Writing on the Wall

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Photo credit to Keith Patschka.

 

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, ‘Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.’” (Daniel 5;17)

 
Today I’m thinking about seeing the writing on the wall. The problem is that most of us can see the writing on the wall but we have no idea what it means. There it is, right in front of us plain as day, but we are clueless to it’s impact for us. Sometimes we’re just as clueless as Belshazzar.

 
Belshazzar was king of Babylon. His reign followed that of Nebuchadnezzar. He’s also frequently referred to here as the son of Nebuchadnezzar. That’s a constant implication that he should have been more alert and have responded differently in his ruling than he chose to, considering the things that Nebuchadnezzar had learned about God before him. But let’s look back at the immediate story.

 
Let’s set the stage. It’s the beginning of the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. He calls a great feast with hordes of important people and lots of wine drinking. That can be a normal thing for kings. But then he decided that wasn’t enough. His pride got the better of him and he called for the sacred golden and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Those he would use to drink his wine and thank the the gods of his choosing. It was a way to mock God and say that He was no god. So they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, and of iron, of wood, and of stone —all those idols made by men’s hands and imaginations, and mocked the God of creation who created their very hands and the intimate workings of their bodies that were able to sustain them and enable them to even appreciate the taste of the wine they were mocking Him with.

 
I’m wondering if Belshazzar was aware of what Daniel knew, that the 70 year reign of Babylon was coming to a close?  I mean, after all, he was surrounded with all these counselors who would be aware of prophecies about the kingdom. Daniel himself was the chief of the chief of counselors. But Belshazzar was a human being like us, and sometimes we choose to ignore the truth and choose, instead, what we want to believe. But you can only ignore the truth for so long. See, lies are like idols. They are not real and have no weight when push comes to shove. But truth, it always comes through in it’s time. Truth will always make itself known. You can’t hold it back. Especially when it’s God’s truth.

 
And that’s what happens. God shows up. It’s pretty terrifying. These fingers of a human hand appeared. It was just the fingers; not the rest of the body. And it was big enough for everyone to see. Now that’s a party stopper! And these fingers write on the plaster of the wall of the palace. The king is watching and his color changes, and he’s thinking, “Holy mackerel, what in the world?!” He was terrified, his legs forgot how to hold him up, and his knees clattered together. He called for the Chaldeans, the wise men to come in and interpret the writing but not a single one could. He even promised to cloth the one in scarlet and with a gold chain and make him third ruler. It didn’t matter. Everyone could see the writing on the wall but not one knew what it meant.

 
Belshazzar’s face was probably white as snow. His leaders were just as perplexed. It seems that the queen was the only one with a little understanding as to how to find the answer. I wonder if that was because her heart might have contemplated differently about the gods and things she had seen and learned about Daniel’s God? I don’t know, but of all the advisors she was the only one with the advice that would lead to the answer. “There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers…”(Daniel 5:11) “ He is alive still and can show you the answer.”Why? Why can Daniel do this?

 
The queen actually lists 6 qualities or evidences of Daniel’s ability. Let’s look at them. The first was an excellent spirit. That didn’t just mean he had a great personality. That word for spirit is the same word, ruach, used for when God breathed His spirit into the first man Adam. This excellent spirit is the spirit of God Himself inside of Daniel that is over and above all spirits. This is the Only Spirit who is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20) The Holy Spirit of God Himself imparted wisdom and knowledge from above and of below to Daniel because that’s where Daniel sought his wisdom.

 
This Spirit of God imparted to Daniel that second quality of being able to rightly divine knowledge, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, and reason. I think it corresponds to how we relate our thoughts to the things around us like science and the things we’re conscious of. Maybe this is the practical and scientific application of what we know. And this most intelligent man above all others in the kingdom, retained his intelligence while retaining and promoting his personal belief in God in the midst of all he knew and in the midst of a foreign culture who didn’t know or want to acknowledge his God. Yet that knowledge and application of the inter-relatedness and power of his God in all of men’s affairs, was what led him to the top and brought him before the king of a whole nation as the only one with the answer.

 
When we as speakers of English see the words wisdom and knowledge and understanding, we think on the same terms. But these are different words in Hebrew and Chaldean and retain separate identities of meaning. Daniel had understanding, soklthanu, intelligence and understanding. How is that different? It’s from sekal which means to consider. So maybe truly understanding the writing on the wall around us only comes when we truly consider things God’s way. This is where we sit down and take the time to look at something closely, and set our minds or our eyes to it with attention. But I think this isn’t just looking at things and sitting down with them and thinking closely about them. That could bring us into a multitude of conclusions, each his own. But this is considering, sitting down with God, and thinking with Him, close by His side, and setting our thoughts to Yours, Lord. This is the kind of considering that led Daniel to be able to read the writing on the wall.

 
God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. That was evidenced by the time he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But Daniel could also figure out the solutions to hard riddles or enigmas that others could not solve. No matter how concealed by obscure language, Danielle had the ability to figure out the hidden meaning. Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” How do you find out something concealed by God? Do you seek it through false idols? Or do you go to the God who knows the answers? Daniel knew who to go to and God blessed him with the knowledge he sought from Him.

 
The last characteristic is that he could unravel riddles. The root of that is about freeing what has been captured. The King James Version says “dissolving of doubts.” Can you hear that? Some of our thinking and understanding and confusion over answers can cause us to be bound, to be knotted up. They can cause us to feel like Belshazzar. And we can be trapped and bound by those thoughts and feelings, feelings like guilt, pride, fear, insufficiency, worthlessness, superiority, anger, hurt, whatever. Or we can be set free by knowing the One who is the Truth, like Daniel knew Him. After all, Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19) This was the God of the Old Testament, the Isaiah 61 God, identifying Himself to the world in Jesus. This is the same God that Daniel worshiped and the same God who calls us to worship Him today.

 
So here is this woman, who seems to refer to Daniel more by his Hebrew name than his Chaldean name. And maybe that’s because she realized that Bel or Nebo weren’t gods who saved but Daniel’s God was. And you know, Daniel could care less about the scarlet robe or golden necklace or being third in the kingdom. Daniel just cared about God being made known. And he interpreted the writing. But before that, he reminded Belshazzar about the things he had forgotten or overlooked or chosen to ignore. Because Belshazzar should have remembered and acted upon those memories. Belshazzar should have remembered how all of Nebuchadnezzar’s power was given by the Most High God. He should have remembered what happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride and his spirit hardened to God, how he lived like a beast all those years until he remembered and knew that God rules the kingdom of man.

 
But Belshazzar was not like the queen. He had disregarded it all and lifted himself up against God. “Mene, mene, tekel, and upharsin.” Therefore, God had numbered his days and brought an end to his kingdom. He was weighed in the balance and found lacking. His kingdom would be divided and given to Medes and Persians just as had been foretold by Daniel according to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. And that very night, it came to pass. What did the purple robe, gold necklace, and third place in the kingdom mean to Daniel then? Nothing. It’s all emptiness if God isn’t in the heart of it. It was the end of Belshazzar and what a sad, empty end. But it was not the end for Daniel. The new ruler, Darius, noticed something about him and, get this, made him one of the three high officials. Belshazzar’s appointment didn’t matter. But God’s appointment does.

 
I want to be able to read the writing on the wall. I want my life to be totally guided by considering You and Your ways, Lord, all the days of my life. I want people to see something different in me that causes them to seek my two cents, my counsel on things. I don’t want it because they see me, but I want them to see something that leads them to You and to Your council. I want to be like a Daniel in this world today of so many gods. I want to live in Your wisdom, and knowledge, and blessing, and presence, and counsel. If kings won’t act like kings, I will. I’m not afraid to search Your ways and Your answers out, O Lord. So teach me to understand all that You are writing on the walls and floors and sky and people around me.

A Personal Revelation

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Photo credit to Madeline Tejano Mostrales.

 

“…that the living may know that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will, and sets up over it the basest of men.” Daniel 4:7

 
You would think that Nebuchadnezzar would have learned already. I mean, there was Daniel to interpret his dream that no one else in the kingdom could even tell, let alone interpret. What did Nebuchadnezzar gather from that? Well, he worshiped Daniel, fell prostrate before him. That’s definitely a humbling experience for him, but pretty much a “no-no” according to God. Yet he did come to the conclusion that Daniel’s God “is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets” (Daniel 2:47) That’s good to know and it’s good to put God at the top of the list, and know that God can do what the other gods can’t. But it’s also still saying that there are other gods even though God is the Top Dog. It seems as though Nebuchadnezzar still was giving himself lots of choices to run to, although Daniel’s God was the best of the best. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not arriving at the destination at all yet.

 
After that lesson, he raises up that larger than life image. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down and worship it, are thrown into the fiery furnace, and come out unscathed. Nebuchadnezzar announces how their God “sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in Him…and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.” Now that was a novel idea for this polytheistic kingdom. These guys worshiped one God and only one God, while the world around them worshiped many. But what did the king learn? Obviously not that God was the only true God. But he did learn that there was “no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

 
Now, I don’t want to fault King Nebuchadnezzar more than any of us. Sometimes we are just as thick-headed and dull as he was. Sometimes, I suppose, it’s much easier to hedge our bets, and hold onto what we’re used to. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with tradition and not rock our boat or anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s easier to let someone else be bold and make a stand and just be the one to commend them. Sometimes it’s just easier to accept it all than to count the cost and take a side. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay where we are because it’s comfortable and we are in control. I mean, who really wants to admit that I’m really not in control? Who is ready to hand that control over so easily to a God who is all powerful and may decide to do things differently? Might as well hold on to the control. Then I can decide, right?

 
So now we come to chapter 4. And Nebuchadnezzar starts off by saying he’s telling this story and that he wants to tell about the wonder and might of that high God in his own personal life. We find that God sends another dream to Nebuchadnezzar. This time again, none of the counselors can interpret the dream except for, guess who? Daniel came in, yeah, Daniel is his real name, because the king admits he changed his name to Belteshazzar after the name of his own god. Maybe he was starting to realize the irony of that act. Because here was Daniel’s God continually showing Himself.

 
Now Daniel hears the dream. And what was his reaction?  He was devastated. It really bothered him. For an hour he was handling within himself what he knew. And the king saw but told him not to worry, but to interpret it. So Daniel told him that as great as he was, and as great as his kingdom was, that God was saying he was going to be driven from men and live among the beasts, not by other men, but by these angels, these watchers of the dream. He would be like a beast of the field, eating grass like the oxen, wet with dew, for seven years, until he acknowledged that God rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to who he will. And at the end of the seven years, when the king learned this lesson, he would be returned to his kingdom’s rule.

 
Did Nebuchadnezzar stave this off? Daniel counseled him, “break off your sins by righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.” But 1 year later the king was walking and thinking of his kingdom and shared, “Isn’t this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” Boom! A voice from heaven, (yes, this is dramatic! but God is that way) “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken; ‘The kingdom is departed from you…” And the dream was fulfilled that same hour. Nebuchadnezzar was driven from men, ate grass like the oxen, his body was wet with dew, his hairs grew like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds claws.

 
Thank goodness he had good counselors that kept his kingdom during this time. Maybe Daniel was in charge and reminding them, “This is only for seven years and God will return him to his position. Let’s just keep everything going till then.” But at the end of those seven years, Nebuchadnezzar looked up instead of to himself, and became a thinking man again, and remembered God and blessed the most High, and “praised and honored Him that lives for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation.” So what else did he learn? “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and no one can stay His hand, or say unto Him, ‘What are You doing?’ He learned that God is the King of heaven, all His works are truth and His ways just, and that those who walk in pride, He is able to abase.

 
And this is where we are left with Nebuchadnezzar. But maybe the question is, where does that leave me?  Am I left like Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging that God is the best choice among lots of choices? Do I acknowledge the wonderful things He does but refuse to surrender to Him alone? Do I keep seeing His hand in my life and lives around me, but I refuse to worship Him? Am I excited and living for moments and miracles instead of living for the One True God?

 
Daniel knew God. God shared things with him. God shared things with him in a way that flowed out to others. Nebuchadnezzar knew about God. He watched from the other side of the fence as God interacted with Daniel. But I even wonder if at the end, when Nebuchadnezzar felt the touch of God, if he just looked up or if he became His like Daniel. Was God his Counselor? Or did he remain his own final counsel?

 
Back in Daniel 2 the king had told Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”  Jesus, in both Matthew and Luke declares, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” The beauty of revelation is that even in the Old Testament to this pagan king, God was doing everything to make Himself known, not for His sake, but for the sake of Nebuchadnezzar and all the people under his influence.

 
I think of Paul, who was a persecutor of believers, who was like Nebuchadnezzar only puffed up in religious pride. But then God humbled him also, this great man by the world’s standards and probably his own. And he makes this statement, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) And he’s not talking about knowing about Jesus. He really means KNOWING Jesus, and knowing Jesus so much that he would be found “in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own…Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3)

 
Yes, God uses even the basest of men and women, boys and girls. He puts us each where He wants us and for His purposes. I can’t explain it all and I never will be able. But I know that You, Lord, give every one of us the opportunity to know You if only we would humble ourselves before You. People may be angry, they may ask, “God, what have You done? What are You doing?” What’s the answer? “I’m trying to reveal myself to you, if only you would get it. Child, I’m doing everything just to reveal myself to you.”

Where Does My Help Come From?

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in Me is your help.” Hosea 13:9

 
Sometimes it’s so easy to forget where we came from. We live in a world of the “self-made” and the “self-proclaimed.” Somehow we think we got ourselves where ever we are. If we stop to think about it, how did we even get to be born and exist? Did we determine it? Did we choose the country we were born in, or our culture, or our parents, or our circumstances? But somehow we find ourselves thinking that I am in control of my own destiny. And in so doing, we are like Israel and destroy ourselves, because we miss out on the reality of life, that life is in God and that God alone is our help.

 
Funny thing is that even the name or word Israel means “he will rule as God.” Now that is not implying that Israel will make himself a god. That’s implying that Israel will rule just like God, that Israel will think like God, and love like God, and act like God, and have the mind and heart of God in what he does. It means that Israel was created to bear Your image before the world.

 
But here we have this image bearer who has destroyed himself and his image because he stopped trusting in the One who was every help he would ever need. What does God mean when He says “but in Me is your help”? How is He a help? Is a helper that important? So do we mainly do it on our own and then get a little “help” from God? Is that the idea here?

 
This word for help in Hebrew is ezer. Let’s look at how it is used in Scripture. Actually, the first two uses of this word for help are in Genesis 2:18 and 20. “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” And in verse 20, “And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” Why was it so important to God that Adam have a helper corresponding to him? Why was this so important from the start? Why did the very first “perfect” man in the beginning still need help? Why was it not good for him to be alone? Alone how? Help from who? What kind of help? Why would God design Eve from the stuff of man to give the help he needed and to keep him from being alone? And why would God use a masculine word to describe Eve?

 
But those aren’t my only questions. Where did help really originate. I mean, Eve’s not masculine so maybe the origin is not in Eve. Maybe it’s origin, the origin of help itself, is in and from God and His alone to impart. What if ezer, that kind of help, is a “divine characteristic”? What if it has to do with God and Your relationship with Israel? How does that work? What does that look like? How are You a “help”?

 
It’s interesting. Hosea shares God’s words to Israel, “Yet I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; and you know no God but Me, and beside Me there is no savior.” This takes us back to Exodus 18:4 where we see ezer again. Moses named one of his sons Eliezer as a declaration “for the God of my father was my help [ezer], and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” The ezer delivers from oppressors and rescues from danger. We have something similar in the next occurrence in Deuteronomy 33:7: “And this he said of Judah, “Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries.” What does this tell us of the ezer? “God assists, supports, and reinforces Israel against her enemies.” (Skip Moen)
The ezer doesn’t stop there. Psalm 33:20 declares, “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.” What kind of help is that? He is the deliverer and the one who showers with loving kindnesses (hesed). He blesses and watches over. Armies don’t save kings, strength doesn’t deliver warriors, war horses don’t save or rescue but this God, this Help does! This ezer can deliver even our souls from death and fill us with gladness.
We hear an honest cry in Psalm 70:5, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!” Are we afflicted and in need? God provides. Why do we look elsewhere?

 
Why trust? Because only God is our help and our shield. “O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” (Psalm 115:9) The kind of help we need, the kind of shielding cannot come from anywhere else. Only God is mighty enough to save the way we need to be saved.

 
Why rely on God’s help? “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God…” (Psalm 146:5) This is where all blessing, all true blessing and hope comes from. This is where it exists in reality. This is its origin and creator.

 
This, all of this, is help. This, all of this, is ezer. This, all of this, is God and God alone. If I am to be a help, then I can only be a true help if it is in the image of the One who IS HELP. Israel is not the creator of help and neither am I. The truth is that “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2) I didn’t make heaven and earth. I didn’t create life. Even when I gave birth to my daughters, the stuff that conception occurred from, someone else created it because there it was in my body without me putting it there. I mean, I didn’t even have a hand in forming myself. And it was the same story for my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother and on and on. How easily we exalt ourselves and give ourselves credit for things we have no power over.

 
Like Israel we sin more and more because we started giving credit to ourselves where it wasn’t due. We start seeing ourselves as our own helpers, even though it’s been You God all along. We design our own way, our own help, our own worthless idols. We think according to our own measly understanding. We become fickle and think of nothing past the here and now. We lose the eternal perspective. We create little minds grasping after air instead of great minds molded by a great God grasping after Your gloriousness and seeing and declaring greatness that is You.

 
Instead of bearing Your great image and helping like You help us, we hurt and destroy ourselves and others. We’re like morning clouds instead, that are here and then gone and leave no effect behind of any value. We’re like the worthless chaff blown away by the wind or smoke from a chimney that no one is benefitted by.

 
But the truth is that God is God. God delivered Israel from Egypt by His help. Israel was helpless on his own. Only God saves. Only God. Only God walked with Israel in the wilderness keeping the shoes and clothes whole over all those years and providing food and water. Only God fills. But the danger is in our filling and in our wanting to be filled when we want to be filled with anything other than You, God. When we hunger for other things, we help ourselves, and that’s trouble. Actually, that’s worse than trouble; that’s sin.

 
Israel isn’t the only one who has destroyed herself. You and I could be in the middle of destroying ourselves right now. Who is my help? Is it You alone, Lord? I want to be like the Canaanite woman who had the daughter who was troubled by a demon and she came to Jesus worshipping Him and said, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25) Or like the father whose son was tormented by demons who came to Jesus saying, “And often it has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us!” (Mark 9:22) I want to be like that father who then cried out to the Lord, “Lord, help my unbelief!” Yes, I want to come to where help originates and true help is found and given. I want to go to where Paul invited us with God. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) Paul knew and I know that our help, every help we need, is only found in You and that is where I want to be found- in You, all the days of my life, for in You is my help.

Slicing the Pie and the Valley of Decision

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“…for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14)

 
I suppose we as humans think that it’s a great gift to be able to make our own decisions. Deciding is a right and we cherish it. But I’m not so sure that deciding is a right. I think it’s more of a responsibility. Because with my decision, with every decision, comes consequences. So, if I really think about it, this whole “deciding” thing can have some nasty teeth to it.

 
Now, this verse which actually says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision,” isn’t such a wonderful day for the multitudes. It’s actually a day of judgment. That Hebrew word for decision is charuts. It carries meanings like properly incised. You know, that means to cut. It can mean a trench that’s dug. Or it can refer to gold as it’s mined. It can also refer to a threshing sledge with it’s sharp teeth. So, yes, figuratively it can mean determination, or decision, or diligence while at the same time represent pointed and sharp things. It doesn’t seem like our idea of decision, does it?

 
We’ve been thinking about the choices that Israel made, like the choice to focus on things other than You God and Your ways and Your desires. I guess they layed Your ways out against their ways and when they took the threshing sledge of decision, they threshed Your ways out of there and kept their own. And now we’re looking at the choices the invading nations made. And it seemed like they chose to cut things the same way. They chose to run the knife down so as to slice You right out of the picture.

 
You ask Tyre and Sidon and Philistia this question, “Are you paying Me back for something?” Well, that’s a dangerous slice of pie to cut. Because Your reply is, “I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily.” What goes around, comes around. Is that really a surprise?

 
Well, maybe you say, “Oh, what kind of God is that! That’s terrible!” Really? Listen to decisions the nations had made, to the cuts they had decided to inflict. They had “traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” Do you really think that anyone has the “right” to do that? Is that their decision to devalue another’s life like that, to cheapen it so, to be the blade that cuts it off and scars it for life? Like this is only an ancient problem? Like there aren’t too many people to number who are still taking boys and girls and selling them for their own gain and for the children’s harm and other’s perversions?

 
“For you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.” Do you really think that God, who owns the universe, was concerned over silver and gold? Don’t you think that God was concerned over His people and that they were His silver and gold being carried away from Him and His presence? Sure, the silver and gold were taken from the temple. But You are concerned with the people You created. You care. You even care about the invaders. But the invaders have to come to care about You. And they have to make that cut before the day of the valley of decision, because that’s the day You make the cut.

 
Here’s the thing, all the other nations could have stopped and heard what Joel was saying. I’m thinking that somehow, in that day, Joel said this in a way that they could hear. But instead of really listening and understanding, like Ninevah when Jonah came, they decided to keep slicing things the way they always had. And that’s a decision each of us can also make. I can decide to keep slicing things the way I always have. I can not listen to anything You say. I can mock everything I want. I can keep slicing the piece of pie to whatever portion I want. Yes, it’s my choice. But it’s not my right. It just may be that I’m slicing up my own way to destruction.

 
The truth is that I can make any decision I want. I have that freedom. But I don’t think that making the wrong decision is freedom at all. Because you and I aren’t the final judge. There is One who created us and He alone is the final judge of our “decisions.” Slice that as we may, but there will be no way of slicing our way around that day. And it won’t just be a few that don’t meet the slicing requirements; it will be multitudes upon multitudes!

 
Well, that’s harsh! If that’s so harsh, why don’t the multitudes pay attention now? Why don’t we change our ways and slice our lives and choices differently? Why don’t we choose to slice the way of the One who wants to give us eternal slices of life instead of destruction? Why did the the multitudes turn away from Jesus and say that His ways of thinking were too much for them? Why do people mock Scripture without ever really looking into it to see if it bears truth?

 
Joel 3 ends with these words, “for the LORD dwells in Zion.” Despite all the cutting of the invading nations, despite all the straying of the people of Zion, and no matter who was inhabiting Zion, You were there God. It wasn’t that You dwelt there. It wasn’t that You would dwell there. In the midst of it all You dwell there. And in the midst of all the cutting against You we do with all our decisions, You are still here calling us and waiting for us to turn to You. Jew or Gentile, You are “not slow to fulfill [Your] promise as some count slowness, but [You are] patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

That’s kind of funny, but not in a “ha-ha” sort of way. But that word for repentance is metanoia. And it’s partly about, reversing your decision, so I suppose it’s a reversal of your cutting plan. Instead of cutting things my way, I decide to cut them Yours, Lord. And that’s a privilege which leads to life.

 
In truth, when we see the wrath of God upon man, let’s look at the many years that God called out and suffered the pains of watching and waiting patiently before retribution came. He literally suffers through the waiting as He affords people the opportunity to repent. I don’t know of any person outside of Jesus Christ who would suffer as much for as long and still love so fully. And then we want to fault You for that?

 
Jesus could have decided to cut us all off with one slice. But He didn’t because God is love. But God is also righteous and holy and judge and has to do what’s right. Yeah, it’s my decision and I can slice it any way I want but God will be the final judge of my slicing. He created the whole cake, not me. He gave Himself for it through Jesus. It’s His decision and not mine. I only fulfill my purpose when I line my slicing up with His. Lord, may my decision resemble Your decisions more and more every day so that when the day of the valley of decisions comes, You’ll recognize me as Your own possession, Your silver and Your golden treasure. Really, I don’t want to wait for then for You to recognize me. I want to be that recognizable treasure now!

The Cause of Everything

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“For behold, He who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is His thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—the LORD, the God of hosts, is His name!” (Amos 4:13)
Maybe I should choose a bigger word to start with, but no, I’m starting with “for” or “kiy”. This little word indicates causal relations and You God, are having Amos relate the cause of all the things befalling Israel with the Causative Agent of everything—You.  If I want to understand the truth about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then I need to understand this causal relationship. More than that, I need to understand the “CAUSE” of everything.
Sometimes, paying attention to the little things is seeing the most important thing. Elsewhere, You tell us not to despise the day of small things because You are doing something big in them, or maybe it’s more that You will be made bigger in our eyes by them.  So here’s this other little word that we might have a tendency to glance past, but let’s not today. Let’s take time to stop and behold, “lo,” hinneh. God is revealing His causative nature and is giving us the opportunity to see. But this has nothing to do with glancing and moving on. This is exclamation city here! Everything is conditional upon us seeing what You intend us to see. Not only that, our outcome of spirit and life is absolutely dependent upon us seeing what is true in and of You.
David uses this word in Psalm 133:1. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The truth is that unity will never come between brothers until unity is found with God the Creator first. See, behold is all about this causative relationship. The beholding, the seeing for real, precedes the unity. The beholding, the seeing You for real precedes the goodness and pleasantness and it’s where the goodness and pleasantness is found.
Now, here’s a thought. If one looks at the related word hinneni, which is like adding the pronoun “I” to “behold,” it becomes “Here am I” or “Behold, Me.” First, God stands before us to be “beholden” by us. He says, “Here am I,” “Behold, Me.” He invites us to look upon Him and to know Him for who He really is and who He has always been and who He will always be. “I AM, look and know Me.”
But remember, this is all about a causative relationship. What happens when one looks on You God, and sees You for who You really are? It changes their life. They see how much they need You. They see how lost they are without You. They see how warped their thinking is without You and they cry out to You, “Here am I!” I see that Your hand is over the good in life and over the tragedies. I see that everything is under Your control. I see Your sovereignty and Your love, Your patience and Your anger, and so much much more. And when I take the time to actually see I come to the exclamation that finally I get it and I am ready to “do the will of the Lord.” Anything You ask, I’ll do it. Just let me be Your humble servant.
Let’s emotionally intensify this whole sentence. Fill it with excitement and fervor and desire and awe. A thousand times You bring out this intensity. Does it wake me up or do I just pass over it? The deep is calling out, am I listening? You want me to grasp something of great importance, am I stopping to get it?
You spoke through Habakkuk saying, “Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” It’s not just about looking and seeing with the eyes. It’s not just about getting something with Your head. T.O. Lambkin says it, “emphasized the immediacy, the here-and-now-ness, of the situation.” In the prophets, it’s not what the prophet is saying but what God is trying to get us to see. God is communicating Himself to us. He wants us to take this to heart, not just to head. God is telling us that He is the Cause and not us. God is inviting us to join Him in His glorious “Causing.” And His Cause is alway righteous because He is Righteousness. It’s like You’re saying over and over again, “Look at Me! See Me! Open your eyes to Truth! Stop looking at lies and living after them! Wake up! Who are you to puff yourself up? What mountains have you formed? Did you create the wind? Have you shared Your thoughts with all of mankind? Can you make the dawn come from night? Can you go to every high place on the earth?”  I can’t. But You can, Lord.
Just like in Amos’ day, I can choose to see things my own way. I can even choose to see You whatever way I want to but that doesn’t make You that way. It just makes me wrong and lost and delusional. But BEHOLD! You have caused me to see, if only I will look at You! If I stop seeing through my eyes, my way, and look through my eyes directly at You, “Then shall my light break forth as the morning, and my health shall spring forth speedily: and my righteousness shall go before me; the glory of the Lord shall be my rereward. Then shall I call, and the Lord shall answer; I shall cry, and He shall say, ‘Here I am!” (slightly paraphrased Isaiah 58:8,9) ” If you take away from the midst of you your faulty sight and replace it with Mine and your actions follow, You will know Me and experience Me! I will be Your God! And You will be My people! Here I AM!!!! Where are you?”
Here I am, Lord! Don’t just refine my vision. Open my eyes to see You as You are and to be filled with Your living glory! You know that reminds me of this old hymn I learned once. Maybe Clara H. Scott was reading these words in the 1800’s when she penned this first stanza. What an appropriate prayer her song is. “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!” Now let’s highlight that with all the emotion of God! The God of hosts is Your name! Here You ARE! Imagine that! Here You ARE, the CAUSE of everything seeking me out that I might gain a relationship of truth and life with You and in You. Open our eyes to see this glorious, miraculous truth! Open my eyes, continually, and illumine me, Spirit divine!

On Solid Rocks and Catchers in the Rye

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Image credit goes to img12.deviantart.net by mercurio2539

“If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.  If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there will I search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.”  (Amos 9:2,30)

Yes, this is the prophet Amos, and prophets usually had a message from God about impending doom caused by the people hearing but not listening and doing, or by refusing to hear at all.  This message reminds me of a message by Jonathan Edwards.  Hmm, I just now noticed that he thought about these same two passages.  But he also thought about Deuteronomy and the song of Moses to the people of Israel before God when they were preparing to enter the promised land.  It was a song about proclaiming the greatness of the LORD, that He alone was the Rock whose work is perfect, and all His ways are justice.  He’s a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright.  And it’s also a warning.  It’s a warning about remembering that He is the Rock and His people’s personal Rock.  He’s the One, the Father, who created them, and made them, and established them.  And how did they remember Him and honor Him for all He is and all He did? They scoffed the Rock and became unmindful of Him and stopped remembering Him and worshipped other gods who were not.  There problem was that they were “void of counsel” and there was “no understanding in them” though they thought they were wise.  “If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end!” (Deuteronomy 32:29)  They went from trusting a Rock who could make one chase thousands, and two put ten thousand to flight, to trusting rocks that were not the true Rock.  And Jonathan Edwards comes to where You say “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip…”  The King James Version that Edwards used says, “their foot shall slide in due time.”  We can choose another rock, even though we know the truth, but we’re choosing our own slippery dangerous path just like the children of Israel who fell away.

To choose to disregard Your ways is for us to choose instead of a path of security and care and love and provision, a path of destruction and slippery ways to our own hurt.  I can expect to fall.  It can come suddenly and unexpectedly because we have lost our discernment.  The danger that is visible to those who would heed instruction, becomes invisible to us and before we know it, we are caught in it’s harmful grips.  It doesn’t take someone to knock me down or push me into the deep water.  I slip right in by my own choice.  The ‘catcher in the rye” could warn me, but I wouldn’t listen.  Down I would go, right over the edge of the precipice.  To all this, Edwards says, “There is nothing that keeps wicked Men at any one Moment, out of Hell, but the meer Pleasure of GOD.”

It’s the will of God alone that preserves us.  His will and His pleasure are demonstrated and withheld by His power.  Amos reminds us that this is the Rock, the God, who is the GOD of hosts, He touches the land and it melts, He rises the water up like a flood, He builds His chambers in the heavens, and vaults of waters in the earth that He pours out at His bidding.  When He commands, it is done.  Moses reminds us how He chooses a people of His own, encircles them, cares for them, and keeps them as the apple of His eye.  He is intimate with them as a mother hen is with her chicks,  He guides them and provides for them and gives them strength and suckles them. 

This Rock, this God, has the power to destroy us.  He can easily destroy us.  Actually, we deserve to be destroyed.  I mean, honestly, look at our track record.  Look at Israel’s track record.  Do I think I am better?  Do I realize the slippery places I have chosen to walk and sometimes still choose to walk?  The truth is, outside of the grace and mercy of God, we are all pre-prepared and fit for hell.  Now, that’s a scary thought.  But didn’t Jesus Himself tell the religious leaders, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires”?  And wasn’t hell prepared for the devil and those who follow him?  Actually, the devil himself would more than enjoy to deceive us into making ourselves more ready for hell.  The corruption and desires of our own hearts would often prepare us. 

Here’s the thing, we try to hide from the Truth.  But the truth is, no one can hide from God.  You can choose your own way, but He knows.  He knows everything.  You know when we sit down and when we rise up and You know our every thought even before we think them.  You know my haunts and where my mind dwells.  You know what rouses me and stirs me up.  You know the thoughts that are most precious to me.  But where can I go that You won’t find me?  Jonah tried to hide but You knew every step.  Peter thought he needed to run, but You found him and got to his heart.  Sampson thought he could do it his own way, but You never lost him, although he lost You for a while.  And Paul, who thought he had You, found out he hadn’t known You at all despite his religious fervor.  They all found out how close to the precipice they were by choosing their own way.  But it was You alone who drew them back by Your grace. 

Israel was choosing to hang at it’s own peril.  Each of us can choose this peril too.  Jonathan Edwards likened it to this foolishness on our part: “You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.”    But our fate, just as Israel’s was is up to us.  Because any one of us can call out to God and remember His sacrifice He made for our return to Him.  For Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.  And He stands waiting to embrace us as His own in His very arms.  God is a God of wrath only because we force that hand upon Him by our hard-heartedness and stubbornness.  In all honesty He is a God of love who is just waiting for us to turn to Him instead of the flames, not because He needs us but because He desires us to have life and Life is only found in Him. 

He is a God who owes us nothing, absolutely nothing.  We are like worms or ants underfoot.  Yet he regards us as precious, so precious that He gives us the right amount of time to respond to Him.  But if we choose to refuse to respond, we also choose our own destruction.  And that choice makes You angry God, very angry, because why would Your very own creation chosen for life, choose destruction?  Maybe we worms are just stupid deep down.  I mean, if we would rather choose death over You, what else can I think?

I haven’t seen the plagues over Egypt.  I haven’t witnessed first hand the waters of the sea separated and Pharaoh’s army drowned.  My shoes don’t last for forty years and my clothes wear out.  But I have seen my life changed.  And I’ve seen You change other people’s lives.  I’ve seen thieves become evangelists and people from broken homes have beautiful marriages.  I’ve seen the sun rise and set every day for all the days of my life.  I’ve seen compassion that leads to salvation and joy in You. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen people mock You.  I’ve seen people who’s heads were split open and salt poured on because they believed in You, Jesus.  I’ve seen people who were cast out of their own countries because of believing You and people who’s houses were destroyed because of it.  I’ve seen a Pastor tell of other pastors whose fingernails were plucked out and then they were killed because they believed.  But that’s the truth, that those who stood against You were the ones delivering death.  You still deliver life to Your own.  Like Paul said, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  But to live without Christ is to die a purposeless and terrible death. 

The truth is, we all have a choice.  I can choose to deny God, to deny Jesus, and slip my way into Sheol.  And it will all be my fault, my choice, and not God’s.  He warned me.  Or I can choose God.  I can hear and heed.  I can live out my life with You living Yours out in me.  I can demonstrate Your love and compassion and be the kind of pure and holy and loving and brave “catcher in the rye” that You are.  Just as You snatched me back from the flames as I was hanging on that thread, so You desire to snatch others back.  It’s not Your desire that any should burn but that each would come to You.

If that thread is like a spider thread it’s actually very sticky and very strong.  And maybe it even takes a lot of work for us to come off that thread, like I really have to fight staying on. Isn’t it a shame that You place before us so many warnings and do so much to hold us back and draw us to You and yet we fight it all?  I don’t want to fight Your ways.  I want to see and experience the joy of Your presence.  I want to live in the safety of You.  My prayer is that others would start looking so that they would start seeing what they are missing.  Because maybe, if they start seeing things differently, they might choose to set their feet on the Solid Rock and find You.

I Can Taste the Music

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Photo credit to http://www.tastethemusic.co.uk

“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12

This is awful news.  The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold.  People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way.  They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others.  National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.

What is the example of the impending destruction that is used?  A household.  A household of 11 people.  Plague.  Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle.  And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned.  Why?  “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that?  Did the You say not to make mention of Your name?  F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it.  Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You?  I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name?  Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were?  I don’t know, but it’s a thought.

Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God, than to hear the truth about ourself?  Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up?  It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall.  You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us.  It didn’t start out bitter.  But twisted hearts twisted the taste.

I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words.  He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You.  Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled.  It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being.  It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life.  It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship.  It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You.  It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You.  It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness.  It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are.  It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship. 

Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from, to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember.  “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.”  In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing.  It is separate and distinguished.  It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful.  Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.

But everyone is given free will.  And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives.  We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things.  I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own.  I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong.  Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing. 

I love that word, tsedaqah.  It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-ness that flows from God.  It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way.  But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.

Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?”, we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?”  Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises?  Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day?  Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You.  Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building.  And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You?  Have we not taken to us power by our own strength?  Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?”  Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God.  But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.

Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us?  Why would You seem to forsake people?  Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied.  God is in exile; the world is corrupt.  The universe itself is not at home.”  If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers.  I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be.  It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness.  After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven.  Why doesn’t it happen?  Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways.  I won’t listen.  I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water.  Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it, I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.”  But who really is the foolish one?

The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits.  Oxen don’t go plowing in rock.  For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way.  It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day.  Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts  9:5)  Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today.  That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew.  It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle.  But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse.  Now think about that.  Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison.  Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us.  It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into.  And then the problem is we can’t find our way out.  We wind up trapped there. 

Is there hope?  Yes!  When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul.  We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?”  And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives.  I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord.  I will know Your will and do it.  I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it.  You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before. 

Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again.  Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them.  Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’”  Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song.  But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first.  I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever.  You are worthy, not me.  You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours.  Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me.  No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.