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The Art of Worship

Prepare yourself for this Psalm of Praise, listen to it, don’t analyze it. Let the grandeur of our God wash over you. Think of yourself as a lone tiny dot in the face of an inexhaustible God. Remember that you are connect to an ancient chorus of believers who still sing this song about our God. And you cannot refuse to Worship the one who hold of all this in His mighty hands.

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness;come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his;we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thank to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

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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?

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Eating Scrolls: Ezekiel 3

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We meet Ezekiel the prophet in the middle of his strange vision. Now the Lord is instructing him to eat a scroll! A long rolled up parchment paper is not exactly the most appetizing thing to eat  but here he says, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth , and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Ezekiel 3:1-3)

Ezekiel would have been very familiar with scrolls such as the one the Lord presented to him. Priest had to memorize and copy scrolls from a young age. He knew the value of it, the weight of it, the smell would have evoked memories of devotion to the pouring over of God’s word, but never had he thought to eat it.

So why is the Lord God almighty offering him this unseemly entree?  God commanded Ezekiel to eat this scroll as the representation of the Word of God, in that he was internalizing God’s will and his words in the truest sense of the word.

There is mystery in the way our body processes what we eat. There is delight in it too. White chocolate, raspberry truffle, cheese cakes…… one of the most decadent things I can imagine putting in my mouth! The desire you feel when you see it presented on the the plate and the anticipation you have as you bring your fork to your mouth, and the elation that follows when you finally taste how sweet it is!

Ezekiel ate the scroll that God presented to him and it was sweet as honey in his mouth. This is where things get interesting, God was calling Ezekiel to speak on his behalf to the Israelites, to hold them accountable for their sins, to call them to repentance to usher in forgiveness and grace if they turn to the Lord, and destruction if they do not.  God says that the people to whom Ezekiel would speak were a “obstinate and stubborn nation” (Ezekiel 2:4) and furthermore that these people would not even list to what he would say. (Ezekiel 3:7) This was the word of God represented by this scroll, one of destruction because he knew their hearts were hardened and they refused to listen. My question to you…. How can a word of destruction be sweeter than honey when eaten?

The answer points to a great truth that excites me even as I type “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

The Word of God, whether one of blessing or one of cursing, is the stuff of life for the believer and even more so for those who are called to minister through the Word. Ezekiel internalizes this scroll that represents God’s Word, a Word of rebuke one may consider it would taste kinda bitter. But it is sweet!  Every word of God is sweet and life giving because he holds the master plan.

As Ezekiel eats the scroll as food he chews and swallows and it fills his belly and he digests it then it sustains him. It brings him energy! Energy to complete a task that is doomed from the start. The Lord tells him, My people will not listen but I will send you anyway. What does that say about God’s character and what does that say about the character of his minister Ezekiel? It says that God’s heart for his children is so full that he will continue to offer grace and call for repentance even when he knows they wont take it. And here we have Ezekiel he takes on a job title yet he is told that he will not be effective and he goes regardless. He is sent, yet they will not listen. He is sustained by God’s word of bitterness to his rebelling people yet it is as sweet as honey when he eats it.

Here is a truth we need to remember, the sweetness, the beauty the grandeur of God is not dependent upon man’s opinion of Him. Whether  he speaks destruction or healing, whether he gives or takes away blessed be the Name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

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God and Weird visions: Ezekiel 1-2

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I am overwhelmed by the complexity of God and his written word to us. I pause even to write this because the task of trying to explain and understand this complexity feels beyond me in every way. Don’t get me wrong I know that God desires that we know Him that we have intimacy in him as a child looks up to his father or as the beloved disciple was able to recline and lay his head against Jesus. What a sweet intimacy that is and what a privilege to share in it!

But if you may, can we look at another facet of God’s character? While he is near, he is also far. While we are made in his image, he is vastly other. He walks with us in time, but yet he supersedes time. We understand that he is eternal but we can’t begin to fathom an existence that has no beginning and one that lives outside of time itself.

It seems to me that God wants to communicate his vast “otherness” to us at times and Ezekiel is quite the display of weird stuff! If you are like me and grew up in a predominately black Baptist church you know that the saints of old have passed down traditional sayings that describe how we talk about God whether biblical or not. You know he is the “rose of Sharon” the “prince of peace” the “rock of  ages” and finally the “wheel in the middle of the wheel.”  It was always that last one that I had no clue what it meant. There was even a song about Jesus. “He’s my rock, my rock, my sword, my shield, he is the wheel in the middle of the wheel.”  Why is there a wheel in the middle of a wheel? What use is a wheel intersecting with another wheel?

Well this strange contraption is a part of Ezekiel’s inaugural Vision in Ezekiel 1& 2. Ezekiel, I imagine, was a fairly normal priest and then he is whisked away to get a glimpse at the complexity of our Lord. ” In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heaves were opened and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1)

Here we are introduced to these winged creatures with four faces and four wings and human arms under said wings. They had feet like calf and shined in brilliance and beside each one was a wheel in the middle of a wheel. A wheel of equal shinning brilliance that intersected with another wheel and the  wheel was covered in eyes! Of all things yes the wheel had eyes! The wheel moved about with the creatures going where they went without even turning as it is said the spirit of those creatures was in the the wheel. (Ezekiel 1:20)

And get this, there is more! There was some sort of vault over the heads of the creatures and and image like a man was atop this thing. And its appearance was “like glowing metal, as if full of fire…” it is said there was radiance around him like the “appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day.” (Ezekiel 1:27-28)

This figure in all its might and majesty is the Lord God Almighty sitting upon his throne. Can we take a break from the strangeness of it all and consider the beauty of it? Rather can we accept that the strangeness of it, is in fact its beauty.

This sweet image that the Lord allowed Ezekiel to see is like pulling back the curtain so we can see even the slightest sliver of God’s mystery. And a beautiful mystery it is.  We have to remember that God’s inspired word is ordained by the Holy Spirit so when Ezekiel pinned this, the Lord wanted to specifically highlight some of these things for the immediate audience as well as the eternal audience which we are a part of.  That means that what this image displays is something important to God to communicate to his people so we need to take notice.

I don’t pretend that I speak on God’s behalf or anything, however there is an overarching message we find in Ezekiel’s vision and I think it may be this… The Almighty God, who was and is and is to come, the maker of the heavens and the earth, the giver of every good and perfect gift, the alpha and omega, the one who is the judge and the justifier, has an existence that is so powerful and more grand that we can wrap our minds around.

I am not the first person to shudder in the face of our Lord’s grandeur. History has shown us that theologians either decide to use this understanding of the mystery of God to drive us further from him and some allow it to drive us nearer.

So what is the correct response to all of this otherness? Reverence is the first thing that comes to mind but maybe even something deeper than that. Could it be that we can find comfort in the vast separation between the glory of the shinning image sitting above the vault, instead of dread and fear?  Could it be that in God’s infinite  power and grandeur we find our champion? Who better to have your back then the one whose Glory is so powerful it cannot be looked upon? I find peace, safety and a sense of victory knowing that God is not like you and I in this way. I have enough people like me standing for me, But if God is for us, Who can be against us?

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The Day of the Lord

I am not going to lie, every once and a while I struggle with doubt. As a believer I walk by faith and not by sight. To believe in something you do not see is a difficult concept and counter to what we are taught in school; that seeing is in fact believing. But I am comforted by the fact that obvious cracks exist in one’s argument to only believe what you can see, to only feel what is tangible. We can feel the wind and know its there but we cannot see it. We know that a chair is made up of millions of molecules that we cannot see with our unassisted eye, yet we sit in it.

The fact is (and no one talks about this often) that doubt is a natural part of the Christian life. Even the great prophet Elijah after having seen God work miracles on his behalf, fled to the wilderness when Jezebel threatened him. He says “I have had enough, Lord,…Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)

When doubt comes rushing in on me it is always like this….”What if it is all for not? What if after death one simply ceases to exist? (What a horrible idea that the beauty and complexity of the soul ceases to exist. But any way that is for another blog post lol)  What if there is no great getting up morning? No day of reckoning, nothing. Just finality. Just darkness. Just the end. The prideful, the “learned” as they call themselves, see my faith as trivial, un-evolved, the opium of the masses, a contrived way to answer questions to which there are no answers. The latest of discoveries in their pocket is what some call the “god gene.” When analyzing the continued pervasiveness of religious belief alongside of humanistic enlightenment, they believe there must be some defining reason for faith in light of how silly it is, yet it still remains. The “god gene” is a theory which states ones propensity to believe, is  simply a part of genetic evolution. Anthropological studies prove that faith in a god tends to lend itself to a longer and happier, more fulfilled life. Therefore those who had a propensity for faith won the “survival of the fittest lottery” in fortifying the chance to cope with life’s issues by looking to a god. God then becomes a mere placebo effect in their minds.

But what if that’s it?  In the pit of my soul I think, what if we have swallowed a gigantic placebo pill…God’s never failing  faithfulness towards me, his miraculous power, his healing love, his constant tangible presence in my life, does not stand as evidence in court against those who scoff. It does stand to reassure me. But let this scripture ring true since I cannot show ypascalou my personal experiences. While they are assuring, my personal experience is unnecessary to prove God’s existence. They truly pale in comparison to who God is, because God is and will always be the all mighty God despite what He does or does not do for me.

Isaiah 2:12-18 & 20-22 “The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear.”

“In that day people will throw away to the moles and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?”

So I ask you, what if there is no day of reckoning, nothing. Just finality, Just darkness. Just the end? But what if there will be the  Day of the Lord and the King of Glory reigns in all His might? What if the pride of man, our learned leaders, our man made logic and enlightened thought, our idols are laid to waste?

Borrowing from the  great Philosopher & Physicist  Psacal, we all make this bet, or this wager with our lives; to believe or not to believe. The one who chooses to believe yet their belief is disproved, losing nothing in his wager, yet the one who chooses not to believe and his belief is disproved, he then, losing everything.

What is your choice?

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Psalm 40:8 Delight

Psalm 40:8 “I delight to do your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.”

I love how the scripture uses the word delight! I love the consuming passion and joy the word stands for. But it always rubs me the wrong way…. I am convicted by the Word of God, the simple word “delight.” There are few things I feel like I actually delight in, When HBO GO finally releases a new season of Game of Thrones, hearing my son awaken with coos and yawns in the morning, spending time with family on holidays. But do I truly delight in the Lord? Do I find joy with anticipation in Him. Do I smile randomly when I think of my Lord, when I think of His will?

I am not so sure, sometimes I fall short. It’s funny (scratch that, disappointing)  how the one true and only God who has saved me, walked with me through my darkness, continuously promotes me and produces miracles on my behalf is forced to compete with the Game of Thrones for my delight…