Wednesday, November 20, 2019

"Get Real, Stay Grounded"

Ezekiel 27.10-11 NCV

“Men of Persia, Lydia, and Put were warriors in your navy and hung their shields and helmets on your sides. They made you look beautiful. Men of Arvad and Cilicia guarded your city walls all around. Men of Gammad were in your watchtowers and hung their shields around your walls. They made your beauty perfect.

A few years ago I visited a female friend in the hospital after she had surgery. I was not prepared for what I saw. She was recovering well, sat upright in a chair, and was genuinely happy to see me. Knowing her the way I do, it was no surprise to find my friend communicative and cheery. What surprised me was her appearance without makeup. I’d never seen her that way. She looked different and truthfully, very plain.

I had a beautiful wife. But she looked even more beautiful with a little makeup. I loved and cherished her just the same either way, but makeup made a visual difference. Properly applied, makeup hides blemishes, covers wrinkles, and accentuates positive features. Many women are meticulous about their appearance and will not start their day without giving careful attention to their faces. I’ve actually witnessed women applying make-up using the rear view mirror while driving in morning traffic!

Ezekiel described the land of Tyre before its demise as having “men of Persia, Lydia, and Put” at its disposal. Tyrian soldiers “hung their shields and helmets” on this once mighty nation. The walls of Tyre’s castles were decorated with the “shields” of powerful and famous warriors. Like exquisite makeup on a gorgeous woman, these fighters made Tyre “look beautiful.”

“…your army, your men of war… they perfected your beauty”.
Ezek 27:10-11 NAS

I am somewhat self-conscious, and therefore conscientious, about my appearance. I may be a bit insecure. I do not wear makeup but I hunt for anything that makes me “look beautiful” to others. I decorate the walls of my soul with “shields and helmets” of past success, which I recall often and display readily. Today’s reading in Ezekiel prompts me to get real and stay grounded. Stripped of the makeup of past accomplishments, I probably appear very plain. Yet, that’s how God made me; that’s how He sees me and that’s how He loves me... naked, plain, unaccomplished, and destined to become the dirt from which I came.

“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3.19 NAS

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Suffering: You are Your Message"

Ezekiel 24.16-18 NLT

“Son of man, with one blow I will take away your dearest treasure. Yet you must not show any sorrow at her death. Do not weep; let there be no tears. Groan silently, but let there be no wailing at her grave. Do not uncover your head or take off your sandals. Do not perform the usual rituals of mourning or accept any food brought to you by consoling friends.”

“So I proclaimed this to the people the next morning, and in the evening my wife died.”

[Note: I wrote the article below six years ago, nearly one year before my wife was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Ten months later, she was gone. I miss her, profoundly so. She, just like Ezekiel’s wife, was my “dearest treasure.” Given a choice, I would rather have her and miss the lessons God is teaching me by her departure. But I was not given that choice. None of us are. We are never prepared for the suffering caused by great personal loss.

"Loss is a part of life, of being alive, of being human. Everyone experiences loss. Everyone."[1] 

"Death. Our great enemy. The last enemy. It didn't schedule an appointment or knock before entering. Death crashed the party."[2] 

Every time I read Ezekiel 24, prior to Adonica's death, I wondered in horror at the pain of the prophet in the loss of his wife. I have lived through that horror, and am still trying to trust God for a redemptive purpose in her passing.

The pre-loss article below now takes on special meaning for me...]

I would not want to be Ezekiel. If he loved his wife, as I do mine, then the price of prophetic service is far too high.

God warned Ezekiel that He would take the life of his “dearest treasure,” his beloved wife. The prophet was not to weep or “perform the usual rituals of mourning.” By so doing, Ezekiel was “a sign” (Ezekiel 24.24) to the exiled Jews who would soon experience the loss of their “dearest treasure,” Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. The Babylonian army would burn and destroy this monument to Jewish glory and the prophet would profoundly identify with their pain in the loss of his wife. This was experienced empathy at the highest level. 

Ezekiel was more than the preacher. He was the message. Ezekiel became the sermon he preached. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not an effective role-modeling technique. It’s hard to follow leaders who do not “practice what they preach.” When the alcoholic father chastises his son for drinking, the boy will likely think, “Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear what you are trying to tell me.”

If you have a message to impart, prepare to pay the price for that privilege. Personalize and practice the truth you teach or stop proclaiming it. Jesus Christ’s younger brother warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3.1). That’s Bible-speak for, “Walk the talk or... shut up!” We should not try to export what we are unable to import.

Hopefully, you and I will never be required to pay Ezekiel’s price to bear God’s truth. But there is a price for prophetic service. Words are cheap. So are small and insincere actions. Nothing less than total identification with your message and audience will do. 

You are your message.

“Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by
just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it...”
2nd Corinthians 3.2-3 The Message

_________________

The wonderful image of the man with the sandwich board at the top left of this post is by talented illustrator Erwin Sherman whose artwork you can view at http://www.theispot.com/portfolios/index.cfm?clientnumber=a2559&artistName=Erwin%20Sherman. The original piece contains the words "Hire the Best" on the sandwich board.

[1] How to Survive the Loss of a Love, Colgrove, Bloomfield, and McWilliams, 1976, p. 26.

[2] Through the Eyes of a Lion - Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power, Lusko, 2015, p. 51.

Monday, November 18, 2019

"How Could I Not Know?"

Ezekiel 20.9 AMP

“…I made Myself known to them by bringing them out of the land of Egypt.”

Can you prove the existence of God? I can, to my own satisfaction. I am convinced He is real because He acted on my behalf. The Lord made Himself known to the nation of Israel thousands of years ago “by bringing them out of the land of Egypt.” 

He revealed Himself to me in exactly the same way. I know the reality of Christ because He did for me what He did for the ancient Israelites. Jesus brought me out of the land of bondage. My deliverance proves His existence, at least to me. Twenty-five years ago I was homeless, living in my car and desperate for help. I invite you read "My Story" and here’s a few of excerpts…

“I well remember my lowest point. My mind was occupied with persistent and nagging thoughts of hatred, bitterness, and self-destruction. I was on emotional autopilot, intent only on surviving one miserable day at a time. Life, it appeared, had played a cruel joke on me. I could not even imagine myself as a pastor of a church, a husband, or a real dad. That life was gone forever. My calling to the ministry, my dream of a happy home, my desire to father my children was nothing more than a quickly fading memory and replaced with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.”

“Yet I recognized the still small voice of Jesus from somewhere in my past. I truly had ‘hit the bottom’ and it was now time to choose life or death. I found out I really wanted to live and I needed Christ to do it. He was summoning me to rely on Him. Jesus Christ would never forsake me. I became aware of my need for a Savior more than ever before. I humbly asked Jesus to give me a second chance. I decided to live.”

And “live” I did. I experienced a wonderful ending to an incredibly difficult story. I am Ebenezer Scrooge... I woke up from a very bad dream and was given a second chance at life! This is how I know God is real… He delivered me!

“I made Myself known
to them by bringing them out
of the land of Egypt.

I am the “them” of whom God speaks. God gave me an amazing life and beautiful wife who, after twenty years of wedded bliss, went to be with Jesus four years ago. I miss her terribly and have only a foggy idea how to navigate life without her. But I am confident He who helped me in the past will help me again. I have seven fabulous children, seven amazing grandchildren, a nice home, a good reputation, wonderful friends, self-respect, and even A+ credit. Based on where I came from, how could I possibly not know Jesus Christ loves me? 

How could I not know God is real?

Friday, November 15, 2019

"It's Better to be Blessed Than Good"

Ezekiel 18.31 NLT

“Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”

It’s better to be blessed than good. I can only be so good. There’s a ceiling on my goodness. No matter how hard I try to learn, practice, and apply myself, I only achieve a level of personal and professional goodness that falls within the limits of my God-given capacity. I need something more.

I once beheld the most beautiful rainbow Id ever seen while driving east on Tualatin Valley Highway. The colors were incredible and the arch was complete. It was so vivid I could almost reach out and touch it. I felt compelled to drive to either end and collect a pot of gold. What a blessing that would be!

A blessing is unearned. It supersedes my abilities and picks up where my best leaves off. God’s blessing is a gift. He chooses to bless me for no reason other than… He loves me and chooses to bless me. I could never be good enough to deserve His freely bestowed favor. That’s what makes it a blessing. It’s the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It’s there and it’s free. I just have to find it.

I try. I try hard to be good at what I do. But it’s not that easy. I am bombarded with options that restrict, rather than expand my pursuit of goodness. I need more. I need God’s blessing of “a new heart and a new spirit.” That’s the pot at the end of His rainbow for me.

I’m there, right there with the prophet Ezekiel. I’m in his audience of Jewish captives five hundred and ninety years before the birth of Christ. He is speaking directly to my tired heart…

“…find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”

I must have my pot of gold. I must have the blessing of God. I must “find... a new heart and a new spirit.” Being good is just not good enough. It’s much better to be blessed than good.

“…you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him
if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.”
God, Deuteronomy 4.29

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Jesus, Matthew 7.7

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"The Languishing Heart"

Ezekiel 16.30 NAS

How languishing is your heart,” declares the Lord God, “while you do all these things, the actions of a bold-faced harlot.”
  • Have you ever slammed a door after an argument? I have.
  • Did you ever say something you regretted? Me too.
  • Has your thought life ever offended God? Mine has.
  • Ever break a promise to your kids? Guilty!
  • Have you procrastinated when you should have taken action? Yes.
  • Did you use your time very unwisely on more than one occasion? Of course I have.
What do all these behaviors have in common? Each one produces inner turmoil. The “languishing” heart is God’s gift to sinners. The Hebrew root verb for “languishing” is 'amal and literally means ‘to droop.’ The word may be translated sick, mourn, feeble, wither, weak, weak-willed, and spent with longing. King David used the word to describe the condition of his heart following his sin with Bathsheba:

“Have mercy on me and be gracious to me,
O Lord, for I am weak ('amal, faint and withered away);
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.”
Psalm 6.2 AMP

Whenever I make a wrong choice, I feel it in “my bones,” just like David did. My insides ‘droop’ with despair. I suffer with a “languishing… heart.” The biblical solution for this spiritual condition is called repentance. Repentance, of course, requires humility, something I’m not fully familiar with. Yet humility is the path of healing for the “languishing… heart.”   It’s the path Jesus embarked upon when He “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.8). It’s the path He chooses for you and me.

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
James 4.6 NASU from Psalm 138.6

Lord, thank you for the gift of a “languishing… heart” reminding me to begin a new journey on the path of humility. “O Lord, heal me.” I repent. Lift up my drooping spirit. 
___________________

The wonderful image above entitled "a broken heart" originally came from a now closed site at sodahead.com. Artist is unknown. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"What Would You Do?"

Ezekiel 13.14 NAS

“So I shall tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the Lord.”

I offered to do some simple yard work at my friend’s vacant house for sale. I parked in her drive-way and exited the car. Looking down I detected a folded piece of green paper camouflaged in the grass. It had the face of Benjamin Franklin. I reached down and picked it up the cash. “This is my lucky day,” I thought. “God has blessed me with a gift of $100!” I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my wife about my once-in-a-lifetime good fortune.

Driving from my friend’s home, I began to think this may not be my money. Maybe this $100 was not a gift from God, but rather a test from God. A test of my integrity. It obviously belonged to someone who was presumably searching for their lost cash. But how could I find the rightful owner? My friend did not live in this empty house so it was not likely her’s. The bill probably blew in with the wind from who-knows-where. But clearly, I could not keep the money without performing at least a minimum level of due diligence in locating its owner.

I decided to call all recent showing Realtors® and ask them if they (or their buyers) had “lost anything of value” while previewing this vacant home. If a buyer’s agent accurately described the loss, I would turn the money over without question. That scenario was easy.

Additionally, I would contact the owner of the home (my friend). This was a little more delicate. If I was cryptic and required her to describe the loss she may have recently suffered, then it would appear as though I did not trust her. Since I did trust my friend, I decided t0 come right out with it. I planned to inquire, “Did you lose $100?” to which she would respond “Yes” or “No.” If my friend said “Yes,” then no problem. I would simply turn the money over to her. If she said “No,” or more likely “No, why do you ask?,” then I imagined a new ethical dilemma... should the $100 go to the owner of the property on which the money was found (my friend) or the lucky and blessed finder of the cash (me)?” What was I to do? What would you do?

I discovered something foundational about my personal belief system. I learned there were three things I really wanted to keep…

 -------1. my integrity
           2. my friend
           3. $100

It became obvious that I could not keep all three. I could possibly keep any two of the above, but not all three. The decision was made. I would keep my friend and my integrity. If she had not lost the money, I decided to give her the cash regardless, because I found it on her property. I would give my friend $100 not because I could not justify keeping it, but because I did not want to risk violating my integrity or losing her friendship. This was not an easy decision for me. I wanted to keep the cash. I guess I wanted my friend and peace of mind more.


I called J_________ and inquired, “Did you lose $100?” “Yes,” she blurted. “I’ve been looking all over for it. I folded it carefully and thought I put it in my pocket. I’ve checked all my pockets and everywhere in my house. Where did you find it?”

I became a hero. I saved my friendship and my integrity. It only cost me $100 (which wasn’t mine to begin with).

Back to Ezekiel 13... When the “wall” of my existence, defined by a lifetime of decisions, comes to an end and all my personal “whitewash” rubs off and the ‘plaster’ of my frail body crumbles to dust and when I “fall to the ground” and my “foundation is laid bare” before Jesus, what will He see?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"The Dark Room"

Ezekiel 8.7-10a, 12 NET

“He brought me to the entrance of the court, and as I watched, I noticed a hole in the wall. He said to me, ‘Son of man, dig into the wall.’ So I dug into the wall and discovered a doorway.” “He said to me, ‘Go in and see the evil abominations they are practicing here.’ So I went in and looked.” “He said to me, ‘Do you see, son of man, what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in the chamber of his idolatrous images? For they think, “The Lord does not see us! The Lord has abandoned the land!”’”


I would be mortified if others knew exactly what I was thinking. If the images of my mind were projected on the wide-screen for all to see, I would be more than just a little embarrassed. If I imagine myself as an ancient city, the wall around the city is what I project to the outside world. I welcome friends through the proper gate into the town square where I present entertaining shows and engage in inspirational conversation. Only trusted friends receive an invitation to my personal residence where they may observe how I actually live.

But there is a room in my imaginary home no one is invited to enter. I call it the “dark” room and I try never to go in there myself. In this “chamber of… idolatrous images” hangs pictures of lust and greed. It is decorated with idols of jealousy and selfish ambition. People I despise are imprisoned there. I am ashamed of this room and tightly lock the door.  Though it beckons me relentlessly, I try to forget its existence. I’m afraid of this room. It’s very dark in there.

The Lord found “a hole in the wall” of my fortified city of self. He “dug into the wall and discovered a doorway” to my “dark” room! He “went in and looked” around. I was ashamed. I thought “the Lord does not see.” But He does. I thought “the Lord… abandoned” me to my room alone. But He didn’t.

Instead of politely avoiding this area of my abode, Jesus found His way in and shed His light. With the same righteous anger He exhibited in the Temple at Jerusalem [1], Jesus engaged in serious house cleaning. The junk in my “dark” room was exposed, ripped from its sacred pedestal, and thrown out with the trash.

Sometimes I feel sad, lonely, hurt, afraid, or otherwise “abandoned” by God. I am tempted to sneak back into my “chamber of… idolatrous images” and close the door behind me. I know this room well. I can hide from my outside realities, fully embrace my self-pity, and practice the “evil abominations” of my secret sin.

How thankful I am for the “Son of man” who will “dig into the wall” of my dark and private space and expose me to the light of His relentless and unending love.
______________________

[1] John 2:13-16a The Message 13 “When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. 14 He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength.” 15 “Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. 16 He told the dove merchants, ‘Get your things out of here!...’

Monday, November 11, 2019

"This Incredible Prophet"

Ezekiel 2.1 NIV

“Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.”

Over the next three weeks I will read the book of Ezekiel and, Lord willing, post fifteen journal entries from its forty-eight chapters. I hope to discover the personality of the man behind the book, who at about the age of twenty-five, was forcibly uprooted from his home in Palestine and exiled to Babylon along with ten thousand other Jewish captives approximately six hundred years before the birth of Christ. His prophetic calling began five years later and was characterized by apocalyptic visions and powerful images of God’s glory.

Here’s what we know about Ezekiel from the written record…
  • He offered hope to his fellow captives for their eventual return to the Jewish homeland.[1]
  • Ezekiel was a man of fearless conviction and strong emotions.[2]
  • The Lord used a personal tragedy in Ezekiel’s life to develop true and lasting empathy for the plight of God’s people.[3]
Ezekiel was the lesser known contemporary of two other major prophets, Jeremiah (primarily a prophet to the Jews in Jerusalem prior to its fall to Babylon) and Daniel (a prophet in the court of Babylon’s kings Nebuchadnezzar and successors). Daniel is referred to three times in the writings of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14.14, 20; 28.3) while Ezekiel is never mentioned in the books of Jeremiah, Daniel, or any Hebrew scripture, other than the book bearing his name.

Ezekiel related well to the common man. He found himself in the exactly same circumstance as his Hebrew brothers and sisters. He may be called the ‘blue collar’ prophet or even the prophet of the Babylonian captivity. It could be said that Ezekiel became his message in his willingness to suffer for its cause.


There are glaring similarities between the book of Ezekiel and key portions of the New Testament including the allegorical teachings of Jesus’ parables and the fantastic imagery of John’s Revelation. I am most intrigued by the symbolic title “son of man” used in the Hebrew Scriptures almost exclusively by Ezekiel (over ninety times). “Son of Man” became Jesus’ favorite title for Himself, also appearing nearly ninety times in the four Gospels.

The name Ezekiel means “God will strengthen.” I hope God will strengthen me like Ezekiel to “stand up on [my] feet” and better hear God “speak to [me]” about the things I must learn from this incredible prophet.
__________________

Note: The sculpture above is entitled “The Prophet” by sculptor and medical historian, Doris Leavitt Appel (1904-1995). This work of art was inspired her grandfather.

[1] “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again,” 

(Ezekiel 11.17 NIV).

[2] “I'll make your face as hard as rock, harder than granite. Don't let them intimidate you. Don't be afraid of them, even though they're a bunch of rebels.” “The Spirit lifted me and took me away. I went bitterly and angrily. I didn't want to go. But God had me in his grip,” (Ezekiel 3:9, 14 The Message).

[3] “Son of man, behold, I am about to take from you the desire of your eyes with a blow...
” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died.” “Thus Ezekiel will be a sign to you,” (Ezekiel 24.18, 24 NASB). Two years ago, I lost the “desire of [my] eyesafter twenty years of wedded happiness. While I cannot claim to know what the prophet felt, I can certainly testify to a depth of pain that I must believe, as in the case of Ezekiel, contains a redemptive purpose for the benefit of others who share in my suffering. 

Friday, November 08, 2019

"Looking for Help in All the Wrong Places"

Lamentations 4.17 NET

“Our eyes continually failed us as we looked in vain for help. From our watchtowers we watched for a nation that could not rescue us.”

Have “our eyes continually failed us?” We climbed to the top of “our watchtowers [and] we watched.” From our high perch we thought we could see farther and discover more. Somewhere out there was a solution to our troubles. But what we found “could not rescue us.” Did “our eyes” fail us? No. Our eyes were fine. We were just looking in all the wrong places.

The Hebrew text uses the double verb for emphasis. “From our watchtowers we watched” is literally “in our watching we have watched.” The verse suggests an intense investigation, not a casual observing. Jeremiah’s Jews needed rescuing from their evil oppressor Babylon. They were serious about getting help. But the help they desperately needed was not forthcoming because they were looking “for a nation” rather than God to save them.

To see farther, I must go higher. Like the short man Zaccheus who wished to see Jesus (Luke 19.3), I might climb a tree for a better view. The Jews built taller watchtowers to expand their vision of the horizon. From Seattle’s Space Needle observation deck, Queen Anne Hill and Lake Union unfold before me. If I were an astronaut, my perspective would expand to the entire world. But my vision would be pointless if, like country star Waylon Jennings admitted, “I was looking for love [or help] in all the wrong places”.

It’s not a matter of perspective; it’s a matter a direction. It’s not how far I can see; it’s where I’m looking. I could look the universe wide and still not find the help I need. Real help is closer than I think. “The message [of help] is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may follow it.” (Deuteronomy 30.14 HCSB). Jesus promised, “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17.21 NAS). You don’t have to look far for help.

Mimicking the captives of his people, Jeremiah claimed, “Our eyes continually failed us.” The prophet knew there was nothing wrong with their eyes. Exiled Jews “looked in vain for help” because they looked amiss. Ancient Jews were no different than you and me. Our eyes are fine. They “failed us” only because we are looking for help in all the wrong places. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”  (Hebrews 12.2 NIV) and find in Him the help we need.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”
Psalm 121.1-2 KJV

Thursday, November 07, 2019

"Mind the Gap"

Lamentations 2.19 NAS

     “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord; 
      Lift up your hands to Him for the life of your little ones”.


When you travel in England by way of the London Underground, you will hear pre-recorded warnings to “Mind the Gap” over the loudspeakers. Notice is posted on the trains and terminal walls. Travelers are cautioned to take care when stepping over the sometimes significant gap between train door and station platform. You must watch your step and “mind the gap” each time you board or exit. You might even assist a child, the elderly, or a person with handicaps or large sacks of groceries to “mind the gap.”

God calls you to “mind the gap” on behalf people who need help. He’s on the lookout for men and women who will manage the gap for others, but there are few candidates as Ezekiel pointed out…

“I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall
so I wouldn't have to destroy the land, but I found no one.”
Ezekiel 22.30 NLT

Jeremiah knew well how to “mind the gap.” He was known as the ‘weeping prophet.’ Like Jesus who was “deeply moved in spirit” (John 11.33), the prophet openly wept over the condition of the people he loved.

“Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.”
Jeremiah 9.1 NIV

Jesus too was capable and willing of expressing emotion and shedding tears in prayer.

“During His earthly
life, He offered prayers
and appeals, with loud
cries and tears, to the
One who was able to
save Him from death,
and He was heard…”
Hebrews 5.7 HCSB

The shortest verse in the Bible, John 11.35, reveals the Savior’s heart of compassion...

“Jesus wept.”

Take a cue from Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Jesus. God is searching for men and women who will “weep… for the slain of [His] people,” “pour out [their] heart like water,” and “mind the gap” for those in need. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

"Don’t Let the Monster Eat You"

Jeremiah 51.34 RSV

“Nebuchadrez’zar the king of Babylon has devoured me, he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel, he has swallowed me like a monster; he has filled his belly with my delicacies, he has rinsed me out.”

Contrary to what you may have told your kids, monsters are real. They’re big and scary with sharp teeth ready to crush and devour you.

Speaking for exiled Jews 2,600 years ago, Jeremiah the prophet acknowledged, “Nebuchadrez’zar… swallowed me like a monster.” Satan is a ravenous “monster” eager to chew you up and gobble you down. As the apostle Peter cautioned, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1st Peter 5.8). Don’t be his next meal!

In his final letter, senior devil Screwtape expressed serious disappointment in his nephew’s poor performance. He warned Wormwood that he may be eaten alive as the penalty for failure to lure his human charge away from the Lord.[1]

“How mistakenly, now that all is lost, you come whimpering to ask me whether the terms of affection in which I address you meant nothing from the beginning. Far from it!”

“Love you? Why, yes. As a dainty a morsel as ever I grew fat on.”

“Your increasingly and ravenously affectionate uncle

SCREWTAPE”
In his toast to Dr. Slubgob, Screwtape describes most human sinners as “pretty poor quality,” “gastronomically,… deplorable,” “tasteless… fare,” “unfit for diabolical consumption,” and “hardly worth damning.”[2] If I rejected Jesus Christ, I would sin hardy and hope to be “worth damning.” I would not be satisfied with run-of-the-mill, common sinner behavior. I would try to be a tasty pagan, good to the last mouth-watering bite for the monster lucky enough to gorge on me. Just like Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ brilliant spoof, Jesus also had harsh words for the bland of heart on either side of the moral fence:

”I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.
I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm,
and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Revelation 3.15-16 NKJV

If you give the “monster” an inch, he’ll take the proverbial mile and eat you alive. Guaranteed! If you have been “swallowed” up by your own sin, there’s hope. Like the big fish that belched Jonah onto dry ground and the grave that opened its mouth to release Jesus on the day of resurrection, you too can be freed from the jaws of the “monster.” God, who is bigger than any monster you face, made a promise:

“I will make him spit out what he has swallowed.”
Jeremiah 51.44 NET
________________

[1] The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast, C.S. Lewis, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1961, p.145.

[2] Ibid., pp.154f, 157f.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

"No Fishing"

Jeremiah 50.20 The Message

“In those days and at that time” — God’s Decree — “they’ll look high and low for a sign of Israel’s guilt — nothing; Search nook and cranny for a trace of Judah’s sin — nothing. These people that I’ve saved will start out with a clean slate.”

Sometimes I think I am more aware of my sin than God is. I can easily dredge up old memories of past failures and willful offenses. I am conscious of my imperfections but apparently God is less so. He cannot even remember the sins He forgives…

“I will forgive their
iniquity, and their sin I will
remember no more.”
Jeremiah 31.34 NAS

This is good news for sinners. The blood of Christ covers my transgressions and literally hides them from God. The Bible says, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs” (Proverbs 10.12 NIV). That’s exactly what the love of God does for me. It covers my sins! “They’ll look high and low for a sign of [my] guilt” and “search nook and cranny for a trace of [my] sin” and this is what they’ll find — “nothing!”

When my children were little they sometimes had “accidents” in the middle of the night. In the morning their mother and I would strip the bed of all linens and disinfect the rubber mattress cover. Before guests were allowed into the bedroom, we covered all evidence of bed wetting. They found no tell-tale yellow stain. Just fresh sheets and blankets. We protected our kids from the embarrassing incident. When Mom and I peered into the bedroom, we saw the newly made bed and forgot all about the “accident.” Our ‘love covered all wrongs.’  You could “look high and low for a sign of [our children’s] guilt — nothing; search nook and cranny for a trace of [their] sin — nothing.” 

The analogy breaks down.  Bed-wetting is not a sin, but I am a sinner. Still, nighttime accidents, however, serve as a useful illustration... God is determined to cover my sin with His love. Jesus paid the price from my redemption with His own blood. “For God so loved [me], that He gave His only... Son, that [if I believe] in Him [I] shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3.16). Like the bumper sticker says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” and I should concentrate more on God’s ample forgiveness than my imperfections. Through faith in Christ, my sins are forgiven and forgotten. They are gone.

“He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our
iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
Micah 7.19 NKJV

God has thrown “all our sins into the depths of the sea.” I should post for myself a “No Fishing” sign.

Monday, November 04, 2019

"The Lessons Hazor Missed"

Jeremiah 49.30-31 NKJV

“Flee, get far away! Dwell in the depths, O inhabitants of Hazor!” says the Lord. “For Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has taken counsel against you, and has conceived a plan against you.”

“Arise, go up to the wealthy nation that dwells securely,” says the Lord, “Which has neither gates nor bars, dwelling alone.”

Jeremiah warned the nomadic tribes of Hazor and Kedar, “Flee, get far away” from the violent assault of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. This foreign nation would sweep Palestine to become the dominating power of the Middle East around six hundred years before Christ.

Hazor was an easy target as described in verse 31. It was considered a “wealthy [Bedouin] nation that dwells securely.” Hazor’s villages of tents had “neither gates nor bars” and inhabitants kept to themselves, living “alone” in the desert areas of upper Canaan. Hazor was easy pickings for the mighty Babylonian army because they were...





Complacent: “wealthy nation that dwells securely” ~ Am I complacent in the level of security I have achieved? Do I trust my bank accounts, 401K, and retirement plan more than Jesus? If so, then I better listen to God…

Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become
wealthy, and have need of nothing’, and you do not know that you
are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked...”
Revelation 3:15-17

Defenseless: “which has neither gates nor bars” ~ Have I faithfully erected gates of protection against the temptations that assault my mind every day? Are the iron bars of daily prayer, the authority in Christ, and dependence upon His Word solidly in place? If not, then I need to…

“...take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist
in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
Ephesians 6:11, 13

Isolated: “dwelling alone” ~ Do I think I can make it all by myself without the help of my Christian brothers and sisters? Have I become deluded in the belief that allies are optional? If this is true, then I should get back to church…

“...and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love
and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together,
as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...”
Hebrews 10:24-25

I have an enemy. Babylon will take me down unless I learn the lessons Hazor missed.
___________________

"Complacency" illustration from Naval Safety Center.