You Can’t Fake God Culture

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Strange Fire

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“‘Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 14:14)

 

The Lord is still pronouncing judgment on His people. Now, some of the leaders of Israel were coming to “inquire” of him before Ezekiel. And it appears as though God was asking, “Why? Why are they bothering?” Is that a strange question for God to ask? Or would that make sense if God new that all they wanted to offer was “strange fire” anyways?

 

Here is a God who knows man’s heart better than man knows it. That means that You, God, know our feelings, our intents, our thoughts, our motives, and how our will is inclined. And here is what you had to say about these leaders, “…these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face.” So, if these men weren’t coming before God to submit and agree with Him, why were they coming? That’s what You were asking. “Should I be inquired of at all by them?”

 

These leaders who should have lived lives of submission were anything but submitted, they were anything but obedient. They had set up their idols in their hearts. Do I know what that means? There is actually a New Testament warning against allowing this in my life today. “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) So, what’s the danger of idols? When I worship an idol, I’m attempting by whatever it takes, to try to shape the world according to my own will and my own desires. Think about it. Why would I placate a god? So that it treats me the way I want to be treated. Idol worship is a way to manipulate and control the world around me. Idol worship is the opposite of submission. It’s antagonistic to God.

 

But I would never worship an idol.  Really? The minute I try to control things and take God out of the picture I become an idol worshipper. My desire becomes my idol. I become my idol. My desire becomes my stumbling block. I become my own reason for falling. And I don’t even realize the perversity of it; I don’t realize how twisted my thinking and actions have become.

 

I can’t help but think about God only delivering Noah, Daniel, and Job. And why? Because of what their lives demonstrated, by the righteousness that they chose to live in, that came from the depths of their souls and flowed out into real life. It was the righteousness that flows from God and emanates from Him and they chose to uphold it. It wasn’t forced upon them. In a world where they were allowed to choose who to submit to, they chose to submit to Your ways, God. They chose to be under Your manipulation rather than manipulate the world around them. They trusted You more than themselves.

 

Maybe we think we can come up with and create our own righteousness but that’s a total lie. Psalm 103:6 tells us that “the Lord performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.” But that doesn’t just mean that God does good things. The Hebrew ‘ose(h) tsedaqot is about making righteousness. See, everything that He does is righteous. He is the originator of righteousness and anything righteous came from Him first.

 

And then we come to Psalm 106:3 which says, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” How can we do that? Well, I certainly can’t do it without submitting to the righteous One. And I certainly can’t do that if I make something else my idol. It would seem that if I want to do this, I would need to be in constant communication with the One who is Righteousness. Doesn’t God tell me that I can speak with Him any time? Even in the midst of my sin, doesn’t He tell me to come to Him and confess my sins? Can’t I respond to Him anytime? Can’t I answer Him? Can’t I converse with Him? Or am I just coming to try to placate Him and manipulate Him?

 

 
Was it that the elders couldn’t come before Him? Or was the truth that they would come before Him but without any desire to communicate? Their answers were in their idols. Their hearts had already chosen sides. They were in control and there was no way they would surrender that control to God. When we stop communicating with God it’s like we remove ourselves from reality. It’s like we already refuse to exist.

 

 
Maybe if these elders were more like the poor widow, their story would have been so different. Luke 21:2 tells of Jesus watching “a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” into the temple offering. The coins had little value. Each coin was worth maybe 1/4 of a penny. So how could Jesus say that she had put in more than all the rest of the people? Could it be because she placed more than coins in the offering? By that act, was she placing her submission in this God that she trusted utterly would care for her even though she had given everything? Was she done with manipulation? Was she ready to submit under the hand of her mighty God who is truly able to save? Is that kind of faith what dominated her life?

 

 

What does the story of this widow tell us? Remember, a widow in Jesus’ day had no human support, no property rights, and was left to fend for herself. Who would take care of her? She could choose to manipulate people or she could submit to and rely on God.
But that’s not all this tells me. This tells me that Jesus, that God, notices those in need. Of all the people He saw her. It wasn’t about her 100% donation. It was about her righteousness demonstrated by her heart of submission. Let’s think about this. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 tells how when we see someone struggling, “ you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Why would He say that? Because His righteousness is a righteousness that notices and meets needs.  As a matter of fact, righteousness is “more valuable than worship rituals.” Micah reminds us, ”With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And Hosea reminds us, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” And Proverbs 21:3 declares, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” So let’s not think it was the widows sacrifice. God noticed the heart behind her sacrifice. Without that, her coins would have left a hollow reverberation.

 

 
Do I notice the things the Lord notices like that? Do I act upon them like He does? Do I just want to placate God? Or am I submitted fully to Him clinging to His care for me? Do I have any idols in my heart that I need to repent from and tear down and utterly destroy? Am I somehow choosing to separate myself from You, Lord? The truth is, I am responsible for me. I alone can choose whether to live dependently in and under Your righteousness or by my own false self-righteousness. I can choose my idols like the elders. Or I can choose You. Each choice comes with it’s foretold consequences. It’s not like we haven’t been educated. Maybe it’s just that some of us refuse to be taught. I want to learn, Lord, from You and of You. I don’t want to hold on stubbornly to my idols. I want to hold on stubbornly to You. You give us the means to deliver our lives by righteousness in You. So let me be found in You displaying that righteousness which is of You and not of me.

Put Down Your Branch, Get on the Train

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Photo credit goes to someone on the internet.

 

“Then said He unto me, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, ‘The Lord doesn’t see us; the Lord has forsaken the earth.’” Ezekiel 8:12

 
So now this fiery figure of God comes to Ezekiel and takes him in a vision of God to Jerusalem to the temple. And as Ezekiel was told to look, he was shown the “image of jealousy in the entry.” But it didn’t stop there. God says, “There’s worse abominations to see here.” God brought Ezekiel to the door of the court and showed him a hole. Then He told Ezekiel to dig there and Ezekiel found a door. He went in, beyond the wall, I guess inside the wall, and found creeping things, and abominable beasts, and idols all portrayed on the wall round about. Not only that, there were 70 men and Jaazaniah offering incense to these idols.

 
As if all that wasn’t bad enough. Then God says, “There’s more.” He brings Ezekiel to the door of the gate and there are women weeping for Tammuz, a Phoenician diety. Let’s keep going. Now, to the inner court, between the porch and the altar, were 25 men with their backs to the temple worshipping the sun to the east.

 
God called it “putting the branch to their nose.” What in the world does that mean? I’m pretty sure it’s a Hebrew idiom. Some think it was a part of worshipping idols where the worshipper picked up a twig or branch and placed it over their face as to shield their face from the diety, like the sun. But to God it would be like sticking your thumb to your nose and sticking out your tongue in defiance. Whatever it was, it was gloating in your abomination before God. It was digging in your heals, and inviting violence into your own land and your own life. It was asking for God’s anger to be ignited, provoking the fire to burn.

 
You know, what we think we can get away with in the dark, eventually comes out in the open. What was hidden behind walls and in men’s and women’s minds and hearts is not hidden from God, and he showed it to Ezekiel. The truth is that God knows what is going on in the “chambers of man’s imagery.” What is that? Could that be more than what we do hidden in a room? Could that mean that God knows what is in the secret chambers of our imagination? I think so.

 
I guess we have this idea that God has nothing to do with the dark. Maybe we think that God, being God, can’t go into the darkness. But Psalm 139:12 tells us, “Yes, the darkness doesn’t hide from You; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” The truth is that You “form the light, and create darkness: [You] make peace, and create evil: [You] the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

 
There is no place that God cannot go and that God is not in control. You see into the “secret” places even of our hearts, way beyond our dark closets because nothing is hidden from You. The problem is that we get involved in labeling things our way instead of Yours. Isaiah said, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” The people of Israel had God, they had You, they had what was good. But they started to chase after other ideas of good, after other standards, and adopt them as their own.

 
But they are no worse than us. We sit back and say, “How can a good God allow evil?” What kind of God would create evil? Why even let that be part of the picture? Because we’ve labelled You as a good God based on our idea of goodness. We make You who we think You should be instead of who You ARE. The truth is that You are all that You are before we even understand it. Your goodness is even in how You create evil.

 
It’s there for a purpose. Just because I don’t see that purpose doesn’t mean it’s not for ultimate good. Think about it. God created the garden with the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before Adam and Eve were created. Do you really think God created that beautiful angel of light who fell and made an “oops”? I can’t explain God’s intent with evil, but darkness is a part of the plan, and none of it, and none of the plan is hidden from God’s intimate knowledge.

 
Maybe there are too many multiple connections going on in my brain today. But I know this, it’s not You, God, who doesn’t see. We’re the ones who don’t get it. And maybe if we would be honest enough to admit it, and get off our high horses, and set our thumbs and our branches down from our nose, we just might start to see and get it right. Well, we can keep on thinking we’re getting away with the stuff we do in “secret,” we can even think it’s time to come out in the open because God won’t do anything, but Paul warned in Romans 2:5, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

 
Do you really feel badly for the branch wavers who provoke and tease and defy? Do you really think they haven’t been given ample time to listen and turn and repent? What about me? If I stand in front of an oncoming train and wave that twig in it’s face defiantly, who is going to lose? Didn’t I have time to get out of it’s track? Did the train invite my death or did I call it on myself? God says, “Therefore I will also deal in fury: My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” (Ezekiel 8:18) Is that Your fault, God? Or has the train whistle not been warning enough? It’s not like it just snuck up unaware. If I choose to ignore the warning whistle, over and over again, the train won’t have pity, and it will be my own fault.

 
There is a time for everything. There’s a time to see, and to listen, and to hear, and heed. There’s a time to seek pity and receive it. There’s a time to hear from God and to cry out to Him. There’s a time that God hears and it’s a reciprocal time. In other words, if we won’t hear God, neither will He hear us. Maybe it’s time to put down our branches and get off the track. It’s a much more glorious decision to board the train and go where it’s going, under it’s protection than to be run over by the train.

 

P.S.  I’ve read that this gesture can be interpreted by some as a very vulgar statement.  I wasn’t aware of that earlier.   I choose to include it, because those being addressed in Scripture before Ezekiel were being THAT rude to God and sometimes we are too.  Sometimes, we are THAT deliberately offensive.

On Life and Fulfillment

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Photo credit to Stephen Cunningham.

 

“Then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.” Ezekiel 6:9

It’s funny how we say this is an awful way for God to feel. But I wonder if we were married and loved the one we were married to with all our hearts and they “went a-whoring” and left us for others, how we would feel? And I’m not saying that anyone should run out and destroy their unfaithful partner. That’s not my point. Isn’t the truth that they have already not only begun destroying themselves, but destroying true intimacy itself? Aren’t they bringing turmoil into their own lives and into the lives around them? Aren’t they being caught up in twisted thinking that will one day lead to their own demise?

Had God’s people ever been warned? Had they witnessed the power of the true God versus the lack of power of the gods of other nations? Had they witnessed and been supplied by the provision of the true God? Did You, God, really cause their demise? Or were You there trying to continually call them back to the safety and provision of You?

The people were playing with what they shouldn’t be playing with, nations who didn’t care about them. They were making themselves vulnerable because they were no longer alert. They were allowing themselves to lose their identity in God, who was their strength, and falling into the lie of the nations that they were great of themselves. They were worshipping at empty altars that bring emptiness and desolation.

Paul talks of desolation, this word shamem in Hebrew, also. “For it is written, ‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more are the children of the desolate than the one who has a husband.’” (Galatians 4:27) What is this about? What is today’s reading in Ezekiel about? It describes “the inner barrenness of an unfulfilled life.” (Skip Moen) Shamem is about being desolate and amazed. It can mean one or the other or it can be both at the same time. It’s like looking around at the great desolation and destruction around you and being totally appalled and overwhelmed at the same time.

The reason judgment comes is because we refuse to live fulfilled lives. We were created to be filled fully with God, to bear His image throughout this world. This is true fulfillment, what we were created to be filled with, just like Adam when God breathed into him and he became a living soul. But we choose, yes we choose, to warp that image and defile it and create our own. We choose to live unfulfilled lives in these places of desolation, and we don’t even realize how appalling it is. But God does. He never intended us to walk in the wilderness. He hadn’t intended for Israel to walk there. They chose desolation instead of the kingdom. Aren’t we doing the same? And then we have the nerve to blame our consequences on God? And all You have ever been trying to do is to turn us back to our purpose, true life fulfillment in You.

The truth is that God doesn’t leave us alone in the wilderness. He was there for Hagar. He was there for the Israelites. He is there for us today, waiting to rescue us from emptiness and unfulfillment. We think self-sufficiency is the answer but the answer is in dependency on a God who is fully able. Think about it. Joseph couldn’t rescue himself from that pit his brothers placed him in. The Israelites couldn’t find their way out of the desert. Hagar couldn’t find water to keep her and her son alive. Moses couldn’t even lead a people on his own. The truth is not one of us is sufficient on our own.

Paul understood that. He was once a very self-sufficient man. But not once he met the risen Jesus. He shares, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God…” (2 Corinthians 3:5) God enables us in Him to do and to bear His image in this world, that we may fulfill our purpose in Him.

How could a barren woman have more fulfillment than the one with a husband? How did the desolate woman find more fulfillment? Because our fulfillment doesn’t come in our husband or in our job or in our position or in our ministry. Our satisfaction and fulfillment comes from God. This world is a wilderness and we have to learn to cling to God in the midst of it because clinging to the wilderness will always leave us empty.

Are you in an overwhelming place right now that seems totally desolate? Stop fighting God. Let Him come to You in the desolate empty place and let Him fill You. Run into His arms and let His ways become Your ways. Let Him redefine Your thinking and Your living by His standards, by His love, by His grace, and by His mercy. Let Him be the spouse that He promises to be to you and let yourself be His. Let go of the emptiness. Walk away from it and walk into His arms. You don’t have to stay there. You never did. He’s been waiting with open arms every minute of every day, right there with you, only you wouldn’t acknowledge Him or give Him the time of day. But He never stopped thinking about you or reaching out to you.

We can keep fighting a losing battle and trying to find fulfillment elsewhere. But it will always leave us empty and grasping for more. Or we can stop fighting and let the One who has always loved us, the One who created us, fill us full of Himself and we can live out our purpose in life and eternity. The choice is each of ours. Only, don’t get upset if you choose the consequences of self-fulfillment. It’s not like we’ve not been warned. The blame game is a losing game. Let’s take responsibility for our choices and let’s choose life and fulfillment.

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.”

Unwrapping the Knowledge

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Photo credit to Minden-Press Herald.

 

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Hosea 4:5

Not just any people, but God’s people are perishing, are dumb, are silent, are failing, are being cut down and undone utterly. Why? For lack of knowledge. I’m wondering if “lack” here is the best interpretation of the Hebrew beliy. I mean, the truth is that Paul tells us “that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2) So there was no “lack” of “knowledge” as we think of these terms. It was there. They had it. So what was the problem?

You tell us the heart of the problem with your subsequent words, “because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you.” Therefore, I see, that one can have knowledge right there in their grasp and yet still not have knowledge. I can have a “form” of knowledge, yet it be totally worthless to me because I don’t acknowledge the knowledge for what it truly is.

The Psalmist in Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” But this is just the problem. The people of God turned their hearts to focus on worthless things and in so doing, treated their relationship with You as worthless and might I say, worth less. Your pleasure, Your will, Your image became to them good for nothing compared to the other things that lured them. They treated Your ways as garbage or trash and went after other gods who offered them things the way they wanted them. In treating You like garbage they fell into worshiping that which was garbage and that which couldn’t deliver anything but lies and harm.

That word translated as lack here is a strong emphatic word in Hebrew. It’s a pronouncement about the character of a thing and in this case, of a people. It’s usually about moral character. It’s about people choosing to “practice and promote disobedience to God and man” even though they have all the knowledge to know better and do better. But You look at their life and call it worthless, not because You see no value in them, but because they are depriving themselves of their own worth and their own purpose upon this earth. These people were choosing to defy God and practice and promote what was totally against Him. They would choose to defy their very purpose in creation. Now that’s a sticky situation.

So, what kind of knowledge was lacking or made worthless by the people? The knowledge of God. It’s the heart of all true knowledge. Solomon shared, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) That doesn’t just mean that we can know about things because we are afraid of God. It’s not just about a proper perspective on life. It’s about respecting and honoring God for who God is, for all the magnitude of who He is. And then it goes beyond respect and honor into a personal, intimate relation with Him as someone who is alive and cares and shows that care.

Do I know that God cares for me? Do I know the depths of Your caring? Later in Hosea, he will use the term “knowledge of God,” daath Elohim. And the truth is that knowledge in the Hebrew sense always means more than knowing with Your head or having a strong theological background. It’s all about being human, every range of it. Knowing, really knowing involves every aspect of the emotions, the will, and the intellect. The head and the heart work together. Head knowledge effects heart knowledge and, I suppose, vice versa. It’s not just cognitive. It’s not just rationalized thinking.

When examining the Hebrew word most often used for knowledge, yada, Heschel suggests it this way, “an act involving concern, inner engagement, dedication, or attachment to a person. It also means to have sympathy, pity, or affection for someone.” It’s the farthest cry from correct doctrine. It’s greater than obedience. It’s far greater.

“Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel: for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” (Hosea 4:1) God’s broken heart is crying out to his children. We see Your heart in the image of the marriage analogy. How would our hearts feel if that were to happen to us? Wouldn’t we feel it? Well, God feels it too because it’s not just reading about a relationship, it’s an actual real living relationship with real live attachment and commitment and hearts involved. God feels everything, all the hurt, the humiliation, the sorrow, the betrayal, and more. He knows the consequences of His lover’s choice. He knows what she is missing and what she will receive instead. Her problem is she is lacking a heart knowledge. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know Him at all or she would never leave His side. She didn’t even know what she had when she was there with Him. How tragic.

Knowledge is not about information. It’s about reciprocal feelings. It’s about reciprocal sympathy. It’s about feeling the way God feels, understanding how God understands, loving as He loves, acting as He acts, enjoying what He enjoys. And it’s not even about us each doing it on our own. It’s about doing all this along with You, God. It’s about a relationship of enjoying You as much as You desire to enjoy us. Knowledge is knowing You intimately and enjoying You intimately and personally as much as You enjoy us. It’s delighting in You as You delight in us.

But Israel and Gomer aren’t the only ones not weeping over the intimacy they are missing. Many nations and many of us in the nations are not weeping over the love we’ve thrown away and wasted and lost. We’ve numbed ourselves to the pain of separation. We no longer agonize over You, who ought to be our dearest One. There is no heart for You. And that’s the saddest part.

And then we read and hear about the divorce rate skyrocketing today. But here we have the contrast of God’s love. Because He holds on to the people of His own choosing. He refuses to let them go and give up even though they don’t even care about how He feels. They make love to everything You hate, and yet You continue to love and call them back. They choose to become animals instead of the Beloved. But You don’t give up hope.

No, it wasn’t because Israel lacked information. And it’s not that we lack information either. It’s that we lack “sensitivity, empathy with God.” (Skip Moen) Are we any different? Do I feel what You feel, Lord? Do I share the same sensitivity? Do I cry with You? Do I agonize over what You agonize over? Do I care enough about You to be willing to die to more than myself? Do I care enough about You to be willing to just die to whatever I had to, even if it meant death itself? Because this Husband gives more than I could ever imagine. His life, through Christ, was spent for mine, not out of duty, but out of immeasurable love. He owed me nothing, yet gave everything. And this is GOD who did that. This is GOD. This is the ONLY GOD who has ever and would ever go to those extremes for the love and redemption of His people, His own creation.

I can run around in the midst of my own lies, living any way I want, but it would just be an utter waste of my life. There is absolutely nothing that compares to You and Your love God. Absolutely nothing. I can choose my own way and disregard You and start perishing today. Or I can regard You in Your fullness and know You better than I know myself. I can delight myself in You, the only God who delights Himself in me. And in that kind of knowing and experiencing and living it out, I can see the desires of Your heart come to life in mine as Your love blossoms in me. It would be a shame to be destroyed for lack of knowledge when you held that knowledge right there all along and never experienced it because you never even opened it up and looked inside.

A Twisted Purpose

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“Why do You make me see iniquity, and why do You idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; and strife and contention arise.”  (Habakkuk 1:3)

Habakkuk may have lived in the 7th century B.C. but what he was going through is still relevant to our lives and times today.  Can you imagine asking God this question?  I’d say it’s a bit of an accusation, and not just a question.  “Why do You make me see iniquity?  Why do You idly look at wrong?”  Life for Habakkuk and the people was filled with destruction and violence and strife and contention.  He’s not exaggerating either.  Assyria, their oppressor, was great and powerful.  But her greatness was looked at from those oppressed as though they “had been bled to build her.”  She was a nation of “trampling, stripping, and burning,” dashing little ones against rocks, dragging kings and hanging them in cages from their gates, lining the temples with defeated gods, requiring great tribute, rapaciously insolent, plundering, violent, forceful, crushing.  Assyria rained down violent judgement over all they stormed over.  The violence was indescribable and all cried under them.

Imagine calling out to God.  “Lord, how long must I call and You don’t hear me, and You don’t respond to save?”  “How long will You let this terrible violence continue?”  “How long must I look at this wrongness?”  “How long must I see this depravity grow and continue and infect more and more?”  Imagine the law being paralyzed.  Imagine no justice.  Imagine the wicked having their way and what is right being perverted. 

What does it really mean to be perverted?  It means to turn from the truth or to turn something from its proper use.  It’s distorting something from its true use or end.  According to Noah Webster reason can be perverted by misdirecting it; laws can be perverted by misinterpreting and misapplying them.  Its turning from the right to the wrong and calling it right.  And the sad thing is, what Assyria was guilty of then, the elite in our governments are following suit in today. 

Look at our own nation, can you believe it?  Our officials are breaking the law, but the law is paralyzed by corruption, and the guilty powerful walk free to extend further corruption.  Where is justice?  The ordinary citizen reaps the sting of the law, but not those in power.  The law is rewritten.  What was once truth according to a higher authority is distorted to fit man’s agendas and people’s desires.  Our own purpose in this world is distorted as our nation’s laws are misinterpreted, misapplied, and rewritten.  Nature itself is perverted and twisted. 

But the prophets knew, and Habakkuk knew, that God would have the last say in the matter, and we can know the same thing.  We hear God’s thoughts in Psalm 50:16-17, “ But to the wicked God says, ‘What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth?  For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you.’”  Now listen to that.  Habakuk is saying that the wicked are surrounding the righteous, and inflicting wrong judgment.  Who are these wicked?  Are they only people who have never heard of You, God?  Are these wicked only the “pagans”?  But You broaden that base of the wicked in this Psalm.  You define the wicked in an unexpected way.  And I think we need to ask, how did things get so wicked?  What led up to this?  Who created the wicked?  What is wicked?

Maybe the wicked us not what we expected.  The wicked, or rasha, in the Psalm are those who say they honor God’s statutes.  But that’s part of the problem and the development of what is to come.  There are those who proclaim to know God’s will, but rewrite it to suit their own.  In all their outward claims, they profess to be believers, but they won’t accept Your mandates, Your delights, Your abominations.  These people profess You as Lord, and know Your commands and Your words, and can even speak them, and even speak of Your love, but instead of calling them Your beloved, You call them rasha, wicked.   Why?

Because in reality they hate any kind of discipline.  They won’t let You correct them.  They wanted Your love their way, not Your way, and so they rewrite it.  As a matter of fact, they hate (sane) the thought of it.  They are hostile to it, loathe it, and despise it.  The words of the Lord become something to be rejected, repugnant, and even the thought of anyone else honoring them is despicable.  And it’s not just that the discipline was unacceptable to them.  It’s that Your instruction is repugnant. 

Remember Cain and Abel?  You offered Cain a way of life and Abel a way of life.  Both Cain and Abel knew You.  But for some reason, what was beautiful and inviting to Abel was abhorrent to Cain.  Fulfilling Your purposes was wonderful to Abel.  But not so for Cain.  Cain did not want to fulfill Your purpose for him.  He chose to fulfill his own.  Instead of choosing the path of wisdom and life, he chose the path of self-knowledge and death.  He knew the truth but denied the verity of it in his life.  He cast it behind him as trash.  And look at the effect it had on the world around him.

Habakkuk’s world and our world are reeling from the effects of this repugnance to God. And the repugnance, just like with Cain, is directed not only at God’s word and God’s ways, but at anyone who attempts to honor You, Lord.  God’s plan for life and way of living it is abjectly being rejected as well as anything that reminds of it.  It’s sad, but the attitude of Cain is rampant in the world today.  And maybe more people than we think really do know the truth and that’s why they are so adamantly against it.  It’s the same problem faced by Adam and Eve in the garden when staring at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or when Cain kept contemplating how his brother’s goodness made him look.  They threw “away the wisdom of God and substitute[d] the ‘freedom’ of deciding on their own.” (Skip Moen)

Imagine how hard our nation is working at putting God’s words behind them.  In the schools, in the law, in our lives, God’s word is being dismissed, and removed from sight so it can no longer act as our guide.  But the truth is that it can only temporarily be held back or delayed because no matter how much any man or all men would try to be gods, they aren’t and never will be.  There is only one God who shall always be God.  You can worship any god you want, but it doesn’t make him more than a god.  It just teaches you to worship emptiness.

But the hope in this chapter of Habakkuk lies in the fact that what appears to be undefeatable evil, who has been raining terrible judgment upon people, is getting ready to come under judgment herself by the Chaldeans, a terrible nation itself.  That’s good news?  One oppressive nation oppressing another?  Actually the good news is that You are from everlasting.  You know the plans You have and will see them completed and You will do what it takes to mold Your people.  The potter doesn’t keep all his vessels. He only keeps those that yield to the shaping of his hands.  You are the Holy One, shaping the nations into Your holiness.  Those who will not yield, shall be defeated one day.  Those that yield, shall be His beloved.  They are the ones that “are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

So maybe that’s the problem with the wicked, whether they profess to know You or not.  Maybe the problem is not seeing Your word and You for who You are.  So those who see You for who You are now, even in our imperfect vision, we live after You and Your ways because we want You to purify us so that we can be like You.  We receive and submit to Your molding hands, Your correction, and Your instruction.  We learn to submit when it’s difficult and we learn to submit when it’s pleasant because we’ve found a Law that cares and loves and protects and imparts true life.  I mean, after all, what is lawlessness?  Isn’t it Godlessness?  If Jesus came to fulfill the law, and appeared in order to take away sin (lawlessness), and in Him there is no sin (lawlessness), then maybe what we all need is to step into Jesus, who is the law of God manifest on this earth for us.  Maybe,  just maybe, what the world needs is to surrender to the law of God in Christ Jesus, and choose life and love and liberty in Him. 

I can’t help but think if Cain had known God more deeply than his jealousy, how would the world be a different place?  If Adam and Even had known God more deeply than they wanted to know things for themselves and be their own gods, how would the world be a different place?  What about John Doe?  Or Jane Doe?  Or me?  Or you?  There are lots of angry people in our world today, and maybe if instead of choosing to be angry, they stopped to get to know You, Lord, maybe people would really learn what it is to love one another as You commanded.  And maybe people wouldn’t feel alone and like they were falling through the cracks because they would have You abiding in them and they would be adding in You and Your Spirit would abound in love and praise in the midst of us all.  Yeah, there are bad things going on and I suppose they will get worse.  It seems to be a historical trend.  But the good news is that God is not finished. You are still at work in us.  And I can bank on the promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)