Devotions

A Message of Hope? Or Doom?

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I will take you out of it and give you over to the hands of foreigners, and execute judgments upon you. You shall fall by the sword; I will judge you at the border of Israel. And you shall know that … – Ezekiel 11:9-10

“And you shall know” … what?

Here’s the pattern of Ezekiel: The first half of Ezekiel is, as my Bible calls it, a “message of doom.” Most of the second half is a “message of hope.”

The first half is a warning to the people of Judah. In chapter 16, for example, God poetically relates how he …

  • took a weak, struggling group of people (“16:5 On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die.”)
  • pledged himself to them in covenant (the marriage covenant was the image God used to describe his love and relationship; he made Judah his “16:13 queen.”)
  • and made them prosper (“16:9 I bathed you and washed off your blood … I rubbed fragrant oils into your skin … 16:10 I gave you expensive clothing … goatskin leather … lovely jewelry … and … a crown for your head.”)

That’s the good news, but this is the “message of doom” section of Ezekiel. The bad news in chapter 16 starts with a “but.” “15 But you [Judah] thought your fame and beauty were your own. So you [my covenant bride, you] gave yourself as a prostitute to every man [every foreign nation and false prophet] who came along. … 30 What a sick heart you have … 35 Therefore, you prostitute, … because you have … exposed yourself in prostitution … 37 this is what I am going to do. … 39 I will give you to these many nations who are your lovers … They will strip you and take your beautiful jewels, leaving you stark naked.”

 

Ezekiel prophesied that Judah would become like carcasses scattered by war in a dust dry valley. They would become scattered, indeed, like a valley full of dry bones. The “message of hope” in chapter 37 tells us that God would eventually breathe life back into those bones, stitching them back together (reuniting God’s people back in Jerusalem). That’s the “message of hope” …

… but this is the “message of _____” portion of Ezekiel. Actually, I don’t consider it a message of “doom”; it is instead of message of tough love. They’re hearts are prostituted. And that’s not a path to life at all! They’re dying. And God is trying to keep them from death. But … it’ll take some tough love. He says,

  • “9 I will take you out of [your land]…
  • “9 I will … give you over to the hands of foreigners …”
  • “9 I will execute judgments upon you.”
  • “10 You shall fall by the sword …
  • “10 I will judge you at the border of Israel.”

“10 And you shall know” … what?

That’s the question. And the answer is the hope. Ezekial says, “10 And you shall know that I am the Lord”! That’s life … because only God brings life. That’s hope … because only life with God is ultimately hope. It’s going to take tough love to get them honor their covenant. And tough love breaks the Father’s heart, just like tough love breaks any good parent’s heart.

Thus, the first half of Ezekiel is not really a “message of doom.” It’s a “message of tough love.” And while the second half is definitely a “message of hope,” it’s also a “message of renewing love.”

In other words, prophecy – even the hard part – is message of … love.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who prefers

tough love to

cheap grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Transformation to Boldness

Isaiah 6.8.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

“1 In the year that King Uzziah died, [Isaiah] saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty.” You probably know the story from this famous chapter, right?

Isaiah was given a vision, a glimpse of heaven.

  • God was big. Huge! Even the entire, massive, Jewish temple, could barely contain just the hem of his garment.
  • God was being constantly worshiped. Six-winged seraphs flew about him, praising his name.
  • The sound of heaven, as we said just a few days ago, was “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Yes, the sound of heaven was constant worship and praise.

Isaiah fell to the ground in reverence and awe. The fear of the Lord drove him to his knees. Standing in the presence of the holiness of God, Isaiah instantly recognized his lowliness and sin. He croaked desperately, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

God had an answer for that. A seraph was dispatched with a pair of tongs to retrieve a smoldering coal from the sacred flames in front of the holy throne. The angel pressed them to offending organ that Isaiah confessed – his lips. (It was high stakes forgiveness!!)

Then came God’s question: “Whom shall I send?” Once cowering, falling, and afraid, Isaiah was suddenly bold: “Here I am, send me!” He was thoroughly humbled and trustingly obedient – God was mighty while Isaiah himself was unworthy – but the forgiveness and grace of God made him suddenly bold.

That was Martin Luther’s story too. Once cowering, falling, and afraid, when Luther comprehended the forgiveness and grace of God, he too was suddenly a bold, passionate witness.

And how about you? Are you confident of God’s grace? And if so, are you a bold, passionate witness?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants to

a “Jacked” Dorito

(bold flavor, bold faith)

 

 

Worst Sin and Best Hope

Acts 26.11.

The Apostle Paul said, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death.” – Acts 26:10-11

What is your worst sin?

And has the shame, guilt, and grief over it ever kept you from living freely and fully?

Satan wants to keep you in a prison of remorse. He makes you want to believe that you could never be forgiven. He wants to destroy you peace, hope, and joy.

My guess, however, is that the Apostle Paul has done worse than you have. He persecuted the first Christians. He advocated for their deaths. Blood was on their hands. And … he was “convinced” he was doing the right thing!

If you’ve ever been bound by guilt, shame, and grief – or know someone who is – the question that needs to be asked is, “Have persecuted and killed Christians? Have you ever literally nailed Christ to the cross? Well, Jesus said to those who literally nailed him to the cross, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ And God forgave Paul. God forgave King David. God forgave those who nailed him to the cross. Can you trust that God forgives you?”

Paul’s change came when – as he reports it – “13 I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions.” Jesus spoke to him, and it changed his life.

Jesus is speaking to you.

  • He speaks through his Word – “but if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” 1 John 1:9, one of many scriptures.
  • He speaks through his Church – the church assures you of God’s forgiveness each and every week.
  • He acts through Communion – “do this in remembrance of me for the forgiveness of sins.”
  • He speaks through the cross – it was a powerful, once and for all sacrifice … and even seeing a cross can be a daily reminder.
  • He speaks through devotions – like today, “Remember, you are forgiven.”

In Christ’s Love,

a reminder

(a person who reminds)

The Power of Glimpsing Heaven

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the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel … as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar … The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God … As I looked … fire [was] flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire was something like four living creatures. – Ezekiel 1:1-5

One of my favorite quotes is: Trying to explain heaven to a person is like trying to describe Disneyland to a dog.

I can imagine speaking to our pup: “And there are these big teacups that you sit in and go round and round.”

She’d look at me blankly and go, Pant. Pant. Pant.

All of scripture’s visions of heaven are remarkably similar (in one sense) and yet subtly different in other ways. A cynic would say that John in Revelation was copying images from Ezekiel. The Old Testament prophet, in today’s reading, speaks of four living creatures. So does John in Revelation 4. Each describes four faces – lion, eagle, ox, and human. Yes, a cynic would say, “John was copying Ezekiel.” But he didn’t copy very well. Ezekiel testifies the four creatures each had four faces. John testifies that each of the four creatures had a different face. So was it plagiarism? Bad plagiarism? Or was it two lowly dogs, trying to explain their incomprehensible vision of Heaven (the eternal Disneyland) to other lowly canines? (A detective would probably say that the mix of similarities and differences actually add credence to the testimony.)

You can believe what you want about that … but here’s today’s point: How many of God’s prophets received a glimpse of God before embarking on their prophetic journey? We’ve mention already Ezekiel and John. We mentioned Isaiah chapter 6 in last Friday’s devotion. Other prophets had other divine signs. Moses, for example, had a burning push. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Elisha watched his predecessor be carried to heaven in a chariot of first. Even the disciples, though apostles rather prophets, caught a glimpse of heaven through the transfiguration and resurrection. And the real question is, “Why?” Why all these glimpses of heaven and of God’s power before their ministry fully launched?

Why? Because God was about to ask something big of each prophet. They were often going to speak hard words against kings. They were regularly going to have to tell their friends and neighbors that they were sinning, falling short, and headed for destruction. They were generally going to be despised and rejected. God, therefore, steeled these prophets with a vision of something bigger than themselves. They caught a glimpse of why they were doing this – heaven! Their visions of heaven would propel them, even when their daily lives were likely to become more and more hellish. God was feeding them with hope, because they’d face despair. They caught a vision of light, to sustain them when earthly darkness would come. They knew that after the mourning … there would be the joy of eternal morning.

In your journey, what sustains you? Is it the promise of heaven? The surety of the resurrection? The cross-won confidence in God’s forgiveness and grace? Is there purpose and hope even when the violence, illnesses, hurts, and betrayals of life intrude? What sustains you? Is it simple, honest, imperfect-but-sincere faith. In John 20, Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not see and yet believe.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who knows you

could be doing a million

things besides reading

this devotion today …

and who wants you

to be encouraged.

Chances are that

you’re reading because

you have simple, honest,

imperfect-but-sincere faith

 

 

 

 

What is the Sound of Heaven?

Isaiah 6.3.

And seraph called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” – Isaiah 6:3

What is the sound of heaven?

In the Daily Lectionary, this famous vision of God upon his throne (in Isaiah 6) is paired with an equally famous glimpse of heaven (in Revelation 4). And our question for today is: What is the sound of heaven?

Both passages answer this: The sound of heaven is worship. In both cases, all who encounter the throne of God – seraphs, angels, elders, four living creatures, and more – praise the Lord, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isa 6:3, Rev 4:8). Revelation tells us that “day and night without ceasing they sing.”

What is the sound of heaven? Worship.

And what is the sound of earth? Generally … not worship.

Yes, some of us worship sometimes. Some of us worship more often. Some worship less. Some reserve worship for Sundays and forget God throughout the week, unless we see a particularly pretty sunset or somehow survive a near accident. But most days we devote ourselves to our jobs, we worship our schedules, we bow to bosses, we focus our love on family, we forget God moment-by-moment, day-by-day. It’s the human condition. And besides, God is veiled. We can’t see him face-to-face.

Today’s prophet passages point us to a time when we will see God face-to-face. And it will apparently be so glorious, that we’ll want to sing: Holy, Holy, Holy!!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who

doesn’t fall enough

(On earth, I apparently

worry that it will hurt.

In heaven, there’ll be

No more mourning or

crying or pain, and

worship will be

forevermore)

 

 

 

Lukewarm Warnings

Revelation 3.15-16.

Last Sunday, we started our Sermon Series on Revelation. It’s good timing to have today’s assigned reading from the Daily Lectionary cover a passage we’ll study this week. Listen to Jesus’ message to one of the seven churches … and to us.

Jesus said, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16

Spit you out. Vomit you out. Spew you out.

The only other passage in scripture that I can think of with so much spewing is when Jonah was literally vomited out of the whale’s mouth. The difference? The whale was a strange object of salvation for a drowning man, and being spit out was an opportunity for Jonah to right his life.

This spewing out is not a message of hope. It is a message of judgment. Jesus is warning those who are lukewarm that he’ll spit us far from his presence as far and as surely as we’d spit sour warm milk out of our mouths.

Judgment? Yes.

No hope? Well … some hope.

This message carries a warning. And what is a warning? It’s an alert. It signals danger. It says, for example, change course or you’ll be dashed upon the rocks. For those who heed the warning, there is hope … and life. But disaster is imminent. Are you watching? Are you waiting? Are you steering from the rocks? Indeed, what are you doing to heat your faith beyond lukewarm?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s tired

of pilot light faith

in our culture;

I’m eager to hear

the whoosh of

flame.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glad Holiday for a Sad People

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Mordecai … sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness … – Esther 9:20-22

During my days in New Mexico, our church had a close relationship with the local Jewish synagogue. One year, the rabbi invited our folks to come the celebration of Purim – the festival promoted by Mordecai in our reading for today.

Our members had a hoot! It is custom to read the story of Esther on Purim – and it is read as a playful melodrama. Every time Haman is mentioned, people boo and hiss and rattle grating noisemakers. Costumes are often worn. Mordecai is roundly cheered. It’s a continuing celebration – about 2500 years now. The Jews rejoice in God’s turning sorrow into gladness, mourning into holiday. There is certainly feasting and gladness.

Late this winter, I asked a local Jewish business owner if it was about time for Purim. Though it had just passed, she beamed. “That’s our happy holiday! All the rest are rather depressing or tests of our endurance.”

That’s been the story for much of Jewish history. Much has been rather depressing. Much has been a test of endurance.

Once an encounter with an appalling Anti-Semite – a hater of the Jews – prompted me to visit my New Mexican Jewish rabbi. I said, “Help me factually counter what this guy is saying. He’s saying for example, ‘That all the Jews think they’re so great because they’re God’s chosen people.’” The rabbi said, “Look at our history. Do you think God chose us for a life of ease? No. He chose us for a job, and we’ve always been judged harshly when we haven’t fulfilled our job. It’s always been hard being God’s chosen people.”

Always.

And from a Biblical worldview, that makes complete sense. If Satan is going to choose an enemy, who’s his primary target – historically, the people through whom God’s promises run. They have been mocked, hated, discriminated against. They’ve been literally wiped off the map for nearly two thousand years. And yet, somehow, they survived.

How?! If you want a human answer: It was their feasts and traditions that help perpetuate their culture … across the scattering of generation. But I’d prefer you to look for a divine answer. How did mocked, hated, homeless, scattered, discriminated against, persecuted, and executed people survive? I think the answer has three letter. (Hint: It starts with a capital “G” and ends with a “d.”)

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who is preaching

through Revelation and

wants you to start

wondering how this

might related to

Revelation and

God’s eternal plans