Showing posts with label valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label valley. Show all posts

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 >

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 >

16 November 2011

Dry bones in the valley

Part 2 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Ezekiel in exile | Index | Taking a good look >

This time we're going to take a look at the first verse of Ezekiel 37, the start of the section on the valley of dry bones. Let's see what Father will show us in this verse.

Death Valley in the USA'Yahweh's hand was on me and he brought me out by the Spirit of Yahweh and set me in the middle of a valley. It was full of bones.' (Ezekiel 37:1)

We can't tell whether Ezekiel visited a real valley or whether the entire section from verse one to verse fourteen is a vision. Perhaps it's most likely to have been a vision. But it doesn't really matter, it's far from being the most important thing.

'Yahweh's hand was on me...' - That's what Ezekiel says. And this is always his heart toward us; unless his hand is on us we cannot move except by our own efforts. This is fundamental to everything the Almighty does. He speaks, he moves, he demonstrates, he heals, he forgives - and in all these ways he touches us.

Have you noticed how often Jesus touched people? He touched their eyes and mouths and ears when he healed. He touched what was ritually unclean - a leper, a dead girl. The most intimate thing we can do is to touch someone. Touch brings us closer than words ever can. What do we do when a child is hurt, or afraid, or anxious? We pick them up or hug them or kiss them better. We need to touch and be touched. So Yahweh's hand was on Ezekiel.

And notice that this is the first thing that happens, before Ezekiel sees the bones or even goes to the valley, Yahweh's hand is on him. This is the touch that says, 'I am going to use you'. The Almighty lays hold of us because we are his instruments and he plans to use us in some way.

Have you felt his hand on you in your life? I hope so! But if not, pray that he will touch you and use you in whatever way he chooses. If he knows you are truly willing he will use you. That's what he longs to do with all his people. He has chosen to use us to do his work in this world today. Isn't that awesome?

'...and he brought me out by the Spirit of Yahweh...' - He brings us out and he does it by his own Spirit. Out from what? Out from the place where we currently are! See how he is one with himself in doing this? It's explicit in the Hebrew, the name is used twice. Yahweh uses the Spirit of Yahweh.

Sometimes we get stuck in a place. I don't mean a physical place, I mean a place in our lives that we are unable or unwilling to move on from. Sometimes we are simply waiting for direction. It might be something we're doing or a thought pattern we return to or just that he has finished using us in one situation and now wants us in a different one. Whether we are stuck or not - he brings us out, he draws us on, he sends his own Spirit to lead us into the next thing, the next place. For an example read about Roy Godwin. The story is unfolding - if you want to go faster you can buy his book.

And notice this, if Ezekiel had not moved he would not have come to the valley. We have a propensity to cling to what we know and to keep doing what is already familiar. But we need to be ready to allow the Spirit to move us at any time so that we can receive something new, Father's next thing for you, for me.

'...and set me in the middle of a valley.' - And so Yahweh sets Ezekiel in the valley. Now a valley is a low point and must be surrounded by higher ground. Ezekiel is placed 'in the middle' of this valley, right at the lowest point. He is as far from the surrounding hills and mountains as it is possible to be.

We know this feeling don't we? Life is hard and promising to get harder yet. There are low points in our lives and there are also low points in the life of the church. This valley is a place of defeat, a place of no hope or joy or victory. It's assuredly not a 'mountain-top experience'. We've all been there. Ezekiel was aware of the state of Israel in captivity under Babylon. But Yahweh's Spirit brought him here so there must surely be a reason for it. Does it sometimes seem as if church is in a valley? A slough of despond?

'It was full of bones.' - What do bones signify to you? Might they be the remains of what was once alive? More on this next time.

< Ezekiel in exile | Index | Taking a good look >

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.

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