The Righteous Generation

14 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
2 The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand,
Who seek after God.
3 They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.
4 Do all the workers of wickedness not know,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they are in great dread,
For God is with the righteous generation.
6 You would put to shame the counsel of the afflicted,
But the Lord is his refuge.
7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores His captive people,
Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.

I can’t imagine a world without God. Of course, from my earliest days I heard about him. In my part of the world, everyone went to church, even if they weren’t believers. It was the norm. Now God’s been reduced to background noise. He’s at best “the man upstairs,” or a fuzzy component of the life of one claiming to be “spiritual.” You hear this a lot from the Hollywood types.

But if you’re so bold as to express your belief that acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s savior is the only way to God, you will quickly find this view is not a part of the world’s value system. Nowadays you can’t run away from this view fast enough. The connotation is that somehow, incredibly, I’m going to force my values down your throat. It’s only a matter of time that Christians in the USA, if brave enough to simply vocalize their faith, will be run out of town on a rail.

Psalm 14 seems to comment on this disturbing trend. But it’s not us that should be worried. It’s says the Lord himself has looked down from heaven on the sons of men (v. 2). He sees people left and right who disavow his existence, none who understands him, none who is good in his eyes, none who seeks him. They might say to this assessment, don’t tell me who I must believe in. Don’t tell me I don’t understand life. Don’t tell me I’m not good. Don’t tell me who to seek, especially if it’s you.

Then he comments on their actions. They’re corrupt. They’ve committed abominable deeds. They’re estranged and have gone astray. But there’s more! They’re aggressive in their posture against those who who do understand God, who do seek after him. In God’s eyes they devour his people like they eat their bread, and they vehemently criticize the source of their hope, and the means by which they cope.

In the end, though, these “workers of wickedness” as he calls them should be the ones “in dread,” because he is with the “righteous generation.” Each generation may think they’ve got it all figured out, but only the righteous one does.

In author King David’s eyes, he looks ahead, longing for the salvation of Israel, that he might come from their midst, and he did! We’ve sought him and found him and somehow the world’s not happy about it. Maybe this is why the Apostle Paul advised us to lay low.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you. 1 Thessalonians 4:11

But that’s not what normally happens. Someone invariably asks you where your hope comes from, and your cover is blown.

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:15

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Heart Transplant

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20

While not talking about Christians or salvation, he who is doing this for his people (Israel) is the same God who saved us. This is essentially a picture of our salvation, which involves a heart transplant and a new spirit. With these in place, we are capable of obedience. As defiant as we might have been, we set out to keep his unburdensome commandments and do his will. Since he is the change agent in this transaction, this miracle can and will occur.

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

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One Foot Out the Door

Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. Ezekiel 10:4

We all dread separations from our loved ones. Parting seems never to be “such sweet sorrow.” Just sorrow. The staged exit of God’s glory from the temple told of here is worse than sad. It brought on devastating consequences to a nation and its people. But they had it coming.

The world does not realize that the glory of the Lord is the only thing keeping it together. Here the glory leaves the temple deliberately, almost hesitantly, wanting someone to yell “wait!” But nobody did.

When the indwelling spirit of God is on the throne in Christians today the world experiences the presence of the almighty. Pilate did as he squared off with Jesus. Stephen displayed his countenance with the stones raining down on his head. Countless others have witnessed Christians facing death wondering where the hope came from. We meet people everyday who should sense an “other worldliness” about us. And when something–anything–happens, and we give glory to God, it says volumes.

Our enemy wants nothing more than to see the glory of God retreat and leave the building. But there’s too many of us. Act in such a way that the glory of God is always on display.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

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The Dread Report

3 Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. 4 The Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” 5 But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. Ezekiel 9:3-5

You don’t want to spiritualize these verses and apply them to the church or to America, but I believe you can draw some important lessons that can be applied to the wayward believer. It’s impossible to lose your salvation (John 10:28), but the Bible teaches that Christians can take sin too far and subject themselves to divine judgment, and even death (1 Cor. 11:30). We’ve just learned about Israel’s spiral into the worst forms of idolatry (Ezekiel 8). We know that the same kind of decline can occur in a believer’s life when the spirit of God is ignored or scorned. It follows that much worst can be expected if we deliberately replace God with idols. But let’s not get too far afield from the simple signs of waywardness, since we’ll invariably have to address the absence of the Lord in the person’s life altogether, and that’s for another time.

When you’ve got idols to start with, then toss in a little insolence, there’s cause for serious concern. It seems as if we want to ignore or downplay God’s role as a righteous judge. The Israelites appeared to have thrown caution to the wind. They thought he was absent and didn’t care anymore. In all sectors there was degradation. So bad was it that God was ready to (and did) destroy all who were not remorseful.

I find it comforting to know that God was aware of those who felt like he did about sin. We’re all hyper-aware of evil in the world today, made possible by the pervasive presence of instant information. It’s easy to become distraught by this bad (or fake) news if your focus is not constantly on the Lord’s imminent return. It’s comforting to know he’s perfectly aware and in control of the situation.

Revelation talks about the “mark of the beast.” (Rev. 13:16) Here God marks the foreheads of those who are his (9:4). I certainly want my head stamped by him! In the midst of what would be merciless total annihilation at the hands of marauding Chaldeans, saving a remnant of believers was truly miraculous. I think of Ezekiel’s contemporary Daniel (Ezekiel 14:14, 14:20, 28:3) who may have known of Nebuchadnezzar’s looming final push into Jerusalem from his post in the administration. What dread he must have felt! And certainly, Ezekiel thought he was the last man standing (9:8).

My takeaway is to always be on the right side of the law. Be aware of anything that will take my eyes off the role of the Lord in my life. Just because I cannot see him, act as if he’s standing over my shoulder. Always credit his forceful hand and give him glory. It was disturbing to read of his glory departing its place on the altar and head for the door (9:3). Don’t ever allow this to happen in your life, not even for a moment.

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Idols of Jealousy

3 He stretched out the form of a hand and caught me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the appearance which I saw in the plain. Ezekiel 8:3-4

In a vision, God grabbed Ezekiel by the hair and took him in the spirit from his exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem and the temple. There in clear sight from the north gate of the temple’s inner court was erected the “idol of jealousy.” The audacity! There couldn’t be a more in-your-face idolatrous practice than to do so in such close proximity to the house of God! But Ezekiel was warned three times that it’d get worse. He went on to witness the laymen, the women and the priests worshipping every kind of detestable thing.

Seventy elders of the city were engaged in idol worship, and it went on in the temple and in their homes. Shaphan, the father of one of these idol worshippers, was a scribe during Josiah’s reforms. How far the fall! They did these deeds in the dark (v. 12), thinking no one was watching.

20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. John 3:20-21

The women wept for Tammuz the god of spring vegetation. We are told this involved shameful immorality, with the thought that immorality and idolatry are inseparable. (v. 14)

The twenty-five men represented the twenty-four priests and the high priest, who turned their backs to God and worshipped the sun to the east, the ultimate of all insults. (v. 16)

Our God is a jealous God. His anger is provoked by the graven images we erect at the entrance of our heart. We may participate in practices in the dark that we refuse to give up, or have sunk into immoral practices that are shameful. We may have simply turned our backs on God and worship that which he created as his replacement. (Romans 1:23)

The Apostle John closed his first letter saying, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) Idolatry in the life of a Christian can be insidious, slinking in as a new “unsaved” flame, a preoccupation with a hobby or sports team, a thirst for political power or fame, a new personal best time, perfect health and looks, an investment account, a house or yard, or your church facility. It’s whatever assumes the rightful place of God.

What is your “idol of jealousy.” Recognize it and send it to the ash heap! Put God back on the throne.

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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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