected that attitude.  Not all things add up when they’re added to our lives.  They’re just not profitable for us.  But why was Paul quoting that?  Because it was a misinterpretation of the people.  Paul was reminding that there is law, there is a structured order, and we are free to obey as we can in our culture.  It’s not license to sin.  It’s a freedom to obey even when we are restricted from obeying fully.

There is a law and it’s higher than man’s law, it’s the law of God.  We can acknowlege it or we can fight against it.  Surrendering to it brings peace and love and personal knowledge of God.  Fighting it brings pain and emptiness, it doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or a non-believer.  It doesn’t matter if you are involved in a homosexual relationship or a heterosexual relationship if you are going against God’s design.  It’s not about hate.  It’s about experiencing the love of God but we can’t if we are so caught up in loving ourselves we won’t even let ourselves see Him.  Look at the list.  Do I think that homosexuals are worse than the sexually immoral?  Do I think that adulterers are worse than idolaters?  Do I think that the greedy, or the thief, or the drunk, or the reviler, or the swindler is better or worse than the others?  No.  And neither does God.  Sin is sin.  All sinners are equal.  We all need to surrender to a God who knows and is the way to life.

I can choose to live according to my passions or I can choose to surrender to a God who created me to be filled with His passion.  He demonstrated the intensity of His passion for us through Jesus.  “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:9.10)  David understood what a lot of us are missing.  “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)  I don’t want to live for my own passions.  It’s too easy to be controlled by them and for my focus to get warped.  I want to live in Your presence where You fill me with everything that is right.  I want to live in Your presence by the power of Your Spirit in the power of Your resurrection because then I am loved and then I can love others rightly.

It’s funny.  There are so many angry people today.  They’re so focussed on their passions and their agendas that it’s all they can see, and they’re angry but don’t even realize how that doesn’t go together.  I mean the “tolerant” can’t tolerate anybody else.  How is that right?  But I could get there just as easily if I also choose to focus on myself, my passions, my agendas, my rights.  There’s a better way, and His name is Jesus. ” I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes unto the Father but by Me.”  ( John 14:6)  It’s true.  There is a right way.  There is one truth.  And there is real life.  I don’t want to live in an alcohol induced dream world.  I hope you don’t either.  I want to choose to seek the One who sought me out and continues to seek me out.  I want to choose to be sober minded and to actually know the One I follow.  I want Him to make me like Him, just like Him.  I want Him to be my passion but I want His passion to be what controls me.  I don’t want to look like the world.  I want to look like Something Other.  I want to be holy like He is holy because I want to help others be filled with all the goodness and love that is You, Lord and it can’t be found in ourselves without You filling us.

“Garbage In, Hagios Out”

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“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours…” 1 Corinthians 1:2

Lord, just as You spoke to the believers of Corinth, so You speak to me.  Just as they were called out to be Yours, so have You called me out.  So we were called out and meet together in You.  Through and in Christ I am sanctified.  He has made me holy.  I have been purified and consecrated, set apart as a holy vessel.  Because of what You have done, I am hallowed.  I am holy.

I don’t deserve what You have given me.  I have not done anything to warrant this position.  I am like a thief who came and stole the work of another and cherish it as my own.  It was none of my work, but all of Yours.  Nothing I can do will ever equal it and nothing that I can do will ever take it away.  I had no right to this gift of grace.  Yet Your love, selfless and limitless, chose me and called me in my detestable state, to be changed into Your likeness.

I had nothing to give, yet You clothed me in Your righteousness.  You cover and daily fill me with Your grace.  I am not who I was because of what You have done for me and in me.  Lord, teach me to know and comprehend this intimately.  Without this, I could not be Your ambassador.  With this I am whatever You call me to be.  Each moment I am Your child.  I must learn to live as who I am in You.

You have called me to be sacred, blameless, most holy in Your eyes.  You have changed my savour from putrid to blessed.  I have been invited and appointed.  When I answered Your invitation, You appointed me.

What entitles me to this?  My invocation for You.  I have and will always appeal unto You.  I shall call upon You through eternity.  You have become the air I breathe.  You are my heart’s beat.  You are the blood that circulates through my veins.  You are my coming and my going.  I called upon You in humble entreaty and prayer.  You have given me Your surname.  I guess You’ve made me Your bride and we now may be intimate.  I am Yours and You are mine.  We are one, yet You are the head.

Well, that’s most of my meditation from March 15, 2003.  And it gives me a sounding board.  Because there’s a little more that talks about my relationship with You, Lord, through adoption.  But I wanted to focus on that marriage concept, feelling it was even more intimate.  But then I hit this thought, that Your relationship with me and mine with You should be reflected in my relationships with others.

So that’s where I am today, learning how a saint, a hagios, lives in relationship in this world.  Funny thing is, we often think that being a believer means we’re better or above some things.  Here’s the “humor” in that.  These Corinthians that Paul was calling saints, these hagios, well, they acted like anything but that.  They were a mess!  They were guilty of incest, perversion, quarrels, illness, heresies, and spite.  And Paul calls them saints.  Was he joking!  These people?

See, sanctified and saint are related.  A saint is a sanctified one, someone that’s been made holy.  The Greek is hagiazo.  If we find the Hebrew equivalent we go to kodesh.  Where the Greek hagiazo means set aside, separated”, the Hebrew kodesh is much richer.  Let me share Skip Moen’s explanation.  “Kodesh is not merely about moral or ethical behavior.  It is about God taking possession of us.  It is about surrender, dedication and consecration.  In Heschel’s terms, it is about awe and wonder in the presence of God.  We are mistaken if we think that holiness is a synonym for morality.  It is not.  In fact, in Hebrew kodesh has no Hebrew synonyms.  It is a cultic term for total abandonment to God based on actions initiated by God for God.  Moral and ethical behaviors are by-products of kodesh, not the purpose of kodesh.  This is why it is possible to be a “good” person and still not be hagios-kodesh.  And this is why it is possible to be a mess and still be hagios-kodesh.”

Look at this mess of people in Corinth.  Did God take possession of them?  Yes.  Did He call them into His presence?  Yes.  Did God initiate the invitation?  Yes.  Did they answer?  Yes.  Did God call them unto Himself?  Yes.  Does sanctified mean that they became perfectly pure and holy in moral character in one instant?  No.  Is sanctification the natural by-product of God’s work in His children’s lives and hearts?  Yes.  Doesn’t Paul tell us so?  “Being confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)  What we see as messes, You, Lord, see as works in progress.  And since You are the One doing the work, You see the finished product.  You see the saint in us because Your work will be finished.  You see the holy one in us because Your work doesn’t fail.

So how does this change my perspective of Your marriage relationship with me?  Wow!  You picked up this piece of garbage, this total mess in the desert.  You invited me in to be Yours and swore You would be mine.  There wasn’t anything I could do to change myself.  All I can do is surrender to You.  You did it all and You are doing it all.  To understand this fills me with awe for You.  It’s overwhelming. Skip puts it this way, ” We are nevertheless a mess.  But God only works with garbage.  Garbage in- hagios out.  It’s a miracle.”  So if that’s the case for how You treat me, then how do I treat the other messes around me?  Do I see in them the product that You, Lord will make them?  Or am I stuck looking at the mess?  Lord, give me Your perspective of others, that I might take the garbage in love that You could bring out the hagios.