Despite Their Fear (Ezra 1-3)

Have you ever considered the possibility that we in the US have become a nation of whiney, angry victims? We’ve become reactionaries, emotional cripples, entitled, tantrum-throwing thugs. And a world that once envied and admired us, now looks at us as people to be pitied, or at least as the biggest joke ever.

It’s hard to take a stand for the Truth when that stand could offend someone who lashes out verbally, or even physically. People have been killed for wearing a hat someone didn’t like. To disagree is to invite violence.

So what are we to do? The Truth we as Christians possess is an offensive message. If we are to share the Gospel, we are to show people their need of a Savior, point out sin in their lives, help them realize they are without hope unless they conform to the demands of God.

Them’s fighting words.

Some people, in light of the present climate, seem to think silence is the answer. Keep your faith to yourself, let others believe what they want to believe, stay under the radar. Other people appear to be going along with the crowd rather than ruffle feathers; be tolerant, be loving, be accepting of all beliefs, don’t offend by calling things like abortion or homosexuality sin.

But what does God want us to do? Jesus Himself warned that we would be hated for following Him, and reminded us that they hated Him first. Jesus didn’t tell us to change the message, or to keep the message to ourselves.

GO!

Make disciples.

The Jews had been commissioned to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The only ones glad about that, however, were the Jews. The opposition tried to discourage, threaten, and intimidate the Jews out of completing their mission. But look at what God tells us in Ezra 3:3,

Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.

The Jews didn’t fight back. They didn’t get into Tweet wars. They simply carried on with what they knew they were to do – and they did it openly and honestly. I think God would have us do the same.

Christian, let’s continue to build God’s Church by revealing God to those around us, by sharing the Gospel no matter how afraid we are that it will offend. Let’s continue to worship God in spirit and truth, and to love our neighbors enough to talk about the hard things.

Despite our fears.

Understanding (Daniel 10-12)

Daniel was sad about the state of Israel. God had revealed to him that the day of judgment was imminent. After fasting from choice food for three weeks, the prophet stood at the riverbank. It was there he received his final vision.

The angel said something to Daniel that spoke to me today:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” (10:12)

Isn’t that amazing? God hears our prayers for understanding, then helps us understand. I see that same encouragement throughout Scripture. If we seek God, we will find Him.

…if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding… then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:2-5)

Think over what I say for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:7)

I think we should start out every morning humbling ourselves and confessing to God that we don’t understand everything. We don’t understand His mind or His ways. We don’t understand His plan for us. But we’d like to. So we set our minds to understand.

We read our Bibles to get to know God’s heart. We pray to bare our souls, to repent, to draw near to God. And when we do, God gives us the understanding we seek, and He wants us to have.

Why? Why is it important to God that we understand? Look at how the book of Daniel ends:

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance. (12:13)

God wants us to have an understanding so that we can take it and use it to reveal God to a world that needs Him. We don’t gain understanding just so we know more facts than the next guy. We don’t study to show ourselves superior to others.

We gain an understanding for the purpose of sharing it, going about our way, making disciples until this life is over.

Do you understand Scripture? There’s more for you to understand.

Do you feel you can’t understand Scripture? That’s a lie from the enemy. Ask God for understanding. Ready your heart. Draw near to Him. Humbly repent of sin. Then know He hears you, and will be right there to give you understanding in response to your prayers.

Then may we all share what we know is true according to Scripture as God gives us understanding. Let’s be workmen who have no reason to be ashamed because we are rightly understanding God’s Word and sharing it with those who are lost without Him.

May our God-given understanding result in changed hearts for Jesus’ sake.

Choose Me (Ezekiel 42-43)

He was so willing. God would have forgiven Israel for every evil thing they ever did or even thought. “Here I am,” He said. “Here is my throne and a place for the soles of my feet. I’m not going anywhere.” They just needed to turn from their sin, put away their idols, and He would live among them forever.

Let them consider the plan, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple… its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations. (43:10b-11)

He was so willing. But they couldn’t do it. And neither can we.

Sometimes connecting with God’s heart breaks mine. This morning as I read these chapters I could hear His longing, and could almost feel His pain. “Choose me!” He pleads.

He’s done all the work. That altar and its regulations were fulfilled perfectly when God sacrificed Himself on the cross. “Just choose me,” He cries.

I pray that you have, at some point in your life, chosen God, that you have repented from sin, turned from your idols, and turned to the Savior. But I hope that isn’t the only time you’ve dealt with sin in your life.

Even the Apostle Paul struggled with sin. He tells us He made a conscious decision to “die” every day, to put aside self and sin, and choose God. Every. Day. “To live is Christ,” he said.

Choosing God isn’t easy, and it’s not always fun. Choosing God comes with sacrifice, hardship, selflessness. Choosing God means getting out of our comfort zones, going to battle, loving people who don’t agree with us, and praying for them. Choosing God goes against everything we’ve come to believe is true; that we should be wealthy and healthy, that we deserve to be happy, that as “children of the king” we should live the high life.

Scripture tells us that Jesus knew the world would hate us for choosing Him, because they hated Him first.

But choosing God is the most amazingly wonderful choice you will ever make. Choosing God is choosing something better than anything this world offers. Better than money, or fame, or a home on Easy Street. Choosing God is choosing love and forgiveness, help and encouragement, purpose and fellowship, and eternity more wonderful than any of us can imagine.

“Choose me,” God is saying to you. “Choose me today, and tomorrow, and the next day. Choose me this hour, this minute. Choose me and I promise I will never leave you, I’ll plant the soles of my feet in your heart and bless you with Myself.”

I choose God today. I’m praying you’ll do the same.

God Is Revealed (Ezekiel 38-39)

God’s punishment for sin will always be evident in this world, because there will always be sin in the world until He comes again. Natural disasters will happen. Evil men will do evil things. There will be disease, and war, and heartache and suffering. There will continue to be times when God removes His protection, and even His children will suffer because of their sin.

But!

There will always, ALWAYS, be times of grace, of mercy, of victory when people humble themselves and repent of sin. God will always, ALWAYS bless those who obey Him.

Why? So that the world and everyone in it will recognize that God is Holy. God is Sovereign, God is who He says He IS and there is no other. This world is about God.

As I read His Word I understand that Truth. And here is the best part of that. God wants a relationship with me! God wants to protect and bless me as though I was His only child. Like a loving Father, He will discipline my rebellion, correct my self-centeredness, punish my disobedience. And like a loving Father, He will always, ALWAYS forgive me when I come to Him, humble myself, and repent.

May God be seen in me through every circumstance of life. May people recognize the Holy, Just, Fierce, and Forgiving God He is by watching Him work in my life. May I be a living example of His grace because:

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Everything that happens, the good and the bad, happen to point people to Jesus, to reveal God in all His holiness and goodness so that they will come to Him for forgiveness, and enjoy a relationship with the Sovereign, Holy God He is. I love to think that I may have a part in His plan, to reveal this wonderful God to a world that needs Him!

God’s Judgment (Ezekiel 20-21)

When you consider God’s final judgment, what comes to mind? Some people picture a big old drunken party around a campfire. Some see people wandering aimlessly through space, dragging the chains they formed in this lifetime. Many people don’t want to believe there will even be a final judgment, just nothingness, that we will cease to exist when we die.

God told Ezekiel to spell out exactly what His judgment on the disobedient Jews would entail, and Ezekiel complained, “Ah, Sovereign Lord! They are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?'” (20:49) Those Old Testament Jews didn’t want to believe in judgment any more than people in 2020.

So let me ask again: what do you believe about God’s judgment?

I notice as I read Ezekiel this morning how often God tells us His judgment protects His Name, that His judgment reveals who He is to the nations of the world. His Name which is Holy, Holy, Holy. If there was no judgment, He could not be Holy.

Scripture also tells us God’s judgment is without mercy. Can you wrap your mind around that truth? Some will argue that because God is love He wouldn’t condemn anyone to a terrible eternity in hell. That because God is merciful, He wouldn’t judge without mercy.

What do you say to that?

Was God speaking in parables, in fairytales, or using scare tactics to get us to obey Him? Or is there an actual place, void of God, void of light, void of fellowship, where the groans and wailings of the condemned are the only sounds, where there is no hope, no reprieve, no comfort? Is there a place where pain and suffering beyond anything anyone has ever experienced in this lifetime, no matter how awful, is the only reality forever?

What do you say to that?

Ezekiel kept telling Israel about the judgment that was coming even if they didn’t believe him. We need to do the same. Because God will seriously judge without mercy, and hell is real.

But, we also need to tell people the one and only way they can avoid God’s final judgment. They need to know that Jesus paid that awful penalty for them. He met His own requirements so no one has to spend eternity without Him.

Just as God judges the guilty without mercy, He shows mercy to those who come to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. To all of us who repent of sin, who find forgiveness in the cross, we need have no fear of God’s final judgment.

What do you say to that?

A Sign (Ezekiel 12)

The heading my NIV has given chapter 12 is “The Exile Symbolized.” God told Ezekiel to pack a travel bag during the daytime, and in front of the people, as though he was packing for exile. In the evening, again in front of the people, he was to dig a hole in the city wall with his bare hands, then take his travel bag and crawl through the hole to the other side.

Next, he was to strap his travel bag over his shoulder at dusk, and put a blindfold on so he couldn’t see. When asked by the people what he was doing, he was to answer, “I am a sign to you.”

The object lesson was not done. God told Ezekiel to “tremble” as he ate, to “shudder in fear” as he drank water, and warn the people they were going to live in fear and anxiety. “Then,” he said speaking God’s words, “you will know that I am the Lord.” (vs20b)

Makes me wonder what kind of “sign” I am to the people around me. The people watched Ezekiel, and people are watching me. Ezekiel’s actions revealed a God who judges sin, a God who demands obedience and harshly punishes disobedience. Is that the message people get from my life?

Or do they see a God who laughs at sin, a God who is more interested in my bank account and my physical comfort than my spiritual health and eternal soul? Does my life seem to draw a picture of a God who is comfortable on a shelf, or worse, irrelevant, outdated, and invisible? I pray that they recognize a God who is active in my life, directing my life, blessing me and growing me?

God was demonstrating through Ezekiel that there is a limit to His patience, that judgment follows disobedience, and the consequences for rejecting God are serious. I think He wants to demonstrate the same through me. Because if people don’t come to Him through His Son, their consequences are going to be worse than exile in Babylon for a few years.

I not only want people to recognize that God is serious about sin when they observe my life, I want them to see that God is merciful, forgiving, gracious, and good. I want them to see that following God is so much better than navigating this life without Him. I want them to look at me and want what I have in my relationship with Him.

God gave a sign to the Israelites through Ezekiel that warned them about their upcoming exile due to their rejection of God. I pray God will use me as a sign to people to warn them about what lies ahead as a result their choices, too. But I pray He will give me the privilege of being an object lesson about what “saved by grace” looks like in real time.

May Jesus be seen in me, and may people be drawn to the Savior as a result.

Turn Around (Ezekiel 8)

I think every time I read Ezekiel’s vision I gasp when the people turn their backs on the Temple and bow toward their pretend gods in the east. That picture of blatant rejection of God shocks me every time.

Yet, even with this defiant act of disobedience, these were still citizens of God’s chosen people, Jews, Israelites. They considered themselves God’s favored nation even when they worshiped other gods. It blows my mind.

Today, however, God is asking me to do a gut check. Here are some questions I feel Him ask of me today:

Do I call myself a Christian, but refuse to repent of a sin?

Do I attend church on Sunday, yet live a lifestyle no different than my neighbor who has no use for church?

Do I read my Bible out of duty instead of letting it change me?

Do I read my Bible at all?

Do I live my life focused on myself, my feelings, my needs, my rights, my dreams, yet tell people I follow Jesus?

Do I know what is right according to Scripture, yet compromise the Truth?

Do I go to church expecting an experience, or do I go humbly, trembling at the seriousness of approaching a Holy God as He demands?

Oh, there are a lot of ways I can turn my back on the temple, so to speak. And I should be as appalled with myself as I am with those twenty-five people in Ezekiel 8 when I do. Today I am asking God to reveal any shift, no matter how small, from my worshiping Him in total Truth. I don’t want any part of me turning away from Him.

In fact, if God reveals the slightest movement, I want Him to convict me. I want to be sensitive to Him, and obedient. If I am facing the wrong way, I want to turn around and bow down to the one and only God according to Scripture.

Where are you facing right now? Is it time you turned around?

God Has Our Backs (Ezekiel 1-4)

Ezekiel had a call on his life. God wanted him to speak Truth in a time when the Israelites had rejected the Truth. I believe we, as people who know the God of Truth, have the same calling on our lives. Here is what encouraged me today:

2:1-2 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” (emphasis mine)

God didn’t tell Ezekiel to get up, then sit back and watch Ezekiel struggle to stand. God gave him an order, then enabled Ezekiel to obey. Then when Ezekiel was on his feet, he was able to hear God speak. God was in this with Ezekiel, not an observer but an active participant in the calling on Ezekiel’s life.

3:1-2 Again he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.” (emphasis mine)

Again God gives an order, then gives Ezekiel what he needs to obey the order. Ezekiel didn’t have to go searching for the scroll. He didn’t have to write his own scroll. God gave the scroll to Ezekiel.

After Ezekiel had ingested the scroll God told him to go to the Israelites and “speak my words to them.” I am reminded that God has given us His Words in the pages of Scripture and tells us to do the same: Speak God’s Words to our world. But first we must ingest His Words just like Ezekiel did. How much time do we spend in God’s Word every day? Have we devoured it, tasted it, ingested it so that it becomes a part of us? God has given us His Word, like he gave Ezekiel the scroll, and with it the command to tell others what His Word says.

Yes, Ezekiel was commanded to go to people and tell them about God. But never forget God gave Ezekiel the words.

3:10-12,14 And he said to me, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.” Then the Spirit lifted me up…The Spirit then lifted me up and took me way…” (emphasis mine)

Once Ezekiel had ingested the Words of God, God told Him to take it to his countryman and tell them the words Ezekiel had taken to heart, the words of God. But again, Ezekiel didn’t have to find his own way. God lifted him up and took him to the exact spot where the exiles lived.

We are called to go and make disciples, to be a light in the darkness, to speak Truth, to be prepared to give an answer for our hope in the Lord. But it is getting increasingly difficult to do.

We know people are being attacked verbally and physically, some are dying for offending someone, or disagreeing with someone, or speaking Truth when the lies are becoming accepted as truth.

But Ezekiel’s experience encourages me. I only need to be obedient. God will take it from there. He will give me the words to speak, open doors and put me in the middle of people who need Him. He will raise me up and be everything He needs me to be in order to be obedient.

I am reminded of Isaiah 30:21 which says:

Whether you go to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

That voice behind you is God. He’s got your back.

We have a calling. It’s not a popular calling. Our message might be rejected. But take heart, dear one. If we obey what God commands, He will raise us up, give us the words, and show us the way.

Be encouraged today.

Is God the Enemy? (Lamentations 1:1-3:36)

What had been beautiful and blessed now stood in ruins. The people who had been protected by God were now in captivity. Those who had been respected were suddenly targets of scorn. How did things get so bad for the Old Testament Israelites? Listen to what the writer of Lamentations says:

The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading. (2:14)

In other words, the people had exchanged the Truth for a theology that didn’t require them to repent of sin. And they liked it.

But the consequences for disobedience were without mercy. In fact, the writer says this sad statement: “The Lord is like an enemy…” (2:5) Then he goes on to say things like God had laid waste His dwelling, destroyed His place of meeting, rejected His altar and abandoned His sanctuary. God had withdrawn from Israel.

It’s a sobering thought to think God is like an enemy when He is punishing sin. This patient, loving God who pursues each of us, woos us, throws out one sign after another to reveal Himself as the One True God, has a limit to His mercy. And His final judgment without mercy is worse than any of us can imagine.

The thing is, God wrote down all His requirements so that there would be no question about what is expected of us. Then He spelled out what His anger and judgment looks like so no one could say they didn’t know. But He also tells us in His Word that He Himself provided the way for us sinful people to go to Him, receive His mercy and forgiveness, and live not as an enemy, but as a beloved child now and forever.

If God is the enemy it is only because we have embraced our own “truth,” refused to deal with sin according to Scripture. We’ve listened to false prophets who tell us a relationship with God means health and wealth, that worship of God should be an experience, that Jesus isn’t God, that there are many ways to approach God, that a loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell.

And if God is the enemy, we are in serious trouble, my friend.

Check Your Weapon (Jeremiah 46-48)

Do you get tired of this spiritual warfare you are fighting? You face the enemy, you resist temptation, flee from sin, and God gives you a victory. But you turn around, and there’s Satan again at the door with a new arsenal ready to lead yet another attack using another temptation, then another, and another.

God, through Jeremiah, is talking about judgment on the nations that rejected Him. The truth is, anyone who rejects God faces judgment. And every time we sin, we are rejecting God.

That’s why I don’t read about “them” in Scripture. What was true in Jeremiah’s time is still true today. Like this:

Ah, sword of the Lord,” you cry, “how long till you rest? Return to your scabbard; cease and be still.” But how can it rest when the Lord has commanded it, when he has ordered it to attack Ashkelon and the seacoast?” (47:6-7)

If you aren’t weary of the spiritual warfare, you aren’t fighting the spiritual enemy. How can you think about resting when God has commanded it? Hear what He has to say about that:

A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord’s business! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed! (48:10)

How clean is your sword? Is it stained with Satan’s blood because you have stood up for Truth, you’ve resisted temptation, you’ve introduced someone to the Savior? Do you go to bed at night spent, exhausted from being a soldier in God’s army, doing this and that, going here and there, speaking to this person and that person, tending to the needs of others God brings to mind, studying God’s Word, growing, maturing, being stretched and pulled as He transforms you into someone who isn’t afraid to strike a blow in the heart of Satan?

Or are you lax in doing God’s work? Have you put away your sword and are content to leave it there shiny and new? I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where God retires his soldiers. I don’t see an age limit to picking up your sword and using it in the fight for the kingdom of God. I don’t see any army or any soldier in Scripture who went home after winning one battle. This is war!

Check your weapon. I pray it is nicked, and stained, and ready for another battle. I’m checking mine.