So – Is church unbalanced? What a question! And what do I mean by unbalanced, anyway?
Let’s put it it like this. I’ve been talking most of my life about five things that seem to me to be of the utmost importance. I’ve been trying to live and grow in these five things, and I’ve always wanted to express them and share them widely. But I’ve found few who will listen, and even fewer who understand at a heart level. Here are the five things briefly described; as you read the list consider their effectiveness within church and beyond church (out in the world).
The church should spread and multiply everywhere
The church must speak truth into its own culture and into the culture of the world around it
The church should stir up desire in people’s hearts and minds, and help them find the way to live and move in truth and light
The church needs to nurture and encourage people, especially when they face pain, danger, hardship or doubt
The church should communicate in effective, memorable ways
Although the church is working in some of these ways, it doesn’t seem well-equipped to move equally in them all. What’s the problem and how can it be resolved?
Alan Hirsch, one of my favourite authors, explains this very clearly in a short video. It takes less than 11 minutes to watch, but they will be 11 minutes well spent. Can I encourage you to watch and listen as he explains where these five things come from, how they are all essential, and where they should lead us? He has analysed and expressed it all very clearly, but if you’re new to this stuff you’ll need an open and listening heart for the pattern to emerge and gel.
All of this is especially relevant to the series of articles on what we are doing in church life and how we might make some changes. We really do need the mind of Christ; our own minds alone are not up to the task. If we learn to cooperate with one another so as to allow Jesus to express himself in us and through us corporately, we will catch a view of his nature and so will the world around us. Being church on our terms will not take us any further than we have already gone, being church on Jesus’ terms will transform everything. What have we been missing?
I’d like to develop some of this in further posts. But finally, please note that Alan begins by saying, ‘One of the dimensions of movements is APEST’. We’ll discuss some of the other dimensions in future posts too.
Visit 5Q and read some of the great articles posted there
In part 3 of this series, ‘Like a waterfall’, I shared a vision and some words from the Spirit about how the water in a river is constrained by the banks and bed of the river, and how a waterfall allows complete freedom for the water to respond to the attractive force of gravity. In this post I’d like to share some thoughts about church services and how they affect church life.
Pretty well all denominations hold regular services, usually on Sunday mornings and often Sunday evenings and a weekday evening as well. They are called services because they serve someone. You could argue that their function is to serve the Father and/or Jesus through corporate worship and praise, or you could take the view that they are occasions where a minister serves teaching and guidance to the congregation who act as a (mostly) passive audience. Services follow set patterns, from a loosely defined prayer/hymn sandwich, to a set of rituals, and traditional and familiar practices like preaching or singing, prayer from the front and so forth. But if we turn to the New Testament we find nothing like this.
It’s true that Jesus and his disciples met together a lot, they travelled the road as a group with many other followers and hangers on, and they ate together and talked a good deal. Sometimes Jesus spoke with the inner twelve alone – often asking them questions, so it was conversational teaching. At other times he spoke to larger crowds. He provided wine when it ran out at an embarrassing moment, he healed sick people, spoke to people, sometimes he touched people physically, and yes – occasionally he went to the Synagogue. But there’s very little here that looks like a 21st century church service.
There are more clues in Acts and Paul’s letters. People did meet together, but the descriptions we get are of participatory meetings with no particular person making decisions about timing and no discernable programme. Certainly, if there was a visitor like Paul present, he might share news or even teach, but this seems to have been done on an ad-hoc basis as and when it seemed useful. We read of people praying, prophesying, teaching, singing, worshipping, speaking in unintelligible languages, interpreting what was said, praising, giving way to one another and so forth. There’s nothing here we’d recognise as a service. People were sharing whatever the Holy Spirit urged them to say at that moment.
So let’s think about the benefits and issues of church services on the one hand, and on the other, meetings with no agenda where people listen to the Spirit and share freely whatever he provides. Which seems most like a waterfall? Which seems most like a fixed channel? If the Spirit urged you to pray, or share a vision, or begin a song, or start to teach – which kind of meeting would offer the most comfortable opportunity? Paul wrote that we should do things decently and not in disorder. But he didn’t write that we should decide the pattern, sequence, songs and speaker beforehand! Somewhere between 100 AD and the Middle Ages, dynamic church life in the Spirit was replaced with restrictive and pre-set formats and traditions. The waterfall became a river!
What are the benefits of a ‘waterfall’ meeting? Simply this: a meeting that is not managed by us has the opportunity of being managed by the Holy Spirit. I say ‘opportunity’ because it’s also possible for us to have an unruly free-for-all in which we all do what we think best without waiting for the Spirit to guide us. Paul warns against this. But if a group of his people agree to be silent together and listen and then express whatever they are given, there will be a sharing of spiritual life with a focus and purpose that is astonishing. We have to trust one another to act gently and kindly, to see, hear and share what we are given moment by moment, to give way to one another, to wait for one another, and to focus on the Master, not on ourselves. And then there is the potential for a meeting in which he speaks and we listen in awe and amazement. Pictures and words, Bible verses and songs, unknown languages and their interpretation, prayer, prophetic words and teaching, worship and praise will merge as he leads us and guides us. We will know when he has finished, the end of the meeting will come naturally and with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. All of us will know that something special has happened and we will go away deeply encouraged, with a sense of direction, and the knowledge that this was another special time in the presence of the King. And yes, it will have been a ‘service’ in the deepest sense of that word, for he has served us and we have served him and his presence was clearly evident and amazing.
Will this fruitful kind of meeting come easily? No it won’t. It will take practice, and it may be difficult at first. GK Chesterton famously said, ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried’. The same might be said of ‘waterfall’ meetings – we need to be willing to try and try again until we learn how to let the Spirit lead us together in this way; but we do need to try! The benefits will far outweigh the difficulties. I’ve been in many meetings of this kind over the years, from tiny groups of just two or three people, up to gatherings of more than a hundred.
Here are a few hints that may help if you want to try this with friends.
Don’t sit in rows, sit in a circle; if there are many people you might need several concentric circles, but you need to see one another. Don’t have a ‘front’, have a centre.
Give Jesus your full attention, and examine the things that just pop into your mind – thoughts, words and phrases, emotions, images.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Use these times to focus on Jesus and his presence in the meeting.
Give way to one another. Many short contributions will be better than one or two long ones.
Don’t have a leader. Somebody might begin with a welcome and to point out the emergency exits or share other important practical details, but then they should sit down and become part of the corporate process, listening and sharing like everyone else.
Allow plenty of space, have a gap in the circle so people can come and go – several gaps if the circle is large. Have space for people to stand, walk about a little, or dance.
If possible, don’t set a time to end the meeting. Everyone will know when it’s finished.
Allow time at the beginning for people to mingle and chat. Consider eating and drinking together, anything from tea and coffee to a pot luck meal. And allow time to mingle and chat again at the end if you can.
There is no ‘right’ format. The purpose of meeting is to be one in Christ, to hear from his Spirit, and to share what each is hearing or seeing. Be open, be flexible.
If you haven’t met like this before, it may be best to begin with smaller numbers, perhaps twelve to fifteen at most.
Don’t prepare what to do or say in advance. Instead come with nothing and be prepared to see and hear and share moment by moment while you are together.
I recently had a conversation with my friend Steve* who had just read my earlier article about Ezekiel, ‘Dry bones in the valley‘. He sent me an email about his thoughts and I sent a reply. Immediately I’d sent it I felt a strong sense that the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to post my reply to the blog as well; so with Steve’s permission, here it is:
Thanks for taking the time and effort to reply with your thoughts and feelings. It’s not work for me, it’s fun, it helps us know one another better, it’s a joy and a pleasure. We write about things we only skim over when we chat because our conversations are newsy and more about catching up – and that’s good too, I always look forward to our chats.
There are two journeys here – your personal journey, and the journey of the church. When I wrote the articles about Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones I was writing to and about the church. I felt at the time and still feel today that the church is sleepwalking and not really listening to what Father is saying. It’s a dry, dusty and fairly lifeless place to be when compared with the early church or with any of the great revivals in the last 2000 years. Church hurts people, disappoints people, dries people up spiritually, channels them into limited thinking and limited behaviour; that’s not what Jesus wants for his people! And it’s mostly because we focus our energies on programs, Bible studies, pre-programmed music, meetings, buildings to own or rent, prayer groups, money raising, mission planning, leadership training. Life is not in those things, real life is in Jesus.
But of course that doesn’t mean that Ezekiel has nothing to say to you personally, Steve. Papa will speak into your life as he does into every follower of Jesus. You feel – understandably – like Ezekiel must have felt by the river, before he had his vision about the valley of bones. I know you identified with the sense of captivity, loss, bleak prospects, endless struggle, and a feeling of hopelessness and no future. And those were the feelings of Ezekiel that the everlasting Father put his hand on. A gentle touch on the shoulder is easily overlooked, you might barely notice it. Yet it speaks volumes because it says, I am here, I am with you, I understand how you feel, I will come with you, have peace in your heart, you are not forgotten, I love you, you are my child, I am your Father and your friend, I haven’t abandoned you, I am here.
And as your brother standing nearby I can see that Papa has his hand on you. I’m a witness that he is touching you, Steve. I’ve seen you change, you are responding to his touch even though it’s not come in quite the way you expect or long for. The trip we made to Siddington was part of his touch, this conversation about the valley of bones is part of it, too. Having your children spend extra time with you is part of it. The practical and brotherly presence of another friend in your life is part of it. The new jobs you’ve been finding are part of it. The changes in your thinking about yourself, and about church, they’re part of it. Andy and Ellie are part of it.
His hand is on you and he will continue to show you stuff and use you. Even though you sometimes might not notice! 🙂
You wrote, ‘I wish Father was more active and willing to power through for me instead of letting me learn through the journey‘.
Maybe learning through the journey teaches us more deeply, but he does power through as well when we are stuck. I think perhaps Siddington was an example of that.
You wrote, ‘I’m in a position where my passion’s dying due to not knowing if my actions in the church are what God wants for me anymore‘.
I was in that place, too. But the problem is not in you, the problem is in the church. If you were amongst a group of people who all just wanted to hear and respond to Jesus and only Jesus, you would find yourself being used – in your gifting and in a thousand other ways as well. It’s hard for passions to stay alive when you’re in a dry and dusty land with the dry bones of church lying all around. Believe me, Steve, if you were back in the early church you would be thriving and alive and contributing and passionate. And a little bit worried that Roman soldiers might kick the door in and arrest you! Church was alive back then – no buildings, no programs, no leadership training, no worship bands, no money raising – but very much alive and thriving and passionate.
You wrote, ‘I found it easier to walk a fair way out of the mess and sweep it all to the foot of the cross and ask God to deal with it… but now what?‘
Ah, yes, now what? You asked him to deal with it, now you have to let him do just that. You can’t, but he can. You didn’t, but he will. And it’s very clear to me that he’s made a start already. I know that’s the truth because I’ve been part of the process.
You may not feel it and you may not see it yet – but the ‘Now what?’ is already under way, Steve 🙂 You are on a journey with Jesus and who knows where he will lead you, but he’ll be right with you all the way. His ways are not our ways though, so expect the unexpected. He is turning the entire world upside down, and that includes your life!
Hang in there bro, hang on tight ‘cos it’s a roller coaster ride. We’re on Jesus’ roller coaster just sitting there thinking, ‘Nothing’s happening, where’s the excitement?’ Wait and see!
I’ve just re-watched a video posted on You Tube in 2015; I’d like to share it with you. It’s called Upside-Down Leadership and was made by an organisation called House2House. I personally know several of the people speaking in this video, and they are kind, thoughtful, earnest men and women – all of them have walked closely with Jesus for many years. I hope you will recognise Christ in them as you watch and listen to what they have to say.
The video describes leadership and authority that is different from the usual kind of leadership most of us recognise. I can guarantee that in practically any church gathering of any kind, there will be people like these present. They may or may not be recognised by the institutional forms of church we are mostly familiar with; but if you want to grow as a follower of Jesus, these are the people you need to spend time with. They tend to be gentle, wise, kind, thoughtful, humble, loving and often overlooked, sometimes even rejected.
Watch the video and then think about the people in your church, denomination, or small group. Who might benefit from servant leaders like these? Can you identify any upside-down leaders? (They are always there, and just as likely to be found in the congregation as on the platform.) They may be male or female, young or old, uneducated or professorial, wealthy or poor.
How might we find more such upside-down leaders? And how will we thrive without them? Let me know what you think, leave a comment.
When we think about church music, we usually think in terms of something that’s organised in advance and is played by a band of some kind. Often there’s a worship leader. Over the centuries church music has developed in parallel with the changes in secular music, some examples include Gregorian Plainsong, the chanting of psalms, hymns from hymnbooks accompanied by an organ, informal choruses in house meetings, and more recently bands playing in styles drawn from modern secular music and sometimes of excellent professional standard.
How does that compare with music in the early church? We do have some clues; for example, Paul writes about it briefly in Ephesians 5. In verse 18 he tells us
[Be] filled with the Spiritas you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.
So it seems likely that singing involves inspiration, literally singing as and when and how the Holy Spirit leads. And that would be the very opposite of what we find in many church meetings where the music is led by a person and/or a band at the front and the congregation joins in. It is sometimes the case that people may, in the process, be caught up emotionally and, perhaps, spiritually. But this is never guaranteed and there’s limited freedom to initiate a new song, sing in the Spirit, or be fully free in praise and worship.
So what is Victor Choudhrie suggesting? (See the quote below.) Quite simply he is saying that when we meet, at home, in small groups, after sharing a meal, we should forget organised, planned in advance music with a band. Instead, as we pray and worship and teach one another, everyone present should be free to begin a song if they feel led by the Holy Spirit to do so. Not only that, they should feel free to sing in a tongue, or use their voice with no words at all, sing alone or together, pouring out their hearts to the Lord and to one another. As with everything else – complete freedom in music!
Who is it for? Why are we singing? I’m sure you already know the answer! It’s for the Father, Papa, Abba, Daddy, Yahweh, the Mighty One, Elohim – sing to him in praise and worship. And it’s for the Son, Jesus, Yeshua, Yahshua, the Messiah, Christ, our King, our Redeemer and our Rescuer – sing to him in praise and worship. And it’s for his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, our Guide, our Cousellor and Advocate, the One who prompts us to sing – sing to him in praise and worship. Sing to the Three in One, the Everlasting Mystery! He is with us, and in us, and amongst us. How could we not sing?
Here’s what Victor Choudhrie has to say about it:
Replace professional music with believers speaking to each other in psalms and spiritual songs, making melody in their hearts to the Lord. OT worship required the sacrifice of four-footed beasts; the NT celebrates by offering two-legged Gentiles as a living sacrifice. The meta-church is a discipling hub and not a singing club. Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Rom. 15:16
How can we best give the Holy Spirit freedom in our singing?
Is it helpful or unhelpful to restrict singing to a particular slot in a meeting?
If our hearts are full of praise, are we more or less likely to sing?
If we sing, are our hearts more or less likely to become full of praise?
A fluid environment, the individuals free to move in every dimension, yet always aware of one another and responding to one another.
This morning, swilling out the cafetiere, watching the dark coffee grounds fan out and spiral down the drain, a word popped into my mind – ‘murmuration’. This word is used for a flock of birds flying together, swirling hither and thither, flying together as one yet moving independently and in smaller groups within that one flock. Starlings are particularly known for this behaviour as they go to roost in the evening light, and the dark specks of coffee reminded me of a murmuration of these birds.
But looking at those coffee grounds made it very clear to me that only living things can form a murmuration. Not only that, the individuals must all be alive with the same kind of life, don’t expect to see seagulls and starlings together in the same formation. The living entities must also be in a fluid environment (air or water, large shoals of fish can exhibit the same phenomenon). And they must be aware of one another and able to respond rapidly to one another’s movements.
So it should be with the church. A formation of individuals all alive with the same life, the life of Christ, all filled with his Spirit. Church should be a fluid environment, the individuals free to move in every dimension, yet always aware of one another and responding to one another.
When the church flows like a murmuration, individually alive with Christ, individually free to move yet mutually aware, responding to one another’s presence and movement, unconstrained except in obedience to Christ, then, my friends, we will see her transcendent glory revealed and the whole world will gasp. People will say, ‘Oh wow, how can this collection of individuals flow together with such transcendent beauty and grace?’
If not, we are little better than coffee grounds swirling into the drain. Not alive at all, merely acted on by random currents as gravity draws us ever downwards. Paul expressed this when he wrote to the church in Ephesus,
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Most churches in western society have some form of communion service, based on the Bible’s accounts of the final meal that Jesus ate with his disciples. This usually takes the form of a well defined ritual involving bread and wine or fruit juice. But that is not the way Jesus and his followers would have eaten.
That final meal was a Jewish Passover and has special significance, but Jesus typically ate with friends in a home, in fields, or on a journey.
Reading about church life in the book of Acts, it’s clear that the norm for the early church was that when they met (usually in someone’s home) a normal meal was part of the process. OpenBible has a list of references about eating together. Bear in mind that ‘breaking bread together’ was a normal way of saying ‘eating together’. The people would have remembered Jesus as they ate bread and drank wine as part of normal life.
Dispense with wafer-and-sip Holy Communion and promote breaking of bread with simple Agape meals (love feasts) from house to house, that believers take with glad hearts, ‘and the Lord added to His numbers daily’. The Lord served roast lamb, bitter herbs, bread and wine ‘in a house’ for the Last Supper. Father God had lunch with Abraham under a tree and discussed Sarah’s pregnancy, Sodom’s ruin and Lot’s rescue plan. Acts 2:46-47; 1 Cor.11:20-23; Gen Chap 18
So – why does this matter?
When we eat a meal together everyone contributes to the conversation. We serve one another (‘Would you pass the potato please? Thanks.’) We smile and laugh, we become informal, we enjoy the flavours and the aromas. It’s a fun occasion and everybody, even the youngest, plays an active part. This is a time of bonding, especially when we regularly eat with the same group of people.
If your church has Small Groups, consider eating a meal together when you meet. Simple is good, bring and share, visit everyone’s home in turn, don’t make this into a complex or arduous task for anyone. If there are no small groups just get together regularly as friends. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in this as in everything. Be flexible, don’t make rules, keep it really simple and easy. Meet as often as you can, invite friends who are not yet following Jesus, invite people who have nowhere to go or are lonely or short of money to buy food. Be the good news in the neighbourhood.
What is preventing you from sharing a meal with others?
Who are you going to invite to join you?
Church is a family; will eating together make you more or less like a family?
If it’s wide and deep vision that you are looking for … then read this book
I don’t often write about books here on JHM. But I just have to tell you about 5Q.
If it’s wide and deep vision that you are looking for, a penetrating gaze into the truth written with passion and humility, then read this book; you will not be disappointed. It’s a book for everyone who is serious in following Jesus. 5Q will challenge you, encourage you, and maybe shock you, but it will also illuminate your thinking and understanding.
5Q is a book by one of my favourite authors, Alan Hirsch. In it, he examines church as commonly understood in the West, and challenges his readers to look at it with fresh and inquisitive eyes. For many years now, Alan has been accumulating knowledge and experience about the way we tend to do church, and sharing his thoughts on what fundamental changes are needed. He has delved deep into both theology and practice, he’s written and taught extensively about the understandings he has developed. And it’s not merely theoretical stuff, much of it is good, practical guidance and advice.
5Q is based on frameworks Alan has described before, namely his ideas around the APEST gifts to the church described by Paul in Ephesians 4. These are the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. But he has gone much further in the grand synthesis that is 5Q; his excitement and passion shine out on every page.
This time we’re going to take a look at the first verse of Ezekiel 37; the start of the section on the valley of dry bones. Let’s see what Father has for us in this verse.
‘Yahweh’s hand was on me and he brought me out by the Spirit of Yahweh and set me in the middle of a valley. It was full of bones.’ (Ezekiel 37:1)
We can’t tell whether Ezekiel visited a real valley or whether the entire section from verse one to verse fourteen is a vision. Perhaps it’s most likely to have been a vision. But it doesn’t really matter, it’s far from being the most important thing.
‘Yahweh’s hand was on me…’ – That’s what Ezekiel says. And this is always Papa’s heart toward us; unless his hand is on us we cannot move except by our own efforts. This is fundamental to everything the Almighty does. He speaks, he moves, he demonstrates, he heals, he forgives – and in all these ways he touches us.
Have you noticed how often Jesus touched people? He touched their eyes and mouths and ears when he healed. He touched what was ritually unclean – a leper, a dead girl. The most intimate thing we can do is to touch someone. Touch brings us closer than words ever can. What do we do when a child is afraid, or anxious, or hurt? We pick them up or hug them or kiss them better. We need to touch and be touched. So Yahweh’s hand was on Ezekiel.
And notice that this is the first thing that happens, before Ezekiel sees the bones or even goes to the valley, Yahweh’s hand is on him. This is the touch that says, ‘I am going to use you’. The Almighty lays hold of us because we are his instruments and he plans to use us in some way.
Have you felt his hand on you in your life? I hope so! But if not, pray that he will touch you and use you in whatever way he chooses. If he knows you are truly willing he will use you. That’s what he longs to do with all his people. He has chosen to use us to do his work in this world today. We are to go in his name (Matthew 28:18-20); we are his body; we are his hands, his feet, his eyes and ears and mouth (1 Corinthians 12). Isn’t that extraordinary?
‘…and he brought me out by the Spirit of Yahweh…’ – He brings us out and he does it by his own Spirit. Out from what? Out from the place where we currently are! See how he is one with himself in doing this? It’s explicit in the Hebrew, the name is used twice. Yahweh uses the Spirit of Yahweh. He chooses what he wants us to do, and then he uses his own Spirit (the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ) to guide us. If necessary he will nudge us.
Sometimes we get stuck in a place. I don’t mean physically, I mean a place in our lives from which we are unable or unwilling to move on. Sometimes we are simply waiting for direction. It might be something we’re doing or a thought pattern we return to or just that he has finished using us in one situation and now wants us in a different one. Whether we are stuck or not – he brings us out, he draws us on, he sends his own Spirit to lead us into the next thing, the next place. For an example read about Roy Godwin. If you want the full story you can buy his book.
And notice this, if Ezekiel had not moved he would not have come to the valley. We have a propensity to cling to what we know and to keep doing what is already familiar. But we need to be ready to allow the Spirit to move us at any time so that we can receive something new, Father’s next thing for you, for me.
‘…and set me in the middle of a valley.’ – And so Yahweh sets Ezekiel in the valley. Now a valley is a low point and must be surrounded by higher ground. Ezekiel is placed ‘in the middle’ of this valley, right at the lowest point. He is as far from the surrounding hills and mountains as it is possible to be.
We know this feeling don’t we? Life is hard and promising to get harder yet. There are low points in our lives and there are also low points in the life of the church. Such valleys are places of defeat where there seems no hope or joy or victory; these are assuredly not ‘mountain-top’ experiences. We’ve all been there. Ezekiel was aware of the state of Israel in captivity under Babylon, but Yahweh’s Spirit brought him here so there must surely be a reason for it. Does it sometimes seem as if church is in a valley? A slough of despond? At times like these we need to remember that Papa has something in mind to show us. Jesus didn’t just come to redeem people, he came to redeem situations too.
‘It was full of bones.’ – What do bones usually signify to you? Are they always just the dusty remnants following final and permanent defeat? Or might they suggest that what was once alive might yet be restored? More on this next time.
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.
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. Peter’s intentions on the mountain were good, but he missed something significant. What you and I can do for Jesus is not the point, what he wants is that we listen to him (Matthew 17:1-5). And implicit in hearing the Master is obedience.
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!