Showing posts with label bones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bones. Show all posts

04 January 2012

The dry bones of church will live

Part 10 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< An overwhelming army | Index | No later items >

Once again Yahweh speaks, this time in explanation and application. He spoke to Israel but through them he is also speaking to us. He can reach us wherever we are and he can transform us from death to life, from dry and scattered bones to a mighty army.

A small groupAnd now that the work is complete and the army restored, Yahweh speaks once more. This time it's by way of explanation as to the meaning of the valley of dry bones vis-a-vis Israel.

Yahweh speaks - And then he told me: 'Son of man, the bones are the Israelites. They say, "Our bones are dry, we have no hope and are disconnected." So speak to them and say: "This is what Almighty Yahweh says: my people, I shall open your graves and raise you up. I'll put my Spirit into you, you'll live, and I'll return you to your land. Then you'll understand that I, Yahweh spoke and did it, says Yahweh,' (Ezekiel 37:11-14)

Everything that happened in the vision and every word that Yahweh spoke applies to Israel in captivity. But like all biblical prophecy it applies again to the church as well - it applies to us. We'll come back to that.

Israel - First of all - the bones are the Israelites. This is presented as background information for Ezekiel, it is not something he is told to speak over the people. The Israelites had been carried off from the promised land as slaves. They felt they had no hope, they were literally disconnected from the land, from Jerusalem and from the Temple.

For the Jews in captivity this would have been very significant. For most of them the thought would be that Yahweh's Presence was in the Holy Place in the innermost part of the Temple in Jerusalem in Israel. They were hundreds of miles away in Babylon therefore they were hundreds of miles away from Yahweh. There was no hope of help!

But he can reach them where they are and he has more words for Ezekiel to give them. He says that he'll open their graves and raise them up into new life! He will put his Spirit into them and return them to Israel. And then they'll understand the inconceivable - Yahweh can reach them, will reach them, and has given his word! He has spoken and is responsible for achieving it.

The church - So how does this apply to us today, also his people, also broken and ineffective. Just look at the history of the church and the state of the church in the West today. Riven by schisms and disagreements over doctrine and practice. Separated into denominations and streams. It would be easy to write out a long list of problems and issues. We usually gather with others who are like-minded and this undoubtedly isolates us from some of the differences.

Notice that the rest of the chapter (Ezekiel 37:15-28) follows right on from the valley of dry bones and covers the important matter of unity. This is not a coincidence.

The Spirit of Christ has been drawing his people together, little by little. All down the ages he's dealt with one issue after another. Much has been done, beginning with doctrinal essentials like grace in the 16th century and going right on to a pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the 20th century. But our response has often been to leave the old and start something new.

In our own day we are seeing a lot of rearranging - the bones are being fitted together. Thousands and thousands of family-sized groups have already formed, people who will love one another and love those around them. Some of these are house churches, some are small groups in the larger churches, some are CUs in colleges and workplaces. There is great variety.

Flesh and skin are covering these bodies. All they need now is refilling with breath, to stand up, and to be united into a single army under Christ as head and commander. It will not be easy, in fact it's far beyond our ability to do, our King and Commander Yahshua will have to do the work. We will need to listen and watch and do what his Spirit tells us and shows us - no more - but no less.

Like Israel in Ezekiel's day, he can reach us, he will reach us, and he's given his word. He has spoken and is responsible for achieving it.

< An overwhelming army | Index | No later items >

02 January 2012

An overwhelming army

Part 9 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Prophecy to the breath | Index | The dry bones of church will live >

Ezekiel speaks to the breath, calling it to fill the slain bodies so that they may come alive. We need breath (that is, the Holy Spirit) if the church is to be filled, come alive and function properly.

The Chinese 'Terracotta Army'Once again Ezekiel is called to speak, this time to the reconstructed bodies. They are now complete and perfect in every way yet they are still not alive. He speaks and what happens must have stunned him, even if he was expecting it!

Ezekiel speaks - 'So I spoke out as he required of me, and breath came into them, they began to live and they rose up on their feet. They were an overwhelming army!' (Ezekiel 37:10)

As usual there are a number of things we should notice. Some of them are hugely important but easily overlooked.

First, we see again Ezekiel's obedience. Yahweh has said he is to speak some particular words over the dead bodies and he does it. No argument this time, no hesitation, just obedience. Listen and obey. If only we would always do that!

Breath enters - Although he doesn't tell us explicitly, the sense is that breath comes into them immediately, perhaps even while Ezekiel is still speaking. Breath (or Spirit) is the one thing they had been missing. It is necessary that the structure of church is as the Lord requires it. But if we have the right structure yet are not alive we cannot do the work intended for us. Yahshua builds his church, yet if we don't have his Spirit within us we are not alive. This final step is essential.

We can ask what would happen if the Spirit enters an incorrectly structured church. Thinking in terms of a lifeless body will help us address this question. What would happen if an incorrectly structured body was brought to life? Either such a creation would live in pain, crippled and unable to walk or speak or see. Or else it would survive only for a short time because of serious faults in essential systems like the lungs, heart or liver.

I believe there really is an example of this in recent church history. The Holy Spirit was poured out in a major way during the 1960s and 70s. But there was something wrong with the structure of church at that time so what came to life was unable to function properly.

Why was this structure incorrect? I lived through that time and I believe we could have made ourselves available as living stones and watched Christ build his church the way he wanted it - and it would have been amazing. But instead we built church the way we wanted it and this thing that was at first so full of life deteriorated and died in paroxysms of anguish and pain.

A better structure - But today I think we have seen new bodies built to a better design and when these bodies are ready the breath of the Spirit of Christ will bring them to an abundance of life.

But Ezekiel has more to tell us, 'They rose up on their feet.' This also seems to have happened immediately. From dead bodies to living bodies. And now to upright, standing bodies. We don't stand up in order to live, we will stand up because we live.

'They were an overwhelming army.' Not just standing bodies, but a body of standing bodies, a great and mighty army. There is a oneness that transcends our oneness in the local church. There is the oneness of the church worldwide, all the local churches working and cooperating together. The army has a single commander - Yahshua (Jesus)!

What a vision Ezekiel has received. It's a vision we sorely need to understand today.

< Prophecy to the breath | Index | The dry bones of church will live >

15 December 2011

Sinew, muscle and skin

Part 7 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< The bones come together | Index | Prophecy to the breath >

Ezekiel watches as sinew, muscle and skin transform the newly organised bones into complete bodies. What might be the sinew, muscle and skin of church and are these sufficient?

Complete bodies
Now the bones are all in order and correctly arranged, the stage is set for the next steps. Ezekiel is still watching and he tells us what he sees.

'Before my very eyes sinew and muscle appeared on them and skin covered them, but they weren't breathing.' (Ezekiel 37:8)

Ezekiel has seen a remarkable change! What began with dry, dusty bones has now become dead bodies. Although there is no life, the structure has changed. Lets see what we can tease out of this.

First we need to remember that the bones form the framework of a body, the first thing that happened was that the framework was restored to the way it needed to be.

This is no small matter! If we apply this idea to the church, can we say what the framework might be? What is a right framework? May I suggest that a suitable framework for church is what we often call organic church? It's family-sized groups living in close community. This framework is made, not of bones, but of people. Dry and dusty people who are in disarray or in isolation, such people are not a suitable framework for church life!

People who are correctly arranged, connected together and in right relationship are the basic requirement for something that will have the shape of church about it.

Then the sinews are added. In the body, sinews or tendons connect bones to muscles and sometimes attach two bones together (in the knee for example). All these tendons must be attached if the muscles are to make the framework move.

So perhaps the sinews say something to us about frameworks that are ready for movement. There is so far nothing to cause the movement, but the bones are now suitably equipped. So what might sinews suggest about church? Assuming the framework is in good shape, what might prepare it for movement? I would suggest there are many mechanisms that will do this. Prayer, Bible study, CO2, seven signs in John, eating together regularly, helping one another, spiritual songs. I'm sure you can think of more.

We can now imagine a good church framework (people connected correctly) well-equipped for movement (some good mechanisms, tools and habits). But more is needed, much more.

We need some muscle! Muscles (flesh) turn chemical energy into movement and warmth. What does church need for movement and warmth? Here I'm going to suggest spiritual fruit and in particular love - the Lord's love for us, our love for him, and our love for one another. 'Christ's love compels us', writes Paul (2 Corinthians 5:13-15). If we have love we are driven, but without love we will remain indifferent.

We need love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. This fruit will direct our energies into the mechanics of prayer and Bible study and the rest in ways that are useful. Now we're in pretty good shape - a framework of people in community, prepared with good mechanisms, and with the means to turn energy into movement and warmth.

And skin, so important but often overlooked. Skin provides the senses of touch, hot and cold, texture and so much more. What is the overlooked, protective boundary of church? It's so overlooked that we may not ever think about it, we are just aware of who is part of church and who is outside. We rejoice when someone is transferred from outside to inside, but how do we know? Might it be faith? Why did Paul and Peter both refer to faith as a 'great shield'? (Ephesians 6:16, 1 Peter 1:5) It is faith that defines our boundary, inside there is faith but outside there is not.

So Ezekiel has prophesied and the bones are now bodies that are complete in every way, yet are not breathing. And if this is where things had remained, over time these bodies would have decayed and  become dry bones again.

'Before my very eyes sinew and muscle appeared on them and skin covered them, but they weren't breathing.' (Ezekiel 37:8)

< The bones come together | Index | Prophecy to the breath >

05 December 2011

The bones come together

Part 6 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< The word of Yahweh | Index | Sinew, muscle and skin >

Ezekiel begins speaking to the bones and the effect is immediate. There's a clear pattern of actions in a logical sequence; the preliminary need is met as Ezekiel speaks.

Bones in right relationship
'So I prophesied as I'd been told. As I spoke there was a rattling noise and the bones moved together and connected.' (Ezekiel 37:7)

There's a lot of important material for us in just these few words. Let's begin by noting that Ezekiel was obedient. He had been told to speak to the bones and he'd been given the words to say. And now, in obedience, he speaks them out.

Let's remind ourselves of what he was told to say. 'This is what the Lord Yahweh tells these bones: "I'll cause breath to come into you and you'll come alive. I'll attach tendons, cause flesh to appear on you and cover you over with skin. I'll put breath into you and you'll live - then you'll know that I'm Yahweh."'

Notice the repetition, a form of emphasis. First we have breath-life. Then the repetition which also provides more detail, tendons-flesh-skin-breath-life-know. The breath and life are central, the tendons, flesh and skin are necessary enablers, and know is the purpose. 'Know that I'm Yahweh' or 'Know Yahweh' if we follow Sean's suggestion (check the comments in the previous part).

But what happens when Ezekiel pronounces these words of prophecy over the bones? None of the above! What does happen is immediate, however, and implied. In order for Yahweh to attach tendons, first he must move the bones together. They cannot move themselves for they are dead.

So when the dry and dusty bones of church as we see it hear the Word (who is Jesus) we can expect that those bones will move together into right relationship. We can also expect it to be a noisy process, anyone nearby will know about it. And then they will be in the right places for sinew and muscle and skin to cover them over, and spiritual life to fill them until they know him. And then he will have church as he sees it and expects it and can use it.

Ezekiel's obedient pronouncement was prophetic over scattered, broken, captive Israel. They were about to be brought together in Jerusalem and become once more a living nation. They would rebuild the Temple so they might again know Yahweh and have him living amongst them.

But those same words are prophetic over the scattered, broken, captive people who together make up the church in our day. We too need to move together into right relationship with one another. We need the Creator King to bind us together with sinew and muscle and skin.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul puts it like this: '...we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.' (Ephesians 4:15-16)

We need to be filled with the abundant life of the Spirit of Christ until we truly know him. Then we will be the new Temple built of living stones,  his body here on Earth, a mighty army.

Let the import of that glorious and astonishing destiny fill your heart with hope and expectation. It will happen! These words have been spoken over us by someone greater than Ezekiel, by Christ himself. He has said it. He will do it!

I must now point out the disjointed and broken nature of church as we see it today. Everywhere we see denominations, streams, grouping of all kinds. We see house churches and mega churches and in between churches. These are all dry bones. But the body of Christ as he intends it (and will have it) is one body, a living and breathing body.

All of the parts are involved. Here's the mystery - the denominational and other dry bones will be hidden from view, bound together in right relationship and covered over with flesh and skin.

I suggest you read Ephesians 4:1-16 in full at this point. What will Paul's words say to you about all this?

< The word of Yahweh | Index | Sinew, muscle and skin >

03 December 2011

The word of Yahweh

Part 5 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Speak to the bones | Index | The bones come together >

Now we come to the heart of the matter, here's the message that Ezekiel is to speak over the dry bones. They are to come to life!

A derelict church in Turkey
Before we look at the words themselves, let's briefly recap on what we've discovered so far.

The Israelites are in captivity in a foreign land and so is Ezekiel; we can see this as applying to the church as well. The world we live in is foreign and often at odds with the Kingdom of heaven.

Yahweh leads Ezekiel into a valley and shows him a lot of scattered bones, the remains of what was once alive. Ezekiel and the Almighty look at the bones very thoroughly. We need to go with Jesus and examine the state of the church carefully in just the same way; will we find life or dryness? And, like Ezekiel, we need to believe that Father can and will put back life into what has become dead. Recognising deadness and believing he will restore life are essential, not optional.

And now we must command what is dead, command the bones to hear what the Master says to them. 'Hear what the Lord says.' This is not only a command, it's also a declaration that the words we speak are indeed his words not our own. With that as background let's consider the words themselves.

'This is what the Lord Yahweh tells these bones: "I'll cause breath to come into you and you'll come alive. I'll attach tendons, cause flesh to appear on you and cover you over with skin. I'll put breath into you and you'll live - then you'll know that I'm Yahweh."' (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

It seems that one of the reasons Israel hadn't been treating Yahweh correctly was that they had not known him. Perhaps it was the overriding reason. You can almost hear the distress mingled with hope in the Lord's heart - 'Then you'll know that I'm Yahweh'. He wants a people who are not dry, scattered bones. He wants a people who know who he is and love him and treat him accordingly.

We need a right view of the Lord's power and authority and glory. We need a right view of his Father heart. We need to grasp the depth and height and breadth of his love for us. It was just the same in the time of Haggai. They had returned to the land of Israel at that time but they still didn't understand that their priority should be the Lord's well-being, not their own. If they had truly loved him they would have built his house. The problem is not the lack of building, but the lack of love that would have provoked building.

The word translated 'breath' is important. It is 'ruach' in Hebrew and it also means 'spirit'. He wants to fill us with breath so that we will live again. Or, he wants to fill us with his Spirit so that we will live again.

I believe that Father has a great volume of blessing and authority and effectiveness stored and ready to pour out on his people. But to some degree we will affect the timing. It will be poured out when we, the church, are ready. The question is - are we ready? And if not, is there anything we can do to come into that place of being ready?

< Speak to the bones | Index | The bones come together >

25 November 2011

Speak to the bones

Part 4 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Taking a good look | Index | The word of Yahweh >

Now Yahweh says something strange to Ezekiel. He tells Ezekiel to speak to the bones, to prophecy to them. Is there any point in speaking to what is dead?

The complex structure of the ear
Let's look carefully at Ezekiel 37:4.

Then he told me, 'Prophecy to these bones. Tell them, "Dry bones! Hear Yahweh's word."'

There are several important points to notice. If Ezekiel hadn't understood these points the amazing things that are about to happen would not have happened. At least, they wouldn't have happened through Ezekiel.

Yahweh would have found another way, another person to serve him. Ezekiel would have missed out. Hearing is important, and the mechanism for hearing is complex.

Listen and speak - Yahweh spoke to Ezekiel. Ezekiel listened so that he could pass on what he had received. This is the place where we often go wrong. We see a need and we act to meet it, we say what we think best, we do what we think best.

It's good that we want to communicate and act, but it's not good that we decide what to say and what to do. Even Yahshua didn't do this, he set us a good example, he said only what he heard the Father say (John 12:49-50), he did only what he saw the Father do (John 5:19).

If we don't get this first step right we become unusable, no good for the eternal purposes of the Most High. Listen first. That's what Ezekiel did and so should we.

It may not make much sense - 'Prophecy to these bones', says Yahweh. Put yourself in Ezekiel's place, try to imagine it. Bones are not animate objects. At one time they were but now they are not. Here's a conversation that didn't take place - but it might have done. If Ezekiel had been like me it probably would have gone something along these lines...

Yahweh: 'Listen to me carefully.' - Ezekiel: 'Yes, Lord. I'm listening.'

Yahweh: 'I want you to talk to those bones over there, I want you to tell them that..' - Ezekiel: 'Wait, wait, wait. I must be hearing wrong, Lord. You want me to talk to who?'

Yahweh: 'Not who, what. I want you to talk to the bones'. - Ezekiel: 'No, Lord.'

Yahweh: 'No? What do you mean - no?' - Ezekiel: 'Er.. No ears, Lord. I mean the bones can't hear, they have no ears. They won't hear me.'

Yahweh: 'I'll deal with that, you just get on and prophecy, OK?' - Ezekiel: 'But my friends will think I'm stupid.' - Yahweh: 'And your point is?'

Yahweh: 'You're wasting time here, Ezekiel. I need a job done and I need it to be done right away. I'll find someone else.' - Ezekiel: 'No, no. I'll do it. I'll talk to the bones. Can I use a really quiet voice, Lord?'

Yahweh: 'I need a very loud voice for this job. If you're speaking to dry bones you have to speak up.' - Ezekiel: 'But, Lord, I have no idea what to say.'

Yahweh: 'Might that be because I haven' t told you yet? Hmm? You must command them to hear me, even though they have no ears.' - Ezekiel: 'OK-a-a-a-a-y'

Yahweh: 'Tell them, "Dry bones! Hear Yahweh's word."'

Hear his word! - Before Ezekiel can give the message to the bones, he must command them to hear. Assuming we can get past steps 1 and 2, this third step is something we often miss out. Before giving the message we need to command the deaf to hear.

This is a step of preparation. It may require months or even years of prayer. It may mean demanding to be heard over and over and over again. It may mean criticism and derision and even facing serious abuse. But it needs to be done.

There are no short cuts in hearing and speaking, seeing and doing.

Will we be like Ezekiel? Will we be unwavering in our obedience even if we appear foolish or unpopular or at risk?

And is it worthwhile speaking to something that's dead? Yes! Lazarus was dead, Yahshua spoke to him, and he came out of the grave.

< Taking a good look | Index | The word of Yahweh >

19 November 2011

Taking a good look

Part 3 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

Ezekiel has been brought into the middle of the valley and the Mighty One has a question for him. Ezekiel answers far more wisely than I would have done!

Scattered bones'He guided me back and forth amongst them and I saw a huge number of bones lying on the ground in the valley - very dry bones indeed. He asked me: "Son of man, is it possible for these bones to be alive?" I answered: "Yahweh Almighty, only you know".' (Ezekiel 37:2-3)

Take a really good look - So Ezekiel is there in the valley and Yahweh leads him about amongst the bones. This is not just a casual look, it's a really thorough examination of the situation. Notice how Ezekiel is guided back and forth, this is not 'Go and look and I'll wait here' on Yahweh's part. It's an intimate togetherness in which they both go, we can almost imagine Ezekiel as a child hand-in-hand with a parent.

I should warn you that the rest of this article might seem very gloomy. But please remember, this is a low point in a deep valley and things get better - much better!

For Ezekiel this is all about Israel in captivity under Babylon. For us it should also speak about the church in captivity under the thinking and dictates of the world. We can no more shake ourselves free from the influence of the world than Israel could have shaken herself free from Babylon. Yet we need to be free.

Because we are in the world it is very, very natural to apply processes like planning, teaching, organising and structuring, hierarchies, leadership, and Power Point. There is nothing wrong with these methods in themselves, but they do have the sneaky potential to replace an intimate walk with Papa day by day. Methods alone are death, Jesus alone is life. Where would you rather be? If you choose both, be aware there will be conflict and don't say I didn't warn you.

We can learn from Ezekiel's thorough examination of the bones. We really do need to be 'guided back and forth' amongst the remains of church. It's time to examine the situation very, very carefully and thoroughly. A casual glance is not going to be enough. Father's guidance is essential, not optional. The good news is that there are people being guided back and forth today. I am aware of some of them but I'm certain there are many more I'm not aware of. This is not something we initiate. It's something Father is initiating; guiding us to become aware of the situation.

Dry as a bone - Ezekiel sees that there are huge numbers of these bones. But he also notices that they are very dry indeed. This is significant too. These are not the remains of something that was recently alive. Think about the process of decay - the muscle and other soft tissue is the first to go, skin and hair takes much longer, sinew and cartilage require even longer, and to get to the stage where the bones are disarticulated and scattered and powder dry takes a very long time indeed.

This is true of the church too. Don't miss the point, I'm not saying that individual believers are dead or dry, this is about how we are fitted together and active together - church. What should be a mighty army is dead, dry and scattered; church has been in that state for a long, long time.

So here is Ezekiel arm in arm with the Great One, checking over the state of the remains. And Yahweh looks at Ezekiel and asks: 'Can these bones live?' Only a wise person would answer this correctly. Reason tells us dry, scattered bones cannot live - ever. They have already had their chance. But Ezekiel says: 'You tell me, Lord!'

If only we would stop talking to one another and begin listening to Father together instead. If only!

Death is in the world but life is in Christ. If careful inspection shows dry bones then we need to know that Jesus is our only hope. Every time we have come off the church rails it's because we've turned away from Christ and trusted instead in mission, or training, or... fill in the blanks. We do not need a new programme, we need a new vision of Christ!

When we examine the state of the church and how it needs to change, are we walking arm-in-arm with the King or are we going on our own, for our own ends, in our own wisdom and strength?

< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

11 November 2011

Valley of dry bones - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

A view of Ffald-y-BreninEzekiel's writing about the valley of dry bones has much to say to us about deadness and life in the church.

Is it now time for dusty dryness to be transformed into vigorous, vibrant life? This short series examines the implications.

  1. Ezekiel in exile - Ezekiel's words about the valley of dry bones seem significant.
  2. Dry bones in the valley - Ezekiel 37:1.
  3. Taking a good look - A question in the middle of the valley.
  4. Speak to the bones - Is there any point in speaking to what is dead?
  5. The word of Yahweh - The bones are to come to life!
  6. The bones come together - Ezekiel begins speaking to the bones.
  7. Sinew, muscle and skin - He watches as the bones are covered.
  8. Prophecy to the breath - Ezekiel is called to speak again.
  9. An overwhelming army - The bodies come to life and stand.
  10. The dry bones of church will live - A prophecy for the church today.

Copyright

Creative Commons Licence

© 2002-2014, Chris J Jefferies

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. A link to the relevant article on this site is sufficient attribution. If you print the material please include the URL. Thanks! Click through photos for larger versions. Images from Wikimedia Commons will then display the original copyright information.
Real Time Web Analytics