The Sea

7bfd144ad54db0b909fd94e25812cdd8“For I say there is no other thing that is worse than the sea is for breaking a man, even though he may a very strong one.”― Homer

Odysseus has survived the Trojan war.  Ten years of battles and ten years since he last saw his family.  Just when the reader believes the most dangerous parts of life are behind Odysseus, he begins his journey home.  They sail home becomes more treacherous than battling the Trojans.  He was nearly lured into a ship wreck by the beautiful song of the sirens.  Poseidon sends a storm to punish him for blinding his son the cyclopes.  They safely navigate the whirlpool of Charybdis, but in doing so run into the sea monster Scylla.  it would seem that the sea is trying to kill him more so than the Trojans.

American’s are bombarded with Carnival and Disney cruises.  But on the backside of those commercials, Discovery runs the promotions for Deadliest Catch.  Now there is a show that shows the sea as trying to kill everyone involved.  It’s cold and wet and stormy.  It’s dangerous.  Peter has a similar experience on the sea.

In Matthew 14, the disciples and Jesus (and a lot of other people) have been in the countryside.  They have seen the greatness of Jesus in the 5 loaves and 2 fish; feeding the crowd of five-thousand.  They were surprised by this, but not in awe.  He sends the disciples across the Lake of Gennesaret/Sea of Galilee.  To the crowd; he sends them home.  Jesus head up the mountainside to pray (Matthew 14.22-23).

There are two types of storms this life brings.  The first is physical.  The boat is a “considerable distance from the land” and there wasn’t a whole lot his disciples could do about it because “the wind” was against it.  Storms can arise quickly, especially with the geography of Palestine.  It’s like a bad version of Gilligan’s Island.  A simple trip across the sea, has turned into a battle for survival.  This physical storm is evoking a crisis.  Scripture makes it clear that one battle that we must fight as we traverse this earth, its the physical one.  Bodies break down, thistles grow, pain and suffering abound.  We have to watch loved ones die and struggle.  There is definitely a physical battle.

The second battle is the spiritual one.  In the mean time, Jesus has walked out to them.  After a few words between the disciples and Jesus, Peter speaks up: “Tell me to come to you on the water.” To which Jesus reply’s: “come!”  Peter steps out of the boat.  The water holds him…for a moment.  “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Peter was doing well and then a spiritual storm arises.  He looked around, lost sight of Jesus, saw the power of the storm; and he began to sink.  Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” was Jesus question.  Doubt had crept in and a storm arose.  Spiritual storms can arise just as fast as physical ones.  People deal with spiritual storms in different ways, but they only get resolved at the feet of Jesus, whether or not they’re in the water.

Jesus is the answer to the storm.  When the disciples first had to deal with the store and the confusion of seeing Jesus, it was the sound of his voice that calms them.  They are “terrified” and “gripped” with fear.  But Jesus calmed their fears: “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.” (27)  The greek renders the middle clause, “It is I”, as “I am!”  In the midst of this storm, “I am!” is present with them.  The importance cant be overstated.  The One who parted the waters, enacted the plagues, and walked with His people, is present.  “I am!” is with them.  This is the same book, Matthew that begins with “Emmanuel, God with us.”  And ends with: “Behold, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  Here in the midst of the storm, Jesus is standing next to us.  When Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. (31)  “Immediately” it says that Jesus saved him from the storm.  “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down…”(32)  The physical storm is taken care of.   Jesus has calmed another one.  “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (33)  Now the spiritual storm is resolved.  

Look back on the storm and worship.  The importance of this story lies in the perspective.  In the midst of everything happening, the focus is on the storm or the reactions.  The focus is on the interactions between the guys and what was going on as the boat is rocking against the waves.  But verse 33 shows that the focus the whole time needed to be Jesus.  It was only when Peter began looking at the storm around him that he began to sink.  But in retrospect, the disciples and Peter are able to look back on their experience and worship.  Some of David’s finest Psalms came when looking back on serious trials.  The greatest speeches in the Bible, with the most passionate language of worship, come at the end of lives, as they look back on years of storms.

The storms that come in life are there to reveal where our focus and where our trust is found.  Peter found out a lot about himself on the sea, just like he found out a lot about Jesus.  In Hemmingway’s book, The Old Man and the Sea, the sea provided a place where the old man was once again asked to learn some things.  Peter is learning on the Sea of Galilee.  He’s learning the why? of worship.

 

The River

8348378_web1_endangered-river-apr12-17_031817jk_005“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…”- Mark Twain

There is fewer things on this planet that has the force of rushing water.  A fall overboard on a white-water rafting trip will make this point abundantly clear.  Water carries weight, force, and power.  I remember watching my township redoing flood control on a creek.  They spent all summer, day-after-day, adding in earth-works, bends in the creek bed, and low-level dams.  Then we had 3 inches of rain in 2 hours.  The next day, the creek looked as it had in May.  All their work was for not.  The power of rushing water is incredible.

Ezekiel is a prophet of God.  Things in his life have not been going swimmingly.  He is writing during a period of Israel’s history known as the exile.  In short, it was a period of time after the King of Babylon had taken control of Jerusalem.  He took the nation of Israel, back to Babylon and kept them there.  It was in Babylon that they would live for the next 70 years.  Ezekiel is prophesying to his people from Babylon.  While Jeremiah is in Israel and Daniel is in the city of Babylon, Ezekiel is in the nation of Babylon prophesying.

“I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God…” (Ezekiel 1.1)

He is standing on the banks of the Kebar River when the visions of God come to him.  The picture is easy to formulate.  A morning devotion, a sunset quiet time, or just a random pause to take in the greatness of the river.  The Kebar isn’t the Amazon, the Nile, or even the Mississippi, but with desert on every side, it holds an intrinsic beauty that draws in an audience.  There is a reason the 4 major ancient civilizations all grew up on the banks of a respective river.  Ezekiel is taken to a place of worship.  In a foreign land and with little hope, Ezekiel is refreshed on the banks of the river.

He is refreshed by the word.  God has always been speaking and acting, but present circumstances have called God’s activity into question.  Ezekiel is looking around at his current conditions and has to be wondering how this can be God’s plan.  Forty times in his book this phrase occurs: “The word of the Lord came to me…” and the first time is right here on the river bank.  God meets with his prophet and gives his Words.   Sometimes, all that is needed is a word.  Where presence is desired, where physical contact is needed, it cant always be provided.  This is where a phone call, a note, a text, or a message is all that is needed to right the ship.  Ezekiel needed a word and God provided.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.  When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.  He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’  As he spoke, the Spirit (hb. ruach) came into me and raised me to my feet…”(Ezekiel 1.28-2.2)

A word from God changed Ezekiel.  It refreshed him and restored him.  Staring across the banks (in my mind he is facing his homeland from the distant country that holds him captive), he meets with God and receives a word.  It has happened multiple times in my life, where a text message from an old friend can change the course of a week.  A verse of Scripture can have the same effect.

He is refreshed by his service.  God has a scroll in hand that had writing on both sides.

“And He [God] said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel…eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.”  So I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ezekiel 3.1-3)

Ezekiel’s mission has begun.  His objective is to speak God’s message to the exiles and their response is irrelevant (Ezekiel 3.11).  That’s not the case with most preachers.  A positive response is usually desired.  That is his primary method of communication to the people.  He proclaims judgement and announces judgement.  He recounts the history of Israel, their sin and unfaithfulness, in graphic and R-rated terms (read Ezekiel 23).  But he didn’t stop there.  Ancient prophets were not only preachers, but case-studies and actors.  They acted/lived out their messages at times.  Ezekiel did just that:

  • 3.25 — Tied with Ropes/unable to speak (Israel’s response to Ezekiel)
  • 4.1 — He drew a picture of Jerusalem on a tablet and then acted out a siege of it.  He lay on one side next to it for 390 days for the sins of Israel and 40 for the sins of Judah…oh and he baked over human waste (Prophecy on Jerusalem)
  • 5.1 — shave head and beard.  Burn it/cut it/scatter it
  • 12.5 — dig through the wall and leave (a picture of the exile)
  • 21.20 — Road signs for Nebuchadnezzar
  • 24.15 — his wife dies
  • 37.16 — writes the names Judah on one stick and Ephriam [Israel] on one stick.  Then he joined them together (reunification of Judah and Israel; God’s people)

So he has an odd ministry, but its refreshing.  He is energized by it.  He exclaims:

“May the Lord be praised in his dwelling place!” (Ezekiel 3.12)

The man that comes to my mind is a friend from a previous ministry.  His walk with Jesus was spotty at times and he had gone through a rough patch.  I saw him mowing at the church one day.  After much prompting, some cajoling, and some strong arming, the Spirit finally forced me to call him and ask him to help out with middle school youth group.  The man came alive serving some of the most obnoxious and trying kids.  They love him.  He came alive and was refreshed from his service in God’s kingdom.

He is refreshed by the message.  A simple word from God can change Ezekiel, but a good message changed a nation.  Ezekiel is full of pretty graphic, doom and gloom messages.  He doesn’t mince words when it comes to the sin and judgement on Judah.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He finishes the story.  In chapter 37, he is carried to a valley where a great battle had taken place; white washed bones lay covering the floor of the valley. A question is posed to Ezekiel:

“Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37.3)

Ezekiel claims ignorance.  Then the Lord gives him instruction.  The word comes; then the service, “prophesy…”.  God gives te message to Ezekiel.  The command is for the bones to re-articulate, tendons and muscles to reattach, and flesh, reappear.  At his command, the bones followed.  Yet there was no “breath” in them.  Again God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy and “they came to life and stood on their feet–a vast army.” (Ezekiel 37.10)

The key verse in this section is verse 11, where it reads:

 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. (Ezekiel 37.11-12)

The hopeless and homeless people of Israel will rise again.  They can have hope in the promise of God that they will someday return home.

It is fitting that there is one Hebrew word that stands in the midst of all three of these main passages.   The word is ruah.  It can be translated as wind, breath, or spirit.  In Ezekiel 2.2, “the Spirit” raised him to his feet.  In Ezekiel 3.12, “the Spirit” lifted him.  Finally, in chapter 37.1-14, the word is used 10 times beginning in verse 1, where Ezekiel is brought out to the valley “by the Spirit”.  The Spirit is providing the refreshment.  Ezekiel just has to drink it in.

What the Spirit is doing for Ezekiel, Jesus has done for us as well.  In John 4, a woman comes to draw water from a well and Jesus has a conversation with her.  He asked for a drink and she was taken aback.  Jesus answered her response:

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4.10)

Water and the Word.  Jesus, the Source of Life, is speaking with a Samaritan woman.  She is standing by the river needing a word from God.  Jesus goes on:

Everyone who drinks this water (the well water) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4.13-14)

Stagnant water is dead water.  River water is flowing, refreshing, and restoring.  This woman came to get dead well water and left with a “spring of water welling up to eternal life”, Jesus.

Finally, in John 7.37, Jesus is at the festival.  On the last day he is teaching the people.  He says:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.  By this he meant the Spirit…(John 7.37-39)

Ezekiel was not only refreshed with the word of God, but by his service and his message.  Jesus gives hope because of his message.  He promised victory over death.  He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14.6)  If this message is believed, there is no greater source of hope in the history of this world.

But this message must go somewhere.  Rivers flow.  “Rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  For those that believe his message, rivers will pour out of them.  It is service, the mission, to take this message to others.  And just like in Ezekiel’s case, this service can be a refresher.

Ezekiel’s book begins in despair, but ends in worship.  Late in his prophecy, in the next-to-last chapter of his book, he writes speaking of the river flowing from the Temple:

Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river…Swarms of living creatures will live where the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live…Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river.  Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail.  Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them.  Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47.6-7, 9, 12)

Come to the River for healing.

The Desert

 

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In 1803, at 3 cents/acre, President Jefferson doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase.  Jefferson spoke of its “immense and trackless deserts”.  Major Stephen Long (no relation) in mapping the purchase in 1823, labeled the region of western Kansas/eastern Colorado as “the Great American Desert”.  It was a lack of timber and surface water that earned the country its name.  It’s was and still is a hard place.

Earlier this year the Kansas Governor declared a drought emergency across all 105 counties of Kansas.  It’s been years since the Southwest part of the state has felt rain.  It truly is the Great American Desert.

When we think of desert, the image of camels, sand dunes, and sidewinders.  But the Hebrew term is more of a scrub brush wilderness.  Much more like the brush of Arizona than the dunes of the Sahara.  This is where the men of the Bible were made.

What them there was irrelevant.  Jesus was “led” there by the Spirit (Luke 4.1).  David fled there from rebellion (2 Sam. 15.23).  Elijah fled in depression (1 Kings 19.3-4).  Moses arrived first because of shame.  He killed an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew (Exodus 2.11).  Then when he broke up two Hebrews fighting, they questioned whether he would kill them as well. (Exodus 2.14)  Moses had become “known”. (Exodus 2.14)  When shame becomes known, men flee.  So Moses fled to Midian.  He became a shepherd, where he tended flocks throughout the desert.  Moses has always been a man of the Mountain.  He met Yahweh there (Ex. 3-4).  He got the 10 Commandments on the Mountain (Ex. 20).  There was the Blessings and Cursing’s on the two Mountains (Deuteronomy 28-29).  Finally, he died atop Mt. Nebo. (Deut. 34)  He was the Man of the Mountain, but he was a man made in the Desert.

His first stay in the desert was all about training.  Before he led a million Hebrews out of Egypt, he led a bunch of sheep in the wilderness.  The primary image of God and his people is that of shepherd.  Jesus used the metaphor extensively.  God trained his men as shepherds.  There were Abraham’s flocks and David the shepherd.  Jesus made it clear that his ministry was patterned after the vocation of a shepherd.  Before he could lead men, he led sheep.  It was a training ground.  Finding water, finding food, leading a flock, directing a massive and stubborn group…these were all skills that Moses obtained in the desert.

calvin-hobbes-test-anxiety-290x300In his second stay, the desert was a place of testing.  A little needs explaining before tackling the testing that Moses and the Hebrews went through.  I have written much more about this elsewhere, so I wont dwell too much on it here.  Test’s conjure up images of entrapment and anxiety like Calvin.  As if the Instructor or Teacher has stayed up well into the morning trying to come up with a single question that will trip up their students.  The Hebrew understanding was less about entrapment and more about revelation.  The test was to reveal what was in the hearts of God’s people.  The test didn’t go well.

  • Before they get out of Egypt: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that brought us to the desert to die?” (Ex. 14.11)
  • Three days into the Desert of Shur: “What are we to drink?” (Ex. 15.24)
  • Forty-five or so days in, in the Desert of Sin: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!…but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Ex. 16.1-3)
  • At Rephidim, between the Desert of Sin and Desert of Sinai: “Give us water to drink!” (Ex. 17.3)
  • In the Desert of Paran: “Our hardships are too many!” (Num. 10.11-13; 11.1)
  • In the Desert of Paran: “If only we had meat!” (Num. 11.4)
  • In the Desert of Paran: “If only we had died in Egypt!” (Num. 14.2)
  • In the Desert of Zin: “We have no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.  And there is no water to drink!” (Num. 20.5)
  • In the Desert of Zin: “There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Numbers 21.5)

The revelation of their hearts was abominable.  Sin rose to the surface when all luxuries are removed.  Their rebellious nature was on display when desert testing ensued.  I bet the same pattern takes place in your life?  When things are drying up around and stress comes, the ugliness of my heart is brought forth.

In both cases, it was a place of trust.  It was the place that inspired the Sons of Korah to pen the famous lyrics:

“As the deer pants for streams of water,

    so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

    When can I go and meet with God? (Ps. 42.1-2)

Training and Testing does not take place in cozy places and affluence.  We grow and discover in places where and when things aren’t going right.  We learn dependence when we have too.  Deuteronomy 8 says:

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands…Your clothes did not wear out and you feet did not swell during these forty years…He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions.  He brought you water out of hard rock.  He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” (8.2, 4, 15)

All these things God did in good favor in order to show His provision and His sustenance.  He did this to show that He can be trusted.  God promised long ago to take care of us.  It’s an agreement called a covenant.  Only in the desert, where life is a struggle, do we learn what it really means to trust.  

I am trying to further embrace my trust in Him here in the desert.