Evidence of Gentleness

I like lists; I make them. I like goals; I sometimes set them. I also like transformation, and today it dawned on me what I really want more than visible abs, or the perfect job or romance. Don’t get me wrong, I do want those things; I just discovered the thing I want more which is a change in my inner disposition. I want to be recognized differently that’s all.

I’ll be honest, I don’t outright want to be somebody who is stronger or a better leader or exudes confidence although those things would also be nice but they aren’t preeminently my desire. Mostly because I think there are enough of those types that get exalted.

cuteWhat I want for myself is gentleness. Maybe your underwhelmed by that thought and if you are, I’m okay because I’m overwhelmed by my often, utter lack. I had a friend tell me back in 2007 over the phone, “I like Jimmy so much better when he is gentle.” After that phone call I wept for 30 minutes.

Because I knew what she meant and felt completely helpless when it came to turning on that part of me. That part of me was the core that made up 5-year old me who never felt out of place anywhere, was curious about everyone and everything in a sincere way. I never felt the need to prove myself or defend myself then.

I wasn’t self-conscious about who I was or what I should say to someone and didn’t seem to be concerned about offending anyone because I never intended to. If you know me at all, as much as I would like to, I do not give off a first, second, third or even 4th impression of gentleness. My gentleness is often hidden primarily because it’s afraid of getting hurt.

Can I give you a brief definition of gentleness? Gentleness is the sense of being truly fair by relaxing overly strict standards. Gentleness fails to get close to extreme. There is scripture in Philippians 4:5 “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” The word evident means to know through personal experience.

What I love about the concept of gentleness is a gentle person might suffer rejection or pain or wrong and they rightly displace the desire to lash out at a person and in some worse cases themselves. For me I am guilty of both too often. If ever you have known me to lash out, the beating I give myself is often worse. Which is why in the New Year this is so important to me, if my gentleness is not evident to myself how in the world will it be evident to all.

May I search this identity of mine that God has given me and find contentment and delight that I am His and fully loved by him. May I live in that reality and awareness and let go of every burden, rejection, and pain of 2016 and the years prior. May I recognize healing of wounds strengths of character. And may you find hope in these things as well and hopefully may you reap some benefit of some gentleness in me.

Judging the Bully, Dating Websites and Future Cats

Ezekiel 25 and 26

The second half of Ezekiel contains several prophecies against five cities Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, and Tyre because those cities laughed at the desecration of Israel. Even though God punishes his people, He still stands up for them when it comes to how the nation’s treat Israel. If God does not delight in the death of the wicked, then neither can the nations. These chapters show that God is just and is capable of avenging His people and judging the scoffing bully. He always is in the corner of the ones that He calls His own.

Aside from that bit of revelation, I don’t find these chapters particularly interesting so I will take the opportunity to ramble.

  • Dating websites are the worst, legit the worst. They were not designed for me. I’m terrible at communicating through technology and I take awful pictures most of the time. If mr profile survives someone else’s preferences and that someone else makes it through my arbitrarily high standards, I then have to navigate several days of sporadic conversation, which is laborious because it is not a consistent stream of flowing conversation unless we are equally enthusiastic. The last thing I will say on this subject is the dating websites I have involved myself with have a much higher rate of females who prefer dogs over cats (meh) and far too many females listing binge watching netflix as, what I’m supposing is a hobby that is meant to attract men.
  • I visited Waffles (my future cat) 2 times this month. He seems well and happy to see me each time but no longer holds his breath at the thought of me getting permission to take him any time soon.
  • I’m teaching a class on preaching starting next week, which should be a lot of fun even though I have much more experience reading and writing about biblical passages than preaching from them. It at least feels like I’m doing something I was created to do rather than the joys of lonely office work that has consumed me for most of the month of December.

Destiny of Death

Ezekiel 24

                Chapter 24 is a transitional chapter in the book of Ezekiel in which judgment is underway in Jerusalem and will then spread to other nations. It also is the saddest chapter for the romantics among us. God tells Ezekiel, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you in a moment, but don’t mourn over it.” The death of His wife is also a symbol for the loss of the city of Jerusalem.

                The siege of Jerusalem begins with a picture of removing water and meat from a cauldron and putting it on a bare rock to be boiled. Then the pot is set on the fire to be consumed because its rusted and pollutes the food within it. God’s unrelenting judgment has begun and the people are quiet.

                 Yet God is not quiet; He continues to speak to Ezekiel. The profound relationship between God and Ezekiel should give us hope. Because it is a relationship that is real and tangible one that gives the utmost security, knowing we have access to the kind and tender heart of God always because of Jesus.

                 Without that relationship with God, what is asked of Ezekiel would be seemingly impossible for me to fathom. To not mourn the death of one’s beloved seems cruel, yet Ezekiel does it. Perhaps, he has a healthy understanding that death is the destiny of all of us. And once someone passes from this body, the loss must be lived with. But how? Only by the grace of God to mourn and rejoice and obey.

Prostitutes, Fake Names, Real Hearts, and the Blood of God that Makes Us New

Ezekiel 23

Sister Wives, the brides of God, turned prostitutes.  The cities of Samaria and Jerusalem are given the new names of Oholah and Oholibah. The broken covenant of marriage requires names that reflect the behavior of cities with a confused identity. The backstory of our broken identities is rarely adequately explained because of the uncertainty of the moments or circumstances that cause our brokenness. For example, to answer the question of why anyone would turn to prostitution seems to be extremely complex.

At what age does a man or woman decide, they want their vocation to be prostitution. In most cases, isn’t that a decision that is decided for a person due to someone else’s exploitation or power to control? Strangely, Oholah and Oholibah’s prostitution is depicted as completely their choice which from what I can tell is the root of their idolatry. A prostitute’s worth is either set by someone else or the ones selling themselves. This attribution of value in some ways is concrete and has the appeal of knowing how much someone thinks I am worth for a moment of my time. But what humanity and myself frequently forget is that we sell ourselves for far less than what we are worth.

We make ourselves worthless by being stuck in sin and perverse behavior yet, the blood of God in Jesus Christ has placed an infinite value on us. That infinite value, His relentless affection, fixed desire, His comforting nearness and the depth of His love has power to move an individual from a prostitute to the purified bride of God again. This is the power of the blood, the evidence of our judgment that He bore so we might be pure.

Mob Dross and Fire

Mob Dross and Fire

Ezekiel 22
                When I leave work, I pass by 6 strip clubs in the first 5 minutes of my drive. A few of them are closed and at least one of them is open Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I often wonder who owns them. I also think about who goes to them on Christmas. My only hypothesis is mobsters?
                 In every gang-related movie or cop drama TV show, a strip club at some point is the setting of a scene in which individuals are plotting something nefarious namely murder. And perhaps, this is the reason why when I read chapter 22, I think of Israel as the mob rather than holy people of God.
                They are found guilty of shedding blood, extortion, lewdness and impure sexual conduct. God looks upon all of it and considers it dross. And that is what mafia mentality breeds, that is what extortion and an approach to power that manipulates others leads to, dross. Dross is leftover material regarded as worthless. It is what’s left after every, last drop of value has been sucked out of something. Israel has created victims and become victims.
                That’s what happens when people use people, they become even more unsatisfied within themselves. Lust and power can never have its fill, which is why in Israel’s case it must be burned up. Their end and trial by fire might produce within them repentance or remorse for what they have created. They may choose to forsake the worthless. Now if only we might do the same

Lament and Joy: The Songs to Our Selves

Lament and Joy: The Songs to Our Selves

Ezekiel 19 and 20
                Every now and then a prophet becomes a song writer. Every now and then a song writer becomes a prophet. In chapter 19 the prophet/priest Ezekiel writes a song lamenting Israel. Israel the captive lion and burned up vine is mourned. And the ramifications of the downfall of Israel are about to manifest itself by spreading (that will come in a few more chapters).
But first, God states that rebellion was in Israel’s heart since they were held captive in Egypt. It continued for generations in the wilderness and even in the promised land. It was for His own name sake that He continued to spare His people so other nations would know that He is the true God. This pattern continues with a prophecy at the end of chapter 20 in which God promises to bring His people back to Israel again to “manifest his holiness among you in the sight of the nations (Ezk 20:41).”
I love the book of Ezekiel and God for this reason, 20 chapters in, God’s greatest desire is for the world to know He is God by forgiving and showing grace to people that resist Him. It is His character to continue to forgive and restore despite continuous rebellion.
It’s as if He has eternal patience and resilience. As chapter 18 reiterated God doesn’t like bad people dying. His greatest desire is for humanity to know how deeply He loves us as individuals. How He desires whole nations to worship Him at once. He is the God who sings over the world and shows the world His great love in so many ways.
Why do we resist Him? Why do I choose false loves? Why do I harm myself with sin? God, may you have my heart wholly so we might rejoice together over what you’ve done rather than have someone lament my rebellion. Jesus, we love you. Maranatha.

Who Dies for My Wrongs?

Who Dies for My Wrongs?

Ezekiel 18
               Being accountable for one’s own actions isn’t the most desirable discipline. Owning one’s wrong is learned behavior. From an early age, we instinctively figure out how to defer our disobedience as the cause of a more systemic problem. The cause stems from sin, but our soul while wrestling, willingly chooses wrong. God knows this, which is why He calls us to rely on Him for forgiveness and strength to lead holy lives.
                In Ezekiel 18, God draws distinctions between the righteous and wicked fathers and sons. The one who doesn’t worship idols, sleep with their neighbor’s spouse, oppress, rob, and instead, restores to his debtor, gives bread to the hungry, covers the naked, and walks in God’s ways is righteous.
                He goes on to point out that a father may commit a wrong or a son might commit a wrong but only the one committing the wrong will be punished. Despite this view, a group of people ask “Why not allow the son to suffer for his father?” The thought being the apple won’t fall very far from the tree. Our prejudices tend to expect the same behavior from the same groups of people. But God has good reason to expect better of us. God the Father allowed His Son to suffer so those who believe in Him would not suffer for their own sins or the sins of the generations that preceded them. And this news changes hearts.
                God reveals his own heart when he says in verse 23, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” and again in verse 32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone so turn and live.” He pleads with a people who continue in injustice and do not want to see others forgiven to turn to Him for both forgiveness and righteousness. Anything less is stubbornness and suggests that salvation is unnecessary. God’s way is different and in new because the concept is still foreign to us that we cannot earn this thing through our best single-handed efforts.
                God I need your hand, here is mine, Take it and lead me as I walk with you.

Eagles Nations And Allegiance to God

Eagles Nations And Allegiance to God

Ezekiel 17
                A parable of 2 eagles and a vine are used to describe the rising and falling of nations. Comparing Israel to a bride is one thing, but comparing nations to a vine and twigs are another. God is so big and so in control of national movement and cosmic reality that comparatively, national powers in a moment of history are of secondary concern to Him than human devotion. Unfortunately, God infrequently gains fully devoted followers.
                The sadness of chapter 17 is found in Israel’s captivity in Babylon and in whom Israel  consults for liberation. Captive Israel looks not to God, but to the nation in which they were once slaves, Egypt. They send ambassadors to Pharaoh in hopes of acquiring an army. In God’s eyes this is yet another step of unfaithfulness. However, the prophetic parable does not end with Israel’s annihilation; instead, God offers to plant a twig on the mountain of Israel and utters a promise that His people will be a blessing instead of a burden to other nations by His grace.
                Only God will get credit for it. “I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish.” God isn’t magical, He is just magnificent and all powerful.
                 I have often looked back to the captivity of my sin and dead doings as a source of freedom. It always ends up being a false promise of freedom that leaves me feeling broken. God knows this and even I know it, but we sometimes forget that sin does not pay generous wages. It offers us mere scraps of poison coated in a little sugar. God however sets a table feast before His children and beckons us to come to Him to mount up on wings like eagles.

All My Ex’s Part II

All My Ex’s Part II

Ezekiel 16:37-63
                If you ever want to rise heavenward in an eternal progression, friends, do I have a solution for you. Start by vocally forgiving those who have broken your heart, those who’ve hurt you and those who have accidentally disappointed you. Then, instead of letting yourself go back and be angry or upset about the hurt, say “No, I’m sure, I’m letting that go.” If you can do this always, do it for better results. And bless those who have hurt you and rejoice with their successes and blessings so you may be able to cherish your own blessings. I know a friend of mine who did this for us and He is forever reigning over the earth and rejoices over those who belong to Him.
               With that said, God is not good at sharing certain things. In fact, He simply refuses to share certain things. He does not share His glory. He does not want to be loved equally to someone else. He desires the preeminent place in the human heart which is why He is so angry with Israel in this portion of Scripture. God wants and believes His people are capable of a selfless love. He opposes our pride, our excess food and prosperous ease and our neglect of the poor and needy.  These are the outward symptoms of our lack of love for God and others.
                Have you ever noticed, though, how easy it is to be selfish in a relationship? There is something within me and I can feel it, that so desperately wants what must be love, but settles and tries to demand something less. And the way we try to demand it, is in the hope that it would come from the people we suppose can give it to us. It’s easy to want pleasure without patience, prosperity without perseverance, affection without giving up your attention. The nature of love, I often forget, is it loves to give good things, and withhold harmful things. Love requires both self-control and generosity.
                Israel gets into situation where it seems near impossible for them to exercise self-control as they withhold giving anything to God. It is juxtaposed with God’s love described in 16:59-63. He says, “I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and it will be everlasting. You will remember your sins and cover your mouth quietly in shame when I forgive you for all you have done.” He silences the ones He loves by His forgiveness.
                His willingness to forgive His bride despite her persistent unfaithfulness is the terrifying side of that kind of eternal love. It is a love so enduring it forgives because He does not want to stop displaying His jealous love. This is the kind of love I want to feel overwhelmed by every moment so I might  be able to offer forgiveness and sustain wholeness of heart.

All My Ex’s Part I

All My Ex’s Part I

Ezekiel 16:1-37
                If you ever want to fall into a temporary depression, friends, do I have a solution for you. Start by googling the names of your former ex’s after they are recently engaged. Then, instead of closing out your browser after seeing their wedding websites pop up, click on them. If you can do this with more than one ex in succession, do that for better results. And do it at work instead of eating lunch so you really put yourself in a grumpy mood. I know a friend of yours that did this, and from what I experienced it was effective with a capital E.
                 I jest about it now for two reasons: 1) The end goal of life is not marriage and having a family; its knowing God and remaining faithful with an acceptance of the good things He has for us. And 2) We have available to us the greatest love the world has ever known all the time. We get to keep it and let others know about it. We can make a website about it.
                Despite those fantastic truths, the reality of heart ache and sadness that comes from a dissolved relationship is painful. Perhaps, this is the reason the longest chapter in Ezekiel is devoted to the faithless bride of the Lord.
Chapter 16 verse 4 starts out as pure poetry. God depicts his bride, Israel, as born, first in destitution, but grows into a nourished adult. Israel than becomes His wife. Its filled with pictures of covenant, blood, and washing. It’s sensual, yet gentle. It describes both a private and public love. The passage intentionally treads the line of being uncomfortable in describing romance. God describes what He has done and sacrificed to have His bride and how His love has awakened a new sense of beauty in her. So much was given to her by God including prestige and honor. That association with Him is what perfected her.
I am curious as to whether marriage has the potential to perfect us. I don’t disbelieve it does but I am disheartened to say that I don’t feel my romantic efforts or endeavors have improved someone. May that grace come when the time comes.
Apparently, Israel grew to feel that God’s love did not improve her either. Or Israel just simply forgot that fact. What unfolded was the sad reality of Israel relying on her beauty to entice and break faith by offering her love to anyone but her husband. She is compared to a prostitute, yet worse because she received no payment. She received strangers freely; even more, she bribes them with gifts to commit adultery with her.
But there is no requited love. Lust paints this weird false image of love and hatred merging where individuals are dehumanized, objectified, and used. It gives a distorted pleasure that leads to a damaged heart. And that damage is hard and sometimes impossible to repair. The harsh reality of lust is it never improves things because it can never be satisfied. The love of God conversely both satisfies and is ever improving as we come to know it more.
To be continued…