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)

Brother’s Keeper

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

“…[A]m I my brother’s keeper?”  Cain, Genesis 4:9

I wasn’t intending to think about Cain.  But here I am, yet only momentarily.  I’m more thinking about his attitude.  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Lord, You answered, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”  That “What have you done?” is ringing ever so loudly in my ears.  I wonder if it was ringing in Cain’s ears or if he just crowded it out?  Because the fact is that Cain and Abel, and me and every person ever created were created in Your image.  You made us in Your image, after Your likeness.  That means that we were created to be like You in character and action and belief.  We were created to represent You on this earth and over all the earth, one to another.  That’s why, Cain, you were supposed to be your brother’s keeper.  That’s why I’m supposed to be my brother’s keeper and we each are supposed to be our brothers’ keepers.  Because God, You are our Keeper, and we were created to be like You. 

“What have you done?”  Cain rebelled against the very essence of who he was.  “What have you done?”  He robbed himself of the glory of who he was created to be.  He became something he originally wasn’t.  He became deformed in a sense.  He despised his own purpose and the purpose of his own brother.  Here he was created to glorify God, to walk in His image, to be like Him and he threw it all away for what?  A life making his own decisions?  A life influencing others to live by their own choices?  A life not caring for others and not caring to teach others to care for others?  A life not valuing God and returning His glory to Him?  A life teaching others to disregard You, Lord, and esteem their own value instead? 

And what got me thinking about these things is reading Malachi.  It’s only 4 chapters so it’s doable in one sitting.  But Malachi, in my simple mind, is about the same kind of thought going on.  You, God, are reprimanding the priests, the Levites, who were chosen and appointed to take care of their brothers by representing You rightly before them.  But, like Cain, they were anything but their brother’s keepers. 

I think of what You invested in each of us.  I mean, here You are God of the Universe, Lord of hosts, and it’s not just so You can “lord” it over us even though You have every right to do so.  You invite us into this personal relationship with You, the Lord of hosts.  You invite us to be Your representatives.  That’s what Cain was supposed to be.  That’s what the Levites were supposed to be.  Not just because You made them, but because You are more than worthy of being represented in loving worship by those You have given life and everything to.  It’s not just a mandate.  It’s personal. 

Here’s what You asked the Levites, “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear?’ says the Lord of hosts to you…” Paul, to the Romans, also appealed to his brothers, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  This is the relationship we were created for.  This is our purpose.  But let’s take it a step farther.  The King James Version actually uses the words “reasonable service.”  This is our rational, reasonable worship back to You, God.  This is what makes sense of our lives, when we respond in this way.  Anything else is messed up and we have to ask, “What have you done?”

Worshipping You like You require, like You created us to, and like You expect and desire and deserve is logical.  Yeah, it’s actually the Greek word logikos.  It makes wonderful sense.  But just like the Levites in Malachi’s day, we go around like Cain asking, “How have we polluted you?”  When all along we despise You and all that You stand for.  We disesteem Your character.  “Oh, how do I do that, Lord?  I love You.”  I do that every time I don’t value what You value.  I do that every time I don’t detest what You detest.

“’For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My name, and a pure offering.  For My name will be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  Does that seem too much to ask of us, to make much of Your name?  No, not at all because it’s logical to make You great since You made us in the first place.  There’s not a moment in any day when You aren’t great whether we make much of You or not.  You ARE great.  It’s not just about saying, “God is good,” or putting up crosses, or Jesus’ name on billboards.  Your name is all about who You are.  It’s the essence of You.  You and Your character and all that You are and have been and will be is great among the nations and will be.  You created us to proclaim that with all of our lives as an act of living worship declaring with like character the glory of You among all the nations.  It’s what You called the Levites, the priests, to, and the nation of Israel, and it still applies to believers today.  Peter tells us, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Peter 2:9)  We still have the same life purpose since the beginning of creation.  What are we doing with it?

You, God, have not changed.  You are still the same and always will be.  “…’For I am a great King,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and My name will be feared among the nations.’”  Am I doing my part to honor You?  I suppose sometimes we want You to give us direct commands like, “Thou shalt!” or “Thou shalt not!,” in order for us to acknowledge something.  But the fact is that since You invite us into relationship with You by creating us with this glorious ability to represent You and live in You, why do we need commands to do what we we were naturally created for?  Isn’t that an illogical notion? 

Malachi refers to something called a covenant with Levi.  You, Lord, say, “‘So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand,’ says the Lord of hosts.  ‘My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him.  It was a covenant of fear, and he feared Me.  He stood in awe of My name…’”  Who hears of the covenant of Levi?  But if I go back to Deuteronomy when the sons of Abraham are being blessed, I hear it and read of it.  I see the heart of it, this privilege of glorifying You given to men, to mere men!  “…[F]or they have observed Your word, and keep Your covenant.  They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances, and Israel Your law; they shall put incense before You, and whole burnt-offering upon Your altar.” (Deuteronomy 33:9,10)  You gave them a purpose, to be Your image and Your likeness before the nation and before all nations.  And blessing would come from that relationship with You.  It was more than about offering incense in a container or sacrifices on an altar.  It was about the aroma of true worship in prayer and life.

But the problem with the Levites, and Cain, and us is that sometimes, or all the time, we “’have turned aside from the way.  You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.  You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  Whose way am I teaching?  What kind of brother’s keeper am I? Here’s the logic: “Have we not all one Father?  Has not one God created us?  Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?”  Why are we faithless? Why am I?  Why do I choose my own way over what’s logically and inherently good?  Why do I choose falsehood over truth?  Why do I choose the unnatural over the natural.  Why do I rebel against who I was created to be and what I was created to be in You?  Why do I trade in the glorious for the inglorious?

You warn, “So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”  Guard that breath of life itself that God has placed in you.  Protect it.  Pay attention to it.  This purpose of yours, follow it through.  This life of worship you were created for, live it.  Don’t settle for false worship.  Don’t be mislead by the lure of divorce.  It’s not logical.  It’s not what You were created for.  We were created to be united with the One who created us.  Everything in our life ought to resemble that purpose.  Anything less is illogical.

When will I delight in that purpose?  Because if I don’t, if I rebel against my purpose, then Jesus will come “like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord…”  I was created to “fine” like You.  Have I lost my “fineness”?  Do I have to be “re-fined”?  What is my worship like?  Is it anything like You require?  Is it anything like what You deserve?  Is it anything like what You demonstrate before me in Christ?

“‘For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed…Return to Me and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  I’m the one who changed from my original purpose, not You, O Lord.  You have remained the same.  I’ve robbed You of Your glory by desiring to be who I wanted to be or have life as I want it, when You created me for something more sublime.  But You don’t give up on us.  Thank You, Lord!  You tell me, “‘Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.  And thereby put Me to the test,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.  I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear,’ says the Lord of hosts.  ‘Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  Is this just for Israel?  No, if I return in full faith and give the worship You deserve and require, I will see You be glorified in me and around me.  Who do I think the devourer is?  Is it just another nation?  No.  Peter tells us that we need to be “sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  ( 1 Peter 5:8)  If I want You to rebuke Satan in my life, then I have to live in Your image and be made into Your likeness.  I have to enter that covenant relationship on my part.  I have to worship with all of me the way You require.  And what of the vine and bearing fruit?  John shares Your own words, Jesus, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me…I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

This is such good news for me.  I can live out my original purpose.  I can be my brother’s keeper by honoring You, Lord, first in all I do.  My life can be all about worshipping You with every part of my being.  I can rejoice with my brethren and bring other brethren into Your kingdom.  I can be restored like those in Malachi.  “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.  The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name.  ‘They shall be mine,’ says the Lord of hosts… ‘But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall…’”  I can receive healing.  I can go out into the world rejoicing like a calf leaping from it’s stall.  My name is written in His book.  I can esteem You with all my life.  I can live out worship in spirit and truth.  And You will turn my heart to be my brother’s keeper when my heart is turned to You. 

Lord, You promise to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers,” when we start accepting our true purpose in You.  I want my relationship with You and under You to be the most right thing in my life so that You will bring every other relationship into right perspective.  I’m not just realizing today that You created me and each of us to be our brother’s keeper, but I am realizing that I need You to make me so much more than I have been.  Help me to be so committed to Your required worship that it becomes natural.  Let me so delight in You that I feel the way You feel and I see things the way You do.  Help me to think about You and Your ways so much that You inhabit my every thought and it comes out reflected in my life.  Continually remind me that I am my brother’s keeper.  Why?  Because You are my keeper and my brother’s keeper and I was created in Your image and in Your likeness.  This is who I am and anything less is unnatural.

“What to Me and to You?”

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“Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”  (Matthew 4:7)

I need to stop and think about this one.  How can I put the Lord my God to the test?  I mean, He’s my Creator right?  How do you put your Creator to the test?  This makes no sense to me, yet we all wind up being guilty at times of doing just this.  When I’m the one who deserves testing, when I’m the one whose “metal”  and character needs to be proven, I set up situations in my life where I guess I wind up challenging God and trying to get Him to fall under my approval.  What am I thinking?

I’m so grateful for Jesus’s words in Matthew.  I’m so grateful that Jesus, as a human like me, was tempted, or tested.  I’m so grateful because in the middle of His temptation, He demonstrated to me the heart attitude I ought to have every moment of my life.  Because if I don’t have that heart attitude that is followed by right actions, I won’t make it successfully and victoriously through those temptations.  I’m so grateful for this true life account and the others in Scripture that have been shared with us for our benefit.  I’m glad that You gave us these accounts so that I could have the instruction I need to walk victoriously through my every day life circumstances, Lord.  I’m glad that these stories are a reminder to me that I don’t stand alone and I don’t stand as master of my destiny.  Because if I start thinking like that, like everything is all about me and my approval and my satisfaction, then I am going to fall, and I am going to fall big time!

But the truth that will keep me from falling is remembering.  And part of what I need to remember is that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”  I’m not alone in my struggles.  It’s part of humanity.  Even Jesus had to go through it.  But I’m not just not alone because others are going through these things too.  We could all just fall under the power of these temptations just as easily as the next guy, right?  But the good news that gets us through is that “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  Oh, that’s great!  You give me a way out, Lord.  Now I wonder if that’s what Paul is really saying here.  Or is he saying, “God, You are faithful.  You are my way out of temptation.  If I cling to You, if I love You more that what is tempting me, if I hunger and thirst after You most, if I remain focussed on You and desire You and Your approval, then, and only then You will get me through the test and I will escape because You alone are my Escape.”

That’s what You Jesus, demonstrated before us that day that You were tempted by the devil.  You were hungry for real food.  God’s word says so.  Since You were hungry for it and had that desire for food, that was something the devil could use to lure You to want food more than obedience to Your Father.  “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Simple enough, right?  But You were ready for that subtle attack.  I mean, after all, You are God, and You could have commanded those stones to become bread.  You would soon turn water into wine.  No big deal, right?

Let’s think about that day.  Jesus, his disciples, and his mother Mary are attending a wedding.  It seems as though Joseph may have died by this point in time making Jesus the “man of the house” in Mary’s household.  Mary, like women are prone to, sees a problem evolving and wants to mend any conflict for the others before it happens, so she let’s Jesus know of the situation.  Obviously, she has no doubt that He can take care of the problem.  But He gives her a snarky response, right?  “Woman, what does this have to do with me?”  But what if this wasn’t a snarky, disrespectful remark?  What if the title “Woman” was used as an endearment?  And what if the literal translation of the Greek is rendered this way, ““What to me and to you, woman?”  What if Jesus’s response to Mary wasn’t disinterest, but inviting Mary to think about how this situation, this circumstance relates Mary and Jesus together?  What if Jesus is really inviting his mom into the solution with love?  What if He’s asking for her cooperation?  And cooperate she does.  She goes and tells the servant, “Do whatever He tells you.”  And Jesus turns water into wine and because Mary cooperated with Him, his disciples believed in Him.  I’m thinking that includes Mary believing even more strongly.

So we hop back to You, Jesus, refusing to turn stones to bread?  Why?  Because You chose to cooperate with God instead.  You understood the question before You ever asked it of Mary.  “Son, what is this between You and Me?”  And You remembered God’s words and knew what it was.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  I can hear You thinking, “I love You and Your honor more than my own honor and glory.  You are way better.  Glorifying myself would break our relationship.  It’s not worth it.  You are worth everything!  And what is mere bread anyways compared to You? Yes, I’m hungry, but You’ll take care of me the best way.”

So the devil tries again and figures, if hunger isn’t the issue, maybe a desire for power or pride could be.  Maybe he can get Jesus to misquote Scripture for His own benefit, to make Himself look good and spectacular before others.  “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”  That’s Scripture, right?  It does say that.

That reminds me of Paul’s words to Timothy.  “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:15)  Paul isn’t talking about having a theological, intellectual knowledge of God’s Word here.  He’s talking about making it so personal, and cooperating with the Holy Spirit, in order to  listen and learn to dissect it correctly.  See, it’s a divine message, so we need to cooperate with a divine Counselor to understand it correctly.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 that the Spirit helps us understand things of God, and teaches us how to interpret spiritual truths from His Word.  “What to me and to you, right?”  A lot.  Everything.

I need to be related together with God through His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, You were related that closely together with God.  You were so intimately intwined and related that You could pick up false teaching immediately and counter it.  you knew the heart of God’s Word.  You knew the intent.  How?  Because Your life was all about being in relationship with Your heavenly Father.   “I and my Father are one,” were words straight from Your own mouth.  You said it because it was true about your relationship.  And when You were only 12 years old You said, “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”  That’s not about following an agenda or a list of do’s and don’ts.   It’s about being so close with God, spending so much time with Him, that You know His heart and You follow and obey Your Father’s heart, Your Father’s will.  You knew how to be about what Your Father was about.  Spend enough really personal time with someone and you come to know that about them.

And because of that intimacy of Your relationship, Jesus, You answered “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”  JeYou knew that You had no need to prove that Your heavenly Father would be true to His Word.  After all God is Truth.  God is Faithful.  We’re the one’s that need to be proven.  And here it was time for You to be tested to show who You really were and where Your heart really was.  We’re the ones who need to be tested to see where our relationship with and to God lies.  God’s relationship to us never changes.  We’re the ones who prove whether we know Him at all our not.  We prove that by how well we know His words and how well we live them out by faith.

John tells us that if we love ourselves most, we’ll lose ourselves.  But if we love God most, we’ll have life eternal.  Not only that, but if we love Jesus, we won’t just do God’s commands, we’ll be related with them.  I won’t just do them because I have to.  I’ll understand their importance to my life.  They will be relational to my well-being because God is relational to my well-being.  Loving Him is relational with loving everything about Him which reciprocates His love and the love of Jesus so that I experience it in it’s fullness.  Actually, He was the first to reciprocate His love to me before I ever knew how to love Him, so that I could relate and come to love Him!  I don’t ask God to perform to prove Himself.  I participate in what He’s already begun.  I partner with Him continually by following His lead, not expecting Him to follow mine.

If that wasn’t enough, the devil continued to try again by taking You, Jesus, up to the top of a mountain and trying to lure You to seek Your own glory by giving You the world.  He actually asks You to bow down to him and worship him.  Strange thing is that God had already promised You all the people and all the nations of the world.  So why would the devil’s offer be any kind of lure?  Well, I suppose it’s often more inviting to get what I am promised now instead of having to wait until later.  Immediate gratification  seems to cause a lot of woe.  I mean, even in something as simple as being a little hungry.  I don’t necessarily wait for the healthy thing.  I satisfy my hunger by grabbing for the quick and easy snack.  Therefore, I struggle with maintaining my best weight.  If You took the kingdom the devil’s way, You wouldn’t have to go to the cross.  Well, that would be easier.

But thank goodness You demonstrated that it wasn’t at all about immediate gratification or finding an easier way.  You could answer with all Your conviction, “Get out of here, Satan: for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”  In other words, God’s expectation for us, for us to be accepted is to adore Him, you know, our Creator, above everything else.  And the proof of our adoration is exhibited through our service.  Serving God means doing the work or service or homage that is required.  I can’t minister to God that way unless I know what He requires.  And I don’t have the freedom to decide the requirements for myself or do it my own way.  Worship is ministering like the faithful steward who knows everything about His master.  It’s being a Joseph for God.

Joseph had such a good relationship with his master that everything was his to be in charge of.  His master trusted him that much.  And Joseph’s heart was for God and his master so much that he wouldn’t touch his master’s wife even though tempted.  How could he stand through all that?  Because first and foremost he worshipped and obeyed God.  He heard God asking him, “What to me and to you, Joseph?”  And Joseph knew that everything balanced upon that relationship between God and him.  And You, Jesus, more than any of us, were demonstrating the power of that reality before us so that we would be able to ask ourselves that same question.

“What to Me and to you?”  I need to ask myself that question in every circumstance, in every situation, in every trial and tribulation.  How is our relationship, Lord?  How can we be relational in the midst of this circumstance of life?  How can I participate with You?  How can I know Your will?  How can I obey You?  How can I please You more and be accepted?  I think it would behoove me to join in Paul’s prayer that I might be filled with the knowledge of Your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; so that I might walk worthy of You, and pleasing to You, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in how much I know You; being strengthened with all might according to Your glorious power, to all patience  and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto my Father, who has enabled me to be a partaker of His inheritance, of all that is in Him and of Him and through Him! (Colossians 1)  I don’t keep your commands and do Your will, those things that are pleasing to You because I have to.  I can do them because of experiencing Your great love for me and because I have grown to love You so.  It’s not a “have to” thing.  Not when I delight in You.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Trusting in the Lord becomes so much better when I realize that He is to be delighted in.  The more I trust Him, the more I learn to delight in Him.  The more I trust and delight in Him, the deeper I find myself committing to Him.  And the more I commit myself because I adore You more and more moment by moment, the more I see Your hand in my life and around me and the more I’m willing to rest in You and learn to wait patiently.  You become so worth the wait and so worth the trial and so worth the closeness of falling at Your feet, of having You pick me up, of having my Father come and rescue me.

Jesus, You experienced that rescue.  When You refused Satan’s copycat lures, the heavenly Father sent His angels to feed and encourage and love on You.  And when I refuse Satan’s copycat lures because I know what it is between God and me, then He will be there every time to rescue and encourage and nourish me too.  It is written, “If a man loves Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23)  Lord, may I desire Your closeness, Your presence, more than anything else.  May I desire You so much, that I keep Your words, no matter what is going on in my life.  May my every thought be more captivated by You than by any other desire.  May my thoughts always be about what You are to me and what I am to you.

The Inward Part of Prayer

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“But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.” Matthew 6:6

I saw “War Room” last week and it was a wonderful movie.  But that’s not what is moving me to meditate on prayer.  Lord, You were already at work at that and this is just where You have brought me today.  With all the other truths You’ve been having me mull over and meditate on, this has been something that’s been floating around in my thoughts and heart and today is the day to begin putting it into words and solidifying it.

I think there is a lot more to Your idea of prayer than meets the eye.  It was the same thing with Your idea of giving.  But before I even talk about that, I just want to understand Your perspective on pray, because maybe my perspective and Your perspective don’t line up like they ought to, like they need to.  So give me open eyes and an open heart to understand Your perspective.

If I google the types of prayer, I see lists that range from the four types of prayer to twenty-one.  I see things like thanksgiving, worship, fasting, intercession, faith, corporate prayer, consecration, and more.  Here in Matthew, Jesus tells us, “But you, when you pray…”  This is for me and this is for when I pray.  It’s the word “proseuchomai” and it’s all about praying to God, about supplication, sharing our needs, and worship.  It’s not just one kind of praying.  It’s the whole gamut.

But here’s the problem.  We’re feeble, we’re weak.  Paul knew it.  He shared, “[l]ikewise the Spirit also helps our weaknesses: ‘because what we may pray as we ought, we do not know’: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  And He that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”  (Romans 8:26-27)  It’s not that we don’t know how to pray; it’s a problem of not knowing what to pray.  The problem is that I think finitely.  I only see the little picture in front of me, not the big picture.  Therefore, I don’t know on my own how to pray for and after Your will, God.  So, I don’t know the best way to pray in unison with You unless You show me.

I wonder if learning this is the beginning of praying in faith.  I mean, what if I learned to just worship You and lift You up and recall in prayer Your word and Your promises and Your Youness.  I wonder If I just lifted You up more and commended every situation and need to You and didn’t worry so much about asking You how to fix them, but I just trusted You to do the right thing in every situation and just focussed on You, if that might open the door to my drawing nearer to the Spirit and if my heart wouldn’t line up more closely with Yours.  Maybe even that way, I would be less effected by my circumstances because I wouldn’t be thinking about them so much.  That way, I wouldn’t be upset because You didn’t work things out my way.  That way, I might really just submit to You and basque in the beauty and wonder of who You are instead of basquing in the difficulties.

I mean I already know that I have a problem with my heart being decietful and desperately wicked.  It’s part of our humanness.  But I also know that there is Someone who knows the depths of my heart and can make me aware of it’s deceit.  And I know that this Someone who has the power to search my heart and test my heart and change my heart and teach me about my heart, has placed His Spirit there within my heart to give me the mind of Christ instead of my own mind.  So the One who searches my heart and knows the mind of the Spirit within my heart, allows Him to pray for me, and allows me to learn to be unified in that prayer.  I may not always understand the words, but the heart of the prayer is faith, by trusting the One who loves me so greatly.  So I make my prayer all about Him and He takes care of the rest.

So when I pray, it’s not for public scrutiny, it’s personal to and about God whether I pray corporately or in my own private nook.  My time with God is truly my time with You, Lord.  I get away, alone with You.  You even did that as an example when You were with Your disciples.  You took them to a dessert place and You withdrew from them to be with Your Heavenly Father.  I need to do the same.  I need to get alone and shut the door to shut the world out, to shut others momentarily out.  Why?  I need to be wholly under Your influence.  In a sense, I need to shut myself out because I need to set myself aside and open myself to You.  I need to worship You, my Father.  I need to get private and personal.  I need to get in You and I need You to get in me.  I need to get so personal that it reaches my inward parts and that I reach Your inward parts.  I need to throw all superficiallity away.

You see the inward parts of me, every one,  no matter the condition.  And when I see the inward parts of You and Your condition of holiness, I absolutely know how much I need You and how utterly dependent I am upon You and upon Your working in me.  And You promise that when I come to You like this, You see into the inward parts, the secret depths of me I can’t reach and fathom, the secret depths of You I can’t reach and fathom on my own, and You “reward me openly.”  That means You give it up to me.  When I worship You, You bring Your truths to pass.  When I worship You, I see You.  When I worship You, I experience You, I come to know You and see through Your perspective.  You make the secret known.  You reveal Your inward Self.  And You reveal Yourself openly.

The beauty of that word is that it means “shining.”  You shine Yourself on me, over me, in me, through me.  You make Yourself and Your ways apparent.  You reveal the internal You, externally to me.  You appear.  I come to know.   You make Yourself manifest.  The inward is seen outwardly.  The secret is revealed.

See, my Father already knows what I need, and my Father, You have it under control.  What I need to do when I pray is remember who You are.  I need to remind myself and revel in the fact that You are not only my Father, but the Father of those I’m praying for.  We are in this faith together.  I need to remember that You alone are holy and all that that means.  I need to remember that it’s all about Your kingdom and that Your kingdom is coming and You have invited me to be a part of bringing that to pass.  Your will is everything.  I must pray to know it and to do it and to be united with You in it.  I need to be reminded in worship that You are the one providing all my daily needs.  I need to be reminded as I worship that You are the One who has forgiven me so greatly, therefore I am to forgive others so greatly.  I need to be reminded as I worship You that I need You to keep me holy and to lead me in Your ways and away from sin and evil.  I need to be continually reminded through worshipping You and being alone with You that the kingdom is and was and always will be Yours, that all power belongs to You and falls under You, and that You are the only truly glorious One, and that You are all that You are forever and ever without end. Amen.

This is prayer.  This is what I’m called to find a quiet place to sit alone with You in and pursue.  This is worship.  This is trust.  This is faith.  This is how I’m constantly reminded of who You are so that my feeble mind and my feeble body won’t stray like a silly sheep.  This is prayer.

Do I know what I worship?  Really, do I know Who I worship?  Jesus said, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know…But the hour is coming, and is here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:22-24)  Lord, teach me.  I need You desperately and inwardly and outwardly.  I need You.  I need to be reminded.  I need to be refilled.  I need to understand Your perpective.   I’m in desperate need to worship You in spirit and truth.  Lead me there and hold me there as I commit to seek You there in the secret inward place where You are found.

What Does God Require?

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“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

All to often we want to jump to the conclusion before we even read the book.  But if we start at the end, we miss all the important stuff before it.  If I started at the end, I would miss the character development, I would miss the thickening of the plot, I would miss identifying with certain characters and despising others.  We weren’t meant to start at the end.

Beginnings are important places to start.  Actually, it’s more than just important.  It’s integral to the rest of the story.  It’s essential and the rest of the story depends on there being a beginning.  Because without the beginning there’s nothing to start off of and therefore no place to go from.

Now, You Lord, are the Ultimate Story Teller.  You know how to tell a story.  You know how important the beginning is.  You started Your story about us right there, right at the beginning.  “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)  The beginning matters because the beginning is the foundation for the rest of the story.

In Micah 6:8, the beginning matters.  It’s the foundation of the rest of the verse.  I mean, I could start of with doing the things that You, Lord, require, like justice, mercy, and humbly walking with you, but unless I start at the beginning of that verse, I won’t have the foundation I need to do them.  See, the doing justly, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with You are the end of the story.  The beginning of the story starts with me looking at You so I can see and know what that looks like.

Here’s the beginning- “He has showed you, O man, what is good.”  See, Micah was being told to shout out to the people the controversy that God was having with His people.  And He wants Micah to speak out against the “strong foundations of the earth.”  God has a problem with the choices His people have been making.  He has a problem with the foundation they are standing on.  Lord, You are wondering how Your people can stand on any other foundation after all You have demonstrated to them, after all the times You have manifested Yourself to them.  How could they forget?

How could they forget the mighty works You did, Your voice that they heard audibly, Your righteousness that they saw and experienced?  What should Micah do to make things right with God?  Should he bring burnt offerings of calfs?  Will that make You feel better about the people’s decisions and hearts?  Will that change anything?  If they gave thousands of rams or ten thousands of rivers of oil, would that please You, Lord?  Will that have changed the people’s hearts?  Is that what You want from us?  Is that what You require, our gifts?  What if I even offered my own firstborn child for my sins, would that satisfy You, Lord?

No.  At this point, for these people, all these gifts are empty.  Every one of these is just an appeasement.  But aren’t You the One who established the sacrificial system in the first place?  And now You are saying that’s not what You want?  Or are You saying You want something deeper than a superficial sacrifice that is only an appeasement?  Isn’t that what the pagans gave their gods?  Didn’t they give a sacrifice so their god wouldn’t be angry and wouldn’t react in anger?  But what about Your people?  What do You require?  What is the purpose of a real sacrifice?

Well, first Micah tells us that You showed us already what is good and beautiful and precious to You.  Here’s the neat thing about that word “showed.”  It’s from the Hebrew word “nagad.”  Strongs says that You brought it right to the “front.”  You took what was good, like You, and made it “stand boldy out opposite” what everybody else’s good looked like.  You manifested it.  You demonstrated it and announced it by the very words of Your mouth to those who were standing present before You.  It’s been exposed.  It’s no secret.  It’s not evasive.

So what is it that You require of us?  That’s another interesting word there.  “Darash” is a Hebrew word used to describe a way of  worship.  It’s when You search something out.  It’s when You dig into Scripture and search out the meaning.  You seek the heart of God and you ask Him to make it known to you.  It implies diligence.

The problem is that we can wish for the good things with all our heart but then not be willing to pay the price for them with all our heart.  What I want and what I am willing to do for it don’t line up in this case.  You are telling me that should not be so.  You are telling us that You alone determine what is good.  My goodness doesn’t count for anything unless it lines up with Yours.  So Micah is asking me to reexamine my standard.  Does my standard line up with Yours, Lord?

The Jews would have understood what Micah was talking about here.  They understood that word “darash.”  It’s a part of rabbinic biblical exegesis.  It’s how the Jews have been studying scripture for years upon years.  Darash is part of Torah study known by this acronym, PaRDeS.  It consists of Peshat, which is the plain, contextual meaning.  The Remez is the allegorical meaning.  Darash is the metaphorical meaning.  Sod is the hidden meaning.  And none of the meanings ever “contradict the base meaning”.  I’m not just to look at You and Your Word superficially.  I’m to dig deeper into You, deeper into Your Word.  I”m to go beyond the plain meaning and look at the allegorical, the metaphorical, the hidden yet to be revealed.

Skip Moen explained this idea about PaRDeS.   “Darash is the verb of careful examination, searching, looking deeply into the text.  It is the verb for seeking God through the study of Torah (cf. Ezra 7:10).  ‘What does YHWH require of you?’ might be read ‘What does YHWH seek in you?’ or ‘What does YHWH find in examining you?’  What do you pursue with unrelenting commitment?  What do you consistently do that brings you into God’s presence?  What are you doing that restores His order?  Darash is the verb of continued, deliberate searching.  Darash is lifetime liturgy.”

Lord, You didn’t design an easy fix where we follow some prescribed ritual and can keep on heading in the direction we’re already heading.  First and foremost it’s about Who I know.  What I do will flow from that knowledge or lack of knowledge.  You have shown Yourself, but have I taken the time and effort to get to know You and understand You?

What do You expect of me, Lord?  You expect me to see the metaphor, the comparison between my life and the sacrifice You require.  How am I supposed to be like that sacrifice?  What are You really looking for?  That’s what You want me to think about.

And how can I fulfill Your requirements, how can I be good like You and in You if I don’t even understand the meaning of what You are searching for in me?  If You expect me to bring forth justice, I must know what Your justice looks like.  You tell me You’ve shown me.  What is justice, “mishpat” really?

Mishpat is “the administration of government.”  It’s not just how we “render, make decisions, administer, rule with true judgments.”  It’s not how some organization rules over us.  It’s always about the leadership that You, Lord, have appointed being personally liable not just for “rendering decisions but for rendering decisions according to [Your] directions.”  (Skip Moen)  So, if You are seeking this “mishpah” in me, it means that You are expecting me to administer Your “government” in my own life and to those around me.  It’s not up to my own decisions or my own rule or my own authority.  It’s all according to Your decisions, Your rule, Your authority in my life.  I’m Your instrument of government.  I can’t be Your instrument of government unless I know You.

I must act like I am fulfilling Your government in my life on this earth.  I also must love mercy.  What is that?  Am I to be compassionate?  I am, but that’s not what mercy, “hesed,” is talking about here.  Hesed starts with God.  One way to express it is to call it God’s lovingkindess, or maybe Your lovingkindnesses.  But that doesn’t even express it fully.  It’s Your love for Your creation before they ever even made any promises with You.  It’s in the fact that when You created us You had already chosen and committed to obligate Yourself to us.  It’s Your intervention and loyalty to a people who were not loyal.  It’s Your whole character.   

Look back at Psalm 136.   It’s all about Your hesed, Lord.  It endures forever. Because of it You do great wonders.  Because of it You created all of creation.  Because of it You made the lights in the heavens.  Because of it You smote the firstborn of Egypt and brought Israel out of captivity.  Because of it You demonstrate Your strong hand and stretch out Your arm toward Your people.  Because of it You divided the Red sea, You lead Your people through the wilderness, You smote great kings,  You provided a land as a heritage, You noticed people in their low estate, redeemed people from their enemies, feed all creation, and it never stops.  And what You did for Israel You are still doing for us today.  None of us deserve Your care, intervention, rescue, and provision, but You, because of Your lovingkindness toward us, love to treat us this way.  How do you describe hesed other than to say that this is all the ways that my God demonstrates His love and kindness to me.  And this is what You are seeking for me to exhibit back to You and to others.

Now, how do I walk humbly with You?  What does that really look like.  “Tsana yalak” is the Hebrew.  This word, tsana, is only used one other place in Scripture. It’s in Proverbs 11:2 and it’s contrasted with pride.  So humbleness is the opposite of pride.  But what is pride?  Is it thinking more of myself than I ought?  So is humbleness thinking less of myself?  Or is it something more?

Pride, “zadon,” is my getting my way and being “clever” about it.  It’s me relying on me instead of me relying on You, Lord.  It’s me taking over Your authority, Your government.  I’m not only in charge of my life, and possibly everyone else’s, but I’m also rebelliously disobedient and I am delighted in my own selfishness.  I know better than You.  I can do what I want to do.  Skip Moen calls pride “an attempted demonic coup d’etat of God’s right to reign and rule.”

But You call me to be humble to walk in Your ways.  Luke, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus set Your requirements You are searching for in me here:  “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and will all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  So instead of committing to my own way, my own government, my own authority, I am deliberately, committedly placing myself totally under Your reign and rule.  And when You look at me, when You examine me, when You seek Your way in me, then You find what You are looking for in my actions and in all the aspects of my life.  You look and You see me humbled under Your mighty hand.  You see that my heart, soul, mind, strength, and even my relationships are placed under Your control and lined up with Your desires.

See, this Micah 6:8 requirement isn’t about being good or doing good.  It’s all about knowing You.  It’s all about living in You.  It’s all about submitting wholly to You and to Your authority and to Your lovingkindness and to Your government and to Your everything.  It’s all about You becoming everyting in my life.  I throw appeasement out the door because it’s not about making You happy.  My life is entwined in knowing You and being known by You.  How can I make a God happy who has everything and doesn’t even need me or anything I can give.  That sacrifice was for me.  I needed it, not You, Lord.  And in the sacrifice You wanted me to see how You alone had everything under control for me, how You alone had my best interests in mind, how You alone wanted to accept me unto You and make me like You.

How many years have we been looking at the prize all wrong?  My goodness is not the prize.  My justice or mercy or humbleness is not the prize.  You alone are the prize.  You always have been and You always will be.  And when You finally become My Prize, then I will start valuing the things You value because I will value You above everything, even above myself.  And here’s the good news.  I don’t have to wait for some future day for You to show Yourself to me.  That’s what Micah is saying.  You’ve already shown Yourself.  Will I take my eyes off of myself long enough to really look at You?  Will I search You out no matter the cost or commitment You are seeking from me?

Well, Lord, I want You to write Your whole story in me.  I want to search for You like there is no other treasure in the world.  I can seek all the good things there are in the world.  But there is One thing that is above all others, and that’s You.  All other goodness looses it’s luster compared to You.  Yes, would I sell all that I have to purchase for myself that One Pearl of great price?  Would I seek diligently like I’m searching for a hidden treasure?  Would I be so joyful for having found it that I would sell everything just to own it for my own?

Because those two responses matter.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Because You are going to examine my responses.  You are looking to see if I would sell everything for You.  You are pulling the net in full of fishes.  And You are sorting.  Will I be found full of Your goodness or will I be found full of my own rotten goodness?  Will I be gathered to You because I already clung to You?  Or will I be found lacking in You and cast away?

Lord, teach me total surrender.  I want to be wholly Yours because there’s no such thing as being partly Yours.  I can’t have two masters.  May my life, every aspect of it, totally line up with You.  Lord, I need You desperately.  May I be fully committed to You because You fully committed to me before I even ever knew You.  Yes, You are the Pearl.  You are the Treasure.  And I will seek You and Your way with all my life.