Friday, 31 May 2013

What if God had an iPhone?

What if  God had an iPhone?

Would you leap out of bed to answer Him?

Would you check in on a regular basis?

Would he be your first point of contact in the morning and last at night?

Would you be aware of His presence while you were eating a meal or watching television?

Would you stop whatever you were doing to answer His call?

God’s loving presence is greater than any material device, useful as they may be. He’s available 24/7. No batteries needed. Lifelong contract and it will cost you, but the deal is the best one you’ll ever get. You can take Him with you into the ocean, a board meeting, hospital ward or anywhere else. And His Server, the Holy Spirit, never crashes.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Lifeboat Men

I was born in the port city of Hull, England, but spent most of my childhood in a town called Bridlington on the east coast of Yorkshire. It was a seaside town where the Brits went for their holidays, as it boasted broad sandy beaches (complete with donkey rides) and pleasant walks along the coastal cliffs. I’ve many happy memories of my childhood there.
Bridlington was also the home harbour for a large fleet of small ships which fished the North Sea. In wintertime the North Sea could be very treacherous and sometimes the lifeboats were called upon.
Some children make heroes of policemen and women, or firefighters. In my childhood town our heroes were the lifeboat men. When fierce storms struck and a vessel was in trouble or had sunk, the lifeboat men took to the lifeboats and went out in all weathers to rescue them. Our school class once toured the life boat station and we were able to see what small but manoeuvrable craft the lifeboats were. We gained an appreciation of the courage it took for the lifeboat men to risk their own lives by taking these craft to sea in wild weather.
Whenever a ship was in trouble or people were missing at sea, in our school assembly we would sing the hymn, “Eternal Father, strong to save.”:
“Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!”

The worst tragedy of all was when the lifeboat men lost their lives saving others. In comparison, the whole town rejoiced when a lost sailor or fisherman was returned safely in the lifeboat.

There’s a common analogy these days that the church has become a cruise ship rather than a lifeboat and it’s not a bad comparison in some cases.
Cruises are very pleasant holidays. They provide a lot of enjoyment. There’s a multitude of organisation that goes into a cruise, with the ship well staffed- captain and officers, cruise director, entertainments officer, a band, chefs and tour guides. There’s plenty of food and activities and social life. You can make lots of friends and have a great time. When my family migrated from England to Australia we travelled by sea on the Fairsky. It was a tremendous adventure for a young girl.
Not too many people choose to train to man lifeboats and venture into rough seas to rescue people. It takes a special kind of person to do that. They too need a well-organised network. They need a home base where they can train together and share fellowship. I’m sure that at the lifeboat station the crews eat together and enjoy a laugh. But they have a purpose, and all their teamwork and training and activity relates to saving lives.

Jesus gave his disciples one great commission:
“All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt. 28:18-20 ASV).

Jesus said “Go”. I used to attend a Pentecostal church which had a sign above the exit which one read as they left the building: “You are now entering your mission field.” We’re surrounded by a world of desperate people drowning in their sin. They need those who will brave the spiritual storms and throw them a lifeline. “Go” says Jesus- across the world, or a few steps across the room. It doesn’t matter when there are those who need saving.

Jesus doesn’t want His people to be forever sailing around in cruise ships. He wants them out in the lifeboats.  We don’t need to be afraid of the weather. After all, we are trusting in the One who calmed the storms and walked on the water.

“O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea”

(“Eternal Father Strong to Save” lyrics by William Whiting, written in 1860 and set to music by John Dykes, 1861)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Prophecies of Ezekiel

The Biblical book of the Prophet Ezekiel displays a characteristic of many of the Old Testament writings in that the prophecies contained therein may be considered in two aspects. They applied to the events of that particular time, but they also contained principles which still apply today, and as such are prophecies which apply to future events. This is borne out by the similarity of the prophecies of this Old Testament book to the prophecies in the book of Revelation, written after the death and resurrection of Christ, which foretells events yet to come. Therefore it is well worthwhile to look at the prophecies in Ezekiel, not only in the light of history but also as a pointer to the end times of Revelation.

Like John in the book of Revelation, Ezekiel is transported into a place where he sees a vision of the majesty of heaven in all its glory, the creatures who worship there and the risen Lord Jesus reigning on His throne. As with John, Ezekiel is left in no doubt about the practices that God hates and the judgement that is coming:

Prophecy against the mountains of Israel (Chapter6)
Why would anyone prophecy against inanimate objects such as mountains? It was, in fact, the practices which were occurring on these mountains which were so abhorrent to God. The people were building altars to foreign gods, burning incense to idols of wood and stone and other practices.
Our God is a jealous God and will not share our affections with false idols. The first commandment of the ten is “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The second is “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God...” (Exodus 20:4, 5).
Because of this idolatry, God foretold through Ezekiel the people of Israel would face destruction of these places in the mountains, conquest and death by the sword, famine and plague. It is similar to the outpouring of destruction, plague, famine and death which is foretold in Revelation and symbolised by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Those Christians today who specialise in ministry outreach to people involved in occult practices report that high places and mountain regions are still targeted for these activities, though they are by no means exclusive to these areas. Idolatry encompasses a wide range of practices ranging from new age philosophies to false religions to infatuations with money or success, anything, in fact which takes the foremost priority in our lives that should be reserved for God.

Prophecy against Israel’s leaders (Chapter 11)
The leaders of the people were practicing evil and giving wicked advice. This is further detailed later in the book in chapter 22. Because the leaders were wicked and corrupt, other levels of society followed suit. God promised to destroy these leaders, and even when Ezekiel was prophesying, one of them died. This serves as a warning that those who undertake leadership in any form are accountable for their attitudes and the example they set to those for whom they are responsible.

Prophecy against false prophets (Chapter 13)
It is a solemn responsibility to declare that something is from God. In this case He demonstrated through Ezekiel His wrath with those who “prophecy out of their own imagination” (13:2). He warns: “Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations” when you say “the Lord declares” though I have not spoken” (13:7). The actions of these false prophets are compared to building a flimsy wall and covering it with whitewash – a cheap disguise. There is also reference to the use of magic charms.
Again, we can look to the Ten Commandments, the third of which is “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7). Not only blasphemy but to imply that something is from God when it is merely for human gain is to misuse His name. Those who were prophesying falsely for their own gain were told they would face destruction.
Interestingly, in 13:10 God reproved these prophets for leading the people astray by saying “Peace” when there was no peace.  Similarly, in the book of Revelation we are told that there will be false promises of peace. Jesus warns us in Matthew 24 that there will be many deceptive false prophets and this will cumulate in the emergence of the one known as the false prophet in the time of tribulation detailed in Revelation.[i]

This prophecy serves to remind us as Christians today that we are not to banter around the Lord’s name or make exaggerated claims about our spiritual gifts or experiences for our own edification. We also pray and trust God for discernment and wisdom when reading, listening to speakers, watching documentaries and other ways that we use to deepen our knowledge of the things of God. How do they line up with scripture? Do they give God the honour and glory that is His alone? Do they proclaim Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the only way for salvation, through repentance and faith in Jesus, by His blood shed on the cross?

Prophecy against the South (Chapter 21)
Again, Ezekiel was instructed to prophesy against inanimate objects, in this case a forest, which was to be consumed by fire. Some versions of the Bible have this southern land named as the Negev, other commentators have suggested it refers to Judah or possibly Egypt. We can only infer that like the mountains which drew censure, this southern area was a place of sinful practices and indifference or hostility to God.

Prophecy against Jerusalem and the land of Israel (Chapter21)
If one reads through chapter 22, we are given a no-holes-barred description of the practices which were occurring which grieved and angered and insulted our Heavenly Father to the extent that judgement and justice were to be meted out. Idolatry, bloodshed, oppression of the widows and orphans, contempt for parents, sexual immorality, bribery and corruption were prevalent. Priests were profaning what is holy and not distinguishing and teaching the difference between good and evil. Officials were making unjust gain. People were robbing one another. Verse 12 succinctly encapsulates it all –“And you have forgotten Me” declares the Sovereign Lord.”
There is a very sad verse at the end of this chapter. “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” This idea of standing in the gap is based upon the physical reality of protective walls and hedges which surrounded communities for protection- a breach in the wall allowed wild animals or attackers to gain entry and it would be necessary for anyone defending the community to literally stand in the gap. Its spiritual equivalent is for intercessors to both defend their faith communities and plead for those outside the community.
We are reminded that we live and breathe and have our being only by God’s grace. The book of Genesis records that the evil practices of mankind became so great that God destroyed all of the population with the exception of Noah and his family. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not merely for their immorality and violence but also because they failed to care for the poor and needy. In chapter 16, Ezekiel makes reference to Sodom, a “sister” in his allegory of Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness to God.
Chapter 21 prophesies the great destruction which will be dispensed because of all this sin. Again, we look at this prophecy in the light of our world today. Is our world more morally upright than the nation of Israel which incurred God’s judgement? Are we, the church, standing in the gap for our unsaved neighbours?

Prophecies against surrounding nations

A prophecy against Ammon (Chapter 25)
Because the Ammonites rejoiced over the desecration of the sanctuary and the destruction of the Israelites, God decreed through Ezekiel that Ammon would be conquered.

A prophecy against Moab(Chapter 25)
The Moabites were also destined to be conquered because of their scorn towards Judah.

A prophesy against Edom (Chapter 25)
The Edomites were vengeful towards Judah. This is alluded to again in chapter 35, where the Edomites were singled out as being gleeful and malicious in their zeal to possess the pasture lands of Israel, and were destroyed by God as a consequence.

A prophecy against Philistia  (Chapter 25)
Like the Edomites, the Philistians are described as vengeful and malicious and similarly incurred God’s judgement and punishment.

Throughout these prophecies, we understand that although God had already pronounced judgement upon Israel, He did not accept the actions and attitudes of the surrounding nations towards His people.

Today the nations of the Middle East are still involved in great turmoil and conflict. We are reminded through these prophecies of the historical significance of the nation of Israel to God. There are many commentators who deeply study the events unfolding in the middle east in relation to what the Bible tells us in Revelation is yet to happen in this world and there is much study material available for those interested in this subject area. We also know that God is Sovereign over all and world events will only unfold according to His will and timing.

These prophecies serve to remind us that God is still involved in judging and defending His people, which today are His church. These also remind us on a more personal level to “judge not, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), also “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). The apostle Paul tells us that “love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6). We are not to gossip or take enjoyment from the sins of others, but to intercede and pray for them.

Prophecy against Tyre (Chapter 26) and the King of Tyre (chapter 28)
The flourishing Phoenician trading port of Tyre had become extremely wealthy and proud of its position. Again, it was Tyre’s scornful attitude towards the destruction of Israel with an expectation of prospering from Israel’s downfall that merited God’s wrath and prophecy of destruction by the Babylonians. The king of Tyre who had elevated his position to godly status was also doomed to destruction.
Chapter 28 of Ezekiel is significant in that the king of Tyre is not only representative of the earthly monarch of that time, but also describes Satan. We are given a description of Satan’s fall and the reason for it. Although “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (28:11) Satan became blinded to his true dependency on God : “In the pride of your heart you say “I am a god” (28:1). Satan in his pride falsely exalted himself to equality with God, and in the Garden of Eden tempted Eve with the same false promise “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5). Praise God, through Jesus Christ mankind has the opportunity of redemption from sin through repentance and faith in Jesus. Satan is eternally cast out of heaven and he and his fallen angels are defeated and doomed to destruction.

More prophecies against surrounding countries

A prophecy against Sidon
This ancient Phoenician capital, often mentioned in conjunction with Tyre, was also a trading port, and like Tyre, is described here as malicious in its attitude towards Israel and suffered conquest as a consequence.

A prophecy against Egypt
Like Tyre, the Egyptian nation had become so wealthy and powerful that they had elevated their king to god status and had forgotten the God who had created all things: “You say the Nile is mine, I made it for myself” (29:3). Desolation, famine and plague are predicted.  Egypt’s allies, Cush and Put, Lydia, Arabia and Libya were all destined to be conquered alongside. (30:5)

A prophecy against the shepherds of Israel. (Chapter 34)
The religious leaders were not caring for their flock, but only for their own interests. They did not strengthen the weak or heal the sick, tend the injured or search for strays. They ruled harshly and allowed the flock to be scattered. For this God warns that they will be held accountable.
Not only are the shepherds being warned here. All believers are warned that God knows their hearts and their actions and that he will judge between one sheep and another. We are to encourage, care for and share with each other fairly. Disunity, church hurt and bullying are serious before God.
A great promise is held in this chapter for those who have been hurt within the church. “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.” There are many, many godly shepherds and sheep in the church today, but Jesus himself will minister to those who turn to Him when earthly ministries fall short.

Prophecy to the mountains of Israel(Chapter36)

Towards the end of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet provides two prophecies “to”, rather than “against” the nation of Israel. They demonstrate that in His grace, God provides mercy as well as judgement to those who repent and turn to Him in faith.

Whereas in chapter 6 God casts judgement on the mountains of Israel, He now promises the land will experience fruitfulness, increase, prosperity and purity.He had already promised in chapter six that He would not destroy everybody but would spare a remnant who would turn to Him in repentance and faith. Throughout scripture God demonstrates His desire to do this: consider Noah and his family; Abraham's pleas for the sparing of Lot and his family, and Peter's encouragement as he recalls the prophecies of the evil times and tribulation which are still coming: "He [Jesus] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
Similarly, towards the end of the book of Revelation we are given a picture of the “New Jerusalem”, the kingdom of Christ in all its wonder and glory.
For Christians, we experience the abundant life promised in the New Testament and the blessings and fruits of the Holy Spirit now when we are redeemed in Christ, and the promise of experiencing the wonders of Heaven when we finally go to our home with Him.

Prophecy to the breath in the valley of dry bones (chapter 37)

This well known vision of dry bones which the Lord restores to life holds the promise that those who are martyred for their faith will become alive again in Christ. This great promise is outlined again in the descriptions of the martyrs in Hebrews 11: “They were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”  
Revelation chapter six records the fact that God has not forgotten His martyrs: “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”

As believers we have the promise of eternal life with Christ. This prophecy of the dry bones coming to life also symbolises the death that we as humans experience through sin and the hope of new life we have in Christ. When we become Christians through acceptance of Christ as our Saviour through His death on the cross, we are born again. (John 3). Christ breathes a new existence into us, one that is eternal. We will physically die in this life, but have the promise of resurrection to live with Christ forever. 1Thesselonians 4:16 describes the resurrection of the saints when the events of Revelation are fulfilled: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

A prophecy against Gog (Chapter 38)

This final prophecy against a people or nation is directed to a coalition of nations which will invade Israel led by Gog and including Persia, Cush, Put Gomer and Beth Togarmah and is widely interpreted as being an attack which has not yet occurred and may well be part of the tribulation period described in Revelation. The reader is advised to pursue further personal study  as there is a plethora of resources to study if one is interested in the subject. In a broad sense Gog may represent a general term for the enemies of God’s people. The book of Revelation leads us in no doubt that there is a time coming when God’s people will be persecuted on an unprecedented scale; yet at the same time God reminds us that He is sovereign. Study of these matters may be sobering for the Christian, but we have the assurance of God’s provision for all that we need to equip us to live in the situations in which He places us. As Paul says in Philippians 3 “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” A relationship with Christ is the most precious thing that we can ever hope to gain in this world.

In Summary

The prophecies of Ezekiel demonstrate to us that

  • God hates iniquity and sin and is well aware of what is happening in the world. Far from being aloof to the actions of mankind, He will respond. Wickedness deserves God's judgement and He is a just and righteous God. Yet He is also a gracious and merciful Father who provided Jesus His Son to take our punishment for us when we commit our lives to God through repentance and faith in Christ. Only through Jesus are we saved from the final judgement of God on this world which the scriptures tell us is coming.
  • God takes no pleasure in the death of unbelievers (Ezekiel 18:32). As Christians it is our responsibility to warn unbelievers of their need for repentance and to intercede for them.
  • We are to be aware of our human capacity for sin and pride and self-sufficiency and be continually mindful of both our dependency on God and the need to give Him the glory which He alone deserves.
  • God restores new life and wonderful hope to those who turn to Him in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ His Son.

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11: 19,20.

[i] For further information on the prophesies of Revelation, I recommend “Because the Time is Near” by John Macarthur,  Moody Publishers Chicago 2007

Saturday, 11 May 2013

"Peace and joy above your circumstances"

These six words leapt out from the sermon I heard in church this morning. Thanks Pastor Jodi. (I attend a Baptist church which has two lady ministers on the pastoral team.) We can live with peace and joy no matter what else is happening in our lives.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27