Love Came Down with Peace

vista of Mont TremblantA good friend of mine once pronounced, “I will know I am healed when peace fills my heart”.

Like my friend, Micah the prophet lived a fierce pursuit of peace during turbulent days of King Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, as he suffered Israel’s choice to turn from Almighty God to pagan gods en masse.

By the end of Micah’s ministry, Assyrian demolished Samaria and peace was an elusive currency, especially for a man who agonized in prayer for his nation.

Sometime during this violent season churning with distress and judgment, God whispered to his servant Micah, “ Son, I know it’s tough right now. But wait till you see what I have in store…”.

First, Micah encountered the truth that no nation’s apostasy could ever diminish God Almighty:

Let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from His holy temple. For behold, the Lord is coming out of His place; He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place.(Micah 1:2-4).

No one is higher, bigger, stronger, mightier or more lovelier than God.

Next, Micah encountered the Big Picture:mont tremblant

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”(Micah 5:2)

Before the foundations of the earth were ever laid, God prepared a Kingdom plan that would overrule and outlast any other.Peace was coming through a person, not by an army of Micah’s longing.

I can almost see Micah’s eyes widen and draw deep a quick breath when God revealed to him His plan to establish His King , who would rule forever with mercy, compassion and provision:

He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD, in the majestic name of the LORD, his God; and they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; He shall be peace.(Micah 5:4-5)

With renewed passion, Micah challenged his nation to cease their apostasy and return to their merciful God.  With disconnected appeasement, the Israelites instead offered numerous sacrifices to get God’s attention, when He had never broken His gaze. Micah lamented their choice:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?(Micah 6:6-7)

img_2324Pitifully, Micah protested no amount of sacrifices would be accepted for the sin of Israel. Instead, Micah exhorted Israel to change their ways:

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy,and to walk humbly with your God?(Micah 6:8)

In Hebrew, these words wield sledge-hammer precision to demolish Israel’s religiosity,  “He has explicitly published, decreed and informed you, nation, what is excellent, moral, pleasant and of most benefit!  What does the Great I Am, Lord Jehovah, seek with follow-through from you?  Render sound judgment, cling to mercy as your lifelong love and carry humility as you walk before your One true God.”

Goodness. Quite a mission statement. Life with God in three succinct phrases: Be just. Be merciful.  Be humble. Three clear directives to demonstrate a people who loved God.

2014-10-10 07.44.26Sadly, Israel would not turn. Micah devastated by the loss surrounding him, concluded his lament with worship of His merciful God:

Lord, who is a God like you? You forgive sin. You forgive your people when they do what is wrong. You don’t stay angry forever. Instead, you take delight in showing your faithful love to them. (Micah 7:18-19 NRIV)

God delights in showing love to us. Micah knew His God.

2015-03-21 13.50.19Hundreds of years later, as promised, the Good Shepherd was born to Israel.  When Jesus announced His identity as Shepherd and Ruler, He confirmed Micah’s promise:

I am the good shepherd and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father and I lay down My life for the sheep.”(John 10:14)

Jesus our Shepherd, established His Father’s Kingdom by giving His life for His sheep. To Micah’s desperate cry,  “What can appease God in the face of our sin?”, Jesus answered,“I will pay.  My sinless life is the only offering my Father accepts.  My Father loves Me because I lay down My Life that I may take it again.  I love you because I lay down my life for My Sheep.”

Our Shepherd is the Prince of Peace.  As we believe we are His sheep, that He already paid, once and for all, the sacrifice for our sin, peace comes like a flood. When we grasp, in ever increasing degrees, this unmerited unlimited love that God extends to us through Christ’s humility, justice and mercy, peace moves in to stay.

cuba orangeLet’s pray:  O Lord Jesus, help us to hear Your voice today.  Holy Spirit, teach us justice, mercy and humility that we may be true sons. Father God, we cry out to you, may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make us complete in every good work to do His will, working in us what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever”.(Heb 13: 20-21) Amen.

This Week’s Reading:  Micah and Nahum

Next Week’s Reading: Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Haggai

Study Questions:

  1.  What steals your peace and what do you need to do to find it?
  2.  Do you know Christ as your Prince of Peace?
  3. Do you know the God of peace who works in us what is well pleasing in His sight?
  4. How did God give Micah a different perspective in his current circumstance?
  5. How does God shift your perspective?

 

On Vacation…

Hope your summer is full of family time or visits with friends or vacation. The Love Comes Down Bible Journey will be back August 19…Tell your friends and let’s make this last leg of the journey one we all share together.

 From Blind River, Ontario, at the Stop 17 Restaurant, so happy to be with my parents and children at Lake Matinenda for the week….

Love Comes Down with Warning

Warning:  Spoiler Alert!  Reader may encounter strong warnings in the book of Joel.  Be advised spiritual and emotional shifting may occur. Reactions can include anger, fear, or bitterness. Responses may be mitigated through honest reflection and repentance. Holy Spirit is standing by to bring both power and authority if requested. Outcomes may vary according to recognition of current reality.

nature-sunny-field-summer Can you imagine if the Bible had warnings posted, before you cracked open the book and faced your life?  Or are you thankful that the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart? (Heb 4:12 NIV)

Reality checks can be life saving, relationship protecting and brings financial freedom, let alone emotional and spiritual truth.  Yet many of us, preferring the heavy of cloak of denial, shield our eyes from truth and then are blindsided when consequences coming crashing through the door.

That’s what happened to Judah.  As a chosen prophet, Joel told the truth about the nation’s state of emergency through starvation and destruction, describing fields depleted by seas of locusts, dilapidated barns, a nation of rock hard, with land long slaked by thirst.  Even the animals were suffering, moaning from lack of pasture.  Priests wailed before the altar, with nothing in hand to worship God.  Without wine, oil, or grain, the nation’s joy evaporated.  Only cries of hunger remained.

Joel sought God, though aware his nation’s sins had created this brutal reality.  The God of constant mercy said to prodigal Judah, “Come on home to Me”:

The LORD said: It isn’t too late. You can still return to me with all your heart. Start crying and mourning! Go without eating.  Don’t rip your clothes to show your sorrow. Instead, turn back to me with broken hearts. I am merciful, kind, and caring. I don’t easily lose my temper, and I don’t like to punish. I am the LORD your God. Perhaps I will change my mind and treat you with mercy. Then you will be blessed with enough grain and wine for offering sacrifices to me.( Joel 2:12-14, CEV)

20130718_201430With joy, Joel hastily hit the sirens, (maybe he blew the shofar long and hard) to call the entire nation to fast, pray and seek the Lord’s face.  The Lord had requested from babe to elderly to be part of the solution and quickly, open communication with God flowed in prayer by a desperate nation.

The Lord gave his servants, the priests, authority to shift the nation. Joel commissioned the broken priests to intercede with as much passion as God deserved:

Tell my servants, the priests, to cry inside the temple and to offer this prayer near the altar: “Save your people, LORD God! Don’t let foreign nations make jokes about us. Don’t let them laugh and ask, ‘Where is your God?’ ” ( Joel 2: 17, CEV)

The result? Grace upon grace:

The LORD was deeply concerned about his land and had pity on his people. In answer to their prayers he said, “I will give you enough grain, wine, and olive oil to satisfy your needs. No longer will I let you be insulted by the nations.  An army attacked from the north, but I will chase it into a scorching desert. There it will rot and stink from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean.” The LORD works wonders  and does great things. So tell the soil to celebrate and wild animals to stop being afraid. Grasslands are green again; fruit trees and fig trees are loaded with fruit. Grapevines are covered with grapes. People of Zion, celebrate in honor of the LORD your God! He is generous and has sent the autumn and spring rains in the proper seasons. Grain will cover your threshing places; jars will overflow with wine and olive oil. I, the LORD your God, will make up for the losses caused by those swarms and swarms of locusts I sent to attack you. My people, you will eat until you are satisfied. Then you will praise me for the wonderful things I have done. Never again will you be put to shame. ( Joel 2: 18-26, CEV)

God healed the land and restored His people with mercy.  Celebrations were restored.  Shame was dealt with.  The land was cleansed from the defilement of the people.  From that place of desperate despair, Israel now rejoiced in the great goodness of their God.

2014-10-15 09.38.20Not content with just blessing the current generation, like a generous Father who has secret gifts hidden all over the house for His kids, God shifted the landscape with His Even More, Project Holy Spirit for the future of His chosen people:

Israel, you will know that I stand at your side. I am the LORD your God– there are no other gods. Never again will you be put to shame. Later, I will give my Spirit to everyone. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.  In those days I will even give my Spirit to my servants, both men and women. (Joel 2: 27-29, NKJV)

God’s future dream of His people was that they didn’t just seek the Lord, but would actually abide with their God.  The Holy Spirit was coming, an incredible gift to everyone in society who would believe in Christ.

God’s plan hasn’t changed.  Not age-bound, gender determined, or hierarchy based, the gift of the Holy Spirit is for all who would seek Him.  With the Holy Spirit, all evasion of reality can be addressed.  In love, the Holy Spirit convicts, abides, empowers, leads, equips, and shapes us into children of Almighty God.  After that one national fast by Judah, this glorious plan of God abiding with His people was announced. Once Christ valiantly removed our shame through His blood sacrifice on the cross of Calvary, Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit boldy announced to all who would hear that the long-awaited day had come:  Holy Spirit would abide with all who called on the Name of Jesus Christ as their salvation ( see Acts 2).

2014-08-22 18.12.09Let’s pray:  Holy Spirit, come fill us to overflow.  In mercy, give us dreams, visions, prophecy and lead us forward into the truth of our adoption as children of God.  Father, thank you for this incredible gift of Your Spirit.  Lord Jesus, thank You that you prepared the way through your brave and selfless sacrifice for us all.  How we love you, O God!  Search us O God and know our hearts.  See if there be any anxious way in us and bring us into all truth by Your Spirit. Amen

This Week’s Reading:  Joel and Amos

Next Week’s Reading:  Obadiah – Micah 7

Study Questions:

  1.  Have you ever seen locusts devour a field?  Have you ever experienced sudden loss or tragedy like this?  How did you get through?
  2. Do you know the Holy Spirit?  Have you accepted He is reality for all Christians?  Do you dream God’s dreams or visions or speak forth prophecy?  Why or why not?
  3. How do you restore relationship with God when disaster strikes?  Do you play the Blame Game?  How do you step into reality in order to hear truth?
  4. Does the Word of God bring truth and reality to your life?  How does the Holy Spirit assist that experience?
  5. Amos was a tough book to wade through.  Do you see the gift of reality in its chapters?

 

 

 

 

 

Love Came Down with Fierce Redemption

Fall FieldI love the story of Hosea.  Incredulously, this Middle Eastern man is told by God, “Go. Marry a prostitute.  Your life is now an object lesson for Israel.  They are whoring on every hillside trying to get from Baal what only I can give.  I still am here, waiting for them.  Now you, Hosea, go pursue a wife who is sexually defiled.  She needs a husband, whether she knows it or not.  So too, Israel needs my covenant, whether they remember or not.”

Talk about a tall order.  In Jewish culture, righteous living was how you showed off your excellence to the Lord, your devotion and quite frankly, your status.  Hosea, named “Deliverer” at birth, embraced the pain of social rejection for his choice to marry a prostitute.  He married Gomer, named “Completion” by her family, whose life was far from perfect, given the brutality of the sex trade in any context.

Their heavenly arranged marriage bore fruit.  Hosea and Gomer had a son. Instead of the parents naming their child, the Lord said, “He shall be called Jezreel,  “God will sow”, for I am sowing justice.  The kingdom of Israel, your nation, is about to cease.”

The couple had another child, a girl, named Loruhama, “No Mercy”, followed by a son, named Loammi, “Not My People”, again, named by the Lord, as a sign to Israel of their current reality. Israel’s pursuit of everything but God was reaping a irrevocable gap as God judged the nation for their intense idolatry of Baal, Astoreth and Molech, while they forsook monogamous faith in the One True Living God.

canyonFor decades, Israel had forsaken God, choosing a “name only “marriage, as they sought every other idol option; temple prostitution and child sacrifice was normative to the culture. Despite their adultery, reality was coming to Israel as God warned the nation:

“Rename your brothers ‘God’s Somebody.’ Rename your sisters ‘All Mercy. Haul your mother into court. Accuse her! She’s no longer my wife. I’m no longer her husband. Tell her to quit dressing like a whore, displaying her breasts for sale. She said, ‘I’m off to see my lovers! They’ll wine and dine me, Dress and caress me, perfume and adorn me!’ But I’ll fix her…She’ll go on the hunt for her lovers but not bring down a single one. She’ll look high and low but won’t find a one. Then she’ll say, ‘I’m going back to my husband, the one I started out with. That was a better life by far than this one.’ She didn’t know that it was I all along who wined and dined and adorned her, That I was the one who dressed her up in the big-city fashions and jewelry that she wasted on wild Baal-orgies…. Party time is over. I’m calling a halt to the whole business, her wild weekends and unholy holidays…I’ll make her pay for her indulgence in promiscuous religion– all that sensuous Baal worship And all the promiscuous sex that went with it, stalking her lovers, dressed to kill, And not a thought for me.”(Hos 2:1 -8,10 MSG)

Brutal.  As a married woman, I sure wouldn’t be pursuing my husband if he was choosing adultery as his normal. I would be separating.  But here is God, who had chosen Israel, a nation of slaves in Egypt and established holy covenant with her, reaching over and over to the nation who thinks Baal (aka Satan) as their best option.  God protected,prospered, sheltered and loved Israel despite their lack of loyalty. Though Israel had forsaken God, the Lord was far from finished with His covenant. He planned to redeem Israel, by force if necessary:

And now, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to start all over again. I’m taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date, and I’ll court her. I’ll give her bouquets of roses. I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope. She’ll respond like she did as a young girl, those days when she was fresh out of Egypt. “At that time”–this is GOD’s Message still– “you’ll address me, ‘Dear husband!’ Never again will you address me, ‘My slave-master!’ I’ll wash your mouth out with soap, get rid of all the dirty false-god names, not so much as a whisper of those names again. (2: 14-17 MSG)

How many of us would run to our husband or wife, after they slept with hundreds of others, and say, I am going to court you and woo you and bring you back into relationship?  Yet that was exactly what God was planning. Unconditional fierce agape love is God’s normal.

Just as the children were impacted by their parents’ choices, so the land of Israel was also polluted by Israel’s sin, defiled by bloodshed, sexual sin and child sacrifice. God grieved the impact of wicked Israel on its land.  Only God could bring the redemption required.  Yet Israel had no volition to turn back to Him:

At the same time I’ll make a peace treaty between you and wild animals and birds and reptiles, And get rid of all weapons of war. Think of it! Safe from beasts and bullies! And then I’ll marry you for good–forever! I’ll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness. Yes, I’ll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go. You’ll know me, GOD, for who I really am.  “On the very same day, I’ll answer”–this is GOD’s Message– “I’ll answer the sky, sky will answer earth, Earth will answer grain and wine and olive oil, and they’ll all answer Jezreel. I’ll plant her in the good earth. I’ll have mercy on No-Mercy. I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’ and he’ll say ‘You’re my God!'” (Hos 2: 18-23 MSG)

IMG_0798Redemption affects every aspect of life. God sows life and the land receives and the people shift into excellence as beloved of God.  Redemption came from a blood soaked cross by a Sinless Son, foreshadowed by Hosea’s example of holy embracing defiled with fierce unwavering intent, love come down.

Hosea served for fifty years as a prophet to his nation.  He lived in grief as he witnessed the slow decline of his nation’s shift far away from God.  Decades later,  the Assyrian army invaded Israel and scattered the people, dispersing Jews to countless nations, a people no more, without mercy, though Judah was spared.

Where was God’s promised redemption?  Paul the apostle, preeminent Pharisee convert, ached and grieved for Israel to turn to Christ years later.  He references Hosea as he celebrates the God’s big picture for humanity in Romans:

As He also says in Hosea, “I will call those not My people, My people; and those not beloved, Beloved.” And it shall be, in the place where it was said to them. “You are not My people; there they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Roman 9: 25-26, NKJV).

God redeemed us to be His very own children through His One and Only Son.  The culmination of Hosea’s story, the movement from judgement and reality to mercy and relationship, came through the cross of Christ, as He atoned for all sin, the perfect Deliverer, with fierce love for us, His Bride.  The story continues with each choice, as by faith in Christ Jesus, we are sons of God. Galatians 3:26.

Let’s pray:   Father, shine Your light and hold it steady until we see what You want us to see, that we may live true before You, as Your beloved children.  Lord Jesus, what love, that You chose to die, that You became sin for us, that we would be righteous before our God! Holy Spirit, search us and know us and lead us into all truth.  May we live in holy awe of what You have done, O God, Love come down, that You offered mercy and adoption as Your children, when we lived in abject sin.  What holy love! Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!sunset

This Week’s Reading:  Hosea 1-14

Next Week’s Bible Reading: Joel 1 – Amos 9

Study Questions:

  1.  What part do you see yourself in the story of Hosea?
  2.  How do you feel when God hauls Israel into court?  Do you resist?  Do you cringe?
  3. Can you talk to God about how you feel about Him as righteous Judge?
  4. Do you know God as Your fiercely loving Father?  If not, ask for revelation of this truth by the Holy Spirit.
  5. How does the Big Picture of Redemption affect you?  Do you play an active or passive role in your relationship with God, with others?  How do you partner with God with redemption?

Love Came Down with Calibration

JD 2120 with 48 LoaderWhen my husband and I operated an organic farm, Paul was always dealing with calibration.  The constant strain of moving heavy loads and plowing tough soil can strip the threads on key parts of heavy machinery, which throws the machine out of sync. Any tractor which isn’t calibrated is useless.  Our John Deere 2120 sat stagnant for over a year, until Paul had the time and money to take apart the hydrolic pump which operated the lift arm.  This tractor was used for vegetables, to cultivate between the rows.  When it broke,the staff had to hand weed and hand cultivate acres of land, a costly process which ate into the vegetable profits.  I still remember Paul’s relief, when he purchased the parts and re-calibrated that tractor ,so it could operate at full strength for the following season.

In Babylon in 536 BC, after serving four different monarchs spanning nearly seven decades, Daniel, royal counselor, chief intercessor, God-lover and prophet, found himself strained beyond measure and desperately needing calibration. After three weeks of fasting, celebrating Passover again in this pagan nation, Daniel experienced a mighty visitation by the Lord:

Now on the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was by the side of the great river, that is, the Tigris, I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude.( Daniel 10:4-5)

Daniel was alone when he saw the vision.  The men who were with him at the river fled in terror when God stepped onto their turf. With fiery eyes like torches, a face brighter than lightning, with a voice like a multitude, little wonder Daniel was terrified.  Daniel hit the ground, prostrate before the glory of God.  Mercifully, the Lord touched Daniel:

Suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. Daniel 10: 10-12)

Despite the assurance of being beloved, Daniel still strained, could not speak:

And suddenly, one having the likeness of the sons of men touched my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke, saying to him who stood before me, “My lord, because of the vision my sorrows have overwhelmed me, and I have retained no strength. For how can this servant of my lord talk with you, my lord? As for me, no strength remains in me now, nor is any breath left in me.(Dan 10: 16-17)

For the third time, the Lord touched Daniel:

Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!” So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.( Dan 10:18-19)

vista of Mont TremblantIn this amazing encounter, God calibrated Daniel, the one whom God used as an example, together with Noah and Job, as the most righteous of men (Ezekiel 14:14). The heavy load of interceding for his nation Israel, of processing end time visions beyond his understanding, the agony of seventy years of slavery in a pagan nation and  the strain of jealousy and hatred which Daniel endured in the royal courts had sapped Daniel’s strength and warped his capacity to receive.

Patiently, the Lord physically touched Daniel three times, once to have him stand, another to have him speak and again, to strengthen his heart.  As the Lord ministered to his servant, He spoke identity over Daniel, twice calling him “His beloved”.  Then the Lord spoke words of peace, understanding and strength which finally, Daniel could receive.

Calibration of the heart always requires God’s touch.  No matter how we may long to fix ourselves, it is only in the intimacy of encounter with our God which brings healing, deliverance, freedom.  Like the farmer, the Lord knows exactly where our alignment has been skewed, which lies have brought grit and sediment into the heart, which idols have lured us out of allegiance to our King, clogging the flow, dampening the revelation, seizing our engine. In love, God draws near, that we may draw nearer to Him.

jon

Let’s Pray: Lord, calibrate us this day, that we would flow as You have designed us. Thank You, Father, that the Holy Spirit will adjust us every day we are willing to be led. Lord Jesus, as You were kind enough to visit Daniel, surely You will come to your hungry servants, who wait with longing before You.  We need Your touch, Lord Jesus.  Come to your noble servants and calibrate our lives, that we may work according to Your holy purposes by the power of Your grace and leading of Your Spirit once again.  Amen.

This Week’s Reading: Daniel 1-12

Next Week’s Reading: Hosea 1-14

Study Questions:

  1.  How did Daniel stay undefiled in the occult laden turf of Babylon?
  2.  How do you stay connected to God?
  3. How did Daniel stay focused on the kingdom? What did the Lord give to Daniel to stay focused?  How did your giftings move you forward in life in God?
  4. How did God recalibrate Daniel?  Has God ever met you like this? Do you know you are beloved? Do you need an encounter to know this?
  5. What did God trust Daniel with?  What secrets has the Lord trusted you with? What are you doing with this sacred confidence? How do you convert this gift in prayer life?mont tremblant

 

Love Came Down with Heaven’s Metrics

measurementHave you ever felt you just didn’t measure up to a person’s expectations or standards?   From failed interviews to missed pitches,  to wrong formulas, to missed appointments,  we have all choked down disappointment when  we missed the mark.

Yet what happens when a nation blows it?  When God is viewed from such a  distance, hopelessness prevails.  Fear invades as reality that stretches empty wide across a godless expanse. Think barren.  Acrid, a land littered with shoulds, woulds and if onlys.  Welcome to Ezekiel’s nation of Judah, post Babylon’s invasion.

Fourteen years after Jerusalem fell to enemy forces, agonizing years without temple sacrifice or atonement, long past dreams for life in Judah to resume, Ezekiel experienced a magnificent encounter with heaven:

In the visions of God He brought me into the land of Israel, and made me rest on a very high mountain. And it went up, as the structure of the city on the south. And He brought me there, and behold, a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze, and a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed. And he stood in the gate. And the man said to me, Son of man, behold with your eyes and hear with your ears, and set your heart on all that I shall show you. For you are brought here so that I might show them to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.(Ezek. 40:1-4)

‘Set your heart on all I show you’, the Lord whispers to heartbroken Ezekiel. ‘Don’t let your heart clog that sight or blind your eyes.  These dreams are for your nation to marvel over and son, I am showing you first.’

For forty long chapters, we witness Ezekiel suffer humiliation and scorn as a prophet. Even his cherished wife’s death became an object lesson for Judah, when Ezekiel is denied the right to grieve, a profound warning that when Jerusalem fell, not one citizen would have the privilege of compassion at the hands of the Babylonians.

Twenty five years into ministry as prophet to the nation, Ezekiel reached a depth of intimacy with God Almighty many of us long for:  God showed His boy, Zeke, a temple built according to heaven’s specs.  The new palatial structure made Solomon’s temple look like a toy model.

heaven pillarsThis place of worship was massive, more than eight miles long and eight miles wide in property.  One metric after another, a heavenly carpenter, with rod and flax plumbline, showed Ezekiel three dimensional measurements as they walked through the rooms, gates and porches of the temple. The surrounding walls were ten feet high and ten feet thick. First gates were measured, then pillars, followed by kitchens and chambers for the priests. The sanctuary was visited.  Economics were reviewed, as were priestly practices. Great emphasis was placed on the Prince, who would enter the east gate and worship at the gate’s threshold.  The River of God was encountered, as was the Glory of the Lord.

Step by step, the Lord revealed a heavenly blueprint in 3D to Ezekiel, which culminated with the final line from the Lord: “From now on the name of the city will be YAHWEH-SHAMMAH: “GOD-IS-THERE.” (Ezek. 48: 35).  The whole point of the temple was that Love could come down. Forever.

I can only imagine God’s glee as He walked out the blueprint for this temple with his faithful servant Ezekiel:  See this area? That’s for the priests.  See those tables?  That is for the sacrifices.  See those carvings?  Lion/Prince Cherubs  followed by palm trees. Make sure they are everywhere in the Sanctuary.   The Prince should be all over this temple. Magnificent was an understatement.

Beyond the glory of the vision, beyond the incredible imagery of the river, with ever bearing fruit trees, healing waters in overflow from the throne of the temple, there is this marvelous interplay of intimacy as Father God stoops down in love with heaven’s metrics to beloved Ezekiel. This scene of Father/son revelation touches me deeper than words.

father's whisperI long to catch Father’s whispered dreams, to witness the immensity of heaven’s design, to worship the mastery of the Master as I wait for specifications, and pause my puny plans. God’s designs are principle driven, efficient and generous.  As you study the temple, the expanse and abundance may shift the heart, as God had intended.  For God required Ezekiel to do more than just witness the property:

Son of man, tell the people of Israel all about the Temple so they’ll be dismayed by their wayward lives. Get them to go over the layout. That will bring them up short. Show them the whole plan of the Temple, its ins and outs, the proportions, the regulations, and the laws. Draw a picture so they can see the design and meaning and live by its design and intent. “This is the law of the Temple: As it radiates from the top of the mountain, everything around it becomes holy ground. Yes, this is law, the meaning, of the Temple. (Ezek. 43:10-12, MSG)

Ezekiel was commanded to list heaven’s specs and build out a blueprint of a temple so glorious, that the nation who had dished God for gods they could boss around would wail in dismay at their loss.  Like a centrifuge, the temple was designed to be a place of such encounter and power, that all earth would be changed, as glory spun out from worship, spattering everyone with the undeniable reality of God eternal, framed by the ongoing sacrifice of His attending priests.

The temple Ezekiel experienced has not yet been built.  Babylon demolished Solomon’s temple and Rome razed Herod’s to the ground.  Only one temple wall remains, a place of ruins, where Orthodox Jews wail in petition, even as terrorism and politics dominates the landscape of Jerusalem.

IMG_0109Perhaps you may be surprised that God’s temple on earth is now you and I.  Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah and Prince of Peace, died to build a new temple with breathtaking dimension and design. Paul startles me every time I read this:

Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.   (1 Cor 6: 19-20 MSG)

When I think of us Christians as living temples of the Holy Spirit, I worship in wonder and writhe in shame.  What trust God has placed in us, His kids, to carry those dreams He whispered to Ezekiel long ago, where the Kingdom glory of heaven radiates outward and touches earth.  I weep as I consider the vulnerability of our Father’s heart, as He patiently revealed His metric of love and compassion, His Son stretched wide between heaven and earth, building an eternal temple through the blood sacrifice of His perfect obedient sinless Son.

Heaven’s metric shatters any expectations, standards and measures we may have of ourselves or others.  It demolishes disappointment in our performance, makes a mockery of our personal standards of holiness and lays bare Christ’s arms of love which stretch wide in eternal embrace to us, His children.  Love has come down.  We cannot miss the mark.  His marks are what counts.   Through Christ, God’s whispered dreams to Ezekiel may be seen through us all.

sunsetLet’s Pray:  Father, in faith in Christ Jesus, we are Your sons.  Drop the plumbline of righteousness that we may be established according to Your metric and design, O Master Jesus.  Holy Spirit, by Your grace,  may we celebrate our unique design as Your temple and may You lead us into daily delighted discovery of  our Father’s mastery. Let Your Kingdom come and Your will be done, in our lives this day. Amen.

This Week’s Reading:  Ezekiel 36-48

Next Week’s Reading:  Daniel 1-12

Study Questions:

  1.  Can you see Father God’s design in your life?  Don’t know where to look?  Follow your trail of joy….that shouts God’s unique design for you in multiple dimensions and experiences.
  2. How does this theology of being the temple of the Holy Spirit affect you?  Does it make you feel loved or ashamed? Can you see the incredible intimacy and trust of God’s latest temple design, that we would carry His Spirit?  How does this reality shape your thoughts, words, actions?
  3. What do you think Ezekiel did with this temple design?  Do you think he shared it immediately or built a model to scale?  Do you think it shifted his heart for the future?  What are you doing with God’s design for your temple?  Who do you think might have insight on this?
  4. The temple God showed Ezekiel was immense in proportions.  What principles have you discovered from studying this temple?
  5. Each of us reveal God uniquely through the design of our lives.  How does celebrating your design, celebrate your Father, the Son and/or the Holy Spirit?  How can you celebrate your design today?  For further resources on this topic, head to theslg.com.  I extend heartfelt thanks to Arthur Burk and his team for their continued ministry to the Body of Christ on this crucial issue of identity and worship of our King.

Love Came Down with the God of Nations

globeEzekiel lived as a captive in Babylon, yet God had this prophet priest in His hand.  Like Isaiah, Ezekiel lived as a mouthpiece for God, and in this deep intimacy, Ezekiel was required to prophecy many harsh and difficult realities to the nations.

In Ezekiel’s time in history, the globe was under war, a time like no other. The God of the Universe was deeply engaged in His world and having suffered long decades of sin and oppression, a Holy housecleaning was coming to the earth.  Like Christ in the temple, upending the long tables of greed and corruption with one furious toss, so the God of nations, was turning over nations, ending long centuries of pride, sin, murder and corruption with one massive shift across the globe.

Every nation was judged in Ezekiel’s day.  From Mount Seir to Assyria to Egypt to Tyre, the nations surrounding Israel were called to account for their grotesque sin, through the word of Ezekiel. Global powers were silenced, other nations were reduced to a smoldering assortment of burning villages.  The enemies and co-conspirators who celebrated Israel’s takeover by Babylon would face justice.  God was using Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army to end a whole season of injustice but this brutal takeover would cost most with their lives and their nation.

If you struggled through these long passages of sin reviewed and judgment decreed, you are not alone.  Ezekiel suffered a most difficult life as a prophet, somehow staying faithful to his God, even as his own wife’s death was used as a sermon illustration, a living object lesson, each day of his life.

When God had reframed Ezekiel from priest to prophet, God gave him a clear job description: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.”(Ezek 3:17, NKJV)

Over a decade later, God further clarified high responsibility and crucial role to speak a turning word of warning to the nation of Israel:

Son of man, speak to the sons of your people, and say to them: When I bring the sword on it, on a land, and take one man from the people of the land, of their borders, and set him for their watchman; if, when he sees the sword come on the land, he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword does come and take him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning. His blood shall be on himself. But he who takes warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman sees the sword coming, and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned; if the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity. But I will require his blood at the watchman’s hand. And you, son of man, I have set you a watchman to the house of Israel. Therefore you shall hear the Word from My mouth, and warn them from Me. (Ezek. 33:2-7, MKJV)

OAK TREEIn God’s economy, if people hear a warning and repent, then life in God will come regardless of global politics, national choices or religious positions.  In a similar way, for those who hear God’s warning and continue in sin, then judgement and death will come.  Consider how crucial the watchmen are to God’s justice, to offer mercy through warning, to Israel, to Judah, to the neighboring nations?

Despite the bloody warnings of the judgement coming to the nations, God had no desire for people to suffer.  God cried out to Ezekiel,

As I live, says the Lord Jehovah, I have no delight in the death of the wicked, except in the turning of the wicked from his way, and so to live. Turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? Therefore, son of man, say to the sons of your people: The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression. As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it in the day he turns from his wickedness. Nor shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sins. (Ezekiel 33:11-12 NKJV).

Like a parent who painfully reckons her son will face jail time if he continues to use drugs, so God grimly reviewed the current situation of the nations steeped neck high in sin.  Yet God, like a compassionate mother, kept the light on and the door unlocked, so that if His son, Israel could find his way back.  Mercy always triumphs justice and through God decreed destruction to these nations, He still cried through Ezekiel this ongoing warning system, “Turn away from sin.  Choose life!”, twelve years straight as God begged the nations to face the reality of their sinful lives.

Israel was in a despicable place as a society.  Widows were ravaged.  The priests were compromised. The politicians were exploiting the people. The preachers were sharing how they heard God when He was silent.  The poor and needy were abused, outsiders were being kicked around and justice was lost.  God cried out to Ezekiel, “I looked for someone to stand up for me against all this, to repair the defenses of the city, to take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. I couldn’t find anyone. Not one.”(22:30 MSG)

Consider this tough place of heartache for God.  Not one believer in the nation He had breathed into existence, led step by step for centuries, could be found; not one person was available to hear Him in the nation decreed for destruction. God used Ezekiel, a captive in Babylon to prophesy over Israel, hundreds of miles away.  Jeremiah, last man to love God in Jerusalem was asked earlier to do a similar “feet on the ground” inventory: “Patrol Jerusalem’s streets. Look around. Take note. Search the market squares. See if you can find one man, one woman, A single soul who does what is right and tries to live a true life. I want to forgive that person.”(Jer 5:1 MSG).

Not one person in Judah loved the God who made them and their nation. What a brutal time for God and for that strained society.

If you dare, review your life as your read the judgements decreed against the nations in Ezekiel.  Consider what God is rebuking and accept His invitation to turn back to righteousness.  Ezekiel’s heartbroken decrees of destruction is God’s heartbreak that God never wants any to perish, but sinful choices reap death and righteous choices always reaps life.

2014-08-05 19.34.16God needs people who are living righteous lives to get His message out.  God needs people who are listening, that they may stand in the gap between judgement and mercy and plead for their nation.  God needs you and me as surely as God needed brave tenacious Ezekiel to stay faithful no matter what.  How else could this message of turn back to God be spoken?

Let’s Pray:  O God our Father, open our hearts to Your voice.  Holy Spirit, bring us into righteousness, peace and joy, that the Kingdom of God would advance through our lives daily.  Lord Jesus, you are that Man who stood in the gap, paid the price and have secured mercy for us all through Your blood sacrifice.  We live forever thankful for Your mercy, O God of all nations. May we learn faithfulness from Ezekiel and may we say “yes” to you God, for the sake of ourselves and our nations.  Amen.

This Week’s Reading:  Ezekiel 21 -35

Next Week’s Reading:  Ezekiel 36 – 48

Study Questions:

  1. How do you feel reading these decrees of destruction? Does it make you afraid of God? What do you do with revelation of God of the Nations?
  2. Do you hear the cry of mercy in Ezekiel? Can you receive it?
  3. Why did God use Ezekiel? Can you develop the connect between his righteousness and hearing God and having authority to speak to a nation?
  4. Israel is still here, as promised by God. Twenty-six hundred years after Ezekiel’s prophecy, Israel stands as a strong nation, while many of those decreed to destruction are no more. God of the nations continue to reign.  What does engaging with the God of the nations mean to you and your nation?
  5. Ezekiel suffered great loss and stayed faithful to God. How do you stay faithful to God when suffering comes?

 

 

 

Love Came Down Fair

2013-07-10 12.41.45.jpgEzekiel lived through a brutal age in history as Babylonian siege works hammered the walls of Jerusalem. Denied access to trade routes and produce, starvation was bringing the city to her knees.  As Judah’s children fainted in the streets from hunger and mothers cooked their own children for survival, the people muttered “God’s not fair”, demanding “Why should we pay for the sins of our fathers?” as they raised their fists to heaven and shouted “God is too harsh!”.

Instead of wiping out the angry city, God stepped down in love with a word to Ezekiel.  God asked Ezekiel, “What do you people mean by going around the country repeating the saying, ‘The parents ate green apples, The children got stomachache’?”(18:2 MSG) Laying the axe to the Blame Tree, God clearly explained that each person dies for their own sin, not another’s.

Our life choices matter a great deal to God. If you have ever wondered what righteous living looks like, God gives a clear description of a principled life to Ezekiel:

“Imagine a person who lives well, treating others fairly, keeping good relationships– doesn’t eat at the pagan shrines, doesn’t worship the idols so popular in Israel, doesn’t seduce a neighbor’s spouse, doesn’t indulge in casual sex, doesn’t bully anyone, doesn’t pile up bad debts, doesn’t steal, doesn’t refuse food to the hungry, doesn’t refuse clothing to the ill-clad, doesn’t exploit the poor, doesn’t live by impulse and greed, doesn’t treat one person better than another, But lives by my statutes and faithfully honors and obeys my laws. This person who lives upright and well shall live a full and true life.” (18:5-9)

God enjoys the person who lives clean, faithfully honors and treats people fairly. God cares deeply how we treat one another.  For God, good people are defined as those who live kind, don’t exploit, avoid idolatry and obey God’s laws.  God promises that the person who chooses this path shall live a true and full life, even as the soldiers battered the walls of Jerusalem and their children wept from hunger.

road-sun-rays-path.jpgWith the grace of a master painter exposing the effect of light and shadow, the Lord further explained to Ezekiel the cost of a selfish violent greed-framed life:

“But if this person has a child who turns violent and murders and goes off and does any of these things, even though the parent has done none of them– eats at the pagan shrines, seduces his neighbor’s spouse, bullies the weak, steals, piles up bad debts, admires idols, commits outrageous obscenities,  exploits the poor “–do you think this person, the child, will live? Not a chance! Because he’s done all these vile things, he’ll die. And his death will be his own fault. (18:10-13)

Own your choices, Ezekiel is told.  If you walk in kindness and honor, you will reap honor.  If you live selfish, violent and uncaring towards those around you, death is certain, for in sowing to selfish dishonest gain, you reap nothing good.

God outlines righteous and selfish choices as clearly as one travelling along a city highway. When you approach the 401 ramp in Southern Ontario, you must choose your direction and irrelevant of your emotional state, mental health or current needs, whichever direction you choose, that is the direction you travel.

God then explains the Turnaround Mercy Effect to Ezekiel:

“But a wicked person who turns his back on that life of sin and keeps all my statutes, living a just and righteous life, he’ll live, really live. He won’t die. I won’t keep a list of all the things he did wrong. He will live. Do you think I take any pleasure in the death of wicked men and women? Isn’t it my pleasure that they turn around, no longer living wrong but living right–really living?” (18:21-23)

Our God of grace builds ramps, opportunities in our lives to change direction and live in righteousness every day.  God’s longs for His children to thrive in kindness, not die through selfish vain choices.  God constantly calls His kids to turn around, to shift back into godly pursuit, to travel towards righteousness rather than hurtling down a sorrowful speedway in pursuit of power, crashing into barriers of heartache and loss along the way.

We are made for righteousness, for generosity, for caring for each other.  Yet all of us can get turned around and head in the wrong direction:

“The same thing goes for a good person who turns his back on an upright life and starts sinning, plunging into the same vile obscenities that the wicked person practices. Will this person live? I don’t keep a list of all the things this person did right, like money in the bank he can draw on. Because of his defection, because he accumulates sin, he’ll die.” (18:24)

For a long time, Jerusalem had been travelling as far and as fast as they could away from their God.  Earlier, Ezekiel was shown how the priests in the sanctuary were practicing demonic worship, how the nobility were worshiping the sun gods and the stars, how the people were bowing down to Baal idols in their bedrooms; all of Judah lived a double life, professing God in public and choosing any other option in private. You can have a car plastered in bumper stickers toting “Jesus as your Bestie” but if you are cruel and critical and oppress your family, you are still hurtling down hell’s highway, despite your pile of Bibles in the backseat. With bluntness, God informed Judah through Ezekiel that their choices created their current state of affairs, not God Almighty.

highway.jpegMercy triumphs over justice with God, every time.  Love stoops down to tenderly inform Ezekiel that every person in Jerusalem could make a turnaround and reach their God-breathed destination:

“The upshot is this, Israel: I’ll judge each of you according to the way you live. So turn around! Turn your backs on your rebellious living so that sin won’t drag you down. Clean house. No more rebellions, please. Get a new heart! Get a new spirit! Why would you choose to die, Israel? I take no pleasure in anyone’s death. Decree of GOD, the Master. “Make a clean break! Live!” (18: 30-31)

God is more than fair. A Loving Father, He holds out grace and mercy, bold beacons on life’s highway, offering reality to our denial, as He shines His Light and holds it steady until we see what He wants us to see and what direction we are truly travelling towards, life or death.

This passage provokes me.  I look at the templates of righteous life or selfish living and cry out like the disciples, “Lord, what then, can we do to be saved?”

God answers this question in His word to Ezekiel:  Get a new heart!  Get a new spirit! Make a clean break!  Live!

Let’s Pray:  Father God, thank You for bringing truth to our lives, for marking Life’s highway with clarity,  that we may know which direction we are heading, according to your Word.  Holy Spirit, we ask that You would give us a new heart and a new spirit today, to live caring kind lives of honor as Your beloved children.  Lord Jesus, because of You, we live.  Where sin has abounded, grace abounded all the more.  Thank You beloved Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the capacity to shift into righteousness through You.  May we reckon our lives this day and turn as needed, we ask in Jesus’s Holy Name.  Amen.

This Week’s Reading:  Ezekiel 11-20

Next Week’s Reading:  Ezekiel 21 – 35

Study Questions:

  1. How does the Holy Spirit lead you to love people on purpose? What does that look like on a Saturday morning?
  2. Does it surprise you how much value God places on how we treat other people? Do you think loving God can remain simply vertical or must worship have practical application horizontally, interpersonally?
  3. Can we truly love God and not love people?
  4. Simon the Stylite was a man who lived 37 years at the top of a pole in a Syrian desert, devoting himself to prayer and solitude around 400 AD. How does a monastic existence fail to fulfill God’s mandate for righteous living? What was the dude at the top of the pole missing?
  5. What direction are you travelling in, towards God-led righteousness or self-made striving?
  6. How do you get a new heart and a new spirit? How does the Holy Spirit lead us into this reality?

Love Came Down from Heaven to Earth

IMG_0816Five years into the Babylonian invasion,  Ezekiel, a priest, sat among the captives along the River Chebar.  Suddenly, the heavens opened before his eyes and he saw visions of God.

Consider the state of this man, thrust out of Judah with the first wave of exiles, straining to hear news of Jerusalem as he labored under Babylonian occupation.   Daniel, a prince of Judah, had already been forced into service as a eunuch in the king’s courts.  Thousands of Jews were executed, others exiled and still greater grief was coming to the nation of Israel. In pain from inescapable captivity, God appears to Ezekiel with this vision:

Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.  As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies. And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning. And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.  ( Ezek 1:4-13)

A fire tornado appears in lightening, glory and power.  Four heavenly four-faced creatures emerge from this whirlwind. They move straight forward as led by the spirit of God. The four creatures each have four different faces: a lion on the right side, an ox on the left side, a man’s face at the front and an eagle’s face at the back.  Working together, the four creatures moved as one; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go and they did not turn when they went.

Rainbow and FireThe vision seems o be as much about movement as it is about glory and power. These amber laden creatures, full of power, and magnificent in form, moved only according to the Spirit.  They moved with speed, with power and with inflexibility, with no deviation from the direction which the spirit was leading. Nothing could cause these creatures to move away from their mandate and master design. They moved only where the Spirit was leading:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them. When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, because there the spirit went; and the wheels were lifted together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.   (Ezek. 1:15-20)

The wheels touched our earth.  Heaven had come down.  Heaven’s chariot was full of eyes, for wisdom, revelation, the Spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Ezekiel describes these wheels as ”so high, they were awesome”.  They were probably gigantic, from heaven to earth in expanse.

Above the creatures, the voice of God was heard, like the thunder of many waters and above there, the throne of God was seen:

And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.  (Ezek. 25-28)

This was no ordinary day of captivity.  Like a numeric symbol, four is mentioned ten times in the vision. God had stepped from heaven to earth to establish order once again.  As He had set the seasons into perpetual motion, so God would set Israel back into the flow and intention of God Almighty. We are part of this heavenly movement.

The inflexible united movement of these heavenly glory soaked creatures arrests me:

When the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them; and when the cherubim lifted their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also did not turn from beside them. When the cherubim stood still, the wheels stood still, and when one was lifted up, the other lifted itself up, for the spirit of the living creature was in them. Then the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight. When they went out, the wheels were beside them; and they stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.

OAK TREE  God gave Ezekiel an intimate view of the glory of heaven.  Complete unity and submission to the spirit seemed to be the only mode of movement with these heavenly four-faced winged creatures.

Unfortunately, captivity for Israel did not cease once Ezekiel received that vision. After his heavenly vision, Ezekiel became a prophet for God, faithful to represent God’s agony that His beloved nation was destroyed by their own blindness and apostasy.  Despite his witness, Jerusalem threw off the authority of the Babylonians, endured a brutal three year siege and was overtaken.

Ezekiel lived a dramatic prophetic life before his people, Judah.  On one occasion, Ezekiel was commanded by God to lay on his right side for 390 days straight, and then on his left side for 40 more days as he prophesied God’s righteous judgment on Israel and Judah.  Each day was a decree against his nation for the 450 years which Israel had turned in every direction to its own ways and sinned before God:

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”

Despite Ezekiel’s faithfulness, moving exactly as the Lord commanded, Israel would not turn; repentance was refused.

Christ, with the same heartache, wept over Jerusalem centuries later:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ ”

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Our Jesus, did what He saw His Father doing, as a good son, led by the Spirit of God.

Rainbow FallsThose creatures provoke wonder and awe in me for the greatness and power of God and makes me check, how inflexible am I to the leading of the spirit? Do I go when God says go? Do I obey Him without turning? What can my obedience do to bring heaven to earth? How does Love come Down when we move according to our Father’s lead? What glory is released when unity and submission bear fruit in our lives?

Let’s pray: Father, pour out Your Spirit, that we, like those creatures, would move, be led and respond with yes to the direction You are leading.  Thank you Lord, that You come down in our captivity and proclaim freedom.  Thank You Father, that You bring heaven to earth, set man in order, broaden our vision with Your great love.  We submit to Your heart and bless You for Your faithfulness this day.  Amen.

This Week’s Reading: Ezekiel 1 – 10

Next Week’s Reading: Ezekiel 11-20

Study Questions:

1. Draw the vision or rewrite what Ezekiel saw.

2. Meditate on these first few chapters in Ezekiel. What is God speaking to you from, the whirlwind, the glory, the creatures, the heartache?

3. How do you see Love Come Down on earth, then and now, today?

4. Where do you find resistance in following the Spirit?

5. What is your biggest fear in obeying the Spirit?

Love Comes Down with New Mercy Every Morning

grim canyonAt the conclusion of Jeremiah, the historical record grimly accounts how Babylon invaded Jerusalem, executed its leadership and burnt down the city. Yet in Lamentations, after recounting the brutal reality of  Jerusalem’s siege, the agony of seeing children fainting in the street from starvation while the women wailed in grief, Jeremiah neverheless pens:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; Let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him,  and be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.[1]

Despite his circumstances, Jeremiah knew the kindness of God.  To strengthen himself in God, the prophet pastor remembered his God. Jeremiah recounted the goodness of God despite the trauma before his eyes.  Faithful doesn’t budge. With faith and trust in God, Jeremiah reached up to cling to his Father and kept looking for the kindness of God that he had known all his life, certain help was imminent.

Jeremiah declared that with God, there is always hope.  With God, faithfulness is a daily wake up experience, whether life is sweet or sore.  Jeremiah knew from his prison experience, that patiently waiting in hopeful expectation was the only option, especially when circumstances overwhelm.

The prophet was in a difficult space. After years of warning Judah to repent and turn from their wicked idolatry, judgment came with the brutality of the Babylonian army. In the same spirit of ISIS today, the invaders raped the women, crucified the men, and forced the remaining poor into harsh labour. Starvation, rape and enslavement was daily reality with the Babylonian invasion. Solomon’s temple was razed to the ground.  In the stench of decomposing bodies and smoldering homes, hope was dying quick. Jeremiah challenged his nation to remember the goodness of God, to remember their God did not change, despite their current experience.

flowers in canyonAs Jeremiah prophesied, seven decades later, Israel did return to its land.  Cyrus, named by Isaiah 150 years before his birth, did release the Jewish exiles as king.  With Zerrubabel leading the charge, Jews began life again in Judah, though the progress was very slow, and neighbouring rulers caused all kinds of pain.  Seventy years later, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and with Ezra’s guidance, Israel was restored Israel back to God in holy covenant.

Centuries later, Jesus was born into a thriving Jewish culture, yet oppressed by Roman occupation.  By the days of Jesus’ ministry, Jerusalem was a preeminent trade capital in the Middle-East. Herod, as political servant to Rome, ruled over Israel with harsh taxation,  while the religious rulers corralled their people into harsh pens of legalism. Life was hard for Judah.

As Jesus ministered to the crowds, He offered a unique solution to His people:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”[2]

Just as Jeremiah cried out, “Remember Your God! “ to the broken nation of Israel, so Jesus cried out, “Come To Me, and I will give you rest”.  Here lies the secret to freedom in chains, joy in prisons, grace in places of dishonour:  God helps us live inwardly in rest, a place of ease despite outward toil, when we push our raging emotions aside and choose Him.

2014-10-10 07.56.07Wherever you are, our God of faithful kindness offers you rest.

If like Jeremiah, you make the decision, despite stench and sorrow, to choose God as your only option, while your circumstances may not change, your countenance certainly will.

Since the beginning days in the wilderness, God has tried to teach His people the secret to rest.  He required His priesthood to bless His people with this offer every chance they got:

The Lord bless you and keep you;  The Lord make His face shine upon you,  And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,  And give you peace.” ’So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.[3]

Perhaps like me, you are in process, learning how to build peace in the wilderness.

The God of the Universe calls you His.  The Lord extends all His favour and blessing and virtue, like a loving Dad, just gazing with all His mercy at His kids, to give us peace.

Christ Jesus offers His followers a safe yoke of intimacy, His arm across our shoulder as He steers us through the fields of life.  Today, may we reach past our heartache and reach for the Peacemaker, for strength beyond understanding.

Let’s Pray: Lord, lift our heads, that we may see past our present difficulties into Your eyes of love.  Help us to search for the daily kindness You shower upon us, to live thankful lives, to delight in the yoke of intimacy which You have so graciously offered.  Though sabers rattle, economics heave and the earth shakes, You are immovable, powerful, joyful and offer us much needed rest.  Holy Spirit, help us to remember God’s mercies are new every morning!  Faithful Father, as Your blessed children, forgive us when we live small lives, blind lives, with our hearts caught up in our constraints; lead us into the one hearted way of holy freedom.  O God, we are blessed.  We are loved!  Draw us near to You as we lift up our thanks to You this day. Amen.

This Week’s Reading:  Jeremiah 41 – Lamentations 5

Next Week’s Reading:  Ezekiel 1-10

Study Questions:

  1.  1000 Gifts is a powerful book and blog by Ann Voskamp, where she teaches the power and intimacy of living daily thankful.  How do you live thankful daily?
  2. How did Jeremiah find kindness in the besieged city?  He recounted God’s history. Today, begin a Kindness journal.  Look for one kindness from God every day.  Write it down, that you can arm yourself with a history worth remembering when the days are tough.
  3. Jeremiah knew our propensity to moan and complain in hard places.  What does staying silent look like for you when things disappoint or blow apart at the seams?
  4. There is a place to lament with God.  If you are suffering, talk to God.  Share your broken heart.  He is a good good Father.  He wants to minister to your heartache.

[1]The New King James Version. 1982 (La 3:22-36). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2]The New King James Version. 1982 (Mt 11:28-30). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3]The New King James Version. 1982 (Nu 6:24-27). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.