Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ezekiel Chapters 1-3

The book of Ezekiel is a prophetic book written by...uhm...who was that again...oh, yeah, that's right - EZEKIEL! Shocking, I know. God came to him in a vision during the Judean exile and Ezekiel is called by God to go to the exiled Jews and warn them about what will happen if they continue to rebel against their God.

1:4-21 - The theme of this passage from Ezekiel is definitely movement - can you see that? Ezekiel sees this vision of God and He is definitely not static. God is on the move...He cannot be contained by some man-made temple...He is roaming the earth. We see a stormy thundercloud swirling around with lightning coming out of it. We see huge wheels rolling back and forth. We see cherubim flying around. We see trails of fire shooting back and forth. God is depicted as living and active. God is at work and He is going to do whatever it takes to bring His people back to Him. Through these images we also get the impression of God as a warrior on the march. Lightning, storm, fire, and wheels (Like chariots) are all representations of war. Ezekiel can see immediately that God is active in the lives of His people and He is going to wage war on their unfaithfulness.

1:22-26 - This reminds me alot of the throne room imagery that appears in Revelation chapter 4. The expanse of crystal, the living creatures all around, the storms with lightning, etc. Both descriptions of the presence of God exude infinite power. This is not a God to be trifled with...this is not a God to turn your back on. The Israelites found that out the hard way, hopefully you and I don't have to in our lives.

1:28 - Even int he midst of this vision of judgment - there is hope. Do you see how Gos is described in verse 28? Ezekiel sees an image of a rainbow when he looks at the Glory of the Lord. After God flooded the world in Noah's time, He sent a rainbow as a promise that He would never again devastate the earth in such a fashion. The rainbow is a reminder of God's faithfulness to His promises. Though the people have brought the exile and the judgment upon themselves, God in His graciousness will welcome them back in the end.

2:1 - "Son of Man" - This phrase is used over 90 times in the book of Ezekiel to address Ezekiel. It is a very multi-faceted term. It is a reminder for Ezekiel that he is just a man - He is not God - and God wants him to understand his place in the relationship. God says, "Jump!" and Ezekiel says, "How high?" On the other hand, the rest of the people of Judah are consistently described as the "sons of Israel" - this carries the connotation that they are as rebellious and unfaithful as their forefathers. When Ezekiel is called the some of man, he is being set apart from the rest. An exact translation is actually - "the son of Adam (Adam means man)." Adam as you recall from Genesis was brought to life when God breathed the Spirit into him. Ezekiel is set apart by God and made a prophet when is is filled with the Spirit of God...He is the son of Adam.

2:2 - The spirit of God enables Ezekiel to do what his countrymen could not - to attain a level of faithfulness and commitment that is super-human. This reminds me to be thankful for the fact that we have access, through the blood of Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit of God every day of our lives! Thank you Jesus.

2:5 - Sadly, Ezekiel is told by God that his ministry will be a failure. God tells him that the rebellious people will not listen to his words. Then why is God making Ezekiel go through this charade. Because God is always one step ahead of the game (It is His "game" after all). Even though the people for the most part will not listen to Ezekiel, he will come and prophecy about God's judgement on the men and women of Judah. So that after the punishment has been poured out on the people, they will be able to look back and understand that God told them this would happen. It will lead to a revival among the people and a return to God. Sometimes success is defined by planting seeds for the Spirit of God to work through, even though you don't get to see the end result.

3:3 - Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll (i.e. God's Word/prophecies), and he does. The scroll tastes like honey to Ezekiel who is filled with the Spirit of God, but the words of God will be bitter and indigestible for those who are rebellious. This is something for each of us to think about. Is it easy for you to listen to hard truth about yourself? Is it easy for you to be challenged by God's Word and incorporate change in your life? Or do you get defensive and make excuses for yourself. A Spirit-filled life is one that enables us to hear God's truth and act on it.

3:14 - What does this mean? The hand of the Lord was on him, but he was still filled with bitterness and anger? What is going on there? Well, there is this war that is going on within Ezekiel at this point. He has been filled with the Spirit of God, so he fully understands God's wrath towards the people. He is filled with the righteous anger of God. Yet at the same time, the Israelite within him is weeping in bitterness at the fact that his people have to go through such harsh judgment so that they will return to God. He is torn between being absolutely livid at his people and brokenhearted for their suffering.

3:17 - God has called Ezekiel to be a watchman for the people of Judah. Whenever Ezekiel sees or hears God on the move, he must warn the people...he must call them to turn back to God. Whether evil or righteous, the people must hear the warning and heed Ezekiel's advice. That is the only chance for hope for the people of Judah.

3:25ff - This is a strange passage, but Ezekiel becomes a mouthpiece for God. Literally, God makes him into was amounts to a microphone for His truth. Ezekiel is removed from walking among the people...God binds him so that he cannot leave. God makes it so that he cannot talk, except for when he is speaking the words that come directly from God. He cannot beg God to have mercy on the people, because the time for mercy has passed and the people will only receive judgement from God's mouthpiece.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lamentations Chapters 3-5

3:19-24 - All the horrible things that have been described in the book of Lamentations so far, paint a pretty bleak picture for the Jewish people. I love that in the midst of pain, suffering and judgment, the author still has the faithfulness to believe that God is a God of compassionate love. When everything is falling apart (Usually due to our own sinful choices, or those of others around us), there is only God to turn to. He is the only one that can provide the strength that we need. Sadly, it is in the times of greatest need that people often choose to blame God and turn from Him.

3:25 and 26 - This reminds me of King Saul, who refused to wait. Early in his reign as king he was going off to war and wanted Samuel the prophet to make sacrifices and cry out to God for their army. Samuel was delayed in coming, so instead of waiting, Saul just made the sacrifices himself (Something he wasn't supposed to do). He refused to wait on God...just decided to do his own thing. How often does that describe the way you choose to act? As is clear in the second half of verse 25, waiting does not mean doing nothing. Waiting on the Lord means seeking God with your heart and soul and listening where He is calling us to go. Before you make huge decisions and determine how you are going to respond to something - wait on God...cry out to Him.

3:32 and 33 - This is something that we all need to understand...though God is allowing His people to be punished for their sins, this does not mean that He is not compassionate. This passage says that He does not willingly afflict His people...He unwillingly does what He has to do for the good of His people. He does what needs to be done because He loves them so much. If punishment is the only thing that will make stubborn people see the error of their ways...God is willing to punish (Like any loving parent would).

3:39 - If you are alive and blood is pumping through your veins, you really have nothing to complain about. Your life is a gift from God...something He allowed you to have today - life! Everyone deserves death for their sins and their disrespect towards God, but instead we receive grace through Jesus Christ! Yet another undeserved gift we receive. Our sinful actions will always have dire consequences and there is no one to blame but ourselves. I think the author is trying to tell us something - "Stop whining and turn back to God!"

3:55-57 - When you have hit rock bottom...when you are in the depths, there is only one place to turn - God. God is our strength...God is our refuge...we do not have to fear because we have God with us. I personally really need to hear this verse today...I have been struggling with some doubts and needed this reassurance. I open the Word today and come to this verse and God is whispering to my soul..."Do not fear, I am with you." Thank you Lord!

4:10 - Again the utter defilement of the people is illustrated by the fact that during the siege of Jerusalem, women have begun to boil their own babies and eat them as food to survive. That is so sick I don't want to believe it! These innocent babies are forced to pay for the sinful selfishness of their families. I want to know where the fathers are...where are the leaders standing up and demanding that these atrocities stop? They are nowhere to be found, and you start to understand why these people needed to be judged by God.

4:22 - God always takes a strong stance against sin - it is in His nature. Sin is like an attack on God Himself and the creation that He put in must be fought must be destroyed. When we choose to sin, we are setting ourselves in opposition to God. As Christians today, we cannot allow ourselves to think that sin is trivial because of the sacrifice of Jesus. There are people that believe that! There are people that believe that they can basically do whatever they want because God loves them and Jesus died for them. Well, I would suggest that they come and read Lamentations. I would suggest that they read Hebrews 10:26 and following. When we trivialize sin in our lives, we are trivializing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ...and I promise don't want to be in that camp!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lamentations Chapters 1 and 2

This is a very short book written as a mournful poem about the destruction of Judah. It is heart-breaking, but serves as a warning for believers in any age and ends in hope.

1:1 - God's beloved daughter, Judah, rejected His love and gave herself away to others. She sold herself into prostitution with false gods and greed. Because of the choices of the people of Judah, they have become enslaved...enslaved to lies...enslaved to Babylon...enslaved to suffering. When we turn our backs on God...when we say God is not enough and we try to find fulfillment in earthly lusts and possessions and other humans - we find ourselves as slaves. Instead of being the heirs of the Most High God - the sons and daughters of the Creator - we are enslaved to things that are killing us. I have seen beautiful princesses of God - young teenage women who so desperately seek affection that they throw themselves to boy after boy in search of what can only be found in a relationship with God. They become slaves and it is heartbreaking.

1:6 - This verse reminds me of Jeremiah 52:7, when the warriors and the king of Judah escape from the Babylonian siege (Very bravely leaving behind the women and children). After 2 years of being trapped in Jerusalem and malnutrition, they are weak and overtaken very easily. Like the powerless deer described in this passage, they are slaughter in the fields.

1:9 - The people of Israel refused to think about the future. They thought only of the moment...thought only of whatever would bring them instantaneous pleasure. So the fall was catastrophic...they were blind and had no idea it was coming, because they refused to look at where their choices were leading them. Many of my high school students (And people of any age to be honest) often dwell in the "now" and do not think about the consequences of their actions. They believe they have all the time in the world to get their faith in order...they refuse to accept that their choices are going to have serious repercussions when it comes to their souls...and they couldn't be more wrong. The fall is really hard when you don't look at where you are going.

1:17 and 18 - The people cry out to God but they do not get the help they are looking for...He does not listen to their cries. This seems cruel, bit verse 18 tells us that God is absolutely in the right (He has quite the habit of being that way). You cannot reject God, refuse God, dishonor God, spit in God's face with your actions and words, and then expect Him to come running when you call. I am not saying the situation is hopeless, but there are some dire consequences when people who claim to be believers dishonor God with their lives.

1:19 - Other human beings can never give us what we need - NEVER! People cannot bring fulfillment to our lives. When we try to rely on those we have used as replacements for God in our lives, they will always let us down in the end. Always. We were created to worship God...not other human beings.

2:7 - This theme has come up over and over again in scripture. As God punishes His people for what they have done, He is also hurt in the process. He is shamed because of the actions of His people...His name is mocked and brought low because of the sins of His people. Never forget that your sins don't just affect you...they affect the whole community of believers and God Himself.

2:14 - People often have a bad habit of listening only to those who tell them what they want to hear. Don't be one of those people...that only leads us further and further away from the will of God.

2:19 - All there is to do when everything is falling apart is to cry out to God. That is all that is left for the people of Judah...everything else is gone...there is no hope but God. And that is exactly why God allows His wrath to be poured out on His own that they will return to Him.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 50-52

50:17-19 - This is a great illustration and a simple retelling of the Book of Jeremiah. The sheep (Judah) have gone astray...they have left the safety of their shepherd's flock (As Israel turned away from God). Because of this, the sheep were hunted down and devoured by lions (Assyria and Babylon). But fortunately, the sheep have a tenacious shepherd who goes out and finds them and brings them back into the fold. That is the story of Jeremiah in a nutshell.

50:31-32 - This verse really struck me between the eyes, because I know I struggle with pride so much. In fact, as I was reading this passage, I was having trouble focusing on the text because my mind kept wandering back to an incident where I had my pride wounded and was wondering what I needed to do about it. Suddenly, this verse cuts through the fog and grabs my attention. I need to be reminded often about how God feels about those who are selfishly proud or who take pride in themselves. The proud are the enemies of God...He will bring them low and I don't want to be against Him!

51:7 - This is really great imagery from Jeremiah. Babylon offers this cup of their culture to the world and the people around them greedily drink it up. They want what Babylon has - they want power, prestige, wealth, etc. They gulp down what Babylon is offering and soon find out that is does nothing but drive them mad. My mind immediately jumped to the chief export of the United States - our cultural madness. As Christians in the United States, what can we do to bring cultural changes to a country that sells its brand of self-centered consumerism all over the world? Many of us have drunk it up too...what needs to change in my yours?

51:15-16 - If there was any doubt about Babylons chances at standing against God, Jeremiah clears that all up pretty quickly. God is the creator and the sustainer of everything and his wrath will not be escaped. Something it wouldn't hurt for you and I to remember 0n a daily basis.

52:4-5 - They were besieged for almost two years...can you imagine that? No you can't. Re-read chapter 19 if you want to see how Jeremiah describes what will happened. Trapped in a walled city for two years. The filth and disease must have been rampant. Famine and starvation lead to cannibalism. Fear and depression probably lead to suicides and infighting. This is an utterly heartbreaking punishment that the people of Judah have brought down on themselves.

52:17 - The decorations in the house of the Lord are torn down. They are broken to pieces and shipped back to Babylon. Bronze that was once used in worship of the Lord, goes back to Babylon to be turned into weapons and mirrors and pots and is totally humiliating to God. Don't forget that when human beings reject their creator they not only bring humility on themselves, but on the name of God too.

52:31-33 - Jehoiachin is brought out of prison by the Babylonian king. He is treated with kindness and respect. Give clothes, a place to stay, and food for life. Doesn't this seem like such a strange way to end the book of Jeremiah? Why is it that Jeremiah ends by telling us this tid-bit of information? Because Jehoiachin is in the line of King David...even in the midst of exile, the line continues on...hope still exists...God is faithful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 47-49

48:7 - It is a scary thing to read passages like this and be a part of our culture. When we place our hope and trust in material goods and human strength, we set ourselves against God. We declare that these things are more important to us than God and we become His enemies. Why is it so hard to learn that these things we put so much stock in...spend so much money on...give so much time to...are powerless to give us what we are searching for?

48:44 - This is the original "out of the frying pan, into the fire" statement. If you run, you will fall into the pit. If you climb out of the pit, you will be caught in the snare. That sounds pretty un-fun "out of the pit and into the bear trap!" This is something I don't think we realize cannot run from the wrath of the cannot run from judgement. Throw yourself on His mercy.

49:6 and 39 - Even in the midst of three chapters of judgement, suffering and pain - we see that God is working for the greater good of all people. There is hope for the Ammonites and the Elamites, even though they have spent generations rejecting God. There is hope because God is good and even His anger is aimed at bringing redemption in the end. Know that no matter what you have been through...what you have done...there is always redemption waiting when you turn to God.