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 write a political opinion column for a newspaper. For years, I was labeled in and by the paper as “Just right of center.” A colleague of mine who was liberal got to be labeled “Just left of funny,” That seemed unfortunate. Everyone wants to be called funny! I bet he got asked out to happy hour by readers. Being right of center just gets you a lot of hate mail. I always joke that in the south, I’d be considered liberal; In the Pacific Northwest, I’m sometimes considered a right-wing nut.
Being conservative in a left-leaning land has been interesting, and sometimes lonely, but overall great for my career. I often remark that while I don’t agree with affirmative action, I’ve benefitted from it. I was a young, conservative woman in the right place at the right time in the mid-90s when my career began.
I didn’t plan on becoming a columnist. I was going to college to become a lawyer. But while majoring in political science, I started seeing a lot of poli-sci peers graduating and not finding work -- work I would need to one day afford law school. I thought, “Ohhh. I need a marketable skill.” So I switched schools and majors and fell in love with column writing. While a student at Western Washington University, I was asked by The Bellingham Herald if they could hire me as a community columnist. My work had been showing up in the college’s paper and they thought I’d be useful on their page.
One of the first columns I wrote made a fellow student super angry. Angry enough that as I was walking across campus one day she walked up to me and said, “You’re THAT Elizabeth Hovde, aren’t you?” I answered, “I am.” She then pointed her finger sternly and close to my chest and said, “I recognize you because you’re on my dartboard.” She walked away as I murmured, “Thanks for reading me.”
The confrontation taught me two things: That I often wouldn’t be liked in my chosen career. Heck, I was already on a house’s dartboard. Second, it taught me that whenever someone puts a “that” in front of your name, it’s probably not a good thing. It’s true. Still today, if someone likes my work, they often approach me and say, “You’re Elizabeth Hovde!” If they don’t like what I think and write about, they often give me the first name, “That.”
The experience was good training and a head’s up that this is what I had to be prepared for if I was going to make a living espousing my opinion on political and social issues.
I think a lot of people have been learning a similar lesson this year. With a new president, a change in the political climate and social media alive and well, it seems everyone is suddenly politically interested and actually reading about politics. Donald Trump just might be the answer to newspapers’ problems! With Trump regularly insulting us journalists, people might actually start to see their news as something worth paying for. (Probably not. People like free.)
Most social circles used to be devoid of political conversations. Now you can’t avoid one. Facebook used to be the place that I, a single mom and writer with no real ability to socialize with another adult on a daily basis, went to for socializing. Now it gives me more work: There are dozens of articles posted that a political junkie like me can’t keep from reading. Worse, there are often snippy, superior or uninformed posts that I cannot resist commenting on. As a result, I go to Facebook far less in 2017. I don’t want to be that woman you avoid talking to at functions, after all.
When I do give in to temptation and leave a comment, I feel fortunate to have been trained by column writing and the hate mail it’s generated for me the last 20 years.
Finding common ground has been a career goal, as has representing Christ. Since I sometimes intertwine my faith in a column and say I strive to follow Christ’s guidance, I never want to misrepresent what that looks like or give people who already don’t like my work a reason to throw Christ in the garbage with my column.
That means trying to take the high road, even when someone tells you that you're on their dartboard. It means being friendly to coworkers in a newsroom even when you accidentally walk by when they’re trashing your opinion or character. It means giving people kindness and attention. You never know how much they need and if you’re the only one to give it. It means listening. And I think it means pointing out common ground you share. Look; You’ll find it.
Many times, I’ve answered a piece of hate mail from a reader with a reconciliatory tone and get a second message from them apologizing for insulting me or making me the target of their anger. I often gain a contact who can help me better understand the other side of an issue -- and what buzzwords to avoid so I can get my message across without the other side shutting down. I still get to represent who I am, being mindful of Whose I am.
We christians are Christ’s ambassadors, and common ground leads to higher ground. One by one, we can find it and then walk there with our ideological foes. What a privilege.
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.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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