Speak (Ezekiel 2:7)

But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.

Ezekiel 2:7

Ezekiel is one of the more encouraging book openings for those who speak the Word of God. The book begins with more than one reminder that the responsibility for the reception of the message is on the heads of those who hear it. This does not absolve the one tasked with delivering the message — Ezekiel was still responsible for delivering God’s message in the way that God prescribed it be delivered — but it does limit the scope of that responsibility. This verse is encouraging to me on multiple levels.

First, because it encourages me to keep writing these blogs. When I began these, I wrote them exclusively for my own recollection and edification and there were several entries completed before I thought of sharing them with anyone. Even then, they were originally shared as notes on Facebook and then only with my friends. When the transition was made to writing these devotions down as blogs, it was done because a friend wanted to comment in a way that Facebook did not allow. So the entries moved from there to here. I never did go back and migrate the entries that were not included here, but that is probably just as well. None of those was written with the thought that anyone else would ever read them. I am now certain that others read these devotions and equally mindful that the message may not be exclusively for me.

Second, because years ago — so many years I would rather not tally them — I had a recurring nightmare that I understood as me trying to warn those closest to me and them not listening. This verse is a reminder that I am responsible for the warning, not the reception thereof.

Neither of the foregoing pieces of encouragement absolves me of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but I am reminded that I may be ignored and I may write words that float around the blue nowhere until God brings them to the person He wants to hear that message in that way. I, personally, have very little to say that is of worth. God’s Word is always valuable and always accomplishes what He intends it to (Isaiah 55:10-11).

This verse encourages me to speak God’s Word in love and not to worry about whether or not people listen. Rebellious people are rebellious. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with their response to God. But me … I am charged to speak the Truth in love.

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The Crown Has Fallen (Lamentations 5:16)

The crown has fallen from our head;
Woe to us, for we have sinned!

Lamentations 5:16

America has been making a lot of decisions lately. Most recently, America’s highest court decided that all 50 of the United States must recognize “marriages” between persons of the same sex.

I am not going to go on a tirade about God judging America for this — He has ample reason to judge us apart entirely from this debacle — but I am going to note that this morning’s verse rang truer than ever before as I read it this morning.

In The Bible, crowns are not typically symbolic of power. Look through the pages of scripture and you find that a horn is the symbol of power. Crowns are symbolic of majesty; of glory. When Jeremiah mourns that the crown has fallen from the head of Israel, he is not saying that their power has been broken — he says that plainly in other portions of the passage — and he is not saying that their influence has waned — again, he says that plainly elsewhere. Instead, he is mourning the loss of their glory. Where once Jerusalem had been considered a city inviolate; a precious place it was now a source of derision and disdain.

While pages have been and will be written on the crown falling from the head of America, I will note, instead, that the crown has fallen from the head of the church in much of the Western world. The church; God’s people used to be an example of what is good. We, by and large, are not. We lament the decline of marriage, but turn a blind eye to the fact that it declined in our midst when we began to divorce as often as the unbeliever. We lament the deaths of the unborn, but ignore those among us who wander about with murder in their hearts in the form of hate … I am glaring at you, Westboro Baptist. We speak of Jesus’ love and forgiveness and desire to restore and yet kill our own wounded when we learn that a pastor or leader has done something untoward. We should not be naïve about things — our Lord told us to be wise as serpents — but we should be restoring our own and doing everything in our power to bolster them; to strengthen them; to be a support that helps them to stand where once they fell.

If the crown has fallen from the head of America — a fact of which I have no doubt — it fell first from the head of the church in her midst. I am not perfect. God knows I have sins aplenty. Imperfection is not, however, disqualification in the eyes of God. I must pray for those who are blinded by the lies they have been told. I must speak the unadulterated Truth. I must also seek my Lord’s strength to live out in the midst of those same people an example of what He wants for us. If I would speak on the holiness of marriage, let me seek first to make my own marriage holy. If there is to be real, lasting change then it must begin with me. I must be changed. I must be holy. God commands as much when He bids me be holy because He is holy.

I mourn for my nation and her blindness. My heart breaks for those who think good this change; this redefining of something God defined at the foundation of the world. More, I mourn for myself and my fellow believers who have allowed the crown to fall from our head. We have sinned. And we have nothing like the unbeliever’s excuse.

Recall to My Mind (Lamentations 3:21-23)

21 This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22 The LORDS lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
23 [They] are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23

If anyone understood feeling hopeless, it was Jeremiah. Nearly every prophecy he was given was about the ruin of some kingdom. Worse, he knew that the prophecies came with caveats; conditions that could turn aside the worst of things. If people would surrender to the invader who was executing God’s judgment, then those people would live and not endure a horrific siege. In the midst of receiving and passing along terrible news and in the midst of enduring the siege with those who refused to listen and take the path of gentler discipline, Jeremiah remembers.

He writes that God’s compassions and lovingkindnesses; His mercy never cease and do not fail. Jeremiah remembers that both compassion and mercy are new every morning. Every new day seems to bring with it a new example of God’s forbearance and longsuffering with us. Every new day brings fresh mercies and a new wave of compassion. That God would do this; that He would renew His mercy and compassion toward us every day is staggering and Jeremiah responds with the statement that God’s faithfulness is great.

This morning, I want to focus in on the first portion of these few verses. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. I have been struggling with feeling anxious about something on the schedule horizon for a few days now and nothing seemed to be setting me at ease. I kept looking for comfort from friends and family, but everything everyone said just made the anxiety worsen. And this was everyone trying to be helpful. The anxiety has lessened and my heart sits more at ease than just two days ago, but it did not get there by comforting words from friends or encouragement of family. My heart came to a place of increased peace when I did what Jeremiah did: I recalled to mind the attributes of God.

A knowledge — experiential, not conceptual — of Who God is is more necessary than I often realize. His character; His repeated actions toward me and others is a source not only of understanding Him in some small measure but also of comfort and hope for me and every other believer. Aristotle once said that we are what we repeatedly do. This is never more true than when it is applied to God. He is what He repeatedly does. He loves and The Bible declares that He is love (I John 4:8, 16). He tells us the (often painful and sometimes unpleasant) truth and He is declared to be the Truth (John 14:6). Over and over, I find that His declared character and His actions are in agreement. So, when I thought about the verse that says God has not given me a spirit of fear and another that says that perfect love casts out fear, I understood that the fear I was allowing residence in my mind and heart was not from God. When I recognized that and I took it to Him and agreed with Him that fear is not His tool and that my fear and anxiety showed my lack of trust in Him and Who He has shown Himself to be, then the fear subsided. There is still nervousness — I am walking into unknown experiential territory — but the mind-numbing, soul-crushing fear has retreated. It keeps trying to make a resurgence and I, like Jeremiah, must recall to my mind what I have heard and seen and experienced of God’s character.

And all that I have seen and heard and experienced tells me that God is good and His mercy endures forever. Let me recall to my mind what I have heard and seen and experienced of God when circumstance would crush me. If I recall these things, then I have hope.

An Example (Lamentations 1:18)

“The LORD is righteous;
For I have rebelled against His command;
Hear now, all peoples,
And behold my pain;
My virgins and my young men
Have gone into captivity.”

Lamentations 1:18

Lamentations is something of a companion piece to the book of Jeremiah. While the one focused on the prophecies handed down to Jeremiah against various kingdoms and people, the book of Lamentations is, quite simply, a series of laments over the results of those prophecies.

This morning’s verse was written as if spoken by Jerusalem after judgment had been executed on the city. There are some principles that appear in this verse that apply both to my nation and to me as an individual believer.

First, the truth. The LORD is righteous; For I have rebelled against His command. No one likes to face this particular truth, but it is one that must be faced. The United States, a nation that once espoused Christian ideals, has turned its back on those ideals and now chases the ghosts of relativistic truth. Likewise, I may, as an individual, rebel against God’s command. Nations are made up of large quantities of individuals and The Bible is rather clear that God is abundantly willing to withhold judgment for the sake of the righteous mixed in with the unrighteous. See Genesis 18:22-33. The bedrock truth of judgment is this: judgment and discipline are the result of rebellion.

Second, what I should be doing. Hear now, all peoples, And behold my pain. I should be learning from others’ example. If someone is obedient and blessing follows, that should indicate to me that obedience is rewarded and I should make note and behave accordingly. Conversely, if someone is disobedient and judgment or discipline follows, then  should take note and be warned against disobedience. There is a “demotivator” out there that warns that the purpose of a life may only be to serve as a warning to others. Both the individual and the nation need to learn from the examples of others.

Last, what things look like from the vantage point of being disciplined. Jerusalem says that her young men and virgins have gone into captivity. I will theorize that the phrase is a metaphor for one’s future and hope being taken away. Mind you, the notion that the future and hope of Jerusalem had been stripped away flies in the face of the promises made to the people by God (Jeremiah 29:11-12). Perception is not reality — unlike housing prices in Southern California. There is a rebellion that results in having no future and no hope, viz. rebellion against God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. But every other rebellion is forgivable, as far as I can see in The Bible. In the short term, discipline and judgment leave me with the idea that my future and my hope have been taken away. For confirmation of this, I need only think back on how I perceived the discipline my parents handed down for my disobedience as a younger man. But that perception is false. Jerusalem would eventually be restored. So, too, will I be restored when the time of discipline is completed.

I will not presume to dictate to my compatriots what we should do as a nation. As a believer, I am convinced that we need repentance and a return to the truth of God. I also know that not all of my countrymen (and women) believe as I do. For my believing compatriots, let us pray that our nation would be convicted of its transgression and turn back to the God it has spurned. For myself, I need to remember that God is righteous and only disciplines when I have rebelled. I need to learn from the examples of others — both to do the good examples and to turn away from the bad. And I need to remember that discipline ends in restoration. God may chasten me for a time, but He does so in order to make me more like Himself.

What Idols Are Worth (Jeremiah 51:18)

They are worthless, a work of mockery;
In the time of their punishment they will perish.

Jeremiah 51:18

The verse is pretty straightforward and I feel like I could just post the verse and write “I’m just going to leave this here ….” but there is something more that impacts me about this.

It is difficult to speak of the idols of the ancient world without saying something about modern science. The reason for this is that much of what the ancients worshiped is now studied in the sciences. Fertility? We have scientists and doctors who study that. Harvest? Got ’em. Life? Yup. Death? Oh, yeah. Weather? Yes. For almost every ancient deity, one can find a field of study in the modern world. For some, these fields are a means of bettering humanity’s lot, for others it is their deity and they will sacrifice anything in its service and pursuit. Their are other things that smack of the same: fame, wealth, “love”, sexual prowess, and on and on. But the sciences most closely mirror the ancients, because both are an attempt to do the same thing: make sense of the natural world. The ancients called these explanations religion. Moderns call these explanations science. The net result is often the same.

What do I worship? It is a valid question and one that every person should examine. The staunch atheist may not worship the true and living God nor any of the obvious pretenders to His throne, but he may worship science or fame or pleasure. The Christian may claim to worship God Almighty, but be spending most of his time in the pursuit of riches and thus prove that he worships wealth above God. And that is the root of the rot. What consumes the majority of my time? Let us, for a moment, ignore the time spent on needful things like the required eight hours of the work day or the time spent eating or attending to other biological needs. How do I spend my free time? If most of it is spent watching television, it is possible that I worship entertainment or pleasure. If most of my spare time is spent working extra hours to earn more money then I may worship wealth or position or prestige. If I spend most of my free time trying to “hook up” with people, then I might worship sex or pleasure or both.

I need to regularly examine myself and how I spend my time. How I spend my time tells me who or what I worship. And I ought to know the answer to the question, because [in] the time of their punishment they will perish. Only God and human souls are going to survive. Everything else is going nuclear.

Who or what am I worshiping? If the true and living God, then I am exactly where I need to be. If anything else; any idol, then I know what they are worth.

Help (Jeremiah 49:11)

“Leave your orphans behind, I will keep [them] alive;
And let your widows trust in Me.”

Jeremiah 49:11

The book of Jeremiah is still in a mode of doom for those to whom the prophecies are given. This verse pops up in God’s prophecy to Edom.

What struck me about this verse is God’s concern for the results of the judgment. He cannot withhold judgment and remain just, but He cannot leave the widow and the orphan without help and remain merciful. So He does neither. He drops the judgment bomb on Edom and makes this promise: He will take care of the widows and orphans.

That is all well and good and has nothing in the way of application for me today. Except that it does. See, the church; believers are spoken of as being the body of Christ in The Bible. This means that believers act as His hands and feet. We are to go where He would go and do what He would do. If He would take care of widows and orphans left behind after a catastrophe, then so, too, should we. God wanted to drive this point home so directly that there is a verse in James that says that visiting (i.e. helping) widows and orphans in their distress is undefiled religion.

What can I do to help? This should be what comes to my mind when I am made aware of a widow or an orphan. I cannot do everything — and God does not expect me to — but I can do something and God expects that something to be done. If there is legitimately nothing within the scope of my ability to be done other than praying for the individuals then my prayer is what God expects and He will take care of those.

At a minimum, let me pray for those who need God’s help to stay afloat. In addition to prayer, let me look for ways to be God’s hands and feet and to help those who need it.

Futile Fury (Jeremiah 48:30)

“I know his fury,” declares the LORD,
“But it is futile;
His idle boasts have accomplished nothing.”

Jeremiah 48:30

This verse occurs in the midst of a rather extensive run of judgments against various nations. This particular statement is made of Moab.

Little backstory on Moab. Back in Genesis, Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees and made his journey toward what would come to be known as Israel. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, came along for the trip. Now Lot was a large serving of trouble for his uncle and the two eventually parted ways. Lot settled near an infamous place known as Sodom. Sodom was eventually wiped off the map by God and Lot and his family were spared. Most of his family, anyway. His wife got all misty-eyed over the allures of the wicked city they were leaving and she was turned into a pillar of salt. The remaining family consisted of Lot’s two daughters. Once they had reached safety, the girls took a look back across the plains and saw the ruin of Sodom and figured that they and their father were all that was left of humankind on Earth. So the girls decided they needed to repopulate the world. They got their father drunk and each was impregnated by him. One of the resulting children was named Moab. This Moab is the one who goes on to found what would become the nation of Moab upon which God is pronouncing judgment through Jeremiah.

The background is important for a few reasons. First, that sort of history marks a person. It is not just that a person with an inappropriate past carries that around with them, but that Moab could not have gone anywhere without people wondering who his father was. And, in the ancient world, who your father was determined a great deal about who you would become. Second, Lot was not dedicated to God the way that Abraham was. There are verses that refer to him as “righteous Lot” and I will not contradict those, but Lot was a man, as the hymn states it, “prone to wander”. This penchant showed itself in his daughters and in his (grand)sons. There are more, but I do not want to go off on too much of a tear about Lot. Suffice it so say, Lot was not a great role model and Moab and his brother/cousin would have ha a difficult childhood.

All of that to arrive at the statement made by God. God says that He knows Moab’s fury. We all get angry and each of us has the potential for rage. But the same thing that is said of Moab’s fury could be said of ours: it is futile. I am a huge science-fiction nerd, and this makes me think of the Borg and their whole “Resistance is futile.” shtick, but there is a key difference: When God says something is futile, it is. Moab can be as angry as they want to be about God’s judgment on them, but their anger will not change the judgment nor will it make it anything other than just.

Moab talked a good game, too. God notes that His idle boasts have accomplished nothing. Essentially, God heard what Moab had to say, acknowledged it, and went along with what He (God) had purposed to do. Moab’s words were noise that accomplished nothing.

How often does this describe us? Right this moment, this could as easily be a charge leveled at various factions and interests within the United States. They are making a lot of noise, trying to legitimize themselves or what they do, but they cannot legitimize what God has declared sinful. It remains sinful regardless of what they say or do. Likewise, I cannot legitimize my own sins — they remain utterly sinful. Yet how often do I rage and cry against what God is doing in my life? I have done wrong and discipline and consequence naturally follow wrongdoing. All that my anger accomplishes is to tire me out.

Instead of fury, let me meet God’s judgment; His discipline with the knowledge that I, in all likelihood, deserve much worse than I will receive. Instead of boastful words, let me meet the discipline of God in silence and seek to learn the lesson that God wishes to teach. God is in His holy temple, let all the Earth (myself included and especially) be silent.