Tag Archives | trust

Lives Entrusted | Barbara J. Blodgett

The cover of Blodgett's Lives Entrusted

The ability to trust other people is fundamental to the human experience. Trust is “the very basis for acting in the world—our sense of security, our relationships, and our ability to navigate through problems. Without it, life becomes despairing” (8). In Lives Entrusted, Barbara J. Blodgett develops a philosophy of trust which she uses to explore four “relational practices” (31) of ministry: confidentiality, misconduct, gossip, and bullshit. Blodgett is concerned with how trust operates as a verb. Trust is something we do. More specifically, “[t]rust is a transaction that establishes a relationship” (2).

A Philosophy of Trust

Blodgett approaches trust with a philosopher’s eye. She examines the phenomenon from a variety of angles in order to precisely describe the structural features of trust. This process is evident in chapter one when Blodgett rejects three impostors of trust. First, trust resembles familiarity since we often trust those whom we are familiar with. However, there are times when we trust strangers and withhold trust from people who are familiar to us (17). Second, trust also resembles reliance since we rely on people whom we trust. Blodgett considers motivation here. Some people are reliable simply because they follow a set of instructions which indicates something less than a trust relationship (18). Third, trust resembles consistency, since we trust people who behave in a consistent fashion. Sometimes, however, relationships require rule-breaking or inconsistency in order to be trusting (18). Continue Reading →

1 John 5:1-3 | Jesus is the Christ

No Rollerblading

 

I took much joy in Bible College pointing out the silliness of dormitory rules.

Take, for example, this combination:

  1. Students shall wear proper footwear in the dorms.
  2. Students shall not roller-blade in the dorms. (I like to believe that I had a small part to play in the formation of this rule—the figure “8” hallway made an irresistible roller-blade course!)

My problem was the combination of the two rules. If you wanted to roller-blade outside, you had a conundrum on your hands. You couldn’t wear sock feet to the door because you would violate rule #1 (above). On the other hand, you couldn’t wear your roller-blades downstairs due to rule #2. There was no place to store footwear by the door. What was a law-abiding student to do?

Or take the dress code that stated that male students must wear a tie to chapel services (this was the 1990s). I remember the day my class mate wore his tie as a headband. He followed the rule—to the letter!

When people make laws to restrict behavior based on arbitrary principles, things always devolve into legalism. Jesus’ simple commandments, on the other hand, are liberating.

Continue Reading →

Ezekiel 43:7b-9: Corpses of Kings

Every Harlot was a Virgin once.
— William Blake, “To The Accuser Who Is The God Of This World”

Last Sunday I preached an awkward message.  I’ve been preaching through Revelation, taking every image and symbol as it comes.  Last week was chapters 17-18. The Whore of Babylon. To compound matters, our junior church program was over for the summer, so I had a bunch of grade-school faces staring at me throughout the church (well, to be honest, I’m sure not many of them were listening).

It’s an awkward subject to talk about, but it’s there in a black 9 point serif. Since John drew so much of his inspiration from Ezekiel, it was natural to look to Ezekiel 16 & 23 as a fundamental source of inspiration for the Whore of Babylon. If you remember, those were the two dirtiest chapters of Ezekiel—the ones that spoke of Israel like a whore who had run away from her husband [Yahweh] to chase after other lovers [Egypt & Assyria].

Now at the end of the book of Ezekiel, Yahweh has returned to his temple (his footstool). You might expect some grandiose (universal?) offer or immunity to everyone.  Instead, God insists on the same standards that Israel broke before. There are four details God reminds Ezekiel of.

. . .

  1. Israel and her kings were no cease defiling God’s name by their “whoring” (v. 7, NRSV). This speaks of spiritual infidelity.  They ran after Egypt and Assyria in the past to find political security. If this new post-exilic arrangement was going to work, they would have to rely on their husband alone for their protection.
  2. Israel was not to bury her kings next to God’s temple. That’s a confusing expression. While there are a couple different explanations, the one that makes to most sense to me speaks of a cult of kings. Just like Israel needed keep herself pure from Egypt and Assyria, she was also to keep herself pure from worshiping herself! Dead kings are a laughable subject for worship, in the presence of God’s temple.
  3. Israel was to avoid butting her own buildings up against God’s Temple. The idea here is that Israel some of the sense of sacredness associated with the Temple of God. The sacred space of the Temple was to be more than valuable real estate.
  4. Finally, Israel was to stop the “abominations that they committed” (v. 8, NRSV). This is a catch-all phrase for everything pagan that subverted the worship of the true God.

The ultimatum is laid.

. . .

When you realize what God wanted from his people, it becomes easy to turn the focus on ourselves.

  1. Do we chase after things other than God (RRSPs, governments, jobs) for our security? His claim on us demands our wholehearted trust. After all, isn’t that that what “faith” means?
  2. This injunction doesn’t prohibit cemeteries in the churchyard. When you project the images through to today, the grave of kings represents things we worship other than God. Like point #1, we could create a long list in an honest moment. Likewise, the Temple doesn’t refer to our church buildings, it refers to us—the place where heaven and earth intersect (thank you, Mr. Wright).  What sort of dehumanizing, antichrist things have taken up residence in our lives?
  3. This third demand rings loudly today. In Ezekiel’s context, Yahweh wanted Israel to recognize his sacredness. Do we recognize that sacredness today? I think about some of the songs we sing in our churches, and wonder if we ever slide to far into my-buddy-Jesus music at the expense of God’s majesty.
  4. When we follow Jesus, trusting him for security, everything dehumanizing needs to fall away. We’re living in grace—the sort of grace that allows God to refine our character into the image of his Son while we live in his freedom.

. . .

Lord God, give me the strength to allow you to refine my life.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 43:6-7a | Soli Gratia

Ezekiel 43:10-11 | First Things >

Ezekiel 37:4-6: Your Ball

Yahweh responds
by returning the ball.
— Daniel I. Block (The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48)

There was a commercial out recently for a job search agency. In it, the employee was stressing the importance of a certain action to his boss. Let me paraphrase the conversation (from memory—apologies to the writers):

Employee: Do you understand what I’ve proposed?
Boss: Yes.
Employee: And you see the need for this?
Boss: Yes.
Employee: So you’re going to do it?
Boss: No.
Employee: No?
Boss: You’re much better than me at this—you’re going to do it.

Ezekiel got himself in a very similar situation in the valley of dry bones.

. . .

God: “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel: “O Lord GOD, you know.”
God: “Prophesy to these bones . . .”

God asked Ezekiel a question, and the shell-shocked priest-turned-prophet put the ball back in God’s court. God wouldn’t keep the ball, though. He returned it. If Ezekiel had faith that God had the answer to such a question, then he would have no problem obeying God’s Word and speaking to the bones.

It’s blazingly obvious that there was no human way such bones could come alive again. The Jewish people had accounts of people being raised from the dead, but only just after they had died. The bones in the valley were picked clean of flesh—they had been dead for a while.

Ezekiel took God’s challenge and prophesied, just as God asked him to.

. . .

Here’s the million dollar question: What has God asked us to speak to? Something unbelievable? Is it too big for God to handle (tongue-firmly-in-cheek)?

Most of us pray and ask God for and about things all the time. When God turns back and says: “Sure, now do it,” how do we act?

. . .

Lord God, we’re good at turning our needs over to you. Help us to obey you when you challenge us to do something about them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 37:1-3 | Very Dry

Ezekiel 37:7-8 | Reversing Curses >

Ezekiel 29:17-21: False Prophet?

God’s Message came to me:
“Son of man, preach against the prophets of Israel
who are making things up out of their own heads
and calling it ‘prophesying.’
Ezekiel 13:1-2 (The Message)

Imagine.

Imagine God told you that he was going bring about justice by condemning some evil people. Imagine that God told you this in no uncertain terms. Imagine that God had spoken many things like this to you in the past, and each time they came true. Imagine that you boldly stepped out and declared God’s impending judgment on these evil people.

Then nothing happens.

This was the predicament that Ezekiel was in. When you pay attention to the details of this passage, it is very troubling.

. . .

We know that God declared his judgment on Tyre. Yahweh had spoken. Yahweh will act. We know from historical records, that Tyre did not fall to the Babylonians like it was supposed to. It was not until the time of Alexander the Great that the city of Tyre was finally conquered.

The penalty for false prophets in the Old Testament was death. Ezekiel had already condemned those prophets who had spoken out of their own imaginations instead of hearing from God first (Chapter 13). How must Ezekiel have felt, knowing that Tyre didn’t fall to Babylon like Yahweh told him it would?

This passage is the oldest dated oracle in Ezekiel: April 26, 571 B.C. The message was delivered 22 years after Ezekiel was commissioned by God, and a full 17 years after the oracle that preceded it. After almost two decades, Tyre had not fallen—they had repelled Babylon, Yahweh’s chosen executioner.

The logic in this passage borders on the absurd. Since Babylon (an evil nation that God used) worked hard to plunder Tyre and was turned back, God would give them Egypt as their consolation prize. Egypt, too, tried to aid Judah and prevent Babylon from doing her Yahweh-appointed work.

. . .

As a disclaimer, I should mention that nothing on this blog relates to the current crisis in the between Israel and Lebanon. This is a commentary on events that happened some 2600 years ago. The current Middle-East crisis demands our prayers for peace.

. . .

It’s not easy to understand how this could have happened. Did Ezekiel mishear God when he spoke of Tyre’s downfall? Did God intend for Tyre to fall to Babylon, and Babylon not complete the task? Didn’t God know what would happen? Was God testing Ezekiel’s resolve by telling him to prophecy something that wouldn’t happen for another couple centuries?

Sometimes difficult passages like this can offer a peculiar comfort to us. Maybe God has told you something that does not seem to be happening. Maybe you’ve put your neck on the line for God—like Elijah with the prophets of Baal—yet no fire fell. Prayers for healing, in particular, often end in tragedy.

Our part is to remain faithful to God—who does have a firm grasp on the situation. In Ezekiel’s case, God’s word to him didn’t come true for hundreds of years! Do we have that sort of patience?  Are we able to wait for God to act, even if the answer comes long after our lives are over?

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
Psalm 139:17-18 (NRSV)

. . .

Mysterious God, when we come to the end of our ability to understand you, remind us that you are still with us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 29:1-16 | Nile’s Crocodile

Ezekiel 30:1-19 | Divine Drama >

Ezekiel 14:1-11: Heart Idolatry

No net less wide than a man’s whole heart,
nor less fine of mesh than love,
will hold the sacred Fish.
— C. S. Lewis (Reflections on the Psalms)

Something must have happened to the people in exile. Maybe they heard rumors from home. Perhaps they were suffering some new form of humiliation by their captors. Whatever the cause was, we do know their response.

The leaders of the people in exile decided to inquire from Yahweh.  Since there was not temple or priests, they decided to get to God through Ezekiel.

It is clear from this passage that the exilic leaders had not realized the seriousness of their sins. They had not decided to repent. They did not desire to develop any type of long-term relationship with Yahweh. They simply expected Yahweh to reveal his secrets like a twenty-five cent fortune cookie after cheap buffet.

. . .

God used interesting words to describe the condition of these inquirers: “these men have taken their idols into their hearts” (v. 3, NRSV). When we think of idolatry and the Old Testament, we typically picture statues and images of foreign gods.  Here we see that the condition of the exilic remnant was far worse.

In being taken from their homeland, they would have lost contact with all the tangible idols they were used to. The statues, pictures, and festivals that were so familiar to them in Jerusalem were now a world away. How did they respond? They internalized their idolatry.

Like Dumbo soaring without his feather, they no longer needed statues or pictures. The gods these idols were patterned after were entrenched in their hearts. Interestingly, they still expected Yahweh to answer when they inquired through Ezekiel—as if God would be somehow bound to act because Ezekiel would do the asking.

God can never be manipulated. He is fully sovereign over all. The comprehensiveness of these terms cannot be diluted.  God told Ezekiel very clearly that the enquirers would not receive an answer. Indeed, if they insisted on coming to him for answers without repenting, he would deceive them himself!

. . .

Whenever modern preachers pick on idolatry (myself included), they typically harp on the visible and tangible things.  What takes more of our time than God?  Jobs, television, relationships?

This passage speaks at a deeper level. The exilic leaders could never receive an answer from God because they had taken their idols into their hearts and trusted in them for their security. Yahweh was little more than an additional source of information for them.

The question for us is simple. What do we trust for our security? Do we trust in our financial plan for our security, only to come to God like a supplicant before a fortune teller? Do we trust in our physical strength or good looks to keep us safe in society, or do we have a deep-set understanding that God is all the security we will ever need?

God is not someone we come to for answers when our other sources start to fall apart. God is the one who loves us so desperately he was willing to die to establish a relationship with us. We owe him more than our questions—we owe him ourselves.

. . .

Almighty God, reveal your heart to us. Show us the type of relationship you would like us to have with you, keeping us away from all modern forms of idolatry. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 13:17-23 | Wicked Witches

Ezekiel 14:12-23 | God’s Defense >

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