That's the Book: Ezekiel
I see a lot of negative social media posts about how various leaders should change. Open letters from women, from singles, from millenials, from seniors. Lots of suggestions. Teachers should treat everyone the same or differenciate by learning styles. Pastors should quote less Bible or more Bible. Worship leaders should tone it down or amp it up. Police should be more understandingor crack down. Politicians should....oh forget it, I'm not going there. You get my point.
Ezekial was a prophet to the remnant of Israel held in captivity in Babylon. For thirty years he preached, warned and followed God's instructions to catch the attention of the people. Some of his sermons were live action. At one point, he had to lay on his side constantly for over a year eating food roasted from a fire fueled by cow dung. Nasty. He spoke about destruction and judgment and sin. Imagine the open letters he received.
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. Ezekiel 1:1
He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day." Ezekiel 2:3
I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel. Ezekiel 4:4-5
It's tempting when writing about any of the prophets to skip over the justice of God. Sin and consequences aren't topics which garner good feels from readers. It's not fun to talk about the wrath of God. But the book of Ezekiel points out clearly that the judgment was justified. These were people who had promised faithfulness but had shamelessly and violently broken every term of the contract. They had been warned extensively over nearly 400 years and had continued to walk away.
Therefore speak to them and tell them, This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols." Ezekiel 14:4-5
Imagine for a moment a wedding. Groom and bride promise to love, honor, cherish. We understand vows right? So fast forward 10 years. Now imagine the bride has cheated on her husband repeatedly. Imagine she's dragged men into their house, has sold his belongings to neighbors, has killed his children. Would anyone think divorce was out of the question? I've seen people cheer on friends for getting revenge and taking everything under lesser facts. This is what the people of Israel had done to God.
And yet. God's heart was for his people.
"Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?" Ezekiel 33:11
This verse gets me. Turn! I love the exclamation point. I see the heart of a parent. Come back from the edge! Don't touch the fire! I love you!
This is one of the roles that leaders play. Parents, teachers, pastors. Their job is to guide, to warn, to teach, to protect. I have kids. They don't always listen to me. Guess what? Many of the people who heard Ezekial didn't listen either.
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. Ezekiel 33:32
Oh. My. I keep coming back and reading these words with my own heart in mind. On Sunday morning, do I sit as I usually do on the right side of the sanctuary listening to words but not putting them into practice? Do I listen with a critical ear to the worship songs considering them beautiful but not joining in actual worship? Do I sit at home writing open letters of complaint for how my leaders, my teachers, my prophets should change. Do you?
Ready for some good news? God knows our leaders aren't perfect. He knows they aren't capable of catching our attention enough to cause us to change. So He, the Lord Almighty, enters in.
"For this is what the Sovereign Lord says, I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness." Ezekiel 34:11-12
I'm afraid that sometimes we write an open letter of complaint about God. We say "I don't like what you did there." or "You were wrong about that whole sin thing" or "My life didn't turn out how I wanted so you must be flawed". This will never work. If I want to make progress in my life I need a new plan. Its not up to my leaders to do the work for me. The sermon style, blog topic, volumn of music or method of message will not do a thing unless I ask God to make it real in my heart. But He is faithful.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." Ezekiel 36:26-27
At one point in the book, God shows Ezekial a valley of dead dry bones. Skeletons laying all over the place. Nothing living.
He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "Sovereign Lord, you alone know." Ezekiel 37:3
Guess what? God raised the whole valley of skeletons up into living breathing people. A visual sermon to remember. God is the only one who knows what it will take to get someone's attention. He is the only one who knows how to revive a dead and dry life. If you want to live, try applying what He's teaching. His whole story is an open letter of love.
Just for fun. If you grew up in Sunday School you've heard this. If not, you may have heard the reference in the movie Rainman. At any rate, this pop culture gem comes from the book of Ezekial.
Goodness. There's a lot going on in this book. Thankfully the team at The Bible Project has yet another winner in this walk through. Two of them actually. Watch and learn.
End it. I love this so much. According to their website, End It is a coalition of the leading organizations in the world in the fight for freedom. It's a movement to shine a light on slavery. In my let the loose ends drag sort of way I'm two days late. February 23rd was the official awareness day. However, two days later and there are still more people in slavery world wide right now than ever before in history. Children, women, men. Forced labor, sexual exploitation and captivity. Check out their website HERE and get involved in one of the organizations working to end slavery and set captives free.
One fantastic organization fighting sex trafficking worldwide is headquartered in my hometown. Check out Shared Hope HERE and get involved. Watch this short powerful video and you'll want to get involved.
I got to church yesterday morning and realized I left my phone at home. Ugh. Minor panic. No phone? How do I do down time with no phone? How do I keep sermon notes, check my calendar and to do lists, show friends vacation photos or generally stay connected? Gah!? Three hours with no phone? And then I told my ridiculous self to get a grip and quit acting addicted. This is not a hardship.
The sermon this week was about the peace of God in the midst of hardship. You should listen to it. HERE. The pastor has faced some hardship. Arguments, finances, drama, cancer, funerals. Grief and questions.
The book of Lamentations is all about grief. The book consists of five poems detailing the horror and heartbreak of the fall of Jereusalem. Hunger and death and pain. Repentance and requests for compassion.
See, Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death. Lamentations 1:20
Ever been there? Dead inside? Or tormented inside? I love that Lamentations contains brutal words. It shows God is okay with honesty. He doesn't mind questions or tears or pleas for help. I recognize myself on my worst days in these words. It's okay to grieve deeply.
Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at every street corner. Lamentations 2:19
When I'm wasting time online I run across stories which hurt. Teens growing up amidst violence. Children hungering for love and attention. Kids sold for pleasure. Refugees and war victims. What do I do? Click the little cry emoji and scroll past to look at photos of dessert. This will not do. Lamentations calls me to pray, to cry out, to pour out my heart to the presence of the Lord. For the lives of our children matter.
Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Lamentations 3:40
I have been thinking about my reliance on my phone and wondered what life would look like if I relied on Jesus instead. If someone asked if I was available to help with a project perhaps a prayer checking in with the One who holds all time would be better than looking at my calendar. When I am worried about a friend, perhaps praying that God would be near to them is more useful than only sending a text. Instead of distracting myself from grief with lists and games and aps, pouring it out would be more healing. I'm examining my ways.
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him." Lamentations 3:22-24
Ah. Yes. The sermon this morning pointed to this truth. The love of God is greater than the power of evil. My worst days have been met by the ubundant grace of God. He will carry you too.
I called on your name, Lord from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: "Do not close your ears to my cry for relief." You came near when I called you, and you said, "Do not fear." Lamentations 3:55-57
A call to the Lord is healing. And I don't mean on a smart phone. Grief can lead to good. Cry out. He's listening.
One of the most loved hymns of all time comes straight from Lamentations. This accapala version is worth a watch.
You've got time to watch this today. See what you can learn from this installment of The Bible Project's Read Scripture series. I was fascinated by the structure of the five chapters, and the details pointed out by the team at The Bible Project. Check it out.
Earlier this week I was thinking about Quirky Faith. We're seven months into this grand calling. 133 blog posts plus all the fun on twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I've worked through 24 books of the Bible for That's the Book and hosted 17 different people on Wall of Faith. Tons of fun. Lots of work. So much work I spun into a moment of doubt. Is this worth it? I gave myself a two minute pitty party and then prayed a cynical prayer.
Dear God. This Quirky Faith thing was your idea. I clearly need help. Like a famous person. Or some more epic action to blog about. People read that. Forget this Bible Stuff. Humph.
(If you are a long time reader of my blogs then you're already aware of where this post is going. If not you can catch up by reading Epic and Epic. Again.)
This was dangerous. God frequently calls me me out. He also has a sense of humor.
I went on with my day and set all things blog aside. When I got home I checked my twitter feed. And WOO HOO. Famous Person! Famous and funny and charming and kind! A famous person Retweeted my post and even read the blog.
The Ms. Liz Curtis Higgs famous author of Bad Girls of the Bible and a mountain of other books wrote and I quote :
"Terrific post, my sister. Honored to be included. P.S. Love knowing you have 2 kids and an aging cat. I have 2 cats and an aging husband...!"
She even talked about my cat!! My lovely aging cat!
Gosh I'm a goober.
After I ran around the house and showed my husband and my children and my cat and texted my book club girls a copy of the twitter post I finally settled down and got on with the nightly chores.
Took out the garbage, fed the cat, checked my daughter's homework. I was contemplating dealing with the piles in my bedroom. A mountain of mismatched socks in the corner, stack of books, yet to be unpacked backpack from our recent trip to Disneyland.
I wandered back to the bedroom to get started.
There was a suspicious odor as soon as I opened the door.
Did i mention my cat is aging? The cat is 16 years old. He's lost a lot of weight lately. I've been experimenting with new foods to try and fatten him up.
Tonight's menu didn't sit well.
The cat puked on the carpet. On the pile of mis-matched socks. On my backpack. I groaned.
I thought about throwing out the backpack. But I love it. It's traveled with me all over the world.
So I unpacked through puke and laughed. I had to pick through the nasty to rescue my extra phone charger. I threw out all the souveniers I'd brought home to make an album with, little maps of Disneyland and confetti. (Who am I kidding? I never make the actual albums anyway).
My kids were standing behind me as I cleaned up the mess making helpful gagging noises.
Somewhere in the midst of cleaning the carpet I remembered my cynical prayer.
One famous person and some puke delivered right on time. Lovely.
Oh how I love that God listens to me. That He laughs with me. That He reminds me to watch my attitude and my commitment. Clicks and subscribers and growth charts don't matter. But He sure does. His word is eternal and it does not return void. Boy how Prayer is powerful. I'm in.
The sunrise this morning seems like a Valentine's Day gift for us all. You are greatly loved today!
For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. Zephaniah 3:17
Imagine with me a Hollywood perfect Valentine's Day. Breakfast in Bed. Roses. Dinner out. Dancing. And before bed a serenade, massage and chocolate. Swoon. Love. Amazing Love. However, in the next scene the lead in the story repeats wll the scenes with another partner. The image is wrecked. Why? Because love is worthless without faithfulness.
In her book, 31 verses to Write on Your Heart, Liz Curtis Higgs discusses this marriage of love and faithfulness in the verse Proverbs 3:3. "Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart". Ms. Higgs writes that in other translations these pairings are loyalty and kindess, grace and truth, favor and firmness.
You have to have both. Love without faithfulness has no power. Faithfulness without love is dead. Grace outside of truth has no power. Truth without grace is crushing.
The entire book of Jeremiah is a nod to this idea. The justice of God and the mercy of God are ever entertwined.
Jeremiah was a priest whom God appointed as prophet to the people of Judah before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. The prophet speaks God's words of judgment to the nation for their worship of other gods, violence, treatment of the oppressed and their breaking of the covenant. Jeremiah also speaks words of judgment to the nations surrounding Israel who wish her harm. Like always, God also sends words of hope.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prohet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5 May I remind you that God knew you before you were born? That he loved you?
A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land; The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? Jeremiah 5:30-31 Oh how this verse scares me. May we be committed to both love and truth. Its such a temptation to write only the cheerful and happy truths and not be faithful to God's full message. Yikes. What will we do in the end? A prophet should cause people to pause. To ponder. To repent.
"Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush." Jeremiah 6:15a Ahem. Sound familiar? I laugh when people say the Bible has no bearing on today. Perhaps our society could use a little blushing now and then. A reminder to keep some things sacred?
The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have? Jeremiah 8:9 Good question. Its worth considering.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. The heart is decitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jeremiah 18:7-9 There it is again the counter culture message. Don't trust your heart. Don't follow your hear. Don't listen to your heart! My guess is your heart is a mess. Mine sure is. Wandering and faithless and questioning and ungrateful. But you can lead your heart to the source. To the trustworthy One.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you see me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29: 11-13 Hope paired with trust. Hold to this verse in courtrooms and hospital rooms. It isn't a promise there will be no lawsuits or illness or heartache. Jeremiah knew hardship. He faced beatings and loneliness and prison. But he also knew the everlasting faithfulness of God.
Ah, Soverign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. Jeremiah 32:17 Nothing is too difficult for God. Not your past. Not your promblems. Not your doubts. Not your future. The key is turning to him for help not away from him in rebellion. Rebellion causes great heartache. The book of Jeremiah ends with the people hauled off to Babylon in captivity and their great city in ruins. Yet the promises remained. God would restore. Keep the book in context. The story isn't over.
Our storyline isn't over either. The incredible thing about God is he used his outstretched arm on a cross to make a way to heal the consequences of our unfaithfulness. That's a better love story than any Hollywood Valentine.
Jeremiah is a heavy book to take in it all in one sitting. If you want to try though, the guys at The Bible Project again serve up a good overview. Take the time to watch.
NewSpring church has a good list of devotionals to work through the book of Jeremiah. Read them HERE or check out their handy infographic below.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
Sign up to receive Mindy's Quirk-E-Mails