Willing to Lose?

I would like to ask you to consider a question: What are you willing to lose? And for what would you be willing to lose it? Finally, if you had to lose what you value over all else, what would enable you to not mourn its loss?

Ezekiel is a book with 48 chapters, each holding between 8 and 63 verses. Within this volume of text it would be easy to pass by 3 verses, tucked away amongst the others. However, there are 3 verses that should not be passed over. In fact, they should rattle our lives and challenge how we respond to circumstances.

Eze 24:15-18 The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

We have had a brief look at Ezekiel’s ministry and some of the crazy prophetic enactments God had him complete. Through all of this, Ezekiel’s wife did not leave him. She has put up with everything that he has done: the silence, and not having him as her own. And what do we see in the above 3 verses? God allows him NO public display of grief when his wife dies; he is not allowed to honour her. He had to carry on like nothing had happened.

She was “the delight of his eye” and yet Ezekiel fulfilled God’s command with unquestioning obedience. What enabled him to do this? The fact that she was the “delight of his eye” tells us that he loved her deeply; that he was not devoid of emotion.

This act was to show the grief God had over His people. They were His bride and the apple of His eyes. They were adored by Him. We were to feel God’s pain; the people were to see God’s pain as His people were taken away. But we also see the cost upon Ezekiel who lived for the Lord. Ministry costs. Obedience to God and His call comes with a cost. One of the major themes in the New Testament is suffering. Following Christ costs.

Three short sentences I once heard have remained with me: “Christ gave everything. Christ is worth everything. Christ demands everything.” 

Sometimes we intellectualise this challenge without considering the implications. Are you willing to die to yourself everyday in order to live for God? I’m not just talking about whether you are willing to die for Him, for that only requires a moment of brave faith. Are you willing to daily lay down your desires for Him?

For me, the cost is living away from home, family and friends. There are some days where I can physically feel the ache for them within my heart. There are days where I’m tempted to throw missions aside in order to return to the comfort of a 9-5 job. But this is the life to which God has called me. It comes with tremendous blessings, but also tremendous cost. On days when I am counting the cost it helps to recall the cross and the Saviour who gave everything for me. Knowing the love God has for me and what I have inherited as His child enables me to continue.

What is He asking you to sacrifice and will you endure? What keeps you from giving this sacrifice?

Are you desperate to get the Gospel out regardless of the cost? Are you willing to lose everything for the Gospel?

2 Tim 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

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Ezekiel: Testimony Time

I was challenged to start this series on Ezekiel’s life when we recently had class on the book. God asked me to cut off my hair as an enacted symbol when I was studying this book a few years ago. It was an act that has had tremendous impact on my life, but something I rarely share for fear that others will deem it ridiculous. It was during class that God challenged me to share with others why I cut my hair, and not just keep it to myself. So here’s the story:

It seemed crazy at the time – since I hadn’t had it in a bob-cut since I was 2 years old (about 20 years) – but this one simple act of obedience has rooted me in my faith over the past three years. It has given me confidence to step out boldly when God has called me to do things I would have considered even more extreme. At the time I felt God tell me to do it without knowing His reasons why. Nevertheless, I asked why, and He said to learn how to act in immediate obedience, without having to understand what He wanted to do through it.

After I had faithfully been to the hairdresser and lost my long, curly locks, I kept expecting God to show me something else He had done through the act. I expected Him to have had another lesson hidden within it. But the lesson of obedience was the only one He had and it was one of the most significant lessons He has taught me.

But why couldn’t He have taught it to me some other way? I love having long hair. In fact, I took a little too much pride in it! And over the past 3 years as it gradually grows back, it has emboldened me to trust Him when having to be obedient in other things, which seem more extreme.

For example, three years ago I would not have had the faith to start an NGO (non-governmental organisation) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). And I certainly wouldn’t have had the tenacity of faith to continue working towards our vision for Mahagi Territory in the DRC if it wasn’t for being obedient in the small, seemingly meaningless acts of obedience (one of which being the cutting of my hair) that led up to the DRC ministry (Redefined Ministries International).

God might be asking you to do something which seems meaningless or small. It might seem like it will affect no one else but you, so why do it? Or it might seem of no value, other than to give those around you cause to poke fun at your faith. But step out in obedience all the same! Because you never know what God is preparing you for! We are called to practise obedience in our faith everyday; in the big things, the small things and the crazy things.

Short hair

WHY all the Craziness???

Last time we were introduced to Ezekiel and the hard call on his life. God asked him to live a life that made him stand out in his community and become the butt of the joke. He was the village clown, the one that people ridiculed. Today we are going to look at why God has him do crazy actions – such as cooking his food over animal dung for over a year. We are going to ask why God didn’t allow him to foretell coming events with words.

Looking back to the Spheres of Society series, this topic seems appropriate following on the back of the sphere of communication. Remember when we looked at Communication in Scripture, we saw that our speech and actions go together.

So into Ezekiel:

What were some of the things he had to do? (We call them “enacted symbols”; see end of post for meaning of the symbols)

  1. Mute for 7 years (unable to speak unless God gave him set words to declare)
  2. Unable to leave his house (unless sent somewhere by God)
  3. Lie on his side and build a model of the city of Jerusalem for over a year
  4. Placed an iron griddle between where he lay and the city
  5. Set portions of food and water a day and none too appetising (to make his bread from wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer), which he had to cook over dung.
  6. And so forth…

 So why did Ezekiel have to do these enacted symbols? (see end of post for expanded explanation)

Why could he not just proclaim that God’s judgement was coming upon Judah for their disobedience (the consequence of breaking their covenant/ contract with God)? Here are a few ideas of why they were important (and not just a way of making God’s servant, Ezekiel, look like a fool):

  1. Actions ALWAYS ALWAYS speak louder than words
  2. Actions serve as a memory aid
  3. Actions grab the attention
  4. Actions require obedience to be carried out

APPLICATION TIME:

Are you prepared to stand out in the midst of your culture? If God asked you to do something that your culture deemed ridiculous or foolish, would you be prepared to?

Next blog I’m going to share a testimony of obedience with you, which seemed stupid at the time but had far-reaching impact on my life.

 

Meaning behind the enacted symbols:

  1. Mute for 7 years (unable to speak unless God gave him set words to declare; meaning he could not defend himself or apologise to his wife for being a societal spectacle)
  2. Unable to leave his house (unless sent somewhere by God)
  3. Lie on his side and build a model of the city of Jerusalem (showing that the city would be besieged and would fall to the Babylonians; something that the Jews did not believe God would allow to happen)
    1. 390 days (left side)
    2. 40 days (right side)
    3. Placed an iron griddle between where he lay and the city (to symbolise an iron wall; Jerusalem being cut off from God)
    4. Set portions of food and water a day and none too appetising (to make his bread from wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer), which he had to cook over dung (to symbolise want during the siege and that they would have to eat food unclean according to the Law).

Enacted symbols expanded:

  1. Actions ALWAYS ALWAYS speak louder than words
    1. If you want to know someone’s core beliefs then simply observe them for a couple of days; their actions will reveal their beliefs and priorities
    2. Actions serve as a memory aid
      1. Seeing an action triggers our remembrance
      2. When the event being represented actually happened, it validated everything that he has done; the people knew that Ezekiel had been proclaiming a message from God
      3. Actions grab the attention
        1. Think of TV advertisements today – they grab our attentions and draw us in. The people did not take heed to Ezekiel, but they all wanted to see what crazy thing he was going to do next.
        2. Actions require obedience to be carried out
          1. This one is for Ezekiel – for Ezekiel to do these things takes a tremendous amount of faith. He has lost his ability to communicate as he would and he is choosing everyday to communicate as God is asking of him.
          2. Crazy, unbelievable, unexplainable obedience

Reputation on the Line

This week in class we have been going through the book of Ezekiel. It is one of my favourite books in the Bible because of how much Ezekiel’s life challenges me.

Ezekiel was a man who for seven years was not able to speak (unless they were the words God gave him to speak) and he was not able to leave his house (unless it was for a specific purpose that God was sending him on). Ezekiel was married at this time; imagine what this would have meant to his family not to be able to communicate any personal matter.

Ezekiel was a prophet of God; a man sent to speak God’s words to the people of Israel when they had been taken into exile in Babylon for breaking their covenant (contract) with God. The people of God went into exile in three groups; Ezekiel was amongst the second deportation to Babylon before the nation completely fell to the Babylonian Empire. He spoke before people believed that Jerusalem (capital city) would fall to Babylon and as a result, his words were not believed.

Ezekiel walked in total obedience to God through his life, which resulted in him doing some crazy things – included lying on his side for a year and a half and eating nothing but daily portion of lentils and water, which he had to cook over poo. Gross? Yes. Require crazy-obedience? Yes.

Ezekiel’s reputation would have been destroyed by what was required of him. His credibility as a prophet (as one truly sent by God) may have gone up when Jerusalem fell to Babylon, but he would remain “that crazy guy” who dug through walls, lay on his side, and built model cities.

Ezekiel’s life should challenge us. I’m not saying that we should all go out now and lie on our side for a year or anything, but I do believe that this book calls us to bring radical obedience into our faith. It is easy to argue with God when He asks us to do something that we feel others would see as illogical, but why? Ezekiel’s ministry began with a revelation of the glory of God. He fell on his face before God’s awesomeness. If we live in awe and reverence of God, then we will fear Him over the opinion of others.

The APPLICATION question for this is:

“Is my reputation too valuable to me to put it on the line to serve God???”

Sometimes we look at this as meaning change, but it doesn’t have to be radical change in what we’re doing (e.g. a new job), but rather how we live out our faith in our day to day life. Yes, sometimes God calls us to change jobs or to give things up in a way that others will criticise. But mostly it’s that daily call to obedience, that small thing that we must be willing to appear different in.

When you boil it down, Ezekiel walked in OBEDIENCE. He faithfully obeyed God through all the craziness. Are you prepared to do the same?

  • Do you have a sudden desire to lift up your hands in worship or sing a hymn as you walk down the street?
  • Are you prepared to miss out on a fun activity that popped up because you need to uphold your word to help a friend out, even when pressured by the cry “they’ll understand if you postpone”?
  • Perhaps the request is to stop to talk to that dear old woman at the bus stop and giving up half an hour of your time to listen to her. Or perhaps it is offering to pray for the businessman drinking his coffee in the table opposite you at the cafe.
  • For me, it is often the simple challenge of continuing to write, not knowing if it is being effective, not knowing if it is challenging people, or whether people do not like what I’m saying.
  • What is God asking you to be obedient in?

 

Up ahead: Next blog I will look at the significance of Ezekiel’s actions and why it was important that he acted these out.