God Doesn’t Ride Shotgun

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Does God seem distant? There may be a valid reason for that, and we might be the cause.

Manasseh, king of Judah, probably committed one of the biggest acts of blasphemy in the history of mankind. He commissioned a carved statue of the heathen idol Asherah, and placed it in the Temple of the Lord (2 Kings 21:7). It was this statue that the Lord referred to as the image of jealousy in Ezekiel 8.

Asherah was a goddess whom the people worshipped through sexual immorality. To make room for the placement of this statue, the altar of the Temple had to be moved aside.

In Manasseh’s mind, there was probably a valid reason for doing this. Many historical scholars believed that Manasseh helped spark an economic boom in Israel by obtaining a “most favored nation” status from the Assyrians. In order to attract Assyria’s favor, he led Israel to worship multiple false gods, including Asherah, who was regarded as the wife of Baal. However, economic gain is never an excuse to rebel against God, and God always deals with this behavior severely.

Manasseh was later arrested by the Assyrians, was treated severely by them, and was only reinstated after he repented and called out to God.

Yet, the damage of his behavior was done. The image of jealousy remained in the Lord’s Temple, and the altar had been moved aside.

Think about how this act violated the Lord’s presence, and the purpose for His Temple. The Temple was a place for people to go to pray, to seek God’s deliverance and guidance, and to be reconciled to Him.

It was a place of repentance, and a place where worshippers sought atonement for sin. The altar was the place where the lambs were sacrificed for sin. Every act of that sacrifice symbolized what God would do for His people through Jesus Christ.

The lamb was tied to one of the four horns of the altar. Those horns represented God’s judgment. So, that lamb was tied to God’s judgment upon us. He took our place there. That lamb was then slain, and its blood was the price paid for our sin. That blood would be collected and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant on the day of atonement to show God’s redemption of us from sin. That blood was also placed upon the horn of the alter, showing that the Blood of the Lamb covered God’s judgment for our sin.

Likewise, the blood of Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world once and for all. Furthermore, the blood of Christ also covered God’s judgment for our sin. It was with this in mind that John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” as he introduced Christ in John 1.

Once the lamb had been slain, the body of the lamb was placed on the altar, where it was cooked, and then eaten by the worshipper, and the priest. The fat was left on the altar to be burnt up, symbolizing God eating His portion. That step in the sacrifice showed restored fellowship between man and God, a friendship and a family relationship that bonded man with God.

The Temple, and more specifically, the altar, was where man went to repent and be reconciled to God. It was where man went for assurance that His sin had been paid for.

Yet, Manasseh had moved that altar to make room for the statue of Asherah, a goddess worshipped through sin and immorality. It was such a betrayal to God, that He later told Ezekiel in Ezekiel 8 that He had been driven from the sanctuary of the Temple. God’s presence was no longer there.

Had the altar been moved for any reason, it would have been a sacrilege. God’s redemption of man would have been de-emphasized for the flavor of the month. However, to move the altar for the image of Asherah, was to move redemption out of the way in favor of licentious sin. This is an all out rebellion against God, and was the closest man could have come to spitting in His face.

Therefore, God’s presence was no longer in His Temple, leading the elders to say in Ezekiel 8 that the Lord had forsaken the earth. (That’s Old Testament for, “God seems distant.”)

So, if God seems distant, maybe it’s because we moved Him out of the way of our desires. Maybe we moved His altar from the temple of our heart to the back recesses of our heart in order to make room for something more pleasing to us… whether it is merely something of the world, or whether it is all-out sin.

However, God does not move to the back. He does not ride shotgun. He is either front and center, in the driver’s seat, or He is gone altogether.

So, if God seems distant to you, examine your heart, and see where your priorities are, and what your spiritual condition is. Then, repent, pray to God for restoration, and welcome Him back to your life.

Taking Time To Train

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Offensive Coordinators in the NFL hate rookie quarterbacks. While a talented rookie can make big plays and electrify the crowd, his inexperience can often lead to catastrophic mistakes. Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott, and Mark Sanchez were all rookie quarterbacks who made great plays and drew national attention, but who also made rookie mistakes that set their teams back.

The truth is, in any sport, elevating from the college/amateur game to the major league professional level is a huge step, and one that takes years to make. That’s why the average NFL team will spend 3 years training a newly drafted quarterback before naming him the starter, and thus, the franchise QB. It’s why the NBA develops rookies through the G-League, and why Major League Baseball uses three tiers of minor leagues to train their rookies for the main stage.

Becoming an elite athlete takes time and training. Not only must one prepare himself physically, he must take the time to learn the mental aspects of the game, and learn to function at the faster professional level.

Likewise, as we commit ourselves to serving the Lord, we must also be willing to take time to prepare ourselves for that service. In Ezekiel 3:17, the Bible says, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.”

While most Bible students tend to focus in on the word, “watchman,” and apply that to the Lord’s commission upon us to spread the Gospel, we must not overlook the first part of that verse, which says to “hear the word at My mouth.”

Basically, in order to speak God’s word to people, we must first hear, or receive, God’s word. Charles Spurgeon said it this way:

To train the tongue, we must first begin with the ear. We must be a disciple and sit at the Master’s feet before we can become an apostle and go forth to speak in the Master’s name.

I like the way Spurgeon points out that we must first become disciples before we can become apostles. We must first take time to learn of the Lord, to hear and learn His word, and apply it to our lives, before we go forth to teach it to others. Before being teachers, we must be students. Before being leaders, we must be followers.

If we are to effectively serve God, we must be willing to learn from God. We must be willing to allow Him to train us through His scriptures. Anything less is rebellious, and will prove unfruitful in the long run.

Do not think that time invested in reading and learning scripture is wasted. Do not fear that time spent in seminary, or Sunday School is lost. Invested time is never wasted time.

Take time. Learn. Apply. Follow. Then speak, teach and lead. Watch what the Lord will do. May God bless your labors for Him.

When we say, “God’s not dead,” we mean…

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… that He has not died, that He has not forgotten us, and that He has not turned against us.

Ezekiel was born to be a priest. He was in the right family, and was destined to minister in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. However, a Babylonian invasion ended that dream, as he was one of thousands taken into captivity and led as slaves into a foreign land. There, Ezekiel dwelt with the captives by the Chebar river. Through no fault of his own, he had lost everything.

So it was, living in Israel’s twilight years prior to the Babylonian captivity. The nation slipped further and further into sin and idolatry, behaving so reprehensibly that even the heathen nations surrounding it were repulsed. As Israel rebelled and reveled, God withdrew His protection, allowing Babylon to continue to conquer the nation. The southern kingdom continued to lose province after province, and city after city, all the while continuing in the sin and idolatry that was bringing on their demise. This continued until the Babylonian troops had laid siege to the capital city of Jerusalem.

The tragedy of a lifestyle of sin is that you often don’t realize what it’s cost you until you are about to lose what little you have left. So it was that Israel was down to defending Jerusalem, and any hope of maintaining the kingdom rested in their ability to fend off the Babylonians.

Meanwhile, back in Babylon, the captives awaited news from back home. Was Jerusalem successfully defended, or did she fall. The anticipation touched off a firestorm of debate. Some believed that God could not allow Jerusalem to be conquered, for doing so would violate the promise He made to Abraham back in Genesis. False prophets had even gone among the people, promising that God would deliver them. Others had concluded that God’s providence was not needed, that the walls of Jerusalem would protect her from her enemies.

Jerusalem had to be saved, for anything else would represent God’s total abandonment of Israel. Some had even believed that God had divorced Himself from His chosen people, a belief that God Himself refuted in Isaiah 50:1. With those questions swirling, God began to speak to His people.

In Ezekiel 1, the former priest, soon to be prophet, Ezekiel, is by the Chebar River when God speaks to Him.

The prophecies recorded in Ezekiel show God’s plan for Israel. In the early part of the book, God tells the people that Jerusalem would fall. That prophecy caused many to reject the legitimacy of Ezekiel’s ministry, but once Jerusalem fell, the people listened.

Through Ezekiel’s prophecies, God told the people that Jerusalem would fall, and that they would spend their 70 years in captivity, but that God would use that time to transform them, and would bring them back into their homeland when the process was finished.

This concept goes right along with Jeremiah 29:11-12, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.”

In that prophecy, Jeremiah told the people that God was not allowing the captivity to come upon Israel out of wrath, or a desire to see them destroyed. Rather, the captivity was going to transform them to a point where they would trust in the Lord and call upon Him, and He would hear and respond.

Some in Israel may have felt that God abandoned them. The Babylonians might have thought they conquered the Israelites’ God. The question circulating may have been, “Is God dead? Why doesn’t He hear?”

However, the truth was that God was working through the situation the whole time.

So, when you are going through trials and tribulations, or when others mock your faith, do not fear. God is not dead. He did not abandon you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He is still with you, and is working through the situations you face to refine you into a glorious child of His. Trust the process, and thank God for the progress.