Sunday, October 5, 2008

More Reflections on Ezekiel

Reading Ezekiel today, I was taken aback by the ferocity of God's wrath directed against Israel. These are the people he chose out of all the nations to be in a special relationship with him; a family relationship called a "covenant". When they were enslaved in Egypt he came to them and led them out. God led them through the desert for forty years then settled them in the "Promised Land". He put a protective hedge around them and prospered them.

Though he was God to them they rebuffed him and fled to other gods. They thumbed their nose at him. As a parent I know something of this when your child ignores the sacrifices you make. They may, at times, take you for granted. In Israel's case, an entire nation has turned away from the only God who has targeted them with his incredible love.

What would I do if I were God? What would I do if this ant-like nation collectively gave me the finger after I have been a father to them? My inclination would be to bulldoze the whole project and start over! I would proclaim, "After all, I am God, I can do anything. This project did not work out so let's try again." The problem with this is it admits imperfection. It admits that the experiment failed. I had the wrong ingredients at the get go. It admits I had limited understanding and knowledge. God will not do this because, after all, he is God. He simply doesn't make mistakes because he has perfect knowledge and understanding. Bulldozing isn't an option for him.

God doesn't love like I do and this is something I wrestle with. I had an encounter with someone yesterday that wasn't pretty. It was an in-law who made some very callous remarks about the tenuousness of my job. I confess a flash of anger and resentment momentarily overwhelmed me. After venting Jean counseled me that this is where real faith must live. If I fail to forgive him, God will not forgive me and in this I actually carry his sin with him. His sin has the potential of destroying us both. I digress. My point is this; my initial thought at such times is to write someone off and vow never to have interactions with them again. One so unpleasant and callous is better left to their own devices. One should choose wisely who one spends precious time with. God is not like this. His love functions on an entirely different plane. Instead, God girds himself up and embarks upon a very labor intensive project of redemption. First he sends prophets to warn of doom. He doesn't bulldoze the whole project, instead, he redeems it. He fixes it. After warning of disaster and punishment, he will foretell of a future healing and restoration of his people. He declares that "I myself will shepherd my people." He declares that there will be a "New heavens and earth" in which his once rebellious now redeemed people will live. He declares that it will be through his "suffering servant" that the nations will be healed. He promises that even death will be overturned, (see Isaiah 25-26 and Ezekiel 37).

This launches me into a challenging thought process. My attitude towards my callous relative is wholly at odds with God's. God looks at his creation redemptively. What he has made is good. He didn't make any mistakes. My relative was meant for goodness. He was created for God and to bear his image. In him is more of a shout of the existence of God than the highest mountain. What does it mean then from me to look at others in a similar fashion? How would that change relationships? What impact would that have upon my own satisfaction and joy?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reflections on Ezekiel

Reading the prophets stirs my heart immensely. The character of God's heart is so transcendent throughout the scriptures and it gives me a more generous understanding of him.

I began this week what must be my tenth study of this wonderful book. Each time I pour over it different impressions strike me. Ezekiel was a priest to the people of Israel. He was a holy man, a religious man. Together with many of his fellow Israelites, he has been stolen from his homeland by the Babylonians and taken into exile. We find Ezekiel by the river Kebar in Babylon together with the other exiles. The scene is a sorry one. It would appear to them that God had turned his back upon them and given them over to their enemies. They were despondent. (Read Lamentations for a broader understanding.)

It is in this context that God appears to Ezekiel:

1 In the 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.

2 On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin- 3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.

God appeared. Amazing. Even though his people have grieved his heart, he still comes to them. He is not through with Israel. All of what has transpired has been foretold by other prophets such as Isaiah. God longed for repentance among his people so he sent prophets to warn them of what would happen if they did not repent. What most offended God was their affections for idols. They had become sychratistic in their religion. Yes, they worshipped God but why not hedge your bets and set up alters to the pagan gods also? This deeply offends God both then and now. As I search both the new and old testaments what is clearly evident is that God hates this practice. He will not tolerate other gods beside him.

Even though Israel has offended, God continues to come to his people. He doesn't come gently though. He commands Ezekiel to continue hammering home to them the stiff penalty for their abandonment. He gives vivid contrast between his thrown room and his displeasure with his people. He leaves Ezekiel "overwhelmed" by what he has seen and heard. Ezekiel can do nothing but sit among the exiles for seven days.

God then comes to him again. I wonder if Ezekiel might have said to himself, "Please, no more. I can't withstand more of what I have seen." As God's glory appears to him he finds himself facedown before him staggered by his presence. He is given specific instructions and sent off to perform his assigned duties. He is warned that he must not fear man above God. He must be willing to say the hard thing that God has ordained him to say. If he fails, God will bring the same punishment upon him that as the offender.

This morning I was caught by this passage:

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them 3 and say: 'O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. 5 I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6 Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out. 7 Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

8 " 'But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me—how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. 10 And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.

11 " 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out "Alas!" because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. 12 He that is far away will die of the plague, and he that is near will fall by the sword, and he that survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I spend my wrath upon them. 13 And they will know that I am the LORD, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak—places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah [a] —wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD.' "

As I read, I wondered about the character of God and his fury directed against idolatry. My thoughts migrated to that of nations and more specifically America today. Many see our country as the new "chosen people". They believe God has called our country in a unique way and seeks to bless it uniquely. They read 2 Chronicles 7:14:

14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This is then applied directly to America. We are God's people meaning America. We have been chosen in a way similar to Israel's election. This, I believe is flawed thinking and unbiblical. Certainly, God will give favor to any nation that favors his people. The bible is repleate with evidence of this. However, this is a call to God's covenant people. This is a call to those God has formed a distinct and unique relationship with evidenced by blood and oath. It is at this point that a lengthy discussion of covenant is in order but I'll save that for another post.

Perhaps a better way of seeing America is to think of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies, Romans and other empires that have intersected with God's people. Yes, God gave each of these great blessing and expanded their empires. However, with a few exceptions, one would be hard pressed to see these empires as being God-fearing in any way. Not only is this so but in the end when God's purposes are fulfilled with them he brings about the punishment their sins against his people deserve.

America is almost certainly post-Christian. We have chased God from public life. Yes, we can speak of him but it better be in sanctified areas away from public debate. Bring God up in any discussion regarding public policy and you are immediately written off as a nut. Your ideas are not considered valid in the discussion. Sadly, in the end, these are the only words that would heal any nation.

God cares about his Kingdom. God cares about his church. God cares about his glory. He raises up nations to fulfill these purposes. If a nation will repent, yes God will bring blessing but it will be for the purposes mentioned. How does a nation support or obstruct the propagation of the gospel? Even an empire as evil as the Romans flourished by God's grace for almost a thousand years. The Romans unified the world under a single language. They developed straight roads and brought about peace that allowed for the propagation of the Gospel. Yes, they severely persecuted the church but they were raised up primarily at that time to allow the expansion of the gospel of Jesus. In the end, judgment came their way. God then moved to Europe, the Renaissance, reformation and the enlightenment. The gospel marched on.

Today, America is in crisis. It should not surprise us that God has left us to our own devices when we are as idolatrous as any nation in history. If he brought about the destruction of earlier empires why do we think we will be any different?

What about the slumbering church in America? We are off on massive building projects so we can be warm and comfortable while the church around the world hides underground to worship God. We stand by with hands in figurative pockets while over a million children are slain each year in the name of personal freedom and liberty. What does God see when he observes these things? Will he stand for this or is there a moment when he disciplines his people and punishes an empire?

America may go on for another thousand years. I don't know what God is doing now with any precision, but I do know there is timer running on America. I do know that there is a timer running on the church in America. God will ultimately prune and discipline his people but he will utterly destroy the nation at some point. Even then, he is not through with his purpose and plans. He will raise up another nation. He will stir the gospel fires in other places that once burned bright in our country. He is not an "American". He is God.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Divine Conspiracy

From Mike Mason's book "Champagne for the Soul":

He was filled with great joy because he had come to believe in God
Acts 16:34

Does your faith fill you with joy? Is God alone reason enough to rejoice, or are you looking for something more? If you're not satisfied with God, what more could you possibly want?

Paul told the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). Not only was the man saved, he was filled with joy, because the two go together. Do they for you? If you've got God, you've got joy. If you don't have joy, however religious you may be, you need to wonder whether you've really got hold of God. Joy besides being desireable in itself, is a litmus test of the truth.

That church you attend - is it full of joy? If not, it's missing the mark of truth.

The preaching you listen to - does it inspire you with joy? If not, it falls short of the gospel.

Your friendships - do they produce joy? If not, what good are they? Those activities you pursue so doggedly - do you take joy in them? If not why bother? The book your reading - does it stir joy deep inside? If not, why read it?

Joy is a trustworthy guide to truth. Where joy is absent, we're right to be suspicious, because joy is a characteristic of truth.

Champagne for the Soul
page 93