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Ezekiel 4: God and the Performing Arts

artFor all of you who are gifted in the world of performing arts, have you ever thought: Where does God fit in all of this? Outside of church centered performances it seems that the world of the arts can at time, exist in a vast contrast between what is sacred and what is secular. Let’s face it, many, movies, TV shows, plays, improv, and so on are used as a platform to debunk God and what his will for humanity is.

But let us not forget, Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  James 1:17  Essentially this means that if it is Good, it belongs to God and brings Him glory. A ballet doesn’t necessarily have to play out a biblical story line to glorify God and an instrumental does not need to say the name Jesus in order to display His Grace and Mercy.  These things intrinsically give a glimpse into the character of God because we are created in His image an our capacity for Art belongs to Him and honors Him. If you are a non-believing performer, perhaps you don’t even know that your very talent and skill are good gifts from God. Even when art is used to put itself at odds with God it also cannot exist without Him. (Side note: Artistic Expression is extremely hard to fit into a Godless paradigm. If we were not created for a purpose what would it mean? If there is only death after life would all the beauty fade away?)

If God delights in art, is honored by art and art is sustained by His character,  it would logically follow that He himself is an artist. Not only in the masterful way he has painted the sky and clothed the meadows in wildflowers, but also in Ezekiel chapter 4, he is in fact a director of a silent drama acted out by his prophet. There is a set that is made, and experiential art on display! And maybe, just maybe pantomime was used!   

Take a look: God is not happy with Jerusalem in Ezekiel Chapter 4; as a people of God they have consistently turned towards sin and worshiped false idols. God has had enough of their claims to straighten up and walk right so he sends Ezekiel to declare that there will be a great siege of their land that they will be punished for their sin. But God does not use words to communicate this! Instead he uses something far more cool!

This is what He says, ” Now son of man (Ezekiel), take a block of clay, put in in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it.”  Ezekiel 4:1-2

That’s right folks! God had Ezekiel perform his prophecy through somewhat of a skit utilizing mini models. It is thought that the model he built with clay brick was complete with drawing, sculpting and carvings. There was a battle seen created with tiny battery rams and maybe even tiny troops!

And this is not even the best part! In Ezekiel 3:26 God made his prophet mute “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people.” While Ezekiel was erecting this model of doom outside before the people he could not talk. Just imagine them asking him what they heck he was doing, or undoubtedly the throngs of children who wanted to touch it and play with it. Ezekiel was silent thus using art and symbols to speak the Word of God. Some even say he may have acted out these scenes in a mime like fashion! So for all of you mimes out there preserving this old art keep hope alive your craft is honored by God.

God then instructs him to act out a Four Hundred and Thirty day experiential exhibit! God says to Ezekiel “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.”  Ezekiel 4:4-5

After he finishes this part up he tells Ezekiel to lay on his right side and do this again for 40 more days! If you are thinking that this experiential art couldn’t get any worse for the artist you are wrong. Verse 8 tells us that Ezekiel would be tied down before the people so he couldn’t turn. God gave Ezekiel specific instruction on what to eat during this time  but in order to demonstrate to the people that they were defiled he ended up having to bake his bread in front of everyone using cow dung as fuel for the fire! That’s right people!!!!! Cow Dung!

For all of my actors, street performers or improv friends can you imagine getting this gig? Can you imagine how physically involved it would be, all to communicate a lesson to the people. And Ezekiel gave himself over to this craft for the purpose of serving God.

Now I will let you in on a little secret. I am not the most artsy person in the world. Don’t get me wrong I see beauty in the arts. I love to write and I try my hand at painting (I have one of my original works hanging in my office, its an abstract representation of Texas Wildflowers. A little girl recently came in and looked at it hanging and asked me if my son had done it lol!!!!!!! so deflating) But what I mean by “not being artsy” is that I walk around an exhibit and I cannot for the life of me understand why one bold stripe of paint is worth 2500 dollars and demonstrates racial tension. I have seen experiential art exhibits where a Man screams loudly with no explanation and I have been pretty unmoved.  But even with own lack of artsy, I can look on God’s use of the Performing Arts in Ezekiel in wonder! What a way to communicate truth! What a way to get your message across! What PR event to draw in the crowds!

What a fantastically complex God we serve, in that he doesn’t choose the easy road of communication here, rather he chooses the arduous labor of art.

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Ezekiel 3:16-27: Whose blood is on your hands?

2000px-Red_flag.svgI have recently been really pumped up about evangelism. I had the opportunity to give a two day presentation on the matter earlier this year and I was reminded once again of my own personal lack of desire to open my mouth on God’s behalf.

I think we as Christians fool ourselves when we throw around the idea of “lifestyle evangelism.” This is the idea that the best way to share the gospel is by living it out. Here is the problem with this thought: the Gospel is a noun, it is a thing, a thing that is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a message, and a concept that we do not have to appease God, yet the penalty has already been paid by Christ.

So you cannot necessarily live out a message, as much as you cannot live a noun. One’s life is changed in light of the message but the message itself most be spoken. Romans 10:14 says it best, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”

Don’t get me wrong living out your faith is a necessary mandate because when your actions do not align with what you say, you’re not fooling anyone.  Matthew 5:16 “ Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

But I wonder how complacent we have become concerning our boldness to speak the Gospel. Not only to speak the gospel but to be a voice for justice and to speak out against unrighteousness.

I’ve been afraid. Afraid to speak the Gospel and afraid to speak truth because I didn’t want to be marginalized. I didn’t want to be a Bible thumper. I didn’t want to face the hard questions concerning the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. (As in all roads do not lead to the same God) With all the seminary training in the world I was still not so confident to open my mouth and say the Word’s of the Gospel:

John 3:16 ““For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Romans 10:9 “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;”

So how does my regret to open my mouth relate to Ezekiel today? Ezekiel was tasked as a Watchman. Ezekiel 3:17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the words I speak and give them warning from me.”

A Watchman’s job was to sit up on the tower all through the night and guard the gate. They had a keen eye to spy out encroaching danger. Their job was to warn the people when danger came. If they fell asleep at their job, or got distracted on face book then the blood of the people was on their hand because they failed at their job.

So it makes sense that God says to Ezekiel ” When I say to a wicked person, You will surely die, and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable fro their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.” Ezekiel 3:18-19

It’s one thing to love people, feed the hungry and take care of the sick, as Christians that should be who we are. But the question is, Have we been a good watchman? Have we rang the bell? Do we sound the alarm in the face of danger? Have we shouted out to dissuade a brother or sister who is walking into eternal damnation. Have we opened our mouth? Do we have blood on our hands?