the Call

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945 (Photo credit: americanartmuseum)

 

“Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. “Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.”
Ezekiel 2:1-5 (New Living Translation)

There is a big message in this small text…

When God asks something of us, He gives us the means to do it!

Our callings are not to show God – or anyone else, for that matter – how well we can come through for God, but to show others how well God can come through in us.

Ezekiel is asked to stand up, but God doesn’t wait for him to gather up the strength to do it on his own. Instead, God puts His Spirit into Ezekiel and that Spirit puts him on his feet!

As God speaks words of calling/sending/purpose over you and me, His Spirit inside of us is already equipping us to follow through! He is the momentum and energy needed for us to start down the dusty road of ministry, and He will be the One to keep us going when the going gets rough (and believe me, the going is going to get rough).

What this short text says to us is this:

God’s call on my life isn’t about me – it’s all about God.

God’s  STRENGTH.

God’s  PLAN.

God’s  POWER.

God’s call on the lives of His people doesn’t require us to be anything other than fully human. Our flaws, our weaknesses, even what we might call our failures, somehow become irrelevant when we are filled with His Spirit and set on our feet to answer His call.

In this prophecy and call on Ezekiel’s life, the phrase ‘son of man’ or ‘mortal’ is used 95 times. According to Wesley’s Notes, this was done intentionally to keep Ezekiel humble. After all, he was standing in the presence of the glory of God, experiencing fantastic revelations connected to the work God was preparing him to do. If that had been me, I admit that I could easily have been thinking – WOW! I must be pretty special for God to choose me to experience this!

But Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God for this great calling because he was superhuman or something awfully special. Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God in spite of his humanity; he was usable because of it.

And his success, according to God, wouldn’t be measured by whether or not Ezekiel got the Israelites to listen to him and change their ways, but simply by letting them know that a prophet had been there, among them.

And what is a prophet? Someone who is so filled with the Spirit of God that when he opens his mouth, God speaks. And when she reaches out to help others, God’s touch is felt.

Let’s go and be prophets today!

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EXPOSED! Baring All for the Glory of God

Bare feet running

Image via Wikipedia

How far are you willing to go with God? Where do you draw the line when it comes to doing things His way? At what point do you dig your heels in and refuse to take one more step down the path of His choosing?

Before you answer, I think you’ll want to hear this story.

Tucked into the pages of Isaiah in the Old Testament are a few verses that demonstrate just how far God might ask YOU to go in response to His call on your life…

Isaiah was a prophet of God. His role was often to communicate the truths of God to the Israelite people, and much of what Isaiah ended up sharing wasn’t “good news.” Rather, God used Isaiah’s voice among the people to issue warnings to them about their choices as individuals and as a nation. Probably not a popular guy, Isaiah likely spoke to less than receptive audiences as God strategically placed him among those who needed to hear what He had to say.

You know how that goes, though, don’t you? How easily we tune out the voices that push us beyond our comfort zones. How quickly we turn and walk away from those whose message is not what we really wanted to hear today. How powerfully our personal filter systems work to edit out the words that we aren’t ready to hear, tying the hands of the prophets among us.

God isn’t surprised by our lack of interest. HIS hands are NEVER tied!

Finding in Isaiah a boundless spirit of obedience, God made a STATEMENT WITHOUT WORDS that demanded the attention of Israel. God told Isaiah to:

“ ‘Go, take off your clothes and sandals,’ and Isaiah did it, going about naked and barefoot…” (Isaiah chapter 20)

For THREE YEARS! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! As a sign of events to come, God used His creative license to capture the attention of His people by exposing the prophet Isaiah to the ELEMENTS of CRITICISM and MOCKERY – not to mention discomfort and embarrassment – for years.

God knew that there were some who would never listen to WORDS, so He gave them an illustration to look at instead.

I have to think that Isaiah was NOT the kind of guy who took the wearing of clothing lightly, making this experience one that HAD to be initiated by God (though I’m sure there were some who just shook their heads, thinking he had gone overboard with the “God stuff”).

Let’s be completely honest… The lives of faith that we lead today are pretty darn safe compared to the risks Isaiah took to be obedient in the work that God prepared for him to do. You might argue that Isaiah was a PROPHET, after all, and that the work of a prophet isn’t for everyone (and of course, you would be correct).

But until our small lives are exposed for what they REALLY ARE, how can we hope to display the glory of our risen Savior as HE REALLY IS?

Standing naked and barefoot in front of ANYONE is the surest way to bring us down to size; to humble us; to tell it like it really is. Only then, when others can clearly see that we aren’t “all that,” can we begin to represent the One who IS “all that” and THEN SOME!

The good news here is that God doesn’t make a habit of leading His people into obedience through the physical act of undressing (huge sigh of relief!), but He DOES lead His people into obedience in ways that will stretch us, challenge us and cause at least some discomfort inside of us.

If we aren’t being led by God to expose our humanity in ways that illuminate His divinity, I think we have to ask ourselves whether we’re being led by God at all.

There’s an old Amy Grant song that says:

“When the world begins to see you change, don’t expect them to applaud.  Just keep your eyes on Him and tell yourself, “I’ve become the work of God.” (I Have Decided)

God may be leading you down a path of humility and risk that, to the watching world, may look a lot like insanity. But you will be in very good company there, whether God chooses to make you an open book or a comic book.

Either way, it’s out of your handsyou’ve become the work of GOD.

CREATING Space vs. FILLING It

 

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full.

 

Full of talk. Full of words. Full of opinions and agendas, served up without invitation for the rest of us to join in. Full of energypositive or negative – that proceeds to drive every conversation and interaction in its direction. Full of personality that draws attention to itself, shrinking the potential of our contributions by its overpowering, can’t-get-a-word-in-edgewise presence.

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full of them.

Now, some people fill space because they require our attention in order to feel validated and in control. Some people fill space because they’re afraid of silence or obscurity. Others fill space because they have an agenda to pursue which, for them, is a higher calling than pursuing things like relationship and harmony and community.

There are those, however, who fill space because they sincerely believe they have something to give to God. The problem is that when we fill the space around us with ourselves, we create a vacuum whose suction effectively removes God from that space altogether, leaving us alone with our gifts and no Spirit to power them.

This is what resonates in the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome when he says,

“…it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Romans 12:3 (The Message)

If you’ve ever worked as a teacher, you might understand this from a programming perspective.

We can plan a lesson, activity or event and approach it with the goal of filling the schedule to meet objectives and create outcomes for the participants. This would involve lots of detail as we seek to maximize every moment for the greatest potential gain of knowledge, skill or understanding. After all, as the teacher, you are responsible for providing your students with every opportunity to learn. Right?

In the church, this approach has been heralded for every kind of teaching. If you plan it (well), not only will they come, but they will learn and grow and succeed in the future because of your ability to fill the time.

The hole in this bucket, however, is created by the assumption that we know what they need to know. We can fill an hour or a weekend or a sermon series with every bullet point we think important, but that implies that we somehow know what needs to be heard by our students. Even when the Spirit of God is leading us to serve as teachers, none of us is so perfect a mouthpiece for the Holy that we can single-handedly (or, single-mouthedly) communicate God’s truth to His people.

I think we often misinterpret our Kingdom-work in this way – as a call to fill the room with our gifts, our vision and our passion (God-given though they may be).

What if we were to follow God’s instructions to King Solomon instead? Instructions given to this gifted, passionate leader regarding the building of God’s Temple – the place where God Himself would live?

“About this Temple you are building – what’s important is that you live the way I’ve set out for you and do what I tell you, following my instructions carefully and obediently. Then I’ll complete in you the promise I made to David your father. I’ll personally take up my residence among the Israelites – I won’t desert my people Israel.”         I Kings 6:11-13 (The Message)

God tells Solomon that what’s important is how the people LIVE and that they DO what God has instructed. This is their work – to live obedient lives in front of God and one another! And what does God promise to do in response to their faithfulness? He will fill the space in the Temple. He will move in and live in community with them. He will be near and He will be present; God with us.

Physically, God instructed Solomon to build a building that would house His presence in an unprecedented way.

Israel was to follow the detailed instructions God gave in order to create space for Him to fill!

The exciting part of this story is that Israel did just that. They completed the Temple and created space for God to live among them. And God, in His faithful fulfillment of promise, moved into the neighborhood.

“When the priests left the Holy Place, a cloud filled theTemple of God. The priests couldn’t carry out their priestly duties because of the cloud – the glory of God filled theTemple of God!” I Kings 8:10-11 (The Message)

Oh, that we would live lives so faithful to the detailed instructions of our Lord that the space we create for Him here would be filled, not with ourselves, but with the glory of Emmanuel.

The presence of God.

 

What’s On Tap? L4L.14

By Clareen BarrettThe WORD

Today’s Literal 4 Lent post is based on John 4:5-42 (click here to read the text online).

For many of us, this is a familiar story. It’s always tempting, with familiar stories, to fall back on what we already know about it. Sometimes these previous learnings can keep us from being open to a fresh, new picture of the truth that God wants to paint with His Word.

I like visuals. If I can connect a learning with a picture in my head, it’s more likely to stick. The picture above is of a painting done by my friend, Clareen Barrett. What I like about this painting of Clareen’s is that it sets the scene for us – it’s actually her vision of what this well in Sychar might have looked like – but you’ll notice that something is missing…

Neither Jesus nor the woman are in the picture.

Whether or not she painted it this way on purpose, I like how it invites me to place MYSELF in this scene – an invitation to step into the story WITH Jesus. To join Him there, sitting at the edge of the well.

We’re going to do a bit of text-weaving today, as we consider the literal applications of Jesus’ words at the well. Exodus 17:1-7 is important to a new understanding of this story, and it begins with these words:

“The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded…”

Which reminds me, I was in Las Vegas last week! Now, I know that the biblical Desert of Sin probably had less neon and fewer temptations than the desert that is Las Vegas, but don’t miss the irony as the story of the Israelites unfolds.

The Israelites’ Desert of Sin DID have temptations; in particular, when they found themselves without water, their intense physical thirst tempted them to demand that Moses GIVE THEM WATER! Things got pretty ugly between them, with Israel grumbling and complaining to the point of being ready to kill Moses if he didn’t come through.

Now, keep in mind that I am remembering Vegas, but this behavior of God’s people reminds me of the way in which we belly-up to the bar to quench our “thirst” (or, if you’re short like me, you elbow-up to the bar…).

Israel had been rescued by God, fed by God, and sustained by God up to this point, yet their THIRST threatened to get the better of them. WE argue with and test God, just like Israel did, sometimes even to the point where we find ourselves asking “is the Lord here with me or NOT?

The people of Israel were not satisfied that their thirst was being met by God, so they looked to Moses – the MAN – as their source and provider. When our THIRST isn’t met to OUR SATISFACTION, we look to quench it with whatever is available, too. And sometimes that means bellying up to the bar for a large draught of what’s on tap.

The place where this happened, in the Desert of Sin, was a place called “Rephidim.” Ironically, “Rephidim” in Greek means “Refreshments,” which is exactly what Israel was thirsty for.

In this story, the good news is that God comes through for Israel, in spite of their complaints and ugliness. God leads Moses to a rock from which He brings fresh, clear water for His people to drink. God IS FAITHFUL to provide ‘refreshment’ to His people, just as the woman at the well provided for the physical refreshment of Jesus by meeting his need for water to drink. But there’s MORE to being ‘refreshed’, isn’t there? More than a cup of water or a cold & frothy brew?

The water that poured from the rock in the desert was refreshment for a physical thirst. Scholars have suggested that this scene out of Israel’s history is the physical representation of a harder-to-grasp spiritual truth, and since we’re into visuals today, get this picture in your head…

The ROCK is Christ Himself, our salvation and the best picture of God we have on earth. The staff or walking stick that Moses uses to strike the rock is the Law – the old covenant – the system of rule-keeping laid out for the Jewish people in the first 5 books of the Old Testament. The act of hitting the rock with the staff is a picture of the crucifixion, where the system of Law lashes out at the human representation of God Himself, and He is pierced.

But as it was for the Israelites, what resulted from the piercing was a cleansing flow of life-giving water. For them, drinking water. For us, Living Water.

Romans 5:5 says that “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.” The Living Water Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about IS the Living Spirit of God that gushes up to eternal life! Draughts of love, where what’s on tap will NEVER run dry!

When she dropped her buckets at the watering hole that day, the Samaritan woman brought all of her ‘stuff’ along with her, and she was met by the Well-Tender Himself – the one who knew exactly what would provide the refreshment that she needed, and knew exactly how to get it.

And when He took a seat at the well on that day, Jesus did so in the face of a set of rules and conventions that made even His PRESENCE there a blatant disregard for customary Jewish behaviors and social norms of the time. Not only were the Jews to steer clear of Samaritans, but religious rule-keeping also dictated that men were not to ‘socialize’ with women. To top it off, Jesus was a rabbi and a teacher. No self-respecting holy man of the day would have been caught in the company of a disreputable woman, especially one whose ill-repute had much to do with many men.

Apparently, Jesus had no problem with breaking the rules of men in order to do the work of God, no matter what the consequences might be.

When we belly or elbow up to the bar, we each come with our own set of issues, too – just like Israel in the Desert of Sin. Just like the Samaritan woman at the well. We bring our complaining, our history, our doubts, our wrong turns, our failed relationships, our bad choices.

Physical thirst will be temporarily quenched over and over and over again, but it will always come back. It isn’t a question of whether we thirst, but of what we thirst for. What’s on tap at the bar is going to change, because someone else decides what choices you will have when you ask – ‘what’s on tap?’

What’s on tap at the ROCK is always going to be the SAME – always fresh, always clear, LIVING WATER! Romans chapter 5 goes even further in describing what’s on tap for those of us who need more information – for those of us who hear the words ‘Living Water’ and have to ask, ‘what’s That MEAN?’

When we break it down, there are at least seven things on tap when we belly-up to the ROCK, according to Romans 5:1-11, and they are:

  • ACCESS to God
  • BEGIN to develop the CHARACTER of God
  • KNOW the LOVE of God
  • RECEIVE RECONCILIATION with God
  • ENJOY the SECURITY of God
  • PEACE with God
  • STAND in the GRACE of God

ACCESS. CHARACTER. LOVE. RECONCILIATION. SECURITY. PEACE. GRACE.

A CLeaR SPRinG.

No matter WHO you are.

No matter WHAT you’ve done.

God’s LIFE-GIVING water is always on tap.

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