Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project – Ezekiel 36-48

Wow. Some weird stuff this week. I struggled to make sense of much of this most recent reading and am really looking forward to my pow wow with my study partner later tonight. I may have another entry coming, but in the meantime, here’s a brief reflection on Ezekiel 36:33: “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse  you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.” A cross reference pointed me to Isaiah 58:12: “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

My aforementioned study partner, Crystal, actually brought this restoration-of-ruins theme to my attention some time ago and I feel like it’s worth thinking about. Now, I don’t know exactly when in our world’s sequence of events this will happen, but it is fascinating to me to think that something humanity created could be worthy of God’s special attention and promises. Maybe this promise is specifically designed to encourage the people and isn’t really a reflection on the greatness of those structures or the people who made them, but I’m not sure it matters. In this fallen and discouraging world, this strikes me as a reassuring reminder that people can do awesome things. That sounds simple and obvious, but I think we often focus on our unworthiness and on the detrimental things we’ve introduced into God’s creation. We are unworthy, but when we forget that we can please God, that he created us with incredible capacity and values our contributions… well, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

And now my three-year-old is climbing all over me, pushing keys and telling me to “Stop typing right now!”, so I suppose I’ll sign off here. But I hope this encourages you, as it did me, to keep your chin up. 🙂

    

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Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Sinhibition

Heheh. You like that title? My genius brain just came up with it. 😉 This post is days late, and despite having extra time for reflection, I don’t have anything earth-shattering to report (sorry, Crystal). Ezekiel chapters 25-36 reveal a lot about what God dislikes. In chapter 28, there’s a “lament” about the King of Tyre that many people think is a direct Satan reference. Maybe it is, but I’m not sure we should make that presumption. Regardless, it is interesting reading if you have a moment. I would love to know what you think.

But now to the meat of this entry. Also in chapter 28, Ezekiel told us that one of the lamentable things about the King of Tyre was that he considered himself a god. Ezekiel 28:2: 

“…And you have said, ‘I am a god,
            I sit in the seat of gods
            In the heart of the seas’;
            Yet you are a man and not God,
            Although you make your heart like the heart of God—”

That last line really catches me. What exactly does it mean to make one’s “heart like heart of God-“? It is easy to pass this passage off as personally irrelevant; big, bad, uppity ruler gets a bit too cocky. But I think it has wider significance than that. How many of us assume that we are the rulers of our own lives… despite our professed faith, despite being shown again and again that we are at the mercy of circumstance beyond our control? I do. All. The. Time. You wouldn’t think arrogance would look like timidity and insecurity, but for me, that’s exactly what it looks like. Confused? Bear with me. I recently watched a YouTube video about a woman who talks at one point about giving her life to God. Her conviction that this life is no longer hers to do with as she wishes, but God’s – to do with as HE wishes, made me hang my head. Ezekiel also chose this path of complete surrender. At least, that’s what it looks like from where I’m standing. I, too, have pledged my life. But here’s the thing: I HOLD BACK. I even know when I’m doing it. I pray and say what I think are the right words, but as I’m praying, I’m putting up these little walls of defense around things that make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that. “God, make me open and willing (mostly maybe).” It is appallingly arrogant to say, “Yes, God, my life is yours,” and then put restrictions on it. I am saying, in effect, “I know better. I’m directing this little orchestra and if the flutes want to all play different notes at different times… well, whatever. I’m too lazy to fix it. Besides, I’d hate to offend the players. That would be uncomfortable.”

I know my sin, and yet every fiber of my being fights repentance. Why is that???? Why can’t I just bulldoze those defensive walls? I don’t know exactly how to do it, but I do know that I desperately want this dam to break. I want to know how it feels to let go of those inhibitions, of my need for control. Unreserved, unashamed, untethered.

Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project – How can we be just and compassionate?

These chapters in Ezekiel are absolutely full of intriguing ideas worthy of reflection, but I’ve been mulling over one idea in particular, lately, and Ezekiel offers me the perfect opportunity to work through it (or at least attempt to do so).

God is just. We read about Israel’s experiences throughout the Bible and some of those experiences (and predictions) are terrifying, painful, ugly. We can also see that people often suffered as a result of their decisions. Justice, right? But then there are passages where the authors focus on God’s compassion. He takes pity on us. He “spares” us despite our unworthiness (Ezekiel 20:16-17).

If I believe that God is just and compassionate, then I have to believe that these two traits are not at odds. Ezekiel 20: 44 caught my attention: “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” Hmmm… there’s something here that changes my understanding of justice, but I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps we should focus less on being just toward each other and more on seeking justice for God? Because, after all, to serve God is the only true way to serve each other. Sorry for the rambling. Just trying to get a handle on this train of thought.

People are told to seek justice (see Isaiah 1:17, for just one example), which sounds simple enough, but I feel befuddled when I read Proverbs 28:5, which states: “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” Ahem… I’m afraid this does not bode well for me, because I’m still confused. How can we know what is just and when to be compassionate and relieve suffering when that suffering seems… well, fair, based on someone’s actions. For example – a parent has an adult child who is broke and living on the streets because of a drug habit. They’ve made every effort to help in the past. The child is in her current predicament because she made bad decisions. Is it good and just to take that child back into the parents’ home and help her get back on her feet? She certainly qualifies as poor and oppressed. Or should she bear the weight of her choices? You can’t make that call without more info, right? I feel like there are always extenuating circumstances… heck, they may go all the way back to Adam and Eve. God has the advantage of being able to see all of those variables and factors. I do not. Do such things matter? How can we know how best to serve God and our fellow man?

I know I’m overthinking this. I know that if our actions are borne out of love and we are seeking God’s will, we’re doing what we can. But doesn’t that feel like an oversimplification sometimes? In a decision-making moment, things can seem overwhelming, confusing, weighty.

I think maybe I just muddied the waters. 🙂

Lacking a neat moral-of-the-story, I’ll leave you with a couple of verses from my reading that I found powerful. This moving plea can be found in Ezekiel 18:31-32:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project – Ezekiel

If you’re following our joint prophets study, Crystal and I recently finished the book of Isaiah and are now blogging through Ezekiel. She suggested that we focus on cross-references, which is not something I’ve spent much time doing before. It should be interesting. 🙂

Ezekiel, so far, is mind-blowing. When the book opens, he is an exile in Babylon and warns his fellow Jews about the tribulation to come as a result of their disloyalty to God. His visions are so strange. I took the time, though, to create those visions (as specifically as possible based on his descriptions) in my mind. That sounds simple, but it taxed my feeble brain. Nonetheless, it enriched the reading tremendously.

When I looked at the cross references, the ones that most intrigued me were those that referenced other Old Testament prophets. Some of the imagery Ezekiel uses, which seems so unique, is paralleled in Jeremiah and Daniel. Interestingly, these three prophets were contemporaries. Were they aware of each others’ prophecies? Were some of these images already relevant or particularly meaningful to that culture? The answers to those questions interest me because I’m always looking for evidence that points toward the supernatural. I know that it is difficult to validate matters of faith and that what seems like strong evidence to me can be argued six ways from Sunday. Doesn’t matter. I’m still always on the lookout and can’t seem to help it.

A few other things that caught me. In chapter 3:1-3, God instructs Ezekiel to eat a scroll with His words written on it. The scroll contained “…words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” (2:10), and yet tasted “…as sweet as honey.” (3:3). This is so interestingly dissonant to me. It reminded me of “…the bread of adversity and the water of affliction…” of Isaiah 30:20 and speaks, I think, to the idea of refinement through fire and that pain and suffering can be blessings, if they cause us to repent.

Again in chapter 3: Compare and contrast verses 16-21 and 22-27. Ezekiel is told that it is his responsibility to warn people who are behaving wickedly and give them the opportunity to repent. If I apply this to my own life… well… I stink at it. Telling someone that they are in the wrong is a very difficult thing to do. To complicate matters, verses 22-27 tell us that Ezekiel will only be free to speak to the people when he is speaking directly and specifically for God. So, how confident can we be correcting the behavior of others? Cross reference with Matthew 7:3 and any number of other New Testament verses. That isn’t a rhetorical question, by the way. I’d love to hear what you think. My takeaway is that I have to be careful and prayerful, but if I truly believe, the only loving thing to do is to communicate what I know. Scary and hard.

In chapter 4:12-15, God tells Ezekiel how he should prophesy and includes an instruction to eat his food baked on “…human dung.” Read for context, but there’s no getting around the ewww factor here. Anyway, Ezekiel argues with God, saying he’s never “defiled” himself in that way and God concedes. Now, we’ve seen God respond this way before, but how crazy. First, crazy that Ezekiel would argue with God (at least at first blush), and second, that God would (hope this isn’t too blasphemous) give in. Now, I’d wager that, in fact, many of us know what it is to argue with God, but seldom do I feel like I’m in the right. It’s a reminder, though, that if I feel called to do something and don’t want to do it, it is good to seek further guidance. So often, I have ignored good impulses, when perhaps there were other ways to fulfill those calls.

Okay, I promise that I’m winding down… so much good stuff this week! Just a couple of parting thoughts. In 6:9, God states that He has “…been broken” by the disregard His people have shown Him. I know I’ve talked about our ability to affect God before, so I won’t elaborate, but wow. Powerful words.

Finally, I think that 7:19 is so very relevant. “They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity.”

Even though I know that satisfaction is not possible except in Christ, I look for it here all the time. I try to satisfy my hunger and fill my stomach with that which never can.

God, let our desire, our hunger, lead us to you. Amen. Continue reading “Prophets Project – Ezekiel”

Prophets Project

Prophets Project – Isaiah 60-66

This post will be my last for the book of Isaiah. For any new readers, a friend and I have been blogging through our reflections on this book for the last couple of months. It’s been an awesome thing and I would encourage others to go for it, too. I feel like recording our thoughts before we talk (in a deeper way than just taking general notes) makes the conversation deeper and more productive. You can read Crystal’s posts here.

I’ll just make a few comments about these last six chapters (which won’t begin to do justice to their rather intense and sometimes confusing message).

Isaiah 61:11: “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

Okay, I’m going to do something I despise, here, but I’m disclosing it, which makes it different. I hope. 🙂 I’m going to take this verse out of context and nitpick it to make a point that it might not make on its own. I frequently wonder how directly involved God is in my daily life. I don’t doubt His presence, but I have a hunch that he doesn’t always reveal my keys to me when I lose them and pray, “God, please help me find my keys.” What I like about this verse is that it seems to indicate that God creates things with the capacity to do something, and then… it does it. So, God gave the garden the ability to grow things, He doesn’t necessarily weave and summon every weed and flower. Just an interesting thing to think about. Sometimes I think we’re too quick to place responsibility (for good things and bad) directly or solely on God.

Isaiah 62:7: “And give Him no rest until He establishes And makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”  This verse instructs the “watchmen” of Jerusalem not to let up – to remind God of his promise to redeem Jerusalem. I love this reminder (and Isaiah has been full of them) that we affect our God. We can ask Him for that which we need and he hears us.  

And in the same vein, Isaiah 65:1: “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To a nation which did not call on My name.” So, again, if we want Him, we should seek Him. For example, if I want someone to answer a question, I have to give them the opportunity. I have to ask it.

Finally, I’m not well-read in this department, but I really wonder about the nature of the new heavens and new earth. Chapter 65:20, indicates that despite the new earth being a joyful place, people will still die. So, how does this work? Do all who live in the new earth go to the new heavens after death? Just made me curious. 

Happy Thursday!

 

 

Prophets Project · Spirituality

Prophets Project – Isaiah 37-48

On this New Years Day, as I consider plans for the year ahead and make decisions for myself and my family, I find myself reflecting on and in awe of God’s… bigness. And littleness. This post, then, is an attempt to put those reflections into words. It wanders a bit. I’d apologize, but that’s just the way I roll. 🙂

I wonder at the long-range plan of God. It seems incredible to me that while he understands and manipulates the long-term, he also reveals himself to individuals in very immediate ways.  Hezekiah’s deliverance from Assyria and his miraculous healing (Isaiah 37:6-7  and 38: 1-6) remind me of God’s personal interest, his willingness to show himself to us. Maybe these particular acts had more impact later, as a part of the prophet’s story, but they certainly were meaningful for Hezekiah, too.

And then I read Isaiah 40:22, which paints a picture of humanity as insects beneath an all-powerful God. Our individuality is almost… demeaned in this verse. Sort of the same way I feel when we read about God dealing with “nations” as though all the people in them are the same. It feels like God has a corporate mentality now instead of small and family-owned. Now, that might not be quite fair; I think the Bible is clear that we are God’s beloved creation and the drivel I read into things sometimes would probably be better left unsaid. It does seem, though, like we walk a bit of a tightrope in the ego department. Take Isaiah 45:9-10. We’re reminded of our place. Who are we to assume we understand what God is doing? Creation does not equal Creator.

While I was struggling to reconcile what seem like two separate sides of God’s character (the intimate and the CEO), I realized that they aren’t separate at all. I mean, to be able to act in the best interest of both future generations and the current population all at once speaks simply to his love and crazy awesome power. Chapter 48:3-5 brought this home for me. Reading this book, I frequently wonder what the people of Isaiah’s time made of his prophecies; maybe I even harbor the occasional suspicion that they had more to do with future events and people than with Isaiah’s own; and then I get this awesome reminder that those people, too, had seen old prophecies come to fruition. God does things for us here and now, but those same things might be carefully planned to impact the future, as well. The scope and magnitude of God’s action… breathtaking. Trying to imagine the ripple effect of the actions of earth’s millions of people over thousands of years never fails to astound me and, quite frankly, make me sweat. When I consider the potential outcomes of even a small personal decision, I might feel quite paralyzed.

How must the view be from the top?

Happy New Year, all! And one parting holiday/food/theology thought: How can one deny the existence of God when faced with the miracle of whipped cream? 🙂

 

Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project

Thoughts from Isaiah 25-36

So many things jumped out as me as I read these chapters! It surprised me, since they are mostly more warnings of destruction and promises of deliverance. I’ll use bullet points, since they’re a bit… non-themed. 🙂

  • Isaiah 26:3: The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.
    I’m not sure why I clicked on it, but I checked the translation on the word “steadfast.” It translated “to lean, lay, rest, support.”  Huh. I always think of steadfast as strong – able to withstand. But to be that way because we’re trusting in, leaning on, the one who truly is strong… what a great thing.
  • Isaiah 26:14 and Isaiah 26:19 both address the resurrection (or lack thereof) of the dead. It made me wonder what concept the people of the time would have had of the rising of departed spirits. What would this have meant to them? Would it have seemed bizarre? I guess I need to find another source for some deeper context.
  • Chapter 28 is almost entirely mysterious to me. I just don’t understand most of it. And what do you suppose people made of the “cornerstone” (Isaiah 28:16-18)? That being said, I did find some really wonderful stuff here, too. The first five verses are an awesome reminder that worldly beauty is temporary, fleeting, corrupting, not substantive. We all know the longing for worldly things; but waiting, remaining steadfast and rooted will ultimately result in the fulfillment that we seek. God will be our “crown of glory” (Isaiah 28:5). Finally, I love the farming analogy in verses 24-28. This image of God refining and disciplining us so that we can fulfill our purpose, to fully develop our beauty is reassuring, challenging, lovely.
  • Isaiah 34:14. “Night monster” (translation “a female night-demon”)??? What the dickens is that? I did a little commentary reading and it sounds like this was a reference to a superstition about a scary woman/creature/thing that stole children. Or a screech owl. Weird. 🙂

I could rehash topics I’ve addressed in other posts that are still relevant to this reading, but I think I’ll spare you that today.

Merry, merry Christmas, everyone!