Sunday, June 26, 2016

ABUSING YOUR BLESSINGS



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In Christ, Mark
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** Follow The Christian Walk on Twitter @ThChristianWalk
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

“‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty.”

“You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

“‘And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to Me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered My children and sacrificed them to the idols. In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.”

“‘Woe! Woe to you, declares the Sovereign Lord. In addition to all your other wickedness, you built a mound for yourself and made a lofty shrine in every public square. At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity.”

Ezekiel 16:15-26

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

In today’s devotion, we take what we learned yesterday in that God has blessed us all since birth and consider how we have used the blessings He has provided.

Have we embraced them and used them to fulfill His purposes?

or

Have we abused what He has given and used His gifts for sinful acts?

As we look at our scripture passage from Ezekiel 16, we find the Israelites falling into the latter category and God gives us plenty of details as to how they took what He gave them for the cause of righteousness and used them to supply their wicked desires. Look again at these words here:

“‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty.”

“You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

“‘And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to Me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered My children and sacrificed them to the idols. In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.”

“‘Woe! Woe to you, declares the Sovereign Lord. In addition to all your other wickedness, you built a mound for yourself and made a lofty shrine in every public square. At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity. So I stretched out my hand against you and reduced your territory; I gave you over to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were shocked by your lewd conduct. You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied. Then you increased your promiscuity to include Babylonia, a land of merchants, but even with this you were not satisfied.”  Ezekiel 16:15-29

Note how God continuously referred to His people as prostitutes, utilizing word play around the subject to portray just how adulterous and unfaithful the Israelites were unto Him as they chose to worship false gods and idols. The specific charges He levied against them included:

1. Using their garments to adorn the places of idolatry.

“‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty.”

“You took your embroidered clothes to put on them.”

It was common practice for the places of idol worship to be decorated with cloths of many colors. The Israelites took garments God had blessed them with and used them to lavish the high places where they engaged in their sinful adoration of false gods.

2. Using their jewelry to fashion the idols they worshiped.

“You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.”

God made sure He had given His people jewelry made with only the most precious and valuable metals. But the Israelites took all that beautiful jewelry, melted it down, and made idols to worship, idols that were insulting and detestable in God’s eyes.

3. Using their food to worship the idols.

“You offered My oil and incense before them.”

“Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them.”

First it was clothing, then fine metals, and now the Lord shares that the Israelites had even dedicated the food He had given them to the idols. It seemed like there was nothing that the Lord had given His people that would not be turned around to honor the idols.

And as we see the next charge, that statement was absolutely true.

4. Sacrificing their own children during their idol worship.

“‘And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to Me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered My children and sacrificed them to the idols. In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.”

This was the most appalling and gruesome act of wickedness the Israelites committed. For they were willing to take their very sons and daughters to the altar and slaughter them in worship to gods and idols that did not exist. They killed the living to pay tribute to what was never alive.

And note that God took the time to remind His people that the children they slaughtered were not their children anyways but His. Thus, the Israelites had murdered the children of God while sinfully disobeying His commands to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:2-3).

5. Building shrines to idols in every public square.

“‘Woe! Woe to you, declares the Sovereign Lord.’ In addition to all your other wickedness, you built a mound for yourself and made a lofty shrine in every public square. At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity.”

It wasn’t enough that the Israelites had constructed places for idol worshiping on the traditional high places. They also constructed “lofty shrines” and placed them “in every public square”, enticing anyone who was in the city to stop in and commit spiritual adultery against God. There was no real attempt to conceal their sinfulness.

Yes, the Israelites had abused the blessings from God in a big way, using what He had given for their good to disrespect and honor Him in the worse ways possible. There was little doubt that their blatant unfaithfulness was on display nearly everywhere you went.

Now ask yourself why God became so angry with His people that He sent harsh judgment upon them.

But let’s take a moment to consider how well we’re doing today when it comes to the way we treat and handle God’s blessings. Are we really any better than the Old Testament Israelites of Ezekiel’s day?

I can’t answer that question for you but if we look at our communities, our cities and municipalities, our nation, and our world at large, I don’t think I can say with any real sense of confidence that we are taking what God has blessed us with and using it as He intended us to.

For if we were, then we would not have people in the world who are homeless.

If we were, we wouldn’t have people in the world who are starving to death.

If we were, we wouldn’t have people in the world who are dying every day because of the lack of proper medical care or simple medication that could keep them alive.

If we were, then there would be no room for poverty.

In the end translation, God has given us everything we need to meet the needs of just not ourselves but countless others if we would just turn to Him, obediently seek His purposes, and then fulfill those purposes selflessly just as Jesus did.

God has lavished His greatest gifts upon us. It’s time to put them to use vice abuse them.

Amen

In Christ,

Mark

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

BIRTHED AND BLESSED



Can I pray for you in any way? Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com.

In Christ, Mark
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** Follow The Christian Walk on Twitter @ThChristianWalk
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.”

“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.”

“‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became Mine.”

“‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.  And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Ezekiel 16:1-14

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

Everything begins somewhere.

Sometimes we lose sight of that, especially when something we are experiencing has been around for awhile. In fact, we often lose sight of origins and as a result never get a full appreciation for who we’re talking to or the place we might be visiting.  

Point in case might be the city of Jerusalem and the people who inhabit it. We could visit Israel here in the 21st century, soak in the splendor and beauty of it, encounter its inhabitants, and never know their past, a past that you would have to go back more than 2,000 years to find, a past where the people of God and the sacred city were born.

To make sure we don’t lose sight of the genesis of not only Jerusalem but the Israelites themselves, thank goodness we have the scriptures who give us a rich insight into how the people of Israel and its most divine city got its start. And in today’s passage, drawn from the opening passages of Ezekiel 16, we find the Lord using beautiful imagery, comparing the Israelites’ birth to that of a baby emerging from its mother’s womb. Look at His words here:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.”

“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.”

“‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became Mine.”

“‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.  And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.”  Ezekiel 16:1-14

As we have seen in prior chapters, God is speaking words directly to His prophet, Ezekiel, and before He speaks so eloquently about how He helped Jerusalem come alive, He makes sure that His messenger knows that the city and its people would have to be confronted about their “detestable practices”. For as much as God had blessed His city and even more so the Israelites, they did not bless Him with their devotion and faithfulness in return. More on that in tomorrow’s devotion but for today, we see the Lord recalling how He helped the Israelites and made them His children.

First, it’s important to note that the Israelites were in dire straits before the Lord intervened and delivered them. Go back and remember the horrific oppression they suffered under Pharaoh who refused to release them into freedom. The Israelites provided him lots of cheap labor so he could construct his kingdom. Egypt’s leader did not value the Israelites beyond this and as a result they were badly mistreated. From the time they were birthed and truly started coming together as a people who God choose to be His own, the Israelites were abused, neglected, and despised. No one in Egypt had any compassion or pity for them.

It was at this point that the Lord intervened. He saw the Israelites in need and chose to bring them out of their dire circumstances, first appointing a leader, Moses, to guide them before using that leader to guide them to freedom. God’s hand continued to be on His people as He led them through a wilderness exodus to the land of Canaan, the land He had promised to give them. Indeed, God watched His people grow into maturity and when they were ready, He entered into a sacred covenant with them, swearing His allegiance to them while ensuring they knew He expected and demanded that they give Him their fullest allegiance in return.

In other words, He would be their God and they would be His people.

What a blessing this was to the Israelites! They not only had been set free from being enslaved but were given a place to live and were promised the support and protection of God Himself.

From that point on, God made good on His side of the covenant agreement. He continued to lavish His richest blessings on Israel, adorning the nation nothing but the best He could provide. They had fine clothes and abundant food to nourish themselves. They were a thing of beauty and for any nations looking in from the outside, there was little doubt that the Lord God Almighty was on the side of His people for Israel and its holy city of Jerusalem only grew and grew in fame in the world. God’s splendor had made His country and its people beauty perfect.

It was a real feel good story. A story of suffering before rescue, of cruelty before liberation, of despair before hope.  And yet, the Israelites messed it all us. They tarnished this beautiful story of redemption and deliverance by failing to appreciate the blessings God had brought them. They chose to be unfaithful to Him after all He had done was be faithful to them. They turned their backs and abandoned the only One who had never turned His back and abandoned them.

Imagine how you would have felt if you were God and had your people treat you that way after all you had done for them. I think you can understand why He was less than happy with His people and in a position where He needed to teach them a lesson through some pretty harsh consequences, consequences that we will see when we continue the study of Ezekiel 16 tomorrow.

In the meantime, perhaps we had better step back from our lives today and really take account of all the ways God has blessed us in life since we were birthed. Take some time to write down all the great things He has done for you and make the list comprehensive. Just don’t list the big things but focus on all the little things He has done, the little things we so often take for granted. I think if we do this, and do it right, we will realize just how much He has done for us and will be taken to a higher plain of gratitude.

But this exercise would not be complete without a secondary task. For after you have accounted for all the many ways that God has blessed you, now ask yourself how much you have given back to Him in return. Ask yourself these questions:

Have I been as devoted to Him as He has been to me?

Have I been as faithful to Him as He has been to me?

Have I loved Him as much as He has loved me?

You see, we only get in trouble in life, when we allow ourselves to stop making the Lord the object of our life’s attention and affection. It’s easy to always get focused on ourselves and we need to remember that when we are in the Lord, we may be in the world but we are not to be of it. We need to always remember who we are and whose we are.

With this, I encourage you to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord, not just today but every day He gives you. Make His desires the desires of your heart. And never cease to give Him the fullest measure of your adoration and praise.

Always keep in mind that He cherishes you more than you will ever understand.

Stay true to the scriptures and cherish Him with all your heart and mind and soul and strength as well (Mark 12:30).

Amen

In Christ,

Mark

PS: Feel free to leave a comment and please share this with anyone you feel might be blessed by it.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

ARE YOU WOOD OF THE VINE?



Can I pray for you in any way? Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com.

In Christ, Mark
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** Follow The Christian Walk on Twitter @ThChristianWalk
** Like posts and send friend requests to the author of The Christian Walk, Mark Cummings on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mark.cummings.733?ref=tn_tnmn
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, how is the wood of a vine different from that of a branch from any of the trees in the forest? Is wood ever taken from it to make anything useful? Do they make pegs from it to hang things on? And after it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the fire burns both ends and chars the middle, is it then useful for anything? If it was not useful for anything when it was whole, how much less can it be made into something useful when the fire has burned it and it is charred?

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As I have given the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest as fuel for the fire, so will I treat the people living in Jerusalem. I will set my face against them. Although they have come out of the fire, the fire will yet consume them. And when I set my face against them, you will know that I am the Lord. I will make the land desolate because they have been unfaithful, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Ezekiel 15

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

Think about all the uses of wood harvested from trees.

In all probability, the home you live in was largely constructed with it. Ditto for a lot of the furniture within your home.

Trees also produce the paper we use so often to print things from our computer, send cards and letters to loved ones or friends, or write notes for future reference during classes in school or meetings at work. Go to a library and look at the volumes of books, then marvel about how many trees it took to compose such a collection of literature.

I’m a big sports fan and when I watch baseball, I see major league players swinging bats made out of – you got it – wood. You definitely know it too when one of them splinters after breaking from the force of a pitch.

Finally, think about how many places use wood for heating and cooking purposes. In many homes, wood is the primary fuel.

I could go on and on but you get the point. The wood of trees has many uses, making the tree a plant of great utility.

Now, compare this to the wood we might find on a vine.

Have you ever heard anyone say that they made anything from the wood of a vine or purchased anything that was constructed by the wood of a vine?

I know I haven’t.

The point is that the wood of a vine just isn’t good for much of anything. For the most part it is useless and it’s this point that resonates in our scripture passage for today from the 15th chapter of Ezekiel.  Look again at these words here:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, how is the wood of a vine different from that of a branch from any of the trees in the forest? Is wood ever taken from it to make anything useful? Do they make pegs from it to hang things on? And after it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the fire burns both ends and chars the middle, is it then useful for anything? If it was not useful for anything when it was whole, how much less can it be made into something useful when the fire has burned it and it is charred?

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As I have given the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest as fuel for the fire, so will I treat the people living in Jerusalem. I will set my face against them. Although they have come out of the fire, the fire will yet consume them. And when I set my face against them, you will know that I am the Lord. I will make the land desolate because they have been unfaithful, declares the Sovereign Lord.”  Ezekiel 15

Note here that the Lord is speaking to Ezekiel with a very specific message about the Israelites. For God’s people had essentially become useless to Him, as useless as the wood on a vine.

They had chosen to unfaithfully bow down and worship other gods and idols so they definitely were not interested in God and His will for them. They were too busy doing what they wanted to do which amounted to sinful disobedience against the Lord, behaving in ways that did nothing short of dishonor and disrespect Him.

Obviously, this was not going to work with God and so He decided to do something about it. He set His face against His people and put them in a place where they would face the same fate as the wood of the vine when it is thrown into the fire. The wood wasn’t useful before it went into the flames but once burned it would become worthless as it burned into ash. There’s not a great deal you can do with burnt vine residue. God’s people would find the fire of God’s wrath come in the form of the Babylonians who would invade Judah and Jerusalem, leaving both in smoldering ruin once they were done. The Israelites would be hauled off into exile for seven decades, their usefulness for God like the vine’s wood.

This brings me to the title of today’s devotion:

ARE YOU WOOD OF THE VINE?

In other words, how does God view you when it comes to your value and worth, your utility when it comes to receiving His direction and then putting that direction into action to achieve His purposes?

If you are choosing sin over His righteousness, then get ready because the fate awaiting you will be similar to the one experienced by the Old Testament Israelites who were compared to the wood of the vine. You may not suffer the exact same consequences as them but know that God’s punishment and correction will come until you realize that opposing Him is a bad idea and choose to be compared more to the trees in the forest, trees that are seen as productive and useful.

Even better yet is to consider that being branches of a vine does not have to be bad. We know that because Jesus told us so. Look at these words from the Gospel of John in the New Testament:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” John 15:1-6

When we choose to turn from sin toward righteousness then we are choosing to allow the Lord to lead and guide us in life. Jesus, God’s only Son who lived the only perfect life ever, tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. As long as we remain connected to Him (the vine), then we will bear much fruit. In other words, we will have great merit because Christ will make us that way.

Conversely, if one of the branches (any one of us) decides to not stay connected with the vine (Jesus) then they will find themselves first withering and then dying spiritually, their faith life as worthless as a vine branch that is collected and tossed into the fire. The only difference is that we can be cast into the fire of God’s judgment and that’s not a place anyone should ever want to be.

Amen

In Christ,

Mark

PS: Feel free to leave a comment and please share this with anyone you feel might be blessed by it.

Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com