Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Letter From Prison

Evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land.
 Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
 But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
 The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
 The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword
And bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart,
And their bows will be broken.
Better is the little of the righteous
Than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
But the LORD sustains the righteous.
The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
And their inheritance will be forever.
They will not be ashamed in the time of evil,
And in the days of famine they will have abundance.
But the wicked will perish;
And the enemies of the LORD will be like the glory of the pastures,
They vanish-- like smoke they vanish away.
The wicked borrows and does not pay back,
But the righteous is gracious and gives.
For those blessed by Him will inherit the land,
But those cursed by Him will be cut off.
                        -An ancient Hebrew wisdom poem, otherwise known as Psalm 37:9-22

From Adoniyah, the son of your companion, Azaliah the son of Shaphan14, the scribe of the great king Yosiah.15

Dearest Yakov:  

My prayers are with you and your family and I truly hope all is at peace with you.  You are constantly in my prayers and I trust that God has prospered you beyond all your dreams.  May you have health and bounty in all of your life. 

I am sorry to have been so long absent from your presence, but it is not my own desire.  You have probably heard about my misfortune.  Of how our crops two years ago failed and the need of my family became great.  In order to keep them from starving, I took out a small loan from Shad, a local wealthy man and ruler of our permanent refugee camp in the region between the rivers.  He provided enough to help my family survive the lean times, and we were well.  The next year, my crops grew up, but a blight attached themselves to much of our produce, so that our yield was lean.  I approached Shad, and told him of the plight my family and I was in.  All he would say is that he expected the money returned, as we agreed on schedule.

Perhaps you heard about how I contacted my brothers and cousins, begging for redemption.  But they all told me of their own struggles, their difficulties in raising their families, how times were tight and they had nothing to spare.  As the wise Solomon said, “All the brothers of a poor man hate him.”16

And so, on the appointed day, Shad arrived to my farm with guards.  He asked for his repayment, by law, and I told him I could not pay.  So he commanded his guards, dragged me away from my family and placed me in this locked box.

Have you ever had a family member imprisoned?  Have you ever seen the conditions?  Four thick mud walls, guarded every moment, only unswept dirt on the floor to rest on and sleep on.  In the middle of the night, the cold from the ground seeps into my body and wakes me so I can only rest a few hours a night.  Not that it matters, for bugs crawl in my hair and my clothes, and I spend my day picking them off of my body.  I have a bucket I defecate in, which I must live with until my wife comes to visit.  Luckily, there is little for me to place in the bucket, for I only have one meal a day, which my wife brings me, along with water. 

I can feel my body and my mind atrophying.  I can barely talk, and it has taken me days to write even as much as I have to you.  The worst I have experienced, however, is my shrinking heart.  For all that I have experienced, I find envy of you who have never experienced this ultimate poverty, this separation. This creeping horror of hatred that fills my heart.  I am only a shadow of what I have been.  My love and joy is drained.

Please, my friend, have compassion on me.  I have been in this cell for a month now and eagerly seek deliverance.  Can you assist me?  Speak of me to Shad, and any payment you might be willing to do for me, although you owe me nothing, would be greatly praised.  Be God’s servant for me.

Your dear friend,

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Refuse To Be A 90 Lb. Weakling!

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,
               "Son of man, when the house of Israel was living in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds; their way before Me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Also I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the lands. According to their ways and their deeds I judged them. When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD; yet they have come out of His land.' But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. 
                 Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.          
                "Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you will not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. I am not doing this for your sake," declares the Lord GOD, "let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!"
            (An ancient king’s proclamation, otherwise known as Ezekiel 36:16-32)

By the waters of Babylon, and Ezekiel, as usual, is having a vision.

God: Son of Man, get your notepad out, I’m making a pronouncement.

Ezekiel: (Under his breath) I hope that’s all…

God: What did you say? 

Ezekiel: You heard what I said.

God: Well, of course I did.  You can’t hide anything from me.6

Ezekiel: So stop pretending otherwise.7 

God: Sorry.  Anyway, you were saying?

Ezekiel: I just want to make sure that you are just going to have me write something.  I’m getting tired of the acrobatics.

God: I’m sure I don’t know what you mean by that…

Ezekiel: Oh, yeah?  What about having me lay on my side for over a year?  You think that’s comfortable?8

God: I’m sure it wasn’t, but there was a good reason…

Ezekiel: And what about not allowing me to mourn for my wife when she died?9

God: Mourning is so messy, anyway…

Ezekiel: And the time you had me eat human shit?

God: That is not true!  You were only going to use it for fuel to cook your food on.10

Ezekiel: You know that parts of what you burn gets on the food when you eat it.  I’m not an idiot.

God: Besides, you never did use the human shit.

Ezekiel: No, cow shit instead!

God: That’s what you cook with every day.

Ezekiel: Still…

God: You sure are cranky today.  Did you get up on the wrong side of the sidewalk? 

Ezekiel: Ha, ha.  You wanted me to write something?

God: I’m not sure, now.  Maybe we should talk another day…

Ezekiel: No, I’m okay.  I’m just tired is all.

God: Tired of what?

Ezekiel: I’m tired of being a mediator between you and this people.  It’s all pointless.  You tell me what to speak to them, and they all come, that’s for certain.  In droves.  Because you make me so entertaining to them—making models and telling of my visions of being pulled up by my hair thousands of miles.  But when they leave, they never listen to your message.  They don’t pay any real attention to me at all.  I’m just providing that day’s entertainment.  But no one actually listens to me.  “Zeke, you’re so funny!  As if Jerusalem will really be destroyed!  You know that God will pull us out of this and take us home!”  Ha!  They weren’t laughing when they did get the news of Jerusalem destroyed.  But they don’t listen any better now that they know that you really spoke to me.  They are in despair and they aren’t doing any more justice now than they ever had.11

God: I know that it’s hard.  I told you from the beginning no one would listen to you.  In the end, though, you aren’t writing for these people, anyway.  You are writing for their children and for millions of others, as yet unborn. 

Ezekiel: So why bother speaking to these idiots?  Why not just write it down for the later generations?  I’d love to just not speak to these idiots anymore.

God: You’ve got to have a context to speak to, and real people to minister to, even if it seems pointless. 

Ezekiel: The world would be so much better without people.

God: Don’t I know it.  But I tried that route, and it just didn’t work.

Ezekiel: Why not?  Why didn’t you just wipe them all out, including Noah?  He was no great shakes of righteousness, either, you know.

God: You never knew him, Zeke.  Sure, he was sometimes a screw up, but you should have seen what I had to work with then.  Noah really was an amazing guy.

Ezekiel: I still think you should have just started over completely.

God: One little problem with that.  I promised that humans would rule the earth.  No matter how crappy they turn out to be, I still put them in charge, and I’ve got to stick to my promises.

Ezekiel: But if a promise is a bad one, why not scrap it?

God: (Chuckling) Zeke, you know that you’d be one of the ones I’d wipe out, right?  If what you said happens?

Ezekiel: Today, I wouldn’t mind that at all.  Well, we’ve got work to do, right?  I’m ready to write and I don’t have anything to tell them today anyway.

God: You know, I was saving this for another day, but you’re in such a state, I think I’ll give this to you today.

Ezekiel: What?

God: You really want to lay into them today?

Ezekiel: You mean like the day I slammed them with the story of the baby girl who grows up to be a harlot?12  That was poetic justice, that was…

God: Well, I doubt anything will compare to that slam, but today, I want you to tell them what I really think of them.

Ezekiel: Maybe I’m not the only one who’s in a bad mood?

God: Oh, no, I’m fine.  But they need to hear this, and I think you’re in the right state to tell them.

Ezekiel: Oooo!  I can’t wait!  So, what comes first?

God: Okay, take this down, “Son of Man…” you know I always start that way.

Ezekiel: Yeah, I know… go on…

God: “When you Israelites were living in the land I gave you, you ruined it by the evils you did.”

Ezekiel:  Got it.  Wow, nothing like starting out with a zinger. 

God: “You worshipped small, green idols made of paper…”

Ezekiel: Huh?  Green?  Papyrus?  

God: You clean it up.  You know how to speak to your people.

Ezekiel: Sure, yeah… go on.

God: “You ignored the cry of the poor and called them criminals.  You had no mercy on the diseased and called them sinners.  You created strongholds to your own pride and declared that you made them for me.  You declared sex to be an entertainment instead of a commitment.  You destroyed the very earth and the species I created.”  You still keeping up?

Ezekiel: Nice.  Go on.

God: “Because of this, I destroyed you off of the land you defiled, in order to grant the land a rest from your evil ways.”

Ezekiel: Give the land a Sabbath from evil?  Cool idea!

God: It’s a program I’m working on.13  We’ll see how it works.  Continue: “So I took you and threw you among the nations, as one might scatter seed on the ground.  But as you were cast among all the peoples of the world, you persisted in your evil deeds, and did not persist.”

Ezekiel: You want me to repeat the vice list again?

God: Up to you.  Style it up.  You know.  “But worst of all, you allowed my name to be defiled among those who did not know me.  You went to the nations, defeated, detested and demoralized.  You did not declare your own responsibility for your punishment, but remained silent.”

Ezekiel: Trust me, these guys aren’t silent, Lord.  You should see me try to shut them up when it’s time to start the service.

God: They’re only silent about what matters.  “The peoples who never knew me now say, ‘Yahweh is a weak god.  He allowed his people to be driven out of the land.  And look at these people’s practices—they are wicked!  They are arrogant and heartless! Yahweh must be as merciless as these!’  My reputation has been destroyed.  I'm as mad as hell.  And I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Ezekiel: Nice lead up.  Getting ready for the punch now?

God: “I will not act for your sake, Israel, because you have proven to not be worthy.  Rather, I am going to make my name holy again.  You have defiled it, but I will hallow my name.  The name of Yahweh will be honored among the nations, and upon you I will declare my holiness.”

Ezekiel: Okay, so what are you going to do, Lord?

God: “First, I will gather you from the nations, and make you a people again.  And I will bring you back to the land and make you a powerful force in the world.”

Ezekiel: Hold on…

God: “Then I will multiply food for you and water and you will never hunger again.  Nor will you ever be scattered among the nations again.  I will make the land like the paradise of Eden, full and plentiful and great. You will have so much, you can provide for yourself, your poor and all the nations around you.”

Ezekiel: Whoa, just wait a minute, God.  This doesn’t make any sense!

God: What don’t you understand?

Ezekiel: Well, perhaps you don’t recall, but you are punishing these people for their sin.  They have done evil, as you said, and they continue to do evil.  And you are going to reward them for it?

God: Of course I won’t.

Ezekiel: But you were just saying…

God: Didn’t you listen?  I told them that I’m not doing this for them.  They don’t deserve it, clearly.  I’m doing this for my own reputation.  You know how I like good press…

Ezekiel: Yes, that’s true.

God: Well, I’m sick and tired of my headlines reading, “Yahweh gets defeated again!” and “Markuk wins over Yahweh!”  or “Money brings you happiness, God not so much”.  This has been terrible.  So I have to do something.

Ezekiel:  Okay, I understand this.  But you certainly don’t want the headlines to read, “Yahweh rewards hypocrisy!”  Or “God hates the poor!”  Because if you reward this people, that’s what you’ll get.

God: Okay, well hang on.  I’m not done yet.  Just wait.

Ezekiel: Alright… (Puts his pen to the papyrus)… go….

God: “I shall prepare you for sacrifice and sprinkle clean water on you.  You shall be cleansed from all of your filthy ways and forgiven for the great evils you have done.  And then I will place within each of you My Spirit of holiness.  This Spirit will make within you what you have never had—pure hearts focused only on loving me.  And in that love you will accomplish the justice, purity and mercy I desire.  You will be my people, not only in word, but in action.  Then all the peoples will see and be astonished at my great power.”

Ezekiel: Well, I have to say, I’m stunned.  This is amazing.  I’ve never heard you speak this way before.

God: I haven’t.  It’s been my plan for a long time, but I’ve never told anyone before.

Ezekiel: Amazing.  So, let me ask you, why didn’t you do this before?  I mean, why not just give them your Spirit of holiness from the beginning?  Then you wouldn’t have had to scatter them.  Would’ve saved you a lot of work.

God: Remember, Zeke, I can only redeem someone when they are a slave.  I can only save someone who needs help.  They never saw themselves as poor and desperate in their own land, with their wealth around them.  They had to cry out to me in their desperation, and then I can give them the great promises.  Of course, I wouldn’t have had to punish them so severely if they’d obeyed me in the first place.  But, as it is, I had to scatter them, give them hunger, poverty, sickness and desperation.  Now they are ready to hear it.  Only in despair can people receive holiness with welcome.  Because only then do they see that mercy and purity actually work.

Ezekiel: (Awed) You are the chess Grandmaster.  What a great strategy.

God: Thanks, Zeke.  That means a lot, coming from you.

Ezekiel: I’m no genius.

God: No.  But you always call it like it is.  That’s what I’ve always liked about you, Zeke.  Okay, have a good service!

Ezekiel: Thanks, Lord!


6. Psalm 139—God as the greatest intelligence agent of all time.
7. Ever notice that God seems ignorant about some things?  Genesis 3:9; Genesis 18:21.
8. Ezekiel 4:4-5
9. Ezekiel 24:15-24
10. Ezekiel 4:9-17
11. Ezekiel 3:4-9; 8:1.
12. Ezekiel 16.  Start at verse one and keep going until you get grossed out.
13. Leviticus 25:2-13; Jeremiah 25:11-12.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Royalty for Dummies

Jesus was very concerned about promises.  Just as we saw previously, Jesus was deeply concerned about the good reputation of God, and how it is based on truth, and not on the myth of those around him.  Part of this concern is the fact that God had been King for an awful long time—as long as anybody could remember and even longer than that. (In Eternity, no one can hear the tocks ticking.)  And part of what kings do is make promises.  Royal prerogative and responsibility all wrapped up in one.

The method of Royal promises goes like this: People go up to a ruler, any ruler, and says, “We’re tired of sitting in traffic all day!  We need a better way of getting to the market!”  The king considers this and decides Something Must Be Done (Kings all think in pronouncements).  It is at this point that the king says, “I Will Improve Transportation In Our Realm!”  And after this, he works with his advisors and engineers and generally smart people who determine that the best course of action is to build a bridge across the river so everyone doesn’t have to wait for the ferry. Besides, the ferryman smells bad.  So the king pronounces, “We Will Make A Bridge!”  And he allocates resources toward that goal. 

A promise is a precursor to a command.  Any ruler has them—first they make a determination, then they make a promise to fulfill that determination, and then they make commands to see that determination carried out.  A promise is a way of communicating a king’s desire that he intends to fulfill.  It is like a prophecy without all that mucking about with seeing into the future.

If a king has been a king for a while, he builds up a number of promises.  Since God has been king longer than anyone else (even those johnny-come-latelys like Baal and Caesar and the gang leader of the 59th Street Bridge), he has a number more promises than anyone else.  And, like any king, there have been a number of those promises that haven’t been fulfilled.  It isn’t that the king doesn’t want them to be fulfilled or hasn’t planned for them to be fulfilled.  Rather, it is that the time isn’t right, the resources aren’t yet available, the people aren’t yet ready for the promise to be fulfilled.   

And no matter how many promises have been fulfilled (Abraham and Sarah given son in old age?—check.  Israel’s children delivered out of Egypt?—check.   Jehosephat and Hezekiah delivered from armies?—check.  Temple of God rebuilt after exile?—check.)  everyone always looks at the promises that haven’t been fulfilled yet.  Some of the promises are explicit, while others are implicit.  The implicit ones are the ones everyone knows about—whether they have ever heard the kings promise or not.  And if a king breaks a promise, then his reputation is destroyed.  Meaning, he gets bad press.   And God HATES bad press.  Ruins his whole eternity.

But what about the times when God makes a promise that is not kept?  What about prophecies that never take place?  Has that happened?  Well, sure.  God promised, as ruler of the universe, to destroy the Ninevites in Jonah’s time.  God also promised to destroy the children of Israel and begin a new nation with Moses.  These were Pronouncements—a kingly promise, just like others.  Why weren’t they fulfilled?  In fact, the text says that God “repented” of these promises—He changed his mind.  That makes God pretty wishy-washy, doesn’t it? 4

This is one of those times that we get to make a theological division.  This is where someone like Aquinas or J.I. Packer pulls out their penknife and cuts the page, saying “Here the two shall not meet.”  On the one hand, we find in Scripture, God never changes his mind, He never backs off of a promise once made.  And then we have times when God does change his mind.  Here is the divide: God only ever changes his mind of a judgment he pronounced, not of a blessing.  Whenever it talks about God’s faithfulness, His steadfastness to promises, it is about a positive opportunity He will give to a person or people.  But when God pronounces a destruction of a people or a plague, He reserves the right to break that pronouncement—to repent.  And He often uses that option.5

But as King of the Universe, any promises of love, of hope, of deliverance—you can take those to the bank.  They’re as good as gold in a bear market.  They’re as invulnerable as Superman’s chest.

4.  Jonah 3; Exodus 32:9-14

5. Such as Numbers 23:19-20; Lamentations 3:22-23; I Timothy 2:12-13.