Ezekiel 2:8-3:11 – Use the Head-Butt

Rufus R. Jones (1933-1993)

Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion. Open your mouth and eat what I give you.”

Then I looked and saw a hand reaching out to me. It held a scroll, which he unrolled. And I saw that both sides were covered with funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of doom.

The voice said to me, “Son of man, eat what I am giving you—eat this scroll! Then go and give its message to the people of Israel.” So, I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. “Fill your stomach with this,” he said. And when I ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Then he said, “Son of man, go to the people of Israel and give them my messages. I am not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! But the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn. But look, I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.”

Then he added, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” (New Living Translation)

When I was a kid, my brother and I watched “All-Star Wrestling” on television every Saturday. One of our favorite wrestlers was Rufus R. Jones. Like all wrestlers, he had a signature move, a lights-out-nobody-is-getting-up maneuver that always ended the match. 

Rufus’ move was the head-butt. Slamming his hard forehead into the head of his opponent always brought raucous behavior from me and my brother. Then, as the boys we were, we acted out the head-butt scene over and over. The hardest head always won…. I usually lost…. That probably explains a lot.

God gave a message to the prophet Ezekiel concerning the stubborn hearts and hard heads of the Israelites. The Lord was looking for repentance, for the people to turn their hearts and minds back to true worship and an authentic humble relationship with their God. 

The prospect of facing such a task, such an opponent, seemed daunting to Ezekiel. So, the Lord assured the prophet that his forehead would be harder than that of Rufus R. Jones. So, there is no need to be afraid of the opponent. They may be hard, but they’re no match for the rock-hard head of the prophet.

In essence, God told Ezekiel to pull-out the signature wrestling move and do the lights-out head-butt maneuver. And the promise from God that backed up Ezekiel was this: There’s absolutely no way you’re going to lose the match with the kind of head I’m giving you.

Like Ezekiel, we are to speak the Word of God with the promise of not losing. Prideful ungodly stubbornness will get us knocked-out. But conversely, gracious bold stubbornness, which determines to do the will of God, shall always win the day.

The only catch is: The Word needs to sink down deeply into our own hearts through listening well – before we can effectively speak to others.

God provides us with spiritual giftedness. Yet, that doesn’t mean we never need to develop that gift or engage in any spiritual practices to make it better. We are to use that which God gives us, no matter the response from others.

There is often a fine line between sinful obstinate stubbornness and godly persevering tenacity. We are never to use our abilities to slam people, obnoxiously and persistently, upside the head with an oversized King James Version of the Bible – in the wrongheaded notion that the Word doesn’t come back without effect.

That kind of effect, however, is harmful spiritual bruising that is devoid of grace. It’s really nothing more than an individual working out their own anger and frustration on somebody else.

Rather, we are to carefully, deliberately, consistently, and daily internalize God’s Word so that what comes out of us is helpful, not harmful. Only by a constant use of solitude and silence, in truly listening well for the voice of God, can we effect the sort of positive ministry which is needed for the present moment.

Put another way, whenever we head-butt an opponent, the grace and mercy ought to be uncompromising. It’s not our job to be the judge; our task is to communicate effectively and humbly without giving in or giving up. The message may be hard, but it should always be sweet.

Almighty and ever-living God, we pray that you would give us the Spirit of wisdom and discernment so that we may know you better and love you more. Give us an understanding heart so that we may be open in hearing your voice of grace and guidance.

Use us, your people, not to be unthinking and unfeeling tools of bludgeoning others, but to be your hands and feet – your voice and heart so that we may be a channel through which you pour out your grace to help others – may we decrease to nothing so that only Christ is seen in our lives – we ask this in the power of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus. Amen.

John 10:31-42 – “The Real McCoy”

Again, his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him,but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’?If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again, they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus. (New International Version)

There are all kinds of idioms (a phrase whose meaning cannot be discerned by the words themselves) about something that is truly genuine, not fake:

“The proof is in the pudding.” (that is, the pudding might look good and delicious, but the real test is in the eating of it)

“Put your money where your mouth is.” (do something rather than just talk about it; use your own resources and abilities if it’s so important to you)

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” (your story sounds incredible; I need to experience it myself)

Jesus had the actions to back up his words. He is “the real McCoy.” (authentic)

But his opponents apparently “dug their heels in.” (they’ve already got their minds made up about him)

Seems like many of the religious leaders, back in Christ’s day, saw Jesus as nothing more than a “cock and bull story.” (ridiculous and implausible)

But, as it turns out, those leaders “don’t have a clue.” (they’re ignorant)

Sheesh. “Don’t get me started.” (if I talk about this silliness, I might not stop)

And Jesus wasn’t about to “idiot proof” (be understandable to people who don’t really want to understand to begin with) his life and teaching because the evidence was right there “under their noses.” (they failed to notice even though they should have) 

Jesus wasn’t about to kick back and “shoot the breeze” (to chat idly, casually, and without purpose about unimportant and ordinary things) with these guys. It’s not why he came.

The Lord knew their hearts, and so, he knew when to “get out of Dodge.” (leaving quickly to avoid a dangerous situation)

His opponents were “as mad as a wet hen.” (enraged)

Christ understood that neither their acceptance nor their rejection of his ministry was “worth a plug nickel.” (no value, at all; completely worthless)

But he didn’t skedaddle before “putting them in their place.” (exposing their duplicity and lack of faith)

If it were me, I’d probably “open a can of whoop-ass.” (verbally beat them up)

Yet, Jesus, ever the gracious one, is “gentle as a lamb.” (gets his point across without violence)

The amazing love of Christ chose to “pay the piper.” (bear the consequences for the sins of the people)

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it,” (a catchphrase from the show, “Mission Impossible”) is to take an honest look at Jesus.

I think you will find it’s a “no-brainer.” (it’s easier than you might think)

That’s because Jesus is “straight as an arrow.” (you can trust him)

It does no good to keep Jesus “at arm’s length.” (maintain emotional distance to avoid familiarity or intimacy)

It’s best to accept Jesus as he is. Otherwise, you’ll find you “have a tiger by the tail.” (there’s no way to manage or control him)

“Honest to God.” (emphasizing that something is really true)

Well, there you have it, “from the horse’s mouth.” (this information is coming directly from the person with the experience and knowledge of the situation)

I’m a true believer. “Happy as a lark.” (Very excited and delighted)

Lord Jesus, I just want you to know that “I’m your Huckleberry.” (I’m your person for whatever job you want done)

“Amen to that.” (I agree)

Psalm 50:16-23 – Follow with Both Lips and Life

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

But God says to the wicked,
    Why should you recite my commandments?
    Why should you talk about my covenant?
You refuse to let me correct you;
    you reject my commands.
You become the friend of every thief you see,
    and you associate with adulterers.

You are always ready to speak evil;
    you never hesitate to tell lies.
You are ready to accuse your own relatives
    and to find fault with them.
You have done all this, and I have said nothing,
    so you thought that I am like you.
But now I reprimand you
    and make the matter plain to you.

Listen to this, you that ignore me,
    or I will destroy you,
    and there will be no one to save you.
Giving thanks is the sacrifice that honors me,
    and I will surely save all who obey me.
(Good News Translation)

God has something to say to the wicked, that is, those who claim the Lord’s Name, yet fail to honor the divine/human relationship.

One of the things people might oftentimes overlook or misunderstand is that God and humans are not on the same level. Whereas all humanity is equal, and so must be egalitarian in all they do, humans are the creatures and God is the Creator. It isn’t an equitable relationship.

That means our stance as people is to obey the Lord – without question. There’s no room for negotiation. There isn’t any way of leveraging to get the upper hand with God.

Ignorance, or outright disobedience, is manifested through trivializing or picking-and-choosing God’s commands. When a person quotes or cites instructions from the Lord, then completely disregards those divine words and does what they please, there will be a harsh reprimand.

The wicked, those who ignore the covenant relationship with God, tend to talk a good line and then turn around and participate in stealing, adultery, and slander. They glowingly cite the first few commands of the Ten Commandments, then generally flip the middle finger at the rest of the commands – doing whatever the heck they want.

The reason the Lord is so hard in today’s psalm is that the wickedness of humanity believes themselves to be like God. In other words, the people took what was true about themselves and superimposed that on God. This is the dual act of elevating humanity higher than who they are and making themselves like God, while simultaneously minimizing God, making the Lord smaller, to be just like us.

These are just some the mind tricks wicked persons play on themselves to justify their behavior. And God will have none of it. God is not some average household idol. The Lord is to be honored and worshiped as Supreme.

Wherever there is disorder, chaos, systemic evil, and injustice, the root of it is found in disparaging the divine relationship – making God a good ol’ boy who understands things just like you and me.

Wherever you see human life cheapened, taken advantage of, and oppressed, there you will find people and institutions who do not take God as holy, sovereign, and other than them.

Human life is cheapened because talk itself is cheap without the commitment to obey the Lord. So, how might we keep our lips and our life aligned together and working as a committed whole?

  • Be authentic. Embrace being genuine and real. If you’re happy, smile. If you’re sad, don’t. If you say, “yes,” do it. If you need to reinforce good boundaries, say “no,” and don’t do it. What’s more, if you have written statements in your business or organization about diversity, equity, and inclusion, then authentically and actively live into those ideals.

Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, CEB)

My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another. (James 2:1, GW)

  • Be trustworthy. Charlatans and slicksters try to make instantaneous trust so they can take advantage of another. The godly person realizes trust must be earned – mostly through quietly doing what needs to be done without complaint or bluster. Someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Do what God’s teaching says, don’t just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. (James 1:22, ERV)

Now that by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves and have come to have a sincere love for other believers, love one another earnestly with all your heart. (1 Peter 1:22, GNT)

  • Be obedient. Observe the Lord’s commands. Biblical instructions include both our speech and our behavior.

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3, NRSV)

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:6, NKJV)

Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. (Matthew 16:24, ERV)

  • Be thankful. Words and actions which hurt and damage cannot be said whenever we are using our tongues to express gratitude. And if we keep our feet happy through dancing our thankfulness, then we will not walk into trouble.

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, MSG)

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17, NLT)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Matthew 7:15-20 – Life, Not Legalism

two trees

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (NIV)

There was once a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day. After the service they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided all was good.

Nothing can choke the heart and soul out of true spirituality like legalism – a precise extra-biblical list of do’s and don’ts. For many folks, it seems easier to live by the list than to pursue the harder road of developing character qualities. Christian discipleship involves growing into spiritual maturity and allowing a seasoned character to shape how we make decisions.  We must patiently and consistently follow in the way of Jesus, which is the way of grace and of life.

Today’s Gospel lesson is Christ’s conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount. It is a sermon that sets forth the values of God’s kingdom and devalues the core of legalistic thought.  I define legalism as a compulsion to spell out every detail of how everyone is to live a godly life, going beyond the stated commands of Holy Scripture. The problem with this approach to the Christian life is that godliness is merely an outward expression of our ability to hold to the list.  This legalistic way feeds human pride and boasting, going against the inner heart values of humility and meekness in Christ’s Beatitudes.  The teaching of Jesus ends up getting lost in trying to do everything right or perfect.

Jesus, through the Sermon on the Mount, led the crowd to a point of decision, letting them know they are at a crossroads. There are only two alternatives: Either choose the way of life as expressed in Christ’s teaching, or else choose the way of destruction through the legalistic list.  To press the crowd toward the necessity of choosing wisely, Jesus used metaphors to make his point.

wolf in sheeps clothing

False teaching in the form of legalism is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We need to be wary of people who seem pious and sincere, yet who do not quite pass the smell test. After all, Satan himself, the Apostle Paul once said, masquerades as an angel of light, appearing righteous, yet, is intent on deceiving many (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

So, how do we recognize a wolf who spiritually and emotionally devours people, instead of altruistically helps them?  Look at the fruit of the tree.  Jesus is the good tree.  Christ advocates for a searching of the heart, which results in the fruit of righteousness.  The bad tree is also seen by its fruit.  Anyone who fails to uplift and live the Beatitudes of Jesus will be seen by the rotten fruit of boasting and pride.

False teachers believe they are above others because of their expertise at keeping the list of do’s and don’ts.  A false disciple will always be shown by their profound lack of grace, gentleness, and genuine humility. They inevitably advocate for holding to their brand of religion and keeping the non-biblical list.  The profound lack of Christ’s Beatitudes in their lives will eventually result in their being cut down and thrown into the fire.

For Jesus, there is no riding the fence between the two alternatives he presented – and it is a matter for him of life and death. The way of Jesus ends in life, good fruit, entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and stability.  The other alternative ends in destruction, bad fruit and fire, exclusion from the kingdom, and being ruined.  These are solemn thoughts from our Lord Jesus himself.

The sobering reality of Christ’s teaching is that many people can be deceived with a devil’s bargain: take the nice handy list and you will become godly; here are twelve principles to change your life; follow these rules, pray this prayer, give your money to this, and all will be well. It is, however, a highway to the grave. The false teacher proclaims himself a “fruit inspector” and then goes on to judge everyone by the legalistic list.

There is a need to repent of religious lists, political agendas, and teachings which ignore and demean Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. One of the telltale signs of holding to a conjured list is when we are not honest with one another about our struggles. The bald fact of list-living is that we cannot fulfill it. So, when we know we are not measuring up to the list, the temptation is to keep up appearances as if we are.

List-living eschews showing any weakness or imperfection.  I cannot admit my sin to anyone because the list pronounces me a failure if I do.  I cannot enter a deep and prolonged grief over my loss because the list says I need to stay strong.  I cannot profess my doubts about God because the list says if I doubt, I am not a real Christian. Just tell me what is on the list, and I will do it – even though I cannot.

Here is my response to legalistic list-living: To hell with the list!  Instead, give praise to Jesus Christ who has given us the way of grace! It is grace which transforms hearts, turns lives around, and provides genuine joy and satisfaction. If grace is not the answer, we are not asking the right question. The tree of life has an abundant supply of gracious fruit.

The greatest anti-legalistic prayer we can pray is the tried and true ancient prayer of the Church:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”