pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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Hope in Exile

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”.

Ezekiel was one of God’s prophets. He ministered to Israel during their time in exile in Babylon. After being defeated by the Babylonians, many Israelites were dispersed throughout the kingdom of their conquerors. These words from God’s prophet would bring hope during a difficult time. These words of God would remind the people that their current experience will not be their reality forever. Both of these circumstances are true today. In our current pandemic, there is no doubt that this is a difficult time for almost everyone. Although it feels like it has been a really long time, we know that the virus and its effects will not last forever. Yet, in the midst of it, we are much like the Israelites in Babylon – isolated, feeling powerless, becoming a bit hopeless, grieving, separated.

Beginning in verse eleven God reveals his plan. In this verse God tells the people that he will “search for my sheep and look after them”. In the next verse God promises to “rescue them” from isolation, from exile, from “all the places where they were scattered”. Then God shares that he will bring them back home. In verse thirteen God states, “I will bring them into their own land”. God will search for his children; God will rescue them and gather them; and, God will bring them back home. Living in a time of defeat, in a time of exile, to hear that God is still God, that God loves and cares for them, that God will once again bring them all back together – these are words of healing and hope.

During these COVID times, just as was the case in exile, some people are coping or doing okay, some are not. Those who are naturally resilient, those who are disposed to optimism, those whose faith has grown in these times – these folks are going alright. There is a middle group who are mostly getting by. They have some of these positive characteristics, but life is now a delicate balance. And there are those who have depleted their reserves of these characteristics. They are struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally. This last group, especially, needs to hear verse sixteen’s promise: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”. God has a special love for those hurting the most. Jesus, his son, modeled this love. Jesus, our Lord, calls us to follow his lead. To those around us most feeling like they are in exile, may we share these words of hope and love. And, if we dare, may we be these words of hope and love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to the list, to the strays, to the weak. Set my feet towards those hurting in my communities. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill my broken heart with your love and care. Use me to bring hope to those without. May it be so. Amen.


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One Step at a Time

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 4-14

Verse 9: “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”.

The dry bones in the valley represent Israel and the current condition of their collective faith. As the prophet sent to Israel during part of their exile, Ezekiel would have been well aware of the peoples’ sins and their current reality. This part that connected to their past probably saddened him greatly. The dry bones scattered across the valley floor are a stark and vivid reminder of their disobedient past. I can look back at seasons in my faith journey and can see how God would portray those times as a valley of dry bones. Most of us probably could. For others, maybe it feels like they are in the valley right now.

God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”. God does not plan to leave the Israelites in this valley forever. God has a better future planned for his people. God has chosen Ezekiel to bring this word to his people. Knowing that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel would give Ezekiel and those who heard his prophetic message some hope. Knowing the end of the current story brings one hope in the valley, but it can be hard to wait and to walk faithfully towards the future that God has planned. It is hard because we want the better future NOW. The added challenge for the exiles is that their faith is dry. How does one walk faithfully with dry or no faith?

The answer is not complex: one step at a time. Ezekiel knew this was a vision, but he still obediently played his part. In one way this is a practice run. In reality he will seek to breath spiritual life into the people living in exile. Today, when one is in the valley or when one is living exiled from God, the steps are still the same: trust in God’s love, act on what God is leading you to, and rely on God’s power and strength for the journey. Each day may we see as God sees, stepping forward in faith.

Prayer: Loving God, when the future seems uncertain, give me the faith to take that first step. Through the power of the Holy Spirit guides me in obedience. Step by step may I follow. Amen.


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God Alone Knows

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-3

Verse 3: “Son of man, can these bones live”? … “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”.

Today’s reading centers on a vision that God gave to Ezekiel the prophet about 2,600 years ago. Reading these words in our current context gives us ears to hear these words in a new way. The devotional book that I physically read each morning is based upon the weekly lectionary readings and was available for order in late September 2019. Yet as I read the author’s words this morning, it feels as if they were written for this very day. Together, these are just one more evidence that God’s word is active and alive.

Ezekiel is led out into a valley of bones that are very dry. The bones have been strewn across the valley floor for quite a while. Ezekiel describes the quantity as a “great many bones”. A great devastation had occurred. On December 31, 2019, an unknown “pneumonia” was first reported to the World Health Organization in China. Not even three months in and it feels like a long time, doesn’t it? In this season of isolation and safe distancing, some are beginning to feel a bit dry.

Ezekiel walks among the bones for some time. “Back and forth” is the way my Bible describes it. After Ezekiel had surely absorbed the vast loss that had occurred, God asks him this question: “Son of man, can these bones live”? My initial response would have been doubt or maybe to consider the sanity of the question. But Ezekiel is aware that he is in the midst of this valley for a God purpose. He replies in faith, saying, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. It is an honest and sincere answer.

In this season that we find ourselves in presently, we too, as people of faith, must approach all the uncertainties, fears, worries… with this same attitude. God alone knows where all this is heading. Even though I do not have the slightest clue, I do know that God has all the answers. This is his world, God has a plan. All things eternal are under his control. In faith may we each step forward, loving one another as we best can, trusting God to bring forth something good.

Prayer: Lord God, in these days, help me to trust fully in you. May I discern what I can do to be help and love to others. Lead me to shine your light into all the places I can. Amen.


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Breath and Hope

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Verse 14: I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.

Ezekiel is living amongst and speaking to a people living in exile.  They were carried off long ago and feel as if they have been living in exile forever.  The people of Israel cry out, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off”.  There is great sadness in these verses.  It is very difficult to live without hope.

As Ezekiel prophesies, the scattered bones come together as tendon, flesh, and skin covers them.  They are capable of having life now but there is no breath in them.  They are flesh and bone, but that is all.  At this point they represent Israel in exile.  Living but not truly having life can also represent many we know ourselves.  Yes, they are physically alive – they go to work, spend time with their families and friends, maybe even play on your softball team.  But they only know earthly life; they do not know or live for anything outside of the here and now.

For the Israelites in exile, life has become about simply surviving in the day to day.  They are barely getting by.  They feel ‘cut off completely’ from God and all they knew back home.  It is hard to live without hope and they are fast losing hope.  God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy that the breath of God enter the dry bones and flesh so that they would have life.  Ezekiel does this and a vast army arises.  This is the vision Ezekiel brings back to the people living in exile, to a people fast losing hope.  In this, the people know that God has heard their cry and that He will respond.  It brings much needed hope to the nation of Israel.

In a very similar way, we too can offer hope to those we know who are alive but only in the earthly sense.  We too can share the hope that comes when one lives with Jesus as Lord and Savior.  We too can share the joy that comes when the Spirit of God enters our hearts and brings us each the hope of eternal life.  May we each seek to be spreaders of the Word of God to those living in exile, so that they too may know abundant life in Christ in this place and eternal life with Him in the life to come.


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Hope and Restoration

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Verse 3: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live”?

Ezekiel walks and walks amongst​ the dry bones.  There are literally millions of Bones strewn across the valley – enough to make a vast army.  As he walks among the bones, to him they are at first just dry old bones scattered across the valley.  There are no grave markers to identify who exactly is where.  These bones are symbolic of Israel.  The bones and their dryness indicate the state of Israel in exile.  They are long in exile and have lost touch with the faith and with God.  The bones coming back to life and standing as a vast army is symbolic of how God will bring His people out if exile one day and will restore them as a nation.

In sending Ezekiel among the dry bones, God is acknowledging the state of affairs with His chosen people.  All are cognizant that their choices, their sins, have led to where they currently find themselves.  It is what it is.  But in this vision, God is saying, “I am not done with you yet.  This is not the end of the story.  I will restore you.  I love you”.  God see what will be once again.  God wants to share this hope with Ezekiel, His prophet to the people, so that the people can hold onto and look towards hope and restoration.

Isn’t this still the story today?  Isn’t this still the message that all who are ‘dry’ or are out in the valley need to hear today?  There are lots of people who feel lost or not connected to God.  They desperately need the breath of life to breathe into them.  There are lots who feel defeated.  They need God to pick them up, to strengthen them, so that they can stand once again.  There are others who feel that God has forgotten or abandoned them.  They need to be reconnected to the source of life.  There are many who need to hear the story.  There are many.  Who will you share the story if hope and restoration with today?


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Dry Faith

Scattered far and wide by the Babylonians, the Israelites had lost their connection to each other and , more importantly, their connection to God.  Their faith and hope had dried up.  Each person or little cluster of Jews must have felt like they were on their own deserted island.  They were scattered amongst a foreign people in a foreign land.  How lost they must have felt.

Ever been there?  Ever felt like you were all alone and struggled even to find God?  I have been there.  For a day here or there or even for a season here and there, I have lost sight of God and my faith.  It is indeed a dry and barren place.  Again I ask, ever been there?  Perhaps you are there right now as you read this.

But standing amidst a valley of dry bones, Ezekiel sees an amazing thing.  First the bones rejoin and become covered in tendons, flesh, and skin.  Then breath is brought forth and gives life.  God did not forget His people – even though their faith was lost.  He will never forget you and me either.  Whenever we enter a dry spell, we must remember this story of Ezekiel and the dry bones.  In this story we find our God too.  He is always looking to bring us life.  God is always calling us to be a part of Him.

Perhaps you are not in a dry place now but know someone who is.  Share the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones with them and encourage them to draw close to God.  Encourage them to rebuild their faith through study and prayer and time with the King.  Encourage them to allow the breath of God to breathe new life into their dry bones!