Deja Vu

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“And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail; it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing.” Ezekiel 47:12

 
Deja vu! I’ve heard this before. David’s words come alive here from Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law does he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.” (italics added) But I have to notice one word here. It’s the word “like.”

 
I was looking at part of a commentary on the words of Ezekiel 47:12 which remarked that “by these ‘trees’ are meant truly gracious souls, converted persons, real Christians, true believers in Christ; who like trees have a root, are rooted in the love of God, in the person and grace of Christ, and have the root of the matter in them, the grace of the blessed Spirit; and who also is their sap, of which they are full, and so grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ; grow up in him, and grow upwards and heavenwards in their affections and desires, and in the exercise of faith and hope: they are the trees of the Lord…” (John Gill) But I want to be very careful of not just “spiritualizing” things in Scripture when the way God has already made it is already spiritual His way.

 
God is describing to Ezekiel this new temple. He is very exact and precise with the measurements that His messenger is giving Ezekiel. Ezekiel is guided room by room, feature by feature, purpose by purpose to the minutest details and who will be in charge of the different responsibilities. This is clearly a vision of a physical representation of the future temple that will be serving a God-ordained purpose in the spiritual lives of God’s people, all of them whether naturally children of Israel or sojourners who have joined with the children of Israel in the worship of the one true God in the Messiah.

 
Therefore, there is this actual life-giving river that flows out from the temple. After all, the Messiah is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1, 2,3) And I could spiritualize the river here if I wanted to but that wouldn’t make it right and it wouldn’t make it true. Because this river is not “like” something. It is this way. This river flows out with healing and life. There are spiritual applications to us elsewhere, but here is a real river with real life flowing in it whose source is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in God.

 
So, why must we spiritualize the trees? The people in this vision are actual people down to the details being ancestors of particular people, like ancestors of the sons of Zadok. We’re told who enters by which doors and what sacrifices are to be offered. And here we are told about this gloriously wonderful river that flows from under the East gate, that gate that only the Prince enters and exits from. And here on its banks are trees growing that will be for meat, for food. They are the real deal. They are not like something else. They are real trees, growing real food, soaking in the real life giving water. They are real trees whose leaves will never wither or fade because of that water. This fruit shall never fail. It will never stop producing. Every month it will bear new fruit. Why? Because of the waters. And the fruit shall be food and the leaves shall be for healing.

 
John was also privy to a vision from God. Here’s what he was shown. “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1,2) Now, I’m not sure if the tree of life is one tree that sprouts as many like the bamboo does from one shoot, or if John saw one tree in his vision, or just called the many trees “the tree of life” because that’s what each was, but I know that these two men were learning of the same future truth and same future hope and it’s not a spiritualization but an actual physical reality.  Actually it is a spiritual and physical reality, because both are wrapped up together in Christ.

 
The trees are not the servants of God. John continues by saying, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads.” We, by this point, ought to be like those trees as David said. But those trees planted by the river, are trees for our benefit, and for the benefit of all those from all the nations. They are for our healing and for our nourishment for service.

 
I just don’t want to lessen the awe of God. It’s an awesome thing that God can plant us in His living waters and give us life where once there was nothing but death and warped purpose. It’s awesome that He can change and renew me from the inside out as I root myself in Him and rely on His life and power in me. Yes, that is awesome, how He can and does change our lives. But it is also awesome how He can create and be the source of a river that gives life wherever it flows, real physical life, not just spiritual life. And it’s awesome how God creates trees that bear fruit with just the right nourishment and with leaves that bring healing, and I don’t think we’re talking some healing here, I think this is total healing. This is God we are talking about here. This is God with us in all His fullness and majesty. He can do whatever He wants and all that He does is right and good and true. This is God and I don’t want to forget it or minimize it.

 
So, God, if you choose to show “me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” like You showed Ezekiel and John, I think I will just be amazed as they were. And I hope that like them, when I see and hear, that it will make me fall down and worship You more. I hope it doesn’t make me feel smarter or more knowledgeable but that the more I learn, the more awesome and powerful and loving and mighty and righteous I see You as. I pray that this never becomes information that I handle but that every word, every vision, every moment spent meditating on You becomes more and more of the truth and reality of who You are. May every jot and every tittle make more of You and less of me. And someday, when I stand in the future place with You, may I be so overwhelmed by the “deja vu” that I forever understand the greatness and eternity and reality of Your word and its manifestation in You.

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Our Perpetual God

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Photo credit to Pearls of the Torah, Ahavat Ammi

“Because you have had a perpetual hatred…” Ezekiel 35:5a

 
Can you imagine having a perpetual hatred for someone? This is a pretty strong hatred. God uses the Hebrew word olam. Strong’s Concordance likens it as being unto the vanishing point or time out of mind. Sometimes it’s used for eternity or without end. The Pulpit series called this feeling that Seir or Edom had for Israel a “hatred of old, or eternal enmity.” Now remember who Edom is. Edom represents Esau and his descendants. Esau is long gone. Yet here his people are, generations later, still carrying deep enmity against Israel. The story of Esau and Jacob perpetually lives on, never changing, never being resolved, never being reconciled. Can you imagine life like that?

 
It doesn’t just make me think about the effects of hatred, but it makes me want to look at that word perpetual, or olam, because I’ve heard it used before in Scripture. And it makes me think that there are some things that God wants us to “perpetualize” in our lives. What might that be?

 
When I look back to Genesis 9, I see God establishing the rainbow. It was established for perpetual generations and as an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature on earth. How many generations is that? Who knows? I mean, where is the vanishing point? Maybe there is no vanishing point and that’s the point. How long will this covenant last? To that same vanishing point, where ever and how far away in God it is. And I’m wondering if the vanishing point isn’t less of a time or place than it is a position in God? After all, He’s the one who established this covenant. It’s all on him. It really doesn’t matter what we do or how we respond. He’s not going to break His word and destroy the whole earth by a flood again. Out of love and faithfulness and His glory, He made this perpetual promise to be perpetually displayed before us.

 
Then there’s the land of Israel. In Genesis 13, God tells of a land that will be given to Abram’s seed for ever. It’s that same word olam. Now, Noah Webster says of the word perpetual that it is “literally true with respect to the decrees of the Supreme Being.” It’s never ceasing, continuing without intermission, permanent, and endless. Outside of God, what is? Maybe this olam is all dependent upon being in God. Face it, Seir and others are still fighting against Israel today, but there it still exists. Yet, does it exist as fully as God has decreed it would? Or will that existence solidify upon God being fully known and glorified in Israel? Yet try as you might to fight against God’s will, it’s a losing battle. God is this perpetual God and His will is perpetual and it will be as He declares. It really doesn’t matter how perpetual your hatred is. God’s glorious, loving, and righteous perpetualness is immensely more powerful and more real.

 
I could go on and on. Through Isaac, God established a perpetual covenant with his seed and those after. Get it, these perpetual covenants so far haven’t required action on man’s part. This is God’s doing, because He can and because His is faithful. In Exodus when God is telling Moses what to say to the children of Israel, He answers, “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me unto you: this is My name for ever [olam], and this is my memorial unto all generations.” Are we just talking about God having the same name forever? Or are we talking that He is always the same God whose every decree and every word is true and worthy of respect and is and was and will be exactly as He decrees?

 
As we progress through Exodus, we see God establishing the priests and giving them their office as a perpetual statute. It’s not just that God appoints who shall be priest. It’s that the priest must be so in Him as well. Their honouring His statutes isn’t legalism, it’s part of understanding the perpetual life-giving nature of God and His presence and power over our lives. Or what of the perpetual incense that Aaron was to burn? Is Aaron able to do something perpetually outside of God and the generations of priests that God would equip? Is the incense the point or is it the understanding and living in the perpetuallness of God?

 

Keeping and observing the sabbath throughout their generation was a perpetual covenant. Not eating fat or blood was another perpetual statute. Why? Because God was showing us something about Himself in all these things to help us grasp His perpetualness so that we could live in Him from day to day and not just some day in some far away future in some far away place. Maybe you disagree and that’s o.k. But I can’t help hear it again in Jeremiah 5:22 as God says, “‘Don’t you fear me?’ says the Lord: ‘won’t you tremble at My presence, who has placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it can’t pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet they can’t prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?’” It’s not just that God set these boundaries in motion for the waves. It’s perpetual. He’s always there controlling it. He’s never left. He’s not just in Heaven. He’s here, still, just as present and just as strong. All these things that mattered to Him still matter today. He’s never changed. We just missed out on what it means to fear Him. We forgot who and what He is. We forgot what it was to tremble at His presence because we live as though He’s not here.

 
It was Esau’s problem way back when. He didn’t get the perpetualness of God with Him and around Him. He forsook that birthright, that place in God and then despised his brother for treasuring it. God asks another good question in Jeremiah 8:5, “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slid back by a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.” And isn’t that Seir’s problem and our problem too often too? Instead of holding on to that which is truly perpetual, to God’s truth in Him and to His presence, we hold on to lies and deceit and hold on so tightly our lives our bound up in them. It could be hatred, or self-gratification, or pride, or whatever, but we ditch perpetual reality in God for perpetual falsehood because we like it better and figure the outcome is more to our immediate liking.

 

There are things that are perpetual in God that lead to blessing in Him and knowing Him and safety in Him and a future and a hope in Him. And there are perpetual things outside of Him that lead to perpetual sleep, perpetual desolation, and perpetual shame. This word olam or “perpetual” and it’s other forms is used at least 438 times in Scripture. Maybe it’s a truth God would like us to understand and live in.

 
Here’s a tidbit of Judaism. “Judaism advances the daring idea that man and God are partners in the work of creation. Faith is a call to human responsibility.” (Jonathan Sacks) It’s not that we can do it on our own. We must first partner with God in order for Him to partner with us. God created us for this purpose. Look back into the garden. God’s purpose, His perpetualness, was already in existence and already acting. Then He brought us into it, in Him and invited us to partner with Him in this work of spreading His perpetualness.

 

The problem with Seir is that they were not involved in any kind of intimate relationship with God. Life is all about embracing Him and all He does and thinks. Imagine having this kind of partnership with the One who created you! But Seir wanted none of it. Seir acted against it. We’re supposed to be intimately involved with Him managing His creation and being busy with restoration. We’re to be perpetually involved in what the Perpetual One is involved in. Eternal life doesn’t start in Heaven. It starts when we enter into the Perpetual One. Eternal Life has always been in Him. Eternal life is exhibited everyday and into forever.

 

Paul understood. That’s why he urged us, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1) It’s not just our spiritual service, it’s our perpetual service, and our perpetual position of being present in Him. This is life from now until eternity. This ought to change my every perspective.

 

Therefore, I’m still blessed in Him if people hate me and treat me poorly. Therefore I can love my enemies and do good to those who hate me. Why? Because I live in the One who perpetually loves and forgives. I live in the One who perpetually takes care of the hated and the forgotten. I live in the One who perpetually judges rightly and whose word and ways and decrees are true. I don’t just know about Him. I am intimately connected with Him through Jesus Christ. And because of this, I can enjoy Him now and look forward to an anticipation of something more to come in Him.

 

“In the Mishnah, one rabbi says, ‘This world is like a lobby before the Olam Ha-Ba. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.’ Similarly, the Talmud says, ‘This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and the Olam Ha-Ba is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat.’” (Jewfaq.org) I can choose to live life in and according to the perpetual nature of God, or I can choose to live according to my own nature, whether that be through hate, or whatever. One will leave me walking into God’s future for me with Him, prepared in Him. The other will leave me living outside of the presence of God, unprepared for a future with Him, devoid of His presence. What will my perpetual choice be? It doesn’t only matter for later. It matters each and every day of my life. What do I really want my perpetual story to look like? Maybe today is a good day to decide, before God must choose for me.

Crocodile Tears

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Photo credit to doc_ | sxc.hu

 

“Ezekiel, son of man, condemn the king of Egypt and tell him I am saying, ‘You act like a lion roaming the earth; but you are nothing more than a crocodile in a river, churning up muddy water with your feet.’” (Ezekiel 32:2)

 
Crocodiles and uncircumcision, those are the words for today from Ezekiel chapter 32. What in the world do crocodiles and uncircumcision have to do with my spiritual walk today? They can have a lot to do with it. I’m not quite sure why the King James Version chooses to interpret the Hebrew word tanniyn here as whales, but I think that since it was interpreted as crocodiles back in chapter 29, it’s safe to assume that crocodile fits best here too. I mean, after all, crocodiles were a big part of life in Egypt. As a matter of fact, to Egypt, they were part of the divine. Let’s face it, they were worshipped as gods. It’s how Pharaoh saw himself. Of course, the crocodile wasn’t the only god. There were other gods, but this was the god that Pharaoh admired for it’s strength. This is how Pharaoh saw himself. This was the god Pharaoh modeled his heart after.

 
But the truth is that crocodiles aren’t gods. Cows aren’t gods. Cats and frogs and flies and fleas aren’t gods. And Pharaohs aren’t gods. Just because we choose to worship something, it doesn’t make it god. The truth is that only God is god no matter how we feel. And God alone has the power, the ability, the strength and might to prove Himself.
God will prove Himself, always and forever, but He also gives people time to see His proofs before they fall before them. I think it’s something how God takes that major god image, the crocodile, or Pharaoh, and how He uses the imagery here. I mean, here He is, going to catch this terrifying beast in a net. How authentic is that? I mean, is this really getting home to Pharaoh?

 
The Expositor’s Bible puts Pharaoh Hophra there at Ezekiel’s warning. And I was wondering how much this imagery of catching a crocodile in a net would be familiar then. So I did a little research on crocodiles and Egypt. I found that some Egyptians reverenced crocodiles and some Egyptians hated crocodiles. There is a writing, translated and shared by Richard B. Parkinson, where Pharaoh Amenemhat “boasts of having tamed a lion and taken a crocodile prisoner.” (Paul Sheridan) Isn’t that interesting that God compared the Pharaoh to one who was comparing himself to a lion among nations and a crocodile? Seems our Pharaoh wasn’t the only one who viewed himself this way.

 
But did they use nets. First I read of a story shared where a hook was baited with a live pig and the screaming of the pig would lure the crocodile who could then be captured or killed. But then, the Library of History by Diodorus, tells us that heavy nets or iron spears were used from boats. So it seems to me that God is turning back familiar imagery, familiar practices back upon Pharaoh. I guess God has always employed parables, using everyday life to help us understand heavenly truths, God’s view.

 

 

Now, this is pretty hard reading because there will be violence upon Egypt all for the purpose of Egypt and all men knowing that God is God and there is no other. And maybe you think, how can that be a God of love, to violently destroy people like that? But then I was reading how over and over again God says He is going to cast these people down to death where the “uncircumcised” before them lay, the land of the dead. He will cast them down with all those who thought themselves mighty but were slain in their own strength, every nation that so chose and so lived, no matter how strong. Every one uncircumcised and now laying with the other circumcised with those who die and die. But the truth is, it didn’t have to be so. Because there is a place that men can go with those who die and yet live. Whose path would I choose to follow? To die with those who die or to die with those who live?

 

 

Who in the world are the uncircumcised? What does that mean? Does that mean that everyone but Jews were forsaken by God? Or does it mean that all those who forsake God are the uncircumcised? I tend to lean toward that second choice. I mean, after all, not all the Jews entered into His rest. Why? Though circumcised physically, did they forsake God’s ways spiritually as they walked through life? Yes. That place of eternal death will be lined with Pagans and Jews alike who forsake God. Nationality doesn’t matter. There are those who desire to trust in their own strength and their own greatness and their own way. It could be me just as well as Pharaoh. It could be Paul of Tarsus before he understood God’s real thinking. But there really is only one Lion of lions and His name is the Lion of Judah. And there really is only one Crocodile of crocodiles. Well, He’s bigger than that because He’s over all the crocodiles and catches them with ease and controls all the frogs and flies and kings and mighty men everywhere of all time.

 

 

To think myself a lion of lions or a crocodile of crocodiles is to live like the uncircumcised. It’s to live Godlessly. Oh, I can have all the gods I want. But I won’t have God. I can think I am as powerful as I want and that I can decide my own life and my own ways, but in the long run, I don’t and I can’t because I’m not God. I can’t extend my life or shorten it without His permission. Have you seen people go to every extent to lengthen their lives just to have it end anyways? Or have you seen someone who has attempted suicide and yet could not die? I have.

 

 

That’s the sad thing here. All along God wanted the Egyptians to know Him. He had shown Himself before them. But they, like others before them, and others after them, wanted their power to be their own. And the truth of that reality is that it’s not our own. All power comes from God. He raises kingdoms for His purposes and He lays kingdoms down for His purposes. But His ultimate purpose always has been for men and women, boys and girls of all kingdoms to lay themselves at His feet under His power for His protection and love and guidance.

 

 

Here’s the truth. There have always been God scoffers who would rather design their own gods for their own ways. Peter warned of them but they have always been there and still are today. The question is, am I a God scoffer? Am I, like Pharaoh following my own sinful desires instead of God Himself? Am I, like Pharaoh, deliberately overlooking “this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not over look this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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 3:4-9)

 

Have I come to repent of denying God His goodness in my life and those around me? Have I come to repent of deliberately overlooking Him and deliberately refusing to acknowledge Him in my life? If not, now is my warning, before I die and join the Godless down below. I can trust in anything I want, but I must know that my gods can’t follow me and they won’t be there for me. But if I trust God, He already is there for me, He already has me, and He has got a place for me with Him that I can start abiding in now. When I die, I want to die and join God in the world of the living, and since He is the living God, that place is found in Him. No crocodile tears for me. I’m moving from one life into greater life in Him!

On Mixing and Mingling

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“…and all the mingled people…” (Ezekiel 30:5)

 
Well, I’m not focussing on a whole verse today but this phrase, “and all the mingled people.” It just jumps out at me. What’s the context? Egypt is about to be humbled by God in judgment but it’s not just effecting Egypt. It’s going to effect Ethiopia, Libya, Lydia, all the mingled people, and Chub, and all the others who are in league with Egypt. And I wonder if the mingled people are just one specific group of people or if all these people aren’t mingled in a sense?

 
Ereb is the Hebrew word for mingled people here. It’s used for the web or transverse threads of cloth, or a mixture, or a mongrel race. I think Arabia is used as an example. That makes sense since during the Exodus, there was a “mixed multitude” that joined the Jews. Again, we hear in Nehemiah how the people of Israel read the book of Moses after so long neglect, and found that the Ammonite and Moabite were banned from the congregation of God for ever. When they heard the law, they separated the “mixed multitude” from themselves. Jeremiah talks of the “mingled people” having to drink from the cup of the Lord’s fury.

 
I wonder if this idea of being a mingler really matters? I’m thinking that if God mentions it, it does matter, and that it matters significantly. But I also think that this idea of mingled things is something that we brush off. If I jump back to Leviticus and Deuteronomy, I see that You introduced this concept to Your people. You thought it was significant enough to instruct them on. You introduced kilayim and shaatnez. And though they seem inconsequential to us, they aren’t for You.

 
First You say, “You shall not sow your vineyard with divers seeds [kilayim]: lest the fruit of your seed which you have sown, and the fruit of your vineyard, be defiled.” (Deuteronomy 22:9) Kilayim is a forbidden mixture. What makes it forbidden? God says so. Do the two seeds explode when planted together? No. Will poison gas be given off? No. Will I not understand something of God if I don’t take His words at face value? Yes. Does listening, and trusting, and obeying have to do with honoring the absolute dignity and divinity of God? Yes. Does it matter if I trust You unconditionally in the “little seeming” things I don’t understand? Yes. Because if I can’t understand in one little thing I don’t get , how will I understand in all the other things I don’t agree with or can’t see or don’t feel like? And when did I become the one who knew better? When did my honor and dignity become more valuable than Yours?  When did I become omniscient?

 
“There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:30) God, You set up for us prohibitions. And I’m pretty sure that they are there for our good and for our understanding. Proverbs 21:30 tells me and all of us that You alone know best. Nothing tops Your wisdom, or understanding, or counsel. You are such a good teacher that You get us to utilize all our senses for greater understanding. You give us this visual picture or representation, like in parables or real life. You give us things that touch our real lives. You warn us against disregarding but You allow us the freedom to experience the consequences. But the truth is, it’s not always about understanding why. Why can’t I? It really doesn’t matter. Because the real question that You are asking is, “When I tell you something, who am I to you? Because, Child, the way you treat my words shows me who I am in your heart.”

 
Some of these commands of our God truly defy “full comprehension.” And maybe so because it’s not a matter of our comprehending You, but a matter of our knowing You and honoring You for who You are. Let’s face it, some mixtures are just dangerous. I found that out one time when I mixed some water in to some dry chlorine. It sounded like gunshots and even out in the open air, the toxic fumes invaded my lungs to the point I had trouble breathing. What about nitro and glycerin? Or drinking and driving? Oh I get those. But what about if God says don’t mix milk and meat, or wool and linen? Does that not matter because it doesn’t make sense to me? What if it doesn’t have to make sense to me? What if God just wants to know if I’ll honor Him no matter the littleness or bigness of the request? Isn’t it interesting that it might be so much easier to leave for a foreign country than it would be to not eat milk and meat mixed together?
The image of a donkey and ox working together and how that isn’t best for both is easy to see. So we can agree with that one.

 

Maybe that’s why You introduced that one first, to show that this stuff isn’t really hard to honor. But it was never meant just for a physical understanding. Your way has spiritual implications too. That’s why Paul related this in a more personal way for us humans in 2 Corinthians 6. “Don’t be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believes with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them,’ says the Lord, ‘and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

 
You mean that when I understand how to separate between my way and Your way and choose Your way, then I understand about choosing a relationship with You? Then I start experiencing Your presence as my heavenly Father? Then I get to experience You acting in my life, for my benefit? Weren’t You always? Oh, but I wouldn’t acknowledge it and you don’t experience what you won’t accept and acknowledge even when it’s right there for you.

 
So I can be like a donkey and an ox. I can choose disunity and dishonor by choosing my own way. You never really sit on the fence. That’s a farce. I’m either a donkey or an ox. Or an ox or a donkey. Depending on the moment. What are You asking me to be? That’s what I ought to be. And I ought to join in with others that are obeying the same goal You’ve given so as not to be distracted or hindered or distract or hinder others. Maybe if Cain was a little more pliable to Your way, his donkeyness wouldn’t have mattered more than Able’s oxenness, or maybe it was that his oxenness wouldn’t have mattered more than Able’s donkeyness. Maybe we can overate our own individuality, especially when it trumps God’s honor and uniqueness and rightness and sovereignty.  I mean, let me face reality here. Like I think my character is something to boast on? Neither Cain nor Able could boast on their own characters. We’re all flawed. We’re all a mix of good and bad. Therefore, we have to be aware. Therefore, we have to let God take care of our dangerous mixes because He alone is not flawed. He isn’t mixed. He alone can instruct on purity. He alone can unmix us.

 
But I digressed from those diverse seeds and the fruit that comes from them. What if God was saying, “Look, I’m going to use these examples in nature because I want You to first, and foremost understand the spiritual dimension between us. Don’t focus on just the physical. Get what I’m trying to show you.” God is pure. He is unmixed, undefiled. He is purely God. He purifies us and produces pure fruit in us. Somehow we are His fruits and we produce more fruit. But it only comes from His seed, not mixed seeds. It’s not some of me and some of Him. It’s all of Him. And of course, that’s something we’re all learning, to let God plant and produce all of His seed in us and to realize that ours just spoils the vineyard.

 
Jesus spoke on this. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:1-10)

 
I guess the truth is that I can’t really love God if I don’t honor Him. God is God, that’s all there is to it. I can treat You like You are God, or I can decide when I want to treat You like God, but that doesn’t change the fact that You are still God and You are still right no matter what I think or feel. It just means that I’ve decided to dishonor You and to demonstrate that I don’t love You as much as I say I do. If “the honor of God overrides all human concerns, even that of human dignity,” (Hershey H. Friedman) then when did my dignity come to outweigh God’s honor? Why would I think that God didn’t know what He was talking about? Why would I think that I could understand everything when God declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) And why aren’t our thoughts equal and of equal value? “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

 
Maybe it would do well for me to dwell on the predicament that Egypt and the nations and these mixed people had gotten themselves in. Maybe it would do well for me to be careful of mixing in my life those things that God tells me not to. And maybe it would be better if I learned to take Your word as Your word and not decide what I agreed with or didn’t agree with. Maybe it would be best if I acknowledge that You know far better than me every time and that You have my best interests in mind and understand them way better than me. Maybe I should just learn to trust and obey and stop trying to interject myself so much. Maybe it would be better If I let You interject Yourself into me instead, if I allowed myself to be wholly filled with You.   Then maybe I’d learn what it was to be a beacon of purity and light on the face of this darkened planet. Maybe then, I could rescue someone else from judgment. That would be much better than gaining honor for myself.

You Can’t Fake God Culture

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

 

“And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’” Ezekiel 20:7

So here come the elders to “inquire of the Lord” by coming before Ezekiel. They sit down with him to “seek” God. It’s this Hebrew word darash. It means “to search,” “to seek,” “to examine,” and “to investigate.” God says, in Jeremiah 29:13-14, “And you shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found of you…” And that is great news. But something is not right here.

What’s not right? The elders have come to inquire, but God “will not be inquired of” by them. Didn’t You say that if people would seek You, they would find You? But how can they find You if You don’t let them seek You? Or was something missing here? Does everyone who looks, find? Or is there something about our looking that determines the fruitfulness of our finding?

You actually established a condition in Jeremiah. Let me flip flop it. When you shall search for Me with all your heart, then you shall seek Me, and find Me, and I will be found of you…Were these elders searching for You with all their heart? Remember, heart or lebab, isn’t just that mushy-feely thing that pumps blood and oozes out emotions. In Hebrew thinking it’s that part of us that feels, thinks, and wills. Therefore it’s the determiner of our actions and the truth of our actions. God knows our hearts, those desperately wicked things that we think are so clean and tidy, that we sit before Ezekiel like we’re all that, seeking God’s interests, when our lives have been anything but about God. And the truth is that God won’t let us fake our seeking Him.

God knows what is in our hearts and on our minds and the way our will is leaning, whether towards His will or not. He sees the secret rebellion that others may miss. He knows what our eyes are focused on, where our heart’s allegiance lies, how truly dirty we’ve made ourselves, and what we really worship. That’s why He alone can say, “Cast away every one of you the abominations of your eyes, and stop defiling yourselves with all these idols around you. I am the Lord your God. It’s Me. Know Me. Acknowledge Me. Stop faking it.”

See, the eye is from the Hebrew word ayin. It’s thought of as a fountain, a fountain that can flow with life or death. We can choose to have or be an evil eye or a good eye. I can be stingy or giving. I can be evil or good. I can choose my own way or God’s. That’s a dangerous thing if we choose wrongly. You would think the choice would be easy. I mean, who wouldn’t choose generosity, or goodness, or God, right? Well, obviously not the elders and obviously not me all the time either.

Do I think I don’t need this warning? Do I not have to be careful of the abominations of my own eyes? What things that are shiqquts- disgusting and filthy and idolatrous to You Lord, am I focusing my attention on? Oh, I’m not looking at bad stuff. I don’t do pornographic stuff. Well that’s good. But what I see about God and what I see God doing, do I really see and understand and obey? Because that’s a part of Hebrew seeing. A good eye is one that sees and acts appropriately on what they see. It’s the spiritual light of God flowing through our lives. Is it? Or is darkness flowing from me instead? Am I relying on my own strength or am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to allow me to see and understand and know and act upon what I behold of the radiance of Your presence? Or do I just sit before You with my inquiries designed after my own desires and plans? There’s a big difference.

It’s so easy to place the blame on God. But these elders had eyes to see. Their hearts led them to choose their paths. It was a matter of will, only it wasn’t truly Your will they were seeking. Their hearts weren’t panting after You like the deer pants for water. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t surrendered to You in the first place. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t devoted to the ways of the Beneficial One. They didn’t want to pay the price to be wholly Yours. They had things they didn’t want to let go of. They chose to hold them closer than You.

It’s a lack of humility.  It’s thinking that I can tell You, God, my Creator, what to do. It’s loosing touch with reality.  It’s coming to You like it’s our little pow-wow time and I’m Your equal. Well, I’m not. In all reality, I need You, I desperately need You. I need You because it’s so easy for my good eye to be taken over by my evil eye and for me to become a slave to sin instead of to You and get caught up in the evil impulse without even realizing it. Rashi said, “The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body: they lead a person to transgress; the eyes see, the heart covets, and the body transgresses.” Yes, even I need to be wary of the abominations, the detestable things of my own eyes.

So, now that I see that, do I really understand Your desire? Just a little earlier in Ezekiel 20 You let them know how they had fallen. You remind them and us of Leviticus 18:26, “But you shall keep My statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” This is not some new idea here. You warned against this antithesis to Your worship, this disgustingness that we could fill our lives with, this rebellion against You and our created purpose. What didn’t the Israelites understand? What didn’t they see? What don’t I see? Do I not understand what an abomination is? Do I not understand what idolatry is? What about them? What excuse do any of us have to not see and know and understand?

This is bad stuff. I better get it or it will be the ruin and death of me and those around me. Let’s look more at God’s words to Ezekiel. “But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they didn’t walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned…because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols…I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey My rules, and keep My Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” Later God says the problem was “their eyes were after their fathers idols.” See, their eyes weren’t really on God. Where are mine really? Let’s stop and think about whether they really had a right after all this, to come and sit before God and ask Him what they wanted? Really? Because in verse 31, this is how they were busy living their lives: “For when you offer your gifts, when you make your sons to pass through the fire, you pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.” Come on, can I really run around and offer my children as burnt sacrifices before Molech and then come sit down before You? Who am I kidding? Where is my heart? It’s where my actions and thoughts are.

Now, don’t give me that lousy excuse that God’s rules and regulations are too hard and too many. Because the word for rules here is mishpat. And it’s not about something that governs our conduct. It’s not some enforceable measure over our behavior. It’s not something I do because some authority, God in this instance, makes me do it or else. God’s rules are about “exemplars.” This is the way that people live who are a part of God, a part of His culture. It’s why I can expect certain things of my Filipino friends, because their culture is so deep and important to them. Do you think someone has to make them be or act Filipino? Are you kidding me? They are so proud to be Filipino because of the beauty of their culture. Who has to force them to be Filipino, to be who they are? Are you really going to tell me, that if I realize who I am in Christ, God will have to force me to act like His? You have to be kidding!

Mishpat or rules here aren’t about morality. It’s about the character of God and life of God in Christ in us. Remember, God said, “As I live…” He is alive and His character and all that He is and does lives on and He designed it to live on in and through us, His created masterpieces. If I am in the culture of God, I act like God. If am in the culture of Christ, I act like Christ because I am His. His values become my values. What He embraces, I embrace. His behavior becomes my behavior. My life demonstrates my values. My God does not have to regulate my behavior if I value Him.

But abominations are those things that are offensive to the culture. I mean, if you are outside the culture, it won’t look offensive to you, but if you’re inside the culture it will. See, God defines our culture in Him. It’s His culture first. And He determines what is an abomination within His culture and community. If we can’t see that, our own choices will punish us and we’ll condemn ourselves.

Just look around us in the culture of this world. It’s so different than God’s culture. God asks again, through Jeremiah, “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say ‘We are delivered!’- only to go on doing all these abominations?” Maybe we need to be careful of what we’re trusting in. Maybe there are more of us trusting in words instead of trusting in God. Maybe there are more of us who need to come to God on Your terms instead of on ours or the worlds and maybe then, once we start searching for the truth in You with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, and will, we’ll finally really find You and be found by You. Maybe it’s time to want Your culture no matter the cost so that we can really find You. Because there is no deliverance and no salvation in anyone else or anywhere else. Outside of Your culture, outside of You it’s all empty words with no meat. Salvation is a “dynamic relation” (Skip Moen) and if I haven’t got that dynamic relation that’s lived out in You overflowing culture through me, I haven’t got anything at all.

It All Boils Down to This

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Photo credit to simplyrecipes.com

 

“For thus says the Lord God, ‘I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant.’” (Ezekiel 16:59,60)

 
Can something be wonderfully amazing and astonishingly sad at the same time? This is. I mean, here we have You God, that chose this nation out of nowhere and made something special out of her. Who was Israel? Really, she was a person taken out of Canaan. Historically, Abram was from Ur. There was no Israel yet. There were just people going their own way, worshiping everyone but the real God who created them. But You chose to make Yourself known to Abram and make a people who was not into a people who was.

 
This begins as such a beautiful story. This baby born and left there to die in the wilderness but You, God, saw and had pity and compassion. Where others abhorred the baby, You loved her. You not only said, “Live!” but You took her in and gave her life. Because of You she flourished and grew tall and beautiful. You entered into covenant with her and made her Yours. You cleansed her and anointed her. You clothed her in fine clothes. You adorned her with fine jewelry and a crown on her head. But instead of trusting in the one who rescued her, she trusted in her self. And her life was spent on her self and pleasing others. She became worse than a prostitute. The covenant meant nothing to her. It was so bad that she even offered her children as sacrifices.

 
Now, how is that for an amazing story turning sour and becoming astoundingly sad? How do any of us get from nothing to something like that and then forget who brought us there? How is it so easy to be a covenant breaker? How is it so easy to forget our own helplessness and lack of sufficiency? How is it so easy to lose sight of the gift of love and compassion that God has shown us? Do we not even think?

 
Here’s the danger, that I read this story and think how terrible that was of Israel. How could Israel be so blind? And the danger is to think that I’m any better. It’s a dangerous thing if I don’t place myself in her place and make sure that I’m not thinking too highly of myself, that I’m not trying to manipulate things to my way, that I haven’t forgotten where love first came from.

 
I run the same possibility of deadly thinking as Israel. I can get off Your track and onto my own and pervert everything so easily the minute I stop remembering everything You have done in and for me. Because I was just as naked and bare and wallowing in my own blood. And since my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, I can run the same danger of building vaulted chambers for myself and making lofty places for myself.

 
I don’t even have to run out and be unfaithful with another man or woman to do that. There is a war on and it’s a spiritual war inside of me. And this spiritual war will exhibit itself physically in my life. Yeah, I walk in this body of flesh, but the struggle is deeper. The struggle is divine, just like it was for Israel. And there are strongholds that must be overcome. Ignoring them or thinking they aren’t there isn’t the answer.

 
And what in the world is a stronghold? It’s from ochuroma in Greek and describes a strong military installation, a bastion, or a fortified place. And the truth is that God alone ought to be my stronghold. But the problem with me as a human is that I tend to impose my confidence in my self or other things. The truth is that I have conquering abilities in God that don’t exist in me without You. I need to pull down that falsely imposed confidence so brutally that I cast down even the slightest imaginings, or thought, or knowledge that lifts itself up contrary to God. I need to treat those thoughts and ideas as though they are my enemy, for they truly are, and destroy them with fierce retaliation. Israel didn’t do that. She let her thoughts captivate her until they took her captive. I don’t want to be like that.

 
C.H. Surgeon said, “Unless the Spirit of God be upon us, we have no might from within and no means from without to rely upon. Wait upon the Lord, beloved, and seek strength from Him alone. There cannot come out of you what has not been put into you. You must receive and then give out…Oh! May God send us poverty; may God send us lack of means, and take away our power of speech if it must be, and help us only to stammer if we may only thus get the blessing. Oh! I rave to be useful to souls, and all the rest may go where it will.” Is God speaking to my heart like that? Do I realize my absolute and total dependence on You, Lord?

 
And what about the church, the body of Christ as a whole? What about my family of God? Spurgeon also speaks to us as a body of believers. “O churches! Take heed lest ye trust in yourselves; take heed lest ye say, ‘We are a respectable body,’ ‘We are a mighty number,’ We are a potent people;’ take heed lest ye begin to glory in your own strength; for when that is done, ‘Ichabod’ (1 Samuel 4:21) shall be written on your walls and your glory shall depart from you. Remember, that He who was with us when we were but few, must be with us now we are many, or else we must fail; and He who strengthened us when we were but as ‘little in Israel,’ must be with us, now that we are like ‘the thousands of Manasseh,’ or else it is all over with us and our day is past.”

 
Am I my own? Did I create myself? Will I forget so easily? Can I so easily look such love and devotion in the face and turn blankly away? How can it be that I can take so frivolously for granted the commitment of the One who owed me nothing and yet so compassionately covenanted with me and raised me up and gave me all that I have? What am I thinking? Or maybe, how am I thinking?

 
Thinking is only a good thing if I take those thoughts captive to the truth. So, what is truth, right? Didn’t Pilot ask that question? The way of truth is God’s way, after all, He established it and if flows forth from His being. Jesus reiterated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) But I can choose the way of truth or choose my own way, like Israel was. Peter shared, “And many shall follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Peter 2:2) That’s what it boils down to. Will I follow Your way and make You my stronghold, or will I follow my own thoughts, feelings, and sensuality and make them my stronghold?” Maybe I should learn from Israel. It’s not too late.

Throwing Rebellion Out the Door

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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