Ezekiel 43-48 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: “You must be holy because I am holy.”

“And the glory of the Lord came into the Temple through the east gateway…and the glory of the Lord filled the Temple.” (43:1-5)  What a moment in the life of Ezekiel!  How he had grieved when his earlier vision revealed that the glory of the Lord had left the Temple (11:23).  But now after years in exile, a new vision, a new future for Israel was foretold to him, and the plans for a new Temple were given to him.  Many believe this Temple revelation was two-fold:  a Temple for the returning Babylonian exiles and a Temple for the Millennial Jews.  Regardless, it was envisioned as a beautiful Temple filled with the glorious presence of God. 

@ Ezekiel 46
Six chapters today filled with Ezekiel’s vision of the return of the glorious presence of the Lord to the temple, but I’m focused on the kitchens.  “The Temple Kitchens -In my vision, the man brought me through the entrance beside the gateway and led me to the sacred rooms assigned to the priests, ‘This is where the priests will cook the meat from the guilt offerings and sin offerings and bake the flour from the grain offerings into bread’…Then he brought me back to the outer courtyard and led me to each of its four corners. ‘These are the kitchens to be used by the Temple assistants to boil the sacrifices offered by the people.’” (19-24)

While reading about the sacrifices in Leviticus, I must admit I’ve often wondered about all the food prep and where it took place.  I mean, really, daily sacrifices for several million people involving butchering, seasoning and boiling meat as well as bread baking with whole grains and olive oil – there had to be a place where the food prep took place!  We know from these verses that spacious areas were provided for this in the new Temple.

More importantly, these verses in Ezekiel 46 include a very intriguing passage.  The Priests had sacred kitchens where they cooked and baked, “They will do it here to avoid carrying the sacrifices through the outer courtyard and endangering the people by transmitting holiness to them.” (20)  Would transmitting holiness be a bad thing?  Apparently so.

Everything inside the Temple – furniture, sacrifices, priests – was holy.  “And this is the basic law of the Temple:  absolute holiness!” (43:12)  With sin in their lives, Israelites in the outer court would be endangered by a Holy sacrifice carried past them by the priests. Thus the special kitchens in the priests’ quarters were provided.  This reminds me of the scene in the Indiana Jones movie when the ark was opened by the evil Nazi and the only ones spared from the consuming fire of God’s holiness as it was portrayed were those with pure motives.  The Israelites may even have been so bold as to think that just being in the presence of the sacrifice would make them holy, a false assumption to be sure.  Therefore, for the safety of everyone, only priests who had been purified and made holy would be allowed in the presence of the atonement sacrifice.

We may consider all the legalese of Ezekiel somewhat irrelevant, but the truth in it is more current than we would imagine.  God’s basic law is still absolute holiness in we His temple, “Now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)  In our Communion service, when we remember Jesus, the sacrifice for our sins, we would do well to purify our hearts as did the priests, “For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.  But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way.”(I Corinthians 11:27-31)

Communion isn’t a moment of careless observance with a hope of becoming holy through it.  It first requires careful examination of our hearts to be certain that we partake with pure motives and pure hearts, holy before the Lord, and then our souls will not be in danger.  A perfect end to the Book of Ezekiel – a call to absolute holiness!

Moving Forward: My prayer for a holy nation must first begin with me, examining my life, purifying my temple and experiencing His Holiness.

Tomorrow @ John 1-2

Ezekiel 37-42 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He longs to resurrect and restore all that is dry and dead.

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…Now hear the word of the Lord,” says the old spiritual taken from Ezekiel 37 that was used in the past to teach children about anatomy. “Toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the leg bone,” and on it goes. 

@Ezekiel 37
Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones was spectacular and breath-taking as the Lord said to him, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!’… Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons.” (4-7)  Can you imagine?  I envision a few sheep now and then, but this is way beyond my pay grade.

The Jewish exiles were discouraged about their predicament and rightly so.  They had lost their nation and their glorious temple of worship and found themselves living far from home in Babylon, but God sat poised and ready to restore them, “I am ready to hear Israel’s prayers and to increase their numbers like a flock.” (36:37)  After all that God had endured through their sinfulness and rejection of Him, He was waiting for them to pray, to call on Him once again, and then He would restore all that they had lost.

“The bones that covered the valley floor…were scattered everywhere across the ground.”(2) The bones were exposed, not buried, for all of heaven to see – He had not forgotten them. This is the nature of our God.  He waits for individuals, for churches, for nations to pray, to repent, and then He resurrects and restores that which seemed dry and dead and brings life once again.

The prophet joined God’s resurrection process when he spoke the prophetic message.  When we are focused on anything in our lives that resembles those old dry bones, whether it is our nation, our church or our loved ones and friends, we are challenged to participate in the resurrection.  We can pray!  And when we pray, should the Lord reveal a prophetic word to us, we can speak!

Israel has experienced a commotion and shaking ever since those days in exile.  Those bones have come together, the nation has returned to its homeland in part, and we pray and wait with them for that breath of the Spirit. “Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again,” (9) and give new spiritual life to them as believers in Jesus Christ, their Messiah.

Likewise, we shouldn’t be surprised if there is a commotion, a rattling if you will, when we pray because God may choose to shake things up a little to bring about resurrection in our situation.  If we are discouraged with the condition of our nation, with the dryness and lack of life in our church or with our loved ones who seem so dead to the things of God, remember that He sees those dry bones exposed before Him.  He will respond to our call for the Spirit to come and breathe life into them so they may live again.  This is the nature of our God.  “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…Now hear the word of the Lord!” 

Moving Forward: Thinking about our nation today, I will put aside discouragement and continue to pray for the Spirit to breathe life into us once again! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 23-24

Ezekiel 31-36(NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is the Shepherd who never fails us, never leaves us

@ Ezekiel 34
Shepherds and sheep – right up my alley!  While writing the devotional book, Intimate Moments with the Shepherd, I had the joy of visiting sheep farms where I met dozens of shepherds and hundreds of sheep.  I’m sure the shepherds enjoyed watching this city girl navigate the pastures and sheepfolds while learning about the nature of sheep.  My advice for anyone pursuing an adventure like this is to wear sturdy boots, enough said.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?…You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal.” (1-5)  Ezekiel revealed this prophecy to the kings, prophets and priests of Israel, the shepherds of Israel, who with their selfish, cruel behavior had neglected and abandoned the children of Israel.

We’ve followed the sinful acts of Israel’s leadership over the past several weeks recorded in Ezekiel, Leviticus and 1 and 2 Kings.  The common thread throughout the accounts of each evil leader was disobedience to God while following their own selfish desires to be powerful, prosperous and popular.  Whether in the church world or the secular world today, the pursuit of these same three selfish desires will cause a leader to neglect and abandon those being led.  The sheep become weak, lost and scattered, no longer the strong flock they once were and because of this, sorrow awaited the shepherds.

Thankfully, the shepherds I met on my journeys were not at all like those described in Chapter 34.  Their eyes sparkled as they talked about their pride and joy and as they shared the heritage of each sheep, their parents, siblings and offspring.  The shepherds knew them so well that many of the sheep were named according to their personalities.  They knew what grasses and grains each sheep enjoyed the most and recalled the injuries and diseases certain sheep had experienced.  They would never call their sheep dumb but agreed that they indeed were willful at times…hmmm.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock… I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again… I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak… And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David [Jesus]. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them.” (11-16,23)   And He did just that!  He sent His Son, Jesus, the Shepherd of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd of John 10, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” (14-15)  He is the selfless Shepherd who sacrificed His life, the faithful Shepherd who will never leave us or forsake us, and He is the intimate Shepherd who knows us by name. 

Moving Forward: Standing firm today on the care and guidance of the Good Shepherd.  I know Him, and He knows me! 

Tomorrow @ Luke 21-22

Ezekiel 25-30 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He longs for repentance that stops the hand of judgment

Revenge – how sweet it is!  At least that seems to be a prevailing attitude in our culture.  Many have adopted the idiom, “Don’t get mad, get even.”  My husband tells a joke that is appropriate here – A 16-year old boy arrives home driving a brand new truck. The father shouts, “Where did you get that truck?  You don’t have any money.”  The boy replies, “I bought it from a lady down the street for $15!”  Well, this alarmed the father. What kind of woman would sell this truck for $15? She must have an ulterior motive.

The father rushed down the street and asked the woman why she did this.  The woman replied, “Well, I thought my husband was on a business trip, but I just received a call from him from Hawaii.  Seems he ran off with his mistress and is in need of money.  He asked me to sell his car and send him the money…so I did.”  Scary stuff, revenge is.

Revenge may bring some immediate gratification, but the long-term ramifications can wipe that smile right off a face.  Better to put payback in the hands of God, “Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)  In our reading today, Israel’s neighbors were about to feel the heat.

The seven nations surrounding tiny Israel had long persecuted and attacked God’s chosen people.  Even though His own people were sinful and rebellious at times, God would avenge them because they were His responsibility and not that of the surrounding nations.  Judgment was coming to Ammon, Moab, Edom Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and proud Egypt because they rejoiced at Israel’s devastation at the hands of Babylon and cheered at the desecration of the Temple.  Ancient racism toward the Israelites had filled their hearts, as well as jealousy over Israel’s many victories.

God’s vengeance was swift, and these nations eventually met their own fate at Babylon’s mighty sword.  At the end of each pronouncement of judgment, God said something similar to, “When I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord.” (25:17)  Revenge did not come from Israel, it came from the Lord; however, He would have stayed His hand of judgment at the first sign of repentance.  In Ezekiel 18:23, God asked Ezekiel, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?… Of course not!  I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.”  God is merciful.

From these scriptures, we can learn about God’s attitude concerning our enemies.  He knows their past, present and future and why they do the things they do, facts we are seldom privy to.  He will often withhold dealing with an offense towards us because He knows that our enemy’s battle is really with Him, not with us, or He knows that restoration is in the future.  God is merciful; but without repentance, in due time judgment is His to give.

When we take matters into our own hands to get even, we may circumvent God’s divine plan to bring healing and restoration to our relationships.  Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also…Love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:39,44-45)   Sometimes we just get dizzy from turning that cheek so many times, and we start to think He just doesn’t understand the pain from the hurtful things said or done to us, the betrayal and the rejection.  But then, of course, He does. Remember Calvary? 

Moving Forward:  Sunny today, with no chance of revenge.  Should an enemy develop throughout the day, I won’t get even – I won’t even get mad- because God is in control!

Tomorrow @ Luke 19-20

Ezekiel 19-24 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He’s looking for someone to stand in the gap

The first time I visited London I was amused by the terminology the Brits used in the Underground train system.  Warning passengers to watch out for the space between the platform and the train, it was announced as well as printed on the platform, “Mind the Gap.”  My mind immediately looked for a Gap Store, but perhaps that’s just me. However, I appreciated their warning because missing that step could have been a very painful learning experience, maybe more painful than reading Ezekiel 19-24.  God’s message to Israel regarding the gap takes this warning to another level.

Ezekiel’s ministry of unheeded warnings to the captive Judeans in Babylon was coming to a close.  God had spoken to His people through many prophets only to be ignored and scorned, so when a group of leaders came to Ezekiel asking for a word of encouragement from the Lord, His response was not good.  “Some of the leaders of Israel came to request a message from the Lord. They sat down in front of me to wait for His reply. Then this message came to me from the Lord: ‘Son of man, tell the leaders of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: How dare you come to ask me for a message? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will tell you nothing!”‘” (20:1-3)

At one time or another, we all have gone to someone with a question or piece of news and had the person jump down our throat, metaphorically of course, with an unexpected and unhappy response.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our own self-serving life that we are absolutely clueless how much we have offended someone.  Israel was about to find out how much they had offended their God.

God’s message over the next couple of chapters was scathing at best, and Jerusalem and its inhabitants were reminded of their rebellious history, even as far back as their trip out of Egypt where God held back His hand of judgment.  In the message, Jerusalem was called a City of Murderers, the people compared to worthless slag from melted silver and the nations of to Judah and Israel were compared to vile prostitutes.  Only a handful of kings and prophets throughout their history attempted to turn these nations back to God, and all the rest were found guilty – guilty prophets, guilty priests, guilty princes and guilty people.  Whew!  I can feel the heat.

However, even in this dissertation of judgment, God could not hide His true heart, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” (22:30)  But I found no one.  How His people had broken His heart!  How He longed to restore, renew and revive.  God offered mercy and grace, but no one wanted them.  Ezekiel and others tried to stop the hand of God as Moses had done in the wilderness, but they were without a defense because of the utter wickedness of His people.  No one could speak for them.

God is not looking for cautious gap minders or fence sitters today.  He’s looking for gap standers, those who will rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards our lands.  He is looking for gap standers who will build a defense in the courtroom of judgment by seeking out and presenting to Him a people who will love and serve God. 

Moving Forward: Challenged by God’s heart today, I will join with so many others around the world to stand for righteousness and to seek out those who will love and serve Him.  See you at The Gap!

Tomorrow @ Luke 17-18

Ezekiel 7-12 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He provides a sanctuary for His people – anywhere.

The prisoner slowly makes his way to the execution chamber with the knowledge that all will be over soon.  Appeal after appeal has been denied, and now the end is in sight.  It’s 11:59 p.m. and the straps have been tightened, the hood is in place and….a telephone rings. The Governor has issued a reprieve, and the prisoner will live!  Dramatic I know, but I would imagine the exiles in Babylon felt a similar rush of relief at the news from the prophet Ezekiel, a reprieve if you will, that God would be with them in Babylon!

@ Ezekiel 11
Tragic prophecies had repeatedly been given to the Exiles about Jerusalem, their homeland, and all hope was gone in their minds for restoration because they were far from God’s Temple presence.  Now, God was issuing a reprieve for those who had turned their hearts toward Him.  “I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile.” (16)

Just like the Israelites, sometimes we find ourselves in a place that seems far from what we desire.  Perhaps we’ve arrived there through no fault of our own, or maybe our deeds have put us there.  Regardless, when we turn our hearts to God, He will provide a sanctuary where we can fellowship with Him.  I like the way the KJV says it, “Yet I will be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.”

Most believe that little sanctuary is referring to a short period of time while in captivity rather than space, but I think of it also as a place where we can meet with Him, wherever we may be, whether in a huge church or in a tiny closet far from home.  It doesn’t matter – He will be for us a little sanctuary while in the prison cell, on the hospital bed or in the work cubicle.  “I can never escape from your Spirit!  I can never get away from your presence!” (Psalm 139:7) God is omnipresent, everywhere, waiting for our cry for help, expecting to be our safe haven, our sanctuary.

“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them.  I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations.” (19-20)  Some situations in life may harden our hearts, not only toward God but towards others as well.  It is in His sanctuary where He softens us and makes our hearts tender like His heart.

Within this prophetic dream from Ezekiel is a promise to Israel as a nation, “I, the Sovereign Lord, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.” (17)  The Jews have lived in Israel periodically throughout history, but in 1948, it was recognized politically as a nation.

While nations around the world have fought hard to destroy this tiny nation, it remains!  It is a testimony of God’s blessing on it and His miraculous power.  However, this prophecy of Ezekiel will not be fully realized until the Second Coming of Christ, when the end-time believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, will inhabit the New Jerusalem.  What a day it will be!

For all who follow God, both Jew and Gentle, He longs to give us one heart, undivided, tender and fleshy that is responsive to Him and one that follows His Word.  “Then,” He says, “they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” (20) 

Moving Forward: I will enter His sanctuary today, wherever I am, with a tender heart and with a prayer on my lips for the nation of Israel. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 13-14

Ezekiel 1-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He gives hope for restoration through discipline

Our heavenly Father is not the kind of parent who gives empty threats or perhaps is too busy or too lazy to even care.  It’s painful to watch the parent who threatens punishment for a willful child over and over again but never follows through with discipline.  And of course, that child usually remains willful.

Almost 900 years before Ezekiel was written, God had threatened to wipe disobedient Israel off the planet because of the worship of the golden calf.  Up to this point in our reading, He hadn’t done it.  It wasn’t because He was lazy or too busy – something He could never be – but because He was and is longsuffering and merciful.  Aren’t we thankful for His mercy!  However, we find in the book of Ezekiel that punishment had finally come to the house of Israel.

Punishment of our children is seldom helpful to them if we don’t explain the purpose of it.  It may make us feel better to punish them, and children will tell you the old “this hurts me more than it hurts you” is a myth, but it won’t bring about a change in behavior unless they understand the reason for their punishment.  God was interested in change for His wayward child, Israel, and sent prophets to warn of punishment and to explain the reason for it.  Ezekiel was one of them.

Ezekiel was a priest and prophet who grew up during the great spiritual reforms of King Josiah, a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord.  Ezekiel had been exiled from Judah to Babylon during the second exile in 597 B.C., and at 30 years old, this young prophet had an encounter with God that changed the course of his life.  “On July 31 of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God,” (1:1) and Ezekiel goes on to explain the four living beings that he saw.

Let me just say, if I had experienced this, I would be on the ground with my face in the dirt, and apparently so was Ezekiel, “Stand up, son of man,’ said the voice. ‘I want to speak with you.’  The Spirit came into me as He spoke, and He set me on my feet.  I listened carefully to His words…‘I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation…I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’  And whether they listen or refuse to listen…at least they will know they have had a prophet among them…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.” (2:1-5;3:7)  Whew!  This was going to be a hard sell for Ezekiel.

It was disheartening for Ezekiel to realize that he would spend the ensuing years of his life as a faithful watchman over Israel, warning of impending doom, yet assured by God that no one would listen. Over the course of time, we learn that very few, just a remnant, listened to the prophet Ezekiel, but they came through the punishment understanding why it happened and more determined than ever before to follow after God.

Today as we attempt to reach a nation much like the one of Ezekiel’s day, we can only hope that God doesn’t choose to use us with the methods and illustrated sermons in Ezekiel.  Would I be willing?  I might not mind 430 day of rest, but 430 days of the same meal?  Help!  But there has never been a day when the gospel has been easier to share than today through the unlimited media of television, radio, the internet and print materials, not to mention the convicting power of the Holy Spirit working through us.

Yes, we will meet some opposition and perhaps persecution along the way, and we may not be as popular as we would like when we share the gospel of Jesus, but our responsibility is not how it is received, but solely in the telling of it. “Whether they listen or refuse to listen…at least they will know they have had a prophet, [a messenger] among them.”  Ezekiel 3:18 assures us that the Lord will not hold us responsible if they do not listen. 

Moving Forward: I will be His watchman over my nation, my personal world that I move in throughout the day.  With His wisdom, I will share the good news, not hindered by fear of rejection but emboldened by His love. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 11-12