Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The buck stopped there.

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 20:45-21:32
mark this: Ezekiel 21:2-3
"Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, preach against the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath..."
"If only I could see what God is doing, then I'd understand."
Look around you. Everything you see is, directly or indirectly, God's doing.
No matter what we'll see today when we read or watch the news, none of it is news to God.  Whatever happens, God either initiated it or allowed it.
What God initiates.
What God starts is called his direct will.
The tabernacle--portable, purposeful, powerfully pictorial, and perfect--was God's idea, God's direct will.
What God allows.
What God did not initiate, but doesn't stop either, is within the realm of God's permissive will.
The Temple--ornate and unmovable--was David's idea. God went along with it, and even dictated its design, but he did not initiate it.
The suffering inflicted upon Job (1) was also in God's permissive will. It wasn't God's idea in the first place (it was Satan's idea) but God allowed it--within certain parameters which he insisted upon.
What God stops.
There's no technical term for this. We just say that it is against God's will.
Sometimes it is hard to decide whether what happens is God's direct will or his permissive will. But it really doesn't matter, because God claims responsibility for everything that happens.
In today's reading, we find that God will use Babylon as his "sword" to punish Jerusalem for their sins. Did God appear to Nebuchednezzar and say, "Lay siege to Jerusalem; starve them; then attack and burn the city, destroy the temple, and carry the captured into Babylonian exile."
The Bible's answer is that it doesn't matter whether God directly initiated the idea or just allowed Nebuchednezzar's own idea to happen. Either way, according to the Bible, the buck stops with God.
Now we go darker and deeper. If we read Psalm 137, we find out that Nebuchednezzar's Babylonian forces murdered infants by dashing their heads against the rocks. Is that God's will?
The biblical answer is yes, because even that buck stopped with God. But before you begin to hate God, recall...
Recall what good came out of the story of the beleaguered Job. Everything taken from him was restored, even doubled.
Before you begin to hate God, recall this scripture:
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.  (Genesis 50:20)
God had allowed Joseph's brothers to carry out their evil ideas, because God would use the situation left in evil's wake to save "many"--in this case, an entire nation.
Before you begin to hate God, recall this scripture:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Satan, Nebuchednezzar and Joseph's brothers had originated evil ideas, which God allowed because he would use these evil situations in his overall plan to create good out of bad.
Evil is all that God was handed after man sinned and brought death into the world.  So if death was all he had to work with, then from death he must make a way.
And that's what he did. He devised a plan--a plan so profound that only God could devise it.  He decided that his only Son would, as it were, be dashed against the stones.
At creation, he'd already made something out of nothing. But now...now he was proposing to make good out of bad; to make life out of death.
The cross of Jesus Christ, the greatest of all 'injustices,' wasn't merely allowed by God. It was his idea, his greatest idea.
Because when Jesus died on the cross, he paid the wages of sin. For everyone who would ever turn to him, he paid the wages of sin, which is death (2). Your wages, and even mine, were paid in full.
The buck stopped there.
(1) Job chapter 1; (2) Romans 6:23

Monday, May 30, 2016

a History of Mercy

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Ezekiel 20
mark this: verses 9, 14, 22
"for the sake of My Name..."
I love being inspired by the amazing heroes in the Bible- Joseph shows me what true forgiveness means, Daniel teaches me integrity, Zacchaeus demonstrates what repentance really is. But more often than not, the people we encounter in the Word can help us know what NOT to do. As full as the Bible is of godly men and women, it never sugar-coats the lives found within, it never tries to cover up their failings. I am not sure about you, but I know that for me personally, it's often the negative examples that motivate me to stay away from a certain sin or snare. Maybe that is human nature- seeing the horror of a drug ravaged body would be more motivation to avoid drugs than all the testimonies of those who never were tempted to begin with.
In today's passage, God is going to warn His people via negative examples. As the present generation fakes interest in hearing the Word of God (see verse 3), God is going to use the faithlessness of past generations to respond. But in the mean time, God teaches us another lesson- a lesson in His mercy.
God brings up three different generations who repeated the same old problems.
Group 1 - Israelites living in Egypt (v. 5-9)
Group 2 - Israelites wandering in the desert [1st Generation](v. 10-17)
Group 3 - Their children also wandering in the desert [2nd Generation] (v. 18-26)
Notice the pattern that emerges:
1. God reveals Himself (v. 5, 11, 18)
2. The people rebel against God (v. 8a, 13a, 21a)
3. They incur God's wrath (v. 8b, 13b, 21b)
4. But God relents because of His Name (v. 9, 14, 22)
But beyond these three negative warnings- these examples that show us what NOT to do, we see an even bigger picture emerge- one of God's mercy. This passage gives a manifold testimony of what mercy, and really the Gospel, means.
GOD, in His mercy, doesn't allow for pretense & hypocrisy.
In this passage, God sees right past the pretense of leaders who don't really want to hear His words. Hypocrisy is a fundamental human problem and therefore all people, of whatever faith or non-faith, must beware. God knows this, but He does much more than call us to task for hypocrisy, He sets us free from the huge burden of it.
What do I mean?
If you look around the world, mankind is enslaved to all sorts of religious or irreligious hypocrisy- doing/not doing certain things not because we want to, but rather going through the motions in order to look good or avoid guilt. Look at the various rituals from any religion- how billions are enslaved to certain requirements that they don't really understand or even believe in.
God sees through all that junk and He doesn't want any part of it.
Praise God that I don't have to be dishonest of my true feelings.
Praise God that I don't have to relate to Him through half-hearted "religious" activities.
GOD, in His mercy, reveals Himself and His ways to us.
Perhaps the clearest sign of God's mercy is His continually revealing Himself to us through His word. Whether the nation Israel, or ourselves, we all have the tendency to ignore His truth. How easy would it be for Him to cut off all communication to such a rebellious people?
Remember- we are all repeat offenders, we've all previously flaunted God's known truth. Yet God reveals who He is and what He expects to us again and again, without fail. That is mercy.
GOD, in His mercy, disciplines His children.
"No discipline seems pleasant," yet that same rebuke we (or Israel in this case) receive from God is proof that He is our heavenly Father who "is treating us as sons (1)." God cares enough to tell us the truth. In a world full of deceit, ignorance and broken promises, we have a Merciful Master who always is "spin-free." Mercy cannot exist without the truth, and the truth often hurts. God gives dignity to His children when He hold us accountable for our behavior.
GOD, in His mercy, spares us what we deserve
We often limit our understanding of mercy to this statement; this passage certainly challenges that mindset. But you cannot talk about mercy without mentioning the sheer joy and relief when we don't get what we deserve. The people of Israel, like us, have earned the due reward of their deeds. There is no sugarcoating that fact. Yet the joy of the Gospel message is that instead of leaving us in perpetual slavery to sin, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them (2)."
GOD, in His mercy, acts because of His Holy Name.
Above all, mercy is about the character of God. While we may be the object of His grace- it is never ultimately centered on us. That's a good thing too- the fickleness of Israel mirrors the fickleness of the human heart. Our hope is in the very character of God.
(1) Hebrews 12:7 (2) 2 Corinthians 5:19

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jesus (formerly) of Nazareth

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 18, 19
mark this: Ezekiel 18:1-4
The Lord spoke to me and said, "What is this proverb people keep repeating in the land of Israel?--
'The parents ate the sour grapes, But the children got the sour taste.'
"As surely as I am the living God," says the Sovereign Lord, "you will not repeat this proverb in Israel any more.
The life of every person belongs to me, the life of the parent as well as that of the child. The person who sins is the one who will die."
Ezekiel stressed his themes of sin, judgment, and restoration not only for the nation but also for the individual--a unique emphasis for his day.
When people complained that they were suffering because of their fathers' sins, Ezekiel countered by stressing individual sin and judgment, individual righteousness and salvation.  This individual emphasis anticipates the New Testament, where each individual is responsible to make a personal decision for Christ.
Ezekiel taught that we are not held under the sway of precedent influences.  You are not required to follow your father into sin, your mother into a bloodless social religion, your girlfriend into sex, your roomate into moral indifference, or your culture into mind-numbing inanity. And you are not required to agree with your professor's outlook on anything.
You owe them nothing. If you want to develop some spiritual muscle, begin today.  Pick an ungodly or antichrist influence and rebel against it.  Sever the ties you must. Kick your culture to the curb. Inform peers that you're a peer no longer. And as you turn to leave, don't thank them for the memories.
It might surprise you to know the names of the two greatest rebels in your Bible.
We romanticize Cain as the rebel when, in fact, he was the ultimate Mama's boy. He tried to approach God on his own terms, just like Mommy Eve had done.
The only rebel in the family was Abel. He faced down everyone in his family in order to come to God in the way God prescribed.
Abel rebelled against everyone; while Cain--as acquiescent as Adam--took Mommy's way, rebelling against no one. You tell me who the rebel was.
Some romanticize Satan as a rebel. He wasn't a rebel at all. He was prisoner to his own pride.
Jesus Christ at a young age told his family that he must be about his Father's business. He didn't mean carpentry. Just before his Father indicated that it was time to make his way from Nazareth to Golgotha, he (like Abel before him) curtly cut the apron strings:
"Woman, what have you to do with me?"  (1)
If any of your associations or influences compromise your relationship with Christ, then take his advice:
Shake the dust off your feet; (2)
Let the dead bury their dead; (3)
and never look back, (4)
because he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (5)
On the other hand, if your father, mother, church, or friend have shown you the way to God, then you are to honor them with your whole heart.
I've said many goodbyes in order to be about my Father's business. I've cut many ties in order to navigate the way from my own Nazareth to the cross;  and then to show others the way out of Nazareths of their own.
There's a lot of dust you'll be leaving behind, and a lot of funerals you'll be missing. Because, you see, you are one in Spirit now with the arch-rebel of all time.  Like him, in the long run, you will--you must--rebel against everything but God.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?  Yes, but first you have to get out.
(1) John 2:4; (2) Matthew 10:14; (3) Luke 9:60; (4) Luke 9:62; (5) Matthew 10:37

Saturday, May 28, 2016

To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 17
God always had something up his sleeve.
At the end of Ezekiel chapter 16, God tells us that he will cleanse and restore his unfaithful wife (Jerusalem).
She had broken the marriage covenant (referring to the Ten Commandments, which Israel had agreed to obey) but God would make an everlasting covenant with her, one that could not be broken:
I will establish an everlasting covenant with you...when I make atonement for you for all you have done. (See Ezekiel 16:60-63.)
This is the new covenant, which we previously read about in Jeremiah 31:31-32:
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,"
declares the LORD.
God, in the act of salvation, is pictured with his sleeve rolled up, ready to work and fight for our lives:
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
 (Isaiah 52:10)
What God had up his sleeve, ready to trump our failure and sin, was Jesus:
"This is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:20)
Jesus had always been God's plan, but God waited until just the right time to roll up his sleeve and reveal his 'Ace'--
He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:20)
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 
(Isaiah 53:1)
When the time arrived, the first person to whom the arm of the LORD was revealed was, of course, his mother:
And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away."
To whom, then, has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He was revealed as a Word to Isaiah, to Jeremiah, and to Ezekiel. That Word became flesh in Mary's arms. His flesh, torn, yielded the blood of the new covenant:
"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time," says the Lord...
a new and living way opened through the curtain, that is, his body.
Anyone who has turned to the cross of Jesus Christ has seen the salvation of the LORD.
But until you turn to the cross, you've hidden the arm of the LORD behind your back.
(1) excerpted from Luke 1:46-53; (2) excerpted from Hebrews 10:16-20

Friday, May 27, 2016

every word: how blunt truth turned an S.O.B. into a son of God

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 16
Shelley wondered the other day whether we should warn some of our young, impressionable readers about some very graphic anatomical descriptions which we will encounter in Ezekiel.
I replied with the standard line: "Nothing they haven't heard on the school bus already."
We don't need to warn people about God's Word, when God's Word is the warning the people need! We have to expose our young readers to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (1).  No less an authority than Jesus Christ said so.
The graphic anatomy encountered in Ezekiel is nothing compared to the scathing denunciations we hear:
Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite (Ezekiel 16:3).
I've never been called a son of an Amorite or Hittite, but on numerous occasions I've been called a son of something else. Same difference.
Should such language be in the Bible? I refer you to that well-known authority, Jesus Christ, who once informed the people that their father wasn't God at all but the murdering and lying Satan:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
I think I'd rather be called a son of an Amorite than a son of that.
Your Bible has some harsh things to say, things that you'll never hear in church, among the 'proper' people there. Because many a smiling preacher, more concerned for his popularity than the truth, hasn't got the backbone to look sin in the eye and call it exactly what it is.
The greatest indictment of the biblical false prophet is this oft-repeated line:
They will say, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace (2).
I grew up with the secular "Peace, peace" crowd. They had no explanation for the world as I knew it to be. They told me I was OK, and that they were OK. But we were not OK.
After dumping the "Peace, peace" crowd, I spent some time with the religious "Lord, Lord" crowd. They were as clueless and insipid as their secular counterparts. They didn't know Jesus, 'cause he didn't know them:
"Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'
And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you.' " 
(Matthew 7:22-23)
I never met anybody who truly knew what was going on in my heart and in this world until I read the book of Matthew. I remember my eyes growing wide with wonder, shock and awe as I read this point-blank assessment of me and my vaunted generation:
From within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)
"O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I bear with you?" (Matthew 17:17)
I--son of an Amorite, son of Satan, and (so I've been told) son of your dog Lulu--had finally met someone who knew. Not only that, but he cared enough to speak harsh words of truth.
We live by his every word. Never withhold even one of them. Even if the bus driver objects.
(1) Matthew 4:4; (2) Jeremiah 6:14; Ezekiel 13:10

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Then you shall know that I am the LORD.

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 14-15
mark this: Ezekiel 14:8b
"Then you shall know that I am the LORD."
Want to live life as it was meant to be lived? If you do, then here's how to do it: Stand in the Rain every day.
"Stand in the Rain," an image borrowed from Isaiah 55:10-11, means to let the Word of God fulfill its purpose in your life.
So what is the purpose of the Bible? The purpose of the Bible is to know God. Not only is that the purpose of the Bible, it's the purpose of existence! Being the purpose of the Bible and the purpose of existence, it's not surprising that knowing God is also the theme of Ezekiel.
The expression "Then they will know that I am the LORD" (and variations of it) occurs 70 times in the book of Ezekiel (which is near the middle of your Bible).
Near the beginning of your Bible is the book of Exodus. Typing Ezekiel's thematic phrase into my electronic concordance, I found out that "Then they will know that I am the LORD" appears in Exodus 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:10,22; 10:2; 14:4,18; 16:6, 8, 12; 29:46; 31:13.
The gospels are near the end of the Bible. John 20:31 tells us that the gospels (and by inference the entire Bible) were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
"That you may have life" might just as well be written "that you may know God"--because they mean the same thing. The Bible defines life itself as a relationship with God. (Conversely, "death" in scripture doesn't mean you stop breathing. It means you are separated from God.)
So Bible reading (getting to know God) is nothing short of life itself.
If you really want to be alive, don't miss a day in the "rain."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What are you doing?

(written by Vickie)
The Word for today: Ezekiel 12 & 13
mark this verse: Ezekiel 12:2
"...They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear for they are a rebellious people."
The witnesses could not give an account of the story that unfolded before their eyes. They were unable to hear over the dialogue in their own ears, they were unable to see because of the illusions that played out in their mind's eye. Being vaguely aware that something wasn't quite right, that something didn't sync in their perceptions, they chose to turn all the more vehemently toward the illusion and familiar voices.
Ezekiel spoke the vision the LORD had given for His remnant but they could not understand. Israel didn't have a sensory deficiency, they had a heart problem.
Again, Israel doesn't get it. God calls them, once again, a "rebellious people." I love the persistent father love of the LORD. He never gives up in extending Himself to restore the broken relationship with His children.
So, God invites them all to a theatrical presentation.
Ezekiel, in a solo performance, executed a drama according to God's specific instructions. He played his role perfectly while Israel watched. All day, before a reluctant audience he acted out his part, revealing God's message. A day long performance while Israel looked on, questioning, "What are you doing?"
I know that question too. Many times I have looked up to the heavens and asked, "What are you doing God?" Like Israel I've not always liked God's answer and I've had my own bouts of "rebellious heart" disease. But in those times of questioning, I have experienced the gift of clarity, a chance to readjust my perceptions. Even the direction of my questioning giving testimony to what my created self knows--that only God can make sense of our lives.
God delivers truth and adds grace to the mix. He invites us to receive His salvation. For the day we first received Jesus Christ as our Saviour and and all the days after, "The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." (Proverbs 18:10)
Israel got some hard prophesy that day from Ezekiel. Unfortunately, a day of theater did not turn into a a day of repentance. At the end of the chapter, Israel discounts the urgency of Ezekiel's message. They missed out on the salvation that God was holding out to them for that day.
This is a hard lesson for us too. God doesn't always offer salvation from our consequences or life's trouble, but He is holding out His saving power to you today. This same power that brought Jesus Christ out of the grave gives us the ability to rise above all of our trouble and to live in safety, free to come into His presence!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

so soft, your goodbye

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 11
mark this: Ezekiel 11:22-23
Then the cherubim spread their wings with their wheels alongside them while the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.
And the glory of the LORD rose up from within the city and stopped over the mountain east of it.
There are moments in the Bible that we try to bury too deep for memory to find.  But the deeper down we dig, the more indelible these moments become. The reluctant withdrawal of the Shekinah glory from the temple is one of these moments.
The glory departs. But the memory won't leave you alone. It doesn't intend to. It was written to resurface, and even to haunt.
Knowing that when the door shuts behind him the song won't ever sound the same, the Presence of the LORD lingers until he can no more. So soft, his goodbye.
He's loyal, God. You have to want him gone for him to go. Then he shuts the door so silently that his parting seems never to have happened; that upon your awakening his going away will have gone away, like a dream returned to its genesis in your dark imagination.
But beside you, nothing. No number, no forwarding address, no note, no pin.
God's Presence--this time as Immanuel, emptied of Shekinah--would not return for 700 years. Once again he was not wanted. Once again, just before leaving, he lingered over a city whose moment was slipping away:
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying,
"If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 
and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:41-44)
Each of us knows a song we will never hear again.  We might play it again, but we will never hear it again, not the way it was before.
This is your last best shot at love.  Stand between him and the door.  You never want to hear how soft his goodbye.

Monday, May 23, 2016

glory, glory, sayonara? (Pt. 1)

(by Pastor Joe)
The word for today: Ezekiel 9 & 10
With all due respect to Julia Ward Howe, here is a less than Grammy-worthy interpretation of the beloved Battle Hymn of the Republic:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the departure of the Lord (ch. 10 & 11)
He has wrecked me by the river where His visions left me floored (ch. 1 & 3)
He has shown me the depravity of those who break His Word (ch. 8)
His glory’s marching on
Glory, glory sayonara
Glory, glory sayonara
Glory, glory sayonara
His glory’s marching on
The book of Ezekiel is about the Glory of God. And this pitiful little paraphrase seeks to memorably communicate a little of what has happened in Ezekiel.
It starts with his initial call and that amazingly complex vision in chapter one where Ezekiel is utterly dumbfounded by the Glory of God (v. 28).
In chapter three, Ezekiel is so wrecked by the Glory of God, that he does nothing but sit overwhelmed for a week (v. 15).
In yesterday's reading (chapter 8), God in His Glory (v. 4) reveals to Ezekiel the rampant sin and idolatry in the Temple, a kind of twisted tour of depravity.
In today's chapters, we are once again centered in on the Glory of God. But these are not triumphant pages, they are in fact some of the saddest in all of Scripture. We have the slow, sad departure of God's glory as He moves from the Holy of Holies (aka Cherubim) to the threshold (9:3). Later the glory of God departs from the threshold (10:18). Tomorrow we will see God's glory head from there to the Mount of Olives (11:23), but I'll leave that for tomorrow's blogger!
Suffice it to say, God's Glory leaving is NEVER a good thing. But the tricky part in the whole matter is that no one every notices His absence until it's too late. The entire nation of Israel is painfully unaware of any kind of departure. Ezekiel alone is given insight to what the rest of the Israelites miss.
Consider Samson, champion and judge of Israel who, despite all of God's victories through him, found himself so far from God that he "did not know that the LORD had left him." (1)
Consider the sad tale concerning the death of the high priest Eli. Because of his spiritual blindness and obesity (mirrored in his real life by his actual physical condition), one tragic day left Israel with out the current High Priest (Eli), the future High priests (Hophni & Phineas), and the famed Ark of the Covenant. The only survivor in the whole mess from Eli's family is rightfully name Ichabod or "no glory." (2)
Consider the Son of God, the Glory of the One and Only Jesus Christ, who came to us in flesh, full of grace & truth (3). And yet the greatest revelation of God's glory was not even received by His own people (4).
Consider yourself, and how quick you, like the rest of humanity, are to ignorantly miss out on the very presence of the Living God. It's only from that place of rightfully weakness and humility were we can begin to avoid the same pitfalls.
(1) Judges 16:20 (2) 1 Samuel 4 (3) John 1:14 (4) John 1:11

Sunday, May 22, 2016

some Spring-cleaning of our own

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 8
Yesterday we saw that the Bible pictures idolatry as spiritual adultery, and that God takes this unfaithfulness personally:
I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols. (6:9)
Today, as we tour the Temple with Ezekiel, we are saddened to see the various idols that had taken God's place in Israel's hearts:
the idol that provokes to jealousy (8:3);
seventy elders of Israel, each at the shrine of his own idol (8:12);
twenty-five others, probably priests, with their backs turned toward God as they bowed down to the sun (8:16), and literally thumbed their noses at the LORD (8:17).
Idols often take more subtle forms today. They can be hard to identify. Anything that we place above God is idolatry, spiritual adultery. It might be a relationship which, according to the evidence of our lives, we prize more highly than our relationship with God. It might be a lifestyle, or a goal -- anything that, according to the evidence of our lives (real things like checkbooks and appointment calendars) has become a higher priority than God.
If God were to tour the chambers of your heart, what would he see there? Would he see someone else--or something else--in his place?
Above all else, guard your heart (1). Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? (2) The temple of God cannot have any agreement with idols (3).
God took your place on the cross. Don't let any other take his place in your heart. We saw Jesus cleanse the Temple, turn the tables, and kick the money changers to the curb. It may be time for some Spring-cleaning of our own.
(1) Proverbs 4:23; (2) 1 Corinthians 3:16; (3) 2 Corinthians 6:16

Saturday, May 21, 2016

What does he see in me?

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 6, 7
mark this: Ezekiel 6:9
Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols.
Some people, when reading the Bible, are startled by verses like this one:
"Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Romans 9:13; see Malachi 1:2-3)
They want to know how it could be that God hated Esau.
I am startled by that verse as well, but for a different reason: I want to know how it could be that God loved Jacob!
Because I am Jacob. I can say with authority, as Jacob did, that
"Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life." (Genesis 47:9)
I have been blessed with a very real sense of my own sin.  Maybe it's because I came to faith in Jesus relatively late in life--after a lot of muddy water had passed under the bridge--but I've never had to struggle with the idea of my own righteousness or the sufficiency of my own good works. I know that the only thing standing between me and hell is when Jesus Christ took my place on a cross meant for me, and for Jacob, and for Barabbas.
I will never quite understand just what he sees in me. Ruth couldn't understand what he saw in her, either:
"Why have I found such favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me?" (Ruth 2:10)
So when I read how God is crushed by our infidelity, I don't get it. But I am bound to believe it:
"I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me." (Ezekiel 6:9)
When we are unfaithful to God, or apathetic towards him, it's more than a biblical law we are breaking.  We are breaking a heart.

Friday, May 20, 2016

the Word that words could not convey

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 3:22-5:17
God often commanded his prophets to proclaim his Word in theatrical ways.
Sometimes, in fact, the prophet's life--more than his word--is the message.
When the Pharisees wanted to see a miracle (a "sign") Jesus said that "No sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:39-40)
Jonah never made a prediction, so how can Jesus call him a prophet? The answer is that Jonah's life itself was prophetic of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The prophet was the prophecy!
God told Hosea to marry a prostitute. Through the graphic illustration of Hosea's dealings with his wife, God revealed the lengths he would go in order to bring unfaithful hearts back to him.
The book of Ezekiel sometimes reads like street theatre. The first (see 4:1-2) of Ezekiel's prophetic "sign acts" was to create a detailed model depicting Jerusalem under siege.
Then (4:3) the prophet was to take on the role of God. The iron wall set up between him and the city showed that Jerusalem had cut itself off from God.
Next (4:4-8) the prophet lay upon his side--a day for each year--to symbolize the years of punishment the Jews were to suffer in exile.
In Ezekiel 4:9-17, the horrors of famine due to siege are symbolized by the prophet's food and drink, carefully measured out--a near-starvation diet of eight ounces of food and a jar of water per day.
The knife and razor, the last symbols we encounter (5:1-17) in our reading today, suggest Jerusalem's complete destruction.
But the ultimate sign awaited the ultimate prophet. Outside the city's walls, on an outcropping of rock, on intersecting beams of wood, God's wrath against sin collided with his profound love for the world in the person of his son.
He himself was the truth he taught. He was the Word that words could not convey.
Something greater than Jonah--or Ezekiel--was here. (1)
(1) Matthew 12:41