On Seeing, Contemplating, and Being Changed

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“As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing ‘the whirling wheels’.” Ezekiel 10

 
Wheels and whirling wheels and creatures or cherubs with four faces and wings and eyes everywhere—it can make my head whirl. What do I do with it all? Am I supposed to understand and interpret all of this? Am I supposed to walk away after reading this vision of Ezekiel and be thinking about what these things mean or signify? Maybe. But what if I’m supposed to also be able to just sit down and be awed by God and contemplate how that awe ought to influence my life?

 
What if I sat back with Ezekiel and looked with him? What if I got down and opened the eyes of my heart and mind and spirit to look and behold what he was seeing? I might look beyond the cherubim and see that throne of sapphire, and catch Your glory, and see how You are so much more than I can ever fully comprehend and so powerful beyond compare. And I might just have to come to the conclusion that You really are in charge and that You are the One with “the know.” I mean, what are cherubs with four faces and wings and wheels to You? You understand them. After all, You created them. And that man clothed in white linen, that You appoint to show judgment, is Your Man. I’m pretty sure it’s Jesus, that one that “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18) has been given to. But why? Why all this hard to explain stuff?

 
Maybe I need to know that Your ways, God, are different than my ways and Your thoughts are not my thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8) See, Your eyes see and know all my ways. None of my ways are hidden from You, NOTHING. (Jeremiah 16:17) I, on the other hand, don’t comprehend all of You. My mind and my eyes and my understanding are feeble and weak in comparison. My eyes are so tuned in to looking at things through man’s vision that I look at You and have the twisted thinking to think, like Israel, “The way of the Lord is not just.” (Ezekiel 18:25) But the truth is, I’m the one with faulty vision. I need to start seeing the truth and You are the truth. I need to stop thinking I will understand everything and just start realizing You are the One I have to run to whether I understand or not. I have to realize that You are the One who knows the reality of every piece of this puzzle we are living in. I need to stop trying to smash pieces into place that don’t fit and let You be God instead.

 
It could be that I need to just sit back and realize and acknowledge and start acting like You, the One who is sitting on that sapphire throne (which is just because those were the only words Ezekiel had to come to near to the description!), are Supreme. You are God. You rule. It doesn’t matter what we decide. You rule. You are. Your will and Your thought is everything. And it’s not just that You know, but You do and act. You are the essence of everything, the reason, the why, the how. You are in charge because without You, nothing would be, nothing would exist. Because You thought us, we are. Because You thought the cherubs and the wheels, they are. You think and Your will brings forth.

 
You rule now, in the present. When Adam and Eve were on the earth, You were ruling in their time. You were there right then with Ezekiel in his present. And You are still ruling right now in my present. There is never a present time when You are not there ruling. The present and past and future are all the same to You. It doesn’t matter how much any of us rebel against this authority of Yours. Your rule will still be. It’s not just that someday we will be judged. We are living under Your “judgment bar” already because You reign right now.

 
This rule of Yours is supreme over every other ruler. Everyone else and everything else will be overcome, whether it’s death, or Satan, or a president, or a dictator, or my own way. We may not want to be subject to You, but, nevertheless, we are all Your subjects. That’s part of the picture here in Ezekiel. Tradition has it that the Supreme Ruler has the final say in the life or death of His subjects. Only this Supreme Ruler has a heart so much for us that He sent His only Son to be a payment for us and bring us back to Him. And how do we respond to that?

 
If I look on Ezekiel’s vision I see righteousness and glory. These are things I don’t get to see much in the world today. Your judgment could be seen as a terrible thing, lives lost in terrible circumstances. I could just be filled with fear. But to be under You and to know that You are on my side would fill me with praise and rejoicing instead. Even though I live through cruelty and tyranny on earth, through things that appear so unjust that we can only call it evil, I can know that my Supreme God will bring relief. You will make it right. Your government will return and is in the process of returning even now, in the present that looks so dim. Your goodness is here and is coming. You are acting. You are being. You are.

 
In the midst of all the junk in life going on, Your glory is going up, just like when it went up from the threshold, and filled the house, and the court was filled with the brightness of Your glory (Ezekiel 10:4), Your glory is still here and filling Your people and the places where they are. Your glory is still filling heaven and waiting for the time when it will again fill earth. You do the right thing, in the right time, always. Now. Every day is now for You. Sure, You know everything. Sure, You are all-powerful. Sure, no one can resist Your might. Sure, Your majesty is overwhelming. Sure, You are a conqueror. But You are the glory of “perfect purity, truth, justice, and benevolence.” Wrap that all up together. I can hold on to all of that today, and the next today, and the next.

 
And here You are, revealing Yourself from Your throne. You are “Infinite Intellect,” yet You are more. You are “the Will and the Power of right.” I can feel You in all that force just like Ezekiel. But it’s not just intellectual. It’s not just emotional. You aren’t just the God on Your throne far away in heaven. Through Jesus, You came from heaven to earth. You visited us. You reached my common life. You move among the affairs and lives and hearts of men and women, boys and girls. Your glory and righteousness touch us. You invite us to come to You and to be witnesses of You but You don’t stop there. You come to us in Christ Jesus and by the power of Your Holy Spirit.

 
What do you see when you read Ezekiel? Or rather, Who do you see? Are we allowing God to open our eyes to see Him as He is? Or are we responding like those that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 when he shared, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And he goes on to remind us of this glory of God and the gift He’s given of Himself, today and every today before and after—“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Are we taking time to not only see, but to be filled with this glory and to live in this glory?

 
Am I seeing what Ezekiel saw? What am I doing with what I see of You, Lord? Am I like Peter, who saw a glimpse and wanted to make a memorial site? Or am I going to let it change my life perspective and let You rule over me by Your glory and the impression You leave in my heart and spirit and mind and will? Will my life be daily changed because of how I have seen You? Will I walk in that glory and righteousness and the supremacy that is You, or will I live life as I have been? Will the whirling wheels have any effect on me?

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Since Before Day One

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“…and begin at my sanctuary.” Ezekiel 9:6

 
I want to think about what it means to begin at Your sanctuary, Lord. Isn’t the reality that everything begins with You and at You and for You and in You? John reminds us that “All things were made by [You]; and without [You] was not any thing made that was made.” Paul tells us in Colossians 1:17 that You are “before all things, and in [You] all things hold together.” Maybe I would do better in life to remember this at all times and center my life around this.

 
Now, Ezekiel is a warning of coming judgment. But it’s not just about judgment on the lost world, or those who flagrantly refuse to acknowledge God from the pagan nations. Do you know where God begins the judgement? God begins judging in His sanctuary. Judgment begins on the ones who are supposed to know Him and represent Him in the world. That means that we who call ourselves believers are first in line. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are truly ready? Maybe we should examine our lives and our beliefs and our thoughts and see if God would have His angelic workers mark our foreheads as His. But that mark doesn’t just go on everyone. His workers go out and look for those who “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed…” Is that us? Is that me?

 
I keep reading about people who call themselves believers and support abortion. But if I go into the sanctuary with You Lord, and spend time in Your word, I find that You already know the plans You have for that embryo. You call children a blessing, not a curse or a burden. You value all life.

 
I suppose, as I look at Jesus Christ and how He gave up all His Divine rights to come to earth and to walk with us and touch us and suffer and give His life as a ransom for us, I don’t quite understand the rationale that I have rights that outweigh the rights of any other life. Thank God that Jesus didn’t decide He had a right to his own body and that we didn’t deserve to live. Because He sacrificed His rights for each of us, we can be born again into God’s family, instead of being aborted into eternal death.

 
But it’s not just about abortion. It’s about choosing and clinging to any abomination or twisting of Your plan and Your way. God said they were guilty of injustice. Do you know how Noah Webster defines injustice? It’s “any violation of another’s rights.” So think about it. We want our rights so much that we go around destroying every one else’s. Do you know that can be by fraud or not keeping our word, or by not giving someone what is due? It’s even in giving people more or less then what is due. It could also be about withholding praise or giving undeserved blame.

 
Have we come to a place in our thinking where we give everyone trophies for participating instead of trophies for excelling and working hard? Have we come to a place where we force people to believe what we value and withhold their choice? Why can Islam be taught in schools but not Christianity? Why can atheism be taught? Why can’t people have the right to choose for themselves?

 
But let’s look back inside the sanctuary. How long have “believers” been forcing others into the kingdom or out according to their timing or their way? How often have “believers” been seeking their rights and allowed divorce to flourish as strongly within its folds as in the secular world? Is that because injustice reigns and we are more concerned about our own rights than God’s will being done? Do we toy with spiritual warfare, playing with what we ought to be guarding ourselves against? Well, sure, I have the right to listen to whatever music I want to, or watch whatever I want to, or try whatever I want to. I can go to haunted houses, or drink in excess, or stay at home, or hang out with my buddies if I want. That’s my right. But somewhere along the line God made it clear that living wasn’t about my rights. Living was about something and someone greater than me living in me and through me. Living was about giving up my rights for something and someone greater and for the good of all.

 
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about rights. But he says he doesn’t use his rights. Even though he doesn’t have to be a servant, he’s free to choose his behavior, he chooses to be a servant of all. He chooses to give up his rights so that others may share in the blessings of God. Because he doesn’t want to be disqualified and miss that mark on his forehead.
The point is, that we who profess to know God, we know what God desires. He’s told us in His word. We are more responsible and more culpable than those who don’t know. And others will follow our example. God is still looking to and fro over all the nations, and seeing those who wear His mark and He knows those who wear the mark of their own rights. Let’s not think that we are safe because we wear a cross around our neck or are a member of a church or temple.

 
Actually, we only have one right, the right to decide to believe or not. 1 John 2:17 sheds more light on this, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” If we call ourselves believers and choose our own will over God’s, the reality of who we are is in the taste of the pudding. Hey, if chocolate pudding is made through chocolate pudding ingredients, and I choose to use other ingredients, say vanilla pudding ingredients, my pudding isn’t going to taste like chocolate because it’s not going to be chocolate. I can’t just call myself a believer. A believer agrees with God. A believer lives out God’s will and God’s ways. Jesus showed us how. God’s word and Holy Spirit make His will and ways known.

 
You can choose to paint any picture of God you want. I could too. But the reality is that God is God not according to my picture or yours but according to who He is. He’s a God of love but in that love, He is also a God of judgment and righteousness and so much more. And it’s not because we labelled Him those things. Those things came into being because of who He was and is and always will be. In other words, we know truth or goodness or justice because they came from Him.

 
Another truth is that our God is scary and good all at the same time. He is a God who has the right to say, “Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” But don’t forget how patient he was waiting for all these old men and young men and maidens and children and women to turn back to what they were created for—life and that life in Him.

 
My warning is to be careful whose rights you cling to. Am I more concerned about Your right to be God than my own? Maybe if I were more concerned with letting You be God in every area of my life, there would be a lot more angelic beings busy marking foreheads. And maybe if all those “within the sanctuary” started living and believing like God’s will mattered most, we’d see the world being turned upside down.

 
If you don’t like hearing about people dying in judgment, let’s do something about it. Let’s be the people of God in Jesus Christ that we were created to be. Let’s clean up the sanctuary and get back to His righteousness and His love by our choice. Let’s be who we were created to be. After all, that’s been God’s desire for us since before day one.

Put Down Your Branch, Get on the Train

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Photo credit goes to someone on the internet.

 

“Then said He unto me, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, ‘The Lord doesn’t see us; the Lord has forsaken the earth.’” Ezekiel 8:12

 
So now this fiery figure of God comes to Ezekiel and takes him in a vision of God to Jerusalem to the temple. And as Ezekiel was told to look, he was shown the “image of jealousy in the entry.” But it didn’t stop there. God says, “There’s worse abominations to see here.” God brought Ezekiel to the door of the court and showed him a hole. Then He told Ezekiel to dig there and Ezekiel found a door. He went in, beyond the wall, I guess inside the wall, and found creeping things, and abominable beasts, and idols all portrayed on the wall round about. Not only that, there were 70 men and Jaazaniah offering incense to these idols.

 
As if all that wasn’t bad enough. Then God says, “There’s more.” He brings Ezekiel to the door of the gate and there are women weeping for Tammuz, a Phoenician diety. Let’s keep going. Now, to the inner court, between the porch and the altar, were 25 men with their backs to the temple worshipping the sun to the east.

 
God called it “putting the branch to their nose.” What in the world does that mean? I’m pretty sure it’s a Hebrew idiom. Some think it was a part of worshipping idols where the worshipper picked up a twig or branch and placed it over their face as to shield their face from the diety, like the sun. But to God it would be like sticking your thumb to your nose and sticking out your tongue in defiance. Whatever it was, it was gloating in your abomination before God. It was digging in your heals, and inviting violence into your own land and your own life. It was asking for God’s anger to be ignited, provoking the fire to burn.

 
You know, what we think we can get away with in the dark, eventually comes out in the open. What was hidden behind walls and in men’s and women’s minds and hearts is not hidden from God, and he showed it to Ezekiel. The truth is that God knows what is going on in the “chambers of man’s imagery.” What is that? Could that be more than what we do hidden in a room? Could that mean that God knows what is in the secret chambers of our imagination? I think so.

 
I guess we have this idea that God has nothing to do with the dark. Maybe we think that God, being God, can’t go into the darkness. But Psalm 139:12 tells us, “Yes, the darkness doesn’t hide from You; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” The truth is that You “form the light, and create darkness: [You] make peace, and create evil: [You] the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

 
There is no place that God cannot go and that God is not in control. You see into the “secret” places even of our hearts, way beyond our dark closets because nothing is hidden from You. The problem is that we get involved in labeling things our way instead of Yours. Isaiah said, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” The people of Israel had God, they had You, they had what was good. But they started to chase after other ideas of good, after other standards, and adopt them as their own.

 
But they are no worse than us. We sit back and say, “How can a good God allow evil?” What kind of God would create evil? Why even let that be part of the picture? Because we’ve labelled You as a good God based on our idea of goodness. We make You who we think You should be instead of who You ARE. The truth is that You are all that You are before we even understand it. Your goodness is even in how You create evil.

 
It’s there for a purpose. Just because I don’t see that purpose doesn’t mean it’s not for ultimate good. Think about it. God created the garden with the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before Adam and Eve were created. Do you really think God created that beautiful angel of light who fell and made an “oops”? I can’t explain God’s intent with evil, but darkness is a part of the plan, and none of it, and none of the plan is hidden from God’s intimate knowledge.

 
Maybe there are too many multiple connections going on in my brain today. But I know this, it’s not You, God, who doesn’t see. We’re the ones who don’t get it. And maybe if we would be honest enough to admit it, and get off our high horses, and set our thumbs and our branches down from our nose, we just might start to see and get it right. Well, we can keep on thinking we’re getting away with the stuff we do in “secret,” we can even think it’s time to come out in the open because God won’t do anything, but Paul warned in Romans 2:5, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

 
Do you really feel badly for the branch wavers who provoke and tease and defy? Do you really think they haven’t been given ample time to listen and turn and repent? What about me? If I stand in front of an oncoming train and wave that twig in it’s face defiantly, who is going to lose? Didn’t I have time to get out of it’s track? Did the train invite my death or did I call it on myself? God says, “Therefore I will also deal in fury: My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” (Ezekiel 8:18) Is that Your fault, God? Or has the train whistle not been warning enough? It’s not like it just snuck up unaware. If I choose to ignore the warning whistle, over and over again, the train won’t have pity, and it will be my own fault.

 
There is a time for everything. There’s a time to see, and to listen, and to hear, and heed. There’s a time to seek pity and receive it. There’s a time to hear from God and to cry out to Him. There’s a time that God hears and it’s a reciprocal time. In other words, if we won’t hear God, neither will He hear us. Maybe it’s time to put down our branches and get off the track. It’s a much more glorious decision to board the train and go where it’s going, under it’s protection than to be run over by the train.

 

P.S.  I’ve read that this gesture can be interpreted by some as a very vulgar statement.  I wasn’t aware of that earlier.   I choose to include it, because those being addressed in Scripture before Ezekiel were being THAT rude to God and sometimes we are too.  Sometimes, we are THAT deliberately offensive.

God Doesn’t Have Minions

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Photo credit to artbox99.

 

“I will do do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them; and they shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 7:27

 
Don’t be surprised when you get what you ask for and what you strive after. Only you better be sure that you are seeking after the right thing. We like to get mad at God because how could he be a God of love and let all these bad and evil things happen?  Read Ezekiel 7 and maybe you’ll get it. This crud in life was never what He wanted for us. We chose it. God wanted to take Israel into the promised land right away, but they wouldn’t trust and wouldn’t follow and wanted it their own way. David wasn’t out with the other kings when he should have been and then took something he wanted his way, and forsook God’s way for a while. Look at the consequences. Adam and Eve had all those choices of life and chose the one way that led to death and sin. And what about Israel during Ezekiel’s time? Was it God’s fault? Are You an angry, unjust divinity?

 
Read Ezekiel 7. Let me count with you how many times God says that He is judging the people according to their ways and their abominations. Five times in this one chapter of 27 verses God repeats why judgment is coming. Think about it. Every one of us was created for a purpose—to glorify God, to be His image bearer in the world. But every one of us is not forced into that position. We are allowed the freedom to choose to live in our purpose or to defy our purpose. But tell me, why would we expect there not to be consequences for our choices, one way or another?

 
There were consequences for Satan when he chose his own way instead of God’s way. He chose a false purpose and dragged 1/3 of the angels into it with him. Misery does love company. Adam and Eve chose to follow a false purpose and do life in self-sufficiency. It wasn’t like God hadn’t warned them. It’s just that they wanted to believe the serpent more. It lined up better with their own desires. It’s the same for the children of Israel and us if we aren’t careful and if we don’t really take the time to evaluate what’s really going down before us.

 
Yesterday, I heard the testimony of a former atheist. He shared how he had asked God to show Himself and God didn’t answer when he wanted and how he wanted so therefore, he denied there was a God. But the more he learned as he went from being a 17 year old into 10 or so years later, he started to rethink things he saw in life. And he came to the conclusion that if God was God, God was the One who had the say as to how and when He showed Himself. And he changed his request and left it up to God to show in His time and His way and watched and waited. God showed Himself over time and this man is now a believer following God’s way and not his own. See, the Israelites could have come to this conclusion, but they were holding on to their authority instead of handing it back over to the Creator.

 
Philip Vander Elst was also an atheist. But something convinced him otherwise. He wanted to understand the origin of evil. And his search sheds understanding on what we are reading today. So for the philosophical out there, let’s look at the credibility of this truth.

 
Let’s look at Philip’s thoughts: “As C.S. Lewis points out, true love is a voluntary union of free individuals giving themselves to each other for their mutual delight and for mutual enjoyment of life and all its blessings. Consequently, when God created the first human beings, He gave them the gift of free will. He did so in order that they and all their descendants might share His life, His love, His joy and His beauty, with Him and with each other. As part of this gift of free will, God also gave human beings creativity and intelligence in order that they might be good stewards of the world in which he had placed them, sharing its joys and adding to its wonders and beauty. But the problem with free will is that it can be corrupted and misused. Our inner freedom to relate to God and other people in harmony and love, can be turned on its head. We can choose, instead to reject our Creator and live only for ourselves. And that, sadly, is what has happened to the human race. It is what lies behind the famous biblical story of the ‘Fall of Man’ in the Garden of Eden: our ancestors disobeyed God, with deadly consequences for themselves and posterity.”

 
Let’s just jump back momentarily to Ezekiel. What was the problem? The people were living according to their ways and their way of living was causing an abomination of their intended purpose according to God. What in the world is an abomination any way? The Hebrew word is toevah. Proverbs 12:22 tells us that something as simple as lying lips fall in this category. It falls right in there with “breaking the covenant bond by intermarriage, worshipping wickedness, child sacrifice, and homosexuality.” Why are these things so offensive to You, God? I mean, lying?

 

Because they all go against Your character. They all distort the truth. Abominations are abominations and disgusting because they distort the truth and Your design and Your character. You are the God of truth and lies distort the picture of You. A lie is a blasphemy. So is the rest of this stuff. It distorts Your image. These things and others misrepresent You and Your children. I mean, You are truth. Satan is the father of lies. A subtle lie is still a lie and antithesis to Your character. “Did God really say that?” Subtle, huh? “You can be like God.” Subtle rebellion. But Jesus said, “ I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He always has been. He always will be. Satan was a liar from the beginning. He was a beautiful angel. His character changed. But not so God’s. Why would I believe someone whose character is not consistent when God’s character never changes and His character is always good and always true and He invites me to participate and be a part of His character?

 
But let’s hop back now to Philip and thinking about the “Fall of Man”. “What gives the whole story its ‘ring of truth’ is its totally convincing picture of the disastrous consequences of turning away from God. A creature rebelling against its Creator, Lewis argues, is like a plant refusing to grow towards the sunlight. It results in a broken relationship which separates that creature from the eternal source of all life, love, truth, and well-being, including its own. It was therefore inevitable that when the human race separated itself from God through that original act of disobedience long ago, hatred, disease and death came into the world…one thing seems crystal clear and made perfect sense to me: separation from our Creator is inevitably self-destructive.”

 
You might wonder, “How is it really self-destructive?” Listen, as Philip continues, “It is inevitably self-destructive not only because it results in death, but also because it is destructive of freedom. Apart from God, we lack the inner strength to resist the downward pull of our fallen natures. Without His help, we cannot overcome all the temptations we face to give in to our lowest impulses and pursue our own interests at the expense of others. And if, in addition, this diminution of our inner freedom is accompanied, as in so many lives, by positive disbelief in God, a new danger arises. We lose our sense of accountability and belief in moral absolutes because we no longer believe that there is a Divine Judge to whom we are ultimately responsible. That is one of the reasons why militantly atheistic socialist regimes have produced the bloodiest tyrannies in history, slaughtering 100 million people in internal repression during the 20th century. It also helps to explain the growth of crime, delinquency and sexual immorality in post-Christian secularized Western societies.”

 
So where are we? Does God just abandon us and every thing concerning earth to death and corruption? Read Genesis chapter 3 and the rest of Scripture to Revelation. It’s all about “God’s rescue plan.” Have you ever heard of anything more extraordinary than the true story of how God came down from heaven into this fallen world and lived and walked among us as a human of all things, as this “first century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, called Jesus”?

 
I guess the question for every person boils down to whose way is best? Is my way best? Is it even valid? Who am I to even decide my way over others? Did I create them? How did I even get here? How did the Israelites even become a nation? How did I become a person? What power do I have outside of what God gives? Who really has the right to decide the way of the planets and the universe and the unseen and the seen? In Ezekiel 7:19 God talks about how the Israelites won’t be able to satisfy their souls or their hearts. Why? Because it’s the stumbling block of their sin, the stumbling block of their choosing. Their choosing their own way is the cause of their fall and their emptiness. But it doesn’t have to be. We can choose You and Your way. They didn’t have to fall and be empty and neither do I. But the choice is mine to make. God doesn’t have minions, he has children.

On Life and Fulfillment

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Photo credit to Stephen Cunningham.

 

“Then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.” Ezekiel 6:9

It’s funny how we say this is an awful way for God to feel. But I wonder if we were married and loved the one we were married to with all our hearts and they “went a-whoring” and left us for others, how we would feel? And I’m not saying that anyone should run out and destroy their unfaithful partner. That’s not my point. Isn’t the truth that they have already not only begun destroying themselves, but destroying true intimacy itself? Aren’t they bringing turmoil into their own lives and into the lives around them? Aren’t they being caught up in twisted thinking that will one day lead to their own demise?

Had God’s people ever been warned? Had they witnessed the power of the true God versus the lack of power of the gods of other nations? Had they witnessed and been supplied by the provision of the true God? Did You, God, really cause their demise? Or were You there trying to continually call them back to the safety and provision of You?

The people were playing with what they shouldn’t be playing with, nations who didn’t care about them. They were making themselves vulnerable because they were no longer alert. They were allowing themselves to lose their identity in God, who was their strength, and falling into the lie of the nations that they were great of themselves. They were worshipping at empty altars that bring emptiness and desolation.

Paul talks of desolation, this word shamem in Hebrew, also. “For it is written, ‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more are the children of the desolate than the one who has a husband.’” (Galatians 4:27) What is this about? What is today’s reading in Ezekiel about? It describes “the inner barrenness of an unfulfilled life.” (Skip Moen) Shamem is about being desolate and amazed. It can mean one or the other or it can be both at the same time. It’s like looking around at the great desolation and destruction around you and being totally appalled and overwhelmed at the same time.

The reason judgment comes is because we refuse to live fulfilled lives. We were created to be filled fully with God, to bear His image throughout this world. This is true fulfillment, what we were created to be filled with, just like Adam when God breathed into him and he became a living soul. But we choose, yes we choose, to warp that image and defile it and create our own. We choose to live unfulfilled lives in these places of desolation, and we don’t even realize how appalling it is. But God does. He never intended us to walk in the wilderness. He hadn’t intended for Israel to walk there. They chose desolation instead of the kingdom. Aren’t we doing the same? And then we have the nerve to blame our consequences on God? And all You have ever been trying to do is to turn us back to our purpose, true life fulfillment in You.

The truth is that God doesn’t leave us alone in the wilderness. He was there for Hagar. He was there for the Israelites. He is there for us today, waiting to rescue us from emptiness and unfulfillment. We think self-sufficiency is the answer but the answer is in dependency on a God who is fully able. Think about it. Joseph couldn’t rescue himself from that pit his brothers placed him in. The Israelites couldn’t find their way out of the desert. Hagar couldn’t find water to keep her and her son alive. Moses couldn’t even lead a people on his own. The truth is not one of us is sufficient on our own.

Paul understood that. He was once a very self-sufficient man. But not once he met the risen Jesus. He shares, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God…” (2 Corinthians 3:5) God enables us in Him to do and to bear His image in this world, that we may fulfill our purpose in Him.

How could a barren woman have more fulfillment than the one with a husband? How did the desolate woman find more fulfillment? Because our fulfillment doesn’t come in our husband or in our job or in our position or in our ministry. Our satisfaction and fulfillment comes from God. This world is a wilderness and we have to learn to cling to God in the midst of it because clinging to the wilderness will always leave us empty.

Are you in an overwhelming place right now that seems totally desolate? Stop fighting God. Let Him come to You in the desolate empty place and let Him fill You. Run into His arms and let His ways become Your ways. Let Him redefine Your thinking and Your living by His standards, by His love, by His grace, and by His mercy. Let Him be the spouse that He promises to be to you and let yourself be His. Let go of the emptiness. Walk away from it and walk into His arms. You don’t have to stay there. You never did. He’s been waiting with open arms every minute of every day, right there with you, only you wouldn’t acknowledge Him or give Him the time of day. But He never stopped thinking about you or reaching out to you.

We can keep fighting a losing battle and trying to find fulfillment elsewhere. But it will always leave us empty and grasping for more. Or we can stop fighting and let the One who has always loved us, the One who created us, fill us full of Himself and we can live out our purpose in life and eternity. The choice is each of ours. Only, don’t get upset if you choose the consequences of self-fulfillment. It’s not like we’ve not been warned. The blame game is a losing game. Let’s take responsibility for our choices and let’s choose life and fulfillment.

Diminishing God

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“Wherefore, as I live, says the Lord God; surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable things, and with all your abominations, therefore will I also diminish you; neither shall My eye spare, neither will I have any pity.” Ezekiel 5:11

 

How often do we think of desolation of the Temple as coming from within? This is so easy to miss. When thinking about the destruction of the Holy Temple we think about Rome coming in and forcing a pig to be offered to desecrate the Temple. Or maybe we think of the final desecration of the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem before the last days, and an anti-Christ who does the same. But God is telling us in Ezekiel that desecration is closer than we think, that God’s own people desecrate the temple.

Isn’t that a terrible thought? The Jews themselves were guilty of defiling the sanctuary and bringing detestable things within its walls. The Jews themselves, yes, the people of God, were bringing abominations in. Really? Were they bringing pigs and things like that in? No. But they were busy bringing diminished ideas of God inside His own temple.

 

That word for diminished is gara in Hebrew. It means “to clip, diminish, restrain, keep back, withdraw.” Now listen to what Eliphaz said to Job, “Do you hear the secret counsel of God, and limit wisdom to yourself? (Job 15:8) That’s a good question. Do I hear God’s word and then think I can interpret it how I want? Do I really understand everything as I ought? Can I really know it on my own or do I need the Holy Spirit, the forefathers and other believers who have really dug in? Is this a process of becoming or do I know all right now? Can I decide for myself or is this something I live out in the community of believers? Would I really think so highly of myself as to “limit God’s wisdom to my understanding?”

Do I forget that though God comes to us individually and leaves the 99 for the 1 that is lost, the goal is to bring the 100 into the fold? Do I forget that the power of God exists in community, in unity with God and with other believers? Do I forget that I need accountability? Do I forget that I need others to help me see in myself what I’m blind to? Do I forget that the Holy Spirit will never teach me or lead me in a way that is against God’s words?

But that’s what happens when I diminish God and His word. Yes, God comes to people personally, but not for us to be our own people. He comes to us personally so that we can choose to become His people, grafted in as one, grafted in not only with each other, but grafted in with Him. Therefore, we live like Him and love like Him and respond like Him and make much of Him because He becomes our everything and all those who are held so dear to Him become dear to us.

When I think I am the gift of God, I make living about me, not about God and not about His people. I make my goals and my desires more important. I diminish God and make myself a type of god. I think I have the right to point out specks in other people’s eyes and not see the log in my own. (Luke 6:41) I bear fruit of my own liking and not of God, bad fruit instead of good, bad fruit that I somehow convince myself tastes and looks good. (Luke 6:43) I call God, “Lord,” but I don’t treat You as Lord because really I’m my own lord. (Luke 6:46) I hear what You say but I don’t do it because I’ve diminished Your agenda and glorified my own.

When I take care of number 1, you know, me, I desecrate Your Holy Temple because that’s not what You desire. Your command is to love God and to love others. Acts 4:32 expressed true “temple” worship, “and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” And that’s the truth that doesn’t defile. Everything I have or am is because God has given it to me or in me. The Temple belongs to God. The instruments are His, the design is His, how it works is His idea. My purpose is to fulfill His idea, not mine. My purpose in life is to be fit in like His divine puzzle piece. I don’t even have the ability to fit myself. To think I do is the greatest farce. This is God’s playwright, He wrote it, it’s His, and we’re His players, and that’s the best place to be, looking to Him as Director so we get it right.

Lord, I don’t want to diminish You by having an attitude that I have it all under control or even know what I’m doing. I want to live under Your direction and I want to be sensitive to the direction of those who have heeded before me and along with me. I want to remember that I’m not a lone player and that I don’t get to write the script, or my script, or any one else’s script, but that You are the Script Writer. I don’t want to look clean on the outside and be a nasty cup on the inside because I’m in control. I want You to be in control, because who in the world am I to even think otherwise? I concede. After all, the temple was just a model of something greater. And Jesus, You told us, “something greater than the temple is here.” And I’m more than willing, I’m desperately in need of surrendering to You because the one who created the temple is greater than the temple. I want You to be God. Don’t let me diminish You in my life or in anyone else’s life. Let me let You be God in my life and all those around me. You know, You’re gonna be God because it’s who You are and I or anyone else can’t stop it. But I can keep myself and others from seeing it. Lord, don’t let that happen. I want to see You as You are. And I want to be an instrument that allows others to see You in Your fullness also.

Pulling Off an “Ezekiel”

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Photo credit to unknown internet source.

 

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment.” (Ezekiel 4:4)

 
Can you imagine lying on your side out on the ground where everyone is walking by for 390 days? And then doing it again on your right side, the other side, for another 40 days? Now, before that you were asked to make a sketch in a clay brick or maybe use those clay bricks to lay out a model of the city of Jerusalem under siege. And here you are, laying down, which isn’t an easy task physically, so God Himself helps you to be strong enough to do it. He places “cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other” until the days are completed. If that’s not bad enough, you have to eat what God tells you, this unpleasant mix of grains that isn’t even tasty and maybe even considered unclean by Hebrew standards. Let’s take it a step further, because then it’s supposed to be cooked over human dung.

 
Human dung! Are you kidding me? If mixing grains and beans was unclean, then what about cooking over human dung!  Now, Ezekiel didn’t object until this point. And I’m not surprised that he cries out to the Lord. “God, I’ve never defiled what went into my mouth. Please don’t make me now.” So the Lord, has mercy and tells Ezekiel he can cook over cow dung instead. Now that still seems nasty here, but in many cultures with lack of wood for cooking, there’s nothing unusual about that.

 
Speaking of unusual though, this whole thing is pretty unusual, pretty far out there, don’t you think? This is an interesting way to warn the children of Israel and Judah of their impending doom if they don’t repent. But as I read it, it’s not just a story about Israel and Judah and their sin, it’s a story about the call of God on a man and about the faithfulness of that man. And it goes even deeper. It’s about the call of God on any of us, and the evidence of the measure of our faithfulness to that call.

 
The call of God has nothing to do with ease and a life of bliss. It has nothing to do with living life in the wonderful by and by and escaping the here and now. I mean, really, look at Ezekiel. Ezekiel was chosen by God to be His representative and did he live a life of ease? Or was he expected and called to do hard things, things that most ordinary or “normal” men wouldn’t ever humble themselves to do? Where was his wealth? Where was his ease? Where was his blessing as we think of and expect blessings? Was he counting down the days until he died so he could go to heaven? I think not, because the Jews in that time period didn’t have that concept of heaven. What would compel Ezekiel to obey?

 
Why would Ezekiel allow himself to be bound like this? Why would Paul, some 600 years later, allow himself to be bound? “And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:11) And I wonder if it all has some bearing on this man in the middle of both, this man who was also God, whose name is Jesus, who allowed them to bind him and lead him away and deliver him over to Pilate the governor? (Matthew 27:2)

 
It’s funny. Jesus allowed a lot of people to bind him. First there was the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews who arrested him and bound him. (John 18:12) Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:24) And even after his death, those who loved him took his body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:40) But I guess it really doesn’t matter how man binds something. Because ultimately, Jesus broke all those bands when he rose again. But he had to wear those bands. He had to take on that burden.

 
What was that burden? It was the burden that God was placing on Ezekiel, the sin of the people. And Ezekiel was bearing it symbolically. Even so, he needed God to help him bear it. And Paul, he was carrying that burden from God too. That’s why he went all over the world preaching the good news of Christ that others might be set free. But Jesus, He’s the one who can actually bear the whole burden. He alone can carry the full weight.
Ezekiel was a picture for all to see. But it was a picture bigger than Ezekiel. It was God using Ezekiel to display what He was doing and what He was going to do.

 

Do you want to see the whole picture? Let’s look at it in Isaiah 53. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

 
You know, I forgot to mention that while Ezekiel was lying on the ground on his side, he was told to lie down like that with his arm outstretched. Is that supposed to be a Deja Vu? “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God…” (Exodus 6:6-7) This is the word, sabal- to bear, from the Hebrew siblot. It’s the word used in Isaiah 53 where the suffering servant bears our iniquities. It’s the relieving of the burden of those things that enslave and cause servitude, of those things that cause punishment and penalty. This is what the suffering servant, Jesus can bear and do for us. He is our Deliverer who can show Himself strong on our behalf in miraculous ways.

 
But the word of bearing that Ezekiel was called to do and like that which Paul would do or I is a whole different word. In Ezekiel its the word nasah. That’s a word used about testing and trying and proving. It’s like when God tested the faithfulness of his children when they were coming out of Israel. Only at Massah, they didn’t only just quarrel. They accused God and Moses of not being sufficient and of not caring. They basically said that God was impotent and indifferent because He wouldn’t do it there way. It was a challenge to God’s power and goodness despite the prevalent evidence all around.
The truth is that God has already demonstrated His faithfulness and goodness time and time again. It’s not up to Him to prove Himself. We are called to be proven. We’re the ones that need to pass the test, not God. Do we really get who God is and what He has already done? Are we just willing to be used to be witnesses of Him and not ourselves? Am I truly willing to bear His image and forsake my own? Can I forget my needs and desires for the sake of God’s glory and His desires to be manifested by me instead?

 
Am I willing to adopt a Biblical view of my calling or am I going to make it fit my own design?  Because that’s not the way God works. If Jesus came and allowed Himself to be bound and to suffer at the hands of men so that God’s glory would be manifested, and He’s our Master, then how could we be called to anything less? What if my goal wasn’t about receiving blessings but about manifesting the glory of God by a life humbly submitted to His will no matter what He required?

 
What if Ezekiel’s message is a message of choosing God’s will no matter the cost? What if that is what real faith is all about? It takes me to Matthew 19:29 and Jesus’ words, “And every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” That word for forsake is aphiemi. And it does mean to leave, but it also means “to dismiss, to send away, to let go.” There’s a personal involvement on our part just like there was on Ezekiel’s part. He had to decide to go with God’s plan. He had to decide to lay down and stretch out his arms each day in front of everyone. He had to make a conscious choice to manifest God’s picture through Himself despite what others would think and despite how they would treat him.

 
So the question is, am I willing to bear the burden that You place on me God, that shines forth Your image in this world that so badly needs to see You and know You? Do I know You so well that I would be willing to do whatever You required of me so that You could shine through me? Would I be willing to look like a fool to those who don’t understand so that You can look like God to those who will understand? How faithful am I really? Am I faithful enough to pull off an Ezekiel? God, make me able. As I consciously choose You, bind me in that decision in You.