One Way or Another

When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, my mom would instill fear in us by forecasting the lessons we’d learn once she or my dad got “through with us.” Here Ezekiel relays pretty much the same kind of message.

11 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out “Alas!” because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the people of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. 12 One who is far away will die of the plague, and one who is near will fall by the sword, and anyone who survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I pour out my wrath on them. 13 And they will know that I am the Lord, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak—places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah—wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the Lord.’” Ezekiel 6:11-14

For its unrepentant rebellion, Israel had death, desolation, disease, and unmitigated disaster to look forward to. As a result, they’d wallow in self-loathing. They’d lie slain amongst their broken idols. They’d tremble with abject fear. This retribution at the Lord’s hands was to finally force them to know him!  Seven times, in fact, in Ezekiel chapters 6 and 7, the Lord says, “then you will know that I am the Lord.” What an obstinate people!

The lesson for us is this. To what extent will the Lord need to go to teach us the same lesson? At some point, every man and woman will bend the knee to an Almighty God (Philippians 2:10). Will you be judged by your own judgments, or appeal to Jesus, who’s born the wrath of God in your place? “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

My mom would also offer an alternative to the certain punishment to come, and that was to shape up.

It’s not too late to get to know the God of the universe on his own terms.

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Heavy Hors-D’oeuvres

When I was growing up, the primary source of daily biblical wisdom in our house came from a small paperback devotional called The Daily Bread. This was my dad’s main biblical input, other than a weekly sermon, until later in life. He wouldn’t miss a day reading it, as it was stored in a strategic place. At least it was something. But at best, it was only a snack.

I am not a fan of devotional books. To me, there’s no substitute for the intentional personal study of the word of God every day. I’ve heard more than once from church leaders to get yourself a particular popular book and go through it during your quiet time.

Also unfortunate are regular weekly Bible studies using books written about the Bible as study material. Faithful teachers read the book to teach someone else’s thoughts on what the word says, and even use the writer’s questions.

This may be fine and good programmatically, but is this approach nothing more than consuming only light hors-d’oeuvres? We get nowhere near a deep walk with God until we start chewing on solid food ourselves. (Hebrews 5:14)

Jeremiah said it like this in 15:16:

Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.

First, the word must be found, and we won’t find it in a book about THE BOOK! It’s exciting to hear your disciple report he’s found something nutritional in a passage. It’s even more gratifying to see him eat it–apply it–and grow by it.

This is my objective every morning, to find something to eat. Invariably it becomes my daily bread and the joy and delight of my heart!

Other key verses on the subject: Job 23:12, Psalm 119:103, Ezekiel 3:3.

 

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Get Up and Go

20 Wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go in that direction. And the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. 21 Whenever those went, these went; and whenever those stood still, these stood still. And whenever those rose from the earth, the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. Ezekiel 1:20-21

When I got my last company vehicle, I insisted on four-wheel drive. I look at some pretty big sites that have some treacherous areas. In the past, I had not been able to venture in, but with the extra traction, now I can.

Initially, I thought this passage, was quite odd. The fact is, studying Ezekiel is not for the fainthearted! Then I got to thinking, this is illustrative of what drives successful Christian living. The spirit, i.e. God’s strength and direction, must be in our wheels for us to get up and go.

Later Ezekiel is told to stand up to receive his call, as he was flat on the ground having seen a remarkable breathtaking vision. It was God’s spirit who got him up on his feet (Ezekiel 2:2).

Then in verses, the spirit lifts him up to do the Lord’s will (Ezekiel 3:12, 14).

In all, the “spirit” is mentioned 22 times in this prophetic book. In all cases it is the impetus behind God’s work.

Face it, we, i.e. I, don’t stand when I need to stand or go where I need to go because I don’t use God’s power–his spirit– within me. I quench it (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

It’s time to turn the dial to 4×4 and plow through life’s problems. It’s time to use the power of the spirit to get up and go in the right direction!

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Life’s Too Short

10 So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting. Ecclesiastes 10:11

We’ve heard the saying, “life’s too short,” for this or that. Any saying that rings true has its genesis in the Bible, you can count on it. Reference the verse above.

Here Solomon talks about some things that, if allowed to fester or to have full rein, shorten life,  i.e. reduce its enjoyable days. The seasons of grief are understandable and can be assuaged by knowing and loving a sovereign God. But if you’re grieving about your team’s loss in the final, or a dent in your car, or a lost account, you’ll need to snap out of it, or you’ll waste precious hours. Anger is controllable and certainly a mindset that robs our good days. So too is pain, i.e. evil. It’s obviously a total waste of time.

Know this. A mind set on things above (Colossians 3:2) and pleasing God below (1 Thessalonians 2:4) makes the most of our fleeting days (Ephesians 5:16).

Time for self-reflection. Try making this verse your credo. Or simply utilize the familiar saying as you decide how to use your remaining minutes on the clock. Life’s too short.

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Who’s the Greatest?

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,
3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;
6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea
7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
Matthew 18:1-7

It’s human nature to want to be good at something. This requires measurement against a standard or another person. As much as our society has tried to remove competition to keep little Johnny’s psyche from suffering the devastation of falling short, it still drives almost every effort. Solomon spotted this reality of life early on.

“I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:4

For example, if you’re born shorter–me–the drive to compensate is acute. It may not be obvious on the surface, but one’s whole life is spent straining to get an angle, fighting against the upper hand. How else will I be great! It’s frustrating because the world is dominated by those who are 6’3″, who peer down with on us with intimidation from above. So I’m just telling you there’s a lot of conniving going on in the recesses of a short guy’s to find a way to crush the competition, against formidable odds.

This is not only true with the Napoleons of the world but in all walks. Everyone wants to be the greatest at something. Gamers, violinists, entrepreneurs, athletes, students, spellers, coaches, singers, politicians, bowlers, bloggers, preachers, and the list goes on. Figuratively, and sometimes literally, we all want to end up with our foot on someone else’s neck!

“When they brought these kings out to Joshua, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, ‘Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.’ So they came near and put their feet on their necks.” Joshua 10:24

So too, the disciples were discussing, perhaps arguing, about who would be the greatest in the kingdom to come. Jesus knew it and commenced teaching using a nearby child as his illustration. Most children I know, and we’ve had a few, and they’ve had a few, are dependent on their parents, and are dedicated to them, because they are the dispensers of all good things. Even the strong-willed kid will fall short eventually and need help. This is exactly the way it should be with our Lord. The reality is, we’ll never measure up. We’ll never go anywhere without his help. In fact, if in our right minds, we don’t even want to be great, but obedient. So we willingly and wisely defer to him. This is the key to greatness, our humiliation, but the good kind.

The “great” leaders of Jesus’ time lorded it over the people, placing obstacles in the way of “greatness.” How about the “rich young ruler” who could not separate himself from the things of the world–also stumbling blocks–and pulled up short of the kingdom.

Jesus has strong words for those who subtly place impediments in the way of simple childlike faith–i.e. your average TV preacher.

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A Bridge Too Far

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. Matthew 16:13-20

We compare great people to other great people. Our capacity to assess greatness is limited by our knowledge and intellect. Some have read many books and know men and women of great accomplishments. Others have only temporal exposure to greatness, from press reports of the famous.

Here the Jews knew of the prophets, and did see in Jesus their greatest attributes. But they could not cross the bridge to who he really was, but by revelation directly from God. Peter had crossed this bridge.

If we know Jesus as the Christ we have been granted such knowledge by God himself, and as such we are blessed beyond measure. Further, while we are but a stone, with us he will build his church, not on the backs of human effort, but on the massive rock of his truth, which is founded on the reality of Jesus’ relationship to his father.

As Jesus did the will his father in heaven, so do we. As Jesus withstood all that hell could throw at him, so will we. At the same time, the church will be left standing in the end, triumphant.

He told the disciples not to tell fellow Jews about him, because his time on earth was about to end. They had squandered their opportunity. We pray that God opens the eyes of those around us to know true greatness before it’s too late!

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Ode to the Hand Wringers

12 For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:12

One of the most frustrating things of life is decision-making based on what we believe the future holds. We choose schools, invest our money, select a job, take a vacation, buy survival gear on the basis of skewed, flawed prognostications.

Solomon tells us no one knows what’s around the corner. This scares the daylights out of the risk averse. These types constantly opt for the protection plan, and they’re first to boast of their foresight when calamity hits.

But the message here is more “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Enter the insouciant man, who sets sail in unpredictable waters, and phones back on the wonderful time he’s having, inciting the hand wringer’s envy!

What a fine line we walk! There are those who can barely get out of bed, and those who plunge headlong into the abyss on a mountain bike.

I get the feeling, though, Solomon would err on the side of “living a little,” rather than burying his head in the sand.

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