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.

Descending Into Greatness

Welcome, friends! Philippians 2:5-11 is an appropriate place for us to be on Palm Sunday. Christians everywhere are reminded that Jesus humbled himself by coming and submitting to death. In so doing, Christ absorbed all the guilt and shame of the world on a cruel cross. As we enter this Christian Holy Week, let us do so embracing the mindset of Jesus as a servant to all. Click the videos below and let us declare that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God.

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Philippians 2:5-11

God of our salvation,
help us to enter with joy
into the celebration of those mighty acts by which you have given us fullness of life;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

Philippians 2:5-11 – Descending Into Greatness

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. (New International Version)

So, what kind of people (and what kind of church) would we be if we resembled these verses of Holy Scripture?  

The Apostle Paul said to the church in Philippi that their “attitude” or “mindset” should be the same as Christ Jesus. Their thinking ought to be like the mind of Christ. To think well, live well, and be well, we need the mind of Christ.

To relate to others in a godly way, to navigate this fallen world with integrity and truth, to make an impact on those around us, we must adopt the mindset and attitude of Jesus.  

Everything comes down to God – how we should think and how we ought to live. Within the life of the one true God, exists three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Within the Holy Trinity, there exists perfect love, absolute holiness, united harmony, and constant respect. 

Just as God is holy, we are to be holy.

Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly, place your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Don’t be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant. But, as obedient children, you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy. It is written, You will be holy, because I am holy. (1 Peter 1:13-16, CEB)

Just as God is love, so we are to love one another.

Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God…. This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we could have life through him. This is what real love is: It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us. He sent his Son to die in our place to take away our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us that much, we also should love each other. (1 John 4:7-11, NCV)

Just as Jesus is a humble servant, so we are to practice humble service in all relationships.

Everyone must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love each other, have compassion, and be humble. Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you, or ridicule those who ridicule you. Instead, bless them, because you were called to inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9, GW)

Humility is vital to Christian existence, and not optional. There is no place in the believer’s life for pride, posturing, and power-broking. Instead, we are to take the posture of lowliness, using any kind of influence for the benefit and encouragement of others – just like Jesus did while on this earth. 

In a world pre-occupied with power and control, safety and security, influence and throwing its weight around, there is Jesus. Christ did the opposite of engaging in upward mobility; he practiced downward mobility. In doing so Jesus Christ descended into greatness as Lord and Savior.

To have the mind and attitude of Christ happens through emulating our Lord’s example of humility. Jesus is God. Yet, despite that reality, the pre-incarnate Christ did not sit in heaven as the second person of the Trinity and hold onto his lofty position with tight fists. 

Jesus came to this earth with a humble willingness to open his hands and relinquish his rights and privileges as God. Christ divested himself of all his privilege. He became a slave. Jesus gladly emptied himself and held nothing back. Christ completely gave himself up for us.

Jesus became one of us, yet never ceased being the Lord of all. It’s just that he willingly put his kingly robe in the closet and put on Dickies and work boots. Jesus came among us and purposely limited himself to identify with us fully – and secured for us the greatest generosity imaginable: an answer to the problem of guilt and shame through forgiveness of sins.

Jesus became a servant, a bond-slave. Christ completely tied himself to us, not coming to this earth seeking to be served, but serving and giving his life as a ransom for many. 

What’s more, Christ kept going lower and lower to the point of descending to the greatest humiliation and shame of all – death on a cross. The King of the universe was killed by sinful humanity so that he might redeem and save those very same people from their terrible plight of bondage to the power of sin.

Therefore, we are to be humble, embracing the lowly status of being slaves to God and to one another. The Philippian church had a real problem with pride. Hear the exhortations given to the Philippian church so that they would practice humility in all their relationships: 

  • Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27, NRSV)
  • Don’t be jealous or proud but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3, CEV)
  • You must continue to live in a way that gives meaning to your salvation. (Philippians 2:12, ERV)
  • Do all things without murmuring and arguing. (Philippians 2:14, NRSV)
  • Brothers and sisters, imitate me, and pay attention to those who live by the example we have given you. (Philippians 3:17, GW)
  • Do not be anxious [tight-fisted control] about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving [open-handed humility] present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6, NIV)

As a result of Christ’s humble obedience to the Father, he was exalted from the lowest place to the highest place. King Jesus is on the throne, above everyone and everything. Because of his descent to this earth, he ascended in glory and honor. We now see God in a new way, through Jesus – and it causes us to bend the knee and confess with the tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the ancient Roman world, Jesus as Lord was subversive language. Because if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not, and ultimate allegiance does not belong to the Empire. And it is no different in our day. The issue of who we pledge our fealty to, still pertains to us. If Jesus is Lord, no earthly politician or religious figure is owed lordship status.

To follow Jesus, one must practice downward mobility and embrace humility.

Bowing the knee to Christ becomes second nature whenever we give our unflagging allegiance to him. We accept that we are the creatures and God is the Creator, that God is God, and we are not.

As we enter Holy Week, hear the prophet Isaiah’s words of humiliation and exaltation:

Just watch my servant blossom!
    Exalted, tall, head and shoulders above the crowd!
But he didn’t begin that way.
    At first everyone was appalled.
He didn’t even look human—
    a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.
Nations all over the world will be in awe, taken aback,
    kings shocked into silence when they see him.
For what was unheard of they’ll see with their own eyes,
    what was unthinkable they’ll have right before them.

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
    Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
    a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
    We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
    that God was punishing him for his own failures.

But it was our sins that did that to him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
    We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
    on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
    but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
    and like a sheep being sheared,
    he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
    and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
    beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
    threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
    or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
    to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
    so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
    And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
    he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
    will make many “righteous ones,”
    as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
    the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
    because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
    he took up the cause of all the black sheep. (Isaiah 52:13-53:12, MSG)

Lord Jesus, Son of God, you walked the earth with humility, despite being Lord of all. Your meekness confused the proud and arrogant. Your nobly attended to the needy and destitute. Teach me to model my life after you, to live with a humble spirit. Help us to never view ourselves as greater or better than others. Let our hearts always imitate your humility. Amen.

Numbers 27:12-23 – Humble Leadership

Moses Blesses Joshua by Marc Chagall, 1966

One day the Lord said to Moses, “Climb one of the mountains east of the river and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. After you have seen it, you will die like your brother, Aaron, for you both rebelled against my instructions in the wilderness of Zin. When the people of Israel rebelled, you failed to demonstrate my holiness to them at the waters.” (These are the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

The Lord replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people. Transfer some of your authority to him so the whole community of Israel will obey him. When direction from the Lord is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will use the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord—to determine his will. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will determine everything they should do.”

So, Moses did as the Lord commanded. He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people, just as the Lord had commanded through Moses. (New Living Translation)

Moses was one of the most humble persons who ever lived on this earth (Numbers 12:3). Whereas many people are concerned for their legacy at end of life, Moses, instead, had a deep pastoral concern for his fellow Israelites. He didn’t want them without a capable and godly leader. So, in his humility, Moses was willing to obey God, let go of power, and share his authority so that the people would be well-cared for.

“All streams flow to the ocean because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.”

Lao Tzu (Chinese philosopher, 6th century B.C.E.)

I believe humility is the queen of all virtue, especially that of leadership. Yet, humility is one of the hardest virtues to practice because it requires that we willingly put aside pride, ego, and personal agendas in order to embrace God’s agenda.

Rather than having large statues erected to honor us and our proud accomplishments, or having our names plastered on buildings (and churches!) to recognize our wonderful charity, we really need to orient our energies toward passing the baton to trustworthy people who are capable of faithfully fulfilling the role of servant leader. (2 Timothy 2:2)

Being poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), becoming like a little child (Matthew 18:3), and thinking of others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) are the cornerstones to becoming open to what God has for us. To be a humble leader means to steadfastly seek God’s will and way in everything. Then, to have the courage in leading others toward God’s direction, despite resistance and opposition from those who want to follow a different path.

Therefore, a leader’s task is to be consumed with seeking God’s direction rather than living purely according to instinct, pragmatic desire, or personal views. We continually need a radical openness to God. So, we must work to develop an ever-deepening awareness of where God is leading us. 

God, in divine mercy, is always up to something good. The Lord has plans for us and for the people we lead.  It’s humility that allows us to listen well to God’s Spirit and gain the direction needed for leadership.

Yet, being open to God is not quite as easy as it sounds. We must recognize that not everyone is open to God.  There are those, maybe even including us, who may be closed to God. 

If our focus is more on creating safety and security or trying to do enough good deeds to be recognized by God and others, or having our institution be what we want it to be, then we have become closed to what God wants.  This comes out in a couple of different ways….

  1. Maintaining tradition, at all costs. Whenever we do everything the way we have always done it, to make us feel safe and secure, then anything that threatens that security angers us. This is where folks practice either fight or flight – they wage either a holy war or just leave. Living with uncertainty and ambiguity is too much for them. But faith is what it takes if we are going to follow God. Like Abraham in the Old Testament, we are called to move and change without always knowing the destination.
  • Getting rid of traditions, at all costs. Sometimes folks who want new or different, desire to create a place of their own making to serve them and their needs. They aren’t really focused on what God is calling them to do. Rather, like Timothy in the New Testament, we are to hold onto the great deposit of doctrine and heritage given to us and not always be looking for the next new thing to turn things around.

So, what to do? Have the humility to ask the question continually and constantly: “What is God’s will?”  We need leadership that is incredibly open to God, allowing decision-making to come from a position of faith, and not fear. This enables us….

  • To let God, flow in and through us, rather than willfully insisting it should be our way or the highway.
  • To practice hope and love, rather than relying on our own strength and desires.
  • To make prayer and discernment the foundation of what we do, always seeking what God wants and then leading others in that direction by inviting them to the same kind of prayerful process.
  • To read our Bibles as if our lives depended on it and pray like there is no tomorrow.

If we have humility and a deep openness to God; a conviction that we are primarily called to follow Jesus Christ; a willingness to let God’s power flow through us; and, a determined readiness to move people lovingly and graciously in God’s direction, then amazing things can happen. 

Let our prayer together be this: I am yours, God, no matter where you call me to go, what you call me to do, and how you call me to be. I will seek your will and way as I lead others to do the same. Amen.