Zion

“Let Mount Zion be glad,

Let the daughters of Judah rejoice

Because of Your judgment.

Walk about Zion and go around her,

Count her towers,

Consider her ramparts,

Go through her palaces,

That you may tell it to the next generation.”

Psalm 48:11-13

     I recently stumbled upon this verse and thought, “I better walk around Zion”, so I found my 2nd favorite book (the concordance) and began a study, and made a few noteworthy discoveries…

#1 Zion is the judgment seat of God.  I already knew that it was sometimes speaking of Jerusalem, and sometimes of heaven, but was unaware how connected it was with God’s judgment seat.

#2 It is where He judges the wicked and defends the righteous, with His judgments.  The saints will learn to love His judgments, and find comfort in them.  Psalm 97:2 says “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne.”  We, believers, understand that on the Cross both justice and mercy were bled together.  When Christ died, He had His justice against all our unrighteousness, but in His mercy, He poured the wrath due to us upon Himself.  In essence, He took our death penalty, in order that His justice would be upheld and yet, He could still make us sons and daughters.  This part of His judgments are easily accepted by us.  But His judgment seat is also the place where He condemns the wicked (which is possibly easy for some to accept, but not for someone like me, who recognizes that the only thing setting me apart from them is grace, and that I don’t deserve it just as much as the next guy).  One thing that has helped me to understand and embrace His judgments towards those who do not have the cross as their defense, is to realize that in His judgments towards the wicked He is actually defending the poor, oppressed and afflicted.  It is the same as someone going to jail for their crimes, not only because their crimes are wrong, but because of how they injure those affected by those crimes.

#3 The righteous are commended for and marked by their sacrifices, but as Psalm 50 aptly points out, God doesn’t need our bulls and goats (the Old Testament’s prescribed sacrifice), but He wants hearts of gratitude.  Reading through these passages, I am reminded time and time again that my obedience is born out of gratitude (and obedience is not found apart from a purified and thankful heart).  In the case of David’s Psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, it states that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise”.  Before thankfulness could be born in David’s heart, he had to be broken and contrite, repentant.

#4 Over and over again, we see praise erupting in Zion.  “There will be silence before You and praise in Zion, O God” (Psalm 65:1) is one of my favorite depictions, because it shows this, and also the awesomeness of the Presence of God that will stun us into silence.  If you were to do a word study of “Zion”, you would almost always find praise and thanksgiving mingled with the verses that speak of Zion.

#5 “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Psalm 84:5).  Another translation says “Whose heart is set on pilgrimage”.  This is also a favorite verse of mine, because it shows the longing that ought to fill our hearts and minds, and if it does, it transforms us, and makes us capable of trudging through the woes of this world, knowing that our heart is on pilgrimage to the heavenly throne of God Most High, who is our hope and salvation and will reward us for all our perseverance down here.  It reminds us that “this world is not our home, we’re only passing through” and that the world we truly belong to is one where no sorrow dwells and God alone is exalted, and we are blessed beyond imagination to be in His everlasting Presence.

“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sounds of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them,

For they could not bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain it will be stoned.’ And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse him who is speaking.

For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.  And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’  This expression, ‘Yet once more” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”    ~ Hebrews 12:18-28

Amen.

Hebrews 3:7&8

“Today if you hear His voice,

do not harden your hearts

as in the rebellion on the day of testing in the wilderness.”

Hebrews 3:7-8

    Oh how this speaks to me and my wayward heart.  Lately, I have been hearing Him say “Seek first My kingdom and My righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” and I’ve retaliated by saying “I am and they aren’t”.  Basically, though I’d never word it like this in my logical mind (but only my sinful, cantankerous, temper-tantrum-throwing heart), I am saying “I am faithful and You are not”.  Shame on me!  That is the furthest thing from the Truth.

     So often my focus is on what I see lacking and not what I see provided.  I am like Israel, walking through the wilderness for 40 years, and all they can see more walking and manna for the 12,000th day in a row.  What they don’t see is that their shoes haven’t even worn out and they’ve eaten every single day, and that God has even made fresh water out of bitter water for them, and made water come out of a rock when there wasn’t a source around.  Talk about provision!

     I think the greatest difference between a soft heart and a hard heart is that one is full of rejoicing and the other complaining.  I am a firm believer that thanksgiving is the balm for a heart that needs tenderized.  I have, so often, been in the predicament where all I could see was whatever frustrating circumstance I was in and the Lord put His finger on my hurt and told me to give thanks for it… and when I obeyed, my whole perspective was changed.

     Later on in this Hebrews passage, we see the Bible using unbelief and disobedience, and belief and obedience interchangeably (see 3:18-19, and a little less clearly in 4:11-12 and even in John 3:36).  The Lords frustration with Israel was their unbelief, which was the root of their disobedience.  Thankfulness clears our vision to believing.

      I also adore how He says “as in the day of testing in the wilderness”.  40 years and He calls it a day!  We often feel like we will NEVER get out of our trials, but as Psalm 66:8-12 seem to cry out, the trials are the path to the place of Abundance!

The Lesson of Vashti

I’m reading the book of Esther right now.   I’m not going to give you all the details of the book, because if you don’t know the story, you should read it for yourself.  It’s only 10 chapters long and can easily be read in one sitting.

This time reading it I’ve been paying much closer attention to the other characters in the story: Vashti, Ahasuerus, Mordecai, Haman.  There is so much to learn from each of these folks:

Ahasuerus teaches me about the significance of picking wise counselors and not being complacent.  He was so easily swayed by the folks he was closest to.  It seems that Ahasuerus made a lot of choices based on the opinions of those around him, without putting much thought towards whether or not they were wise or not.  He pretty much just let others make the laws for him, whether it was Haman or Esther and Mordecai.  This laziness and lack of discernment only heightened his need to surround himself with wise folks, because there was a drastic difference in his leadership when Haman was his closest counselor, as opposed to when Mordecai and Esther were his closest counselors.  If these sorts of things are struggles for you, then picking wise friends is a greater need in your life, as well.  If you are weak at making wise choices independent from the opinions of those you are surrounded by, and lack conviction or the steadfastness to stand up for your convictions, then pick your friends wisely.  Ultimately it was just more convenient for Ahasuerus to sit and drink wine with his homey than to actually look analytically at what suggestions were being presented to him.

Mordecai is such an example of holiness.  He sought to honor the Lord, refusing to bow to anything or anyone else, even when it meant risking his own life.  He reminds me of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  He had incredible integrity.  He was a steadfast man of conviction (contrast that with what I just said about Ahasuerus).  He’s one of my favorite characters.  He was also such a devoted “father” to Esther, even though she wasn’t his birth-child, even checking on her regularly in the palace and continuing to give godly advice.  He was the opposite of Haman… wise, selfless, steadfast, courageous, helpful, godly.  And God exalted him in such unique and miraculous ways.  He begs that we ask the question “In what ways should I be standing up against the ungodly demands of the culture around me?”

Haman was such an arrogant fellow and such an example of pride that comes before a fall.  He just erks me.  Pride is such a petri-dish for selfishness.  And when we are self-seeking, we can never take care of ourselves in the same ways that God Almighty takes care of us when we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, as Mordecai had done.

But what I really wanted to write about was Vashti.  I love that the story of Esther begins before Esther, with Vashti.  And I love the contrast that is set between her and Esther.

I’m sure all of us can understand Vashti’s frustration with being told to prance around like an object before her (probably) intoxicated husband, who was preoccupied with showing off all of his wealth and his “hot wife”.  He was treating her like an object and a possession.  The truth is that, although he was being a jerk, he didn’t actually ask her to do anything sinful, or against God’s law.  Although he, himself, was sinning.He was being totally unloving in how he was treating her.

Contrast this with Esther, who had much more reason to have disdain for her husband, who through his laziness and ignorance set up her entire race to be obliterated.

Vashti refused to “be summoned” into the presence of the king, her husband, whereas Esther had so much respect for him that she recognized that to stand before him without being summoned meant risking her life, and asked all the Jews to fast and pray for her safety.  And when she approached the throne room it was with great reverence (and courage).

But the real question is, which one of them earned the influence when it really counted?  Vashti was just “standing up for her rights” when her husband was being a punk.  But Esther honored him (and did not even speak evil of him behind his back), when he was being even more of a punk, and spared her entire race through her submission and reverence.

So, let this be a challenge to all of us wives.  We can easily tell our husbands every single time they are being unloving, but if we guard our tongues in those moments and refuse to point out all of their flaws, we will be reserving something far more precious… a voice when it really counts.

2 Shortest Verses

My husband pointed something subtle, yet phenomenal out to me today…

It’s common knowledge that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is the shortest verse in the Bible, right?  Which is still true, if you are counting letters, but what if you count words?”  There’s at least one verse that is tied for shortest verse, counting words.

You know what it says?  It says “Rejoice always”!  (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

How cool is that?!?  Because Jesus wept we are free to rejoice always!!!  His suffering, not just at the cross, but His adoption of our grief, sorrows, temptations, discouragement, etc. enable us to live the lives of the redeemed saints, a life of rejoicing in the knowledge that this King of kings dethroned Himself to walk in our weakness, and clothe us with His abiding strength and His unfailing righteousness.

In Repentance and Rest

“Thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,

In repentance and rest you will be saved,

In quietness and trust is your strength”

Isaiah 30:15

18_eli

      Did you know that, in this passage, “repentance” literally (in Hebrew) means “retirement” or “withdrawal”?  I just discovered that recently and it revolutionized the way I see this passage (and my whole life, for that matter).

     When my kids were little, I used to struggle so much to wake up before them (and by struggle, I mean “fail to”).  For any of you who are tempted to judge me, remember that not all of us are morning people.  And for any of you that think being a stay-at-home mom is a cake walk, I’ve got 2 words for you… “Try it!”.

     My struggle to wake up early was a serious source of guilt for me.  I was a relatively young Christian and didn’t yet have a good theological grasp on the fact that God approves of me because of His blood-sacrifice and not my performance, so I looked to more mature Christians, who enjoyed their “quiet time” and thought for sure that God must be so disappointed in me for not waking up a solid hour before my kids to have a serene moment to meet with Him, because “that’s what good Christians do”, right?  Now I understand that their quiet time was rooted in longing, rather than obligation (unless they were as immature in their thinking as I was, and just better at getting up early anyways).

     Well, for those of you who find the battle between flesh and spirit to be heightened in the wee hours of the morning, let me share with you the testimony of our firstborn son.

     As much as I lacked the drive to wake up early, I did have a genuine hunger for the Word (hallelujah).  If you lack a hunger for the Word, that’s something you should seriously pray for. because that’s something all Christians should hunger for. It’s life-transforming and awesome!  It’s also been my experience that sometimes we just have to read past our discouragement about reading.  I’ve learned that the more I read it, the more I want to and the less I read it, the less I want to.

     Because I longed for time in the Word, I would often wait until breakfast or lunch (or both), and while my kids were devouring a plate of food (rather than busying themselves with anything that may have caused instant death or kidnapping), I’d make a mad-dash to the bedroom for a few interrupted moments to read the Bible.

      I had no clue how the Sovereign Lord was going to redeem what I only perceived as a weakness of mine, and give my kids an example of what it means to hunger for the Word of God.  But my son distinctly remembers, time and time again, looking up from his finished plate of food, hoping for seconds (hey, he’s a boy and no matter how high the pile, it still ain’t enough!), only to discover that his mama was missing, and he knew, without fail, that he would find me in my room, face down in the most sacred of Books, face aglow with the countenance of someone who has just met with God.  He is now 16 years old, and those memories affect him.

     They affect him the same way my memories affect me: To see my mom in the depths of her suffering, Bible open, Scripture-adorned walls, heart pleading from it’s depths for perseverance and sanctification.  It affects my oldest son the same way it affects me to see my mom’s well-worn Bible perpetually open, even in my grown-up years, in front of whatever seat she was recently sitting in, and the feeling of her prayer-stained walls.  And whenever I think of my own longing for the Word, I think of my sweet, saintly mother, who the Lord gave to me as an example of holiness and fervent pursuit, not just in deed, but in the deepest caverns of her heart, where she longs for the courts of the Lord and flees to His holy mountain, day by day.

     I am in a different stage of life now and thankfully can capture those quiet moments in the morning, and begin my day, gaze fixed on things above.  I no longer drop into sleep as though it were an exhaustion-induced coma.  I am no longer drained entirely from chasing 3 wild boys without pain-receptors or frontal lobes, to make sure they don’t die on my watch.  I’ve also learned to go to sleep when I’m tired, rather than trying to stay awake with my insomniac husband, because now that our kids are 16, 14 and 12, we can actually get time alone together throughout the day.  I am so grateful for the treasured morning moments, but I am also so grateful that when our kids were younger, (a) I didn’t realize how exhausted I was because I was too busy enjoying it and (b) God enabled me to accidentally exemplify for our sons a longing for the Word that they would have never seen had I been awake before them.

     So I read this passage and He beckons me: “Come away, with Me, to a quiet place for awhile”.

     Did you know that “rest” in this passage also means “quietness?”  Quietness, soul quietness… you know, REST, that’s our salvation and our strength.

     And to add yet another dimension to this already deeper-than-we-can-comprehend passage, the first half of Isaiah 30 is spent exposing the folly of God’s chosen people, Israel, in that they were seeking protection from sources other than Himself, specifically from those who had kept them in slavery for over 400 years.  “Woe to the rebellious children,’ declares the Lord, ‘Who execute a plan, but not Mine, and make an alliance, but not of My Spirit, in order to add sin to sin; Who proceed down to Egypt without consulting Me, to take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!” (Isaiah 30:1-2).

     When God is calling us to withdrawal (repentance), He is calling us not only to separate ourselves from the distractions that surround us but also to separate ourselves from putting our trust in the things that oppress us.  He wants us to find our strength in properly-placed trust in Him.  He calls us to radical, life-altering trust in, and sacred fellowship with, the King of Kings, amidst both the mundane and the chaos of life.

     This is our salvation and our strength!

      We live in a time when the busy-ness that seeks to distract us from the Eternal, hunts us down even in our own living rooms.  through things like television and the internet.  We live in a time when fearful things meet us at every corner, things like wars, famines, earthquakes in various places (even human-induced earthquakes), which are all the beginning of birth pangs.

     It is easy enough to satiate ourselves with lesser things, to get a moment of “rest” by vegging out in front of a movie, when we ought to turn towards the life-sustaining words found in the Sacred Scriptures, to give us comfort and soul-satisfying rest.

     And it’s easy to look to our oppressors to save us.  A good example of this, that hits close to home for me, is that I live in Appalachia, where industry is using the surrounding lands to dispose of their radioactive poisons, which is in turn poisoning our air, water and soil (you know, the things you need to survive!) and they are doing so “legally” by “donating” money to politicians.  And many of us, who are fighting this, are seeking out these same politicians to protect us.  I can only look to the hand of the Almighty for that protection, for He has never oppressed me, but only set me free, and He alone is mighty to save!

    One way that I sometimes fail to place my hope in the proper place is that I, too often, trust in money to provide for us, rather than Jehovah Jirah, Who promises to meet all of my physical needs, if I will only seek first His kingdom and His righteousness!  “In repentance and rest you will be saved”.

     This is all nonsensical.  We look for rest in things that won’t give us rest, and place our trust in things that are untrustworthy and oppressive.

     But to meet with God… this is where we find ourselves sustained.  This is the place where terror turns to trust and we are reminded that our God reigns sovereign forever, over all wars, famines, pestilence, earth-destruction, slavery, oppression, etc., etc.  And He is redeeming it all!  As Romans 8:18 aptly puts it, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”!  He has an eternal plan that we have yet to see or comprehend, but the greater our knowledge of the Holy One becomes, the more we find understanding in the midst of seemingly senseless circumstances (Proverbs 9:10).  Although we cannot trust in our circumstances, which only cloud our vision all the more when we neglect to come away and quiet our souls, we can trust in the One whose “hand is not so short that it cannot save, nor His ear so dull that it cannot hear.” (Isaiah 59:1).  And in this restful-withdrawal is our salvation, and this quieting-trust our strength.  Amen!

                                                                     ~Space