Sermons on Worship and the Water of Life

Just posted two sermons from December.

Living Water – A sermon based on Ezekiel 47 where Ezekiel witnesses water flowing out of the temple, down to the Dead Sea. Life grows out of the low places around the Dead Sea as the water nourishes places that had long been dead. Application – we also have to get out the doors of the building and go to the down and out and struggling to bring them life. The water can’t just stay in the temple…God won’t allow that.

Worship – Based on Romans 12:1-2. Joel, who is our youth minister, and I split the sermon a few Sunday’s ago into two very short sermons. We spent the rest of the service singing and taking the Lord’s Supper. It was a powerful service!



How Do You Flood a Mountain? – Ezekiel 47

The temple in Jerusalem sat up pretty high. One of the last things they had to worry about was a flood in the temple. The only thing that came close was the pouring of water during the Feast of Tabernacles but even that was just one cup of water poured out over the altar. You could be certain that the temple was not in danger of flooding any time soon. What is more, the Dead Sea is not too far from Jerusalem and is the lowest point on earth. Before the temple in Jerusalem floods, the Dead Sea is going to have to fill up…that is a tall order!

It is against that background that the words of Ezekiel 47 were penned,

1 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits[a] and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever 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. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 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.”

Now that is impressive! When God gets to work you better watch out. The impossible becomes possible. Things are happening in the temple that no one would have guessed let alone condoned. The water goes out from the temple. It starts a trickle and grows into an unpredictable, uncontrollable torrent of rushing waters. No one can cross it…no one can contain it…no one can make enough sand bags to hold it in. No earthly authority can give orders for it to stop. No sect of God’s people can convince the waters to change course. The waters are going to do what they are going to do and go where they are going to go.

The water goes where water goes, into the low places…the Dead Sea. The waters do what waters do…bring life. Fish swim where they could not before. Trees grow where they had not been able. Life springs forth! This is a God thing. No one would have called it. No one could have arranged it and yet that is exactly what God is doing.

Too often we try to bottle this up and pass it around. Too often we try to act like we can control it, levy it, dam it up and open the spill ways only in small, measurable and controllable amounts. But God will prove to us as many times as we need that he cannot be contained. He cannot be logicized into a tight box. God will be God and we will submit to what God decides to do. I am glad we don’t serve a man sized God but a God who is able to do more than we ask or imagine! So how do you flood a mountain? You don’t. Only God can do that and when He does it is best to get out of the way!

(image from by exsodus)

The Sin of Sodom at the Desiring God Blog

An interesting take on the sin of Sodom over at Desiring God. This one is by Tyler Kenney. The Sin of Sodom. Here is an excerpt,

There’s a warning in this for us: We must beware in our opposition to sexual immorality that we do not merely take on a different expression of the same sin. We must beware lest we think that the issue is simply an external one and that we are “good with God” just because we maintain a high moral code.

Any outcry among Christians against sexual immorality should be outdone by our protests against pride. We should be most aggressively opposed to arrogance—especially as we find it in ourselves and in our churches. Only then will we be in a right position to speak humbly, wisely and brokenheartedly about the evils of sexual immorality and the greater love of Jesus Christ.

Mark Driscoll on Preaching Scatology

Driscoll sure knows how to turn eschatology into its abbreviated and certainly messier form – scatology. Out of Ur posted this video of Mark Driscoll preaching on scatological humor in the Bible.

There are a few things I think are a little strange about this video. The first is his reference to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (great book, by the way). I can’t find anywhere in that reference book where scatological humor is mentioned. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means that, unless I am missing something, this dictionary doesn’t even reference it.  Second, the two stories he mentioned don’t really seem to have humor as the intention when it comes to the “potty” element of the story. There is some humor in Judges 3 but it isn’t potty humor. In fact, the whole bit about slicing his intestines and the smell is totally an assumption and is not in the story at all. What is humorous or at least clever is that in Hebrew Ehud tells Eglon he was a “word” for him but that also mean he has  a “thing” for him, meaning “I have something for you…” Stab! So there is a play on words, Eglon thought Ehud had a secret word for him, Ehud really had a secret sword he would use to kill him. I don’t really see this guy getting stabbed in his big fat belly as “Monty Python funny” but maybe I am just missing something here. I also don’t see the humor in his attendants finding him dead in his chambers, “they see the king dead and his intestines just emptied themselves all over the floor and it’s kind of funny unless, of course, you’re the king.” Driscoll finds this funny. I doubt they did.

In Ezekiel 4 there really isn’t any humor there either. Ezekiel bargains with God, not because he thinks lighting poop on fire is funny but because what God asks him to do is detestable and unclean. Jews found no humor in joking over detestable things. But Mark seems to find that funny. There is scatological humor in the Bible. I am just not sure why he choose these two passages.Why not cite Mark 7:14-23 where this really is something being used in a humorous way?

Last, if everything I said ended up on youtube, I am sure I would get critiqued worse than this so I am not throwing stones here, just pointing out a few things.

Correction: After looking at the Hebrew and not just the NIV, 3:22 does have something to the effect of his excrement coming out of his belly. I have no idea why the NIV left this out. So I stand corrected on that point. So maybe his assumption there is accurate but it is still an assumption that the guards smelled it.

Religious Systematic Desensitization

Back in General Psych 101 you probably remember the term “Systematic Desensitization.” This is a treatment used for phobias where you take that person and slowly introduce them to their phobia first at a great distance and then closer and closer until they realize they aren’t really afraid of it anymore. You can’t just put the object of someone’s phobia in the room with them (this can range from fear of dirty things to balloons to clowns, you name it) and expect them to touch it. But you can put them in the room with it and session by session get them a little closer each time until they are able to actually touch whatever it is that they are afraid of.

How does this apply to religion? Repetition and closer proximity bring a sense of ease and a loss of fear. For many people their initial feelings toward God may be great anxiety and fear. But over time, and fortunately so, we grow closer to God and the fear is replaced with love. That is a great thing and is scriptural and healthy. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect love.”

The flip side is that this can also work against us. We can become so comfortable with God that we lose all sense of fear, all sense of wonder and all sense of reverence. The result can be an empty religion that is just going through the motions rather than offering ourselves as living sacrifices because of our love for God. Another thing that can happen is a total disregard for God. We come to worship week in and week out, sing the same songs, take the Lord’s Supper, hear a sermon, pray prayers (all good things, by the way) and the extraordinary can become ritual and routine rather than heartfelt and sincere.

In Ezekiel 23:36-39 we find out that God’s people had made his temple so routine and common that they committed idolatry and even sacrificed their children as food. Surely those aren’t church going types right? Wrong. The very next verse says, “They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. 39 On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. That is what they did in my house.” Wow! The temple was supposed to represent the very presence of God on earth. It was holy. It was to be used for God’s purposes and they were committing atrocities in it!

How does that happen? This doesn’t happen in a day. You don’t go from respecting and loving God to committing lewd acts in his sanctuary in a day. We are lulled into it. It becomes ordinary. Worshipping God becomes common and every day rather than special, meaningful, and from the heart. Obviously we aren’t murdering people in church today but is it possible to have the same attitude of disrespecting, misusing and abusing things God intended for good and twisting them into evil things?

Do we murder people with our anger (Matthew 5:22) and then walk into church and praise God as if everything is somehow alright?

Do we commit adultery with our lust (Matthew 5:27-28) and then sing songs of praise moments later or even at the same time and expect God to be pleased?

How do we see that today and what temptations do we face that, while not as extreme in being carried out, have the same root cause as the people in Ezekiel’s day?

Maybe the solution is to regain a healthy respect for God and find the balance that is needed between unconditional, all out and extraordinary love for Him and a sense of awe and wonder that keep our experiences with God through our life and worship fresh and pure.

Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones – A Plea for Christian Unity from Ezekiel 37

I love that song. How better to learn A&P than the Dry Bones song? That was the text of Gulfcoast Getaway 2009. Randy Harris and Paul Evans did an excellent job preaching that text and making it understandable and applicable for young people today. Harris preached the importance of a home and a place to belong (37:14). Evans spent a lot of time talking about what kinds of dry bones we might have in our own lives and what it takes for God to breath His Spirit back in to make our bones live again. Both were powerful and used by God to touch the lives of the students at Gulfcoast Getaway this year.

There is more to Ezekiel 37 than a cool story about bones coming to life. Ezekiel 37 is about a great restoration that God wants for His people. God wants to restore His people to life and He wants them to be unified. God says He is going to figuratively resurrect His people (from among the nations) and re-settle them back in the land of Israel. He will give them His Spirit and they will live. We often see a re-enactment of the exodus story in scripture – that God is the great liberator. But that is only half the story. God liberates His people from death and bondage (Exodus) so that he can settle them in the land that was promised to them (Joshua). Ezekiel 37 is a re-enactment of the Joshua conquest story – that there is a home for God’s people and it can only happen because of God’s power. It is also going to take God’s people fully relying on Him for them to inhabit the land. In that land they will live in relationship with God just as God intended from the beginning. The people will experience an exodus from their exile. They will be liberated from their captors and God will re-settle them in Israel.

Most people don’t get beyond 37:14 when teaching or preaching these verses but what follows is crucial. Ezekiel 37:15-28 is about the same thing – gathering His people and restoring them in the land (37:21). But it is about even more than that. It is about unity. When the valley of dry bones is raised into an army God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” God says He will make his scattered and divided people one again (37:15-22). He will bring them back to live in the land of their heritage and worship God. God will dwell with them and He will be our God. When God raised the bones in the valley, He didn’t raise them up and divide them into different groups. He raised them as the whole house of Israel. They were a single army with a single identity and purpose. Then God tells Ezekiel to take two sticks and write the names of God’s divided people on them and make them one stick. God says they will all be one in His hand (37:19).

I think this passage has some tremendous implications for the Church in the United States. We are so divided and broken it isn’t even funny. The church in America needs some renewal. I am thankful that it is already happening and I think these verses have much to tell us about how God goes about renewing his people and resuscitating his church. Wouldn’t it be weird if the bones were raised, the flesh was put on them, and the Spirit breathed into the bones and they came alive…then they started dividing themselves into little groups where they could argue and disagree about certain pet issues and about how things were supposed to be done? Wouldn’t it be strange to take the stick God made one and break it in two again? We have fought and bickered and argued about so much minutia while people were literally dying lost around us. It behooves us to ask the question of what can make these dry bones live again? What will it take for us to be unified as Christians? It will take the Spirit of God coming in and among us to raise us up so that we can make our dwelling with God once again. But first He wants us to recognize that our situation is as grim as a valley of dry bones.

We have to understand that some components of the way we have always done things has made many people very, very dry. The youth of today have seen it and they are responding against that type of mentality. The church of tomorrow is going to be a very different place. I think there is going to be a HUGE push for unity. When you realize you are dying you start to worry less about who to fellowship and how others are worshipping and more about if the world is hearing that Jesus is Lord and that God is being glorified by our actions and attitudes. We are going to have to understand what our core beliefs are and which things are negotiable. Fellowship lines are going to be drawn up much looser in the coming years. Some will fear it and put up walls. Others will embrace it. I am honestly a little worried that there are some large rifts coming in the next 10-15 years in Christianity which is ironic because those rifts will be over unity movements.

Authenticity Revisited

Fill in the blanks with your best guess in this passage from Ezekiel 21:2-3:

“Son of man, set your face against ____________ and preach against the _________. Prophesy against the land of ______ and say to her: ‘This is what the Lord says: I am against you…”

You might expect the blanks to be filled with nations like Babylon, Assyria, Moab, or Egypt because those are the nations that we typically think about God being against in scripture because of their oppression of God’s people and of the innocent. But that is not what these verses in Ezekiel say. Here is what they say, “Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to her: ‘This is what the LORD says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its scabbard and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked.” It is not just the nations that can be unjust and unrighteous. Sometimes we see in scripture and even today that God’s people turn to wickedness, oppression of the innocent, and disobedience.

I don’t typically do negative posts about church or Christians as a whole because I think there is enough of that to go around without me piling on. I also think it is normally more beneficial to offer a positive voice to the online conversation that brings encouragement rather than bringing discouragement. At the same time we cannot always paint a smile on our faces and overlook things that should instead bring tears to our eyes. So my question is, what have we seen the modern church at large, ministers, individual Christians, etc do in our day that migh evoke a similar response to God as the rebellion in Ezekiel’s day brought about righteous judgment from God? Now that you have thought about all of those guys who are making Christianity a mockery and giving God a bad name, ask yourself this question – “In what way or ways have I ever played a role in the things I just listed?” How you answer the second question plays a key role in how honest and authentic we are being with ourselves.