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.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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