One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 11-13

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 30, 2006

In this passage Ezekiel finishes his vision of Jerusalem and returns to Babylon. Zeke doesn't have a lot of good things to say to either group. He warns the people of Jerusalem against fighting against the Babylonians, who have returned to finish off the city because the Jews would not accept their defeat as a work of God. Multiple prophets of God commanded the people to cooperate with the Babylonians, but the people kept fighting and being defeated. God does present a promise to Israel that one day God will bring the Jews home to Israel, and in that day there will be no one to molest them and they will serve the Lord with joy. Of course, this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled in its entirety.

Meanwhile, when he is transported back to Babylon, he finds more trouble. You can find deeper philosophical treatments of this elsewhere in books and on the 'net, articles written by brighter minds than mine. Let's just suffice it to say that God demanded worship that was vastly different from every other god of the rest of the nations. They were not to make any graven images, any physical representations of God. They were to worship God out of the truth that He revealed to them. Ezekiel confronts some women who disobeyed this concept in 13:17-19:

And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own minds. Prophesy against them, and say Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die, and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies. (ESV)

These false prophets, men and women, were profiting by exploiting the poorest and most vulnerable of the exiles. And isn't it true that such things happen today? So-called Christian churches and pastors of many stripes take advantage of the poor and the gullible, selling them religious baubles and promoting a false gospel that only enriches themselves. God condemns both the sellers of the baubles for their greed and the baubles themselves in this passage.
Of course this is a passage from the Old Testament, but God has always desired to be worshiped in spirit and truth, not with religious baubles. This is not to say that physical objects have no part of worship, because even the OT goes into great detail of the objects that were used to worship God in the temple, both for sacrifices and, in the times of David and Solomon, for music. But the physical objects are used by us for a greater purpose: they are not an end in themselves. God is the ultimate of all that is good, and He lives inside us. What physical object could surpass that?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 8-10

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 28, 2006

In this passage, God shows Ezekiel a vision of the sin of Israel. God reveals to him very specific details about the idolatry that was going on in Jerusalem. Ezekiel even mentions one man, Jaazaniah the son of Shaphat, by name that he saw participating in a pagan ritual in a secret chamber below the temple in Jerusalem. 

I honestly don't know who Jaazaniah was, but he was apparently quite prominent. Remember the context of Ezekiel's prophecy: he is writing to exiles, to people who experienced the devastation of the fall of Jerusalem. They wondered why God was allowing such terrible things to happen. They thought God was being unjust. In effect, God says, "Am I unjust? Look at what was happening: pagan rituals beneath the temple! You abandoned me long before I abandoned you."

One important passage comes immediately after Ezekiel mentions Jaazaniah:

Then he (God) said to me, "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say 'The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.'" (Ezekiel 8:12, ESV)

These people thought God had forgotten them and their evil deeds, but He had not, and God was planning to destroy the people for what they were doing, which He describes beginning in chapter 9.

We cannot hide our actions from God, and one day He will reward us for what we have done, and because He knows all and sees all, our reward from Him will be perfectly just. That's a sobering thought, but it is true, and it is something we have to come to grips with.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 4-7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 26, 2006

Ezekiel 4 is one of the weirdest passages in the Bible. God tells Ezekiel to lay on his right side for a certain number of days, and then on his left side for another number of days. He was supposed to eat about 4 ounces of bread each day that he baked over a fire made by burning cow dung. I don't know, I just read what's there. It certainly would have been a sight to behold.

A lot of people these days say the recipe that God gave Ezekiel there and is somehow a spiritual food. Just look up "Ezekiel Bread" in your search box some time and you'll see lots of recipes and people selling loaves. But if you read the passage, how the bread was cooked was just as important as the ingredients. If they aren't cooking that "Ezekiel bread" with flaming cow patties, then they're not doing it right. And even if they do, just remember that Paul said that food does not commend ourselves to God. There's no such thing as spiritual food that you put in your physical mouth.

The next three chapters are pronouncing judgment against Israel. One compelling passage is chapter 7:19-21:

They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing unto them. And I will give it into the hand of foreigners for prey, and to the wicked of the earth for spoil, and they shall profane it. (ESV)

History tells us that just before the fall of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, they enjoyed immense prosperity. It is not obvious when you read the prophets, because they were more concerned with the spiritual condition of the nation rather than the financial condition. But nevertheless it is true. Here Ezekiel says that the accumulated wealth of the people will do them no good in the day of judgment. They will toss out silver and gold like so much gravel in the street. They will gladly trade piles of money for one meal, because there will be no food.

God is able to show us what is really important. It is not money, power, or any of the other things that we place priority on in this world. It is hard when things are going good to depend on God for our needs when we seem to already have them covered, but that is the time we need to rely on Him the most.

Friday, September 26, 2014

TOMS Movies: United 93

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 26, 2006

Photo Credit
I just finished United 93.  It is the most visceral movie I have ever seen. It looks like a documentary, but obviously it is not. I'm not sure how to react to it, except that it is excellent. All of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when 9-11 happened, but none of us could have known the horror of being doomed to bring down an important building, to be literally aboard a weapon of war. The movie does not blame anyone, other than the terrorists who did it, and that is as it should be- they are the only ones ultimately responsible: not President Bush, not President Clinton, no one else is responsible for what happened. The world changed, as we all know, and no one who was alive at 7 in the morning on that day would have suspected anything on the scale of what happened.

I should probably wait a few minutes to get my wits about me, but I feel like doing this now. I don't know if I ever want to see this movie again. It is great, it packs a powerful punch, but it's almost too realistic and disturbing.

One more thing. There is one thing I found to be inauthentic about the movie. When we see the pilot and co-pilot making small talk as they board the plane, we learn that one is from New York and one is from Denver. On September 10, 2001, the Denver Broncos played the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. I don't know why I remember that. I don't remember who won, but I remember that they played. I noticed it immediately when I saw it. Somehow, I really doubt that two middle-aged men, one from each of the two cities that played each other on Monday night, would not have brought that up. Not that it would have made it a better movie, but you just wonder how the research department missed something that obvious.

TOMS: Ezekiel 1-3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 26, 2006

I really picked a poor time to start this. It would have been easy to start in the Gospels or in Psalms, but I am afraid I am in way over my head here.

So let's get started. Ezekiel's first prophetic vision occurs in Babylon, where he is in exile with most of the Jewish nation. He appears before the throne of God in a vision very similar to John's description of the throne of God in  Revelation. There is a song about Ezekiel and his wheels, but I really think Ezekiel is just focusing on different details of his vision than John does- they are basically the same thing.

Next, God commissions Ezekiel and give him this not-so-encouraging word: "And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house." (Ezekiel 2:7, ESV)

God tells this to Ezekiel over and over. Then he tells him that he is a watchman over the house of Israel, and that if he does not warn the people, even though they will not listen, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for their sins.

A lot of preachers use this passage to say that God holds us responsible when people go to hell, but this teaching is found nowhere in the New Testament, and is exclusively given to Ezekiel in the Old Testament (it is repeated almost word for word later in the book). I see this is a problem of faulty theology. This is not the right forum to delve into an extended discussion of the doctrines of salvation, but God says very plainly in John 3:18 that the lost are already condemned. It is not our faulty witness that condemns them, it is their sin. All who reject Christ will stand before God with no excuse. We are certainly commanded to spread the Gospel and make disciples, but this guilt-trip style of preaching is misleading to the flock of God and does nothing to promote true obedience.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

TOMS: Lamentations 3-5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 25, 2006

It would be nice if Jeremiah ended his lamentations with hope for the future or a promise of good days to come.  Unfortunately, there are none, unless you count 3:22-24, which reads:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, says my soul,
Therefore I will hope in him.

Based on the rest of the passage, I think this is little more than a statement of fact on Jeremiah's part. Yes, he knows that God is faithful, and that He has a plan for all of this, but that doesn't take away the pain of seeing Jerusalem destroyed and seeing God's people suffer.

Pain and suffering are part of life, and to deny the existence of suffering or to offer platitudes about life being good all the time because we are saved is childlike at best and at worst nihilistic. God could have come through with a miraculous solution to all of Israel's and Jeremiah's problems, but He chose not to. He allowed Jeremiah to endure terrible heartache and suffering, all without an explanation. Of course, he was allowed the privilege of writing two books of the Bible, but I bet if you came to Jeremiah as he was penning these verses and offered him a choice of an easy solution or a chance to write Scripture, Jeremiah would have chosen the easy solution.  I'm pretty sure I would have, anyway.

But Jeremiah, like Job, accepts God’s wrath and trusts in His ultimate justice:

Who has spoken and it came to pass,
Unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
That good and bad come?
Why should a living man complain,
A man, about the punishment of his sins? (3:37-39, ESV)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TOMS: Lamentations 1-2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 23, 2006

Lamentations is the record of the prophet Jeremiah's grieving over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. It's another one of these books that I often have a hard time understanding (but this one's easy compared to Ezekiel). I did notice one important passage that has a very graphic reference, but the prophets often used graphic comparisons of adultery and prostitution with Israel's worship of false gods and association with heathen peoples:

Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy;
All who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness;
She herself groans and turns her face away.
Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future;
Therefore her fall is terrible; she has no comforter.
O LORD, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.
(Lamentations 1:8-9, ESV)

The phrase that caught my attention was "she took no thought of her future." One of the things my home church pastor Elmo Parker used to say (and he probably still does) was that the devil never deals in the future: he always wants us to satisfy ourselves immediately, in the here and now. God promised the Jews a kingdom forever if they would obey His law, but they refused. They were looking for something new and exciting. Obviously this is true for us when it comes to our eternal state and our hope for eternal reward, but it is also true in practically all areas of our lives in this world. If we only live our lives for what brings us short-term pleasure and excitement we will soon regret some of the poor decisions we made. That's a lesson all of us have learned at some time or another, and it's a lesson too many of us (including me) have had to learn many times after we forgot it.

One more thing we must not overlook as we read this is that Jeremiah is displaying dark depths of emotion here in this book. A lot of people, including a lot of Christians, have the idea that showing emotion, particularly negative emotion, is somehow sinful. The life of Jeremiah, who is known as the "weeping prophet," demonstrates that this is not the case. Just because our tough-guy American society says people, especially men, shouldn't cry doesn't make it wrong in the eyes of God. A social faux pas does not always equal sin, just as there are also many things that are culturally acceptable that really are sins in the eyes of God.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

TOMS Movies: The "Original" Star Wars

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 21, 2006

Yeah, I'm also into movies, and though I don't get to the theater as often as I would like, I do get a couple of movies a week (when the mail is going good) from Netflix.  I'll try to post a review or comment about once a week, more or less.

George Lucas recently released the original cuts of the old Star Wars trilogy on DVD. I got the first one in the mail today. I'm just about done with this movie, and I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. I have the "updated vision" DVDs that came out a couple of years ago, and  they're basically the same movie to me. Yeah, Han gets off the only shot in the old version, but other than that, who cares? I'm pretty sure I'm not going to waste my next two slots in my Netflix list for the other two.

I do dearly love this movie, primarily because it was the first movie I ever saw that I really liked. When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to watch a whole lot, and what we were allowed to see in the way of movies was boring to me. It's not my favorite movie these days, and it certainly isn't going to wow anybody with a serious message, but it's still a joyride.

TOMS: Jeremiah 50-51

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 21, 2006

Once again, Jeremiah is pronouncing God's coming judgment on a nation, this time upon Babylon. When Jeremiah was receiving this message from the Lord, Babylon was the most powerful city in the world. It was the capital of a mighty empire that stretched from Egypt to India. And yet God said that soon Babylon was to be laid waste, never to be rebuilt. In fact, Jeremiah sent his prophecy against Babylon with one of deposed Jewish king Zedekiah's attendants, with the command that he was to read it in Babylon. The fact that God was planning to destroy Babylon was probably an encouragement to the Jews living there (they would be the only ones interested in a prophecy from a Jew pronouncing destruction on Babylon). But at the same time, it did not change their present state of bondage. Some men like Daniel did see both the ruin of Jerusalem and the defeat of Babylon, but most did not. They just had to rely on the faith that God would avenge Babylon's harsh treatment and live their lives the best they could.

I wish I could see everybody who's done me wrong get exactly what I think they deserve, but that's not going to happen, just like most of the Jews did not see God's vengeance upon Babylon (not that I have been terribly mistreated in my life, but we all have been slighted, misjudged, and basically dissed lots of times). God said that vengeance belongs to Him, and most of us will not see that vengeance until we get to heaven, if we see it at all. A lot of the slights and insults we get in this life are often the result of our own actions. I think we will see our lives very differently when we begin to see it from God's perspective. Of course that can't really happen until we are with Him, but we should learn to be patient, just like the Jews listening to Jeremiah's word had to.

It's not my place to judge because I am partial and I want to get even. When God settles the score, it is settled perfectly, and none of us will be able to gloat or celebrate, because all of us who are saved get infinitely more than we deserve from God. As sinners we deserve nothing but hell, and whatever wrong is done to me pales in comparison to the wonderful gift God has given me.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

TOMS: Jeremiah 48-49

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 20, 2006

I have to admit, I have a hard time with prophetic passages like this. In this passage, Jeremiah pronounces judgments on the nations of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, and Elam. I am trying to make these as much about my reaction to the text as I possibly can, so I'm trying to just read and react without consulting a lot of commentaries, Bible notes, whatever. Actually one of my problems is I can't afford a lot of commentaries and it's too hard to find good commentary on the Internet.

Anyway, my reaction to this passage is simply that God is in control of everything, and He has His reasons for why he does everything. God's ways are not our ways. I hear people say "If I was God, I would do thus and such," to which I respond, verbally if appropriate, "No you wouldn't!  If you were omnipotent and omniscient and stood outside of time like He does, you would do things exactly the way He does them."

Back to the subject, these nations all in some way or another oppressed Israel, and that was their major sin, besides their idolatry and other sins listed. I guess the key verse here is 49:19, which reads, in reference to Edom, the descendants of Esau:

"Behold, like a lion coming up from the jungle of the Jordan, against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly make him run away from her. And I will appoint over her whoever I choose. For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me?"

Psalm 115:3 is also applicable here:

"Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases." (ESV)

I have given up trying to figure God out. I have come to the conclusion that I can rely on Him that as His child He is doing good for me, and that my attempts to fight it or try to figure it out are counter-productive to both my good and His glory.

Friday, September 19, 2014

TOMS: Jeremiah 44-47

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Sept. 19, 2006

This will be an introduction to what I hope is a daily or every few days' summary of what I am reading in my devotions.  I am now toward the end of the book of Jeremiah.

I never cease to be amazed when I read the book of Jeremiah. The man went through so much heartache and struggle. He was dropped into pits, thrown in jail, and so much more just for telling the people God's truth. It's too bad Jeremiah didn't have all the health-and-prosperity gospel preachers we have today. They could have told him a few things. I would like to see what Jeremiah's response. What would Jeremiah say if he were invited as a guest speaker at the Crystal Cathedral or Lakewood Church? It would certainly be entertaining.

One of the most amazing passages in all the Bible to me is the bold-faced response of the Jews to Jeremiah's message in chapter 44. They had already seen the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and they were living in Egypt (which Jeremiah told them not to do, by the way). Jeremiah has just told the people to get rid of their idols, and the people respond this way:

Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah, "As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven, and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and famine." Jer. 44:15-18, ESV

The people just said no, we are not going to listen to you, we don't care if your message is from the Lord or not. We had it good when we were worshiping our idols, but you persuaded us to quit, and we have had nothing but heartache.  

Most people are not that blatant about their rejection of God's Word, but in reality, the world and sadly too many Christians act the same way when they are confronted with their sin when reading the Bible or hearing a preacher or someone else teach the scripture. Man's wicked heart hates the truth of the Bible.  

Another thing I will say before I stop here is the fact that Jeremiah didn't sugar-coat his message. He didn't subscribe to the Mary Poppins philosophy (I think it was her) that "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Sadly, too many churches today don't give their people any kind of medicine- just sugar.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

8 Years Ago Today on The Old MySpace blog (TOMS)...

Ok, so I know it's been a long time since I've written anything here. I don't know why: just not in the mood to write, I guess. Being un- (or under-) employed has a way of messing with your mind after a while.

You'll be seeing a lot more on here in the coming months. It may be "old content," but chances are it's new to you. Back in 2006 I started a blog on that old, weird social media experiment known as MySpace. At the time I was living in Boonville, Mo., writing for the local paper there. I wrote a few posts on movies and other topics, but mostly I just kind of wrote out my thoughts as I went through the Bible in my devotions. I started my MySpace blog 8 years ago tomorrow, September 19, 2006. Beginning tomorrow I will be reposting my thoughts (including most of the movie and miscellaneous posts) here on my new corner of cyberspace (only people of a certain age even know that word these days).

I started exactly where I happened to be at the time, somewhere toward the end of Jeremiah. I commented mostly on 2-3 chapter portions per post. When I got to the New Testament, I slowed down to one chapter per post, sometimes doing more than one post per chapter.

As I was reviewing some of the stuff, I noticed that my first few posts were surprisingly brief. I hit my stride pretty quickly though. I also noticed some stuff that I would never write the same way these days. I reserve the right to edit my own writing, and will do so on occasion. I will also probably expand on some of what I wrote back then. When it's appropriate I will also include what I wrote at the time with my edits in parenthesis or something.

My old blog came at an important time in my life, and it was part of what made it an important time. I am looking forward to the opportunity to share it with you.