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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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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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We Don’t Plan for God

Reading 1 Samuel chapter 8… its funny how we take things into our own hands and make plan’s for God even when the circumstances seem to justify us to take action. In this Chapter Samuel the Judge over Israel, was getting older and he appointed his sons to judge over Israel but they were wicked. It seems normal for the people to not want to be left under the care of these wicked judges so the approached Samuel and demanded to have a King. I used to read this passage and think, “well what’s so bad about that? Who wants  a wicked judge who does not walk in the way of the Lord to lead.” However God did not see it that way! He saw their request for a king as a rejection of his own rule. But why? Isn’t if fair to seek another option if the one set before you does not seem to fit in God’s ways? Well the answer is two fold. First one of the repeated reason’s for the people’s desire for the a Kings was so that they could be like the other nations led by a physical ruler. God’s plan for his people was to lift them up as different so they could be a witness to those around them yet they wanted what everyone else had. Secondly, even though the grim situation of looking for a righteous leader seemed to warrant an action, the action was not theirs to take. It reminds me of the scripture that warns us, to not lean to our own understanding to but seek understanding. Even when we know that something has to be done, we have to demonstrate trust that God knows what is happening and he also knows the best way to fix it. What are two wicked judges to the same God who parted the red sea? Can he not change the minds of Kings and win battles without even fighting? We don’t need to plan for God, he plans for us. We just need to trust he is big enough to handle what is confusing to us.

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The Fear of the Lord

Is it possible to fear the Lord a little but not enough? Reading 1 Samuel chapters 4-7 the Philistines stole the Ark of the Lord and defeated the Israelites. As a trophy they brought the Ark into the Philistine camps first to Ashdod, then to Gath then to Ekron. In every city the presence of the Ark of the Lord created chaos. Tumors, Death and Infestations of Rats. Their hand made God’s were found on the ground with their heads and feet smashed. They had seen what the God of Israel had done to the Egyptians and decided to Honor the Lord  by returning the arch with a guilt offering. They even created a test to make sure that it was the God of Israel that had inflicted them and that it wasn’t by chance. God showed His great power and defended His name, the Philistines feared God. But not enough… Not enough to get rid of their defeated and broken Idols, the rebuilt them and set them up right. Not enough to withdraw from the Israelite territories. Even after returning the Ark the continued to oppress the Israelites for 20 years! How can the stand before a great God whose very presence destroyed their cities and tore down their idols and still defy him? Is it possible to fear the Lord a little but not enough? It wasn’t until the Israelites who had also seen these mighty works of the Lord 20 years later repented and got rid of their own Idols and decided to fear the Lord only that the Philistines were defeated. I have always been dumfounded by the people who got to see the physical miracles of the Lord, the plagues, the manna, the parting of the red sea yet they didn’t fully submit to the Lord. Over time God has shown me that I exhibit that same stupidity when I have witnessed God’s mighty hand and fear the Lord enough to go to church, be nice to people, try not to curse, don’t get drunk, yet I have my own weak idols stashed away that I do not abolish.  Psalm Chapter 9 says that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all understanding. This is not a fear like the one we have of the bogie man, but a fear of reverence and respect that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. I have always said that we don’t fear the Lord enough in his blessings and his curses. The fear of the Lord should not allow us to stay in our safe and tidy comfort zones, it should push us to extremes, It should push us to total abandonment unto Christ, it should push us to relentless zeal for the Lord and His statutes. It is possible to fear the Lord a little but not enough unfortunately we do this every time we openly choose to defy him in the face of His great and mighty work.