Thursday, 25 April 2019

Order in our worship

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At first glance, Ezekiel's words can seem like a long list of "religious rules" and perhaps even a little confusing for us. However, there is reminder for me in these instructions and that is how our worship can benefit from order. Of course, we need to balance 'order'  with 'freedom', but Ezekiel's vision certainly helps people know how to approach God in their worship times.

“‘When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate. 10 The prince is to be among them, going in when they go in and going out when they go out. - Ezekiel 46

Over the centuries the Christian church has vacillated from the extremes of stifling order in our worship into times of chaotic freedom. It is our role as Christian leaders to discern the move of the spirit and not to restrict God's movement, but also to allow for sincerity in our worship. It is not an easy thing to do, but it seems that even Paul tried to manage this: 

1 Corinthians 14:26 -[ Good Order in Worship ] What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Any thoughts?

Living in Grace

Enough is Enough - Ezekiel 45

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“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. - Ezekiel 45:9

God is patient by nature, but even the Lord has limits. In today's reading we see how God reprimands the princes of Israel telling them that they have gone too far. Enough is Enough, the Lord says. He urges them to stop oppressing the innocent and to start doing what is JUST and RIGHT. 

I wonder if this is not a timeous word for all our politicians as we inch closer towards the Elections? Enough is enough! God (and the people) are tired of the greed and selfishness of the 'princes' of our nation and it is time to start acting with Justice and Righteousness.

What do you think?

Living in Grace

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Our Portion - Ezekiel 44

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In Ezekiel's 44th chapter he gives clear instruction as to how the priests should live and work. One of the things that struck me about this chapter appears in verse 28, where God says:

“‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession."

I believe this speaks to all of us today, not just priests. God is to be our true 'inheritance' and 'possession.' All of the material things we spend time trying to acquire and hold onto, will revert to someone else when we have died. However, the one thing that we can claim for our eternal life, is God's inheritance and possession. These things we can claim in the name of Jesus.

Psalm 16:5 - Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 

Living in Grace


Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Among the people

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For those of you who have faithfully been reading my reflections over Lent, I am most grateful. As you are aware I tried to find something interesting and positive from the visions of Ezekiel, and also tried to link this in with the story of the Cross and Resurrection. In order to finish Ezekiel's book, I will carry on for a few more days.

Today's chapter reminded me of the Incarnation of Christ, recorded in the Gospels, where God says, "I will be with you." 

"The Lord said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place where I will rest my feet. I will live here forever among the people of Israel." - Ezekiel 43:7

This is a message that is relevant all year round and I offer Ezekiel's words to you today. It is God's gracious decision to be among us and I am deeply grateful for this wonderful gift.

Living in Grace

Monday, 22 April 2019

Looking to the Lion

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I am not 100% certain of the actual symbolism of the vision in Ezekiel 41, but I was drawn to the image of the man and lion. I picture us as the "human face" looking towards the palm tree, while the young lion looks towards us from the other side. In the light of Easter I see this as representing us looking towards the 'Lion of Judah' through the lens of the Tree. Of course the Palm Tree is synonymous with Holy Week and the Tree relates to the Cross.
18 All the walls were decorated with carvings of cherubim, each with two faces, and there was a carving of a palm tree between each of the cherubim. 19 One face—that of a man—looked toward the palm tree on one side. The other face—that of a young lion—looked toward the palm tree on the other side. The figures were carved all along the inside of the Temple, 20 from the floor to the top of the walls, including the outer wall of the sanctuary. - Ezekiel 41

May you have a blessed week. 

Living in Grace

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Something to look forward to - Ezekiel 40

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Okay, confession time. I read through Ezekiel 40 for the first time and thought to myself - "I am confused. Let's just skip over to next chapter." But, then I decided to give it another try and that is when I realised the remarkable promise that comes from the first few verses. In the context of the people already being in exile for 25 years, this vision that Ezekiel shares, would have spoken an incredible promise into their lives.

In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, .... on that very day the hand of the Lord was on me and he took me there. In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, “Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the people of Israel everything you see.” (Ezekiel 40)

All the people could see was pain and suffering. They had no hope of getting back home and worshipping in the temple again. However, this vision gave them all a renewed hope and something to look forward to. 

As we move into the most dramatic weekend in our faith, let us remember that no matter how dark the present seems, there is ALWAYS hope with Jesus.

Living in Grace

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Hiding my face - Ezekiel 39

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The phrase "hiding my face" immediately conjures up two things in my mind. Either I am terribly embarrassed by something and want to hide from the public eye, or I am deliberately trying to stay away from another person. 

As we read Ezekiel 39 this phrase occurs 3 times (verses - 23,24,29) and it seems to me that God has moved from a place of deliberately hiding from his people, to allowing himself to be found (note verse 29). As the Lord chooses to forget the unfaithfulness of his people, we see a shift in his desire to be 'found' by them. I get a picture of God moving from a place of  'embarassment' to a willingness to be seen in public with his people again.

 25 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. 26 They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. 27 When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Not sure if any of this makes sense? Hopefully we see a glimpse of this in the events of Holy Week as Jesus moves fully into the public arena, willing to die on the cross in full view of the entire city. God is not hiding any more. God is present with us 100%.

Living in Grace

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Gog and Magog - Ezekiel 38

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The names Gog and Magog seem so foreign to us in the 21st century, but they are rich in Biblical history and symbolism. These interesting names even appear alongside Alexander the Great in a legend about his power and fame. We first come across the name Magog in the book of Genesis, but then again in Ezekiel 38 and later on in Revelation 20. Here is a portion of the scripture from Ezekiel:

14 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it? 15 You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. 16 You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

What I found interesting about this vision is that God seems to use the people of Magog, under the leadership of Gog, to wage war against the people of Israel. The Lord allows them to cover Israel, like a cloud covers the land, and in doing so, bring people's attention back to God. It seems a little strange for us, but God uses an enemy nation to bring the Israelites back to himself.

In our reflections during Holy Week we are also reminded of God's unique plan of salvation. It may not make sense to non-believers, why the Lord would allow his only son to die for the sake of others, but it certainly gets our attention. If were not for this 'strange' plan, we would still be lost in our sins and in our brokenness.

Living in Grace

Monday, 15 April 2019

A Valley of Dry Bones - Lent 37

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Arguably one of the most well known passages from Ezekiel is chapter 37. We have heard sermons preached on this topic and it is one of the more hopeful messages of Ezekiel. The promise of God bringing the dry bones of a nation back to life is remarkable. Reading these words in Holy Week we find that it is another glimpse of the miracle of the Resurrection. With God all things are possible and God has the ability to raise an army, even from the dry bones buried underground.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” - Ezekiel 37

Thought: Do you see a connection between this vision and the events of Holy Week? Does it offer you hope for some of the difficulties you are facing in your life at the moment?

Living in Grace

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Coming back

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The Lenten journey is one of calling us back home and so when we read the prophecy in Ezekiel 36, in light of the Cross, we see this remarkable promise being fulfilled. Through the love of Jesus we can come home to the heart of the Father.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. 23 I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. 24 For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

The prophecy in Ezekiel 36 is truly a memorable one. It speaks of incredible hope and restoration. God is going to do some remarkable healing and renewal in the hearts of the nation. These are the 3 big things that stand out of this chapter, for me:

1. God will bring us back (home)
2. God will cleanse us
3. God will renew our hearts - from hearts that are as hard as stone to hearts that are responsive and ready to obey

Living in Grace

Saturday, 13 April 2019

We don't care! - Lent 35

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In his stinging message to Edom, Ezekiel reminds them of the words they spoke against Israel.

“For you said, ‘The lands of Israel and Judah will be ours. We will take possession of them. What do we care that the Lord is there!’ - Ezekiel 35:10

They showed trued contempt for the Lord and took no notice of God's presence with his people. The Edomites made an assumption that they could destroy Israel and Judah without reckoning on God's revenge. 

This whole attitude reminds us of the accusations and words thrown at Jesus during his journey to the cross. The venom in the words of the crowds, soldiers and religious leaders assumed that God would sit back idly and do nothing. How very wrong they all were.

Reflection: God cares for those who are under his protection. 

Living in Grace

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Shepherds beware! - Ezekiel 34

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Ever wondered where the image of the Good Shepherd came from?
Sure, we  have heard Jesus speak about this in John 10, and the image of the Shepherd is well-known in Psalm 23, but Ezekiel's words are the basis of Jesus' heart for the lost sheep. Read these words and see the correlation with the words of Christ:

11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice! (Ezekiel 34)

What is startling is that these words come in response to the lack of leadership and care shown by the 'spiritual shepherds' in Ezekiel's time. These shepherds were more interested in lining their pockets and winning public praise. The warning and rebuke in this chapter is reserved entirely for these negligent leaders. God will hold them to an account. 

 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.

As a 'shepherd' myself I take these words seriously and realise that there will be a time when I will need to give account for my role as a pastor. I also believe that there are many 'shepherds' who are in danger of feeling the wrath of God for some of their actions. Shepherds also need to beware! 

Living in Grace

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

You are the Watchmen (Watchwomen) - Lent 33

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Christians have an interesting habit of shifting responsibility onto the so-called "professional pastors", but the Bible reminds us that we ALL have the task of being part of the body of Christ - we have our gifts and we need to use them. In the same way, Ezekiel is reminded that he is to be a watchman for the people and that he needs to fulfil this task with integrity and seriousness. Listen to the word of God that came to Ezekiel:

"When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’
“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me." - Ezekiel 33

We are to heed God's call to be the watchmen and watchwomen in our communities. We should do this out of deep love and respect for others, because we truly care for them. For me, Lent offers us the space to "call out" things in our own lives and to invite others to come back to the heart of God.

Living in Grace

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Turning off the Moon? - Lent 32

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 Is it possible to turn off the light of the Moon?
Well, of course not!
Is it possible to turn off the stars at night?
So, why does God say this will happen to Pharaoh?
Because it will get his attention and all other kings will shudder if this would truly happen.

Eugene Peterson adds some delightful word pictures to Ezekiel 32, making us picture God's intended punishment for Pharaoh. I can just imagine the collective gasp as the Moonlight suddenly vanished (almost like load-shedding in South Africa) OR the twinkling stars blinking a few times and then they are no more. It would get our attention no doubt!

 When I blot you out,
    I’ll pull the curtain on the skies
    and shut out the stars.
I’ll throw a cloud across the sun
    and turn off the moonlight.
I’ll turn out every light in the sky above you
    and put your land in the dark.
        Decree of God, the Master.
I’ll shake up everyone worldwide
    when I take you off captive to strange and far-off countries.
I’ll shock people with you.
    Kings will take one look and shudder.
I’ll shake my sword
    and they’ll shake in their boots.
On the day you crash, they’ll tremble,
    thinking, “That could be me!”

Sometimes God allows certain things to happen so that we awake from our slumber. We may even say, "that could be me!" All of this is done so that we come to our senses and return to the grace of God.

Despite the heavy undertone in Ezekiel, do you sense that God is drawing you back to himself?

Living in Grace

A Great Tree - Ezekiel 31

Redwoods are renowned as the tallest trees in the world, frequently reaching over 90 metres in height. At present the tallest Redwood on record is a monster tree named Hyperion, which stands at 115 metres (which is around 380 feet).

When God spoke to Ezekiel about Pharaoh and he predicted the end of his reign, God asked him to use the image of a tall Cedar tree. You can read the whole chapter in Ezekiel 31, but I will give you a glimpse into the message with these few verses:

10 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because the great cedar towered over the thick foliage, and because it was proud of its height, 11 I gave it into the hands of the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside, 12 and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it. Its boughs fell on the mountains and in all the valleys; its branches lay broken in all the ravines of the land. All the nations of the earth came out from under its shade and left it. 13 All the birds settled on the fallen tree, and all the wild animals lived among its branches.

God is focusing on the pride of Pharaoh, who claimed he was above all other gods. The image of the giant Cedar falling to the earth was vivid enough to make people realise that God was serious and that no one can compare with the Lord's might. 

Just we peek forward into Holy Week today's reading reminds us of how the pride of Pharisees got the better of them and how they wouldn't accept that Jesus was Messiah. Pride gets us into trouble, at the best of times. We would do well to keep our delusions of grandeur in check.

Living in Grace

Monday, 8 April 2019

Breaking arms - Lent 30

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As a family we know all about 'breaking arms'. Not only have my kids managed to do this quite successfully, but as I child I also succeeded in doing the same thing. So you can imagine how intrigued I was when Ezekiel's vision spoke about Pharaoh's broken arms. Take a read of chapter 30:

21 “Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. His arm has not been put in a cast so that it may heal. Neither has it been bound up with a splint to make it strong enough to hold a sword. 22 Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am the enemy of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt! I will break both of his arms—the good arm along with the broken one—and I will make his sword clatter to the ground.

At first glance it doesn't seem as if God is fighting fair, but then we must remember that it is "picture" of what will happen in the future. Ezekiel uses these word images to show the extent of God's judgement. Pharaoh will be rendered helpless in the face of the Babylonians and their rule (the Egyptians) over the Israelites will come to an end. God will allow a common enemy to administer punishment upon the Egyptians.

Thought: God can use all people and situations to make sure that his plan is accomplished. He even made use of Judas, Pilate and few Religious groups to bring about his ultimate plan of Salvation.  
What are you thoughts on this?

Living in Grace

Sunday, 7 April 2019

A great monster and a flimpsy staff - Ezekiel 29

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Ezekiel's message for Egypt is also one of rebuke (no surprises there). Just like his peers, Pharaoh had allowed his success to go to his head and he claimed the Nile River for himself and Egypt. His arrogance and unwillingness to give God any glory, displeased Yahweh and so Pharaoh is referred to as a 'great monster.' This image of the monster reminds me a little of a crocodile and one can imagine the beast swimming under the murky water looking for prey.

" great monster, lurking in the streams of the Nile.
For you have said, ‘The Nile River is mine;
    I made it for myself."(v.3)

However, the next vision that Ezekiel shares (Ezekiel 29), also concerning Egypt, is totally different to one of the monster. It is of a staff (think of a walking stick) made of reeds.

All the people of Egypt will know that I am the Lord,
    for to Israel you were just a staff made of reeds.
When Israel leaned on you,
    you splintered and broke
    and stabbed her in the armpit.
When she put her weight on you,
    you collapsed, and her legs gave way.

I am challenged by these words as it shows me that I need to wary of leaning to heavily on others, and not so much on God. God can bear the brunt of all my troubles, concerns, failures, sins and fears. When we lean on Him, God will not break and collapse.

Lent Reflection: In giving up something during Lent we remind ourselves that we don't need to depend on these things. God is sufficient for our every need. 

Living in Grace

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Pride comes before a Fall

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"Pride comes before a fall!"
These immortal words come from the mouth of Solomon (Proverbs 16:18) and still ring true in our time. If we had to sum up the message of Ezekiel 28 then this proverb would be more than adequate to do this. Ezekiel's prophetic word bemoans how the king of Tyre has allowed his wealth and fame to get to his head. He believes he is indestructible, but soon he will come crashing down to reality and all his wealth will be taken away from him.

There is an interesting twist in this prophecy, because when you read from verse 11-19, you will note some startling similarities to Satan's demise. Ezekiel says:

“You were the model of perfection,
    full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty. 

 You were in Eden,
    the garden of God.
Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone" (v.12-13)

There are a number of scholars who see this as a re-telling of what happened to Satan. Just like the king of Tyre, Satan allowed all this fortune and blessing to go to his head and soon he was full of pride. In his pride he believed he was better than God and so the Lord chose to bring him back to reality. Please read this chapter for yourself - it is very interesting!

We are barely two weeks away from Easter and this passage is a good reminder that God honours the humble and brings low the arrogant. Jesus came to be the suffering servant and yet he was also exalted as the Resurrected King.

Living in Grace

Friday, 5 April 2019

Times change - Ezekiel 27

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When I read of how glorious the city of Tyre was, part of me wishes I could have seen it's great splendour and opulence. It reminds me of some of the prominent cities of the world today. Just take a quick read of Ezekiel's description of this impressive city:

“You boasted, O Tyre,
    ‘My beauty is perfect!’
You extended your boundaries into the sea.
    Your builders made your beauty perfect.
You were like a great ship
    built of the finest cypress from Senir.
They took a cedar from Lebanon
    to make a mast for you.
They carved your oars
    from the oaks of Bashan.
Your deck of pine from the coasts of Cyprus
    was inlaid with ivory.
Your sails were made of Egypt’s finest linen,
    and they flew as a banner above you.
You stood beneath blue and purple awnings
    made bright with dyes from the coasts of Elishah.
Your oarsmen came from Sidon and Arvad;
    your helmsmen were skilled men from Tyre itself.
Wise old craftsmen from Gebal did the caulking.
    Ships from every land came with goods to barter for your trade. (Ezekiel 27)

The tragedy is that the people relied on their own glory and wealth and forgot about God. In their hearts they felt they didn't need anyones help - after all, the whole world was coming to her for everything. Tyre felt like a City without equal. 

But times change. 
Conflict happens and wars rage around them.
They lose their attractive power and very soon, they are just another city fallen on hard times. The last word of the chapter tells the story:

The merchants among the nations
    shake their heads at the sight of you,
for you have come to a horrible end
    and will exist no more.’

Let us be reminded that we can't place our hopes and dreams on material success, because when this is not around anymore, where does it leave us?

The Story of Jesus teaches me that he was willing to leave the riches of heaven for the dusty streets of Palestine. He give it all up, so that he could offer eternal riches to each of us. 

Living in Grace

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Don't delight in the downfall of others

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The fifth message from Ezekiel goes out to the city of Tyre and it is another message of rebuke. God has seen that Tyre took delight in the destruction of Jerusalem and this displeased him. The real reason behind Tyre's celebration of Israel's desolation is that now they would gain more wealth. In a sense, Tyre was revelling in the poor fortune of God's people.

“Son of man, Tyre has rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Ha! She who was the gateway to the rich trade routes to the east has been broken, and I am the heir! Because she has been made desolate, I will become wealthy!’ - Ezekiel 26:2

As the prophet Micah said, we should not gloat in the bad fortunes of others, because we never know how things will turn out in the end.

"Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light." - Micah 7:8

Remember that Jesus' enemies gloated over his demise on the Cross and look what happened in the end. God always has the last laugh.

Living in Grace

Four Messages for Four Cities - Ezekiel 25

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For today's reading to make some sense, you will need to picture yourself standing in a particular spot (anywhere will do) and then imagine fanning around 180 degrees. At various points as you slowly turn, you would stop and speak a message to those cities lying in the distance. Seems weird, I know, but this is what Ezekiel is doing - he is delivering a message to 4 different cities today - Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia.

The reason for the 4 messages is that God is now going to respond to the actions of all of these places. Each one of them had acted against Israel in some way or another - laughing at her demise, scorning Yahweh, hating the Jews and seeking revenge against Judah. Each message in this chapter is a personal response to their hatred of God and the Lord seems focused on showing that "He is the Sovereign Lord." 

Again, it is not a joyous chapter to read, especially if you are sensitive person, but I found something intriguing in the last verse of Ezekiel 25. For me it points us towards the Cross and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Read these words first:

" 17 I will execute terrible vengeance against them to punish them for what they have done. And when I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord.”

So we know that he is speaking to the people of Philistia, but could we interpret these words in a prophetic sense? That the 'terrible vengeance' that God allowed in happen, with Jesus dying on the cross, was so that we would not be punished for our sins. And when God had sufficiently dealt with sin and death, through the cross and empty tomb, we would ALL know that he is Lord. 

How does that sound? Does it make sense? 

Living in Grace

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Potjie, Grief and Hope

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Stories get our attention! There is no question about it, stories have a way of striking at the core of our being. Perhaps in today's world we could argue that images or media are having the same impact, but essentially these new means of communication are just about telling a certain kind of story. 

So, our friend, Ezekiel is given some power images to share and today's illustrations are enough to stop the clock! He starts off by sharing about a cooking pot, meat and a very hot fire. It reminded me of having a Potjie (if you don't know what that is then refer to Google :) - you put all the ingredients in and wait for the food to be ready, but you need to watch the heat in case you burn the food. Read this in Ezekiel 24:1-14.

Then God asks Ezekiel to use the death of his wife as another illustration. I admit that I felt a little uncomfortable with this one, but Ezekiel was obedient to the Lord's request and the people asked him what this all meant. His reply is found in v.15-24.

The last few verses are the ones that I wanted to focus on this morning, as they point to the Messiah. This is what is recorded in Ezekiel 24 

25 Then the Lord said to me, “Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. 26 And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened. 27 And when he arrives, your voice will suddenly return so you can talk to him, and you will be a symbol for these people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

I see this as a fulfilment of a promise, that when the Saviour arrives he will give people their voice back and they will return to the Lord. Jesus will show us that the Lord is God and draw people back to the heart of the Father.

Is this not the message of Easter?

Living in Grace

Monday, 1 April 2019

2 Sisters, prostitutes and drinking from the cup

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Okay, if you ever thought that the Bible only contained "nice" stories and was edited to keep it clean, then you will be surprised by Ezekiel 23. It is lewd, sexual and deeply disturbing. However, it paints a vivid picture of what happened to God's people. The reason Ezekiel shares this as a prophecy is to get peoples attention. Sometimes we need to hear a story that is so shocking in order to get our attention - almost like Nathan had to share with King David after his adultery with Bathsheba.

So, Ezekiel tells a story of two adulterous sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, who turn to prostitution. As we see in verse 3 they represent Samaria and Jerusalem - "Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem." Their story is one of adultery, of turning away from God and of bearing the consequence of their actions.  

And as a result of all of this, they will drink the cup of their actions.

 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“You will drink your sister’s cup,
    a cup large and deep;
it will bring scorn and derision,
    for it holds so much.
33 You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow,
    the cup of ruin and desolation,
    the cup of your sister Samaria.
34 You will drink it and drain it dry

Sorry to be a little blunt today, but this chapter tells us the honest truth. We will all drink the cup of our own actions. If we pour it, we must drink it!

Of course, the Good News of Lent is, even though we come face to face with our betrayal, we are still offered the cup of Redemption, through Jesus Christ.

Living in Grace

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Standing in the Gap

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Today's focal image is one which some of us may have come across before. It is of a person standing in the gap, which has opened up in the protective wall of Israel. Their role is one of offering protection and help, especially where it is needed in the 'gap.'

30 “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. 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. 31 So now I will pour out my fury on them, consuming them with the fire of my anger. I will heap on their heads the full penalty for all their sins. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” - Ezekiel 22

If we take this image a little further and reflect on this in s symbolic way, what would you say represent the 'gaps' in our communities today? And then, what would the 'gaps' be in our churches, families and friendship circles? What strikes me as being very sad is that God couldn't find anyone willing to stand in the gap, which then led to damaging consequences for the entire community.

Reflection: If we are called by God to walk alongside others and to offer help, how can we effectively do this? What will standing in the gap mean for you today?

Living in Grace

Saturday, 30 March 2019

A Sword - Ezekiel

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A sword is a powerful weapon in the hands of a mighty warrior. It can be used to defend a family from the threat of an enemy, as well as be used to go on the attack in battle. We don't use swords much anymore, but we still understand the damage they can do.

The image of the sword runs strongly through Ezekiel 21 and unfortunately it doesn't look like the Israelites will be spared from God's anger. If you are into counting the number of times a word is used in a passage, then you will see that Ezekiel uses it a lot - 14 times in this one chapter alone. The message is clear - God is not happy with Israel's unfaithfulness and he asks Ezekiel to use the image of the SWORD to make his point loud and clear.

There is however a glimmer of hope in v.27 that ties in with our Lenten theme and draws our attention to the Messiah. Ezekiel says:

I will surely destroy the kingdom.
And it will not be restored until the one appears
    who has the right to judge it.
Then I will hand it over to him.

The reason I find this to be 'hopeful' is because, even though pain and punishment will be dished out, there will also be healing and restoration. Both of these promises are fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. And so this is the invitation we are waiting for - to turn to Christ and to trust our brokenness and failures to him, because he has already born our punishment for us.

Living in Grace

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Holding back - Ezekiel 20

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When we read through the Scriptures there are usually a few words or verses that grab our attention. I have come to find that usually these words/phrases are things that speak to me in the situation I find myself. The message from these verses speaks into my life and teaches me something more about our God.

Today's chapter from Ezekiel (20) contained a usual amount of judgement and challenging words for the wayward Israelites, but there were 2 words that left an impression on me. They are the words 'held back.'

14 But again I held back in order to protect the honour of my name before the nations who had seen my power in bringing Israel out of Egypt. (The same phrase is repeated in verse 17.)

It tells us that even though God was bleak with his children, he was still in full control of his power and emotions. God was willing to 'hold back' his wrath and punishment, because of his great love for the people. It is true that they were the ones who turned their backs on God - they were unfaithful and disobedient, so God had every right to feel rejected, but he restrained himself in order to give them another chance.

Lent is a wonderful time to be mindful of our own sin and the generous love of God. The Lord could justifiably dish out some punishment to us, but God HOLDS BACK, in order that we may come back to him.

Ezekiel 20:44 - You will know that I am the Lord, O people of Israel, when I have honoured my name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”

Living in Grace

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

A lioness and her cubs

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Can there be a more powerful illustration than a protective lioness looking after her two cubs? It certainly got my attention as I started reading chapter 19 of Ezekiel's book.

“What is your mother?
    A lioness among lions!
She lay down among the young lions
    and reared her cubs.

He was a master at using word pictures and illustrations to get people to listen to his words. As I read these words, I was thinking of a lioness walking through the veld, followed closely by her young cubs - the image is firmly rooted in my mind!

The sad reality is that the 2 cubs in Ezekiel's vision represent 2 of Judah's kings - more than likely Jehoahaz and Zedekiah. The lioness is symbolic of the nation of Judah - the caring mother (v.2).

Interestingly, his illustration changes completely in v.10, where suddenly Ezekiel no long pictures Judah as a lioness, but rather as a vine that will be uprooted by the enemy. Everything will be lost and so the funeral song must be sung.

Using this chapter in our Lenten journey is important for us as Christians, because it reminds us of the death of Christ. Everything seemed lost on Good Friday - all hope was gone and Jesus was dead. However, this is not where God wanted to story to stop. It moves through the pain of the Cross, to the silence of death and then, ultimately, to the celebration of the Resurrection.

Thought: Don't skip past the 'funeral' songs in Ezekiel, nor the trials in your life. As Christ-followers, we REMEMBER that our story doesn't end here - there is always another chapter to be unveiled.

Living in Grace

Getting our attention - Ezekiel 18

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We could easily jump to the conclusion that God is quite mean and nasty, especially when we read through chapter after chapter of the harsh words in Ezekiel. However, it is important to remember the context of Ezekiel's words and the underlying heart of God. In v.32 we see that the Lord makes it clear that his tough words are not intended to harm, but rather to get Israel's attention. God desperately wants them to turn from their evil ways and to come back to him.
30 “Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! 31 Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? 32 I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!

It always reminds me of how many parents struggle in disciplining their kids. We want the best for our kids, but when we see them making bad decisions or turning down wrong paths, we somehow don't know what to do. Yet, if we left them to their own devices, without offering any correction, I feel that would be an "unloving" thing to do. The Lord sees his reprimand as being a loving call to repentance.

What does God usually have to do to get your attention?

Living in Grace

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Story of 2 Eagles - Ezekiel 17

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The beginning of Ezekiel 17 reads more like a story from one of Aesop's fables - it tells the story of 2 eagles, which represent Israel's relationship with both Egypt and Babylon. In the end, God will punish Israel for betraying a promise they made with the Babylonians, which may seem strange at first but when you read through the verses you will understand why. God is angry for their choice to swear allegiance to one kingdom and then to go back on their word. God doesn't people who are fickle and full of deceit. 

Thankfully the chapter ends on a more positive note (again), with God offering a remarkable promise to the Israelites. You will note a clear similarity with the words of Ezekiel and the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:31

22 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. 23 It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!” (Ezekiel 17)

What does this passage say to you today? 
When you read Ezekiel's words in light of the life of Jesus, what do you make of the 'MAJESTIC CEDAR' mentioned in verse 23?

Living in Grace

Monday, 25 March 2019

Yet - a powerful 3 letter word (Ezekiel 16)

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If you can manage to work your way through Ezekiel 16 you will eventually come to a truly hopeful word in verse 60. That word contains just three letters and is the word YET. This short word contains all the mercy, forgiveness and grace of God. Despite how betrayed God feels, he reveals his deep love for Israel when he offers them redemption and a chance to be restored again.

60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. 61 Then you will remember with shame all the evil you have done. I will make your sisters, Samaria and Sodom, to be your daughters, even though they are not part of our covenant. 62 And I will reaffirm my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. 63 You will remember your sins and cover your mouth in silent shame when I forgive you of all that you have done. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” - Ezekiel 16

As we take the opportunity to reflect on our own short comings and sins, this Lenten season, I invite you to receive the gift of 'YET.'
I deserve punishment, YET Jesus loves me more than I deserve.
I keep messing up, YET God is sanctifying me through his grace.
I stumble and fall, YET the Holy Spirit gives me the strength to carry on.

Reflection: What does God's YET mean for you today?

Living in Grace

Friday, 22 March 2019

Wood from a vine - Ezekiel 15

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Oh my goodness, Ezekiel is not letting up at all today. Chapter 15 is only 8 verses long, but it is packed with hard words and a strong message for those who are unfaithful to the Lord. He records this message in the form of a parable, which is quite similar to the way Jesus spoke to people in his time.

A Parable about a Vine

The Lord spoke to me. “Mortal man,” he said, “how does a vine compare with a tree? What good is a branch of a grapevine compared with the trees of the forest? Can you use it to make anything? Can you even make a peg out of it to hang things on? It is only good for building a fire. And when the ends are burned up and the middle is charred, can you make anything out of it? It was useless even before it was burned. Now that the fire has burned it and charred it, it is even more useless.”
Now this is what the Sovereign Lord is saying: “Just as a vine is taken from the forest and burned, so I will take the people who live in Jerusalem and will punish them. They have escaped one fire, but now fire will burn them up. When I punish them, you will know that I am the Lord. They have been unfaithful to me, and so I will make the country a wilderness.” The Sovereign Lord has spoken.

As I read through this I thought of Jesus' parable about the vine and the branches. Jesus' parable seems to be a little more uplifting although the message is still the same. We need to stay connected to God (the Vine) in order to ensure that we are growing and producing fruit. In an interesting aside, these following words of John are also recorded in a chapter 15:

“I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. You have been made clean already by the teaching I have given you. Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me." - John 15

What does this mean for you today?

Living in Grace


Thursday, 21 March 2019

Nothing without cause - Ezekiel 14

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Today's scripture passage is another 'heavy' one, so I warn you to have a cup of good coffee before you start reading. If you aren't awake after the coffee, then you will certainly be FULLY awake when you have read Ezekiel's prophecy. I encourage you to read through the chapter when you have time, but the part I was interested in today comes at the end of the chapter. It reads as follows:
22 Yet there will be some survivors—sons and daughters who will be brought out of it. They will come to you, and when you see their conduct and their actions, you will be consoled regarding the disaster I have brought on Jerusalem—every disaster I have brought on it. 23 You will be consoled when you see their conduct and their actions, for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

I found it interesting that in two places, Ezekiel mentions that we will be consoled by what we see. I guess it is not because we will take delight in what we see, but rather we will understand why it happened. It will seem justifiable and therefore, I guess we will be okay with the course of action God needed to take. Some consolation in the midst of the pain?!

The other phrase that strikes me is found in v.23 - "you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause" - we need to remember that there is always a 'cause' or 'purpose' behind God's actions. God doesn't do anything for the sake of getting attention or just to be otherwise - there is always a cause.

Voltaire - "nothing can exist without a cause." 

Reflection: Everything God does, or allows to happen, is with a definite cause - even the Cross! 

Living in Grace

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Tearing down instead of building up - Ezekiel 13

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There is something about our modern generation that seems to love 'breaking people down' instead of lifting them up. I don't know if it is because social media is such a quick way of passing on a critique of something, but it certainly can aid people in tearing things down (or in destroying the reputation of others).

In today's reading, Ezekiel speaks of how the false prophets had a way of breaking down and not helping to REBUILD the nation.

They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions. They say, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ even though the Lord never sent them. And yet they expect him to fulfil their prophecies! Can your visions be anything but false if you claim, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ when I have not even spoken to you? (Ezekiel 13)

The challenge for us during Lent is this: 

In what way do I 'break down' instead of lifting up?
Am I prone to stand and watch or am I willing to help repair and rebuild the works of God?

Living in Grace

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

A New Proverb - Ezekiel 12

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Wise sayings and proverbs have helped people, for many centuries, understand all different aspects of life. They teach us how to love, to discern, to speak and to act. Sometimes these sayings are so old that we wonder if they are still true and relevant for our time.

This is what strikes me about Ezekiel 12 today - the relevancy of the old sayings. There had been a popular proverb, in circulation for generations, that went like this:
"Time passes, making a liar of every prophet" (v.22). 

Basically it implied that words and predictions of Prophets never came true - certainly not in a short space of time. Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to change this proverb and to give the Israelites a new proverb to reflect on. It goes like this:

"The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled." (v.23)
And this is exactly what happened. The strange actions that God asked Jeremiah to enact (read Ezekiel 12:1-20), concerning the future and especially King Zedekiah, came true barely 6 years later. Sure, six years may seem like a long time to wait, but it shows us that God's word prevails and we should we careful to doubt it.

Jesus is the fulfilment of the promised Messiah - he was a long time in coming to the world, but He came!If you are waiting on a promise from the Lord, please don't lose hope and patience. God will follow through on his word.

Living in Grace