I remember the song as a catchy tune about bones. When I was young, I used to think that maybe the song was meant to teach body parts. Or maybe it was a spooky song about skeletons. I later found out it was an old spiritual. “The toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone…” Remember that tune? What I didn’t know when I was a kid was that the song was derived from a vision of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel saw a valley full of old dried up, hopeless bones. As Ezekiel watched, the bones began to come together as skeletons. Then the skeletons were covered with sinew, muscle, and skin. When God breathed life into these resurrected bodies, they became a mighty army. Ezekiel was told that his vision was about the future restoration of the nation of Israel. This wasn’t going to be the restoration of Israel that took place after the Babylonian captivity, but one much farther away, when a descendant of David would rule the nation forever.
“I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:14)
My friends, some people are wondering if we are living in the last days. I think the answer is pretty clear. Yes, we are. While we read daily in the news of things that point to His return, no sign is greater than the sign of the return of Israel to its land. Jesus is coming soon. He will take care of the mess we’ve made of this world. Are you ready?
Gorgeous women! Sexy men! Alcohol! Nakedness!
Do I have your attention? Do the above lines sound like something you’d read in the Holy Bible? Well they are. Ezekiel tells the story of two beautiful sisters, both of whom became prostitutes. The older sister had an insatiable lust for lovers and would do anything to entice more men. Yet one day her lovers would end her life. Even though the younger sister watched all this, she didn’t learn anything by what became of her sister. Instead, the younger sister became even worse, diving further and further into immorality, until she too would suffer destruction. They shall repay you for your lewdness, and you shall pay for your idolatrous sins. Then you shall know that I am the Lord God. (Ezekiel 23:49)
The story that Ezekiel told was really a tale of Israel’s two kingdoms, the northern and southern kingdoms. The immorality Ezekiel described was really the idolatry that the two kingdoms pursued, rather than pursuing after God. Even though the southern kingdom watched the northern kingdom be destroyed by their idolatry, they continued to stray from God.
For some of you reading these words, thoughts and pictures of immoral things grab your attention. Too often your own lusts take you down dark alleys of regret. Learn the lessons from the older sister. Don’t forget where your lust will take you. Lust always leads to pain, shame, and loneliness. There may be pleasure in sin for a season, but it always ends poorly.
With the passing of my parents, and as executor of their estate, I have been learning a few things about wills and trusts. Wills and trusts are documents that someone sets up to make sure that property and assets are distributed according to the wishes of the owner after they die. As their executor, I have learned that my parents loved my siblings and I very much.
Did you know that God, too, has a “will”? His “will” is a little different in that He is still very much alive, but He has still made provision for us, the children that He loves. John wrote, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14–15). If you want to know how your Father has provided for you, then get to know His will. I’d like to suggest a couple of things in finding God’s will.
First, read God’s Word. Find out about the kinds of things that God has already told us are His will for us. It’s all in those “trust” documents, the Bible.
Second, live in God’s Will. Many times, it’s while you are on the path of doing the things you already know are God’s will, that you find answers to the things you don’t know.
Third, ask for God’s Will. Sometimes you just don’t know what some of the specifics are until you ask. Ask like Jesus did when He said, “nevertheless, not my will but yours be done”. Beloved, God’s will is good.
I remember as a young Christian being so amazed at the things I read about and were taught about in the Bible. It all seemed so wonderful and new. But after a couple of years, I have to admit that every once in a while I would hear a Bible study and say to myself, “Oh, that’s old stuff, I already know that”, and then tune out to the rest of the message.
Every Christian who is serious about their relationship with the Lord will reach a point where they are learning fewer and fewer “new” things. That’s not to say that God’s Word doesn’t have depths of insight that will continue to blow our minds. When you get to the point where you feel you are hearing the same things over and over again, it’s not time to look for something new, it’s time to refocus your attention. Peter wrote, For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. (2 Peter 1:12)
The problem with looking for “new” things is that some “new” things aren’t healthy or truthful. As a teacher, I have to admit that there is an allure to stumbling across some idea in the Scripture that you’ve never heard before, and who knows, maybe you’re the first to see it! The problem is that some “new” things are just wrong. Cults are built on people who claim to have some “new” truth. The basics of correct doctrine do not change over time. What needs to change is us. We don’t need “new” things as much as we need to get better at doing the “old” things. Don’t be looking for deeper ideas in the Word as much as letting God’s Word go deeper in you.
It seems to me we are going through a time in history when it is increasingly unpopular to be a Christian. I have to admit that sometimes we can try to counter this by putting Christianity in nothing but a positive light, like telling people how much better their life will be when they follow Jesus. Yet the truth is, following Jesus is sometimes very, very hard. Jesus told His own disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you”. (John 15:20)
Now I’m not advocating being obnoxious just so you can say that people are persecuting you for being a Christian. I have to admit that I’m embarrassed at times at how obnoxious some Christians can be. The persecution that Jesus is talking about is what comes when you take a stand for the truth, not when you’re an impolite jerk.
Jeremiah lived in a day much like ours today. It was not a popular thing to be a true God follower. When Jeremiah continued to take his stand for the truth, it landed him in trouble. So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire. (Jeremiah 38:6)
Has speaking the truth landed you in the mud? You are not alone. If you are facing ridicule or discrimination for being a Christian, you are not alone. Following Jesus may indeed be hard, but you are not alone.
Jeremiah was living in the days when the kingdom of Judah was gradually being conquered by the Babylonians, and large groups of people were being carried into exile to Babylon. To lose all your possessions and be forced to relocate to a strange country where you don’t even know the language, would be most unpleasant indeed. What goes through your head when “unpleasant” things happen to you? I know one of the first things that I ask is, “What did I do to deserve this?” I usually figure I messed up somewhere and caused the calamity happening around me.
God spoke to Jeremiah by giving him a lesson illustrated by two baskets of figs. One basket contained good figs, which people might pick up and carry off to enjoy. The other basket contained bad, putrid figs, just sitting in the basket rotting. God instructed Jeremiah – “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans. (Jeremiah 24:5)
The people who were going through “unpleasant” things didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, they were the good figs that God was saving in order to enjoy for another day. Be careful, beloved, of jumping to conclusions over your circumstances. If you are not aware of having done something to cause your situation, don’t condemn yourself for something you didn’t do. Your unpleasant situation might indicate that you are indeed, after all, a good fig. God may be saving you for good things, for another day.
Sometimes it happens because other people are just messy, and we don’t like to be around people who have too many problems. Sometimes it happens because some people don’t meet our standards, and we want to be around people who are more like us. Sometimes it happens because we are frustrated at how often others let us down or hurt us. Sometimes it’s simply because they are all idiots. But it still happens. We end up isolating ourselves from others, and that’s not a good thing. The writer to the Hebrews gave this exhortation: Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12–13)
Here’s the deal. As much as others can be messy or hurtful, we still need them in our lives. The truth is that we, too, are messy at times and we, too, can be hurtful to others. And when left to ourselves, we will end up going down dark paths from being deceived by sin. If left to myself, I can talk myself into just about anything. I know because I’ve done it many times. That last donut sitting on the counter ought to be eaten because it would be such a waste to let it go stale. But you and I both know I don’t need to be eating donuts. As hard as it is, beloved, we need each other. We need people who actually know us, who know our faults, and will lovingly speak truth into our lives. We also need to learn the difficult and messy discipline of loving flawed people. It’s still “today”, so let’s encourage each other.
I am amazed at the things people believe and follow these days. When I was younger, it seemed that the world was drifting away from spirituality. Today, it certainly seems that there is a great appetite for spiritual things. What concerns me is the “diet” that many people are consuming. It seems our spiritual consumption is paralleling our culinary choices. Who doesn’t like eating Big Macs, fries, and a big gulp of sugary soda to wash it all down? And let’s top it off with a super sized chocolate sundae! When we hit middle age and stare in the mirror, we wonder where all that poundage came from.
Spiritually, it seems some folks prefer to learn about God from Facebook or Oprah rather than going to the true source of spiritual truth, the Bible. Paul wrote to Timothy and described the days we are living in:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2Timothy 4:3-4)
Be careful, my friends, when the only source of truth you are listening to is coming from people who are simply telling you what you want to hear. Truth is not always comfortable or convenient. God is not who you think He is, God is who He is. He has revealed Himself through the scriptures. Be careful about people who steer you away from clear Bible verses only to cherry pick obscure passages in order to teach you something “new”. If you want to be healthy, you need to eat healthy.
There are some passages that once we understand them, we tend to think that they don’t apply to us. Or at least not to me. Paul writing to Timothy about the qualifications of an elder is one such passage. It’s a passage that some look at only when they are looking for a new pastor for their church. It’s a passage that some see as qualifications for a church board member. But what if it’s more? Paul wrote, So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. (1 Timothy 3:2–4 NLT)
Years ago a fellow named Gene Getz wrote a book called “The Measure of a Man”. In his book, Gene laid out what a mature believer ought to be like. He based his book on this passage in 1Timothy.
Your goals in life might not include being a pastor or a church board member. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want you to mature. They say that if you aim at nothing in life, you’ll surely hit it. What are you aiming for in your walk with God? Look again at what Paul considers to be a mature believer. It has to do with family life. It has to do with living a life of self-control and stopping addictive behavior. It has to do with personality traits that display a true love for God and others. This is what maturity looks like.
Benjamin Franklin said that there were only two things certain in life, death and taxes. And no, I’m not going to talk about taxes. You know death is coming one day, and try as you might, you can’t avoid it. You will die one day, and your loved ones will die one day. Nobody wants to be reminded of it, yet there is no avoiding it. Because I’m a pastor, I often find myself in the middle of someone else’s family, having been invited to help them walk through the loss of their loved one. I’ve watched people breathe their last breath. I’ve been there as the nurses are pulling the tubes out of the lifeless body. I’ve had a sister and both parents die. I’ve done memorial services and graveside services. From all my experience, I have to tell you one thing – as horrible as it is to lose a loved one, there is no greater consolation than knowing that you will absolutely see them again one day. That is the hope for the believer who has lost a believing loved one. Paul wrote, And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
The Bible teaches that when the believer takes their last breath on earth, they will take their first breath in heaven (2Cor. 5:8). The Bible teaches that in heaven, there will be no more pain or sorrow (Rev. 21:4). The Bible says that we can count on heaven because we are counting on Jesus (John 11:25; 14:1-3). For the believer, death is not the end, it’s just a doorway into eternity (1Cor. 15:54).
We may have sorrow at our loss, but we also have hope.