When our son was little we took him bowling. He could barely hold the ball and there were a few times when he would try to lift it up and throw it like a basketball. We are grateful for the manager of the alley who gave us grace! At our  Bowling alley they have something called bumper guards that go inside the gutters to prevent the ball from going astray and keep the ball centered  so the likelihood of it going toward the pins is greater. When our son got his first couple strikes he was elated. He jumped; hollered and screamed with delight: “I did it, I did it!” We smiled and let him celebrate which brought us great joy. No one to this day ever said, “Well, we put those guards in place.” We never called the alley and said, “His success was because we used bumper guards.” It was just something parents did so the child could train and “feel” success. If he had insisted we take them off, if he had decided those guards were “legalistic” or for children, we would have removed them. We really enjoyed seeing him accomplish his goal and  celebrate those wins. 

In The Old Testament, God put “guards” in place and His people ignored them. God sent prophets to remind them but they ignored Him. Not only were they missing out on the “wins” but they were getting out of their lanes and bonking other people on the head – their games/sins turned lethal. They ignored Gods boundaries and precepts as if they were too old to need such lame guidelines.

Ezekiel – the strengthening prophet came along and ministered as a priest. He knew God and he knew God’s word. His main task was to comfort Israel. Hmm? Comfort looks very different in this book than in our western mindset. Caution brings comfort? How?  One day God put a huge sign in the sky to get Ezekiel’s attention. It was an amber light. The Bible doesn’t say yellow which is a natural color it says amber which is seen in fossilized resin from a tree – something that has become hardened. There was fire in the sky and this peculiar color was indicative of something that had been melted. He sees this color in the sky and God starts to teach him to warn those people, to caution them that danger is ahead if they do not turn from their wicked ways. Their biggest offense? Following after Him with tepid hearts – doing things in a perfunctory way.

Perfunctory – (of an action or gesture) carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection. That is the dictionary definition. When Josiah found the book of the law and reformation came, it did not last long and people fell into perfunctory obedience. Their hearts were somewhere else. This grieved Gods heart – their tepid affections towards Him and the Sabbath. The prophets shared with the people this grief over their “perfunctory affections” yet it did not move them to change their ways. They were too “mature” and adult to use bumper guards.

Ezekiel, whose name means “the one who strengthens”, had a mom, dad (Buzi), and wife but no kids. Ezekiel’s contemporary friend and prophet was Jeremiah. That would be a difficult coffee buddy if there ever was one. “Hey buddy lets go to Kingbucks and have a latte – doom, gloom and destruction will be delayed at least a day or so, let’s commiserate.” How would you encourage a fellow prophet like that when you were hearing the same thing? Wouldn’t you just pray and hope that one of you was wrong or potentially a bit depressed? It seemed like a perspective problem – until the prophecies started coming to pass!  Jerusalem – fallen, Judah, fallen. Nations, fallen. He wanted Israel to be Great Again but the fake news  from the prophets around him was too intense. So God sent a sign….

Ezekiel warned the family, his neighbors and then the people that judgement was coming. First he warned his family and  relatives and then he went to his neighbors,  … judgement was on the way!  Then he started warning other nations- seven of them! Long before television, cellphones or YouTube, Ezekiel was seeing in multi color, 3D cinema. The devil gets described and showcased as a big distraction. God goes higher and brighter revealing HIMSELF and His glory so we are reminded who to follow rather than the shiny thing that lures. The graphic visuals and the heavy prophetic warnings make this book rated at least PG13 if not R. We tried using it for devotional material but had to stop because it was not age appropriate.  It was tough reading – until the last couple of chapters.

So, what was Ezekiel warning them about? Unrest – political, religious and international turmoil. Like our day, secular and spiritual leaders were fighting and the atmosphere was one of distrust and anger. There was immorality – sexual alliances, improprieties and unfair business practices. Also, like our day. The acts themselves grieved God but the ensuing cover-ups, triangular relationships and problems, muddied the waters beyond repair. Then there was the apostasy – the people were syncretistic and God fearers only in name. So much for reformation! It was a joke and short- lived because it focused on peoples new actions vs. Gods tried and true guidelines (ways). Re forming something is not making it  different but refreshing and returning it to how it was originally designed – new in Gods plan.

 “Look what we’ve experienced or done!”  the focus immediately went back to themselves. so subtle but telling. Once the people found out how to live (God’s laws and precepts) in Josiah’s day they could have held onto their new knowledge and lifestyles but instead their rituals (and love)  became perfunctory. Kind Ezekiel tried to warn them. Kind God gave them consequences to prevent total, permanent death.

I remember one of our church leaders sharing with us his ride to church one night. It was past sunset and as he rounded the corner all of the street lights came on. His daughter knew he had keys to the church and was going in early to set up. “Daddy, thank you for turning all the lights in the city on.” She was aware her dad could do BIG things so just assumed he could turn on the church and city lights – all for her viewing enjoyment. Ezekiel points us to his vision in the sky – a wheel within a wheel. It lifted his eyes above all the hatred, sin and chaos. Their Temple (church), the place of God, had been destroyed. To a desperate, weary group of people exiled to Babylon, they needed to know their God was not destroyed also, that He was able to cross state lines. This God was not bound by geography even though they were kicked out of their country. This was a move-able God who went with them. The king could take their homes, their temple, the idols – but he could not remove their God who reigned in the heavenlies. No scaffold, drone or missile can reach where God dwells. That speaks to Sovereignty. Where does God live? Anyplace He wants to! Does He want to live where you dwell? 

A local church here has a sign that signs, “You don’t have to ever fear the waves when your lifeguard walks on the water.” Ezekiel points out to the leaders then and the hearers now that God is BIGGER than their dilemmas, can see from many different angles and goes with them. That’s huge! The connecting thought is that if this God sees us, then He can also help us in the midst of our turmoil, unrest, immorality and apostasy. If we read this book right, God has done this before, it’s part of His resume. He is LORD over our relationships, nations and everything that happens under His watchful eye. Go Fish and their song “our God is so big, so strong and so mighty” could be Ezekiel’s theme.

True revival comes when we look up to see a Holy BIG God and rightly see ourselves in reference to Him. The overflow of that revelation in action, is when Revival begins. – R.Roche

While doing research for this blog I read an article on the origin of traffic lights by R.J Wilson. It shares some fascinating things about color. It points out that John Peake invented the system for the railroad originally. Did you know that 70 percent of people in San Francisco disobeyed the early light system to their own demise? Folks just don’t like to follow rules or even suggestions. Without rules in place it created chaos. Those lights were for prevention and protection. They needed to create gas lights so the people could travel at night. There were explosions. Yellow was added later on because people needed to learn to YIELD before the danger occurred. Who were these people trying to redirect their lives? The people did not want to give up their freedom to drive anywhere they wanted, however they wanted. The system involved the entire police force until people got the point that there was a time to go, a time to slow down and a time to stop!  When the idea caught on the police went back to policing the city instead of enforcing traffic. Ezekiel came to be God’s proverbial traffic light – God’s amber light on earth. “SLOW DOWN, DANGER IS COMING!”

I searched for a man to stand in the gap, but there was none. (Ezekiel 22).

Do you want a sign from God? Do you want a vision, 20/20 vision? See Ezekiel 20:20 and then read Matthew 11:28. Powerful one, two punch. Here’s the amber light for our generation – wait on the Lord and OBEY Him. Comfort comes when we yield to God’s will and God’s ways – peaceful comfort.

Read Ezekiel – it’s hard reading all the judgments, but eventually you will get to the part where Gods glory rises and His glory is displayed. God warned the people in Ezekiel’s day over and over and over again. We like to skim books like these which is kind of like running a yellow light. God is not wanting to quench our fun; He’s waiting to celebrate our success.

Ezekiel calls us back to full force faith – not perfunctory for show practices. Come back to the heart of God, use bumper guards if you need to but come back. He wants to watch you, help you and celebrate YOU.  We come back when we pause, we listen, we hear, we act; we celebrate; not out of obligation or fear but pure love. The final line of this powerful book?   Jehovah Shammah – the LORD is there. His goal all along was to be present among His people, making them secure, safe, comforted. His goal is not judgement, punishment or just rules/boundaries, His goal is fellowship and relationship. God through Ezekiel and through His word today is trying, actively trying to assist, caution, protect and celebrate us. Will we allow or resist this?

Let the Glory of the Lord rise among us, let it shine, let US shine.