image by Devin Avery from Unsplash
Ezekiel is a book about God's holiness and judgment, just as surely as it is a book about God's mercy and compassion.
The theme of restoration, specifically the comprehensive, holistic restoration of God's people--in their relationship with God, in their sin-damaged hearts and natures, in persecution by their enemies, in their relationships with each other--is a central one, which unites those two aspects of God's character.
In Ezekiel 36 and 37, the picture of perfect Christian unity is depicted as one of the most beautiful blessings we have to look forward to in Heaven.
But do we agree?
Many of us, far from seeing Christian community as a blessing God gave to us and a foretaste of heaven, associate it with legalism, unlovingness, miscommunication, and failure to give us what we want or need (more on that in another post.)
In Ezekiel, however, the Messianic kingdom emerges, not as a place, or a system, but a community. Its first defining feature is the perfected unity of God's people; a true and lasting unity for eternity.
Likewise, in What is a Christian Worldview? Phillip Ryken points out that the New Heavens and the New Earth are described as the City of God. Why not garden? Or world? City implies and foregrounds community. The most basic defining characteristic of a city is people, living together in close proximity. One of the main elements of God's New Earth will be Christian unity, perfected. If we shirk from Christian community, if we like to emphasize that our spiritual walk is something exclusively between God and ourselves, we might need to reconsider just how ready we are for the City of God.
There are so many possible reasons, some passably legitimate if not taken to an extreme, others downright disturbing. And only we know which one is ours--if we're being honest with ourselves.
We're unwilling to make ourselves vulnerable and accountable to others. Perhaps there are petty sins and unhealthy habits we're reluctant to acknowledge or confront.
Being critical and intolerant of differences/weaknesses/mistakes constantly prevents us from loving others, as we always decide that they're lacking or undeserving of our effort and involvement.
We're pathologically afraid of getting hurt, perhaps from some past traumatic experience (whether in the church or outside.) We don't want to get too fond of anyone or feel obliged to anyone, and we view any attempts to grow closer with suspicion and wariness.
We make excuses that there's no one "compatible," as if this were a dating site. Different personalities, different backgrounds, different opinions--too much to handle. We believe that the answer lies in another denomination, in the next church, in a better pastor or Sunday School teacher, in a demographic group or income bracket more like our own, in a dress code, in a more vibrant and spiritual-minded youth group or a more participative Bible study group (this was me years ago.)
Our crippling insecurity and need for validation--and our unwillingness to admit it--makes us too proud to make advances. So instead we wait for others to approach us, feeling entitled to their initiative, because otherwise doesn't it reflect badly on this church, that they're "unloving" and "self-centered?"
Granted, the unity and relationships we experience here on earth cannot escape from being tainted by sin. We will experience betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment, miscommunication, bitterness, loss--as with any other relationships between sin-stained humanity on this sin-stained earth. But that very process, as so much else of what we experience in life, is part of God's plan for our sanctification. We persevere, looking forward to the New Earth and the City of God, where these relationships will be perfected, and we will experience unity as God intended it to be.
Christ's love for His church is something we would do better to emulate, out of all the many areas we seek to emulate Him in.
image by Jeremy Perkins from Unsplash
"Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
Okay, so that was the desert.
Why did Moses make so many excuses when God finally, after what must have seemed years of silence, revealed Himself to him?
God told him, in words that couldn't be any clearer, that yes, He had chosen him to save the people of Israel. After years of self-doubt and disappointment, Moses' pet dream and life goal suddenly exploded into reality. Why didn't he scream "YESSSSS FINALLY I KNEW ITTT"?
After the humbling desert phase he went through, Moses had fallen into the other extreme--the crippling fear of unworthiness and failure.
Like Moses, the excuse of unworthiness often keeps us from serving God.
We don't need to look far. A common protest when it comes to finding new Sunday School teachers/Bible study leaders is always "But I'm not spiritually mature enough!"
Humility, as we can also see in Moses' life, is an essential quality for every servant of God.
Yet often when it comes to serving God we can be manipulated by fear disguising itself under the pious cloak of humility.
When we feel crippled by a sense of self-doubt and unworthiness, instead of panicking we need to ask ourselves several questions:
1. Are we willing? Under all our fears, are we even willing to serve God in the first place? That should be our first self-examination, because that after all is what matters most to God. Our flesh is weak, and will always be weak; but is our spirit willing?
2. God, if He sends us, is sending us with His presence and His help. As with Moses, He promises to be our sufficiency. He repeatedly tells Moses: I will be with you; I will help you; I will help you speak, I will teach you what to say.
(and yet, Moses' fears are louder than the Living God speaking directly to him--actually out loud at that!)
3. It's not just us. Everyone is unworthy to serve God. Let that sink in. God delights in using and transforming unworthy people. He has always used common, unskilled people to do His work. It is the process, not the end--or He would not bother using us at all, since He has the power to accomplish His plans without us.
Hence, we see God's patience in addressing all Moses' fears, as this is also part of God's plan for Moses' own spiritual life, for growth in his relationship with God.
God's outburst was not the irritated banging of a sticky TV remote, but anger against Moses' overwhelming fear and lack of faith, even in the face of God Himself.
God was not just prepping a clumsy tool for His great plan; God was shaping His child.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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