Them bones, them bones, them dry bones
Ezekiel 37: Dry bones, listen to the message of God.
Ezekiel speaks to people who think they’ve gone too far and have said “no” to God and just plain messed up once too often. They think they’re like dinosaur bones some archeologist might dig up in the desert someday: interesting, but dry and lifeless. The truth is that they’re right. They’ve been written off because of their rejection of God. To picture themselves as “dry bones” is not an overreaction. Rather, it’s a valid realization. Their only hope is the only hope they’ve ever had: they must turn back to God. In his vision Ezekiel is asked, “Can these bones live?” His answer is right on: “Lord, you know.” The restoration of Israel is up to the Lord. They’re on the verge of being written off of the pages of history. The only possibility of their not becoming dry fossils is to respond to the mercy of God and depend on him to breathe life back into them. All of that is true of my life too. It’s only when I accept two facts that I have hope. Fact one: my sins have made me spiritually into a pile of dry bones. Fact two: my only hope is in God’s mercy and forgiveness. The only route out of this mess is for me to accept the title, “dry bones” and then listen to God’s message. That alone can change my dry bones situation.
Take Away: Our only hope is in the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.
The kind of stuff God does
Ezekiel 36: I, God, rebuild ruins and replant empty waste places.
In this “new heart” passage Ezekiel envisions God’s people repenting of their rebellion and mourning over the results of it. He sees them walking through a devastated Jerusalem and confessing it was their sins that brought it all to pass. In the face of such repentance, Ezekiel has an encouraging word: God specializes in taking messed up things and restoring them to “better than new” condition. Once the Lord’s given a chance, he’ll turn these weed patches into a “Garden of Eden.” No doubt, these are encouraging words to the people of Ezekiel’s day. They’re uplifting words for us too. In a more literal sense, we look forward to a “new heaven and a new earth” that has been promised by God. What sin has destroyed the Lord will redeem — and that redeemed world will be vastly superior to what we see now. In a spiritual sense, this passage describes what the Lord accomplishes in the human heart. Sin destroys lives, making a wreck out of what was once wonderfully promising. When I cooperate with God, opening my life up to him he goes to work. In my life he “rebuilds ruins and replants empty waste places.” He’s God, and he does stuff like that. As Ezekiel puts it, “I, God, said so, and I’ll do it.”
Take Away: The Lord specializes in taking messed up things and restoring them to “better than new” condition.
Pleading for showers of blessing
Isaiah 44: I will pour water on the thirsty ground.
Spiritually speaking, most of my life has been lived somewhere in the middle. There have been high points, many of them. For this I’m thankful. Also, there have been low points, though not so many. I’m thankful for that too. Out here in the middle, where I spend most of my time, things can get rather dry; sometimes with my not even realizing what’s happening. I go through my routine, focused on the common things of life and don’t even realize that some of the joy of living in God’s love has dried up. The passage before me isn’t about the spiritual lives of individuals, but a nation of people. Spiritually, they’ve taken things for granted and the result is that they’re as dry and fragile as the fallen leaves of autumn. Isaiah’s word of hope to them is that there’ll be an outpouring of God’s Spirit on their descendants. This isn’t intended to say that they’re doomed to dryness, but to encourage them that something better is coming for them and, even more, for their offspring. While I know this passage isn’t specifically about my “somewhere in the middle” spiritual dryness I do see a truth here that I can take to heart: God wants to have a vibrant, flowing relationship with his people. If I’ll trust him and wait for it, he’ll “pour water” on my heart’s “thirsty ground” when the time is right. That’s worth waiting for. “Mercy drops ’round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”
Take Away: The Lord wants to have a vibrant, flowing relationship with us.
Crushing the serpent
2Kings 18: He pulverized the ancient bronze serpent that Moses had made.
It’s such a pleasure to meet Hezekiah, king of Judah. After reading the pitiful record of most of the kings of Israel and Judah it’s a breath of fresh air to read, “In God’s opinion he was a good king.” It’s good to know that it’s possible to do that which is pleasing to the Lord and see that the he isn’t setting impossibly high standards just to make us jump a little higher as we try in vain to reach something that’s forever out of reach. Hezekiah proves that God’s standard is within our grasp and that it’s made possible by the help of none other than the Lord, Himself. From the beginning Hezekiah gets off on the right foot. For centuries kings of Judah have tolerated the fertility shrines that the people want. Even when there’s a revival of the Jehovah worship these shrines remain. Not so under Hezekiah. He gets rid of them all. Then we see that he gets rid of something else. Generations earlier, during an infestation of poisonous snakes, the Lord directs Moses to make a bronze snake. That snake becomes their salvation, a symbol of the mercy of God. These days, though, that old bronze snake has become just another idol. People are actually making sacrifices to it! Hezekiah does the unthinkable: he destroys this important historical artifact, grinding it to nothing. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the old bronze serpent. It’s just a statue with historical significance. It’s their use of it that’s objectionable. Better to destroy a bit of their history and serve God in the here and now. I wonder what the “bronze serpents” are in my nation, in my church, and in my life. Whatever they are, and no matter what value they were in the past, it’s better to “pulverize” them than let them come between God and me.
Take Away: Remember the great movements of the Lord in years gone by but don’t worship them. God is the God of the present.
1 Samuel 3: God continued to show up at Shiloh.
God’s presence has been rare and, as a result, even those who desire righteousness have blindly stumbled through life. At our best humans are still pretty pitiful and, in this distant day, most people have no interest in striving for anything close to “the best” anyway. Because of that spiritual darkness dominates. Then, in the figurative and literal night God speaks to young Samuel. Even better than that: God speaks and then continues to speak. There’s something wonderful about the phrase, “God continued to show up at Shiloh.” It has the feel of springtime in it. After the long, cold winter, the sun is shining and new life is breaking out everywhere. I’ve journeyed through my share of spiritual winters: times when God seemed far away and unreachable. But I’ve also enjoyed spiritual springtime. Frankly, my experience was more like Samuel’s than I care to admit, because in my case, like his, I didn’t have much to do with the dawning of the new day in my heart. All I know is that, after the night, God showed up and then continued to show up. By his grace, I will be faithful when spiritual winter comes, but, oh, how I love the spiritual springtime!
Take Away: Spiritual winter comes to just about everyone. How good to be reminded that after the winter season, springtime arrives.