Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gratitude & grace

Ezekiel is a fun book to read.

I don’t think it was as fun to live through, though.

The book is basically about God warning the Children of Israel that they were in danger of judgment and they needed to change their ways, a rather familiar Old Testament story line.  It breaks out into three major chunks:
  1. God sends Ezekiel to the Israelites to call them out through a series of dire warnings, some were even acted out for emphasis (chapters 1-24),
  2. Long story short, Jerusalem fell and Israel went into exile (chapters 25-32).
  3. God being God, He doesn’t destroy them, but instead restores them (chapters 33-48).
Keep in mind that this “house of Israel” is the same people group that wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

You would think that they learned their lesson. But no. Kind of like us.

Chapter 36 of Ezekiel is especially interesting. This is where God begins to explain how and why He intends to restore Israel:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, ESV).
God makes it clear that the grace He is about to shower onto the Israelites is really not about them.

It’s to display the holiness and awesomeness of Himself, God, to all the nations, to keep His reputation intact.

Basically He’s doing this because they’ve done a lousy job exampling God to their neighbors.

Let's be perfectly clear on Who’s doing this


In the next several verses, God details  what He’s going to do using several “I” statements:
  • I will make myself holy among you in their sight (v 23)
  • I will take you from the nations (v24)
  • I will gather you from all the countries (v24)
  • I will bring you to your own fertile land (v24)
  • I will sprinkle clean water on you (v25)
  • I will give you a new heart (v26)
  • I will replace your stony heart with a new one (v26)
  • I will give you my spirit (v27)
  • I will be your God (v28)
  • I will save you from all your uncleanness (v29)
  • I will summon the grain and make it grow (v29)
  • I will make the orchards and fields abundant (v30).
These “I” statements will probably vary a little bit among different translations, but I think you get the point. I pulled the ones above from the CEB.

This is grace -- God’s unmerited favor -- in action, being practically applied and made visible.

Why? Because God is God and He knows what’s best for His people whom He dearly loves.

Grace cannot be earned. It is not deserved. It cannot be bartered for. It cannot be bought with good deeds.

Grace can only be received.

Thank God I’m an American!

It’s always interesting to hear people claim that America is blessed because it’s a “Christian nation.” Or that they’ve been so blessed because they’re faithful tithers or for something else they’ve done. Or that a certain TV evangelist is so blessed because of his or her ministering to so many. You know, the ones who ask us to plant a seed of faith -- meaning send them money?

In other words, attributing blessings received to doing the right things or being the right kind of person.

That’s not how grace works. Grace tends to flow to those who need it most and recognize they are the least deserving. Grace well-received is transformative, but we’re getting ahead of the story.

The truth is that if America or any American is blessed, it’s solely because God did it because He’s God and He’s good and we are nothing without Him.

This is made clear to the Israelites in verse 32: “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel” (ESV).

I think there’s a message here for us.

It’s not unusual for we Americans to look at the problems around the world and feel immune. We think, “We’re blessed because we’re so good and godly.” And we think all those other countries aren’t.

Nope.

We’re blessed because that’s what God has decided to do for us. For now.

Grace first, repentance after

There’s at least one other very intriguing bit in this chapter of Ezekiel.

Check out verse 31 (ESV): “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.”

In this instance, after the lavish layering on of grace after grace, then comes conviction and repentance! (Aka, transformation.)

This echoes Romans 2:4, ESV, where Paul states, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

Hmm... So the point of God’s grace isn’t just to make us feel good? To make us fat and happy?

As ridiculously blessed Americans, I think we too often assume that because we’re blessed we have God’s favor (as in, we assume He’s on our side) and somehow this makes us better than everyone else.

Instead, we should be desperately appreciative of the grace He so mercifully lavishes on us despite the boneheads we tend to be. After all, remember that before the blessings, the Israelites fell under judgment due to their sinfulness, rebelliousness, impudence, and stubbornness (Ezekiel 2:3-4).

Just for fun, you may want to read both Ezekiel 36 and Romans 2 in light of the discussion above.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey or the ham or the whatever on our table

In America, we are terribly blessed and are terrible at recognizing that it’s not about us. It’s about God.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Instead of a mere nod toward the sky, or a mumbled acknowledgement to the unhearing universe, we need to be truly, deeply, consciously, seriously, assiduously, humbly grateful for the immense grace that God -- and God alone -- pours into our lives today and every day we draw breath.

Period.

“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: ‘I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness’” (Isaiah 42:5-7, ESV).



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How do celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you focus on God’s blessings in your life? On your family? On food? On football? On shopping? Or just ignore the whole thing? Please share your reactions to this post and your thoughts on Thanksgiving on the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

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