Ezekiel 33

In this chapter, God explains His justice to Ezekiel in powerful words. “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (See also 36:33-36 for another glimpse of the compassion in God’s judgement). The Creator of the Universe is distressed about the future of a nation that has repeatedly abandoned Him. I look at the compassion in His pleading and am humbled and in awe because I know He says the same to me.

Another clear theme in this chapter is that each person is judged according to his/her deeds (vs. 1-20). We are not judged by any measure that society uses- our social status, our background or our success. We are not judged by something that is hard for us to understand or out of our control. We are judged by our actions, by the outward expressions of our internal selves which have consequences (for better or worse) on those around us. This is the most fair measure for us to be judged by. We are judged by our Creator who is desperately urging us to make our choices wisely. Our judge is on our side. So much so that He gives us the option to have a perfectly clean slate through His mercy, grace and sacrifice of His Son. Why would we choose anything else?

While thinking about God’s judgement, one question always crosses my mind– Why were we given choice in the first place? It doesn’t take long to reason that love is not love without a choice. Recently I’ve realized this answer has even further implications. I believe that since God gave us choice from the beginning, it is a sacred right that we must offer and preserve for every human. One of the most frustrating things we can experience is trying to force someone to do something. If our Creator does not force us into anything, why then do we feel the need to force others?

As we see in the analogy of the watchman in chapter 33, the shepherds in chapter 34 and in the promises God gives to Israel in chapter 36, one individual’s or group’s actions has far reaching effects because we are all connected to each other. In chapter 33, the hearers of the watchman reserve the right to make their own choice and will be judged accordingly, as does the watchman himself. Chapter 34 reveals the importance of our choices by showing how the shepherds had an opportunity to build up the flock but instead chose to only look out for themselves to the detriment of others. Chapter 36 shows the opposite effect; God cleanses the people and “then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes” (vs. 23).  Our choices matter because they affect other people. Our choices matter because they can either speak for truth (which is glorifying God and His grace) or contribute to further destruction and hurt. Nearly every story in the Bible shows how God is constantly reaching out to humans to encourage them to make the choice that is in their best interest. He is always near, we just have to turn and look.

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Micah 6

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” -Micah 6:6-8

Right now in my life, God is answering my prayers for Him to teach me to depend on Him. He also recently answered my prayers for Him to teach me to be content in any situation. He’s helped me learn how to become content, and now He’s helping me learn to stay content by depending on Him.

A big part of the learning process for me involves asking questions. The following is something I wrote to myself one night to sort out the questions. I want to share it now just in case anyone else can relate to the questions or the ideas that follow them.

What is dependence on God?

It is questions that can’t be answered. Because if they were, it would mean we could accomplish them on our own.

It means not knowing what the plan is for tomorrow or the next day or your whole life. It means change and discomfort. It means letting go of yourself whenever you’re not exactly sure of yourself and instead exchanging your insecurity for complete confidence in God.

For me right now, dependence is not knowing exactly what instructions I should let govern my behavior or decision making. I don’t have a rulebook or instruction manual. I have the Holy Spirit inside me and I never know what exactly is going on. I live in confusion, but confidence. Confidence that someone else, someone perfect, is in control. This confidence means I don’t worry. I don’t dip into despair at the weight of individual, local or global problems. I still feel compassion and rage, but I don’t feel the weight on my own shoulders. I hope rather than despair. And I don’t even have this confidence 100% of the time, I lose my way frequently, but I know that if I draw near, He will bring me back. I don’t seek to get lost, but when I do, I know I can always go back to Him.

So who am I supposed to be in this world? If I’m depending on God, what actions do I take? What qualities do I cultivate and which ones do I trash? I cultivate the qualities of Himself that he has shown me and try to reflect them to others. He has shown me that he is faithful. Therefore, I want to be faithful. I want the people I have relationships to know that I will always be running towards them, no matter how they change or what choices they make. This means I seek to cultivate qualities that lead me to being consistent, strong, willing to risk rejection, full of compassion, available and kind. In terms of Micah 6:8, it means I seek to love mercy.

He has shown me through His Son to love Him and love others, so that I would do to them what I wish they would do to me. This is justice. To treat people like you want to be treated. This applies to the people I disagree with, that I don’t fit in with, who share a different worldview than me. This applies to people who are defenseless and powerless. This applies to the people that I love and that love me and who I take for granted. This applies to the difficult people in my life currently and those that will be there in the future. This applies to all my neighbors. I have trouble with this. I have trouble understanding that God loves me so much that I don’t need acceptance from anyone else. I have trouble practicing the idea that I don’t have to put down someone else’s view in order to establish my own. Please God, help me live justly.

And for the final piece of Micah 6:8—to walk humbly with my God. Total dependence on God. Scary. Frightening. Peaceful. Somber joy. Mourning at the sight of myself, rejoicing in the presence of His salvation and love. Incredible. Always seeking Him for where to go, what to do, what to say. Always praying. Never being arrogant because I’m not confident in myself. Humble because I am submitting to Him always. Humility that blocks out my self, my impulses, my distractions, my vices. Humility that makes myself vulnerable and not in control of anything ever. Humility that says, I’m sorry for all those times I thought I had all the answers. I’m sorry for ignoring you. I’m sorry for not seeking you. I’m sorry for letting others make up my mind for me. I’m sorry for hurting you and hurting others. This humility must be lived. Lived through meekness. Lived through devotion. Lived through seeking, quiet seeking, stilling my soul so I can listen. It must be lived through feeling. Feeling vulnerable. It must be lived through decisions. Deciding on trust. It must be lived through worship and awe. It must be lived through equanimity, unshakeable peace and trust. Unshakeable because there is no self-constructed image or lie that could be shook, just honest acceptance of who I am and that God can use me even though I am not perfect. It must be lived through the courage of letting Him lead and work through me in ways I think are outside of my ability or comfort zone. It must be lived through deep friendship with God, full of layers of depth and understanding of each other.

The more I learn about God, the more I know who He wants me to be in the world. And maybe He has a different relationship with each of us. Maybe He shows different parts of Himself to each of us at different times, hoping that we will reflect them in the world. And with everyone having a different reflection of God, they work together in unity to carry on Christ’s work of restoring creation. Restoring what is beautiful, what God saw on the 1st, 2nd…6th days of creation and said “It is Good.”. Then we will rest with God.

Ephesians 1

There are three things Paul wants the Ephesians to know that he lists in Chapter 1, verses 15-23. I think these three things (hope, inheritance and God’s power) can shape the reading of the entire letter.  But before we get to the list, we need to know how the Gentiles are to gain this knowledge. Verse 17 lets us know that their knowledge of these things will come from God himself. From other scripture, we know that if we ask, seek, and knock, God will provide. Therefore, if we seek after these things, God will reveal them.

The first of the three things is that the Gentiles “may know what is the hope to which He has called you” (v.18, ESV). Verses 11-13 of chapter 2 remind us that Paul is writing to Gentiles, who were previously without Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world (NKJV)”. With Christ, (as beautifully described throughout chapter 2) the Gentiles now have hope– the same promises, the same covenant with God– that the Jews had.  Knowing this hope consists of two things: knowing what the promises are and trusting that God will fulfill these promises. The following two things Paul lists include something God has promised and something that encourages trust in Him.

The second in Paul’s list is “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints”. In verses 3-10, Paul describes the Gentile’s adoption as sons by Jesus’s sacrifice and God’s grace. Paul wants them to know what this adoption means, that they are “holy and blameless before him” (vs. 4). How great is God’s grace to the Gentiles and to us! What an incredible promise, that we can be holy and blameless before God, that we can be God’s children.

The third thing Paul lists is “the immeasurable greatness of His power towards us who believe” (vs. 19). In verse 20, Paul reminds us that this immeasurable power is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and placed all authority beneath His feet. Other scripture reminds us it is the same power that created the world and gave us life and breath. It is the same power that performed the miracles of the Old and New Testaments. And this power is directed towards us who believe. This is the power that lets us trust in God. In my daily experiences and Bible reading, I want to constantly be looking for the hope and inheritance we have through Jesus and looking for examples of God’s immeasurable power. Chapter 3 describes how these things have changed Paul’s life and chapters 4-6 describe a lifestyle that encourages the pursuit of knowing our hope, inheritance and trusting in God’s power, rather than the pursuit of things that really just distract us.

Exodus 6

God is reintroducing himself to his people. He made a covenant with their ancestors, but they have been in slavery for several generations. His introduction is made up of miraculous acts of judgement. All of God’s miracles show that he is in control over nature, food and even families. In chapter 4, the people believed Moses because of the miracles he did. In chapter 6, they become very discouraged because of their circumstances as slaves (v. 9). How awe-inspiring it would have been for them to see something more powerful than their slave masters totally disrupting their everyday life and eventually bringing judgement on them. And then how amazing it would be to see God’s power leading you safely and providing for you. What an incredible reintroduction.

Jeremiah 7

God speaks to those coming to worship him (v.2). He lays out how they can reenter covenant with him (v.3-8) . He illustrates the irrationality of letting them continue how they are and not having any terms of the covenant (8-11). He states that he will use destruction and punishment because they do not follow him. V.19 shows it is ultimately to their own shame. V.28 shows discipline is meant to be accepted by the people to turn them back to God. V.12-15 reinforces this idea, as God cites the destruction of another place to try to motivate his people to turn to him. He reminds them of the covenant he made with their fathers and how it involved both religious practices (sacrifices, burnt offerings, etc.) and spiritual devotion (following God in all ways) (v.22-23). What was the demise of these people? Simply that they did not listen or pay attention to God (v.24-26). This is a violation of the spiritual side of the covenant. They then (Or maybe before? Or at the same time? We don’t really know I guess but it doesn’t really matter, we need both.) violated the religious side (v.17-19, v.21, v.30-31).

The idea that these people are beyond the help of prayer (v.16) is also illustrated in Ch.8. They are totally rejecting grace so that it is no longer possible to offer it to them (7:27-29).

The crime of not listening to or paying attention to God is frightening to me. I can easily forget or ignore just about anything and there are several things I don’t pay attention to. This can be a good thing at times, but also very dangerous. I must make God a priority and completely immerse myself in him if I want to remember, learn and pay him the attention of which he is so greatly worthy.

Jeremiah 8

Grace is no longer offered when the people refuse to turn back to God. I imagine this as if the only way to get you to take grace is to force you into it and violate your free will, then it will no longer be offered to you. The characteristics of the country of Judah in this state are: they did not turn to God (v.4-6), they did not feel guilt or question their ways (v. 6,12), they did not seek God’s ways (v. 7-8), even the religious leaders are focused on worldly gain (v.10) and make God’s gracious gifts superficial (v.11), and they did not use God’s gifts to produce fruit (v.13). Jeremiah is crushed by this (v. 18-22). Not even the best medicinal healing of the day can heal this wound. V.19 is interesting, it could be read as the Lord speaking in the latter part, saying, “Am I not still here?” in answer to Jeremiah’s reasoning that if the Lord is destroying them, then he must not be with them. It’s as if God is saying that this destructive justice is part of his nature too. Alternatively, v. 19 could be read as the people saying something like, “What can happen to us? God is with us, we are his people!” This reading is similar to the idea of sinning so that grace may abound. But that’s not how it works. Ch. 7 explains why grace doesn’t work that way and why God can be both gracious and destructive.

This passage strongly motivates me to seek to understand God’s ways and follow them, not to save myself, but to stay in covenant with him. I will still need grace when I fail, but I also need to be able to recognize when I fail so that I can seek grace. This requires me to 1. know what God’s ways are and 2. examine myself. For this, I need both religion (studying what God’s ways are) and spirituality (self-reflection and reflection on God’s ways).

Ezekiel 20

Through various metaphors and symbols throughout Ezekiel, God expresses how He feels about Israel’s sins. While there are some details that mention what the sins are, I think the main focus is how God feels about sin and what He’s going to do about it. After reading how God feels when His people are sinning, the opportunities for redemption (see chapters 16, 18 and 20 for examples) seem even more incredible.

The multiple opportunities for repentance and renewal that Israel received in the past are spelled out in chapter 20. The repeated phrase throughout this chapter says of God’s commands and judgements, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them” (NKJV). This seemed odd to me at first. But in vs. 37, God is laying out his promise for restoration and says “…I will bring you into the bond of the covenant…” which seems to me like the covenant is a kind of protection. Protection from what? This question brought me back to the repeated phrase, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them”. A fulfilling life can be found in God’s commands and judgements. God’s covenant protects us from the emptiness of an unfulfilling life. Throughout Ezekiel, we can see how desperately God wants His people to realize that He is God and life at it’s best is only found in Him.

In my Family Studies classes in college, we talked about how the most basic emotional need of every human being is to be accepted. We do lots of crazy things to try to be accepted by other people. But this need is perfectly filled through God’s grace, which accepts and loves us exactly how we are. With this need met, we are free to live a life that is actually meaningful to us. And we can find this meaning in God’s covenant, because it is the source of the power that accepted us and loved us in the first place. We don’t have to read the Bible as a list of do’s and do not’s. We can read the Bible as a way to learn more about God and to discover the covenant He offers to us. The outcome of both of these perspectives isn’t all that different- both would lead to someone who is trying to follow God. However, the inner experience is vastly different. A list of do’s and do not’s creates anxiety, fear and complete despair when we fail, which may lead to harsh judgments of others in efforts to make us feel less bad. But reading to learn more about God creates a joyful discovery that is focused on growth, including failure as part of the process.

Exodus 24

Moses was physically close to God on several occasions (ch. 33 has another beautiful description of their relationship). He heard God’s voice at the burning bush (and several other times) and he saw God’s back. In this chapter, he received tablets of stone with the law written on them from God. He saw God standing on something as bright blue as sapphire. He spent 40 days and 40 nights with God on top of a mountain in a cloud that appeared to be in a consuming fire. During their relationship, Moses was selected by God to be the leader of His children, to guide them in war, government and religious practice. And before he led the revolt against Pharaoh and led an entire nation to establish their own lands, he was just a regular person. We are regular people. We are sinners (which I am starting to define as less about our deeds and more about our distance from God). We struggle to understand and follow God with so many voices both in the world and in our religious spheres that are pulling us to be polarized rather than unified, to be self-seeking rather than God seeking, to make decisions based on fear rather than faith. But because of God’s plan with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to rely on those contradicting voices. We can go straight to the source like Moses. And just like Moses, God will change us and lead us into what he wants us to be, whether it is a great leader or a humble servant. I want to go to the mountain where God is and dwell in his consuming-fire-of-a-cloud and hear His voice above all the others.

Jeremiah 31

Verses 31-37 of this chapter contain one of God’s most beautiful promises to us. It’s the kind of promise that compels a response from the recipients. It also illustrates God’s justice, mercy, grace, love and forgiveness and how all of those qualities work together. God previously made a covenant with his people (see Exodus for several chapters that describe God’s covenant), but they broke it even though he was faithful (v.32). The new covenant God is proposing is much more intimate than the list of rules for life and worship he had previously given. In this covenant, God lets us know him (v.34) and have his law written on our hearts in the process (v.33). Really knowing God results in us following his ways (same idea as “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” in Proverbs). We don’t need to consult a rule book, manual or argue over the interpretation of laws and legislation. Instead, he draws us near to the point that we live in him and he in us. What is more powerful or more perfect than that? There is actually an answer to that question and it is in the last sentence of v. 34 and the verses following- “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” He knows we will fail, but he won’t leave us when we do. That kind of faithfulness inspires more devotion rather than habitually displeasing him and taking advantage of grace.

The painting of this beautiful picture continues. Verses 35-36 are an analogy between the perfect order of God’s creation and his perfect grace and faithfulness within this new covenant. Verse 37 is an analogy between the vastness of God’s creation and the vastness of his mercy and forgiveness. We can trust in this covenant because it’s creator is the Creator. There is no one greater than God that can vouch for him, so he uses his creation (which is so much bigger than us) to testify for him. There is no one more worthy of our trust.