Even as we worship idols, God stands beside us


 By Ken Turner

March 1
A New Spirit
To show that God promises to give fresh start by providing a new heart and spirit when we make mistakes.
Bible Lesson: Ezekiel 11:14-21
Key Verse: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them.” — Ezekiel 11:19

Have you ever felt “too far gone?” Perhaps you’ve been aware of a situation or a problem that, seemingly, had gotten so far out of hand that a positive result just seemed to be too much for which to hope. Do you have a friend or loved one whose life choices appear to have put him or her in a place where there’s no turning back?

In two separate eras, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon subdued Judah and took thousands of Jews away in captivity. Imagine being uprooted from your home, perhaps separated from your family, and taken to a foreign land to serve as a slave. And then consider that this upheaval is a result of your poor choices and disobedience to God. Things would seem pretty bleak, wouldn’t they? But even though the Jewish people had been carted off to a foreign country, God wanted them to know He had not abandoned them, so He spoke to the Jews through His prophet Ezekiel. Many times in the Book of Ezekiel we see that the Lord speaks to Ezekiel and directs him to deliver the Lord’s message to his displaced flock.

In the Bible verses for today’s lesson, God instructs Ezekiel to tell His people that He will gather them from the foreign countries where they’ve been scattered and will give them back the land of Israel again. However, when they return to their homeland, they are not to return to their old bad habits, such as worshiping idols. They are instructed to follow God’s decrees and keep His laws. God promises to “remove their heart of stone” and to “put a new spirit in them” to enable them to make the changes they need to make in their lives and then makes the wonderful promise that “(t)hey will be my people, and I will be their God.”

It’s unlikely in this day and age that you or I will literally become involved in idol worship or ever be physically carried away to a foreign land to serve as slaves; however, there are other forms of slavery and idolatry. Has substance abuse, workaholism; materialism or some other idol left you feeling estranged from God? You may feel far away from God, but He’s actually right beside you. Ask Him to remove your heart of stone and put His Holy Spirit in you.

March 8
New Leadership
To show that God will provide new servant-leaders who care tenderly for their flock.
Bible Lesson: Ezekiel 34:23-31
Key Verse: “You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the sovereign Lord.” — Ezekiel 34:31

You may recall the old hymn Showers of Blessing:

“There shall be showers of blessing:
“This is the promise of love;
“There shall be seasons refreshing,
“Sent from the Savior above.”

The words to this hymn were written by Daniel W. Whittle, who lost his right arm in the Civil War and also spent time in a prisoner of war camp. It was there that Whittle found a New Testament and came to know Christ personally. After the war, Whittle moved to Chicago and later became a part of a team of musical evangelists who worked with Dwight L. Moody.

James McGranahan had been on his way to a promising career in opera when his friend Phillip Bliss, a member of Whittle’s evangelism team, wrote to him urging him to use his voice for the Lord rather than pursuing his operatic career. Shortly after receiving Bliss’ letter, McGranahan received the terrible news that his friend had died in a train wreck. He went to the site of the wreck to identify the body and help recover Bliss’ belongings, and it was there that he met Daniel Whittle. On the ride home from that tragic scene, McGranahan gave his talents to the Lord and began to serve as a singing evangelist on “Major Whittle’s” evangelism team. It was McGranahan who penned the melody to Showers of Blessing.

Our God is an amazing God and can bring forth showers of blessing out of the most unusual or darkest of circumstances. Having been displaced from their homeland and forced to labor as slaves, the Hebrews’ future must have seemed quite bleak. However, speaking through Ezekiel, God promised His people in exile in Babylon that a new day was coming when He would free them from their captivity. “I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.” (vs. 26) Further, He promised to place over them one Shepherd and to make a covenant of peace with them. As we know, when God makes a promise, He keeps it. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be that Shepherd and made a new covenant with us all that whoever accepts Christ as Savior will have eternal life with God.

March 15
God’s People Restored Again
To show that God’s promise to restore Israel is not motivated by Israel itself, but rather for the sake of God’s holy name.
Bible Lesson: Ezekiel 36:22-32
Key Verse: “Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” — Ezekiel 36:23

Does God treat you better than you deserve? If salvation were “works-based,” would there be any cause for alarm? Sometimes when things are going our way, do we have an “attitude of gratitude,” or are we like the boy of whom it was said, “He was born on third base and acts like he hit a triple?”

In today’s lesson, we see that God’s promises of redemption to the people of Israel were not the result of anything they had done to deserve them. To the contrary, God says: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. (vs. 22). Even though they had been disobedient, God tells His people, through Ezekiel, that He is going to cleanse them from their impurities, remove their heart of stone and put His Spirit in them, allow them to live in the land He gave their forefathers, and make their crops plentiful. “Then, you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel. (vs. 31-32).

Notice two things: First, God didn’t wait for the people of Israel to “do better” before He helped them. He told them about all the blessings they would receive on the front end. Once they had received these blessings, only then would the people realize how far they had strayed and be ashamed of their behavior. Our God is a real practitioner of prevenient grace. He doesn’t wait to bless us until we’ve somehow earned it. He is the father of the prodigal son who runs to meet us and wrap his arms around us.

Second, God is not mocked. (Gal. 6:7). He expects us to repent of our sins, i.e., change directions and walk in His way rather than cling to our sinful behavior.

Think about how good God is to us. He doesn’t hold back, does He? In fact, He loves you and me so much that He even sent His only begotten Son to take on our sins and bear them on the cross for us. We could never begin to “earn” that unspeakable gift, and we’re not expected to. But shouldn’t each of us strive to say “thank You” by doing our best to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? And while we’re at it, why don’t we try to love our neighbor?

March 22
Prophesying New Life
To show how God enlivens people and fills them with the breath of life and hope.
Bible Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Key Verse: “I will … put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. “— Ezekiel 37:6

Ezekiel was a man of vision. In fact, he was a man of many visions. The Book of Ezekiel is a colorful prophecy, and one of the most memorable images of Ezekiel is the valley of the dry bones. The bones represented Israel, with no hope. God breathed life into the bones to show Ezekiel that there was hope for Israel and that they would one day return to their land. Do you recognize that story? You might recall it from the old spiritual:

“Dem bones, Dem bones, Dem dry bones,
“Dem bones, Dem bones, Dem dry bones,
“Dem bones, Dem bones, Dem dry bones,
“Now hear the word of the Lord.”

Ezekiel was a prophet to whom God showed some pretty spectacular things, and Ezekiel was trying to describe his visions of heavenly things in human terms. In the end, we’ll all have to wait until we see God to really understand what Ezekiel saw. As to the valley of the dry bones, however, it’s hard to conceive of an image which could more powerfully portray total, final, stone-cold death. The end. Except, not the end because God is a God of the impossible. God can breathe life into a person, or a situation, which is far beyond man’s ability to save. And that’s the message Ezekiel brings to the people of Israel and to us. Israel thought its bones were dried up and all hope was lost. But with God, there is always hope. Just as God breathed life into the dry bones, He can breathe eternal life into all who come to Him.

Here’s another hymn you may remember:

“Breathe on me, breath of God,
“Fill me with life anew,
“That I may love what Thou dost love,
“And do what Thou wouldst do.

“Breathe on me, breath of God,
“Until my heart is pure,
“Until with Thee I will one will,
“To do and to endure.

“Breathe on me, breath of God,
“Blend all my soul with Thine,
“Until this earthly part of me
“Glows with Thy fire divine.

“Breathe on me, breath of God,
“So shall I never die,
“But live with Thee the perfect life
“Of Thine eternity.”

How would you describe your life currently? Dry bones? No backbone? Into the flesh? Full of hot air? Why not ask God to breathe His breath of life into you? It’s the perfect cure for what ails you! 

March 29
Envisioning New Life
To show that a sacred river flows freely from God’s throne, sustaining life.
Bible Lesson: Ezekiel 47:1-12
Key Verse: “… so where the river flows everything will live.” — Ezekiel 47:9

We all know that water is essential to life. Crops need water in order to grow. Humans and animals need water to survive. Without water, living things just wouldn’t last long.

In today’s lesson, Ezekiel describes a vision wherein he sees water flowing from a temple. As he is led eastward, the water becomes deeper and deeper until he comes to the banks of a river with many trees on either side. He is told that many fish will inhabit the river and trees of all kinds will grow alongside the river whose fruits will serve for food and whose leaves will serve for healing. This vision evokes a sense of life, vitality and peace.

How many stories from the Bible can you recall in which water plays a major role? There’s Noah’s ark and the great flood, of course. The parting of the waters as the Hebrew people cross over to the Promised Land, the healing of Naaman’s leprosy upon washing in the Jordan River seven times, John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, the turning of water into wine by Jesus, Peter stepping out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus, and many, many others. Perhaps one of the most powerful images of water comes from Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well when Jesus tells her that whoever drinks the water that He gives them will never thirst, but that water which Jesus gives will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14). Our bodies need water to sustain our earthly life; but infinitely more importantly, our spirits need the water Jesus speaks of in order for us to have eternal life.

Back to the image in Ezekiel: Picture the spiritual life as a river that keeps getting deeper and deeper. Are you “testing the waters?” Ankle deep? Up to your waist? Unlike earthly water, there’s no danger in getting deeper and deeper in the water of which Jesus spoke. In fact, our eternal life depends on it!

Turner is an attorney in Jackson. He is a member of Christ United Methodist Church.