Category: Ezekiel (page 1 of 4)

Eyes Off the Hills!

Lots of Christians believe that once they repent and confess Jesus as Lord and begin living in the righteousness of God, nothing bad should ever happen to them again. Christians should not have accidents or arguments with spouses, they should not be misunderstood at work or talked back to by their children. No problems, no pains, no setbacks, no sins, no issues.

Even Christians who don’t believe that sometimes talk like they do. Too blessed to be stressed!

So, when something does go wrong, some Christians don’t handle it very well. Maybe a doubt creeps into your head. Maybe a loneliness moves into your soul. An illness puts you in the hospital or an argument lands you in the doghouse. A misunderstanding leads to anger and pain.  A person walking in the way of faith gets into trouble and starts looking for help.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?” ~Psalm 121:1

What does this person see on the hills? What’s happening on the hills?

The pagan religions were practiced on the hills. That’s where the pagan gods were worshiped. The high places on the hills are where the nations built their altars to Ba’al and erected their shrines to Asherah. People went to the hills to engage in acts of idol worship they believed would ensure their safety or fix whatever is wrong. You worshiped the pagan gods on the hills to enhance the fertility of your livestock and crops. The pagan rituals would keep you safe from invading armies. The religious formulas and good luck charms would make you wealthy and wise. It would protect you from evil.

Where do your eyes go when things get a little shaky? Who do you look to? Where do you put your trust when things go bad? There are all kinds of things we can look to for help besides God. And all those things are idols.

In the Bible, the hills are where the idols are worshiped. Hosea 4:12-13 and Ezekiel 6:13 are two of dozens of biblical references. 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles describe the high places where God’s people set up sacred stones and Asherah poles “on every high hill.” Think about the altars of Ba’al on the hills of Mount Carmel. Think about King Rehoboam who built his altar on the high place at Dan. Think about the hills of Caesarea Philippi where the temples and shrines were built to Pan and Ba’al and Asherah and where they worshiped Roman Emperors and sacred goats.

When you run into trouble or when something goes wrong, you holler help. And if you look to the hills, there it is! All kinds of help! Instant help!

Except for one thing: it doesn’t work. It’s an illusion. Nobody is ever really helped by what’s happening in the hills.

“We will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception.” ~ Jeremiah 3:23

If you think the next election is going to fix things, you’re looking to the hills. If you believe the next scientific breakthrough is going to heal things, you’re eyes are on the hills. If you think your next promotion or pay raise is going to put you over the top and fill the hole in your soul, you’re looking to the hills.

When you look to science, technology, or politics for help, you’re going to be disappointed. When you put your faith in the economy or your family, your education goals or your career plan, you’re going to be let down. When you try to ignore your pain or distract from your troubles with pills or drinks or vacations or sports or some kind of busyness, it just leads to more pain and more trouble.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 121:2

Your help comes from the Lord, not from what’s in the hills. You don’t need any supplemental insurance from what’s going on in the hills. When your loving Father is the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe, you don’t need your safety or security to come from the hills.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil — he will watch over your life.” ~Psalm 121:7

That doesn’t mean you’re never going to stub your toe. No one gets out of this life without the experience of pain. The promise is that no injury or accident, no illness or distress, no tragedy, nothing that can ever happen to you will have evil power over you. Nothing can ever happen to you that can separate you from God’s purpose for you.

That’s the Lord’s Prayer. That’s the expectation. “Deliver us from evil.” That prayer is answered for you every day. Sometimes several times a day.

Take your eyes off the hills and place them directly on the God of Heaven and Earth who says, “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, I have overcome the world!”

Peace,

Allan

Can These Bones Live?

sundaybonesboardYesterday at Central, we concluded a two-month study of Ezekiel with a look at the well-known Dry Bones Vision in Ezekiel 37. The Lord shows his prophet the dead, dry, lifeless, hopeless, valley of bones. The bones represent the people of God who have rebelled against him. They are dead: no salvation, no relationship, no life, no hope. These are not dead corpses; these are dry skeletal remains. No pulse, no blood, no organs, no hope.

And the Lord asks his prophet, “Can these bones live?”

I’m sure Ezekiel’s first thought was, “Of course not! They can’t live! They’re bones!”

But then he remembers to whom he’s speaking. He’s talking to the almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth. So he replies, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

And then God raises the bones back to life. He breathes his Spirit into the bones and they come together and stand, living, breathing, walking, talking, fully alive  — a vast army! God shows Ezekiel that he not only has the power to make the dry bones live again, he has the will to make it happen. See, there’s a big difference between knowing God has the power to bring dead people back to life and knowing he WILL bring dead people back to life. Of course, God can. Praise God, yes, he will! “You will come back to life,” he says!

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Because of God’s power and his grace and his will, the prospect for life in the middle of death is real. In fact, it’s very, very real. Because this is what God wants to happen. And the neat thing about being God is that he always gets what he wants. And he wants to give dead people life.

So, yesterday we spent a good deal of our time together writing the names of people we love who are spiritually dead and placing them on a big dry bones mural that was painted last week by one of our members. Our kids and grandkids. Our spouses. Our nephews and nieces. Our best friends and former college roommates and next-door-neighbors. We pout them on the board and we lifted them up to God in prayer and in faith that he really wants to breathe brand new resurrection life into our loved ones.

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Our God is the One who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Our God looks at death and he sees possibility. He sees hope. He sees life.

Thank you to our Central family for your heart-felt participation in yesterday’s worship assembly. Thank you all for you open hearts and confessing spirits and willingness to be vulnerable and transparent in front of one another. And thank you for the honor, the rich privilege, of being your preacher for five blessed years.

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summit2016A tradition at Central is that when the ministers go to Abilene for the ACU Summit, we always take our Central kids at ACU out to lunch. And today was the day. We were honored to be joined at Sharky’s this afternoon by Matt, Brooke, Slade, Taylor, and Mikayla. What a joy! Thank y’all for spending the hour with us, for sharing your stories and your laughter and your lives with us. Now, get back to class!

Peace,

Allan

I Am the Good Shepherd

shepherd3Almost two centuries before Jesus was born, Judas Maccabeus put together a Jewish militia and fought the Syrians who had taken control of Jerusalem and had desecrated the temple. Antiochus IV Epiphanes had established Zeus worship inside the Lord’s temple, including the daily sacrifice of pigs. The Maccabean revolution was a bloody three-year struggle that resulted in Jewish oversight of Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple to the Lord. You can research the origins of Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication to get the full story. But on the 25th day of Kislev, in the year 165 BC, the temple was rededicated and Ezekiel 34, the passage about Israel’s shepherds was read aloud.

The eight day celebration was not just about rejoicing in God’s great deliverance. It was also a time to reflect on the events that led up to those awful years in Israel’s history. It was a time to ask questions about failed leadership, hard questions about Israel’s bad kings or, as they’re called in Scripture, false shepherds. How did the leadership of God’s people lose its way so badly? Where were the shepherds? And how must we shepherd our people today?

Since that day in 165 BC, Ezekiel 34 has always been a part of the worship liturgy for the Feast of Dedication. In John 10, we’re told explicitly that Jesus attended these worship assemblies.

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonade.” ~John 10:22-23

imyselfYou can bet Jesus heard the readings just like everybody else. And, yeah, Jesus knew about lousy leadership and sorry sheep. So did a lot of God’s people listening to the readings. The man who pays three-fourths of his wages every month to his neighbor who’s paralyzing him with outrageous interest rates. The lady who’s not allowed to come all the way in because she’s divorced. The couple who gets told “You don’t dress right or talk right or act right and why don’t y’all find another temple to worship in!” Ask the woman at the well if she felt like people were staring at her. Ask the lady at Simon’s house if Simon acted like a jerk when she showed up at his dinner party with his well-connected friends. Ask the man in the Gerasenes who was driven away by his own brothers and sisters and chained to a tombstone. Ask the crippled man at the healing pools who always got pushed out of the way by people who were also crippled — just not as crippled as he was. And they all hear the Scriptures being read at Hanukkah. They hear it ever year. God says, “I myself will be their shepherd.”

And the people say, “When?”

“I Am the Good Shepherd! The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep!” ~John 10:11

Right in the middle of the questions and doubts and hopes and anticipation that someday God himself will personally shepherd his flock, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd! It’s me! I’m here!”

imyselfbig“I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I Am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” ~John 10:11-16

See, in Ezekiel 34, God says I’m going to personally do what the bad shepherds have failed to do. I’m going to do what my people obviously can’t do. God promises to personally intervene. God says you don’t strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bandage up the injured. You have not brought in the strays or searched for the lost. But I will! I will bandage up the injured and strengthen the weak! I will search for the lost and bring back the strays! God’s solution to the long history of lousy leaders and sorry sheep is not a new model, not a new system. He replaces the bad shepherds with the Good Shepherd. God comes to us in Jesus. Christ Jesus comes here to, in his own words, seek and save the lost. He comes here to comfort the weary and heavy burdened, to heal the sick and bring Good News to the poor. Jesus is our Shepherd, fixing things, restoring things.

Jesus knows how to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To those who rely on their own righteousness, those of us fat sheep who’ve been doing this church thing for decades and think we have all the answers, Jesus rips away all the excuses and he forces us to see our desperate need for him and the Gospel. He says, “I Am the only way, I Am the only truth, and I Am the only life! No one comes to the Father except through me!”

To those who are burdened and marginalized, Jesus pulls them to God. He shows that God does not delight in their death, but he begs them to come to him for eternal life. He makes it clear that there is a place in God’s flock for all weak and sinful sheep. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Lord Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. He is bold and courageous and single-minded in his mission to seek and save the lost, to restore the lost sheep of Israel. And he’s so committed to it — he’s so committed to us, his sheep! — that he lays down his life for us. He dies for us. He stands in the gate — he is the gate! — between us and the ravenous wolves and murderous robbers who would destroy us. He’s unwilling to sacrifice even one of us to the enemy. He would die first.

And he did.

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bobbywilson6Another walk off win. A two-out, two-run, game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth. The 45th come-from-behind win for the Texas Rangers this year. And the magic number is down to six.

Peace,

Allan

Lousy Leaders & Sorry Sheep

imyselfbandage“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered… I will bring them into their own land, I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel… I will tend them in a good pasture… I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.'” ~Ezekiel 34:11-16

God speaks through his prophet in Ezekiel 34 about lousy leaders. God points out the kings and elders, prophets and priests — shepherds — the leaders of God’s people who only cared about themselves. The leaders were fat and full and happy. But the people were neglected and forgotten. The shepherds ruled harshly and tough. They didn’t pay attention to the weak. They didn’t minister to the sick. They didn’t care for the injured. They only thought about themselves. Their first priority was to maintain their control. Their main goal was to hang onto their position. They enjoyed the power. They relished the status. And God’s people suffered. They were scattered. They didn’t have any guidance or support, so they looked to the idols in the high places. They made deals with the world and the world ate them alive. And nobody cared.

And God says that’s not going to happen anymore! “I myself will be their shepherd! I’m going to fix this. I’m going to restore everything. I’m going to make everything right. I myself will be their shepherd!”

badsheepEzekiel 34 is also about sorry sheep: older women who think they run everything, younger men who think they know everything, rich people who think they own everything. And they only care about getting their way. They use their experience and knowledge and education and wealth to get it. They don’t just want the blessings of God, they want the blessings you’re getting, too. It’s not enough to have a lot, they want more. And if they need to take it from others, they will. They assert their opinions about everything. They ignore or completely discount the opinions and feelings of others. These sorry sheep push and shove and they leave a trail of devastated people behind them. Hurt feelings and broken relationships. And it’s driving the sheep away.

And God says that’s not going to happen anymore. “I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep! I will save my flock. I’m going to fix this problem. I’m going to make this right. I myself will be their shepherd!”

I read Ezekiel 34 and sometimes it makes me sick.

badshepherdsBecause sometimes we can be really lousy leaders. God rips into the bad shepherds because they’re ignoring the fat sheep who are running over the other sheep. Sometimes church leaders don’t want to challenge church bullies because they don’t want the conflict. Sometimes the fat sheep are the big givers. Sometimes preachers just preach safe messages — they don’t confront the pushing and shoving — because they don’t want anybody to leave. Elders and ministers don’t always take care of the weak sheep like we’re supposed to. Taking care of wounded sheep is hard and painful and time-consuming. It’s work. Sometimes we pay more attention to and rule in favor of the fat sheep who can yell down or outspend the broken sheep. Sometimes church leaders crave the attention themselves. Some of us are tempted by the spotlight. And sometimes we do want our own way. Sometimes we’ll do something or say something only to save our own necks. And our selfishness and inconsistencies can sometimes drive people away. God help us.

If you have ever felt run over by anybody in church, I’m sorry. If you have ever felt like your feelings have been dismissed or your opinions have been discounted by any church leaders, I’m sorry. If I have ever used my position as the preacher to shove you or run over you, please forgive me. I’m sorry. I’m know I’m capable of those things. God, help me.

We can also — all of us — be sorry sheep. We can be territorial about our ministries or our preferred practices or our pews. We can not let anybody in. We can shove our brothers and sisters out the door by being dogmatic and unyielding about our own personal beliefs. We can push people to the curb by insisting they believe and think and worship and parent and dress and pray just like me. We’re so good at it, sometimes we’re oblivious to it. We can actually use a weak sheep position as an 18-pound sledgehammer to bully and head butt and ram other sheep into my comfort zone and inside my lines and behind my boundaries. There are sheep in your flock who’ve been in your flock for years and don’t have any friends. That’s the truth. There are sheep in your church who don’t feel like they matter because we’ve run over them on the way to our next committee meeting or service project. There are people in your congregation who sit by themselves every single Sunday. In your building. God, help us.

If you are a broken sheep, if you’re wounded and weak, if you’re tired, if you feel neglected or ignored or flat-out pushed aside by the people or the programs or the culture of your church, please forgive us. I’m so sorry. I know we’re capable of those things. God, help us.

Peace,

Allan

Turn and Live

“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” ~Ezekiel 18:23

JesusHealsInCrowdThe Bible tells us God wants all men and women to be saved and to come to a knowledge of his truth. And our God doesn’t just make that change possible, he makes it his top priority. He’s so committed to your change, he gave up everything to come here in person to show us what it looks like.

The sinful woman at the Pharisee’s house where Jesus is eating is a prostitute. She’s a woman of ill reputation. Exchanging sex for money. Maybe she had terrible parents. Maybe her husband died. Maybe at the time she saw no other way. She’ll be a sinner her whole life, right? Nobody will give her another chance. She’s a hooker! But she comes to Jesus. She kisses the Christ and anoints him in a selfless, dependent act of true repentance. And Jesus says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” And she leaves that dinner party a changed woman. The Son of God has given her life. Christ Jesus changed her.

JesusHealsBleedingWomanThe man on the side of the road was born blind. Blind since birth. Really bad luck. He’s going to be a beggar his whole life. It’s awful. He’s blind! Jesus’ disciples ask, “Why is this guy blind? Somebody sinned here. Was it him or his parents?” And Jesus says, “Nobody sinned. This happened so the work of God can be displayed in his life.” And Jesus heals him. Jesus gave the man his sight. The man says, “This is from God!” Jesus changed him. He gave him life.

As soon as they submit, as soon as they let go, as soon as they come to Jesus and give their baggage to the Lord, God in Christ changes them. He changes everybody.

The naked demon-possessed guy. No name. No clothes. No home. No family. No community. No nothing. Satan had taken from this guy everything it means to be made in the image of God. He’s been conditioned by his village to believe he’s destined to live among the dead. But he comes to Jesus. And he’s changed. He’s wearing clothes. He’s in his right mind. He’s got a home. He has a family, a community. And he’s got a mission.

JesusHuggingZacchaeus was a selfish, crooked tax collector, hated by the people of God and an outsider in his own town. But Jesus calls him and now he’s giving half of everything he owns to the poor. He’s repaying the people he stole from four times the amount he took and he’s being called a son of Abraham by the promised Messiah. He’s changed.

The Samaritan woman was the town sleaze. Now after an encounter with Jesus she’s the town evangelist. She’s changed! Saul was the Church’s biggest enemy, the killer of Christians. But just a little talk with Jesus and Paul is the greatest writer and preacher and church planter in history. He’s changed! The Philippian jailer was beating Silas. Now he’s washing Silas’ wounds and cooking him dinner. He’s changed!

“Am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” ~Ezekiel 18:23

If you’re an alcoholic. If you’re a mean-spirited person and your overly negative and critical because that’s the way your dad was. If you’re addicted to pornography and you have been for almost 20 years.

You can change. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Come to me and you’ll never be hungry again.”

If you’re arrogant or selfish because everybody in your line of work has to be that way. If you’re an adulterer. If you use illegal drugs. If you’ve tried to quit six dozen times but you keep sliding right back in and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You can change. Jesus says, “Come to me. Come to me and drink living water.”

If you’re a liar and you’ve always been a liar. If you’re divisive. If you’re a racist because that’s the way things were back then and that’s the way you were raised. If you’re a cheater. If you’re a thief. If you’re abusive, physically or verbally. If your life is not what you planned it to be.

You can change. Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away.”

You can change.

But it’s not going to be an intellectual deal. You’re not going to change because of rational arguments and logic. You’re going to have to experience it. It’s going to take an encounter with the crucified and risen Son of God. You’re going to have to turn to the One who died for you, you’re going to have to submit to the One who calls you. You’re going to have to give yourself fully to him. Let his holiness transform your conscience. Let his truth nourish your mind. Let his beauty purify your imagination. Let his eternal purpose shape your will. Let his limitless love melt your heart.

“Rid yourself of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die? I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” ~Ezekiel 18:31-32

Peace,

Allan

The Hope of Change

JesusInvitesDon’t tell God you can’t change. Don’t tell anybody you can’t change. Don’t believe it about yourself: that you can’t change.

“The fathers eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” ~Ezekiel 18:2

God’s people are going through a really tough time. Most of Judah had already fallen to the Babylonians and a lot of the people had been captured and scattered throughout Babylon. Jerusalem was under siege and things were getting worse. And they blamed everything that was happening on their parents. Things are really bad and there’s nothing I can do about it.

And maybe we do similar things. My life hasn’t turned out the way I planned. My finances. My marriage. My sins. My life is a mess, it’s always been this way, and it’s always going to be this way. Some of us live in chronic crisis. When we have a personality crisis, we blame our parents. When we have a behavior crisis, we blame our family. When we have a marriage crisis, we blame our spouse. When we have a sin crisis, we blame the culture, the government, the boss. We’ll blame others for where we are and who we are and use that as an excuse for not doing anything about it. And God speaks through his servant Ezekiel and takes away all the excuses.

“‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son — both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.'”  ~Ezekiel 18:3-4

God says categorically this saying is not true. Both parent and child belong to the Lord. Everybody belongs to the Lord. And God is not only sovereign over all things, he’s also a just judge. He doesn’t punish people for sins they don’t commit. He goes on to explain that a person is judged by what they do and how they behave on their own. It’s not tied to the people who’ve gone before.

“The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” ~Ezekiel 18:20

God takes away all the excuses. And he calls for a change.

“If a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.” ~Ezekiel 18:21-22

I love the Ephesians 2 passage that says you used to be one thing but now you’re another thing entirely. You used to be an enemy of God. Guided by the growling desires of your stomach. Living by the principles of the world. But you’re not that anymore! By the Spirit of God through Christ Jesus, you’re not that anymore! You were rescued. You were saved. God changed you!

1 Corinthians 6 is just as good. Wicked. Sexually immoral. Idolaters. Thieves. Greedy. Drunkards. Slanderers. Swindlers. That’s what some of you were. But you’re not anymore. You were washed. You were justified. You were sanctified. God changed you!

Scripture says if you give yourself to God, he’ll change you. God changes people. God reaches down in power and love and grace and in miraculous ways he changes hearts and minds and lives. He re-creates people. He re-images worldviews and dispositions. He re-routes eternal souls.

God takes away all our excuses. But notice God doesn’t take away all our excuses just so we can be crushed under the full impact of the requirements of his holy law. He takes away all the excuses so we will turn to him and live. So we will submit and change.

“‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ declares the sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'” ~Ezekiel 18:23

When people turn to God and live, when people submit to God and live, God is pleased. This is what makes him happy. The Bible says God wants all men and women to be saved and to come to a knowledge of his truth. And our God doesn’t just make this change possible, he makes it his top priority. He’s so committed to your change, he gave up everything to come here in person to show us what it looks like.

“”Rid yourselves of all the offense you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the sovereign Lord. ‘Repent and live!'” ~Ezekiel 18:31-32

You can change. Not because you have the power to change, but because God has the power to change you. I will GIVE you a new heart, he says. I will GIVE you a new spirit. You can change. Not because you can live right if you try really hard, but because of God’s lavish grace and forgiveness. He gives you the grace to change.

Peace,

Allan

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