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Stiff-Necked…

April 29, 2014

I want to start this post by stating for the record that I absolutely LOVE my work as a pastor. There is no more fulfilling position I can think of, next to being a parent. My days as an educator and drumline director come close, but being a pastor is at the top of the list. I am completely blessed to serve the kingdom in this capacity.

That being said, there are those days when the most fulfilling position I’ve ever had becomes the most frustrating position I’ve ever had next to being a parent. Some days it feels exactly like being a parent! Those of you who have or have had young children can understand this to a larger degree than those who haven’t. Here’s a typical situation in our house:

Directions are given with an expectation to be followed. A “yes mommy” or “yes daddy” follows the instructions (sometimes accompanied with a heavy sigh), and then the instructions go un-followed. The directions are repeated again in a more serious tone, and are usually followed by an “ok!” or “alright, I heard you!” When said instructions don’t get followed a second time, punishment happens whilst the child writhes, wriggles, and comes up with excuses as to why the directions weren’t followed. Then directions are finally followed after much wailing and gnashing of teeth… Sound familiar? Tends to happen at least once per day around my house with 3 kiddos under the age of 12…

Sometimes the kids are simply moving at their own pace which does not fit the timeline established for completion. Sometimes they are procrastinating in order to do something they want to do prior to completing the menial task set before them by their mother and I. Sometimes they are outright disobedient by not acting upon the directions and guidelines given them because they want to do what they want to do and have it their own way. Whether it is considered laziness, diversion, or outright disobedience, in our house all are considered mutiny against the established rules, guidelines, and authority structure. Our word as parents is the final say, and when our word is transgressed, rebellion is in play.

Israel was apparently being rebellious when God sent the prophet Ezekiel into their midst. God had Ezekiel do some strange things, but He prepared Ezekiel in the beginning for the task, stating that he was being sent to a people who would hear but not listen. Chapters 1 and 2 set up the scene of the vision Ezekiel has, but Chapter 3 is where Ezekiel is prepared for the mission. Take a look:

Ezekiel 3: 1-12 – And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, 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.

He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.”

10 And he said to me, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. 11 Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.”

 

As I read this passage, my first thought was “Wow… I’m sure glad I don’t have his task ahead of me!” And then, I remembered what I do every day… Perhaps pastors DO have Ezekiel’s task ahead of them… Let’s look again at Ezekiel 3.

Ezekiel 3:5-7 – You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate.

 

Even those who casually study the Bible understand that Israel was God’s chosen people. They were to be the city on a hill, the light to all other nations around them, and the example of how Creation could live in harmony with its Creator. However, it is well known that Israel was one of the most rebellious nations ever to have existed in recorded history. One need only read the book of Exodus to see this rebellious nature in action. God counted them as a “stiff necked people” in Exodus, Deuteronomy, 2 Chronicles, and Jeremiah. This is echoed in Matthew and Acts in the New Testament as well. Ezekiel’s mission was to receive and speak God’s Word to this rebellious nation. He was to try and shepherd this gangly mess of a herd of sheep which, at times, ended up being more like trying to herd cats in the same direction…

I know some of you are probably saying “yeah yeah, we get it… the Israelites were rebellious and Ezekiel had a tough job… what does that have to do with right now, here, today?” In order to get there, it is important to understand one small piece of information. When God was speaking of the “rebellious nation” it is important to note that the original Hebrew can refer to Israel, but it can ALSO refer to the Gentiles or the heathen. This is an important piece of information, because the modern day Church isn’t necessarily made up of Jewish descent. Many of us (including my entire family) are Gentiles, and as we know from reading Scripture, all who choose to wear the name of Christ are God’s chosen people. He chose us because He created us, and desires that all should choose Him. The cross made this plain. Jesus Himself spelled it out in no uncertain terms when speaking to Nicodemus in John 3.

John 3:16-17 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

The message of Christ is for ALL. That means ALL OF US are God’s chosen people, for He chose us through the work of Christ on the cross. This is great news, but it also creates a major issue, because if we are all God’s chosen people, then we are all included in the “rebellious house.”

In light of this, I posed the question on social media “Is the modern church a picture of the rebellious house God speaks of in Ezekiel 2-3?” Here’s a couple of the answers I received.

David – I think that rebellion is deeply rooted in our American culture. Our country, after all, was started with a rebellious uprising. I can see parallels with our culture more so than with the church. I do feel as though complacency is what is haunting the church today. It appears to me that our church cultures have become anti-scriptural because of some of the thoughts that appear to be “too hard” to live out. This is not rebellion, it is just plain laziness.

Terri – The modern church is very much like the “rebellious house”.

 We read in God’s Word that we are to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves’ (paraphrased from Luke 10:27). Yet, we choose to ignore Christ’s words because it makes us uncomfortable to reach out, to get our hands dirty, or because it might interfere with our schedule, or “insert your reason here”.

 I find myself all too often being convicted for not obeying when the Lord calls me to love my neighbor. Therefore, I must ask forgiveness, and depend on the selfless act of my precious Savior to cover my disobedience.

Esther – When the church stops preaching the cross, it is indeed rebellious.

 

I love the different thoughts brought here, and agree with much of it. Indeed, I do believe part of the issue in the western American church is that rebellion is engrained into our society. The issue here is that, where rebellion once was used to gain freedom, liberty, and positive social change in our society, it is more likely to be used today for selfish ambition, personal gain, and preferential treatment. What was once used to make things “right”, is now used to make things “right by me.” This has seeped into the very fiber of the church, and is ripping her apart limb from limb.

When it comes to things being “too hard” to live out as David put it, I would disagree with the idea of it just being about laziness. There are those who, like the child that puts off the direction from a parent, delay obedience to Christ as far as they can in order to do what they want. However, as is said in my house (at least once or twice per day!), delayed obedience is still disobedience. Disobedience is a form of rebellion. Please understand that I’m not speaking of the man-made rules and regulations, but rather, the timeless and authoritative directives from God found in Holy Scripture. Man’s rules can be changed, but God and His Word are unchanging.

And yes, there is a difference.

Terri makes a great point with Luke 10:27. Comfort is a huge part of the church today. There is an undercurrent which looks like we want a plush seat, a big cup of coffee, a large donut, our favorite musical style, a message that doesn’t call me to do anything, and an opportunity to duck out at the end of a service while the worship team is still leading in order to beat the parking lot traffic and get to the Sizzler before the Baptists do (no offense intended to steak restaurant workers or my Baptist brothers and sisters!). Tithes and offerings are withheld because the musical style isn’t what we’d prefer, the carpet got changed without my permission, or the pastor started wearing jeans and a button down instead of a suit and tie. Available positions for service go unfilled and ministry goes undone because “somebody else will get to it.” If somebody else would have gotten to it, the position wouldn’t still be open!

It reminds me of a picture I saw a while back. It was a church connection card which had been filled out and said something to the effect of “can’t handle all this work on my own. Really need some more help from folks in the church to get all this ministry work done. Signed, Somebod E. Else.” Folks, Mr. Else doesn’t exist. That’s why each of us is gifted uniquely to serve.

Finally, the matter of the church failing to preach “the cross.” This is an important thing to do from the pulpit to be certain. However, what exactly is the message of the cross? When we look at the cross, wasn’t it an act committed by Christ out of obedience to God and love for humanity? He could have called down angels, could have removed Himself from it, and could have said no in the first place. Yet, He took on flesh, set out resolutely for Jerusalem, and allowed Himself to be bruised, broken, crushed, and killed for the sake of God’s beloved human kind.

Additionally, aren’t we all the Church? One of the things we constantly keep in the forefront of our people here at Glenn Park is this: We don’t GO to church, we ARE the Church! That being said, the Church is to emulate what Christ has set forth by his own word and deed. So, if I were to combine those two things, then the Church should preach the Cross by committing acts of obedience to God and love for humanity.

That being the case, sitting idly by is not an option. Doing my own thing is not an option. Delayed obedience is not an option. Our only option is consistent action through the gifts the Spirit has placed within us and the talents God has given us out of obedience to God and love for humanity. If we choose inaction, we become the “rebellious house” spoken of in Scripture. That, my friends, is NOT who we want to be.

 

What would it look like if each and every person in the global Church were to consistently exercise the gifts and talents they’ve been given out of obedience to God and love for humanity? Hunger wouldn’t exist. Children wouldn’t be orphans. No one would be homeless, jobless, or hopeless. The good news of Christ would spread by action, and words would be used when necessary instead of being the primary mode of transmission of the gospel. Sounds lofty, right? Maybe so, but maybe not…

 

Father God, help us this day to repent for our rebelliousness. Give us the grace to return to You in humbleness and meekness, ready and willing to serve in whatever capacity You choose. Remind us of WHO we are and WHOSE we are. Put opportunities in our path to teach, encourage, share, befriend, mentor, and otherwise serve our Church body and our community. Make us uncomfortable if we rest on our laurels for too long. Poke us, prod us, move our cheese, change our circumstance, shift our paradigm… whatever it takes, Lord God, do it. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

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