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. 

Tuesday Prayer: Fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Great Vinedresser, we know that You are the one who does the needed work of pruning in our lives so we can bear much fruit for You. We cannot bear fruit on our own but must remain connected to the Vine – to Jesus, the living Word of God who is Himself the embodiment of the truth of Scripture. He is our Savior who is also the Way, the Truth, the Life, the living Water, and the Bread of Life. In all ways, Jesus is our sustenance and our strength. 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:1-2

Because of this, we give thanks for Jesus and for Your Holy Spirit who causes His fruit to grow in us. Thank You for pruning our hearts no matter how painful it may be at the time, so that we can bear more fruit. Thank You, too, for the solemn warning that any branch which fails to bear fruit will be taken away. You are good and wise, and we trust You even when a time of pruning doesn’t make sense to us. 

We also pray to You, Father, and ask that You will make us to bear much fruit. Since attributes such as love, joy, peace, and so on are the fruit of the Spirit, we recognize that we cannot manufacture them on our own but must ask for the Spirit to make them grow in us. Yet we cannot only pray for it then sit back with folded hands as if our duty is done. Time and time and time again, we also need to obey for it. 

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7:51

So it is that we ask You to open our eyes to see each opportunity You provide and open our ears to hear Your voice as we respond to each divine appointment. Guide us in being mindful of the gentle nudges of Your Spirit so we become more and more attuned to sensing His leading. Help us not to tune Him out but teach us to listen intently and diligently in all our days.

Please, Lord, let this year be one in which Your fruit grows so plentifully in our lives that we are radically and permanently changed. Make us to truly be plantings for the display of Your splendor and teach us to give You glory as it happens, amen. 

Just a Prayer

 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.
(Psalms 62:5-8)

Gracious Redeemer, You are the only One who can restore the wreckage of humanity caused by sin. You, Lord, restore our brokenness when we humbly seek and submit to Your ways. Thank You for coming into our terrible mess and bringing hope and for setting us free from slavery to sin. Thank You for providing in Your Son an example to emulate and a goal to strive for and for Your Spirit who provides guidance for the willing heart.

Lord, break our hearts afresh today for our sin and restore in us a proper awe and reverence for You! Restore to us the joy of our salvation this day and continue to do so in the days to come – a great flood of joy in You which will spill out on everyone in our path..

This day, we also ask for Your help in bringing our hearts to obedience. We confess that we are stubborn and often rebel against Your grace. We put higher priorities on the things of this world – things that will soon pass away – than we do on You and on Your Kingdom.

Forgive us, Lord. Help us to overcome our unbelief. Increase our love for You so that obedience to You is of utmost importance in our everyday lives and is evidenced by the way we live each day. Guide our priorities and show us the way they should be ordered, and teach our hearts obedience to Your ordained order.

Please also help our families. Heal broken hearts and restore damaged relationships and shattered trust. Crush our hearts for our sin towards our husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, or anyone else and prod us to confess with humility and seek forgiveness.

Where we have been hurt, remind us of how we have grieved You, the God who is Love, and help us to extend to others the forgiveness You have already shown to us. Redeem our relationships in all aspects, Lord, and mold us into a people for Your pleasure and purposes, amen.

In So Many Words…

Question:  How does this apply?  What does it look like? 

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.

Over at Inspiration with an Attitude (which, by the way, I highly recommend checking out), one of my blogging buddies recently asked the above question, specifically calling on her “panel of experts” for their input.

My blog appeared in her list, so I fear we must question her mental health (or perhaps we can chalk it up to the contrast between my scribblings and her daily bombardment of middle school angst…)

Nevertheless, the question is a good one and coincided nicely with some other tidbits I’ve been pondering, including a conversation between Yeshua and some religious leaders as recorded in Matthew 22:23-32.

These fellows had approached the Lord with what they probably considered an insoluble conundrum based on Deuteronomy 25:5-10 – a law which provided for the continuation of a man’s family line in the event of his untimely death. The scenario they postulated is quite foreign to today’s way of thinking, but basically their question was an attempt to apply eternal significance to a matter of temporary import (as we all tend to do).

I love the way David H. Stern translates the Lord’s response in the Complete Jewish Bible:

Yeshua answered them, “The reason you go astray is that you are ignorant both of the power of the Tanakh [Scriptures] and the power of God.”  Matthew 22:29

And there it is in a nutshell – the actual problem lurking within the doors of every church and snatching the joy of salvation from the unwary heart.

Too often, we understand the Scriptures theoretically but not practically; or temporarily and not eternally. We talk about the Bible but somehow fail to put His Word into action in specific, mundane ways.

But not always.

As many of you know, this old dog has been slowly and painfully trying to learn a new trick: I’ve been studying Hebrew, and a couple of years in, I can probably read about as well as your below-average 4-year-old Jewish child.

One thing I have learned is that Hebrew is primarily a verbal language. Now there is a lengthy grammatical explanation behind that which I will avoid here. Suffice to say the language is rooted in verbs rather than nouns.

I admit I may be so far off base that I’m on the swim team with this thought, but one idea which has stubbornly taken root in my mind is this: perhaps in a verb-based language, there is a greater emphasis on doing rather than abstract ideas.

Maybe, just maybe, the concept of walking in trust is not merely verbalizing our trust but actually trusting God enough to do the crazy things He commands us to do.

Crazy things like my friend who recently learned her husband has continued in multiple acts of infidelity over the span of five or more years. Yet instead of stringing his character up for public castigation and gloating over his fall, she is prayerfully working on a solution. In the midst of it, she actively forgives him every single day – not because he is worthy of forgiveness, but because she knows none of us are, and yet God has forgiven us anyway.

And there are many more examples…

God’s power looks like another couple I know whose pasts are both haunted with horrendous abuse – abuse which has infiltrated their health and their marriage. Yet they have not given up but cling closer to God. They have learned to submit to Him, address their own sin and forgive the sin of the other, and they are providing a beautiful and loving environment for their children… all by the power of God.

It looks like Rachel Saint, her young nephew Steve, and Elizabeth Elliot going to live among the Waodani people in order to teach them about the Lord AFTER the tribe’s warriors speared Rachel’s brother and Elizabeth’s husband to death. Steve went on to continue his father’s mission work  into the present day.

Interestingly, at the time of first contact, the vengeance-based culture of the Waodani did not even have a word for forgiveness. How do you share the forgiveness of God with a people who do not even conceptualize it in their language? You show them… by the power of God.

The power of God looks like Betsie Ten Boom thanking God for the fleas in Ravensbruck concentration camp…

It looks like cleaning a sick neighbor’s house or mowing their yard when you can’t even keep up with your own; or doing what is needed in your church, home, or workplace rather than what you prefer

It looks like doing all of this and more as acts of worship rather than for acknowledgement or personal gain.

In fact, it looks like doing them despite being taken for granted or even insulted because you are doing them for God.

It looks like Yeshua in the Garden of Gethsemane – prepared to pay the price of crimes He did not commit on behalf, even, of those who would torture Him – praying, “Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will…”

The power of God looks a whole lot like staying involved in church or in family or in any relationship even when it hurts because by putting up with the crazy of others, you begin to understand why it is God continues to put up with you.

Hmm… it seems the power of God looks an awful lot like humility…

Where have you seen God’s power at work in large ways or in small? 

 

Obedient

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

To me, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Nativity story. The more I reflect on the Biblical passages describing those events, the more I find my thoughts turning to this man who is mentioned in the Scriptures only a handful of times.

But I do think those references deserve our attention.

Joseph’s obedience to God was nothing short of incredible. Think about this: if not for his total compliance with God, many of the events surrounding the birth of Christ would have taken a much different direction, although doubtlessly God would have accomplished His plans anyway.

After all, it was Joseph who complied with the Lord’s command to wed Mary despite  indisputable evidence indicating she was not the chaste young woman he had expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in, caring for her and for the Child. If ever there was a couple well matched in faith that God can do the impossible, it was these two!

Still, I often wonder what the personal ramifications of his decision were… Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Scorned? Whatever his lot, he trusted God enough to accept the consequences willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was visited once more in a dream by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was no small feat with an infant in the days before electric lighting and minivans, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family immediately and left by night.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

(Matthew 2:13-14)

Imagine waking an infant and nursing mother, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by–if even that!

Once again, the command to Joseph seemed preposterous in light of the circumstances, but his unhesitating obedience spared his family the horror of witnessing the paranoid Herod’s ruthlessly executed infanticide (I am presuming, of course, God would have spared His Anointed in some other way had Joseph been a little lax in his obedience, but thankfully we will never know).

Beyond that, the Bible records two other dream messages to Joseph: one telling him it was safe to go back to Israel and another serving as a warning which caused him to settle his family in Nazareth. For each heavenly message, Joseph was simply and quietly obedient.

The ramifications of Joseph’s cooperation with God were tremendous, as each act of obedience served to provide for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in His childhood – yet it is rare that Joseph’s name is mentioned at this time of year except as the husband of Mary.

Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by his adherence to the will of God despite compelling reasons to do otherwise.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began one year as I reflected on my own heart. The Spirit of God made me painfully aware of areas in which my obedience was somewhat lacking. I spent far too much time feeling discouraged, often allowing my attention to drift away from contemplation of my King.

In contrast to Joseph (who I am sure would have vastly preferred an uncomplicated betrothal or to even stay in bed that night in Bethlehem rather than beginning a nighttime trek toward Egypt) I found myself at times delaying obedience. At other times, I would choose a path that seemed (to me) more logical.

As this year draws to a close, once again I find myself humbled and repentant.  It is my prayer that the new year will see a far more obedient – and less discourageable – me. I pray to become in all ways, completely submissive to the will of God – even when it does not make sense.

Once I am gone from this world, I would love it to be said of me as it could be said of Joseph: “We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord.” 

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Going to the Dogs… or Maybe Not

In our years of pet ownership, my husband and I have developed our own dog ranking system, partially in jest and partly because…  well, partly because. In order, the hierarchy is:

  1. Good Dog
  2. Has Potential
  3. Bad Dog

Allow me to embellish.

This is Mayumi:Yumi001

Mayumi is a Good Dog.

Most of the time, she is very obedient… with occasional exceptions, usually because I haven’t given her adequate exercise. When small children are over, she is gentle and submissive. As for tricks, she can jump through hoops, sit, stay, high-five with alternating paws, close the door (well, sometimes), and play dead.

As a puppy, she would only quiet at night if she could see me. Overall, she is my loyal companion who follows me from room to room and generally wants to be near me. She is calm and can be trusted with people of all ages and animals of all sizes. I love this dog!

This is Chestnut:

Chestnut Has Potential.

For the most part, he is obedient (occasionally even surpassing Mayumi in coming when called), but he does lack self-control. He adores people, often rather exuberantly in wild, oafish boundings and clumsy gyrations that  threaten the vertical stability of moderately sized humans. Chestnut also has trouble holding his licker and frequently leaves slobber trails on… well, everything.

Due to his… enthusiasm… we crate him when small children or elderly people are visiting. Not all furry things that enter our yard survive except the three skunks that got him first (really, three times !!!).

My husband and I joke that his tombstone will read RIP Chestnut: He Had Potential. 

I have no pictures of Sable, but she was aptly named. Sable was a Bad Dog.

In the few weeks she lived here, she managed to frighten the children (who were still very young), lose all off-leash privileges in the house, and made me rue the day I first saw her. One rare occasion when she was allowed off the leash in our yard, she attacked me. Fortunately, I had some training in judo and her challenge went rather badly for her while I was angry but unhurt. Sable became a junkyard dog.

…And this is our Miscreant thinning the herd of origami reindeer given us by the talented Mr. Leonard Gluck.:
But he’s in a different class entirely.

Before I came to know and love the Most High, I was as dark-hearted as Sable, a miscreant in an altogether separate category – an aimless and nameless wastrel.

Can I even express how grateful this repentant reprobate is to the King who expunged her record of lawlessness by sentencing Himself to death in my stead? Can I find words for my awe that He did not stop there, but took up His life again? No, words fail.

Where I deserved a pitiless death, I received mercy… and yet He did not stop there. With grace beyond my wildest reckoning,  He called this waif, “Daughter, ” lavished upon me a spiritual inheritance of inestimable value, and has brought light and life to all that was deadened and darkened within me.

My Lord and my God! May the wonder of it never cease to astonish me!

If my God is truly powerful; if His grace is truly sufficient; if I believe that fullness of joy is found in His presence – in short, if He is truly all He says He is – my life ought to reflect nothing short of complete devotion and steadfast loyalty to Him.

Where He is, I want to be. When He commands, I want to obey, and though I may slip up from time to time, overall I want to be fully His, wholly trusting Him and trusted by Him around people of all ages.

May I never be a casual partaker of Grace, giving the Almighty a perfunctory nod as I tuck His gift carelessly in a pocket while asking Him to bless my self-determined course.

In short, I do not want to a disciple who merely Has Potential…

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
(Colossians 1:9-10)