forget Gog, what about God?

putin_2878912b

(by Pastor Joe)

The word for today: Ezekiel 38

You want me to talk about what!?!
The End Times!?!
Define Gog and Magog and give two examples?!?

I remember generating some concern in my first few months at this current church when I began a Sunday School class in a rather unorthodox matter. We began a series on the book of Revelation and in order to illustrate my desire that we rely on the Bible rather than external sources, I found all the books & movies I could about the end times (e.g. Left Behind, the Late Great Planet Earth, Apocalypse, etc.) and promptly had them tossed in the garbage bin in order that we might focus on the Bible alone. I did return the books to their rightful place later on, but the very next week, we had a concerned parent sit in and make sure everything was kosher.

I realize that the authors of these above titles have blessed many and brought people into the Kingdom of God. I realize that they may be right in some of their conclusions. What concerns me are some of the consequences when our interpretations and understanding of God’s word are limited to the latest interpretation of the author en vogue. What concerns me is when we leave the so called “experts” to read the hard parts of the Bible for us. What concerns me is that we have a generation of believers who are on the lookout for a Romanian Anti-Christ named Nicolae Carpathia.

Oh boy. Here come the end times squad, out to set me straight.

I am sorry to say that I would rather discuss about 1,000 other Bible topics than get dragged into speculation on how to interpret various obscure passages (i.e. Ezekiel 38 & 39) and how they correspond to today’s geopolitical climate. Gog & Magog have been interpreted as the Assyrians, or the Scythians (in ancient times) as the Goths or the Khazars (during the dark ages) and as the Russians or Chinese in more recent times.

What a waste of time. There are about 8 billion things I can and should do for Jesus Christ before I try to figure out if all the letters in Vladimir Putin’s name add up to 666.

So what about today’s passage? What do we know that’s not just speculation?

1. This is in the future, for both Ezekiel and us.

Actually, from this chapter on, the remainder of Ezekiel speaks of a time ahead of us. This prophecy speaks concerning the “latter years” (v. 8)

2. A lot of bad people have a lot of bad ideas about what they are going to do to Israel.

All these known and unknown nations gather their weapons (v. 1-6), and share their evil plans (v.10-13) with each other- how to best victimize Israel.

3. God is well aware of the situation & He’s got plans of His own.

Remember that God is the one leading these so called powers around by a “hook” in their mouth (v.4). All their might is a joke compared to His jealous anger and blazing wrath. Even the mountains bow according to His set purpose. (v. 17-22)

4. God does all this to make His holiness known in the sight of all nations. (v. 16 & 23)
His mission has never wavered once from day one. Before Adam fell, during the time of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the judges, the monarchy, the captivity. During the days of the prophets, the advent of His Son, Jesus Christ, the time of the church and in all history since, God does all things to “show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

Never forget that the above mission statement is much more fundamental to who we are, and what we focus on. Speculation may be fun, but never let it distract you from what is clearly revealed.

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paused in Stage Two

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 37

Dry bones.

First of all, we are treated to a little display of God’s sense of humor. Just imagine Ezekiel as God says to him, “Prophesy to these bones. Start out by saying, ’O you dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’”

Well, I think it’s funny! What isn’t very funny is that this is precisely what God asks teachers and pastors and evangelists and disciples (that would be you) to do. He has commissioned us (Matthew 28:18-20) to bring the Word of the LORD to those who are dead in sins and trespasses (1). When we do, we are bringing to others what brought life to us:
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)

***

Scripture communicates on various levels all at once. The vision of the dry bones has a spiritual application (as explained above) and a prophetic interpretation as well.

The prophetic interpretation concerns the nation Israel. The nation which had been lifeless came back to life in 1948–there is now flesh on dem bones.

But they are just bodies. As of today, the nation Israel is not born again. They are in the second stage, described in 37:8:
And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.

As of today, Israel has returned to the land, but they have not returned to the LORD. Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, currently in Stage Two, is on ‘Pause.’

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Holy Hero

SuperheroADJ

(written by Vickie)

The Word for today:  Ezekiel 36:16-38

Mark this verse: Ezekiel 36:23 —
“I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.”

Ever need a hero?
Little girls dream of romantic heroes on white horses who sweep in to rescue from impending disaster or the evil machinations of the villain. Little boys dream of heroes too. My sons have introduced me to the world of boy’s heroes. These heroes have super powers, impossibly large biceps and perform great feats of bravery, daring, strength and honor.
These heroes rescue the underdogs, the innocent, the needy and weak.

Most of us outgrow these heroes. They become a mismatched remedy to the real life calamities and crises we experience. One of the most obvious reasons we leave them behind is that they are flawed –like us.

Life teaches us that we need more than what we can bring. We need a holy hero, a divine rescue.

The house of Israel had made a mess of things. Going about in the world dragging God’s holy name through the muck. In our heroic stories they would make an unlikely people to rescue. They had traded innocence for compliance with evil, giving up faithfulness they made alliances with God’s enemies all the while wearing the colors of the Sovereign Lord.

Still, God makes this grand announcement of His rescue:
“I will take you out of the nations…”
“I will gather you back…”
“I will cleanse you…”
“I will give you a new heart…”
“I will put my Spirit in you…”
“I will save you…”
 (36:24-30)

God makes His motives clear, ” It is not for your sake that I do these things, but for the sake of my holy name…(v.22).” God’s Kingdom is sure, safe, unsoiled or compromised by the behavior of his rebellious people. He doesn’t discard His plan- His Kingdom goes forward. God will reveal Himself though these unlikely ambassadors- to bring His salvation to the world. His rescue is for those undeserving of rescue, for even the one who would slap away the hand of the rescuer.

Jesus Christ completed the “I wills” for all those who trust in His holy name and the Spirit has sealed that work.
Because of His holiness, He is able to save us.
Bless His holy name!

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reading the lay of the land

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 35:1-36:15

mark this: Ezekiel 36:8
But the mountains of Israel will produce heavy crops of fruit to prepare for my people’s return – and they will be coming home again soon!

From the very beginning, the physical condition of the land has been tied to the spiritual condition of the people. In the Garden of Eden, when man sinned, the land felt the curse:
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. (Genesis 3:17-18)

The people and the land go together.

I worked for a dozen years in the dirty heart of Niagara Falls, NY. If you want to see a literal picture of the fall of man, of the ruin sin has wrought, of the Garden gone to hell, then drive through Niagara Falls.

What God’s hand carved out, a delight to the eyes, (1) has been cursed at the hand of man.

I don’t even know where Love Canal, the infamous ecological crime scene, happens to be. I don’t have to, because there’s enough curse to be seen without seeing that. There are the towering garbage hills; ahh, the fragrance. There are the dark, long-shuttered, satanic mills along the powerful and proud Niagara River. There are the tawdry shops. There’s the stupid casino. All of it a monument to petty politicians, petty businessmen, petty unions, petty Mafia, petty greed, and monumental ignorance.

And the irony is that if they’d all shot straight, they could all be making a fortune off the Falls to this very day.

Sometimes as Bible students we get hung up on the little prophecies, the specific little prophecies concerning the end times. We would do well to consider Scripture’s meta-prophecies. The condition of the land is one of these over-arching prophetic indicators.

Though national Israel has returned, we can tell that spiritual Israel has not returned, because when God restores the spiritual condition of Israel, He will also restore the land:
But the mountains of Israel will produce heavy crops of fruit to prepare for my people’s return – and they will be coming home again soon! (Ezekiel 36:8)

That has not yet happened. Much of Israel is uninhabitable and unproductive. That is one sure indication that (as you will read in this space on the day after tomorrow) the flesh is on those bones, but the breath’s not in those bodies.

As Bible students, we must learn to read the lay of the land–from Israel to Niagara Falls.

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(1) Genesis 3:6

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showers of blessing

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 34

mark this: Ezekiel 34:26
And I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing.

What happened to Ezekiel? Where’d he go? Did he have a lobotomy? Will the real Ezekiel please stand up?

It may seem that the author of chapter 34 could not possibly be the author of previous chapters in the book of Ezekiel. But rest assured, the real Ezekiel is still with us.

The sudden change in tone is not caused by a changed Ezekiel. Instead, the change is caused by a changed “audience.”

What changed the people was judgment:
In the twelfth year of our exile, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!” (Ezekiel 33:21)

Jerusalem’s punishment, long threatened, had arrived. Ezekiel was suddenly speaking to a chastened people.

A prideful, idolatrous people had been broken down. Ezekiel was now addressing a humbled, spirtually re-dedicated people whom the LORD could now build up. Lovely and loving words ensue, as we hear the voice of the Shepherd…

Seeking the lost:
For thus says the Lord God: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away.” (Ezekiel 34:11, 16)

Restoring the found:
“I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord God. “I will bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick.”(Ezekiel 34:15, 16)

Pouring out blessing:
“And I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing.” (Ezekiel 34:26)

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We must recall that it isn’t Ezekiel’s tone that has changed. The prophet merely repeats the word he is given from God. So what we are hearing is a dramatic shift in the tone of God’s voice.

The great lesson to be learned is that God uses judgment in order to move us into the place of blessing. When judgment has maneuvered us into that position, God’s gracious intentions are suddenly realized.

God awaits the day when he can withdraw his heavy hand and his hard voice. That’s not how he wants to be. Until then, he will do what the good Shepherd must to lead us beside the still waters, to make us lie down in pastures of blessing.

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