The Promise of Being Set Apart

ezekiel34Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. (Psalm 4:3, NIV)

Some of us like the idea of being set apart by God for his work and glory, because it helps us feel useful and loved. We want to feel as if we belong, and being set apart assures us we belong. Yet sometimes we might feel unsettled about being set apart. What does it require of us? What if it’s too hard? What if belonging to God requires us to be outcast by others (which, by the way, it does)?

We don’t get to define what “set apart” means. In fact, it’s much less about us than it is about who God is and what he promises. Let’s dig into Ezekiel 34 today and get a taste of what God’s promise to set us apart will most assuredly involve.

Verse 11: This is what the Lord God says: I, myself, will search for my sheep and take care of them. God pursues and cares for us.

Verse 12: As a shepherd takes care of his scattered flock when it is found, I will take care of my sheep. I will save them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. God can find us and save us no matter where we are.

Verse 13. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries. I will bring them to their own land and pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines, and in all the places where people live in the land. God gathers us into the community he creates.

Verses 14-15. I will feed them in a good pasture, and they will eat grass on the high mountains of Israel. They will lie down on good ground where they eat grass, and they will eat in rich grassland on the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock and lead them to rest, says the Lord God. God abundantly provides nourishment and rest.

Verse 16. I will search for the lost, bring back those that strayed away, put bandages on those that were hurt, and make the weak strong. But I will destroy those sheep that are fat and strong. I will tend the sheep with fairness. God heals and strengthens us. God is fair with us.

Verses 17-21. This is what the Lord God says: As for you, my flock, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the male sheep and the male goats. Is it not enough for you to eat grass in the good land? Must you crush the rest of the grass with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you make the rest of the water muddy with your feet? Must my flock eat what you crush, and must they drink what you make muddy with your feet? So this is what the Lord God says to them: I, myself, will judge between the fat sheep and the thin sheep. You push with your side and with your shoulder, and you knock down all the weak sheep with your horns until you have forced them away. God judges us and responds with fairness.

Verse 24. Then I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a ruler among them. I, the Lord, have spoken. God provides instruction and guidance. God speaks to us.

Verse 25. I will make an agreement of peace with my sheep and will remove harmful animals from the land. Then the sheep will live safely in the desert and sleep in the woods. God provides peace and protection.

Verses 26-27. I will bless them and let them live around my hill. I will cause the rains to come when it is time; there will be showers to bless them. Also the trees in the countryside will give their fruit, and the land will give its harvest. And the sheep will be safe on their land. Then they will know that I am the Lord when I break the bars of their captivity and save them from the power of those who made them slaves. God abundantly blesses us.

Verse 30. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them. God is with us. He is not distant. He is near. He is involved. He is invested.

Being set apart isn’t something God does from a distance. It’s not something that you receive as a reward that you can place on your mantle and only think about from time to time. Being set apart is about a relationship. It’s a sacrifice. It is an intimate trust in God.

God will not leave any promise unfulfilled. He is incapable of breaking a promise. How he fulfills his promise might not be exactly how or when you expect or prefer, but a relationship with him isn’t about getting our way. It’s about yielding to his way. When you are set apart, you are his…completely.

Are you living a completely set apart life today?

Fit Faith: Lifestyle: Foreign Familiarity

I was in Israel for two weeks, staying in three different hotels. I knew my days would be long, filled with unforeseeable wonders. I was leading a women’s group, so I wanted to be prepared for each day full of questions, needs, and personality differences. That meant spending some time allowing God to ground me, so each morning I got up earlier than most others and went for a walk. I was in the third hotel the longest, nearly a week, so it’s where I got into the most consistent routine. Every day, I’d walk from our kibbutz to the Old City.

There was part of me that still felt like a foreigner. I was definitely an observer. I loved watching people going about their daily lives, opening their shops and carrying fresh breads and fruit to set up for the day. People walked their dogs, cars lined the roads carrying people to work, and children walked to their schools. People greeted me on the street, usually in Hebrew. I had learned enough to be able to respond, but I was fairly certain they knew I was a foreigner just the same.

There was also a part of me that felt I belonged there. Some of it was because I simply felt “at home” in Israel, as if a homing device had at some point been planted inside of me, and while I had been unaware of it all my life, it clicked into place once my feet hit Israeli soil. Part of my belonging was because I had found my way around the area of Jerusalem in which I was staying. It didn’t take me long to find a regular, safe route to walk every day. As I repeated the path, I saw similar faces and places. I felt I was a part of the morning routine and traffic.

I slid into the flow of life on the streets of Jerusalem. While I likely stood out to some, I didn’t see any indication that people looked at me any differently than anyone else out and about in the mornings. Perhaps it’s because people in Israel are so diverse. I could set aside the fact I was walking on holy ground and appreciate that I was walking among diverse people: people who were struggling with finances, relationships, jobs, conflicts, and faith. Just like me or anyone else. We can look around and appreciate diversity while acknowledging similarities. No one person is exactly like another, but we can certainly find commonalities.

As I walked alongside and crossed paths with others, my heart seemed to beat a familiar heartbeat with those around me. I felt connected. I was doing life among familiar strangers. There was a connection despite my foreign citizenship.

The Jewish law had many commands and rules, but Christ ended that law. His purpose was to make the two groups of people become one new people in him and in this way make peace. It was also Christ’s purpose to end the hatred between the two groups, to make them into one body, and to bring them back to God. Christ did all this with his death on the cross. (Ephesians 2:15-16)

Be attentive today. Notice those you see as different from you. Do you draw a firm line in the sand to separate yourself – or the other person?

Erase the line and look for similarities. Even when you don’t have a long-term relationship with someone, every interaction you have can be significant. God intends for you to be intentional about life. Live it alongside him. Live it alongside the people he brings into your life. Whether you’re walking side by side or simply cross paths with someone else, you each have purpose in God. He’s passionately pursuing you…and those who are doing life around you.

Reaching

I walked along my favorite trail recently. It’s built where a railroad track used to be: a long, straight, flat stretch, including a couple old bridges, a tunnel, and…lots of trees. The trees vary in type and age. I don’t know much about trees, so I can’t give you many details except to say I love the way they make the path feel secluded (when it actually runs alongside a major road).

As my feet shuffled the colorful leaves littering the path, I looked above at one of my favorite qualities of the trail: the canopy of trees. The trees on either side of the trail grow toward the sky and then – well above my head and reach – begin to lean and then reach toward the middle. Each side reaches for another. The branching limbs reaching across the trail and intertwining with others reaching from the other side look like arms and hands. And I think…

We’re a lot like these trees.

We reach for relationships. Sure, some of us reach faster and more assertively than others. Sometimes we’re bold; sometimes we’re shy. But we want to connect in some way. We’re created for relationships.

So we reach and connect… We entwine ourselves with others, which prompt us to bend in unexpected ways. The winds blow, and we get bumped and scratched. We don’t grow well in some positions because we lack the nourishment we need.

Reaching and connecting might not look or feel great in particular situations. But take a step back to see the bigger picture. It’s not just about me, you, us. It’s about community.

The trees reach into an archway, beautiful to see and helpful for protection. The reaching branches create a trail for some animals and insects and a home for others.  The curves of the branches create runways for water and windows of sunlight for smaller plants beneath and among the trees.

You’re going to live in community with others. Take a step back to see the bigger picture. Are your relationships…

  • a (beautiful) example for those around you?
  • (healthy) protection for others?
  • a path for others as they grow?
  • a place where people feel they belong?
  • nourishing for those all around you?

Sometimes my relationships feel more like the uncomfortable bending, bumping, scratching, lacking nourishment kind. How about yours? Take a step back with me.

We’re part of a community, and we won’t see much of the impact our relationships have on others. As we reach for relationships, we entwine in such intricate ways that we don’t see the costs and benefits of every aspect of our reaching. One thing is certain: our relationships don’t just impact us personally.

Keep reaching. Relationships are difficult, but connecting with others is worth the reach.

I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his. Philippians 3:12

I Want to Belong

We all want to belong somewhere. Some of us are more restless than others, but there’s a need to be associated with a certain group of people or have a place to relax. We want to be able to be ourselves without any pretense, so we seek a place to belong. We seek people who will accept us.

Sometimes our desire to belong gets distorted. We go along with behavior we’d otherwise say is unacceptable. We hang out with people who have questionable habits. Perhaps you think you left all temptations behind in high school. But have you? Do we sit with a group who is gossiping but say nothing? Do we go to a movie that promotes infidelity and violence and rationalize that we’re adults, so we can see whatever we want? Do we buy more when shopping than we should as our friends convince us we deserve to treat ourselves?

We want to belong, but God set us apart. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me. (Acts 26:17-18, NLT) By setting us apart, God gives us the best place to belong. By setting us apart, God gives us purpose. By setting us apart, God gives us family.

We want to belong, because God created us for community. Our desire to belong isn’t wrong, but what we do with the desire can be wrong. Belong to God, who sets you apart from this world. Yes, you will still have struggles. You’ll befriend people who don’t know Jesus and build a bridge for them. You’ll be mistreated. You’ll stumble. But there will be a firm foundation under your feet along your journey. And you’ll belong to God. He satisfies the longing and belonging of your heart.

Transplant

Where do you belong?

My husband wanted a special tree in our yard. To be specific, a Horstmann’s Sillberlocke. He’s a gifted gardener who makes our backyard a Summer haven. Over the years, he’s balanced the colors and textures of multiple flower beds and created a soothing water feature with koi. We worked together on our brick patio, where we sit and enjoy the sights, scents, and sounds. Tim thought our backyard needed this special tree. (For those of you who like the details of the specifics of the tree, you’ll need to Google its proper name. I know very little about plant and tree species and calling it a “tree,” much to my husband’s chagrin, is enough for me.) 

So, Tim invested in this tree. Yes, invested means he spent money on it. He transplants many of his plants, so our plant budget is small. In my opinion, it’s okay if he splurges on a plant every now and then. But Tim doesn’t like to spend unnecessary money, so he kept his eye on the trees and finally brought one home. He picked out the “perfect” place – which meant relocating a butterfly bush behind a bench since it wasn’t needed – planted the tree, and stood back to admire it.

Today, Tim took that same tree to the city dump. It’s dead. It’s been dead for a while, but I think Tim was hoping it would spring back to life. It was definitely dead. It was beautiful while it lived in our yard, but it wasn’t intended for our yard. We didn’t have the right growing season or soil for it.

Guess what replaced it? The butterfly bush! Even though it was shoved into an unseen corner, it had flourished. Right growing season. Right soil. (I think I prefer the butterfly bush anyway. After all, it flowers. Don’t tell Tim. He’s still upset about his tree.)

When have you tried to grow something where it doesn’t belong? If you’re like me, just about anything you plant doesn’t survive regardless of where you plant it, but think beyond plants…

When have you continued a relationship that’s unhealthy? Taken a job that drains you of your energy and talents? Committed to volunteer out of guilt instead of passion and service? Rationalized behavior or attitude you know isn’t appropriate?

We’re often planted in imperfect soil for a season, awaiting transplant. Isn’t that what life on earth is? It’s imperfect, and we make sacrifices. We deal with less than ideal situations at times…and yet we begin to feel at home where we’re only intended to temporarily live. Be careful of creating stubborn root systems in temporary soil.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times. Mark 4:8 (NCV)