Let the River Flow

The first half of Ezekiel’s 47th chapter is about one topic: a vision he had concerning a flow of water. This is a favorite passage for preachers as it contains much symbolism which can be developed in diverse ways. He notices a flow of water coming out of the temple. Just a trickle at first. The farther it goes, the deeper it gets. First ankle deep, then up to the knee. Farther out, it was up to the waist. Farther still, it became deep and wide enough to swim in, but was too big for anyone to cross. What started as a trickle had become an ocean.

Now this is contrary to what one would normally expect to see. If you have a swimming pool in your yard which needs to be emptied, you start with water, lots of water, multiplied gallons of water. Letting it flow out, you would expect that the farther away you get from the source, the smaller the size of the stream as it finds its way down the street, until finally there is no more.

With God there is always the unexpected, and there is always His desire for increase. This river pictures the New Testament revelation of the Kingdom of God. “What is it like?” Jesus asks. It is like that little bit of yeast in the dough, or like the tiny mustard seed which grows to become large enough for birds to roost in. It starts small and grows exponentially. Life from God will bring multiplied numbers across multiplied miles. First in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.

As the revelation continues, Ezekiel sees “a great number of trees” on both banks of the river. Planted trees are symbolic of people, His people. (Isaiah 61:3; Psalm 1:3) The Life-Giving Flowing River now supports life in large number.

It continues on through the Arabah and on to the Dead Sea. The word Arabah denotes “the generally sterile valley of the Jordan.” Sterile, dead. Nothing grows, nothing lives on land or sea. Yet, when the River of Life flows in something happens. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live where ever 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. vs.9

Please note “swarms” and “large numbers.” There is nothing stinting about God. It is all about greatness, increase, life. There are creatures on the once sterile land and fish of many kinds in the sea. Variety has always been a hallmark of the Creator.

Then he describes the trees. Not only is there a great number, but now he says they are fruit trees of all kinds, growing on the banks of the river. Because of the life-giving river, the trees are fruitful every month. There is no dormant period. They bear every month, producing food for all. The fruit never fails where the river flows!

All those fruit bearers are His people, His varied people. With each producing different fruit, every person’s need will be met there somewhere. If not this tree, then that one will do because His intention is that all will be productive, and all will receive nourishment sufficient to their needs from His life. If we abide in him (John 15:4-5) there is much fruit.
In addition to the fruit, these trees’ leaves have a purpose. Nothing is wasted in God’s Kingdom. The leaves, which never wither, are for healing. Healing! Restoration to the original good design. Back in balance, order, alignment, harmony. The cry of our hearts is always for healing – spirit, soul and body, to know and experience life in its fullness without malfunction, sickness and disease. Yet here it is clear that it is the very people of God who will have the answer to that cry. It is those touched by the river of life who have something within them to bring healing where needed. And that something never gets old. There are not a few special trees which have healing leaves; every tree has them.

This entire scene is a picture of inclusion and productivity, purpose and abundance. No one is left out, none is useless. This message is the same as that brought to Israel by Jesus when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God. It is His main message, the reason that He came. (Luke 4:43) God is near you; rejoice!

The vision in Ezekiel is a somewhat similar parallel to a scene at the end of Revelation. To compare and contrast them is enlightening. Rev 22:1,2    Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Here the river is flowing in the very center of God’s perfect heavenly new creation. Flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb, and a bringer and sustainer of life, this river pictures the Spirit arising from Father and Son, and central to the city and His life. Verse 2 says that on each side of the river stood the tree of life! THE tree (singular) stands on both sides of the river. In the earlier vision, there were trees of many kinds; here it is one tree, yet on both sides. In our present world, a tree divided in two would fall and die. Obviously our view and understanding have to change here. The new scene has replaced all the varied trees representing all kinds of people with the tree of life, that very tree which was blocked to man after the Fall.

This tree, the tree, which bears fruit month by month covering all seasons. also has leaves for the healing of the nations. These leaves are designed to cleanse away all that defiles, sickens and separates. There is no people group, no ethnos which cannot be restored to the new creation. The provision is in God, supplied by God, sustained by His very Spirit or life-giving essence. Healing is the result of abiding in Christ, letting the Spirit of the Living God flow through us like a river.

Jesus is the Tree of Life on the banks of God’s river of life. The triune God dwells within us, according to John 14:20,23,16. Therefore, releasing His life to others rises from a true relationship with Him.

As we earth-bound humans become yielded to God, and conformed to the image of Christ, are we not then being transformed into Trees of Life? The fruit of our lives is not our manufacture, but arises from the tap root and DNA of the tree itself. Our continued walk of holiness and righteousness, based on the leafy cleansing of Holy Spirit witnesses truth and reality to all “nations” we contact.

Of course, on this side of the new creation, it is both now, and not yet. We are becoming life-givers, but not yet what we will be. As the River flows on, deepening, sustaining, changing all that it touches, we are becoming. Let that River flow.

Advertisements

Symbols Part 2

Jesus seemed to have a habit of making things be other than what they had been. In His first recorded miracle, at a time of celebration He changes water into wine. Then at the end of His earthly ministry at a dinner celebration He declares this wine is blood. His blood. And we are commanded to take it in within ourselves, sealing within us an identification with that Life which is in the blood. Doing so proclaims the gap is now bridged between repentant sinner and holy God.

Water, without which natural life is impossible, has been transformed into wine that now simultaneously becomes symbol of blood, life and death. Yet, more than symbol, the act itself of drinking the wine calls into reality the Life and Death of Jesus, source of all. The line between symbol and reality becomes blurred.

Water plays a large part of another Biblical truth. The rite of baptism, of being plunged beneath the waters and raised again, was affirmed by Jesus as He demonstrated His own submission to that act. When we are buried into baptism waters it is a symbolic union with the reality of Jesus’ blood and very life poured out. It was and is an act of cleansing, and a symbol of image

death to the old life before resurrecting to the new.

In a recent dream I saw a man of God I know standing beside a large baptismal bowl which has a continual flow of water moving over its top into a recycling system below. Only in the dream the entire pool was wine! As I pondered this, the symbol of wine representing death was merged with water and the death it represents. At the same moment, the wine and water symbolize new life. In a way too mysterious to describe, the wine of Communion, the Eucharist, plunges the partaker into the death of baptism and the death of Christ simultaneously. No longer symbol, the recipient now rises to new life, a life in full.

All of this consistently points to the reality of a God who is joined with us at every level – not a God afar off. He has incorporated us and taken us with Him into His death, His blood shedding, His life poured out for other’s sale. The phenomenal news is that when He arose, the resurrected life was completely new — and when He arose, we were and still are attached as it were with that new life available to us in Him.

His one over-arching command: Love one another. Because of the water, wine and blood, that impossibility is now possible. Symbol and reality are One.

 

Symbols, Part 1

I greatly admire and appreciate artistic ability, a gift which is not mine. It takes me three pages of thinking out loud in my notebook to convey an idea expressed movingly by art in any form. Akiane depicts past, future, shock, and sacrifice in her unforgettable painting of Eve and the Forbidden Fruit, (http://www.akiane.com) in a way that touches the heart more deeply than any theologian with impressive credentials. Ideas, symbols and reality all come together on one canvas. It is magic, really.

I know a man who has been looking for truth all his life. He sent me a photo of his artwork; every canvas was a jumble of lines and and paths going off in all directions. It doesn’t take artistic expertise to see that he hasn’t yet found what he is seeking.

Symbols – we use them all the time to convey concepts that are at times too deep, wide and high for expression. Some things we experience or wonder about are simply beyond words. In our humanity we can find common ground in symbols rather than words which can quickly divide, as we each shape and interpret them with individual nuance of meaning.

When do symbols become the reality? Is there a difference between them? Sometimes it is difficult to separate a symbol from the reality it represents. A Marine saluting the flag or his officer is extending honor to the person or thing being saluted. Honor, an abstract, invisible concept, is displayed by the salute to the point that the salute then becomes the concept revealed. Is that action not also the honor itself?

Symbols, types and shadows are found throughout the Bible. The Old Testament is primarily an historical record of a Middle-Eastern people group. It records conquests, defeats, settlement – and their God experiences. It is history. The New Testament then declares that what was written is representative of a greater reality – a spiritual truth of a higher order. What the ancient Israelites experienced in their reality was meant for later generations to see higher truths about God and His self revelation in Jesus Christ. The details, the stories serve as types and shadows of things to come. They were one thing, a reality, at the same time holding within themselves a greater meaning symbolizing something else.

This then leads me to expressions of faith. A small gold cross, centered with a smaller diamond, hangs around my neck. A delicate piece of jewelry, only a trinket to animist or Buddhist, it speaks volumes to me as I grow in my understanding of my value to God and the centrality of Jesus in all of life. Whole libraries try to explain the reality of the cross, while my cross is declaring that meaning wordlessly to those who believe.

Since earliest times and cultures, blood has represented the life within it. Leviticus declared “The life is in the blood” as it called for the sacrifice of a living thing, with application of its blood, to atone for or bridge the gap between a repentant sinner and a holy God. Blood became symbolic of life and forgiveness and reconciliation. Earlier in Jewish history, blood used as a sign on the door provided protection from a plague of death. Blood from the death of one being then became equated as life giving to another.

The sacrificial system set up in the Old Testament was designed for atonement, bringing the repentant person to a holy God, and as a part of worship. Worship was and is 1. offering the best we have, and 2. offering a life laid down. All was a preparation for the time of Jesus. His blood represents both those aspects of worship.

When Jesus at his last Seder held up the cup, the one which was traditionally set aside for the coming hoped-for Messiah, he declared that the wine in that cup was his blood. Shed blood. Poured out blood. They all knew it was wine. But it was blood. Jesus said so. He was conveying to the group that he was to be the ultimate sacrificial animal, the being whose blood would bridge that uncrossable gap between God and man. The death of this living being of the highest order would be life-giving to all others, once and for all. There is no thing anywhere in the cosmos that can trump that act, that blood. The symbol of the Old Testament was now becoming revealed as prototype, by a declaration of the true and real before their very eyes. His blood is at the same time both symbol and reality.

 

I Get It

I’ve got it down now. I get it. I even have my teaching notes in order so that I can impart this understanding to others, those who have not grasped the truth of this concept. It’s scriptural, too, and should be very clear. “Your life is not your own; you have been bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”

Of course, I glorify God. Everyone knows I lead a moral life and am not “that kind of girl.” My shelves are full of Christian books, manuals from endless courses and seminars, soaking CDs. I am known for being a counselor to the troubled, a safe listener, a source of wisdom to the confused.

Yes, I belong to Christ. I am indwelt by the Triune God so that I may re-present Him to the world. Overcomer, too. Walking in victory with authority over the evil one. I’ve dealt with my issues, forgiven every offense, laid any personal ambitions on the altar. Therefore, life is good. What more could God want?

Oh. The attitudes of the heart, too? The lingering selfishness? That sense of ownership of my time? He wants a cheerful giver? I thought that referred to our tithes and offerings. Oh.

I am suddenly faced with the truth that there is another triunity jostling for space within: Me, Myself and I. Suddenly it becomes clear that idolatry has been lurking behind the polished exterior, waiting to exert its presence, elbowing God aside for the right to my life.

Oh no. Faced with that truth, I also encounter another one – I am weak and unable to wrestle it to death on my own. Helpless now, I throw myself, the good, bad and the ugly, upon His kindness, grateful that He gets it. Really.

Emotions: the Color and Chaos of Life

Emotions: the Color and Chaos of Life

Created in God’s image, man was given among other things, the gift of emotions. Can you imagine life without feelings? It would be flat, colorless, gray, robotic, boring beyond measure. But with anticipation, excitement, hope, happiness, fondness, caring, love, satisfaction, and joy we feel fully alive, participants in the world around us.

The Bible reveals God as having some emotions, but not nearly such a long list. He is described as having joy, delight and satisfaction with his creation, anger at sin which twists and defiles that creation, and love which is a constant – the fabric of his being.

All the negative emotions in mankind are the result of our fallen nature. Here we find the source of most of the earth’s troubles. Anger, hatred, greed, domination, anxiety, fear and dread, desire for power and recognition, hopelessness, despair, jealousy, the pain of rejection plus a host of others contribute to the breakdown of relationships and eventually every society.

It seems only natural to conclude that if there is to be any hope for our society and mankind in general, we must deal with those negative emotions at their root, bringing our lives more in in line with those of the One who created us. Or, in short Bible-speak, be conformed to the image of Christ.

This has to happen, I submit, before the Christian world will have any impact against the forces of the secular world. With our unhealed emotions our behavior is often no better than the world around us, and is made worse by the addition of our self-righteousness.

How is it that people can spend years of their lives as Christians without dealing with the root causes of their negative emotions?

One major reason is simply unawareness that life could be any different than what they have known. Their lives are shaped by the box of their experiences. The box contains their original personhood as designed by the Creator, but it is also filled with memories, events, emotions, pain, teachings received from the culture around them, and their interpretation of all this. All of the box is considered normal, the way things are, the way they are. It is all they know, and it is real and true to them. Accepting Jesus Christ and the message of the church becomes an addition, an external, much like a coat of paint on the outside to make the box more attractive. A common phrase used by them to explain or justify their more negative behavior patterns is “That’s just the way I am!” The idea that there may be another way to see things, another way to live, has not been received or believed, often because it has not been taught. “You mean to say I don’t have to live in fear? Or with this short fuse? Or this shame? How can that be?”

Another reason for the continuation of the status quo is the deception of pride which says “I’m cool the way I am. If you don’t like that, there is something wrong with you. Certainly not me!”

This line of thought is akin to those who have grasped 2 Corinthians 5:17 as a shield against any need to change. Declaring that verse without reading it in its full context is to misunderstand it. “Old things have passed away; behold, all things are new.” Or as the NIV has it: 2Co 5:17    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” The next several verses expound on that by saying it is all about being reconciled to God, from whom we are estranged until Christ enters our lives. That’s it. Reconciled, yes. Healed from our bad selves, no. If we were all totally cleaned up from our emotional pain and ungodly reactions there would be no need for all the Scripture admonishment to “put off the old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude if your minds.” Eph.4:22. We are told to renew our minds, work out our salvation, become mature, not babes. That means taking our “perfect” selves and doing something about them!

One major blockage to dealing with our boxes of negative emotions and pain is the fear of looking within. We don’t know what is in there, but we have a pretty good idea it could be too nasty, or scary or shameful to bear coming to the light. There be dragons and beasties, things that go bump in the night! The fear of revelation with its accompanying shame makes us keep a strong lock on the tight lid of our boxes.

At base, the failure to deal with these pesky emotions reveals a lack of trust in the goodness of God. Not entirely sure that He really has our best interests in mind, we stay safely on the perimeter of life, putting up with our “normal” and never coming to that place of peace, joy and abundance Jesus talked about.

Want high adventure living? Take the risk. Dare to pursue dealing with your issues. You know you have them; so, sadly, does everyone else. The end result will be a delight to all.

Porcupines

Porcupines

Anger, hostility, defiance, rebellion — all can be used to describe what I see and hear from entertainment, media, some blog post commenters and writers to the editor. Atheists, would-be atheists and many intellectual ‘elites’ seem unable to just be at peace with their own beliefs, but are covered by porcupine quills which come loose when near anyone or thing that speaks of faith. The barbs are designed to inflict pain and swelling, keeping the enemy a safe distance away from them lest their life style be challenged.

To choose that life view over peace, unbroken or restored relationships, order and contentment seems to me to be the height of folly. To each his own, I guess. Personally, I prefer the latter.