Ezekiel in exile

Have we, the church (or at least the western church) been taken far from our true and full inheritance in Christ?

FaithOrKnowledge

Part 1 of a series – ‘The valley of dry bones’

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For much of my life Ezekiel’s words about the valley of dry bones have seemed highly significant. I now feel I should work through the passage in detail here. I’ll take it verse by verse and we’ll see what it has to say to us today.

StormLight

First, a little background; Ezekiel saw the valley in a vision, as part of a series of visions. Right at the beginning of the first chapter he gives us the details.

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

On the fifth of the month — it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin — the word of Yahweh came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians.

There the hand of Yahweh was upon him. I looked, and I saw… (Ezekiel 1:1-4)

Living in exile – There are several things to notice right away. Ezekiel was an exile from the promised land and was among other exiles. In other words he was not alone, but along with others he was not where he truly belonged. Worldly powers had taken them far from the land of their inheritance. But Ezekiel was a Jew and of a priestly family, that personal inheritance could never be taken from him.

Is that true for us? Have we, the church (or at least the western church) been taken far from our true and full inheritance in Christ? I’m not talking about salvation here, nor do I mean our individual lives in Christ and he in us. Those cannot be taken; I mean the posture and behaviour of the church.

The Almighty has permitted the church to be captured by all kinds of worldly attraction and methodology. We have replaced falling on our faces in the presence of his glory and power with worship bands. We have replaced going in the name of Yahshua (Jesus) with outreach initiatives. We’ve replaced sitting at his feet, hearing him speak and watching him work with training sessions. We’ve replaced loving our neighbour with leaflets through doors.

Of course all these things have their place and all are useful – worship bands, outreach initiatives, training sessions and attractive leaflets are not bad in and of themselves. But they should not and cannot replace his glory and power, going in his name, listening and watching him or loving our neighbour.

But all is not lost! – As an exile from the land of promise, Ezekiel was by the river when the heavens were opened and he saw visions of (or from) the Most High. Do you think that might be true for us too? Is it possible that in the middle of this foreign place the church has been taken to, the heavens might be opened and we might truly see the Most High? Notice what he says at the start of verse 4 – the hand of Yahweh was on me. I looked and I saw.

Is his hand not also on us? If we look, we too, will see. But we surely won’t see unless we look! King David wrote, ‘Taste and see that Yahweh is good’. (Psalm 34:8) We need to look, listen, and taste. What does this mean? Simply this – it’s time to check Papa out, it’s time to hear what he is saying, see what he is doing, and taste the flavour of his nature and love. We will not be disappointed! Others are asking the same sorts of questions. Alan Hirsch for example, in his book The Forgotten Ways, argues strongly that we need to think afresh and re-calibrate our behaviour. Ed Stetzer, in his foreword to Alan’s book writes:

‘The Forgotten Ways’ has become a foundational text for exploring the missional nature of the church, challenging … what it means for the church to reactivate anew its forgotten ways.

We haven’t even started on the dry bones passage yet, but we have set the scene. We know that even if we are in exile the Master can reach us with a new vision, that he can touch us, and that we are free to look and see. There is everything to play for. Are you up for this?

Next time we’ll look at those dry bones – I promise!

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Valley of dry bones – INDEX

Is it now time for dusty dryness to be transformed into vigorous, vibrant activity? This short series examines the implications.

FaithOrKnowledge

Ezekiel’s writing about the valley of dry bones has much to say to us about life and death in the church.

Is it now time for dusty dryness to be transformed into vigorous, vibrant activity? This short series examines the implications. (First written in 2011, currently under revision.)

A desert scene
A dry and dusty desert (Image from Wikipedia – original and copyright details)
  1. Ezekiel in exile – Ezekiel’s words about the valley of dry bones seem significant.
  2. Dry bones in the valley – Ezekiel 37:1.
  3. Taking a good look – A question in the middle of the valley.
  4. Speak to the bones – Is there any point in speaking to what is dead?
  5. The word of Yahweh – The bones are to come to life!
  6. The bones come together – Ezekiel begins speaking to the bones.
  7. Sinew, muscle and skin – He watches as the bones are covered.
  8. Prophecy to the breath – Ezekiel is called to speak again.
  9. An overwhelming army – The bodies come to life and stand.
  10. The dry bones of church will live – A prophecy for the church today.

Taking a good look

Yahweh looks at Ezekiel and asks: ‘Can these bones live?’ Only a wise person would answer this correctly.

FaithOrKnowledge

Part 3 of a series – ‘The valley of dry bones’

< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

‘He guided me back and forth amongst them and I saw a huge number of bones lying on the ground in the valley – very dry bones indeed. He asked me: “Son of man, is it possible for these bones to be alive?” I answered: “Yahweh Almighty, only you know”.’ (Ezekiel 37:2-3)

Take a really good look – Ezekiel is there in the valley and Yahweh leads him about amongst the bones. This is not just a casual look, it’s a really thorough examination of the situation. Notice how Ezekiel is guided back and forth, this is not ‘Go and look and I’ll wait here’ on Yahweh’s part. It’s an intimate togetherness in which they both go, we can almost imagine Ezekiel as a child hand-in-hand with a parent.
I should warn you that the rest of this article might seem very gloomy. But please remember, this is a low point in a deep valley and things get better – much better!

Dry bones lying on the ground
Dry bones lying in the desert. (Image from Wikipedia – original and copyright details)

For Ezekiel this is all about Israel in captivity under Babylon. For us it should also speak about the church in captivity under the thinking and dictates of the world. We can no more shake ourselves free from the influence of the world than Israel could have shaken herself free from Babylon. Yet we need to be free.

Because we are in the world it is very, very natural to apply processes like planning, teaching, organising and structuring, hierarchies, and leadership. We emphasise great presentation and engagement. There is nothing wrong with these methods in themselves, but they do have the sneaky potential to intrude on an intimate walk with Papa day by day. Methods alone are death, Jesus alone is life. Where would you rather be? If you choose both, be aware there may be some conflict – tread carefully!

We can learn from Ezekiel’s thorough examination of the bones. We really do need to be ‘guided back and forth’ amongst the remains of church. How can we encourage abundant church if we don’t first understand the nature if the problem? It’s time to examine the situation very, very carefully and thoroughly. A casual glance is not going to be enough. Father’s guidance is essential, not optional. The good news is that there are people being guided back and forth today; I am aware of some of them but I’m certain there are many more. This is not something we initiate, it’s something Father is initiating, guiding us by the Spirit of Christ to become aware of our situation. A study of church history can open our eyes to the sorts of error we may be tempted to make.

Dry as a bone – Ezekiel sees that there are huge numbers of these bones, but he also notices that they are very dry indeed. This is significant. These are not the remains of something that was recently alive. Think about the process of decay – the muscle and other soft tissue is the first to go, skin and hair takes much longer, sinew and cartilage require even longer, and to get to the stage where the bones are disarticulated and scattered and powder dry takes a very long time indeed.

This is true of the church too. Please don’t miss the point – I’m not saying that individual believers are dead or dry, this is about how we are fitted together and active together – church. What should be a mighty army is dead, dry and scattered; church has been in that state for a long, long time.

So here is Ezekiel, arm in arm with the Almighty Power behind the universe, checking over the state of the remains. And Yahweh looks at Ezekiel and asks: ‘Can these bones live?’ Only a wise person would answer this correctly. Reason tells us dry, scattered bones cannot live – ever. They have already had their chance. But Ezekiel says: ‘You tell me, Lord!’

If only we would stop talking to one another and begin listening to Father together instead. If only!

Death is in the world but life is in Christ. If careful inspection shows dry bones then we need to know that Jesus is our only hope. Every time we have come off the church rails it’s because we’ve turned away from Christ and trusted instead in mission, or training, or… fill in the blanks. We do not need a new programme, we need a new vision of Christ!

When we examine the state of the church and how it needs to change, are we walking arm-in-arm with the King or are we going on our own, for our own ends, in our own wisdom and strength?

How about you?

< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

Paul Young Interviews

Watching ‘The Shack’ was an emotional experience, it had me on the edge of tears a number of times.

FaithOrKnowledge

Paul Young’s extraordinary book, The Shack, came out in 2007. I read it at the time and was so impressed that I shared it widely amongst my friends and family.  A film based on the book was released in March in the USA, but here in the UK we had to wait until June.

Donna and I went to see it in Cheltenham on 10th and thought it  was very true to the book. In some ways it’s better than the book! Watching ‘The Shack’ was an emotional experience, it had me on the edge of tears a number of times, and I mentioned the book and the film on Thursday when I met with some friends from Cirencester Baptist Church. One of the people in that meeting, Miriam, told us about an online video she had seen in which the author is interviewed by Nicky Gumbel. This is just one of many interviews out there, my three particular favourites are below, Paul Young has collected others on his own website, and Google will find more with the author, and with the actors in the film,

Meadow cranesbill

One of the plants she wants to encourage is meadow cranesbill, a wild geranium

DailyToast

I was walking through the countryside near our home today, and had a conversation with a man walking his dog. He mentioned that, like us, he and his wife moved into the area earlier this year. His wife is cultivating an area of wild flowers and hoping to attract bumblebees, butterflies and other pollinating insects; one of the plants she wants to encourage is meadow cranesbill, a wild geranium. It’s at its best this time of year, and very pretty.

Photo of a wild bee on a cranesbill flower
A wild bee on a meadow cranesbill flower

On my way home after our conversation I spotted a bee working some cranesbill flowers, and stopped to take the photo above (click for a larger version).

There is such beauty in the natural world; living amongst it is a great privilege, one that we often overlook. This world deserves to be cared for; what can you do to look after your local area? There’s always some positive action you might take, whether you live in a rural area or in the heart of a city.

A Walk in the Cotswolds

A gentle stroll brought us to this stunning view.

DailyToast

Setting up a new home becomes a bit much eventually, so Donna and I decided to take a break and go for a walk. We chose part of the Cotswold scarp near Leckhampton, and a gentle stroll brought us to this stunning view north over Cheltenham with the Malvern Hills in the distance (about 30 miles away). The ‘flying saucer’ in the upper-left is GCHQ.

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There was a heavy fragrance wafting from a nearby field of oilseed rape, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and all seemed right with the world. What a place! Standing here on the steep north-western edge of the Cotswolds, about 300 m above the Severn Vale below, we had this amazing vista. But turning round and looking the other way revealed rolling farmland and the field of fragrant, vivid yellow rape.

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Then we drove on to Crickley Hill Country Park for coffees, and amongst the grass on the hilltop were cowslips in abundance, another yellow flower that grows wild in most of England, wild and pretty but so much less showy than the farmed rape.

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We love the Cotswolds! Glad to be living here, but back to unpacking boxes…

A bridge on fire

We are looking forward now, not back.

QuoteMe

“When one burns one’s bridges, what a very nice fire it makes.” – Dylan Thomas

I spotted this quote on the wall in Coffee#1 in Cirencester. I like it – a lot!

I suppose in some ways Donna and I have ‘burned our bridges’ by moving from St Neots to Cirencester. The sense of ‘no going back’ is strong, it cost money and effort to make the move, and the house we loved and lived in now belongs to someone else.

Burning bridges makes it hard to return, to go back to the old ways. Decisions can be open to reversal, but the decision to burn a bridge cannot be reversed. Once burning it’s hard to put out, and once gone it’s hard to replace.

We are looking forward now, not back. Our old friends in St Neots are not forgotten, we will return to visit, but not to remain. We miss many of them already and we know they also miss us; but there are new friends, not yet known. It’s exciting. And because we intend to follow Jesus, and because we understand he wanted us to come here in the first place, we are very confident and excited about what will come next. But the past? The bridge that led that way is smouldering and impassable. Life always goes forwards, never back.

(Older posts are at quotecj.blogspot.com)