Christianity 201

August 3, 2017

Ezekiel and the Glory Days

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel like our glory days are well behind us. Some look back to when one hundred sit-ups were an easy thing, others look back to when they could simply sit up without help. Some look back to better paychecks. Some look back to when children were home and a spouse was still alive. Some look back to a time when loved ones were not suffering. When the aches and pains of life settle in, we can long for the “glory days” we see in the rear-view mirror.

God’s people in Ezekiel’s day would have felt that their glory days were behind them. They could look back to the days of David and Solomon, and see how things had never been quite as good as they were then. And now that they are in exile, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the temple lay in ruins, there would be a strong temptation to keep their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror in search of the “glory days”.

The prophecies in Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39 spoke to God’s people about their glory days. They speak to us today about ours. Let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Chapter 36. The first prophecy is directed toward the land itself. For example,

. . . and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 36:11 (NRSV)

The wording of this alludes to “Be fruitful and multiply” from Genesis 1:28 which recalls Eden before the ground was cursed thanks to Adam (see Genesis 3:17). The promise is for a future even better than the glory days!

The second prophecy of chapter 36 is directed at the people. Among the promises are the following:

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NRSV)

The promise goes well beyond a mere return to the land and the status quo. God promises to clean His people up and give them His Spirit. This is a far better situation than what they enjoyed in the “glory days” of David and Solomon.

Chapter 37. The first prophecy is the infamous “dry bones” vision where Ezekiel sees dry bones come together, and then come alive when life is breathed into them. This is another allusion to Genesis when God breathed life into Adam (see Genesis 2:7). There is a tension in this vision between a metaphorical interpretation, meaning a promise of return from exile, and a more literal interpretation, meaning an anticipated resurrection from the dead. We feel this tension in verse 12:

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37:12 (NRSV)

We should probably see both here, with a return from exile made even better by the fact that all past generations will be able to participate as well. This would be far better than the past glory days.

The second prophecy speaks of there being one king again, like the glory days of David and Solomon. But watch for what is repeated again and again in the following:

 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. . . . They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore Ezekiel 37:22-26 (NRSV)

Words like “never again” and “forever” are important, whereas in the glory days of the past, the big word was “if”. That is, “if you are faithful to me things will go well”. Here in Ezekiel’s prophecy there is no “if”, just God’s people enjoying God forevermore. This is much better than the glory days of the past.

Chapters 38 and 39. These are prophecies against a land called Gog. There has been much conjecture as to the identity of Gog. For now, let us notice that the enemies assemble to the north (see Ezekiel 38:1-6). The Assyrians invaded from the north when they destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The Babylonians invaded from the north when they destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. The point is that such destruction will never happen again! The safety and security of God’s people will be much better than in the glory days of the past.

Concluding chapter 39, we can sum up Ezekiel 39:21-29 this way: “God hid His face from His people and they went into exile because they sinned against Him. But now God, for the sake of His glory, will be generous with His Spirit and never hide His face from them again.”

Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; 29 and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 39:28-29 (NRSV)

This is not just restoration of the former status quo. This is restoration to God! This is much better than in the glory days of the past!

History records that God’s people did, in fact, return from exile in Babylon to their own land. However, there was a problem. Not only were things not better than the glory days of David and Solomon, they were not even as good. Roman occupation made sure that Israel’s glory days remained firmly in the past. However, this seeming lack of prophetic fulfillment points us to the the greater fulfillment in Christ. The fulfillment of these promises lies not in the flourishing of an empire-like kingdom called Israel, but in a greater Kingdom brought through Jesus Christ. There is a much bigger exile in view here; separation from the presence of God. Through Jesus we have:

  • Cleansing from sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36.
  • Resurrection from the dead, and the inclusion of all generations in the promise, as in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
  • The Messiah as the Lord of a united and holy people, as in Ezekiel 37:15-28.
  • A future, safe and secure from every enemy, as in Ezekiel 38 and 39:1-20.
  • Restoration, not just to a land, but to God Himself, as in 39:21-29.

The days of David and Solomon never really were the glory days. The days of Adam and Eve before the fall are a better fit for the title “glory days”. According to Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39, the glory days are ahead. When we find ourselves wishing we could be restored to the so-called glory days of our past, in Christ we have something far better; restoration to God Himself. In Christ our glory days are ahead! As Randy Bachman famously sang “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

July 27, 2017

Evangelism, Typewriter Sales, & Ezekiel

 

by Clarke Dixon

Christians have an amazing message to share with the world. God is love and desires to be reconciled to each and every person no matter where they came from or what they have been like. He has done the heavy lifting necessary for reconciliation through Jesus and offers His Spirit. We share in God’s amazing ministry of reconciliation. Yet it often feels like this amazing message falls on deaf ears. Churches have tried a great many things in order to get the message out, including revamping the experience of church in an effort to get people in. However, many have felt the frustration of trying change after change, and program after program, with limited results. The message seems stuck within our walls, and even when it gets out, it feels like no one is listening. It feels like we are selling typewriters.

Ezekiel had a similar experience of not being heard. For seven years he faithfully spoke messages from the Lord to God’s people in exile. These were, more often than not, messages of judgement, or stated more precisely, messages of opportunity. In Ezekiel 33 we get a glimpse of how successful he was:

As for you, mortal, your people who talk together about you by the walls, and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to a neighbor, “Come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.”They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, . . .

So far so good!

. . . but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their heart is set on their gain. To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it. Ezekiel 33:30-32 (NRSV)

In other words, Ezekiel was not very successful at all! No one was really “getting” the message. Ezekiel may have had more success selling them Latin-script typewriters.

So is there any encouragement for us from Ezekiel’s experience? Yes, there are four points of encouragement:

First, look to the future.

Having been told that his efforts have failed, Ezekiel is pointed to the future:

When the thing takes place — and it is beginning now — they will know that there has been a prophet among them. (Ezek. 33:33 NJB)

In this chapter word arrives that Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. Now that judgement has come, the truth about Ezekiel is made plain. He is not just a “singer of love songs,” he is a prophet of God, and has been speaking true and truly significant things.

The Church might be thought of as many things to many different people; a curiosity, a museum, a historical footnote, a crutch for the weak, a drug for the masses, a danger to society, a false religion, a source of entertainment, a social opportunity, a collection of nice, but not very bright people, and of course, a bunch of hypocrites. But, when Jesus returns, the truth will come out as to what the Church really is. We are not typewriter salespeople. We have a prophetic role, we speak a message on God’s behalf to the world:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NRSV emphasis mine)

We are ambassadors for Christ, we we fulfill a prophetic role by speaking a message on behalf of God; be reconciled to God. That may seem like hogwash to many today, but the day will come when “they will know that there has been a prophet among them.”

Second, Ezekiel had confidence in his calling. He knew he was a prophet.

When this comes—and come it will!—then they shall know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 33:33 (NRSV)

Before the people knew a prophet was among them, Ezekiel had to know it first! Do we as God’s people today have confidence in God’s call upon us? Many things have been tried, and will be tried in efforts to attract people to the Church and Jesus. However, sometimes we confuse our methods with our calling. Our calling is not to attract people, but to call people to reconciliation with God. We will know we have been faithful in our calling if it said of us “the Church has been a prophet among us, those people have been speaking a message of reconciliation on behalf of God.”

Third, Ezekiel had confidence in his message. He knew his message was the correct one.

Just as the message of Ezekiel was not popular, and certainly not as popular as the “happier” messages from the false prophets, so the Christian message is not popular. I am reminder of the hymn lyric “Oh the old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me.” Despite the unpopularity of the message, we can have confidence that it is the correct message, and the most important message in the world.

In luring John Scully away from Pepsi to work at Apple, Steve Jobs famously asked “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” There is no doubt that Apple products like the iPod and iPhone have been transformative. But if Steve Jobs were still alive we could ask him if he wanted to sell circuit boards the rest of his life, or if he wanted to join Jesus and change the world. Even the smallest, most stuck in the mud church, with the most boring preacher ever heard, has a greater and more significant calling than the extraordinary Apple company. The message we have been entrusted with is the most important message in the world. We do know that, right?

Fourth, Ezekiel was faithful despite being ignored for 7 years. 

We need to be faithful for as many years as it takes. When the world does not listen to God’s message, let us remain faithful as God’s messengers.

July 20, 2017

Finding Hope in the Judgement of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:09 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. (Ezekiel 25:7 NRSV)

Thus says the Lord with regards to the people of Ammon in Ezekiel chapter 25. Messages of judgement like this carry on for seven chapters to various nations. I suspect these chapters are rarely preached upon, nor mined for a fitting verse to quote in a “Thinking of You” card. Perhaps we tend to skip over these doom and gloom judgement kinds of chapters because we fail to find any hope in them. However, they are full of hope! How so? Somewhere close to the middle we find these verses:

Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall settle on their own soil that I gave to my servant Jacob.  They shall live in safety in it, and shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall live in safety, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God. Ezekiel 28:25-26 (NRSV)

Do you notice what is so important that it is repeated? “They shall live in safety.” We have difficulty reading the Old Testament without visualizing what we know, such as our peaceable neighbours in our day. The peoples of the Old Testament, however, could be brutal and barbaric. The rise of the so-called Islamic State has given us a glimpse of what the Old Testament peoples were capable of. God’s messages of judgement to the nations in Ezekiel chapters 25-32 were the flip side of the message of safety for the people of God. God’s people could only be safe if the nasty neighbours were subdued. Thus the judgement of God is part and parcel of the love of God. Consider a father who removes an untrainable and vicious dog from a home for the sake of the safety of his infant child. The judgement and removal of the dog is an expression of love for the child.

These messages of judgement against the nations conclude with the interesting passage of Ezekiel 32:17-32. I encourage you to read it in full. In this passage Egypt and Pharaoh are to go down to the place of the dead. Notice what it is that gets repeated again and again, the thing that all the peoples who are there have in common (see verses 23,24,25,26,27,30,& 32); they “spread terror in the land of the living.”

We can all think of people who in our day spread terror in the land of the living. For example, a recent news article suggested that the leader of Boko Haram, previously thought killed, is still alive and is vowing to kill Christians and bomb every church in Nigeria. Does such anti-Christian sentiment remind you of anyone?

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (NRSV)

This man who was bent on destroying the Christian movement was Saul, better known to us the apostle Paul who confessed he was “least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1st Corinthians 15:8 NRSV). From Paul’s experience we learn a valuable lesson about those who would spread terror in the land of the living. They have the opportunity to repent. Upon learning of the atrocities of Boko Haram we might cry out for the destruction of the key leaders. However, consider the greater impact if they turned from their sin to Christ. Dead leaders are easily replaced by people equally fanatical about spreading terror in the land of the living. On the other hand, transformed leaders can be the start of a transformed society. Those who remain unrepentant may think they are getting away with it, but they will not. They will stand before the judgement seat of Christ whose justice is perfect, and whose judgements are well informed.

Let us choose three specific areas to bring this into focus:

Women: Around the world women are not given equal opportunities for education. Female babies are more likely to be aborted than male babies. Too many widows have shared with me how they stood by their men while their men stood by the bottle. We could say much more, but suffice it to say here that women and girls are suffering around the world because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who are unrepentant and continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

The LGBTQ+ community: When our hearts broke for Christians who were suffering the violence of the Islamic State, did our hearts also break for gay men who were thrown to their deaths from towers? No one has the right to tell God what marriage is supposed to look like, but all peaceable people should have the right to live free from harassment and threat of violence. While debate rages in churches as to whether or not homosexuality is sinful, there ought to be no debate or doubt that homosexuals are suffering around the word because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

Refugees: We have tended to focus our prayers on our Western response to the refugee crisis and the refugees themselves. Do we pray for the people refugees are fleeing from? Leaders who would rather use violence to take or keep power, than seek peace? We have a refugee crisis because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

One question remains: Are we sometimes the ones who spread terror in the land of the living? If so, opportunity knocks.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:20-21 (NRSV)


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

June 29, 2017

Good Grief! And a Lack Thereof

by Clarke Dixon

Expressing emotion during a time of grief is a very natural thing to do. To not grieve, and to suppress emotion, is a very unnatural thing to do. If we understand that, then we are well on our way to understanding why God told Ezekiel to show no grief over the death of his wife:

Ezekiel 24:15-18 (NRSV) The word of the Lord came to me: 16 Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners. 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

So why is Ezekiel told not to grieve? Ezekiel’s lack of grief becomes a lesson in grief for God’s people during the exile. They have been demonstrating a lack of grief over something very important. We find the clue as to what in these following verses:

Thus says the Lord God: I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire . . . . And you, mortal, on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection, . . . Ezekiel 24:21-25 (NRSV)

Do you notice something about the loss God’s people are experiencing? Where is the mention of the presence and glory of God? Remembering that the temple was to be known as the place of God’s presence, and remembering the need for humility in approaching God’s glory and presence, it is strange that the temple should be called “the pride of your power”. The temple has become “the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire,” and their “joy and glory.” The temple has taken the place of God in the lives of His people. The temple itself has become for God’s people nothing more than another idol. Yet there has been no grief over the fact that God has already “left the building.”

When God’s people lose the temple they are told they ought not to grieve, for all along they have not shown any grief over losing what should have been most important to them, the presence and glory of God. In fact God’s people have been actively doing the very things that take them away from the presence and glory of God: “you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another” (Ezekiel 24:23 ESV). In other words, this is the status quo. God’s people have not been grieving over the sin that has led them away from the presence and glory of God.

What are we to learn from this for our day?

There are two things:

First, we learn about what ought to elicit deep emotions in us. When you have an understanding of the reality of the presence and glory of God, then anything that would take you in the opposite direction should make you feel sick. What are those things? We learn them from God’s Word, but let Jesus summarize for us:

Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV) 34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

When we know the Lord, when we have a mature understanding of His greatness and glory, we will naturally grieve when we see a lack of love, both for God and for neighbour. When we see God mocked, and when we see people suffer injustice, we ought to grieve.

Second, is it possible that our grief as God’s people is misplaced in very much the same way it was misplaced in Ezekiel’s day? We grieve over the loss of churches and church buildings. A recent local newspaper article lamented the closure of churches in the rural areas. To quote one church member: “When I was a kid, there would be square dances and community meals here” (Northumberland News, Thursday, June 22nd 2017). What about the prayer there, the digging into the Word of God there, the care of the soul there, the presence of God among God’s people there, the worship of God there? To quote a clergy person from the same article: “When I was a child everyone went to church – why do people go to church? For the community. It was the only game in town for some communities.” Again, does no one go to church for prayer, for the Word of God, for the presence of God, for the worship of God, for the glory of God?

The sentimentality around losing churches and church buildings is completely natural and understandable. But are we grieving more over the apathy towards Christ, and active pushing away from God in our day? Are we getting emotional over God’s presence and glory? To do otherwise is unnatural and we may be lacking in good grief.


Read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

June 22, 2017

When Someone Messes You Up and You Think God is to Blame

by Clarke Dixon

Another student acted up, you got the detention, the teacher got the blame. This is how things sometimes played out back when I was in school. When everyone was punished for the sins of one student you couldn’t help but think the teacher was being unfair. Life can be like that. People make bad decisions and we bear the consequences of those bad decisions. We conclude that God is being unfair.

In Ezekiel chapter 18 we encounter God’s people having a similar experience. God made a covenant with a particular people who would enjoy God’s protection if they kept their side of the covenant, but who could expect trouble if they did not. They mostly did not, so things did not go well for them. They ended up losing their land to the Babylonian empire and many of the people, including the prophet Ezekiel, were exiled to Babylon. Before long a proverb became popular as a summary of the situation: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). This proverb speaks of the parents eating the food, and yet the children experience the result. Applied to God’s people, the former generations were the ones who sinned against God and broke the covenant, yet the current generation is the one that suffers. That is not fair. Former generations acted up, the current generation got the detention, and God gets the blame. The proverb expressed a growing chorus of resentment toward God for being unfair. Perhaps you can relate to that feeling when your life is made miserable thanks to the sins of others.

As Ezekiel 18 unfolds, the record is set straight:

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. Ezekiel 18:1-4

At this point I encourage you to read chapter 18 in its entirety. Here are some things to think about:

First, we can look to the future with hope because God relates to each of us as individuals and not according to the sins of others. 

Verse 4 points to the judgement of God as being a future thing that concerns each individual: “it is only the person who sins that shall die”. Based on past and present experiences we can fall into a very fatalistic approach to life. However, the future can be radically different. In Christ, it will be. In the midst of the hard battles of life, know that God’s love for you has the power to shape your future. God is not being unfair when you face trouble, He does not owe you a perfect present. The suffering you experience today as a result of someone else’s sin is not God’s punishment of that person heaped on you. It is a result of living in a fallen world were things can and do go wrong. God’s judgement on you as an individual is yet to come.

Second, take responsibility.

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? Ezekiel 18:25

God’s people were in exile, not because they were experiencing the consequence a previous generation deserved, but because they were experiencing the consequence every generation deserved, including their own. There is no one who deserves an ongoing relationship with God on their own merit. “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). There is a coming judgement. No one on that day will say “God, you are being unfair in your judgement,” for each person who stands condemned will recognize that they are receiving just what they deserved. When we face the consequences of the sins of others, we can take a look and see the consequences others are facing because of ours.

Third, look to Jesus.

Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. Ezekiel 18:31-32

Those final verses of the chapter strike a very hopeful note for God’s people in exile. Here is an opportunity to be the generation that gets it right, that shakes off the sin and rebellion that plagued every preceding generation. It is a hopeful note, that is, until they try it. I can imagine their thinking; “Turn from sin, get a new heart and a new spirit? Great, something else for us to fail at!” It would be like someone saying to me “cast away your love for chocolate, and get an appetite for only fruits and vegetables.” Easier said than done.

However, there is good news. Ezekiel 18 points beyond itself to Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The commandment of Ezekiel 18:31, is a promise in 36:26

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

This promise is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When our lives are made miserable by the sins of others and we blame God, remember that Jesus offers to bear your sins. Repentance should not be seen as a stressful exercise in trying to get everything just right, but an amazing opportunity to leave behind the sin that messes life up and and enter into a relationship with the One who fixes everything up.

When it feels like someone else messes up, we bear the consequence, and so God should get the blame, remember that we messed up, Jesus bore the consequence, God gets the glory.

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV


Clarke Dixon and I were caught in a hailstorm on Tuesday. That may not be relevant but I thought I’d share it.

Read more — not including the hailstorm — at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 24, 2016

How Idols Take Us Out of the Race

by Clarke Dixon

What is the harm in a few idols? As long as you keeping coming back to do “the God thing” from time to time, right? Some church attendance, some Bible reading, some prayer, some sort of religious something. As long as we do that a little idol worship in our lives is not a bad thing, right? In Ezekiel chapter 14 we learn of some idol worshipping leaders who come to Ezekiel to “do the God thing.” We can paraphrase God’s response with one word: “really?” Said with a very sarcastic tone of course. Idolatry  is a ridiculous thing to do and in Ezekiel chapters 14 and 15 we learn of three reasons why God’s people in Ezekiel’s day should commit themselves fully to the Lord. These three reasons still hold true for us today. So what are they?

First, idolatry creates distance in our relationship with God. Consider:

Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts. . .  (Ezekiel 14:4-7 emphasis mine)

Keep in mind that as Christians we are under a covenant of grace, and so no matter what kind of distance we may put between ourselves and the Lord, we can no more change our child-of-God status any more than a spat with my Dad would make my Dad no longer my father. Through Jesus God has given us the right to become children of God. But estranged children we can surely become through idolatry.

Distance between ourselves and the Lord is most unfortunate. The way many Christians treat their relationship with God is like an athlete, a runner, who goes to a newly assigned coach and says “can you give me money for new running shoes please? That is all I want from you.” We do this when we have an attitude of “Lord, just get me to heaven please, Oh, and make life perfect until then too.” The coach responds with “I have something far greater for you: my time, my attention, my attentiveness to how you are running, my expertise in training and running, my wisdom, indeed I offer you me. I offer you a relationship with me.” The Lord offers us a relationship and all the while we cry out “just get us the shoes.” Idolatry makes us content with the hope of heaven as we miss the fact that we are missing out on God.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15:9)

Second, idolatry leads us down a path of evil. Consider:

Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and placed their iniquity as a stumbling block before them; shall I let myself be consulted by them?  Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.  For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts and placing their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to a prophet to inquire of me by him, I the Lord will answer them myself. (Ezekiel 14:3-7 emphasis mine)

IdolsIdolatry makes us comfortable with the abominable. It makes what is awfully wrong seem OK, or even good. Like, an athlete that cheats. Cheating through drugs seems OK, good even, if winning is the only thing. But if winning with integrity is important, then that is a different story. Idols kill our perspective on sin. Consider how the idol of Social Darwinism makes the elimination of a particular race seem OK, good even if you are Hitler. People become comfortable with the abominable. Consider how the idolatry of sex makes some comfortable with adultery or even rape. Consider how the idolatry of people can make a person comfortable with stalking. Though we need sensitivity here, consider how the idolatry of personal rights makes people comfortable with terminating life in the womb.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . (Hebrews 12:1)

Third, idolatry makes us useless. Consider:

The word of the Lord came to me:

 O mortal, how does the wood of the vine surpass all other wood—
the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest?
  Is wood taken from it to make anything?
Does one take a peg from it on which to hang any object?
  It is put in the fire for fuel;
when the fire has consumed both ends of it
and the middle of it is charred,
is it useful for anything?
  When it was whole it was used for nothing;
how much less—when the fire has consumed it,
and it is charred—
can it ever be used for anything! (Ezekiel 15:1-5)

While I am enjoying the pre-teen and teen stages my boys are in I must admit to missing certain things from their younger years, like Thomas the Tank Engine. I do not, however, miss the Teletubbies. Thomas was not a fast engine, or a big engine, or even a pretty engine, but he was a useful engine. Practically every episode had some reference to Thomas being or becoming “a very useful engine.” As Christians we are called to be useful, to be fruitful:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4,5)

Idolatry keeps us from fully abiding in the vine, in Christ. Idolatry makes us fruitless, and useless. Idolatry would be like Usain Bolt running his competition in dress shoes, or Michael Phelps competing with water wings. It does not help get the job done.

So what if we find ourselves more like spiritual couch potatoes than spiritual Olympians? Is there any hope for us when idolatry has sidelined us form the race? Yes, there is opportunity to get back on track. God wants us on track:

I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 14:4-5 emphasis mine)

When we are on the wrong track the opportunity is given to “turn around”, a Hebrew word in the Old Testament often translated as “repent”. Consider:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. (Ezekiel 14:6 emphasis mine)

When some people hear that word “repent” they automatically  respond with something like “how dare you tell me I need to repent! How dare you not accept me as I am!” In fact the call to repentance has nothing to do here with acceptance of who you are. It has to do with you not accepting the horrible situation you are in, not accepting that you are estranged form God, not accepting that idolatry has led you down a path of evil, and not accepting that being useless has become your status quo. Repentance is a very positive opportunity to re-evaluate and make positive changes. Athletes do it all the time as a matter of getting back on track. When idolatry takes hold, perhaps you and I should listen to God’s Holy Spirit and do likewise?

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. (1 Cor 9:24)

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Source for this article
Link to Clarke’s website