Watch Out!

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

Ezekiel 3:17

After last night’s introduction to Biblical prophecy class, I started reading in Ezekiel to prepare for next week. Already this morning, many things were on my mind, not the least of which was Psalm 5:3 and praying expectantly.  

I’m participating in a forty day prayer challenge with some friends, and I have two main prayer focuses during the forty days. One involves people very close to me whom I long to see both in right relation to the Lord and in Godly Christian fellowship complete with accountability. The other concerns where God wants me after this school year ends, work-wise.

Also on my mind (with no little shame) was the temper tantrum I had with God yesterday morning and how He lost no time in correcting me through His word. Blessed be He who has me tutoring so that I had two distinct times in His Word yesterday and so received the rebuke!

At any rate, once I’d repented, He reminded me that one of the two big prayers I am focusing on is already on its way to being answered. Then to remind me that He isn’t bound to my time expectations concerning the other, He nudged me to pick up a collection of D. L. Moody when the book I’d planned for bedtime reading turned out to be one I’d already read.

Concerning Moody, his first Sabbath-school teacher, Mr. Kimball, wrote:

I can truly say … that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker when he came into my Sabbath-school class, or one who seemed more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear, decided views of gospel truth, still less to fill any sphere of extended public usefulness.”

from The D. L. Moody Collection, edited by James S. Bell, Jr.

God can and will get hold of these loved ones. But in His time, not mine.

This morning, as I read about Ezekiel being appointed as a watchman, I couldn’t help but think that now in this present age, we are all watchmen of sorts. The Old Testament prophets served to bring the Word of God to the people. Often, as the next few verses of Ezekiel 3 state, that word was a word of warning, meant to bring the people to repentance.

Today, we have the written Word of God and the Spirit of God to be our guide and illuminate the Word to us. We still have prophets, but as last night’s teacher pointed out, we are warned to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and not to “despise the prophecies but test everything…” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). We need to be watchmen, but watching that a prophecy is in line with Scripture and points to Yeshua Messiah; Jesus the Christ.

But another thing got me as I read this passage for the second time. Let’s back up two verses and read:

And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

Ezekiel 3:15-17

In the Complete Jewish Study Bible, the commentary here reads, “Rashi* states that God is asking why Yechezk’el [Ezekiel] is keeping silent.”

Besides being a watchman in order to warn others of danger, besides being a watchman in expectant prayer, what if I were to be a watchman who didn’t need to be reminded of God’s commands? A watchman who not only watched, but obeyed?

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to warnings and obedience, this watchman is going to be keeping a closer eye on herself…

And yes, I know a watchman can’t be a herself and I’m a girl and all that, but let’s call it the literary masculine and move on, m’kay?

*Rashi was an 11th century rabbi whose work is still widely respected. 

Dismembered

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:26-27

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies lately, specifically about one Body – the Body of Christ. Forgive me if I ramble, but it’s been a long week of migraine issues and this is the closest to coherency I can get my thoughts to be!

I suppose the topic is on my mind because of some teens I know and love. Though they have been raised in the Word of God and in the church, here at the very cusp of legal adulthood, these things have fallen out of their routines. Despite the fact this lack of Christian connection has leaked into their language, values, and worldview, at least some of them consider themselves to be Christian.

I find this disconcerting, and part of the reason all goes back to Paul’s most excellent analogy in 1 Corinthians 12. As I’ve thought over all the benefits of belonging to this great Body, I’ve realized how even the difficult parts of church are good.

Now when I say, “the difficult parts,” I really mean “the difficult people,” for it’s by having our feelings hurt that we learn to forgive; by being jealous that we learn our own selfish tendencies; by being overlooked or marginalized or mocked that we learn whether we serve God or ourselves, and so on.

If we are never hurt, how can we be healed? In the Body, interconnected as we are with the other parts, we all learn and are strengthened and heal together, just as a living body does.

But should we decide we love Christ, the Head, but don’t have any real use for His body and so we remove ourselves from it, I have to wonder… is it possible to be thus removed and be a healthy part of the body? Unlikely.

Oh I know church can hurt. I get that; truly I do.

I know people – even Christian people – can be mean and hateful and horrible. I’m as guilty as anyone – perhaps more so – but I also experience sorrow, regret, and repentance when I allow this ugly part of me to show. I’m ashamed when I misrepresent my Lord so.

However, if we remove ourselves from the Body of Christ because it isn’t “working” for us, we are really removing ourselves from the chance to grow or to heal (and don’t get me started on the “working” tangent…). 

I guess the way I am imagining the thing is as a sort of surgical excision. If my left arm were to be removed, could it still be considered a healthy part of my body? Would it continue to be nourished by my blood flow, heal when it is wounded, or be affected by my diet and exercise levels as the rest of my body does? Food for thought…

So while Lone Ranger Boulevard may be the place where you feel the most loving towards your fellow man, remember that Jesus loved the ones who flogged Him and the ones who clamored for His crucifixion. The church is His Body and it’s because He loves it that He doesn’t spare it from every little discomfort. Because not all things that feel bad are bad.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Why not? Because it’s in sharing in suffering as a good soldier of Christ that we can learn some of the most Christ-like lessons of our lives. And that, my friends, is how we grow up and become mature.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Lord God, I pray for my son and for all Believers who have chosen to become disconnected from the Body of Christ for whatever reason. Stir hearts to see the need for Christian community, even with all its flaws and failings. Keep us humble no matter where our place in Your Body is, and teach us to fulfill our given role wholeheartedly, not out of a sense of duty nor for what we get out of it, but out of sheer love and devotion to You, amen.

A New Year Invitation

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16a

I rang in the New Year with a migraine.

But I rang it in after a leisurely morning in the Word of God. I also rang it in at midnight with my husband and all three kids present, including our almost-18-year-old who went out to see some friends and came back in time to toast in the New Year with our family tradition: sparkling grape juice for them and water for this old girl.

So I managed to be awake(ish) at midnight with a heart full of joy despite any pain. Maybe even joy in defiance of pain. But not only because of my family.

I’m still nursing the same migraine today, medicated enough to keep me out of bed but make my thoughts rather difficult to string together. Still, even today I am filled with joy.

This is an abiding joy which would have been with me even if I’d rung in the New Year alone with my migraine and cut off from medication, family, friends, or any friendly face. It’s a joy I’ve been granted, which I’ve found buried in the Scripture records of ancient paths and growing in me as I’ve followed in the footsteps of those who have traveled the Good Way before me.

For this reason, perhaps, as I read in Jeremiah this morning, verse 6:16 captured my attention. However, there is a bit more to the verse:

…But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Jeremiah 6:16b

My friends, I don’t know what you are facing on the first day of 2019. None of us know what we may be facing tomorrow. In fact, we are never guaranteed tomorrow.

But we have today. We have right now.

Today I invite you to a journey of joy. It isn’t a pain-free journey, nor it is a fool’s journey though you may be called a fool for embarking on it. I invite you nonetheless. Come, ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and find rest for your souls. Walk it, and do not refuse.

I know some of you are dealing with the slow decay of cancer. Others deal with the no less malignant cancer of anger, envy, unforgiveness, self-exaltation, or even the twisted egoism of self-loathing. Leave them by the wayside and find rest for your soul.

Others deal with pain rooted in an unhealed childhood wound. Many have addictions of one type or another, whether to food, entertainment, alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else. If you’ve lived long enough with any of these, you’ve experienced already the law of diminishing returns. The fun is gone, only the endless grind of need remains and grows like its own ruthless, devouring cancer. But you can lay those aside, too. Find the good Way, the One you were meant to be addicted to, and find rest for your soul.

Some have rejected the very idea of God so bitterly you think you can never turn to Him now. People would laugh. He would laugh and refuse to accept you now. He won’t.

You are not the first mocker to find that His way is the one you’ve been seeking after all. Peter, Jesus’s disciple, denied Him at His arrest. I once did, too. But the Lord had mercy on us both. So join me in searching the ancient paths like Peter’s and the paths of our lives today for signs of the God we once denied and like me, find rest for your soul.

The Peter who denied the Lord later received the gift of His Holy Spirit and spoke with enthusiasm to a crowd in Jerusalem. You can read about it in Acts 2. But what is remarkable to me is this: The joy I speak of, the rest for your soul that is promised along the good way, is part of what is called by Paul “fruit of the Spirit.”

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

Galatians 5:23-24a

This fruit grows along the ancient paths and nourishes those who choose the good way, even when the way is hard and the night seems long.

But even on the darkest night in the midst of the most horrendous pain, joy can still light your way and peace be your comfort because you will never walk the good way alone.

No Pain, No Gain

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

(Proverbs 27:6)

As many of you know, I’m in the editing phase of a novel I hope to have published. The setting is dystopian – either our own world in the future or one enough like it to be almost familiar. It’s meant as an extended parable for sacrificial living and the potential to use or abuse our God-given gifts.

I belong to a critique group, which was a pretty brave act for me. Through them, I’ve received a lot of great feedback. But there’s this one guy…

He never hesitates to ask questions about what is confusing, to point out continuity issues or passive voice or a myriad of other mistakes. In fact, my submissions often come back from their time under his scrutiny riddled with comments and dissected sentences.

I could ignore his emails. I could collect a handful of people who love my writing as is and say very little. But in the long run, I would be the worse for my refusal to hear difficult truths.

As it is, I love the criticism. Not because it feels good to have your rough draft sliced and diced. It doesn’t. I love it because he pushes me to work harder, to tighten and refine and grow as an author.

Naturally, a part of me adores glowing feedback, but the reasonable part of me knows it’s the criticism which drives me to exert my mental abilities and strive toward a better product.

Similarly several years ago, my family took judo under the instruction of a dear friend (whom I often still refer to as Sensei though it’s been ages since I stepped foot on a mat or took a fall). Every time he would praise a technique I’d done correctly, I would blow it for the next 15 minutes. I finally told him, “I think I just work better with criticism.”

He believed me, and lo and behold, I did improve.

My point?

I have been reading the Word of the Lord daily for many years. Studying, memorizing, and reflecting on it are all parts of my average day. I also spend no small amount of time reading works by other Christians.

None of this is to my own credit, mind you. This desire for the Word is a gift from God; one I requested early in my walk with Him and one He happily granted.

Anyway, the more I become saturated with the Word, the more I realize that often it’s the things I want least to hear that I need to hear most.

In today’s American Christianity, there is an abundance of shelf space advertised as “Christian.” But mark my words: Just because a thing speaks of the Lord or quotes Scripture does not mean the teaching is based on sound doctrine.

In an act of audacious irony, our ancient enemy quoted Scripture to the Word made flesh (see Mark 4:6). And believe me, his kisses are profuse. He loves to keep us snuggled in such comfort we overlook the bars of our cozy cage. If I wanted, I could easily surround myself with nothing but heartwarming sentiment.

But then I wouldn’t grow.

I’m certainly not knocking encouragement – God knows every one of us needs it, and He offers it in due time. But we need an equal balance of rebuke and reproof. We need the sharp prick of a goad now and then to remind us to stay on the narrow path that leads to life just as we sometimes need a word to lift us out of the pit to soar on wings like eagles’.

Friends, the Christian walk is not one of self-indulgence and earthly pleasure. We are promised joy, but it is joy in the presence of the Lord. Pleasure at His right hand. This means that our joy will often come not in lieu of suffering but in spite of it.

And to achieve this state of “joy anyway,” we need a full complement of both correction and encouragement. Of discipline and strengthening. We need the wounds of a friend who has the long term as a goal. If we are to become more Christlike, we must also be willing to endure Christlike suffering.

To compete so as to win the prize, we have to put in the hard work of training if we are to run our race well. But the Prize will be well worth our effort!

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:13-14)

How about you? Do you tend to gravitate towards what I would call “easy button Christianity?” Or are you equally open to hearing hard truths which require some sacrifice or painful confession in order to grow in Christ-likeness?

Gentlemanly Disagreement

Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
(2 Timothy 2:14)

Is it just me or do my fellow countrymen in the US seem to be increasing in verbal combativeness and anger? Even a casual perusal of social media will reveal at least one vitriolic argument delivered with such vehemence that the reader raises a reflexive hand to ward off the virtual spittle.

If only such disagreements would stay buried among emojis and uppercase fonts. But I’ve seen an increasing number of public lashings-out as well. Not only shootings but aggressive driving and other hostilities seem to be becoming more and more pervasive.

It’s our new normal, somewhat infamously (and embarrassingly) highlighted during each new political rally for local, state, or federal elections.

But Christians, we have a calling and it is NOT to take part in vicious debate. In fact, we’re expressly told to love our enemies and respond to their acts of hostility with kindness and to overcome evil with good (see Matthew 5:38-45, Romans 12:21, et al).

We are called not to argumentativeness, but to truth.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.
(2 Timothy 2:15-17a)

Not only are we to uphold an unashamed adherence to truth, but when it becomes necessary for us to correct, we do so with gentleness. Not trying to fight fire with fire, but cooling the heat of the moment with the genuine love and humility modeled so excellently by our Lord when He asked, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:24).

Somehow in our embracing of the sincere belief that modern man has evolved to such a greater degree of wisdom than our primitive and somewhat foolish ancestors, we have also evolved ourselves right out of the art of gentlemanly disagreement.

In our quest for Nietzsche’s “superman,” we’ve run roughshod over the man of honor, trampling him and cursing him for slowing us down in our frantic hurtling down the broad path. We’ve forgotten that path leads to destruction. Indeed, the track is littered with the detritus of its destination. Not that we’ve time to stop and take notice, of course.

Yet it wasn’t so many years ago that men could agree to disagree. Two men I know of went so far as to be the greatest of friends despite the absolute opposition of their ideologies.

G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw were fabulous friends, yet their viewpoints could not have been more opposite. Chesterton was a Catholic, a prolific author, and from all accounts filled with a boundless joy. Shaw epitomized atheistic viewpoint and had some sympathies for communistic society.

Both men never ceased their attempts to convert one another to his own way of thinking. Both men frequently engaged in a hearty and heartfelt sparring with words.

But each of them respected the other, often praising his opponent’s clarity of thought or well-turned phrase even while rejecting the philosophy behind it. When Chesterton reached the end of this life – an end Shaw firmly maintained was his friend’s grand finale – Shaw, knowing that his long-time rival and colleague wasn’t the greatest money manager, he wrote to Chesterton’s widow:

“It seems the most ridiculous thing in the world that I, 18 years older than Gilbert, should be heartlessly surviving him. However, this is only to say that if you have any temporary bothers that I can remove, a line on a postcard (or three figures) will be sufficient.”

In 1936, three figures represented quite a sum of money. To put the gesture in perspective, it helps to realize that the average annual income at the time was less than $2000.

For the sake of the God we serve, for the sake of bearing His name well, and on the off chance any Shaws in our lives may be persuaded by the kindness of the Lord expressed through us, His body, let’s try to tone down the anger. Please? Let’s ramp up the humility and start jabbing those furious fingers into the face in the mirror.

Then, perhaps, we can see how ridiculous we look all hopped up and blotchy with rage. Then maybe we can enjoy a laugh or two at our own expense, and get back to the business of telling the world of the marvels Jesus Christ has done for us.

Starting, just maybe, with the marvel of how He worked in us a desire to remain in tandem with His Word of Truth as we reach out to others in love, patience, mercy, and unwavering faith in a God who is worth suffering a little shame for.

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…
(2 Timothy 2:24-25)

Tuesday Prayer: Because He Knows

Bit of background on today’s prayer:

As some of you know, I have been studying Biblical Hebrew with the goal of someday being able to read the Bible in both Hebrew and Greek. The reason? I just plain love the Word that much; both the Word who was in the beginning and the Book. For real.

At any rate, I was working through a portion of Exodus 3 and came to the end of verse 7 where God says, “I know their suffering.”

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings…  (Exodus 3:7)

The Hebrew word translated “I know” ( יָדַ֖עְתִּי) is transliterated yadati. The root, yada, connotes several concepts, among which are to discern or find out, to know by experience. It is the same word used metaphorically for carnal knowledge (as in “Adam knew his wife”), which in my mind implies a very intimate knowledge.

Then it hit me. God truly does intimately know the suffering of His people. He even knows suffering by experience, because He experienced suffering as one of us.

By the hands of those He came to save, He endured flogging and blows. By the mouths of those He supplied with the ability to speak, He sustained mockery. By the act of one of His closest companions, He faced betrayal. Upon the wood of a cross made from a tree He created, he bore our shame.

And because He did these things and more, we who are in Christ have a great High Priest who intercedes for us before the Throne of Grace. When we turn from our own way and submit our lives fully to Him, we receive grace. Because the One who never sinned became sin for us, we become His righteousness when we, though faith, become His.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

So today, I raise my plea to Him:

El Roi, our God Who sees, we praise You for the simple yet profound fact that You do see us. You see us in all our afflictions, in each celebration, and in every mundane moment in between.

Nothing done in the darkness is hidden from Your sight and no evil passes without Your noticing it. Not only the wrongs others commit against us but also the wrongs perpetrated by us – all alike are noticed by You and wrought for the good of those who love You. For this, our hearts overflow with gratitude and praise.

Not only do You see us, but You know us far better, even, then we know ourselves. Before a word is on our tongue, You know it. You even know the number of hairs on our heads. But perhaps the most poignantly, You know the suffering of Your people because You also lived and suffered as a man.

Thanks to Your compassion and grace, we can trust You in the intimate way You see and know us. Because of Your love, this knowledge does not beat us down but instead inspires us to keep pressing forward, lifting our eyes off of ourselves and our sorrows and onto the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with grief.

It is Christ’s experiential knowledge of suffering which allows us to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence. Because of what our Lord Jesus did in his time on earth, we have a high priest who has suffered in every way we have yet did so without falling to sin.

So it is today, Lord, that we as Your church humbly approach You and ask for a filling of Your mercy and grace. Please supply us with both in ample supply that we are enabled to serve You with fierce effectiveness, bearing much fruit for Your harvest – fruit that will last and that is rooted in mercy and grace as we share Your truth with others, amen. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:15-16)

Analog Interaction in a Digital World

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
(Romans 12:4-5)

Because my time is short, today I hope to give you the nickel version of a topic which deserves much more time. Much more. I want to talk about church membership and why it is important to the believer.

I know, I know, I’ve heard it before. Truth be told, I’ve even said it before: I don’t need the church to worship God. I can worship Him in private. Et cetera.

When I was a young Christian, I believed that with all my heart even though I never did actually stop going to church. But as I’ve walked in some dark and frightening places with the Lord, He has shown me otherwise.

Because, friends, those dark and frightening places were not out there in the world but right here, in my own heart and soul.

I’ve walked with His light shining in the darkness, exposing sin and I’ve learned to call it what it is. My sin. My selfishness and self-protectiveness and approval addiction and other ugly features.

But I’ve no wish to focus on those things today. Many have been dredged up and removed, and while I’m sure there will be many more dead and decaying things dredged up in the future, today I want to focus on the Lord. He is the reason to be a part of a church, because the church is His body.

And you need it. And it needs you.

Friends, here’s the thing. If we are truly the body of Christ, we don’t really get to choose. It’s God who makes the body and He’s the one who gets to decide where the pieces go, what they do, and how they work together to achieve His purposes.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
(1 Corinthians 12:18)

If we take the arrangement of the body into our own hands – even choosing our own part to play – we invite chaos and disaster. In such a case, not only are we taking on the role of the Creator, we are also rebelling against the authority of the Head – a body made of parts with no control center, running amok and doing as they wish without a central purpose or direction.

And if you think of it in those terms, it’s more than a trifle ludicrous.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
(1 Corinthians 12:14-15)

It’s also somewhat mutinous. Just think of your own elbow deciding it would much prefer to digest food than be a hinge. Ew. Or your heart imposing a preference of beating on the outside where all can see his might instead of dutifully thumping away in a cage.

Or what if the heart bore a grudge against his bony housing and decided he would not beat at all as long as the ribs remained in their place? That would not be a healthy body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
(1 Corinthians 12:21)

Aside from that, there’s a simple fact we cannot afford to ignore. It is not in spite of the church’s fault but because of them that we need it.

By learning to be rejected and overlooked, by having our toes stepped on and stepping on the toes of others, by being burnt out or just burnt; in short, by belonging to a group of redeemed sinners in various stages of sanctification, we strive together and grind against one another and wear on one another.

We grow to be more Christlike because we learn to endure mistreatment like Christ. We see how far we are from being Christlike because we are forced to see how we mistreat others. Our pride is exposed and humility begins to take its place as we learn to submit to the Headship of Christ together.

In putting aside jealousy and self-importance, we learn to celebrate others’ success and mourn others’ losses as if they were our own. We become a single Body, living and breathing and worshiping no longer for self but for the eternal glory of our Head, Jesus Christ our Lord.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
(1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

And as much as I love the blogging community, I also realize the limitations of digital relationships. There’s zero chance of an awkward encounter on the web. We aren’t forced to get through relationship difficulties on the internet; we can just unfriend,  mute, or ignore. Even delete. And we can’t blurt out something accidentally offensive. We have time to read and edit.

That is why in this day and age, we need to foster our face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder relationships, growing together and building one another up in love.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:15-16)

For more on this topic, check out: Hurt by Church? Me Too. Let’s Chat.