Welcome, friends! May you discover fresh hope and encouragement today. Click the video below as we meet virtually and in spirit with one another.
I pray that your experience of God will become full, sustained, and fresh through this dry season of Lent and of the world’s predicament. Click “Come Alive” (Dry Bones) sung by Lauren Daigle and speak to the dry bones in your valley. Grace to you now and always. Amen.
I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He [God] asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” –Ezekiel 37:2-3
Folks around the world are quickly developing a new common language, becoming familiar with and using terms like social distancing, quarantine, shelter at home, and abundance of caution. Our collective situation may easily create anxiety, and, so, parch our souls and leave our spirits dry.
There is, however, a God who can breathe new life into us and move us to renewed ways of thought and emotion. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel’s vision is a promise and a hope of resurrection, of revival. No matter what our situation or who we are, we are all a displaced people – cast out of Eden and in need of restoration. We, along with the ancient Israelites for whom he addressed, are in exile and long to return to our true home with God. Along with St. Augustine we declare:
There are dry bones lying around – parched places in need of being reinvigorated. Maybe you are experiencing the dry bones of hopelessness and despondency. Maybe you are in a dark night of the soul where all of life seems like one shadowy oblivious hole. Maybe you are wondering if God is really listening or is there at all because of the dry bones around you. One thing for sure: Everything is upside-down right now; it is different. At the first of the year, we didn’t see these current circumstances happening to us. And, yet, these difficult times have much to teach us.
Let me share with you a “dry bones” experience from my own life. Fifteen years-ago me and my family were in a car accident. I was traveling on a highway in rural Iowa, and a small car on a gravel road blew through the stop sign without even slowing down. There was nothing I could do. I plowed into the rear quarter panel of the oncoming car, and it literally spun like a top off the highway and came to a stop. Both the driver and his passenger were not injured.
Two of my three daughters were in the very back seat of our minivan (which I had just bought only a month before) with my wife and dog as front seat passengers. The minivan was totaled. My girls were not harmed. However, my wife tore her shoulder’s rotator cuff protecting the dog and had an agonizing surgery to repair it. My lower back was injured, yet, not in a way which surgery could repair it. To this day I live with a kind of constant low-level aggravation of my spine. Most days it’s not bad, maybe one or two on the pain scale. On a bad day, I can barely walk across the room and need a cane to get around.
I have played the scene of the accident in my mind hundreds of times. I have thought time and again about what I could have done to prevent it. Honestly, there was no way to avoid it. I thought about the fact that if we just would have left a minute earlier or a minute later from my parents’ house from where we were visiting, all would be fine. Yet, I know that kind of thinking is a fool’s errand. I have pondered every possible scenario in my head and have gotten nowhere.
It also took me awhile to forgive the young man who was driving the other car. He changed my life, and not in a good way. Although his insurance took care of everything and he was sorrowful about the incident, I was understandably angry for a long time. I did, over time, come to the point of forgiving him.
Through the years I have learned to live with the limitations imposed on me. I have now accepted the low-level aggravation of my back as part of my life. On occasion, I sometimes can’t help but think of how my life would be today if I hadn’t been in that stupid accident.
About five years ago I was doing my usual routine morning prayers. And God brought the accident to my mind. I said to God, “Lord, we’ve been through this accident hundreds of times together. I don’t want to think about it anymore. Why are you bringing this up now?”
I’m not sure I really wanted an answer, but God brought it up because he knew I was finally ready to get his perspective on the accident. Out of the hundreds of times I went over that accident in my mind, the one perspective I never took was that of the young man – the other driver. God invited me to take a distinct viewpoint from the other driver. So, I did. I know that intersection like the back of my hand, so it wasn’t a hard exercise.
I imagined putting myself in the driver’s seat of his car. I’m driving down the gravel road not paying attention to the fact that a stop sign is coming up. I blow through the sign onto the highway and right in front of a minivan who slams on the brakes just enough to crush the rear quarter panel. I spin out like a top and come to rest only a few feet from a huge Iowa grain elevator….
For the first time in my life I finally understood from a very different perspective. God had a divine appointment for me that day. You see, if I had not come along just when I did, that young man and his girlfriend would have blown through the stop sign and struck the grain elevator. The impact would have killed them both instantly.
Suddenly, my attitude changed 180 degrees. Previously, I had always thought about myself and my family. I always considered my hardship and my change of life. Now, I saw that God sent his servant to save two lives that day. Had I not struck the young man’s car, causing him to spin and come to a rest unharmed, two people would have died.
From that time forward, every time my back acts up and effects how my life is lived, I’m reminded that it is a very small price to pay for the lives of two human beings. God had me speak to the dry bones; and, the result was a revival of new thoughts and emotions. This was such a dramatic change of thought and heart for me that it felt like a resurrection.
The biblical meaning of “repentance” is literally to have a change of mind – to see a different perspective. The Bible invites us to view our lives with new lenses. Our hurts and our pains, our sorrows and our sufferings, our changes and our limitations, are all part of something much bigger that God is doing in the world. We are not always privy to his plans and purposes. And, yet, God’s Word challenges us to take a perspective of the world, of humanity, and of ourselves that is counter to how we often think and feel.
It is a very small thing, right now in the admonitions to stay at home, to remain where we are. Taking a mere one-sided view from my own perspective will bring frustration. To see it from another angle as a temporary inconvenience, even with some permanent effects, which will save lives is a divine viewpoint. To put it another way: We are speaking to dry bones.
We might think and feel that we will be able to pursue God better without danger or hardship – that somehow difficulty is not to be part of the Christian life. The dry bones exist, however, as an opportunity for God to give life. That’s why Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s reaction to his exile in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia was to bless it, because it was there that, he said:
“I discovered that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.”
God not only gives life; he restores life. And this is an important truth to know and remember in the inevitable dry times of our lives. God is not only a helper; he reanimates us from spiritual rigor mortis to lively resurrection through breathing on us. And he does this for a reason. Jesus came to his disciples after his resurrection and said, ‘“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:20-21). In other words, God resuscitates us for a purpose, so that we might be a blessing to the world. Faith is not only a possession to keep, but a gift to give. We glorify God in loving one another and loving the world as Jesus did. God could have resurrected the bones without Ezekiel’s being a part of it. Instead, the LORD used Ezekiel and had him participate in the revival by speaking to the bones.
Such a challenge to speak to the dry bones may seem overwhelming to us. What do you do when your life is upended, even shattered – when such a profound change comes to you that it is impossible for your life to be as it was? The questions and commands of God seemed totally absurd to Ezekiel, speaking to dead dry bones. Maybe we ought to operate more in the realm of the absurd than in the realm of the safe routine. Maybe we ought to expect our faith to be exercised and look for God to breathe new life into the dead and decaying. To believe that something, someone, or even myself can change is to have internalized this amazing story of dry bones living again.
Our self-imposed graves cannot hold us because God is among us. What we need more than anything in this world and in the church is a genuine heaven-sent, Spirit-breathed, glorious reanimation in which God sends his grace and raises the dead.
“One day, some of Israel’s leaders came to me and asked for a message from the LORD. While they were there, the LORD said: Ezekiel, son of man, these men have started worshiping idols, though they know it will cause them to sin even more. So I refuse to give them a message!”
Just because someone asks or inquires what the Bible says, does not necessarily mean that person intends on living according to it. It just might be that the opposite is true. We can, of course, see and sniff out hypocrisy in others, but might be blind to it in our own lives. Whenever we go to church and sit under the preaching of God’s Word but have no intention of really doing anything but getting spiritual brownie points through attendance, we must locate ourselves along with the hypocritical men who came to Ezekiel.
Listening to God’s Word, reading it on a daily basis, and even talking about it really means nothing unless we take a humble posture of intending to do what it says. So, what are the idols in our lives? What things hinder us from doing what the Bible says to do? What will we do about it? God is looking for repentance and faith in Jesus, and not us keeping up appearances to righteousness.
Holy God, you desire a penitent heart, sincere faith, and an obedient life. May it be so in my life to the glory of Jesus through the energy of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a kid my brother and I watched All-Star Wrestling 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 would always end the match. Rufus’ move was the head-butt. Slamming his hard forehead into the head of his opponent always brought raucous behavior from us. We would act out the head-butt scene over and over, always a bit fearful of smacking each other’s heads. The hardest head always won.
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 Jews to turn their hearts and minds back to true worship and a real humble relationship with their God. The prospect of facing such a task, such an opponent, seemed daunting to Ezekiel. So, the Lord assured him: “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them… Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”
Ezekiel was told by God to pull-out the signature wrestling move and do the lights-out head-butt maneuver. The promise Ezekiel possessed was that God was going to give him the harder head – there was no way he was going to lose the match. Like Ezekiel, we are to speak the Word of God with the promise that we will not lose. Prideful ungodly stubbornness will get us knocked-out, but godly, gracious, and bold stubbornness which determines to do the will of God shall always win the day.
Almighty God, you give strength to those in the wrestling matches of life. Embolden my witness for you so that I will speak and act boldly in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ezekiel is one of those Old Testament prophets that thoroughly uncovered the true state of the heart. Through a series of visions given to Ezekiel for the Israelite exiles, one of the main messages of the prophet is that God would give them a new heart. “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
The human heart is fallen, often dark with evil shadows of pride and selfishness. At best, the heart apart from God contains a miniscule vestige of its ancient Creator’s image; at worst, the heart is desperately wicked and on a highway to hell. The issue, then, is whether the heart only needs to be modified, or whether we need a complete heart transplant. The prophet makes it quite clear which option must be done.
Jesus Christ sacrificed himself on the cross so that we could be transformed into new people. He did not come to tweek a few things in your life and improve it – he came to change and transform your heart. If all we needed was a motivational speaker who would inspire our hearts to live better and reach our personal goals, then we would have not needed an incarnation, a crucifixion, a resurrection, and ascension. Jesus is the risen Lord and Savior who replaces our hard stubborn hearts with a soft new heart of flesh. We need transformation of life, not life modification.
Awesome God, you have graciously and surgically removed my old heart bound for destruction and replaced it with a new heart oriented toward living and loving like the Lord Jesus. May my heart always be inclined to the doing of your will, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our view of God determines our view of life. A small view of God limits our lives in what we can be and do. Seeing God as little more than wishing for people’s obedience through paltry sacrificial oblations only makes one wonder if God is really able to do much in this world. But if we have a very large view of God, then there is nothing he cannot do or accomplish in his great big world. So huge is God that the earth is merely his footstool.
The prophet Ezekiel was given a very grand, majestic, and large vision of God in his majesty and royalty. The glimpse of God which Ezekiel received was so immense that the prophet struggled to put it into words. Indeed, God is so huge that he cannot be contained or even described by mere words or language. Now this is the kind of God which Christians serve: a God so colossal that, like the prophet, it causes us to fall prostrate in the face of such enormous glory and holiness. Although we must seem very small in God’s eyes, yet he still notices us. “Stand on your feet, and I will speak with you,” said God to Ezekiel.
Unless we have a staggering and realistic sense of God’s towering massiveness we will wallow in life’s vicissitudes as if they are giants we cannot overcome. It was Jesus who said that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed in such a God to command mountains to move, and they will obey. It is not the size of our belief that matters, but where that faith is located. And if it placed rightly, in the gargantuan God of the entire universe, then we can ask anything in his Name and it shall be done.
Holy God, you are grand and worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. Who am I that you should notice me? Yet, you have called me and spoken to me. I only want to be found full of faith and obedience each and every day you give to me through the power of your Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
If anyone ever tells you they are certain about everything in the book of Ezekiel, don’t believe them. This chapter and initial vision of God seen by Ezekiel is an incredible view. It almost defies description. In fact, it does. It is as if Ezekiel was trying to somehow communicate with the limitation of words exactly what he saw.
But even though we might not understand or comprehend everything in this vision does not mean we can lose sight of the big picture of what was happening. Ezekiel got a glimpse of God in his glory, which would explain why it is such a mysterious vision. Reading over the vision slowly, one can gain the sense of immensity, hugeness, grandeur, and awesome glory. The Hebrew word “glory” literally means “heavy.” In other words, God is so large, bright, and holy that he carries a great deal of weight. As we used to say back in the ‘70’s: “Heavy, man, heavy!”
This was much more than just a neat experience for Ezekiel. It completely had him undone. Ezekiel fell on his face because that is about all one can do when encountering such an incredible appearance. Sneaking a peek of God in his glorious splendor is an awesome sight. So, when God speaks from the place of his glory, there is nothing to do but listen and obey.
Meeting God, this same God whom Ezekiel encountered, is no small thing. When we truly catch a glimpse of this holy God, it will forever change us – and this is a good thing. If we want to hear the call of God upon our lives we need to see God’s glory, otherwise we can too quickly forget him and neglect doing what he says. May the Lord be gracious in allowing you a glance into his throne room – and may you never be the same again because of it.
Glorious God, you carry such great weight that all creation bows to your every word and each move. I bow before you, and I will stand up so that I might hear what you have to say to me. Speak, Lord, for I am listening to you. Amen.