Tuesday, March 13, 2012

River of Life

The book of Ezekiel has always been challenging for me to read.  Such unusual and heavy prophetic visions are sometimes hard for me to comprehend.  Then I got to the parts where Ezekiel is taken into the temple.  He witnesses the Spirit of God filling the temple (chapter 43).  Then, in chapter 47, he witnesses water beginning to emerge from the temple doors. Some clarity begins to emerge.

This water begins as a trickle and builds and builds and builds until it is a river so wide and fast that it cannot be crossed.  This water represents the Holy Spirit and I find a couple of interesting things in these first twelve verses.

First, that there are "dead" places in our lives for which the Spirit has no use.
But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt.  (Ezekiel 47:11 ESV)
The Spirit does not freshen these areas with His life-giving flow.  They are "left for salt".  I can look back at the past and see the swamps and marshes of my life that I need to leave for salt.  Sure, I can learn from these times, and that's a good thing.  But re-living them, no.  Re-hashing them, no.  Relying on them as a blanket of identity, no.  To be sure, there is a lot of life in a swamp, but do I want to live in a swamp with the snakes and the alligators?  It's time to drain the swamps of the past and entrust those places to the Healer.

In contrast, nearby the marshes and swamps, are trees bearing wonderful fruit in every season for nourishment and healing.
And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.  (Ezekiel 47:12 ESV)
Life-giving and healing from the Spirit is all around us -- if we are in the flow, which brings me to the second revelation.

Notice how the flow of this water (the Holy Spirit), which emerges from the Sanctuary (the throne of God), builds and builds until it is so deep, so wide and so swift that a man cannot cross to the other side.  Read how Ezekiel's vision describes it.
Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. "Son of man, have you seen this?" (Ezekiel 47:2-6 ESV)
This flow is strong and pervasive. At it's best for me, it is irresistable. My tendency is to want to be in the flow, but only ankle deep, or only knee deep.  If I get out into the deep where the water has risen above my head, where my feet won't touch the bottom any more and I begin to be swept away, I am no longer in control, but the Spirit.

But THERE is precisely where I need to be.  "Yes Lord, I have seen this!"

Monday, March 05, 2012

Campfire

Imagine yourself in a calm and comfortable place, enjoying a relaxing time.  For some people, this might be in their living room, for others, on the beach, still others, walking down a trail in the woods.  Fishing, hunting, skiing.  Whatever.  For me, one such image is sitting around a campfire.  Campfires are primal, calming, warming, and a place of gathering.

Now take that comfortable place and add three people.  The perfect parent, the perfect sibling, and the perfect spouse.  None of use have had perfect parents, or perfect siblings, or the perfect spouse, but imagine that these are the three people who are with you.  These people don't represent the real people in your life, but the perfection of the trinity and the aspects of family relationships that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can represent.

Have a conversation with them.  Listen to their counsel.  Ask questions, get answers, express doubts, get angry if you need to.  Just talk to them, but most importantly, listen.

Welcome to prayer.

Cacophony of Worship

I must admit that I had fallen victim to the "worship wars" of years past, at least a little.  I had lots of ideas about perfecting the "worship experience", how to have just the right mix of song styles, and the all-important preaching style. Well, thankfully, lots of learning has happened since those days.  Quite honestly, I really don't care a whole lot about those issues any more.  I am just as comfortable in a loud and boisterous song service as I am in a reverent and liturgical one.  The audience is the same One, or should be.

Within the past couple of years, I remember sitting in a Sunday morning service with a headache wondering why THE MUSIC HAD TO BE SO LOUD!  After the obvious thoughts about my advancing age and how I had become my father, I remembered passages in the Old Testament about how the children of Israel worshiped with abandon, with harp, lyre, trumpet and tambourine, and dancing, oh the dancing!  (Wait, that can't be right, dancing?)

So that Sunday, with my head aching, it was spoken into my spirit that it was all a sweet aroma of praise to God.  This refers to the smoke from the burnt offerings in the Tabernacle which is spoken of in many places in Exodus and Leviticus.
...It is a burnt offering to the LORD; it is a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD. (Exodus 29:18b ESV)
There were many different types of burnt offerings that God proscribed and yet, in each case, they were described as a "sweet aroma" to Him.  I began to understand what He meant for me to "hear" that day.  The dissonant sounds of disparate song, liturgy and teaching styles seem odd to us, but
[A]s the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-10 ESV)
To God, it all blends together, he sees and hears it all and revels in the worship no matter the style, the language, or the volume.  If the heart of worship is pure, it is a sweet aroma to Him.