Got Heart?

Standard

Artwork credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“…say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’…Likewise, thou son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, which prophesy out of their own heart…” (Ezekiel 13:2,17)

 
God is warning of some scathing punishment here. What for? Because the prophets and prophetesses were living and leading “out of their own hearts.” They should have been living and leading with hearts in tune with God’s heart, but instead they were telling lying prophesies and teaching false superstitious beliefs. There’s a terrible problem when we choose to follow our own heart if it’s not under the influence of God. After all, Jeremiah tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Well, obviously God can know it, and show it, and correct it if we turn our hearts over to Him.

 
Let’s not just think that we’re only talking about our feelings when we talk about our hearts in Scripture. Let’s remember that it incorporates our feelings, our intellect, and even our will. That’s the problem. We want to esteem our will, even above God’s will. We want our life and everyone else’s to be about our feelings, our thoughts, and our will. But it’s not. And we hate to admit that. We hate to think that there is something bigger and more to life than us and than now. But Jesus warned, “whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) See, none of us get to stand on this stone like a pedestal for ourselves. Jesus is the only foundation in God who is counted worthy of pre-eminence. The rest of us are called to fall before him. That takes submission. And we can’t come to God unless we submit to Him, and let Him change our hearts and mold them to His and His alone.

 

Watchman Nee said, “Faith is the principle by which we receive life, while submission is the principle by which we conduct our living.” Actually, I don’t see a way to separate the two. It takes submission to demonstrate faith and faith to submit. Why was tragedy preparing to strike God’s people? Because they were living outside of “the realm of God’s authority.” The sad thing is that those who had been acting like the authorities, like the head, should have known how to submit before God and others because they were the “religious” leaders. But maybe the truth is that some of us have never really known submission. And maybe it’s just as important to learn today, as it was then.

 

The truth is that God is Authority over authorities. All authorities are appointed by Him. Therefore, every one of us is called to submit, first to His authority, and then to those authorities He has appointed. God pronounced woe on the foolish prophets of Ezekiel’s time for following “their own spirit.” That’s that word ruach, which is also used of the Holy Spirit, and the spirit that was placed in man when God breathed life into him. But without God’s Spirit, the spirit of man is powerless and empty. Without a spirit of submission, we are nothing. Without being trained in submission we learn nothing. Look at Jesus’ training. Understand the magnitude of the example that Christ set for us. He submitted under parents. He submitted under the religious authorities. He submitted under the hurt and sick when He stopped to listen to them and asked their desire. He submitted to the Father by humbling Himself voluntarily to wash the feet of His disciples, and to withstand the cross. He was God. Did God deserve this? Didn’t He have the right to fight back? But Jesus was submitted to the will and Spirit of God and not even His own will. This is what I must learn. My life and the life of those around me depend on how well I learn and live our this lesson on submission.

 

Nadab and Abihu submitted to their own hearts instead of God. They submitted to their own hearts instead of the instruction of their Father Aaron, the priest. Therefore they served up strange fire before the Lord and were struck down. Why was it strange fire? It was unrecognizable as a sacrifice because it was not what was authorized and it was not given in a submissive spirit. Nadab and Abihu had something in common with the prophets and prophetesses of Ezekiel’s day. They refused to take orders and disregarded authority. They obeyed their own hearts instead.

 

We can’t serve God our way. It doesn’t work that way. God is so much more than us, how could we ever determine what is acceptable? God is even our “originator” so it makes sense that He would be the originator of what is appropriate for service to Him. Come on. I’m only human but if you want to give me a gift that shows me You care, give me a gift that touches my heart, not yours. That’s how I know You care about me. Is it so far fetched that one must know God’s heart to give Him what is acceptable to Himself? After all, we can only serve Him through submission to Him. When I submit to His heart and will and intellect, I am accepted. But strange fire is serving from my own heart, will, and intellect and not thinking about God at all. Strange fire is serving without submission. It may be zealous, but it’s zealousness over me and not over God.

 

It’s not the gift that is important to God; it’s the heart of submission. Samuel reminded Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) How we handle God’s authority matters. It’s a heart revealer. We need to not be so concerned with leading everybody but be most concerned with following first. If I can’t follow God, I can’t lead. And if I know how to follow God, then I know how to be a complement to the others following God around me. Submitting to God means I learn how to submit to others. Am I more than my Master who submitted?

 

The work is not up to me; it’s up to God, and God works always in unity. Therefore, the work is up to us, to work together in submission before God and one to another. We are one corporate body with the heart of God, not many individual hearts all doing their own thing. That causes division. I need to get rid of any individualist mentality I’ve been harboring. If I meet God first and foremost as my authority, then I can submit to those under Him as authorities in Him. They are not just fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters, but they are His chosen ones. I can’t serve God without submission.

 

A submissive heart to God cares for the things of God. When Saul was chasing David, David cut off the skirt of his cloak. He didn’t hurt Saul yet it bothered his heart. Why? Didn’t Jesus say that the thought is the same thing as doing the deed? Watchman Nee shared, “What we condemn is not just murder; even the cutting off of another’s garment with a little knife is wrong and is rebellion. Backbiting, an evil eye, or a grudge in the heart may not be murder, but they are similar to the cutting off of another’s garment, and they proceed from a spirit of rebellion.” This was a funny situation here. David had been anointed as king. Saul had been anointed first and already was king. Saul was in rebellion to God. Yet David knew he was still the anointed king. David, not Saul, was submitted to God and waiting on God’s timing. He was sensitive to the heart and will of God. He submitted to God and to King Saul by honoring Saul’s kingship. Why? Because He was submitted to God first and foremost.

 

Peter tells us, “For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” could this conscience toward God be for the heart of God and in submission to Him? Could it be because I care more for the honor and glory and person of God than my own welfare? Is that what David understood? Is that how Jesus lived? Was this concept perfected in them through their sufferings? Are sufferings the test of obedience? Would I rather complain and show frustration than learn to submit?

 

Do I want to be apart of establishing God’s kingdom on earth? Then I need to learn submission. Jesus never opposed God’s authority. What about me? What about the church? What about the fellowship of believers? Is God going to find our works perfect? Or are we offering strange fire? A little submission is a far cry from perfect submission.

 

Obedience, faith, and submission all go hand in hand. Do I really know God and obey the Gospel? (2 Thessalonians 1:8) If not, I’m in rebellion. Am I disobedient to the truth? (Romans 2:8) Believing is obeying. And what did Paul say first upon believing? “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10) He believed, obeyed, and submitted to His authority.

 

So many of us have strong feelings. We may even have strong feelings about sin. But somehow we have no feelings about rebellion. Oh, maybe rebellion in someone else against us, but not of our own rebellion. I need to recognize my own rebellion toward God and the authorities He has placed in my life. I need to seek His heart in my submission to them just like Jesus did or Paul did.

 

Am I too busy chasing the desires of my own heart? Or am I more concerned with Your heart, Lord? Am I willing to fall upon the rock of Jesus in willing submission, or am I waiting to be crushed in my rebellion? How deceitful is my heart? Will I turn it over to You, the only one who knows my heart and the only one who can change it and give me a new heart? Through salvation, God enables us to have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) In truth, do I understand that I am a servant? Therefore I am called to be obedient to those who God has placed as my “masters” and “serve with singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:5,6) Have I got a heart? If so, who does it belong to?

Advertisements

Pulling Off an “Ezekiel”

Standard

Photo credit to unknown internet source.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Yada Kind of Knowing

Standard

“For the LORD knows the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”  Psalm 1:6

There are two people being discussed in this Psalm.  On one hand we have the righteous and on the other hand we have the ungodly.  So what makes one a righteous person?  A righteous person delights in You, Lord, and Your ways and thinks about You and Your ways all the time.  A righteous person who is occupied with delighting in You and thinking on You, bears fruit in their life that resembles You.  The ungodly, though, have nothing firm to stand on, no foundation, no root from which they can draw life sustaining sustenance that resembles You.  But what hit me here isn’t at all about thinking about whether I am among the righteous or the ungodly only, but what it really means that “the LORD knows the way of the righteous.”  I mean, to me, it’s one thing to think that I have an inkling and am coming to learn Your ways.  But to think that You know the way of those who trust in You is something I want to think more about.  Stop and think.  God knows my way.  But those who don’t delight in God, there is no mention of God knowing their way.  There’s just mention that it will perish.

What does it mean that You know the way of the righteous, of those who delight in You.  It’s this word yada that I’ve gotten excited about before.  It’s all about knowing with the head and the heart and the actions.  It’s knowing and experiencing something.  And the more I read about it and the more I think about it, it’s as though You know us personally and interact with us personally.  It’s not like You just set things in motion and then stand back and watch.  That’s not yada.  It’s not just about seeing.  It’s about seeing and being involved.  It’s about seeing and experiencing.  It’s about being a part of the action with us.

Imagine that yada, or knowing, for God involves the emotions, the will, and the intellect.  That means that You, God, have feelings for us and toward us.  You weep when we stray or when we are too blind and stubborn to see and desire Your way.  Your will desires our presence with You.  You know everything about us and everything that is best for us.  I mean, let’s face it, You are all-knowing.  Therefore You are all-yada.

That doesn’t mean You don’t love those who are perishing, but because of who You are, those who do not make Your ways their ways, cannot be found righteous and come before You.  Why?  Because all people are invited into Your yada.  We are invited to know You as You know us.  We are invited to know You with our emotions, our will, and our intellect.  But some choose their own way and not Yours.  And sometimes, those who have chosen Your way, pick their own way up and need to be reminded of what we miss when we do so- the presence of God.

Listen to Isaiah’s words,  “For I desired loyal love, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)  Here, the prophet Hosea is sharing Your heart with Your people who were prostituting themselves with Your enemies!  He pleads for them to return to You and the tearing and being smitten would be healed and they would be bound up.  You would revive them and raise them up and they would live in Your sight.  They wouldn’t just live.  They would see Your face, they would know Your face, because they could live in Your presence!  Then they would know You and Your ways, if they chose to follow You and Your ways.  Then You would come to them.  Why would we refuse that?  Who in their right mind would refuse You like that?  Maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe our minds are the problem and we busy them too much with thinking about other things.  Maybe if we started filling our minds with You, and cut off the other thoughts that want to grab our attention, we’d know what really mattered.

The truth is that Your heart breaks over us.  You feel distress, disgust, anger, betrayal, hurt, humiliation, heaviness, and hopelessness.  You feel.  But the question is, what kind of sympathy do we have for You?  Do I feel what You feel?  When my thoughts are occupied with other things, do I feel the separation?  Am I weeping over missing Your love?  Am I agonizing because our relationship is broken?  Do I even have a heart for You or am I just going through the motions?  How stupid will I let myself become?  How callous can I be?  Do I cry for You like You cry for me?

You know, God, I know a ton about You.  But it’s not about knowing info, is it?  How much do I feel the way You feel?  How sensitive to You am I?  How’s my empathy with You?  Do I really know You as You know me?  Is my life right?  Then my focus will be right.  Is it?

“YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)  “He knows those who take refuge in Him.”  Why do they take refuge in Him?  Because they know, so they do it and they feel it.  It’s a package deal.  We understand the relationship that You are offering here.  You are offering me shelter.  Why?  Because I need it.  Now, if someone offered me shelter when I was in need, how would I feel about that?  I would be emotional.  But that also means that the One offering me shelter has emotions toward me, emotions like empathy, concern, and pity.  This is not someone who is aloof, distant, and removed.  This is someone who wants to be intimately involved with us.  This is someone who wants us to want intimate involvement with  Him.  This is someone who feels deeply for us and wishes us to feel as deeply for Him.  Yada is all about unity, you know, “That they may be one” kind of unity.  God loves me.  He REALLY loves me!  What will I do with a love like this?

It’s not just an Old Testament idea.  We see it out of Jesus’ own mouth.  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”  (Matthew 7:23)   The problem is it’s so easy for us humans to get distracted.  Actually, I think we’re born distracted and distractible.  And we are not all lucky enough to grow up where we’ve been surrounded by people who have experienced the love of God in their own lives.  And we think it’s so easy to make up our own way and that God’s just going to give us kudos, a pat on the back for the “cleverness of me.”  But if Your word is truth and You are the only way, the only truth, and the only life, then everything else is lawlessness, emptiness, and foolishness.

Sometimes I want to feel Your presence right here, and right now, all the time.  But sometimes You step back to prove how I will respond.  See, You are forever faithful, but what about me?  Will I be faithful when no one seems to be looking?  Will I be faithful in the dark?  Will I be faithful when I can’t seem to hear You or see You or feel You?  Will I be faithful when I feel lonely?  Will I be faithful when I am hurt?  You were.  And You are.  But what about me?

Do I know You and love You so much that I would walk through all these experiences and more and continue to cling to the desire for You and Your presence no matter how long it takes?  Or will I allow myself to be drawn away by things that instantly gratify, by things that seem to fill my needs, which in the long run, never match up to You and leave me wanting and without refuge?

Loneliness, pain, disappointment, feeling unloved, or feeling under appreciated are not excuses to give my heart to another.  If only I realized that my cry is for You and not for lesser things, I’d find You much sooner.  I wouldn’t have to spend so much time in the lonely, bitter wilderness, would I?  My longing for Your presence will not be satisfied by anything else but finally coming into Your presence.  How can I ever be at home in a place that wasn’t created to be my permanent home?   How can I ever be satisfied with putting my trust in another, or being comforted by another who was not created to satisfy all my desires?

What a strange place we live in that was created for the glory of the One who created it.  Yet, this place refuses to submit to His purposes.  And these people think they can trump His desires all the time.  Will I allow myself to live and think contrary to You?    There’s a way that seems right to a man, a way that is contrary to You, but it leads to death.  I don’t want to go that way, but I fall into that way sometimes.  I want to be better prepared to see that way coming and refuse to accept it.  I want to remember the yada You have for me every moment so that I can reciprocate that yada.  I want to feel about You the way You feel about me and act upon those feelings.  I want to stop being attracted to lesser things and lesser thoughts.  I want to delight in You and everything about You no matter how long or hard the wait to feel Your presence.  See, if I’ve already experienced You even once, then I already know, and I have no excuse.

So Lord, I want to live in the blessing that exists in knowing and experiencing You.  I don’t want to act in accord with those who don’t know You.  I want to choose to delight in You.  I want to fill my ears and mind and heart with You.  I want to listen to You and speak about You and walk around and appreciate You.  I want to learn to wait on You, and wait and wait and wait and wait if I have to.  Because if I can learn to do that in the really hard times, then that hope and satisfaction I will have in You when You come to me will be unsurpassable by anything else.  I want to think about Your Word and Your ways and You all the time.  And I want to experience Your living waters flowing through me and producing beautiful fruit.

I am so grateful that You don’t give up on me.  I am so grateful that You forgive me and renew me.  I am so grateful that You are not a God who is far away and aloof but that You love me with a real and genuine and present love.  I’m so glad that You love me in an emotional way but that it’s not just some gushy love.  It’s a love that paid a price, through Jesus.  So, Lord, let my love also stand the test.  May my love for You be willing to pay any price to hold fast to You and never let You go.

John got it.  I want to get it too.  “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”  “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.”  “He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.”  If I say I know You, then my life ought to show that I know You.  Words don’t cut the cake.  It’s only when you take the knife in hand and move your hand to slice that it happens. Thank You, Lord, for knowing me so intimately and inviting me to know You in that way, too.

The Light Has Dawned

Standard

Photo credit to Julenine Rijon Balinas Llacuna.

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”  Matthew 4:15,16

Jesus takes up the honor challenge He has been led to by the Spirit.  He upholds His Father’s honor before Satan in the wilderness.  The angels minister to Him.  He went into Galilee and leaves Nazareth, His home town and walks to Capernaum by the sea to live.  In Capernaum, He settles in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.  But that’s not coincidental.  He moves here and settles here for a purpose.  What was that purpose?  Because He knew that Capernaum, precisely that territory in Capernaum, was where God wanted Him to be.

How do I know that and how did He know that?  Oh, you say, “Jesus is God.  He had inside knowledge.”  Well, I do believe that Scripture tells us that Jesus was fully God and fully man.  I also believe that He had “inside knowledge.”  But I also firmly believe that what He showed us as man, was how to rely on the word of God to give us knowledge not only of how to make life choices guided by the Spirit, but to know the heart of God by actually coming to know Him.

Jesus was living out everything that was on the heart of God by living out what was in His Word.  He could go back to Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1,2) and recall these words that Matthew recalls.  “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.  In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shown.”  Jesus knew that living out the will of God was His purpose.  And it mattered where He lived because God had already established it.

Why did it matter where Jesus lived?  Why would Jesus have to stick to God’s word?  He had to in order to be the True Example, the True One that God had given us.  Because if He chose not to live in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, then this would not be true of Him: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”  (Isaiah 9:6,7)  It mattered that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  And it mattered that Jesus chose to live in Galilee of the Gentiles.

Sometimes Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit.  There’s no prophetic directions.  The Spirit leads and He follows.  But at those times, His response in the middle of those circumstances always follows the character of His heavenly Father and always agrees with His Word.  And other times, there are direct directions that He follows that come straight from the Word of God.  It’s the same for us.  But how do I get there?

“The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”  What if that is just as true for Jesus as it needs to be for me?  What if it was His zeal for the Father that compelled Him over everything else to obey and follow His will, His Word, His Spirit?  What if my life ought to be filled and guided by that same zeal for the LORD of hosts, for my Wonderful Counselor, for my Mighty God, for my Everlasting Father, for my Prince of Peace?   What if I was that zealous for Him that I would want to walk in the footsteps of His Word and the leading of His Spirit?

If I was zealous about that, like that, I wonder if the people who were dwelling in the darkness of never experiencing that wonderful zeal would have an opportunity to see His light shining through me?  I wonder if they might get a little glimpse that would draw them to want to see more of Him?  I wonder if my zealousness over living out God’s Word and honoring Him by allowing Him to bring it to pass in my life would affirm Him before those who are living in the shadow of death without Him?  I wonder if my zealous love and honor of God Himself would make a difference in others?  Would lights dawn all around me because they would see the truth of God through the truth of His Word?

The honor of God is at stake here.  Either Jesus fills the prophetic ticket or He doesn’t.  But He did.  But prophecy is just the Word of God.  It’s Him speaking before a thing has happened because He knows what is to happen.  And maybe I ought to look at all Scripture in that sense, just as Jesus did.  It’s all uttered by God for our benefit and for our direction in fulfilling our purpose of honoring Him.  Am I zealous about knowing Him by knowing His Word?  Just like the prophets, just like Jesus, and Peter, and Paul, and everyone since, God is offering us supernatural instruction.  He may not be giving me the specifics of where to live or who to marry, but if I know His Word, I can know His heart about those things, and I can know how to follow the leading of the Spirit and the leading of Jesus by His Word.  After all, Jesus is the Word, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  We’ve seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…”  And He has made the Father known to us.  He has shown us what it looks like to walk in the will of God, to know God, and to honor Him.  He has shown us intimacy.

Is true intimacy with God what I am really searching for?  Well then, what does my zealousness look like?  Am I zealous for what He is zealous over?  Do I care about His words, every one of them, like Jesus did?  Do I care about His honor?  Do I listen to Him?  Do I take joy in listening?  Do I take joy in stepping forward according to what I read and hear?  Would I follow His Spirit wherever He leads me no matter what situation He takes me into?  Would my heart and actions stay rivetted to upholding Him?

Words matter and what we do with them matters.  John the Baptist told two of his disciples as he pointed to Jesus walking by, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  He was upholding the honor of God’s Word.  What would those two do with those words from God’s Word?   Would they uphold God’s honor and live in them or would they retain them as knowledge alone?  What did they do?  “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”  And it gets even better.  I mean, how zealous were they really about this truth?  “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?'”  Jesus is asking each of us that same question.  Will I answer like these two?  “And they said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?'”  “We want to know You intimately.  We want to stay where You stay.  We want to walk where You walk.  We want to live how You live.  We want to really KNOW You.” (Those are my thoughts on the deeper thoughts of what their response really meant.)  And do you know what Jesus’ answer to that kind of zealousness was?  “Come and you will see.”  (Which means so much.)  “Come and you will know.”  “Come and you will understand.”  But the whole point is, I must take the actions of coming in order to know.  Knowledge is experience, not just retention.  Am I experiencing the Word of God in my life?  “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  How am I responding?

Of Mystery and Purpose

Standard

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.'”  Matthew 2:1-2

This is such good news.  Actually this is Good News!  This is worthy of celebration.  And it’s good news in more than one way.  I’ll start with one way.  Paul expresses it in Ephesians 1:9, when he says, “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.”  Get it?  God revealed the secret, the mystery of Himself, in Jesus, this God, born as a man baby.  Redemption just entered this fallen world and people not even of His tribe understood.  He truly was a light to the Gentiles even as a baby, even before He was born.  See, that star was a herald announcing God’s birth.  It wasn’t just overhead that night.  It guided those wise men over a period of time.  There was a grand purpose and intent to everything that You, Lord, were orchestrating.  There always has been and there always will be.

You, Lord, planned this birth for milennia.  It was planned before the fall.  You always knew.  It was what Adam and Eve were trusting in at that first sacrifice.  We read about it prophetically over and over again in Scripture.  Men and Satan tried to defeat the plan, but You are unstoppable.  And You designed it at just the right moment in time.

Yes, God did it all Himself.  It is over and done with.  No one can add anything to it.  This was the eternal plan, for Jesus to be born, to live obediently, to die sacrificially, and to rise again.  It’s finished.  The plan was accomplished.  And here’s the importance of that for us.  I’m going to share it in Skip Moen’s words, “But did you notice the implication?  Paul intends us to realize that God fully expects us to understand the mystery of His will.  God’s intentions for the redemption of creation and for your part in that redemption, are no longer a mystery.    Jesus Himself told us that He has revealed everything that the Father told Him to unveil.  Not only is God’s cosmic plan displayed for all to see, all that you need to know to participate in His will is also deliberately disclosed.  That is the real Christmas present.  You have been given access to the mind of God.  The Gospel story is your guarantee that God reveals His plans.  And if He reveals the plan for the redemption of all creation, how much simpler to reveal to you precisely your part?”

And that’s the part that rang out to me as I was meditating in Your Word today, Lord.  As I thought about Your words again, “As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you.”  See, I’m sent with a purpose, I’m part of a plan just like You because that’s how You were sent.  And Skip couldn’t have had it more right and I’m glad that in my searching it out after You laid that truth on my heart that You took me to Skip’s meditations on that truth.  Because this means everything to me and to every believer.  Knowing that You reveal not only Your general plan to Your children but Your specific plan for each one of us, changes how I look at everything.  Because just as it was for Jesus, I know You are arranging things in my life.  And man and Satan can try to thwart Your plans in me, but You’ve already trumped them and Your plans, even in and for me, will come to pass because You are God and You are my God.

So, thinking about my Savior’s birth as a baby and the wise men searching Him out brought me to these words of Yours, Lord.  Here You are, speaking to Israel, but these words are true for any of Your children.  “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the Lord, ‘thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)  See, that Hebrew word for thought there means “intention, plan, purpose.”  Your thoughts, God, are never just vain imaginings.  Your thoughts come to be.  Your thoughts become reality.  Just like Your thoughts about the world and all creation.  You just think it, and it becomes.  Your thoughts are not like man’s.  And I can depend 100% on that!

So these aren’t thoughts of peace some day.  Because Your thoughts are a done deal.  You have shared the mystery of True Peace, Shalom, with us in Jesus.  Shalom can be mine continually in You.  You are not evasive; You have made Yourself known and able to be experienced.  And I can share You with others.

You sent Jesus for a purpose.  And here’s the beauty of it in Jeremiah, to give us an expected end.  That Hebrew word for expected comes from a cord, as an attachment.  Think of that image.  You planned and purposed for us to be re-attached to You, the God of eternity.  We are attached to You, to Hope Himself, to Life Himself, to everything that we long for which is in You.  That’s why Jesus was sent, to attach us back to You.  And that’s why He sends us, to draw others to be attached to You.  This is the Good News.  It’s all over Scripture.  And it ought to be all over our lives if we are Yours.  Because what is truly attached to You, what is really fulfilling Your purpose, well, it overflows of You.  Because You can’t be contained.  And You can’t be stopped.  Yes, Your will is beautifully being accomplished every moment regardless of the circumstances and all I have to do is look back at Your Word to be reminded.

So as I look to Your Word, carry me forward in Your truth, knowing that Your intentions for me are just as secure as those for Jesus because I am trusting in You.  Jesus has become my Shalom, He is my Good, and He is my Expected End.  I am forever bound to the One whose purpose is sure and true.  I am forever bound to the One whose plans are being and will forever be accomplished.  And that means everything to the confidence with which I can walk forward every moment despite the circumstances around me.

Not Built in Vain

Standard

“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished’:  and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.”  John 19:30

Image

Right now, I would love to be able to say, “It is finished!”  It wouldn’t be as dramatic an event, or time changing as it was for You, Lord, but right now seems to be a time of just having a hard time finishing.  There are so many things “competing” against me.  There are so many ways that I’m being pulled.  There are so many ideas that seem to be going against what I hear from You.  And I feel pretty torn, but not the martyr.

But then, You understand exactly how I feel and more.  You’ve been there.  You’ve been through it.   Only You responded rightly and perfectly to every situation.  Me, it’s a different story.  I’m flawed.  I dont’ always respond rightly, perfectly, even in the middle of seeking Your will.  But You still love me and never give up on me.  But because of what You finished, I know that I “have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.”  Therefore I will “hold fast [my] confession.  For [I] do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with [my] weaknesses, buy One who in every respect has been tempted as [I am], yet without sin.  Let [me] then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that [I] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Is there ever a time when I am not in need?  Annie Hawks understood when she penned “I Need Thee Every Hour.”  Yes, I know how she felt.  “I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby; temptations lose their power when thou art nigh. I need thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is vain.  I need thee every hour; teach me thy will; and thy rich promises in me fulfill.”  She understood what You had finished.  And she prayed that You would finish it in her also.  And my prayer is that You will finish it in me.

So what did You finish and what are You desiring to finish in me?  How can I follow Your example here?  “Those who do not carry their own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciples.  If one of you is planning to build a tower, you sit down first and figure out what it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job.  If you don’t you will not be able to finish the tower after laying the foundation; and all who see what happened will make fun of you, saying ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.'”  Paul said, “none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.”  And You Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.”

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”  (2 Timothy 4:7)  Can I say that at any moment in my life?   When I utter my last breath on earth, like You Jesus, will I be able to say it is finished?  Or will I be crying, “Wait, not yet, I’m not ready!”?  What is my meat right now and every day?  What am I hungry for? Is it to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work?  Is that what I want more than anything, no matter the cost, no matter the pain, no matter how much it turns my life upside down?  Do I want You and Your will in my life more than I want life itself?

These words ring in my ears, “or life is vain.”  Annie Hawks understood that life outside of You, outside of Your will was in vain.  Noah Webster defines vain as “empty; worthless; having no substance, value or importance.”  It’s fruitless and ineffectual.  It’s empty and unreal.

When my daughter was little, I helped her take some photos for a photo competition.  The one we chose was an abandoned church in the woods.  And this was our caption, “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchment wake but in vain.”  (Psalm 127:1)  Solomon looked back over all his pursuits and the pursuits of people and cried out, “It’s all vanity!  It’s all emptiness.”  And here was his conclusion, “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”  And here’s my conclusion, “Fear God, love Him with all of my being, with every one of my resources, and live in and by His will, and my life will be united in His purpose, in His meaning, in His plan.”

“It is finished.  I have fulfilled God’s will for Me.  I have completed His plan.  I have shown His worth.  I have obeyed Him fully.  I have done what He sent Me to do.  I have been who He sent me to be.”  Yes, Jesus, that is what You did.  That is who You are and who You’ve always been.  You’ve always been the opposite of vanity.  You are my Fullness.  You are my Worth.  You are my Substance.  You are my Fruitfulness.  You are my Effectiveness.  You are what fills me.  You are Reality.  You are the Completion, the End, the Perfection of not just God’s plan, but of God.  You are the “Pièces de Résistance”, the most important thing in life!  Because You faithfully completed the will of God in Your life, I can too.

Because it’s by the power of the Resurrection, through the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit, that I am made like You and given the power and desire to fulfill Your will in my life.  So Lord, no matter how confusing or difficult things get in my life, may I love You more and may I cling to Your will as though my life depended on it, because it does.  Outside of Your will is emptiness, emptiness so tangible that you can feel it.  But in the middle of Your will, is Your presence, Your joy, Your fullness.  “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  (Psalm 16:11)

Well, Lord, You didn’t suffer the cross and all that shame and suffering for nothing.  It wasn’t in vain.  It was for a glorious purpose.  And even the pain and suffering and shame in my life is not in vain.  It is all for a glorious purpose, for Your purpose.  So guide me and direct me in Your will in the midst of the good and the bad and the easy and the hard and even when things seem confusing and mixed up.  I want doing Your will, no, being in the middle of Your will with You to be my heart’s desire and my life’s focus.  I want to be able to say at any given moment, not just on the day I die, “It is finished.  I am in the middle of Your will.”  You are more than my Perfect Example, Lord.  You are my Perfection Himself.  Have Your way in me and make known Your path of life and fullness of joy in me, forevermore.

 

Shed a Little Light on the Situation

Standard

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

CIMG3656

Oh, Lord, I am so glad that You kept on speaking and sharing Yourself with others, even if they weren’t listening and understanding.  But there were always some who were listening.  And I’m here listening today.  I may not always understand but You are making a promise to me here that as long as I’m listening and letting You shed Your light on me, I will understand.  It’s a promise.

There is so much that is important here.  Really, this is just awesome truth being revealed here.  Even the word “will” is important.  Will speaks of a done deal, something that is going to occur, no doubt about it.  The King James Version uses the word “shall” and I looked it up.  I love to use Noah Webster’s original dictionary because he was a man who loved God.  And You gave him a love for digging into words.  Well, he shares some great details about the meaning of “shall” in the second and third person.  Let me share, “shall implies a promise, command, or determination…usage gives these phrases the force of a promise in the person uttering them.”  And who better to utter a promise than You?  Who is more able to fulfill that promise than You?

But what is that promise and where does it come from?  Well it all stems from Your essence, Your character, the entirety of who You are.  And You are sharing here that Your essence is light.  Which takes me ahead to 1 John 1:5 in which our same author here, John, tells us “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”  So when You are telling me that You are the Light of the world, You are not just telling me that You shine in the world, You are telling me that You are light,  and You are the ONLY light in the world.  Remove You, and the world becomes hidden in total darkness and chaos.  You are the light necessary for everything I need in this world and You are the light that the world needs.  Existence ceases without You.

So, I wanted to learn more about You this morning which led me to check out this word “light” or “phos” in Greek.  Which led me to a wonderful sermon by Ray Stedman.  I’m going to refer to him frequently as I dig in to Your truth here.  Now, in this verse from John and in 1 John 1:5, light is contrasted with darkness.  God is light.  What light is and does is the character, the essence of God.  He doesn’t just do it, He is that quality.  And since You and God are one, You, too, are light.  And where light exists there is no darkness.  So I want to look at the character of light, or rather, the character of Light.

“Darkness conceals, but light reveals….That is the first function of light. It enables us to see things that have been there all the time but which we could never see till the light shines. ..God, also, does that. God reveals reality.   God, through Christ, opens up the eyes of the heart and life comes into focus and we see clearly, without distortion…But the purpose of God’s entering into human hearts is that we might see reality.   Light reveals, and so does God.”  So light reveals, therefore God/Jesus/You reveal.  Actually You are Revelation.  But what is revealed?

Everything.  Everything that we really need to know is revealed.  You are Truth.  You reveal Truth.  You reveal Yourself to us.  And as You reveal Yourself to us, all other “mysteries” fall in place.  And I love how Ray Stedman realized this truth: “The mystery of self was revealed by the light as it shone upon me from the word of the only One who knows what is in man.”  Jesus, You reveal everything to me and even make me to know my own heart and the heart of man in general.  In knowing You, I come to know myself.  So, You reveal, but is that all?  What else is a characteristic of light?  How else does Your character work?

“But that is not light’s only quality.  It also measures.  Did you ever watch a man pick up a stick of lumber, hold it up, and sight along it?  What is he doing?  He is trying to see if it is crooked or not. What reveals that? A beam of light. He is measuring it against a ray of light, because light is straight and anything that does not correspond to the light is crooked.   Light is the most common measuring stick in the universe. We measure whether things are straight or crooked by light. Surveyors use light to measure distances and angles, to see whether they are up or down, high or low, right or left…God is a measuring stick, a point of reference. You can use God to measure everything else.”  So, I see that You reveal Yourself, and in so doing, You reveal my own heart and character.  But You also are what I am to measure myself by.  Everything must be measured up to You, the Measuring Stick.  You alone are Holy.  You alone are Straight and Right.  You are not just a light or a measuring stick, You are Light and You are Holiness.  You aren’t just one, You are IT.

“Light not only reveals and measures, but light energizes too.  That is the most dramatic quality about light.  It imparts life, it activates, it quickens….God is light and God intensifies, fulfills, and glorifies our essential humanity. He does not destroy it. He takes it and leads it on through the darkness into an ever-growing experience of life and vitality and productivity…”  So here is the third quality of light.  You are Revelation, You are Holiness, and You are Life.  Without You there is no life, only darkness and death.

I did an experiment with one of my students in third grade once.  We grew seedlings.  One set was in a container in the dark.  And at first the seeds will grow because of the water in the soil and the warmth.  But to continue in the darkness would lead to death.  That’s why the seedlings kept reaching toward the cabinet door.  They were stretching towards that little bit of light, that little bit of life that was trying to break in.  I suppose it’s also why winter is so tough on us and we sometimes get a little more depressed.  There is less light and our bodies know it.  Take away the sun and our planet would perish.

This truth means everything.  You, Jesus are Revelation, the Measure, and Life.  Yes, You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  You and God are One.  Your character is His character and His character is Your character.  Your essence is One.  This is who You are.  And the glorious promise to me and every person is that if I follow You, follow Your essence, I am promised by You that I will possess You, I will have You.

“He that follows me.”  That’s the same type of following that the disciples were called to do.  I leave my old world behind, that old man behind, and I truly follow You, Jesus.  I live with You, I breathe the air You breathe, I continually learn from You, and I spend every minute with You that I can.  I attach myself to You like nothing else.  And remember, You called me first.  You’re the One who said, “Come, follow me.”  You call us by Your Divine authority.  It’s not about being a voluntary follower.  Being Yours is lifechanging, with eternal consequences for both myself and others.  And You call me to serve Your kindgom with You, to bring Your kingdom into fruition.

A.W. Tozer said “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  That’s so true.  Do I really understand that You are Light?  Are You my Light?  When things seem to overwhelm me, when life gets confusing and hurtful, do I look to You to reveal to me how to handle things?  Or do I hide from You and Your revelation under an umbrella of my own construction.  Lord, Your Light exists through everything.  I want to look at You rightly and remove anything that would block me from Your Light, from You.  I want to receive Your “healing, cleansing, glorifying, fulfilling light” and allow it to change me.  You are my Light.  You reveal truth to me.  You measure life.  You give me “a reference point by which the false can be separated from the true.”  “You fulfill, You glorify, You energize, You vitalize.”  You are Light and that is where I want to be, in You.  Let me follow You and live in the Light that is You all the days of my life.  That’s the way I want to be in, the same Way You Are.