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bleached dr da vi d mc d o na l d


Visit Dr. David McDonald’s website at www.shadowinggod.com Visit Samizdat Creative’s website at www.samizdatcreative.com Bleached: Hope for the Desolate Copyright © 2010 by Dr. David McDonald. All rights reserved. The author retains sole copyright to the materials Author photo and design copyright © 2009 by David McDonald. All rights reserved. ISBN-10: 0982612435 ISBN-13: 978-0-9826124-3-9 Published in association with Westwinds Community Church, 1000 Robinson Road, Jackson, MI 49203 Published by Samizdat Creative, 5441 South Knox Court, Littleton, CO 80123. All scriptures used in this Atlas are taken from the NIV translation unless otherwise indicated.

This book was written primarily for the people of Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Michigan. It is part of a series of similar books called “Teaching Atlases,” which supplement David’s sermons during the weekend worship services. They are part study-guide, part reminder, part artifact.     Additional Atlases can be obtained through the office of Westwinds Community Church on a host of other topics.   David is also available for guest teaching and lecturing and can be booked through his personal assistant, Norma Racey (norma.racey@westwinds.org).   The set-up costs of each Atlas are privately donated by a Westwinds’ parishioner, thus enabling extensive self-publishing at a reasonable cost. The proceeds from each Atlas are designated by the donor for a specific project—such as installing wells in developing countries, providing artistic and educational scholarships for children, or financially supporting pastors and missionaries around the world.   If you would like to donate to the Atlas project, please contact info@westwinds.org


dr david mcdonald

s p ecia l than ks

To Ryan Philips, my friend and research assistant, who scoured thousands of pages written by dozens of scholars in a valiant effort to find something of worth. You could write your own book on Dry Bones – and maybe you already are. I think God brought you along on this journey so you would have your own insights into your own situation, and so have your own hope. To Daniel Block, Wheaton College Professor, who graciously took time to explore this passage of Scripture via a long-distance phone call from Cambridge. Your insights clarified the text and energized my spirit. Thank you. To the fine people of Jackson, Michigan – our Valley is not so full of Dry Bones as some say, and I can see life in our future. I’m committed to such a vision. To Westwinds – every time I think of resurrection I think about my first five years with you. God brought us into new life together. This future is better than any of us deserve, and I’m grateful to you all.

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dedic ati on We would like to thank Mike and Nance Scott for introducing us to Westwinds. We would also like to thank all of the people – from the coee makers, to the satellites, to the pastors –involved in making Westwinds such a wonderful place. People can find Jesus here. We have learned a lot and have traveled far in our spiritual journey to get where we need to be. We still have far to go. Thanks to our pastors for encouraging us and giving us the tools that we need to live. We are very thankful. Sincerely, John and Nancy Campbell

The proceeds from sales of this Teaching Atlas will be given to a Disabilities Connection, a local charity dedicated to helping parents of children Autism. 6


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t able of cont e nt s Foreword The Valley of Dry Bones Introduction Part One: Understanding the Story offbeat, outcast the craziest miracle in history phantom pain I’m Michael Jordan, punk Part Two: Connecting this Story To the Larger Story God has a plan B covering, casing, breath window in the sky dying all the time Part Three: Implications of the Spirit spiritual dryness a zombie’s hope in the biblical sense dead on your feet come to your senses (his) image is everything Part Four: Implications for (sub)mission miracles & adventure stories what is the father doing? the immanent and the ultimate Conclusion Hermeneutical Rigmarole american? christian? israeli? evil and the project of humanity the dreams we see the hereafter any way the wind blows Study Guide The Battle at Al Hillel Resources

8 14 38 42 44 50 59 67

74 76 81 95 100 108 110 117 123 131 138 149 156 158 162 165 181 186 188 194 198 203 211 218 236 246

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fo r ew or d One of the tricky bits about any book from the First Testament is trying to figure out how what happened then has any real bearing on what is happening now. How are they like us? Why should we care and how much? There are two answers to this, one which I will craft carefully over the next several hundred pages and one which I will craft carefully over the next several sentences. The first answer is: Our dilemma (we need hope) is the same as theirs, and so is the promise we receive from God (we get hope in God). The second answer is: We suffer from the same blindness as our spiritual ancestors, living in exile as we do in the post-Christian West. Allow me to explain. The Hebrew people of the 6th Century believed God owed them something. They were His people and He was their God. He had entered a covenant with them centuries earlier to love them, protect them, and care for them. But now they were no longer protected or cared for. They had been crushed by a foreign power and led off into Babylonian exile. The people felt betrayed and they were angry with God for not keeping His end of the bargain. I think many of us feel this way. We look at our lives and wonder at all the heartache and suffering we must endure. We wonder whether or not God is actually present or powerful enough to stop the suffering, or whether or not He cares. We get mad at God either for not being real, or for not being righteous. He is either dead or a deviant. We have a lot in common with 6th Century Jews. 8


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In their case, however, they had forgotten a key element of their covenant with God: His protection and care was contingent upon their faithfulness. If they would attend to God, God would attend to them. They didn’t–as the first half of the book of Ezekiel makes quite clear–and so He didn’t–which is also clear. Of course the Jews didn’t own up to welching on their end of the deal. They wanted to believe God’s disappearing act had everything to do with unexpected faithlessness on His part. On the other hand, God’s version of the story is about how they were faithless, idolatrous, sinful, and rebellious. There are always two sides to every story, but in cases like this, only one really matters. Isn’t it the same for you and me? Aren’t there times we wonder why God has allowed something awful to happen, even if we caused it? We love our freedom, but we often wish God would limit our use of it to do only things that cause no harm to ourselves or those we love. But when He looks at our lives, does He only see His absence or His failure or His impotence? Or does He also see consequence, grief, rebellion, and sin? In the 6th Century, the people of God refused to see their own culpability for sin and they didn’t acknowledge the consequences of their sin. They didn’t repent, but they demanded God save them. We cannot follow them. We must accept responsibility for the messes we’re in, even if our responsibility is only partial. We must, for example, acknowledge that the position of privilege that American Christians once enjoyed in our culture has been severely compromised by our hateful and judgmental attitudes and our alienation of those not like us. We must acknowledge that our over-emphasis on politics and ethics have lead to an under-emphasis on discipleship and evangelism. Consequently, we are painted in the media as hardliners and lobbyists rather than followers of Jesus, and people are fleeing from our churches. 9


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But this book is not about those issues. This book is not about politics or religion, neither about a Christian America or a return to the golden age of the West. No - this book is about hope. It is also about discipline, because if there is one thing the 6th Century Jews can teach us, it is that you cannot have the one without the other. In the 6th Century, the people of God not only grew apart from God Himself, but they also forgot about God’s mission to heal the world. Abraham, the father of the Jews, and his family received a special blessing in Genesis 12.3: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. This blessing was meant to guide and govern the children of Abraham as they worked alongside God to restore the relationship between Him and us, between us and others, between us and the world around us, and between us and ourselves as image-bearers of God. This promise is reiterated in several other key places in the First Testament Scriptures, most notably in Exodus 19, Deuteronomy 26, and Ezekiel 36 (just to name a few). In all these cases, the reason God promised restoration to the world and to His people was because it is His world and they are His people. As He works to heal the world, He wants others to see Him do it and to participate as He does it. It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the 10


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Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. Ezekiel 36.22-23 As Westerners we have been incredibly fortunate. Even the poorest among us are considered opulently wealthy in every other contemporary context. Perhaps one similarity between ourselves and our spiritual ancestors is that we, too, have neglected our God-given mission to be a blessing to the nations. We, too, have lost interest in healing the world, for God’s sake. **

**

Some housekeeping: this book focuses on only fourteen verses of the First Testament (Ezekiel 37.1-14), so it cannot possibly be a survey of all beliefs or practices of the Hebrews living in the Ancient Near East, nor of Judaism before the Common Era. Additionally, though there are some obvious parallels to the story of Christ’s resurrection, we must caution ourselves not to get there too quickly. The parallels and theological rhymes are significant, but these two narratives are not synonymous. I have included in this book my own translation of the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 37. Two notes on the translation may be useful. First, the Hebrew word for spirit, breath, and wind is the same word (ruach). In my translation I have carefully chosen the best English word in each instance that most clearly connotes the intent of the prophet. Second, the words Lo and Behold are, likewise, the same Hebrew word (hinneh). In my translation I use Behold when either God Himself or the shades of Israel are speaking, and Lo when Ezekiel interjects his voice as part of his memoirs. About the “fictional reconstruction” of the events preceding Ezekiel 37: It is a story meant to help you “see” what Ezekiel would have seen and feel what he would have felt. The sight of this Valley of Bones would have been difficult for the prophet, perhaps even traumatic, and he would undoubtedly have associated it with his national memories of lost-glory and spiritual waywardness. Hopefully, 11


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by entering into this story you get some of the prophet’s own perspective. Second, while this is a fantastic story, it has some historical credibility—which means the story is more than fanciful imaginings and playful prose. The details are based on rabbinical scholarship and historical investigation, weaving several popular hypotheses into one short narrative. As such, you might do well to give it more weight than your average bit of fiction. It is fiction, but it is fiction based on fact.

I have written this book to bring hope, and to remind the world that God is moving even in the landscapes of destruction. As you read, may your breath be quickened with the Spirit of the God who breathes life into the lifeless.

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The Valley of Dry Bones


this book was written some‐ where between 598 and 573 B.C.E. by the titular character Ezekiel exercised his ministry during the last years of Je‐ hoiachin King of Judah and through the reign of Zedekiah into the period of the exile. He began his ministry while only thirty, in the fifth year of the exile of Jehoiachin.

it is probably best for us to consider these writings something like memoirs, since the prophet was never explicitly told to write down his visions and deliver them to the people literarily

Ezekiel is the only prophet in the First Testament who spends his entire career outside of Israel

perhaps because of his identity as a foreigner, Ezekiel was reviled by the Babylonians of course, it wasn't only Babylonians that despised him, Ezekiel's own people were critical, disdainful, and mistrustful of his oracles

Israel believed they had a right to their LAND the first major section deconstructs Israel's false sense of pride concerning these four issues

Israel believed they were protected by the COVENANT Israel believed God lived in ZION, their city Israel believed God has chosen the house of DAVID through which to heal the world they know they have no rights to the LAND, but graciously receive it as an inheritance

the book of Ezekiel is broken up into two major sections, each dealing with four critical issues: the second major section properly reconstructs Israel's hope in God in light of these four issues

they know their COVENANT with God is conditional, and that they have a role to play in order for the covenant to function properly they know that God is not limited to ZION, and that His desire is to create zion across the earth they know that the house of DAVID will be restored through the mercy of God, and not through their own deservedness

the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones is part of the second major section of the book as a message of hope and restora‐ tion for the people of God

chapters 25-32: Oracles against Israel's enemies chapters 33-39: The Restoration of Israel chapters 40-48: The Reconstitution of Israel and the New Temple


The Hand of the Lord was upon me and brought me out by His Spirit and made me rest in a valley ,

,

.

It was ful of bones

.


it can mean that the prophet was physically taken somewhere by God's supernatural power

the "Hand of the Lord" was a way of referring to the power of God, capable of anything

prior to about 300 A.D., commenta tors almost unilaterally agree that this actually happened - i.e. that the "vision" was really just Ezekiel's description of things he saw happen right before his eyes "brought out by His Spirit" can mean 1 of 2 things:

after about 300 A.D., popular opinion shifted and most began to see this text as being a kind of spiritual experience, almost like a near death experience

or it can mean that the prophet was merely transported somewhere "in a vision"

while theories vary as to why the opinion shifted, we might do well to note the increasing 'anti-supernatural' bias of the developing world "made me rest" refers to the fact that God set Ezekiel down there for a while, and should feel safe remember, the context of this passage is the exile of Israel into Babylon and one of the main concerns of exiledIsrael was purity

how can we stay pure in an impure place?

of all the unclean things a practicing Jew might encounter, unburied bones were at the top of the list

cf. Numbers 19.16 this uncleanness was a metaphor for how low Israel had fallen...the state, metaphorically, to which they had been reduced

for Ezekiel to have been placed within such a context would have been highly scandalous what Ezekiel sees in the bones is a graphic portrayal of the effects ffects of the ff covenant curse upon his people

skeletal bones were considered unclean by practicing Jews, who were forbidden to touch them bones were the remains (Amos 6.10, Genesis 50.25) and symbolize the fate of the individual

in many ways, the prophet would have understood this scene as a fulfillment fi fillment of Deuteronomy 28:25-26 ("you will become a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth...your carcasses will become food for all the birds of the sky and all the beasts of the earth, with none to frighten them off") ff ff")

unburied bones meant that the dead to whom those bones belonged would have no rest or peace to destroy bones would mean to remove all hope of return at the resurrection, which is why crushed bones signified utter destruction (Numbers 24.8, Isaiah 38.13) eat a scroll (3.3)

of course, much of what God asked Ezekiel to do was seen as scandalous by the larger population

stay inside, be tied up, and remain silent (3.24ff) ff ff) lie on his left ft side for 390 days and his right side for 40 days (4.1-8) cooking with cow excrement (4.11-15) make and destroy a model of Jerusalem (ch.4-5) ( ) cut off ff his hair with a sword (5.1-4) et cetera...

"bones", however, were understood quite positively while still within a living body

they were seen as the essence of life, the place where physical, spiritual, and psychological health was kept (cf. Job 20 + 30, Proverbs 8) Adam's description of Eve as "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Gen‐ esis 2.23) conveys his sense of the fact that, unlike the animals he has named, Eve is essential to him


He led me around and among them I made a survey of the bones

.

.

And Lo there were very many –

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They were all over the plain bleached by the sun

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And Lo they were very dry –

.


Ezekiel is often as surprised by what he sees as his audience is by what he reports back to them as God's spokesperson

"made a survey" means that Ezekiel wandered all over the valley, seeing the scope and scale of the desolation the fact that the bones were dry indicates that they had been left out for a long, long time

"Lo" is a good indicator of this - used 4 times in these few verses

the same word (hinneh)) is also translated "Behold" when spoken by either God or the shades of Israel

imagine the prophet climbing up hills of bones and sliding down slopes of femurs and tibias, and you'll have a pretty tty accurate tt picture of what this means

there was nothing left ft of the people who had once fought and died there

they are unburied, as in they died in a war and the place where Ezekiel is standing is not a graveyard


Then He asked me Son of man can these bones live ,

,

?”

O Sovereign Lord I answered You alone know

,”

,

.”


"son of man" literally means "human being"

"you alone know" is a typically enigmatic response from Ezekiel

it may be that God was reminding Ezekiel of his lesser standing before the Almighty

on the one hand, he is expressing his firm fi conviction that God can do anything on the other hand, he is expressing his own sense of bewilderment that such a question could even be asked

to contextualize, it would be like God asking someone today if a Camaro could turn into a Transformer


He said to me Prophesy to the bones and say to them O you dry bones hear the word of the Lord This is what the Sovereign Lord says ,“

,‘

,

.

:

Behold I wil bring you breath and you shall live —

,

.


God's instruction to prophesy to the bones is odd, but Ezekiel is comfortable with strangeness and his willingness to do something odd turns out to be a key factor in a major miracle

this is beautiful poetry in Hebrew admittedly clumsy in English

note, at least, that every line ends with noun/ preposition/subject: sinews on you//flesh on you//skin over you//breath in you

this is the key promise - the hope - of the entire text

"behold, I will bring you breath"

Isaiah 26.19 contains the same vision, referring to Israel’s restoration. Psalm 104.30 describes God healing the world and all its creatures by means of His divine breath.

if God can make dry bones live, what can he do with us? at times, it must feel like our hope is gone, but think of how little ttle God was working with here - not tt just the absence of hope, but the absence of people and God still brings new life


I wil put sinews on you bring flesh on you spread skin over you and put breath in you ,

,

.

And you shall live And you shall know that I am the Lord the Sovereign who calls forth loyalty and obedient service .

,

.�


in Hebrew, the line ends with "Sovereign Lord," but to more comprehensively convey the meaning of "Lord" the AMP translation adds "who calls forth loyalty and obedient service"

in this instance i thought the addition was justified, and included it in my own version to underscore the feudal nature of YHWH in the text this also serves to remind us that the promises of God are conditional in the First Testament - God will bless and protect His people BUT they have to be loyal and provide obedient service

this is key in understanding the relationship between God and His people in the First Testament this is also key in preventing us, today, from assuming that every good thing we read in the First Testament somehow applies to us just like it did to the ancient Israelites


So I prophesied as I was commanded

.

And Lo there was a quaking With great rat ling the bones came together bone to bone —

.

,

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And Lo the sinews and the flesh came on them and skin spread over them —

,

,

but there was no breath in them

.


again, notice the use of "Lo" in this passage, used to convey that Ezekiel is not just a divine mouthpiece, but also a recipi� ent of the divine message

"a quaking" likely refers to an earthquake or something similar

it is unclear from the text whether or not the quaking was caused by the bones coming together or whether the quake itself caused the bones to come together probably, it doesn't really matter...the er...the point of the descriptors is to give us some sense of the awesome spectacle that was unfolding in front of the prophet sinews...flesh...skin

notice the order in which life returns to the bones

this corresponds to the creation account in Genesis 2 (though we'll say more about this in bleached later on)

there is a progressive creation in Genesis 2 (bones, then flesh) and a progressive (re)creation in Ezekiel 37 (bone, sinew, then flesh, skin) the connection is not immediately made in English, but is universally acknowledged among scholars and researchers...again, we'll touch more on this later

these were still corpses, albeit betterlooking and rejuvenated corpses

the main thing to notice here? there was no breath in them

again, because the same Hebrew word is used for both "breath" and "spirit" it is important to note that Ezekiel means both breath and spirit here

the bodies are not alive because they do not breathe; the bodies are not alive because they have not yet been animated by God's Holy Spirit no one can alive apart from the Breath of God...more on that later


God said to me Prophesy to the breath Prophesy son of man Say to the breath this is what the Sovereign Lord says ,“

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,

.

:

Come from the four winds O Spirit and breathe on these slain that they may live ,

,

,

.’”


remember, the Hebrew word for breath/spirit/wind is the same word...so, in this section of the text, we should be aware that Ezekiel is really saying something like:

Prophesy to the ruach...say to the ruach...come from the four ruach, o ruach...

"prophesy to the breath" refers to the actual breath that will fifill the lungs of the dead first, this is clearly a reference to the four cardinal points of the compass underscoring the relationship between the world and its ecology and the people who are to live in it

there is a lot of speculation about all of this ruach, however it seems clear from an examina� tion of the text and of the cultural and religious context of the day that the following motifs are at play:

second, as a corollary, these four winds are often a stand-in symbol for the four sides of the altar within the holy of holies which likewise - is meant to represent the points of the compass and the sanctity of all creation before God "come from the four winds" has three connotations simultaneously:

"O Spirit" refers to God's life-giving spirit. it is His Spirit that gives life in any circumstance. take, for example, the wheels in Ezekiel chapter one. the only reason these wheels move is because they are animated by ruach they are non-biological "things," otherwise incapable of life; but, with God, they live and move

third, upon death the ancients believed that the spirit of a person was severed from their body and - unless properly put to rest - had nowhere to go (this, btw, is the basis for much of the scriptural references to Sheol). since these bodies were most certainly not laid to rest, this can be seen as a calling-back of the spirits of these slain warriors. it should be noted that this is a minority opinion among evangelical scholars, but a strong opinion among historians and Jewish commentators.

once again we see that these bodies cannot live without the life-giving breath of God


So I prophesied just as he commanded me The Spirit entered them and they came alive They stood on their feet a vast army ,

.

!

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Then He said to me Son of man these bones are the whole house of Israel ,“

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They say Behold our bones have dried and our hope has perished we are cut off :

;

.’


this section of the text is the fulcrum of the vision, in which Ezekiel transitions from "seeing" to receiving the meaning and then speaking with God's own voice the life-giving Spirit of God enters the bones and the dead come into new life here we see the beginning of the interpretation of the vision: these bones are the whole house of Israel

here is the heart-cry of the newly-reformed army: our bones have dried and our hope has perished; we are cut ooff

even though they have been resurrect resurrect‐ ed, they still despair because they are cut off ff from their people, their land, and the promise of God to protect and employ them in the world

everything that Ezekiel has seen comes into sharper focus now - God's people will be brought out of their desolation and into new life, new hope, because of the awesome power of His Spirit

it is to this despair that the following section speaks

this is the central theme of the vision: what is God going to do about His people?

this is the central question for many of us: God, will you help?


Therefore prophesy and say to them this is what the Sovereign Lord says ,‘

:

Behold I wil open your graves and bring you out alive O my people ,

,

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I wil bring you back into the land of Israel

.


He will bring Israel from out of her grave (the exile), just as He brought the army out from the grave of death, just as He promises to bring His people out from their graves at the eschaton God also reiterates that they are, in fact, "His People"

God's response to the people's despair is fantastically encouraging:

God promises to restore them to the Promised Land, thereby reinstating them back into the Covenant fully

in all likelihood, they had begun to doubt this during their captivity In Jewish mystical folklore, people believed that you would only be resurrected if you were buried within the borders of Israel. Given the location of Ezekiel’s vision (i.e. Babylon – not Israel), this made the situation that much more dire. One rabbi, Elazar, Elazar believed that God would supernaturally provide underground tunnels for the exiles’ bones to traverse back to Israel, and so eventually be resurrected.


You shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you from your graves O my people

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,

,

.


notice the emphasis here on knowing "I am the Lord"

throughout the book of Ezekiel we are made to understand that God's name and God's reputation are to be elevated through His activity on behalf of His people

God is not rescuing the people because they deserve it; God is rescuing them for the sake of His name cf. Ezekiel 36.22-23


I wil put My Spirit in you and you shall live and I shall set le you in your own land

,

,

.

Then you shall know that I the Lord have spoken and performed

,

,

. ’�


here is the beatific vision: I will put My Spirit in you

what was promised in chapter 36 is now delivered in chapter 37 there are parallel passages to this in Joel 2 and Jeremiah 31

again, notice the specific promises here:

new life settled in the Land

once again, we see God ensuring that His reputation is enlarged and strengthened through His activity

"then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and performed."

Rabbi Elazar believed they stood up, sang a song, and then died.

what happened to this army?

Rabbi HaGallili believed they went into Israel, got married, and had children (he claimed to be one of their descendants). Rabbi Yehudah Yehudah, expressing the majority opinion, claimed the whole thing was a visionary metaphor, that there was no actual resurrection army and therefore they didn’t go and do anything.


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introd ucti on What hope is there for those who have no hope? What can you say to the father who has accidentally run over his daughter in the driveway? What comfort can you bring to the mother who looks for her son’s body among the dead in Iraq? Are there any words that feel rightly spoken to the jilted lover? The bereaved husband? Or, the girl with no job, no diploma, and no way out? I was once invited to a home for severely handicapped children to pray for them and to bless them. These children had no hope of a normal life. None of them could get out of their beds unassisted. None could bathe without two nurses to help. None of them could eat with their mouths. None would live past twenty. The nursing sta began to cry when I arrived. They were a potpourri of sages 38


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and priestesses: Muslim women and Jewish men, with some Christians mixed in. They prayed daily for their children, their patients, but few had ever come to pray alongside. I laid my hand on each child’s head and I cried too. I placed my hands on open sores and over malformed flesh. I felt their bones bend wrongly beneath my inexperience. I prayed fervently, but I do not remember the words. What words could possibly matter? Praying matters, but the words themselves offer no solace to those who say: our hope has perished, and we are cut off. Only a fool would respond to life’s misery with logic or reason. Prayer is better. Prayer is a vision, a shared hope that we can be healed. This book is about such a vision that was given to Ezekiel – the prophet known as the Priest of the Spirit, a preacher-performer who pantomimed for his people the way to God. In Ezekiel 37 we read of God leading the prophet to a burned landscape where his people lie dead and unburied, and their dreams with them. It is in this Valley of Dry Bones, amid the carnal confetti of shattered dreams and unremembered aspiration, that God speaks hope to the hopeless: I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live again. That’s what this book is about. Hope.

The promise that things can be better. The promise that God has not abandoned you. The promise that your pain is not wasted. 39


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The promise that there is some other future in store for you than more sacks of despair to pile inside. There is hope. Some will try to tell you that hope is misleading – that any hope is false hope – but they are wrong. You can ride hope like a jet plane, if you just have the guts to get in and dismiss the possibility of a crash. Now, enter the world of a prophetic visionary six centuries before Christ. Let the vision of Ezekiel become your vision. Free your thinking from the bounds of hopelessness and anxiety and fill your mind with a robust and compelling vision of the future. We will descend into the darkness with the prophet, and like him, we will come out hopeful.

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part one

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understanding the story

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offbeat outcast ,

I try to steer my church-folk away from reading the book of Revelation. Unless you’ve received a proper theological education, and are surrounded by learned and devout Christian men and women who can advise you properly, the book of Revelation is more likely to make you crazy than Christ-like. It’s like my friend Ben says, “If you’re already a little nuts, this book is only gonna make it worse. I’m cautious about what I let my kids read, or watch, or whatever for the same reason. I mean, I loved Conan the Barbarian when I was younger but I’m not ready to expose my children to a pagan fantasy world populated by demons and idol worshippers. The same caution ought to apply to all of us. Before you read anything, you’d better have a good framework for what you read and how it fits into real life. Perhaps this is why Jewish rabbis forbade students under the age of 30 from reading portions of Ezekiel. It is hard to understand. 44


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In fact, if you do a quick Google search or check out Amazon, you’ll find as many references to UFOs while searching for Ezekiel as you will references to God. Which, p.s., is awesome if not helpful. Of course, not everyone has been driven mad by the book. Some of our earliest Christian theologians loved the book. Origen, for example, wrote fourteen homilies on Ezekiel. Gregory the Great wrote twenty-two. These great thinkers and advocates first noted the correspondence between the four creatures in chapter one and the four gospel writers. Gregory also thought these four miraculous messengers could represent every preacher everywhere, that every person who shares the message of the Gospel was angelic somehow. The book, written by the prophet himself, bears the stylistic marks of a memoir: it contains almost no description of Ezekiel’s emotional state (or his reactions), just descriptions of what he saw while in exile. Ezekiel was born in Jerusalem, but in 586 B.C.E., fed up with King Jehoiachin (the vassal leader of Jerusalem), King Nebuchadnezzar marched on the Holy City and razed both the city and the temple to the ground. The Babylonian king deported thousands of Jews (cf. 2 Kings 24.15-16), leaving only a handful in Jerusalem to fend off raiders and marauders. Ezekiel was among those taken into exile. Ezekiel was the only prophet in the First Testament to spend his entire career outside of Jerusalem, and it was to his fellow exiles that Ezekiel brought his message of criticism and continued judgment, and of hope and restoration. Interestingly, however, we never see Ezekiel preaching in public. In fact, for the first eight years of his ministry, he is a recluse. People must come to him in order to hear the Word of the Lord. Three times they come – representatives of the people, elders, and statesmen – and three times he discharges his message (cf. 8.1, 14.1, 20.1-3). They are not happy with what they hear. 45


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Ezekiel’s message flies in the face of their theological delusions. The people, though in exile, are doing quite well economically and socially – thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of the prophet Daniel who held a high office as Chief among the Magi in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They had settled near the river Kebar (1.1, 3.15) and were able to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity largely unimpeded. They were ashamed to have been driven from their homeland, and Ezekiel’s harsh criticisms and call to repentance didn’t make them feel any better. The people were obstinate, hardened, and they refused to acknowledge their own wrong-doing. The prophet refers to them collectively as a “rebellious house” (cf. 3.9, 24.3 et. al.). They are churlish and impudent (2.4), stiff-hearted (2.4), bitter (3.7), obstinate of heart and mind (3.7), and resistant to God’s messages (3.5-11). For Ezekiel, bringing this message to these people would have been tantamount to having Lakers fans cheer for the L.A. Clippers. It just wasn’t going to happen. And why not, you might ask? Because the people believed that God owed them His deliverance. They were His people. He was their God. Because they were in a covenant with God they presumed that God would (finally!) show up and get them out of this mess. But they had forgotten one key ingredient of covenant-making: it goes both ways. Their sense of security in [God] was delusional: they forgot that enjoyment of covenant blessings is contingent upon grateful and wholehearted obedience to the covenant Lord. Daniel Block 46


How shall I tell you about Ezekiel?

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He was like some of the more colorful characters in my own life: In my neighborhood, growing up, there was a girl named Kimberly. Despite the fact that she grew up to be a beautiful woman, I could never find Kimberly attractive. She used to eat dog food. Once, she ate dog food a few hours after the dog did. Ezekiel was like Kimberly. There was a kid named Ryan in my first grade class who used to stick old hot dog wieners into his desk and leave them there for months. Ezekiel was like Ryan. I knew a girl named Samantha who always claimed to have supernatural dreams, during which angels visited her and told her her destiny. Ezekiel was like her, too. Ezekiel was like the kid in school who gave himself a buzz cut with a pair of scissors and a Bic razor. He was like Madame Cleo or Andy Warhol. He was the monk who set himself on fire. He was an offbeat outcast, the beastly priest with prophetic tendencies no one thought was legit. He was a white rapper. The son of a priest, Ezekiel was charged with looking after the Temple. But since he was separated from the Temple (by exile and the Temple’s destruction), Ezekiel 47


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fulfilled his calling by visiting the Temple in visions (see especially chapters 4048). He began his prophetic ministry at age 30 and was often called upon by God to act out his prophecies in some really strange ways: by being mute (33.22), lying bound and naked (23.29), digging holes in the walls of houses (12.5), emotional paralysis in the face of his wife’s death (cf. chapter 24), images of strange creatures (chapters 1, 10), hearing voices and the sound of water (1.24), symptoms of withdrawal (cf. chapters 3, 4), fascination with excrement (chapter 4), and blood (referenced 52 times in the book), pornographic imagery (cf. chapter 23), and an imaginative understanding of Israel’s past. In all this spookiness we see the proof that Ezekiel acted not just as a messenger, but as God’s “sign” or “portent” to the people (cf. 12.6, 24.24). What other prophets got to create with metaphors and word-pictures, Ezekiel was forced to physically endure. The medium was the message, and Marshall McLuhan owes the prophet an apology. His name means “God hardens,” which was in itself a kind of prophecy –Ezekiel’s life was very hard, as was his message, as was his treatment at the hands of his fellows. His central message to the people of God was that they would remain in captivity for a long time because of their spiritual rebellion before God would restore them to greater fortune. This He would do not because they deserved it, but for the sake of His holy name. Ezekiel was a voice of rebuke and reform, tearing down and building up, and we need him now as much as they needed him then. We need Ezekiel to remind us of our culpability for sin and of the great hope that God brings to us in the midst of sin’s consequences. 48


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Now that we know a little about who is talking to us, and when, let’s turn our attention to what he says in chapter 37: the Valley of Dry Bones.

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the craziest miracle in history Movies like the Da Vinci Code and books like The Bible Code are fond of interpreting signs and symbols in sacred texts. There is usually a protagonist who has cracked the code and now seeks to reveal the secrets of the universe to all enlightened humanity through an iPhone app and a book deal. Much as these things are far-fetched and fictitious, there is a code of sorts at work in Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. Since this is a vision, certain archetypes come into play. That it occurred in a “valley” is significant, likewise that the bones are “dry,” and so on. Let me take a moment and – to borrow a phrase from my friend Len Sweet – exegete these images. First, I’ll run through some of the more prominent images as they appear in verses 1-10 (we’ll devote much more time to verse 11, and verses 12-14, later on). Then I want to re-tell the story of the Valley of Dry Bones (in our own way) to include and re-contextualize everything we’re seeing. The Hand of the Lord is a powerful and provocative image. First, notice that the Hand of the Lord refers to God’s ability to take action within the world. It is God’s 50


tool, God’s instrument, to affect reality.

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The Hand of the Lord brought me out by His Spirit may also be rendered something like He snatched me up by His Spirit. There is a violence and an abruptness to this image. He made me rest in a valley safe and protected by the Hand of God. Valleys were understood to be places of warfare and judgment. They allowed for maneuverability and had good sightlines. When the Arameans referred to the Hebrew God as the “god of the hills and not of the valleys,” they were inferring that they have the advantage in battle and that the Hebrew God cannot save His people. They were wrong and God proved Himself Lord of the Valley (1 Kings 20.28). We might ask at this point a couple of leading questions: Who brought Ezekiel to this valley? God. What does the valley represent? Warfare and Judgment. Who died there? A Hebrew army. Why?

Because they rebelled against their enemies.

Why does God show this to Ezekiel? Perhaps because their rebellion was not only against their enemies. Perhaps the God of the Valley meant to show Ezekiel that the war His people truly fought was against Him. Perhaps God meant to show Ezekiel that the judgment brought upon these slain was divine. 51


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Closely akin to these images of battle are images of judgment upon idolatrous and wicked people: Elijah slaughters the prophets of Baal in a valley (1 Kings 18.40). Asa burns the Asherah poles in a valley (2 Chronicles 15.16). Hezekiah dumps all the cultic statues and hardware into a valley (2 Chronicles 29.16). Josiah dumps the altars of Baal and Asherah into a valley (2 Kings 23.4 + 6 + 12). Amos prophesies against Damascus and Israel, calling for judgment in a valley (Amos 1.5; 6.14). The Valley of Ben Hinnom became a symbol of Hell for those living around Jerusalem, because of all the horrible things that occurred there while the people wandered from God, and because of God’s righteous judgment that was brought against the idolaters. When you think of a valley as the landscape for judgment, you should probably imagine the most cruel and gory depiction of the Somme, Hiroshima, Normandy, and the Siege of Stalingrad all rolled up together and tied with a bloody bow. That was where God took Ezekiel. The other image associated with valleys was one of fertility. Valleys have deep soil and frequently make for the best farmland. The valley is the good land (cf. Deuteronomy 8.7,11.11). On the far side of judgment and warfare, the image of the valley marks a return to Eden. Isaiah’s vision of the new creation contains springs that flow from the valley (Isaiah 41.18), and in Hosea we are told that God will create valleys like doorways into Hope (Hosea 2.15). Perhaps this is why David describes God to us as a shepherd in Psalm 23, for He leads us to still waters (which are found in valleys) and restores our souls. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, 52


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and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23.6

Ezekiel’s valley, however, was full of bones. It was not a graveyard, but an aged battlefield from long ago in which the vanquished had been left to rot in the sun. This would have been a ghastly sight for a priest, knowing how holy bones were and how important it was that they be properly interred. In chapter 39, we read about Ezekiel taking great care to ensure each body was appropriately cared for after death (vv.12-16), another reminder of the scandal associated with this vision. The survey Ezekiel makes of the bones is best imagined as a kind of skeletal slip-and-slide, an all-terrain tumble over the scattered remains. Again, because unburied bones were so unclean, this would have been the Jewish equivalent of being forced to swim through a septic tank. The purpose was to impress upon Ezekiel both the scope and scale of the bones (there were a lot) and the condition of the bones themselves (they were scattered, separated, and dry). The fact that the bones were dry is significant, because dry bones were a symbol of lifelessness and utter desolation: a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17.22). In contrast, rich bones are full of marrow and a sign of health and vitality: His body well nourished, his bones rich with marrow ( Job 21.24). High spirits and good cheer are figured as moist, oily, or sappy bones (cf. Proverbs 3.8; Isaiah 66.14), whereas despair and grief are the opposite (Proverbs 17). Over 90 times in the book, God calls Ezekiel “son of man.” This probably just refers to his human frailty (the term, after all, literally just means “human being”), but maybe not. Certainly in the book of Daniel (see 7.13 and 8.17) it becomes a very special term that Jesus co-opts for himself. Perhaps Jesus’ use of this title underscores his own authority as an eschatological prophet, carrying out Ezekiel’s message of hope for the desolate. 53


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God asking Ezekiel can these bones live sounds a lot like Jesus asking can the blind see, the lame walk, can the poor rejoice? (cf. Luke 7.22) Who are the dry bones, the blind, the lame, and the poor? We are. For you to be saved, you must find your blindness, your limp, and your poverty. You must come to a place of weakness, knowing you need what only He can give. Of course, Ezekiel has no power of his own to raise the dead – only God has the power over life and death. So: Can these bones live? may mean: Do you desire for these bones to live? Do they merit life? And Ezekiel responds: You know. There are two sides to this answer – an admission of the powerlessness of man, who, faced with such an irrefutable victory on death’s part, is incapable of saying anything about the possibility of life for these dead bones. At the same time, Ezekiel knows he’s replying to the God whose abilities are not curtailed by man’s lack of them. His answer is like a hunter holding a bird in his hands: 54


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The hunter asks a passerby, Is this bird in my hand alive or dead? The passerby answers, It’s whichever you want it to be. By natural law there is no way for these bones to live, but if God desires that they do, they will. A cripple in a wheelchair asks, Do I have a future? A widow sits beside her husband’s grave and asks, Can I go on? A couple sits in counseling and asks, Can our marriage be saved? A church planter two years into the mess asks, Are we going to make it? An aging athlete ready to retire asks, What am I good for now? A single mom without means looks at her daughter and asks, How will I feed you? A woman caught in adultery asks, Can I be forgiven? Only God knows the future of our bones…

Let’s look for a moment at what happens when Ezekiel begins to prophesy to the bones. First, there is a great commotion – like an earthquake – and all the scattered and disconnected bones begin to come together into full skeletons. Remember that these bones had been here a long time, and were placed there violently. That means that very few bones would have been with their original skeletons. That 55


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also means that very few of the bones themselves would have remained unbroken – these were all likely bone fragments. In the commotion, fragments of bone become whole bones which become whole skeletons. This, by the way, is the basis for that old folk song, Dem Bones: Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones Come hear the word of the Lord The heel bone connected to the foot bone, The foot bone connected to the leg bone, The leg bone connected to the knee bone, etc. Oh, hear the word of the Lord! These skeletons then begin to grow sinews and tendons, muscles and flesh, and we get a sort of 8th grade biology textbook perspective on the human body coming together. Notice that the skin is the last thing to come over the body. This makes sense – you can’t really have skin under the tendons, after all – but it also has some religious significance according to rabbinical scholars. Skin correlates to the baking of bread for Sabbath; in order for the bread to be prepared appropriately, the crust of the bread must be fully formed before sundown on Friday. The outer layer of the bread is for the last occurrence before Creation is complete. The outer layer of the body is the last occurrence before the (re)Creation is complete in the Valley of Dry Bones. Now that the body has been encrusted with skin, the people are prepared for a celebration of (re)Creation akin in some marvelous way to the Sabbath. God next tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, a word-picture with wide semantic range. In Hebrew, breath (ruach) is the life-giving Breath of God’s Spirit, just as it 56


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is the literal breath in our lungs, the wind that moves around the world, the winds that surround the altar in the Holy Place, and the spirit of the individual. When God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath He means all of that. Imagine, then, a great plurality of spiritual energy and movement centering on Ezekiel and working its way in and among the newly re-formed army. The image reminds me of the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the spirits trapped within the Ark (in the movie) are loosed upon the Nazi soldiers in ghastly terror. Of course, in this case the image would not have been one to inspire terror (unless a holy terror), but hope. This hope is rewarded – for the dry bones are alive once again just as God proclaimed. So, what we have in Ezekiel 37 is the outlandish story of an eccentric prophet who gets yanked into Hell by the Hand of God, whereupon he is compelled to violate every personal religious belief he has concerning holiness in an eort to fill-in-the-blanks for a cosmological census of craniums and cadavers, and after he is asked an impossible yet-somehow-not-rhetorical question by the Author of Life and Death which, if he answered incorrectly, might not lead to his death but most certainly would not lead to the resurrection of thousands of wayward spirits long separated from their bodies, 57


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annihilated by their national adversaries. Fortunately he answers intelligently. He is commanded to prophesy to the skeletal remains and then watches them turn into [first] zombies and [then] dead bodies before being told to prophesy again to the wind, the wandering spirits, God’s spirit, the spiritual wind surrounding the altar in a Temple hundreds of miles away that’s been destroyed before finally witnessing what has to be the craziest miracle in history.

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phantom pain I have a friend who lost a finger in a machine shop accident. Come to think of it, I have several friends who’ve lost several fingers in several machine shop accidents. (I’m beginning to sense a moral to this story…) Anyway, I was talking to one of my nine-fingered friends and he was saying he just can’t get used to the fact that he doesn’t have an index finger anymore. He keeps forgetting it’s gone, tries to use it, and then moves through feelings of sadness and embarrassment like they were those giant paper-towel tubes that soap up your car in the car wash. Amputees know this as “phantom pain,” often experienced as agonizing trauma in the limbs they’ve lost. Even worse, they say, is feeling an itch they can no longer scratch because the itchy part of their body has been removed. Having something cut off is not only painful, it’s disorienting as well. People can experience relational amputation, too. Families have been known to cut off their children when they find out their sexual orientation, or hear of a religious conversion, or disapprove of an unhealthy financial lifestyle. Every 59


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break up between lovers causes a secondary break up between the joint friends of the (former) lovers. When someone changes churches there’s a kind of cutting off, which is why running into people who have left your church often feels uncomfortable or embarrassing, even if their reasons for leaving had nothing to do with you. Phantom pain is also at work in Ezekiel’s vision. ‘Behold — our bones have dried and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ Ezekiel 37.11 Verse 11 is sandwiched between two major pieces of writing. The vision of the Valley and the dialogue between God and Ezekiel (vv.1-10) comes first, followed by the prophecy spoken by God (vv.12-14). Linking the two is this little verse expressing the hopelessness of the people. It uses two metaphors: our bones have dried we are cut off Dry bones, as we’ve discussed, symbolize total decay. Living bones are full of marrow, a kind of thick jelly that makes blood cells; but when the bones die, they dry out as well. They become brittle. They crack. The people of God feel brittle and dead, cracked open and left outside at the mercy of the elements. They have no hope. Likewise they are cut off from their land, from their friends, and from their destiny as God’s chosen people, through whom He promised to work to heal the world. They feel a phantom pain – the sear and the itch of something that used to be there but is now missing. They miss life. They miss love. They miss their home. They miss God. 60


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Glancing backward, verse 11 seems to frame everything we’ve read up to that point in the vision. It helps us understand why this resurrection is so important. It helps us see that this is not just some LSD trip, but the hope of real people for a better future. Glancing forward, verse 11 introduces the tension between God and His people over the issue of covenantal faithfulness – which, to put it bluntly, neither thinks the other has observed. This is represented literarily by means of a chiasm. A chiasm is an artful form of Hebrew poetry (though also used in literary works like Beowulf and Paradise Lost) in which ideas follow a kind of A-B-B-A pattern. In the case of Ezekiel 37, we see a slightly more complicated chiastic structure, with verse 11 at the core: A B C C B A

Ezekiel is inspired by the Spirit and taken to the valley (vv.1-2) Ezekiel prophesies and the bones are revived (vv.3-10) The vision is interpreted (v.11a) The need for such a vision is explained (v.11b) Israel, like the bones, will be revived (vv.12-13) Israel will be given God’s life-giving Spirit and taken back Home (v.14)

Verse 11 is the hinge on which the entire story turns. It contains the present feeling of the exiles in Babylonian captivity (not, as some might initially guess, the present feeling of the newly resurrected army): Our hope has perished. We can discover the source of the people’s hope(lessness) by looking at four major themes in Ezekiel’s writings: Covenant, Land, Zion, David. 61


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COVENANT

In this instance, “covenant” refers to the fact that God has called Israel “His people,” thereby signifying His willingness to protect and defend them, to care for them, and to bring them into good fortune. I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. Leviticus 26.9-12 At the time of the Valley of Dry Bones, nothing could have felt further from the truth than God’s insistence that Israel was still “His.” This was a major source of complaining and rebellion among the Hebrew people: If you’re our God, why has all this evil befallen us? We have similar versions of this lamentation today: If God is good and all-powerful, why does He allow suffering to exist? Either He could stop it and won’t, which means He is evil; or He can’t stop it, which means He is powerless. Which is it? This problem is known as theodicy – the problem of evil – and it cannot be solved in a short answer (though I have included a brief section at the end of this book outlining a few things worthy of consideration). What we can do, however, is find hope in the midst of our suffering. Through the sacrificial death of Jesus and the counseling presence of the Holy Spirit we anticipate a day when all manner of suffering shall be exhausted and God’s new kingdom will be established.

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Originally, Abraham and his family were nomads who wandered the desert of the ancient near east. Part of God’s Covenant with Abraham included the promise of land – a native country that the Jewish people could call home. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.” Deuteronomy 1:8 Genesis 15.18-21 describes the borders of this land, while more precise geographical borders are given Exodus 23.31 – with borders marked by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Euphrates River. This is the traditional furthest extent of the Kingdom of David. At the time of Ezekiel’s vision, Israel’s land had been taken away by force and destroyed. God had proven Himself faithful to provide them land, but He had not allowed them to keep it. If you have ever seen something called “the news,” you know that the issue of Israel’s land-rights and settlement policies are still hotly debated today. ZION Zion is a term that refers to Jerusalem. The word dates back almost three millennia, and originally referred to a mountain near Jerusalem (Mount Zion), on which stood a Jebusite fortress. King David sacked the fortress and renamed it Jerusalem (the City of Peace). Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. Psalm 2:6

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There are three areas in the city of Jerusalem. First, there is the city itself. Next, there is Mount Moriah (where Solomon built his temple). And third, there is the highest point of the region, Mount Zion. In Jewish folklore, Jerusalem, Mount Moriah, and Mount Zion refer to the three areas of the Tabernacle (the portable temple used by the Israelites while they wandered in the desert after their deliverance from Egypt). Jerusalem represented the Outer Court. Mount Moriah represented the Holy Place. Mount Zion represented the Holy of Holies. The Holy City had special significance to the Jewish people, almost like an Israel within Israel; it was the most special place in their special land. Consequently, the destruction of Jerusalem held a separate, significant, grief for them. Its desolation further embittered them toward God. Imagine a place with the political significance of Washington, D.C., the economic significance of Manhattan, and the cultural significance of Los Angeles. The nearest we have even come in the States to feeling the kind of loss the Hebrews did was on 9/11, and yet our death toll of 5,000 + pales in comparison to the 11,000 + who were exiled and the 50,000 + who were killed in battle. DAVID The Davidic covenant establishes David’s descendants as the rightful kings of Judah until the Messiah comes. When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your ospring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom...Your house and your kingdom will endure 64


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forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ 2 Samuel 7.12,16

Given that both Israel and Judah (the southern, independent Jewish kingdom which split off during a civil war several hundred years earlier) were in exile at this point in history, the people of God also felt like God had failed in His promise to David and, by proxy, to the people as a whole. It was one more example that God could not be trusted to do what He said He would do. Given all this background, it becomes easier to see why the people of Israel are so despairing. They have lost everything, even their confidence in God. They are cut off – not only from one another, their land, and their promise – but from their faith as well. This is precisely what makes God’s response to them so encouraging, however: Behold, I will open your graves and bring you out alive, O my people. I will bring you back into the land of Israel. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall settle you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken 65


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and performed.’” Ezekiel 37.12-14 God promises to do all that the people believe He should, with one small corrective: God is not doing this for them, but for the sake of His holy name. We’ll touch more on that later, but for now reread verses 11-14 and just let it them sink in — when God hears the people call out in despair, He answers.

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i m michael jo dan punk ’

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,

Behold, I will open your graves and bring you out alive, O my people. I will bring you back into the land of Israel. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall settle you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and performed.’” Ezekiel 37.12-14 67


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Whenever I was bad as a kid it was always my dad that disciplined me. He wasn’t around much, and wasn’t really involved as a parent (though, later, we became [and remain] quite close), but when it came time to uphold the Law of the Medes and Persians he was there with a stern face and a fearsome looking flat hand. He never hit me – only spanked my bum a couple times – but his hand was shaped like a skillet and I was terrified of it. Once I’d learned my hand-shaped lesson, dad would sit me down on the bed and put his arm around me. He’d tell me he loved me. He’d remind me why I was in trouble, and then he’d tell me he still loved me and that we wouldn’t have to ever talk about this incident again – neither the thing that got me into trouble, nor what happened after. His last words to me were always words of restoration and love. Every prophetic book in the Bible has words like these. Every book has at least one note of hope. Even in the minor prophets (the super short books at the end of the First Testament), which are mostly concerned with pronouncing doom, there is always a note of hope – maybe just a sentence, maybe a few verses – but its always there. Within the vision of the Dry Bones, the note of hope comes in verses 12-14. We’ll cover these few verses in much more detail later on in the book, but for now I just want to walk through them and point out a couple of important details. Open your graves means something much more like “dig you up from your graves.” There is an aspect here, not just of God opening something like a door, but of liberation. For many, the grave is like a prison. God is their Liberator, their Neo, and His intervention means they will be free again to live. Additionally, we should notice that God has mixed metaphors here – presumably to give Ezekiel some concrete imagery with which to work. Previously, in the vision we got the impression of a battlefield; now, however, we see imagery associated with a graveyard. At any rate, bear in mind that to open their graves God would have to push aside the burial stones of the rich in their rock-hewn ancestral tombs, while merely pushing aside the soil of the poor. The significance here is that God will do whatever He must to liberate His people – rich and poor, haughty and lowly, 68


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alike.

O my people is an important inclusion in this passage, used twice to underscore that God has not forgotten Israel – that He is still their God and they are still His people. As we mentioned earlier, this was one of the chief complaints of the Hebrew people – they felt like God had abandoned the Covenant and allowed them to be taken by their adversaries. In reality, however, it was the people who had abandoned the Covenant and God was simply permitting that breach to be exposed for what it was – a lack of protection caused by a broken relationship. By calling Israel “My people” God is reminding them [a] that they left Him, and [b] that He will reunite with them despite their sin. This is good news. You shall know that I am the Lord – God is very concerned with His reputation. He works in the world so that His name is elevated, His fame is spread, and so that people acknowledge Him with the appropriate respect (cf. Psalm 106.8; Ezekiel 20.9, 20.21, 20.44; Ephesians 1.11; Philippians 2.11). Curiously, most contemporary Christians tend to shy away from this fact. It’s embarrassing, making them feel like God is a megalomaniac or something. Perhaps I can reframe this for you: Imagine being Michael Jordan and walking into a high school gymnasium to be a guest-coach for a day. Remember, Michael Jordan retired from basketball (for the last time) in 2003, so high school seniors were only 11 years old, and freshmen just 7 – they would likely have no idea who he is. Imagine now, that MJ is excited to be there to show the kids all about the game of basketball, but some of these players have attitude and start mouthing off. What’s the first thing going through MJ’s mind? 69


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“I’m Michael Jordan, punk!” – that’s what.

MJ quickly jams over top of the high school senior, who blames it on not being ready and lips off again, so MJ is forced to take a few minutes and mop the court with this clown so he won’t have to listen to his trash any more. Because he’s Michael Jordan. He deserves respect. He’s there to show the kids how to play, but they won’t listen until they know who they’re dealing with. So it is with God. We lip off to him, curse His name, doubt His existence, when all He’s trying to show us is how to live, to love, and how we fit in His good creation… but He can’t do that until we know who we’re dealing with. I will put My Spirit in you – This is a promise reiterated through several prophetic voices. For example: I will pour out My Spirit on you (Isaiah 44.3) I will put My Spirit in you (Ezekiel 37.27) I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh ( Joel 2.28) The idea here is that human beings are animated with natural breath (remember, breath and Spirit are the same Hebrew word ruach). Our bodies run on thin air; 70


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however, once God gives us His Spirit, the animating force – the thing that sustains us – will no longer be breath (ruach) but the Spirit (ruach). We’ll be like hybrid cars – changing our reliance on gas (natural breath) for electricity (spiritual breath). This has been partially fulfilled in the Second Testament through the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon believers on the Day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2), but will be more comprehensively fulfilled during the resurrection in which we will not only get the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, inspire, convict, and lead us, but we will get spiritual bodies (cf. 1 Corinthians 15 – in Greek this is literally “bodies powered the by the Spirit,” not spiritual [a.k.a. ghostly or phantom] bodies, but flesh-andblood that runs on ruach instead of oxygen). I shall settle you in your own land – Again, recall that one of the chief complaints of the people was that they had been forcibly ejected from their home. God reiterates His promise that they were once again live in the Promised Land, that He is faithful, and that He can be trusted. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and performed – Let there be no doubt, God is acting in this way within Creation on behalf of His people because it serves His purpose, demonstrates His character, supports His reputation, and completes His design. In our ego-centric view of life we wander listlessly looking for our purpose, confused by our character, striving for our reputation, and competing for our designs. This is so unbiblical. This is also unfulfilling. 71


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We only find ourselves in Him. When we make His ways our ways, we find that our way feels holy. That is the spirit of this passage.

We’ve only touched on these ideas briefly, and we’ll come back to them several times over the course of this book, but I trust this has served as a good primer. Remember, understanding what the text really meant then is crucial to understanding what it means for us now.

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part two

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connecting this story to the larger story

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G od has a plan B The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2.7 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.” Genesis 2.21-23 We are completely different people every seven years. I don’t mean that we are different personalities – though, our personalities do change over time – I mean that we are physically 100% different every seven years due to a process of 76


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shedding and regenerating the living cells in our bodies. This doesn’t happen all at once – we don’t have a cellular regeneration bar mitzvah – but as each cell’s life span comes to a close a new cell is born to replace it. This is an ongoing process, quietly and invisibly working in the background of every day life. God’s original intention for humanity was that we would be grown within our mothers, and then continue to grow (and shed and be re-formed) throughout our entire lives. God designed us to regenerate cells. God’s original intention, also, was for humanity to be connected to creation – hence the linguistic connection between man (a’dam) and earth (a’damah) – and for humanity to continue that creation by making babies. In utero, God makes tissue first and adds bones and sinews later. In Ezekiel’s vision, however, that process is reversed. God’s original design gets tossed. That is a pattern that repeats throughout human history. God designs things one way, but somehow is compelled to help us undo the messes we’ve made and (re)create us in a new way. This is the big idea behind Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones: God has a plan B. God did not originally choose to make humanity out of bone. His first design was to create humanity out of the earth. In the valley, though, His ingredients for life were quite sparse: breath and bone. But it was enough, for the means of resurrection was a Spirit-infusion. God’s Spirit overcame the miserable condition of His people. That same Spirit is 77


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at work, now, in and around you to restore your hope, your dreams, your future, your desire, your mind, your memory, your family, your relationships, your soul. God’s original design for these fallen warriors was that they go home, make babies, and retire in peace. That was Plan A. Resurrection was Plan B…possibly C. Still, standing alone in a petrified forest of bone, Ezekiel prophesies new life and it comes. Life comes to bones. God’s Plan B works. In the Hebrew anthropology there is a special quality to bones, called luz. Imagine that luz is like spiritual bone marrow – it’s somewhere in the bone, but figuratively fluid. Imagine also that the luz works like spiritual DNA – if you’ve got bones you’ve got luz, and if you’ve got luz then God’s got plenty to work, with not only to bring life but to bring your life back to you. Luz is the difference between turning a Taurus into a Transformer –it restores a soul to a person. All you need is Luz. 78


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The Valley then was the perfect place for the dispersed bones to come together, for the scattered atoms to be marshaled together, and for the breath and the bone to live together.

The Valley was a kind of Eden, a symbol of creation and now of (re)creation. It was a place where God started over. But again, God’s original intent was Eden, not new creation. Only because Eden was lost did God (re)create life in a new way. The possibility of restoration is rooted in the power of God at creation and demonstrated by the power of God through the resurrection. God can grant life if He chooses. God can raise the dead if He chooses. If God can make Adam from dust, surely he can raise up a body from bone. God gave Ezekiel this vision to counteract His people’s despair. It was meant to give hope to the desolate, then as now. There is hope for God’s people. Death is not the end. God is the Lord of life. God sees their present hopelessness and cares about their well-being. He has the power to bring them into new life, to restore their fortunes, and to take them Home. God always has a Plan B. My friend Tom and I were talking about this and Tom wanted to know what God’s Plan A was for him. I asked Tom when the first time was – as far as he could remember – that he sinned. He mentioned something about second grade. I replied that that was when God’s Plan B kicked into effect. Most of us are on Plan A4A81752-B right about now, but that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us to lifeless life and a hopeless future. He doesn’t need much to put us back together – just a little breath, some bits of 79


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bone, and some made up juju called luz that doesn’t even exist. All God needs, all He wants, is for us to realize that somewhere – in the boneyard of our failed marriage, of our pregnant daughter, of our poverty of our lack of healthcare, or our bitterness – He is speaking to us, calling us to new life, saying: you shall live. It is like the first breath of the Spirit the first day of the first week of creation out of the void, the genesis of all. Daniel Berrigan

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connection covering casing breath ,

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If those who never existed can come to life, then those who once lived – all the more so. Rabbi Elezar According to the Midrash, Adam had three wives. God created humanity, and then He separated humanity into men and women. Adam was that first man, but in contrast to Christian theology, the first woman was not Eve but Lilith. She was Adam’s first wife and she was every bit his equal. This embarrassed Adam, for Lilith dominated him as often as he dominated her. She was every bit as in charge as he was and so Adam asked God for another wife, sending Lilith into the night for Satan. Adam’s second wife was a divine failure. Like Adam, she was made of dust, and Adam was forced to watch her take shape before him. He watched dust become bone, bone become connected with sinew, flesh and blood cover the skeletal 81


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structure, and skin grow over the muscle. Adam was repulsed. How could he love something that had so much goop and glop inside of it? How could he love someone so messy. This wife was sent away unnamed, becoming the caretaker of rejects and outcasts. Adam’s final wife, Eve, was not there when he went to sleep one night but appeared for the first time the next morning – a vision of glory and loveliness. It was Eve, the perfect woman, who was misled and who in turn misled her husband, as they together brought sin into the world. This fabled and annotated creation account is not meant to be taken literally, even by those who hold the Midrash authoritative. It’s just a creative and inventive way to explain the weaknesses of and tension between the genders. But it’s fascinating, don’t you think? Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones describes a kind of creation much like the one we see in Genesis 2, as we’ve discussed earlier. But now we need to examine the manner of (re)creation a little more closely to observe the intricacies of God’s handiwork, which will fuel our understanding of His power and work in our lives. Echoes of the creation narratives lurk in the shadows of Ezekiel’s vision. The bones were restored to life – living, active, breathing creatures. More than that, they were restored in their knowledge and understanding that God has, in fact, proven Himself trustworthy against all odds and in every circumstance. The last part of the human body to decay, bones preserve the essence of an individual. In effect, they symbolize a person’s identity. The poets often use bones to picture what remains of God’s people (Psalm 22.15, 31.10), as in The bones of the wicked lie strewn at the mouth of Sheol (Psalm 147.7). There is a strange story that illustrates this in 2 Kings 13:

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Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. 2 Kings 13.20-21 It is from the dust that God creates us, breathing His breath into us. When He takes it away, we are dust once more. So, the gift of His breath brings dust to life and the promise of resurrection is firmly linked to creation itself. This vision is not about revivification, as if the bones had all passed out after a night at the pub. It’s about transformation – they used to be dead, but are now alive again. They used to be cut off, but are now brought back in. They used to be stuck in darkness, but are now brought back into the day. This reminds me of 1 Peter 2.9-10: …you are a people belonging to God, [declaring] the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. The manner in which this transformation occurs is neither instantaneous nor random. There is a reconstruction – a rebuilding – inherent in the transformation from death to life. It takes some time. I tend to think of the process of this reconstruction as being like a bath: whatever you took off last is what gets put on first when you’re done. Except that in this case what you put on is new. The first stuff to come off a corpse is its skin, then the flesh, then the tendons, then the bones fall apart. In the valley, God re-dresses the Dry Bones when they are finished bathing in death. 83


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Here, then, is the order of their (re)creation: The bones lie dead and dry, until‌ connection :: :: the sinews and tendons unite the bones and skeletons are formed. covering ::

:: the flesh, the muscular system, arterial, and venous systems clothe the bones.

casing ::

:: the skin forms over the meat like crust on baked bread.

Yet there was no breath in them; they were not yet souls until‌ breath ::

:: the winds came, and the Spirit entered them, and they lived.

Notice the four step procedure through which this miracle occurs. A similar procedure is at work in our lives. If we want to live the life God intended, we must fall in step with the process God has established: connection :: covering :: casing :: breath We need connection. Our lives are disparate, fragmented, broken. We need to feel whole. Our yearning for wholeness began when God split the Adam. In the Garden of Eden, God created us in His image and likeness, male and female. 84


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Neither one is – completely – in possession of the image of God. Together we bear the mark of our Maker – together we accurately represent God to the world. But by ourselves? We are separated. We are apart. None of us experience ourselves as completely whole. We ache. This is why sexuality is such a powerful drive within us – sex is about wholeness, it’s about coming together, finding your match, being complete, comingling, becoming one. It’s spiritual. Whether or not we sleep alone is far less significant than whether or not we feel alone. And we do feel alone. We feel disconnected. But this isn’t right. We need to fight this sense of isolation and brokenness with a sense of connection. We need to be connected – especially to our true selves as image-bearers of God. Each of us is one person, one being, one identity, one conscience, one soul. Our world is broken and every dark power in it seeks to break us further. God did not insert a soul into a body like a letter into an envelope. He formed man out of the dust and then by breathing into it he made the dust live. The dust formed into a man was made to live. The dust did not embody a soul … it became a soul. Soul refers to the whole creature. 85


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So, when we hear celebrities or talk show hosts talking about the soul decaying while saying that the rest of life [i.e. career, family, finances, etc.] can thrive is a totally artificial division. It is all the same thing. If your soul is starving, you are starving – because every part of our identity is connected and there’s no way to be simultaneously starved and well-fed. When people force us to try to reconcile this contradiction, they are forcing us to “split” our identity in very unhealthy ways that have far-reaching consequences, not the least of which manifests itself in broken relationships, fragmented esteem, and genuine bewilderment at the absence of meaning that often accompanies our “success.” We are cut off from one another, from the world, from God – even from ourselves. We cannot let that happen. We have to fight to see ourselves holistically, to understand that we are not pieces of people — we are the whole people of God. Most of my time is so tightly packed that I’m running from one appointment to another, racing to get home in time for dinner, only so I can race back to teach at the college or help someone at the church. I have to be very, very careful – as do we all – to combat this lifestyle. Each one of us runs the risk of compartmentalizing ourselves into thousands of little pieces. But that’s not healthy. Busyness is the enemy. It’s not sustainable – eventually, we will all crack up. 86


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One of the reasons we often feel fragmented is because we’re not doing the things we really want to be doing. What are those things for you? What dreams has God given you? Share them, and your frustration about not being able to work toward them, with a few people close to you. Connect your dreams to theirs. Connect your heart to theirs. And be made whole. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Matthew 16.25 We also need covering. We need people to know us and love us. By definition and God’s design, human beings exist only in relationship – to God, to our true selves as His shadows, to others, and to the world. When we look at God – at His purpose, motivation, and incarnation – we realize that God is still calling us into new life, calling us into Covenantal relationship with Him, 87


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and it is this prophetic call that we hear in our search for beauty, spirituality, family, and relationship.

We hear Him speak, and we know we’re not meant to be alone, undefended, dead. That’s why I maintain that the best definition of sin is the breaking of relationship. Because all of life is relational at its core, sin can be understood as that which violates the foundation of our being. Anything we do that hurts our relationships is a sin. Anything that forces others away from us, or us from them; anything that removes us from God or from our mission to shadow Him in the world, is sin. Whether it’s purity laws in the First Testament, contractual obligations in Leviticus, prohibitions against usury in Deuteronomy – every time we sin at least one relationship is broken. Idolatry is adultery, and everyone gets hurt no matter what name we give it. Whenever we risk our relationships, we sin. In fact, the New Testament instructs us 94 times as to how we are to be in relationship with one another. Because God is a God of relationships. And we are like Him. We’ve got to look after our relationships, because repairing them will take time, more time even than it took you to screw it up. And we have so little time as it is. 88


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By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13.35 We need casing, protection, a kind of buffer between us and the misery of this world – whether aimed against us directly or experienced indirectly as the general malady of the universe. When God made us, He realized that it was not good for us to be alone; and so He made more of us. He gave us someone to watch our back, someone to carry our burdens, someone we could lean on, someone to love, with whom to laugh, for whom to care. God says, literally, I will encrust you with skin, drawing on an image of Sabbath preparation: Bread may not be put into the oven when darkness is falling on the eve of the Sabbath…unless there is time for its top surface to form into crust. Shabbat 1.10 The best translation of the Hebrew word for “cover” is encrust…the French get it closest, translating this passage “et j’encrouterai…I shall encrust you [with skin].” Moshe Eisemann We need thick skin. People will hurt us. They will come after us, and we’ve got to be able to handle it when they do. 89


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If you can’t take instruction, you’ll never excel at work, in sports, in school, or in any trade. If you can’t take criticism, you’ll never know the deep love that comes with honesty and vulnerability between people who care and are fully committed to one another. But it’s tough. We all know if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, but no one ever told us that the things that make us happy are all on fire. I remember early on in church ministry when I received my first anonymous note criticizing me for not being holy enough. That hurt. I was embarrassed, affronted, and had no one to talk to about it. A year or so later, I received my second one – but this one was about both me and Carmel, and it accused us of being proud, self-seeking, and unapproachable. We carried that hurt for years wondering why this was allowed to happen, why no one defended us, and why these people (the handwriting was different for both letters) were comfortable with their cowardice when it cost us so much. We almost left the ministry. But we didn’t. More letters came. More notes. Some anonymous. Some not. I started keeping them in a big book, reading them over and over to try and extract whatever grains of painful truth might be lurking there. I figured, even in the midst of people’s complete crappiness, maybe God was trying to tell me something. He was. Lots of things, actually. I’ve learned how to listen. I’ve learned how to read the cues in people’s faces and in their inflections. I’ve learned to put pieces together between varying situations and speak hope and wisdom and truth and discipline in all sorts of ways I never would have seen had I not kept those letters 90


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and studied them and asked God what was going on.

But then one day I just threw them all away. It was like God pulled the drain on my heart and let all the dirty tub water run through me. I felt like I was clean, and that it was ok not to soak in that any more. I still get letters. Since moving to Michigan I’ve been upgraded so that now I sometimes get critical letters on letterhead. But I’ve got a better covering now, and can let it slide. Of course, we don’t just need protection, we also need to be a covering for others – without contradicting what I said earlier about over-protecting, we still have something we can offer to others. We can protect them…from ourselves if nothing else. There are many kinds of protection: Systems protect us. By managing how we live and the pace at which we live, we can have extra reserves for those times when we need to power up our shields. Wisdom protects us. By teaching us when to act and when not to, when to speak and when not to, when to look and when to look away, when to leap and when to be still, we can avoid all kinds of dangerous scenarios that may cause us unnecessary harm with limited potential for development. Community protects us. By having others around who love us, we take comfort in knowing that their love will defend us. God help you if you talk bad about my wife, or my friend John Voelz, or my staff, or my children, or my good friend and editor Caleb. We protect one another. 91


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The Spirit protects us, by warning us and weaning us of our dependence on unhealthy things, by guiding us into better paths and helping us make shrewd decisions, by reminding us that the best ways to live may yet be undiscovered, and by taking us into the deep waters of adventure where the risks we face will toughen us and enlarge us so we are better protected for the things that used to be derailing. Everyone needs some kind of casing to keep them safe from the billion things in life that will bleed them out one ounce at a time. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13.7

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There is a pause, now, in the process of God’s (re)creative work among the Dry Bones. Now having connection, covering, and casing, the bones are embodied but they do not live. This, however, doesn’t mean that God’s first act of (re)creation was insufficient, only that He had always designed a two-stage (re)creation to echo the two stage creation in Genesis 2: Body, then breath. We need breath. We need the Spirit to live. I’ll explore this more in the next chapter, but for now, please understand that most Christians have no idea what to do or make of the Holy Spirit and how He works in and around and through us. We are functionally anti-supernatural. 92


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As a spiritual person, I always feel torn between the mystical and the intellectual; but Christian spirituality is best engaged by holding the two in tension. It is a matter of complete intellect, yet because our spirituality also transcends the intellect, we also need comprehensive experience. This is not to suggest that discussion about the supernatural should escape intellectual criticism or any kind of logical pushback, but on some level our conversation here goes beyond what words can completely articulate or fully understand. The Holy Spirit, like Jesus and the Father, is God. And the Spirit lives in us – animating us with the power to live our God-authored lives. After Jesus shot up into heaven (commonly called The Ascension), he sent “another comforter.” Believers began to experience the power of this comforter and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They had all these supernatural incidents (divine healing, miracles, wisdom, and knowledge) which they knew were manifestations of the divine. These things were experienced in a completely new way and yet they knew they were from God. In John 14 we read about the paraclete, which is a difficult word to translate. Sometimes it is rendered “comforter,” as in someone who comes alongside another or who is called to come alongside another. Sometimes it is rendered “comforter,” “encourager,” or “counselor.” God will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. John 14.16-17a The Holy Spirit thinks, speaks, leads, and can be grieved. He is sometimes described as the Spirit of Christ, but he is not an apparition or a floating bed sheet. He is not a poltergeist. So right away we run into the problem of referring to him as the Holy Spirit, for spirit is really an inadequate term. 93


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Do not be so worried or surprised if you find the Holy Spirit rather vague or more shadowy in your mind than the other two ( Jesus Christ or God the Father). I think there is a reason this has to be so. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at the Holy Spirit like maybe the apostles could have looked at Jesus or maybe Moses experienced God on Mt. Sinai. But the Holy Spirit is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as someone out there in front of you (to Whom you pray) and the Son as someone standing at your side (helping you to pray), trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third person as something inside you or maybe behind you (through Whom you pray). C. S. Lewis This is how God works, and this is how we pray: to the Father, by the Son, through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides us through our relationship with God. He promises to guide those who are walking with him. And, of course, all this happened in order to fulfill the prophesy that first came to Ezekiel in chapter 36: I’ll give you a new heart, I’ll put a new Spirit in you, I’ll remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh and I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my law. Now that we’ve seen a good inside look at some of the stages of spiritual progression, it might be worthwhile to turn our attention to the plurality of spiritual activity in Ezekiel 37. Prepare yourself: It’s breathtaking. 94


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window in the sky Tell the truth – haven’t you ever wondered why we give each other eggs on Easter Sunday (to say nothing of the giant bunny who delivers them)? Isn’t it sad that no one knows what an Easter egg is? The earliest Christians in Egypt used to give ostrich eggs to one another as a reminder to keep their eyes on what truly mattered. Ostriches are the antithesis of elephants, apparently, and tend to be quite forgetful. When an ostrich lays her eggs she is very likely to forget where she put them. Consequently, ostriches always keep one giant eye upon the location of their nest, because if they look away, they forget where they left their kids. In Africa, the tradition of decorating ostrich eggs became incorporated into Easter celebrations. So, Easter eggs are supposed to remind us of the resurrection, of the severity of Christ’s love for the world, poured out for all humanity. Doesn’t it seem like we should have remembered that? 95


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Christian spirituality, after all, begins with the conviction that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is God’s answer to a culture of death. It is the resurrection of Jesus that really matters – and not just that it happened, but that it still happens and is happening in every one of us. I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus Christ It’s not so much that we serve a risen Christ, as a rising one. Thomas Aquinas A couple of years ago I was preparing a series for Easter on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I wanted to find some fresh material, a new angle, a new vantage point, and so I began to read well outside of my tribe and delved into some commentaries on the New Testament written by Jews trying to understand Christians. Each of these books strongly links the resurrection of Jesus to Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. That was I connection I’d never before made. How is the repatriotization of an undead army like the resurrection of the Son of God? I can tell you honestly I’ve spent no small amount of time reflecting on that question. I can also tell you that the answer to that question is the book you’re holding in your hands. Ezekiel’s vision foreshadows Christ’s resurrection. What God spoke through Ezekiel, Christ accomplished on the Third Day. Ezekiel’s vision is a foretaste of our gospel, and its central thematic word is life. Our God is God of the living, 96


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So, do not give up. Even when you feel like you’ve been beaten to within an inch of your life, or maybe beyond – don’t give up. Death abounds, yes, but life more so. This is the good news. There is an allusion to Ezekiel’s vision in Matthew 27 during the crucifixion of Jesus: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. The Gospels tell the story of how the evil in the world – political, social, personal, moral, emotional – reached its height, and the story of how God’s long-term plan for the world finally came to its climax. These stories are contained in the story of how Jesus of Nazareth announced God’s kingdom and went to his violent death. They tell the story of political power reaching its full, arrogant height. They tell the story of corruption within Israel itself, as the people who bear the solution to evil have themselves become part of the problem. They tell the story of deeper, darker forces which operate at a suprapersonal level, forces for which the language of the demonic, despite all its problems, is still the right language. It is a story in which the line between good and evil runs not between Jesus and his friends on the one hand and everyone else on the other – and certainly not between Jews and Gentiles – but down the middle of every one of us. 97


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The Gospels are also the story of how God’s long-term, ambiguous and risky plan to heal the world finally plays out. I think when we begin to understand what this means, we get a whole new perspective of eternity, of heaven. We get God’s perspective. Too often we only see the world through our eyes, through the lens of our preferences and pleasures, desires and ambitions, but that is not the compete picture of reality. The larger truth is that we have been separated from God and He wants us back. He wants you back. And when you begin to understand this, you get the feeling that all of heaven is watching your life, wanting you back. You realize that your life, like Jesus’ life, is about bringing heaven to earth. Imagine a window opening up in the sky and God looking down through that window onto our world. Imagine Him seeing you, in this world, carrying on the good work of Jesus Christ, trying to remake the world as He intended it to be, trying to make Him proud by the way you live, knowing that your actions are a reflection of His grace in your life, a grace you didn’t really deserve but that we all desperately need. Ezekiel’s vision speaks to this need – the need we all have for real hope that things can and will be different. For more and more of us there is something major we’re trying to move past, some skeleton in the closet; a broken marriage, an abortion, a religious commitment that did not work out, a pregnancy outside marriage, a betrayed trust, a broken relationship, 98


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a soured affair, a serious mistake, a searing regret; with a sense of sin, or maybe without it.

What we need in our brokenness is God’s Spirit breathing life into our dry bones. We need a resurrection. We need a miracle. We need to know that God is not merely watching, but working to save us. And He is. Though we may never see the dead climb out of their graves, nor our Savior jettison his burial clothes, we will see signs of God’s new world brought into this crummy one. Our task is to read those signs, to remember them, and to welcome His lifegiving breath even in the midst of this present age of mass-grave politics, used-car people and fast-food pleasure.

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dying all the time I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12.24-25 All the rules of God’s Kingdom are backwards. The last shall be first… He who seeks to lose his life will find it… Blessed are the hungry, for they shall be filled… The widow’s two pennies are worth more than this wealthy merchant’s large sum… Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you… 100


dr david mcdonald Whoever humbles themselves will be exalted… God’s Kingdom is an alternative reality to this world, a peaceable kingdom in which everything is backwards. Take the Cross, for example. We hold it in the highest regard, a trophy, but the Cross is primarily about Jesus’ failure. Christ died and the world had not been transformed, evil politicians still ruled, evil generals still conquered, evil priests still corrupted worship, evil still rooted out good like a weed. But, of course, the Cross is also about Christ’s victorious triumph over the powers of this world. He died, but he didn’t stay dead. He came back to new life, and brings new life with him for you and me. Because the Cross is not only a symbol of death but also of resurrection, we can approach God – whatever our failures may be – and know that God will raise us up to new life even though we have failed. Resurrection demonstrates once again that we serve the second-chance God who unscrambles eggs and brings good news to those of us stuck in pain and failure, enmired in a world without hope. It’s not that the risen Christ appears saying, ‘By magic I will take away your history and I will smooth out your faces’; but that the risen Christ says, ‘In the depth of this reality I will speak, I will be present and I will transform.’ Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams And we need resurrection – every day it feels like we encounter some new death. It feels like we’re dying all the time: 101


bleached struggling painfully with our fleeting youth, health, daydreams, and possible dreams, infatuations, romances, honeymoons, and, in the end, with life itself. Death is significant in Christian spirituality. But do not despair – for God always gives us new life. Whenever something passes, be it youth or sexual attractiveness, something else takes its place. We must let go of some things, even some good things. This is the central message of Good Friday – something has to be sacrificed in order for us to be whole. In New Zealand there is a fern, the Koru, that contains within it a tiny, curled frond that needs space in order to grow and live. The only way it gets that space is for the Maori people to walk through the bush and burn off the old growth of the forest. They burn off the old, and from the ashes new life is born. Resurrection. The cycles of death and decay are the compost of new life; and this new life is the basis of Christian spirituality. And it’s not just Jesus’ new life upon which our hope is based, but upon the new life available to us both now (in Christ) and later on (with Christ). Am I freaking you out right now? If this sounds unfamiliar, take heart. The resurrection of the dead was expressly taught by Christ ( John 5.28-29, 6.39-40, 11.25; Luke 14.14) despite the unbelief of the Sadducees, whom He charged with ignorance of the power of God and of 102


the Scriptures (Matthew 22.29; Luke 20.37).

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St. Paul also taught on resurrection, placing its importance on the same level as that of Christ’s own resurrection: If Christ be preached, that he rose again from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain 1 Corinthians 15:12 The apostle preached the resurrection of the dead as one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity in Athens (Acts 17.18 ), Jerusalem (23.6), before Felix (24.15), and before Agrippa (26.8). Paul also insisted on the same doctrine in his letters (Romans 8.11; 1 Corinthians 6.14, 15.12; 2 Corinthians 4.14, 5.1; Philippians 3.21; 1 Thessalonians 4.12-16; 2 Timothy 2.11; Hebrews 6.2) and in this he agrees with the Revelation of St. John (20.12). In short, the New Testament is crystal clear on the issue of what happens to us when we die: We get new bodies (cf. Romans 8.22-23). We are promised a new type of bodily existence, the fulfillment and redemption of our present bodily life. A Christian in the present life is a mere shadow of his or her future self, the self that person will be when the body that God has waiting in his heavenly storeroom is brought out, already made to measure, and put over the present one – or over the self that will still exist after bodily form. N.T. Wright These new bodies, however, bear a strong correlation to our original bodies. That correlation is based on the similarities 103


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between creation and (new) creation, between our (first) bodies and our (new) bodies, between our physicality (animated by nature) and our physicality (animated by Spirit). The purpose of 1 Corinthians 15 is to show us that God’s breath of Life then (in the future, in the new creation) is the same as it was then (in the past, in the original creation). Upon our deaths, God will download our software onto his hardware until the time when he gives us new hardware of our own to run the software again. John Polkinghorne When Ezekiel receives his vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, he sees a vision of resurrection that holds the same promise for the ancient Hebrews as Christ’s resurrection holds for us: new and improved (quality of) life now, new and improved (and unqualified) life then. Don’t take this to mean – as some foolishly do – that there will no longer be pain and hardship in this life. In this life, difficulty endures – which is why the promise of resurrection later on into a new creation absent of suffering is such a beautiful promise. But that’s not to say, either, that the promise of resurrection-enhanced living in this life is somehow impotent. No – it’s God’s Spirit that breathes resurrection life into us now, and that is more powerful than we typically understand. 104


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Let me tell you about the power of resurrection.

I have a good friend who suffered a very painful divorce. His wife had an affair with a close friend and it hurt him deeply. In his words: I was the walking dead…my life was over. Through many dark nights and aggrieved prayers, my friend persisted in the hope that God had not abandoned him, or his family, or his hopes for happiness, or his desire for companionship, or his desire to live happily ever after. My friend met a wonderful woman, a classic beauty with a keen mind, and they have been married blissfully now for some time. That is resurrection. Or consider my old friend Roy, a former professional rugby player who broke his back in a championship game and was told he would never walk again. Roy refused to believe it. He prayed. He got rehab. He had a fantastic family who supported his recovery. And not only did he regain the ability to walk many years later, he now runs 100-mile races and routinely competes in the Iron Man Triathlon. That is resurrection. Or what of my friend Chris, who was born with a cleft palette and was told he would never speak properly. He still has a lisp. He has experienced no miraculous recovery, no miracle surgery, no “cure.” But he has had a resurrection. Chris was bitter and angry in his teen years about his mouth. He was teased, isolated, and his hard heart drove people away. No one like him, and he hated them for it. But God was there when Chris broke down and gave up. God gave 105


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Chris new life, new hope, and a new spirit so that Chris’ entire demeanor changed. He is married, has great kids, and still has a cleft palette. But he’s living a new life – and I dare you to try to tell him that resurrection is a metaphor. Whenever people get caught up on whether or not the Valley of the Dry Bones “actually happened” or “was just a vision,” they’ve completely missed the point. The point is that there is a deep connection between the substance of the symbol – resurrection – and the message it conveys – restoration and healing. In Ezekiel’s case, these two things were synonymous. What good would resurrection do the dry bones if they weren’t allowed to return home and live in peace with God? Some commentators even read our hope is gone as being spoken by the newly awakened army, signifying that – even though they live, they don’t have the life they wanted, the place they were promised, or the conditions they had always hoped for. Metaphors may change our thinking in powerful ways, but in order for us to really live we really need God to show up and transform our real lives. That’s why true hope has to be based on the firm conviction that things can actually be different. Even though the things in life that kill us are brutal and completely undesirable, there is another side to the equation. Death always precedes resurrection, and after every Good Friday comes another Easter. The Lamb that gets sacrificed is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If you’re hurting, struggling, dying, despondent, despairing, 106


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hopeless, isolated, cut off, dejected, dumped, bruised, shattered and scatted and smashed into a billion pieces, don’t quit, don’t lie down, don’t give in because Sunday’s coming and Christ is coming alive in you. One final word:

When David’s illegitimate son was dying, David put on sackcloth and began to fast and pray, begging God to save his son. However, messengers arrived and David learned that his son was already dead. In response, he immediately put aside the sackcloth and went home to bathe, eat, drink, and then sleep with his wife, who conceived a new son, Solomon. Sensing that he had scandalized those around him, David said: While the child was alive, I fasted and prayed, imploring God to save the child. Now the child is dead. I must move on to create new life. My prayer is that you would do the same.

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part three

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implications of the Spirit

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spiritual dryness We should all feel near to despair in some sense, because this semi-despair is the normal form taken by hope in a time like ours. Hope without any sensible or tangible evidence on which to rest. Hope in spite of the sickness that fills us. Hope married to a firm refusal to accept any palliatives or anything that cheats hope by pretending to relieve apparent despair. And I would add that for you especially hope must mean acceptance of limitations and imperfections and the deceitfulness of a nature that has been wounded and cheated of love and of security; this too we all feel and suer. Thus we cannot enjoy the luxury of a hope based on our own integrity, our own honesty, our own purity of heart. Thomas Merton, letter to Czeslaw Milosz The Holocaust in Germany during the Second World War was not the first time the Hebrew people were so thoroughly devastated. The exile of 587 BC, in which the people of God were led o into Babylon, was the third such holocaust after Egyptian bondage and Assyrian assimilation. They found themselves without hope. 110


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Only the image of death – bleached bones, cut off – was really appropriate for their situation. Spiritual dryness and dejection had become a way of life for them. Their miserable inner condition was just as bleak as their outward circumstance. In my experience, spiritual dryness is a way of life for most Christians, too. John of the Cross referred to this dryness as a ‘dark night of the soul.’ It is dark, not because it is evil, but because you can’t see or understand what’s going on during a time like this. You get lost. The path of faith is obscured. There may be many reasons for a season of spiritual dryness: unconfessed sin unrepented sin immaturity poor circumstance lack of understanding lack of community lack of training and development lack of desire depression trying to imitate others instead of trying to imitate Jesus, thereby being frustrated by our inability to be like them when what God really wants is for us to become the people He’s designed us to be poor health and wellness upheaval in life (like a move, new career, etc.) spiritual upheaval (new church, new exposure to doctrine, loss of community, etc.) Whatever the reason, it will probably be helpful to know that times like these are normal. They’re part of God’s plan. Loving God while feeling no proximity to Him cultivates spiritual maturity – a purification of the senses, a sanctification of the Spirit. 111


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Normally we seek God for selfish reasons – maybe even for the good kind of selfish reasons like the fact that God has rescued you from your old life and you feel happy when you feel close to Him. The point remains, though, that you seek Him for your happiness. In order for you to grow spiritually, you’ve got to move past the intrinsic. God has to wean us, for a time, from spiritual pleasure. He wants us to seek Him just for Him, and not what He can give us. We must learn to love God, and others, and ourselves, and Creation even when it leads to suffering and sacrifice. That’s real love. Without God’s transforming power, we tend to seek our own pleasure, whether through food, sex, or entertainment. Then when we have a conversion experience, we may think we’ve been totally renewed, but actually we are blind to the fact that our pleasure-seeking is just not as gross or obvious as it used to be. It has simply been elevated to another level; it is still mixed with excessive self-seeking. God has to cleanse us, almost in spite of ourselves, so that we can really love Him and not ourselves. In this stage the emotional highs we experience at the beginning of our Christian walk are replaced by dryness and even boredom. I’ve gone through many seasons of spiritual dryness. In fact, like many other kids born into Christian households, I was born into spiritual boredom. I knew all the stories before they held any meaning, I could pray cleverly and poetically before I cared to do so. Between being a pastor’s kid and attending Christian middle school my spiritual nervous system was overloaded before puberty. I got my spiritual groove back around the same time Stella got hers, and I’ve come to realize that spiritual dryness is a kind of preparation, too. I got dried up on the spiritual warfare stuff, and as God restored me through that process I became a worshipper. Everything about my life centered on worship… 112


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until worship gave me no chills either. As I floundered, I moved into leadership roles – everything rises and falls on leadership – but the paint peeled off of that eventually too. Then education. Then theatre. Then liturgics. Then academic writing. Each time I’ve gone through a spell of dryness, I’ve come out the other side into a new season of refreshment. And the old things, the things that used to energize me, have been re-incorporated into my life in healthy ways. They haven’t been discarded, just placed into proper perspective as aspects of spirituality rather than the essence of knowing God. There are many places in Scripture that refer to spiritual dryness as a time of preparation. The Bible has certain sacred landscapes, and the desert is one of them. People like Moses, Elijah, Paul, and even Jesus retreated to the desert for seasons of waiting, prayer, anguish, soul-searching, reflection, etc. It was a proving ground. In those cases – and in mine and yours! – the dry time ended and they reentered their everyday life transformed somehow. Here, then, is what we’ve all got to understand: the issue is not whether you will experience dryness, but how. How will you meet this time of frustration, or boredom, or absence, or futility? How will you come to grips with your need to feel good about God? How will you cope with the fact that the dryness will only end when He chooses and not through any effort on your part? 113


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And the million dollar question: What will you do if the dryness never ends? Will you hang up your cross? Will you turn off ? Will your first love then be revealed? I don’t want to hit you with a bunch of guilt-matrices, I’m just trying to either help prepare you or help reorient you during your time of spiritual dryness. So, to try and be helpful, here are some practical things to consider when you hit the wall: First off, it’s important to remember that most of our spiritual breakthroughs are accompanied by a sense of euphoria and optimism. This goes away. When it does, we tend to think that we’ve screwed something up. We have – we screw a lot of things up – but that may not be the cause. To try to “fix” it, we usually either ease off the gas or drop the hammer and try twice as hard to please God.

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In either distance or diligence we may inadvertently be moving away from God. We’re either becoming shy and distancing ourselves through apathy, or we’re focusing on all the extra stuff – meetings, disciplines, activities – instead of focusing on God and daily inviting Him to live more fully in us.


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At some point, we bust, and feel like everything has been blown. Take a deep breath, have a glass of wine, chill for a moment. This happens to everybody. Don’t toss in the towel just yet. You’ve just entered your first dark night of the soul and it’s likely to get a little crappier before it gets a little more like it used to be. It often is a good idea to find some kind of spiritual director or pastoral counselor who can help you discern what God is saying to you during these times – preferably someone with some gray hair who’s at least reverentially afraid of mortgages. There will be a series of these dark nights, each one different than the one before, each one with some new manifestation of the suck. Again, you’re not the only one to go through this – King David did, Paul did, Peter did, Jeremiah did – so remember you’re in good company. Hold fast, invite the Spirit to keep you steady, and love God no matter what. 115


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Eventually, you will come through this. It might take a minute, it might take a year, it might take a lifetime – but when you do, you will have a new joy. And we do need joy – it is spiritual. After all, very few of us would ever get married if we didn’t first fall in love. Fall in love with God, all over again and again. You must realize that God has only one desire. Certainly you can never understand a dry spell unless you understand what His desire is. His desire is to give Himself to the soul that really loves Him and to that soul which earnestly seeks Him. And yet it is true that this God who desires to give Himself to you will often conceal Himself from you-from you, the very one who seeks Him… Therefore, pour out your love upon Him passionately and yet, I would add, always peacefully. Jeanne Guyon

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a zombie s hope ’

Bob Cave showed me my first zombie. It was 1993 and I was in Haiti. A teenager and Bob was taking us to the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. Everything looked right out of a Clive Barker novel, especially the dazed-looking man holding a machete, barefoot, leaning against the wall, white chalk covering his face, drooling. That’s right – zombie. Contrary to everything you’ve ever seen or heard, zombies do exist. In fact a rather widely read book called The Serpent and the Rainbow documented the uniquely Haitian phenomenon, detailing how poor villagers and farmers would get so far into debt that they could not repay their loans. So voodoo witch doctors would be hired to grind up the powder from a puffer fish, mix in some magic, and leave a powerful mind-numbing toxin on the front steps of the debt-laden villagers’ homes. Because these guys were poor, they often had no shoes and would walk barefoot right through the toxin, which would effectively turn their brains into soup over the next twelve hours. 117


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After that, you had a zombie. They weren’t undead like George Romero’s famous bunch, but they had no will of their own and became the owned property of whomever hired the witch doctor, taking suggestions as commands without any hesitation, if a bit sluggishly. I’ve met a few other zombies in my day, but not like that one. I’ve met people who lost all connection with life – having squandered the daylight playing video games in their mom’s basement, having flunked out of college after falling in love with pot, having taken their marriage for granted and been tossed out by their spouse – these are people for whom life is just another kind of dying. People with no hope look like the Haitian zombie near the Iron Market. They have no verve, no passion, no drive. They just stand there, slobbering, waiting for someone to tell them what to do with God-only-knows-what on their soupy minds. Without hope, we are zombies. We all live in a graveyard, surrounded by the walking dead, where the vast majority of people have expired without ever truly experiencing life. God tells us that we are born in sin, dead in our trespasses – and our experience proves Him right. We inhabit a world of walking corpses and undead pleasures. But, thankfully, God does good work with cadavers. But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.

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Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Isaiah 26.19

In Ezekiel 37 we read about another group of faithful failures, corpses and warriors wasted in war. These Dry Bones see themselves as dead, chanting their dirge: Dried up // Our bones Perished // Our hope Cut off // Ourselves Ezekiel’s prophesy to these bones was a message of hope to the hopeless, a lifeline to the dead wood; yet even in the non-being of death, they still heard him speak. Even the dead hope for something better. From the belly of Sheol I cried out… I thought: I have been cut off from your sight… But you raised my life from the pit. Jonah 2.3-7 You who have made me see many troubles and misfortunes Shall revive me again, And shall raise me from the depths of the earth Psalm 71.20 Figure out what you hope for. Live inside that hope. Don’t get strung out if it looks like the thing you’re working for won’t happen – most of the best things in life have been accomplished by people who simply refused to give up hope – Rosa Parks, Beethoven, Thomas Edison, 119


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Dale Carnegie, Moses, Jesus, and the thousands of Christians fed to lions in the Coliseum. You’re going to have to face up to the fact that you won’t always get what you’re working for, but you’re going to have to fight hard anyway. Fight hard for what you believe in, for what you’re hoping for, for the people who come after you, for the people who will borrow your strength, your resolve, your spirit, and succeed you. Fight less for your achievement and more for your convictions; fight less for your bright ideas and more for the person beside, and behind, and beneath you. Having hope means fighting for the stuff that makes sense, no matter what happens next. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to learn from Hebrews 11? It’s commonly referred to as the Hall of Fame for Faith, filled with stories of the brave and the bold, Gideon and Abraham and all the rest. But that’s not all. It’s not just a litany of successes; there’s a martyr’s reckoning too. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain 120


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a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11.35-40 I can imagine the people whose stories are recounted here wondered: Why me? Why now? Why this? Yet even in their lostness, their bewilderment, they had hope in God that their lives were not wasted. They anticipated God’s deliverance, but didn’t get it. Like the Dry Bones, they died looking for salvation. And it came, but later. God promises and delivers more than we can hope for, though not always in the manner of our choosing. Hope comes to those in exile. God’s promise of restoration comes to an undeserving people. God is Sovereign. He fulfills His promises no matter how unlikely or undeserving His people seem to be. The question is never our faithfulness – “Am I good enough to compel God to act?” – but His. The promise of restoration demonstrates God’s greatness, not the people’s worthiness. God is merciful, the people are not just.

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The Hebrew people to whom Ezekiel prophesied didn’t actually deserve such a stunning reversal of fate – far from it. Our spiritual ancestors had spent centuries inventing new ways in which to rebel against God, marked by immorality and perversion of the lowest order. Yet still God remained faithful to them, just as He remains faithful to us. We don’t deserve grace, but we can still trust God for it. The question we should all be asking is not the daytime TV version of whether or not there will be life after death, but the much more complex and real-life question of whether or not God can be trusted. Can we rise again? Can we live as we were meant to? Can we experience God’s supernatural do-over that helps us know Him, love Him, and shadow Him more faithfully? Can we be something more than zombies? Yes. Yes we can. We have hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6.19 Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Ephesians 5.14

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in the biblical sense A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. John 4.23-24 I heard a funny story about the Devil and one of his demons walking downtown. They see Jesus standing on the street corner talking to this young girl. This is a problem because in their minds the young girl was part of their team. The demon gets all panicky, and he says to the Devil: “Doesn’t that make you mad?” “No.” “What do you mean? Jesus is talking to that girl. That doesn’t bother you?” “No.” 123


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“Why not?” “Because I’m going to make theology out of it.” In Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones the Word of God (spoken through the prophet) and the Spirit of God work together to bring new life to the Dry Bones. Word + Spirit. In our contemporary setting, helping people understand the Word of God – the Bible – is usually our primary concern; however, like the Dry Bones, we suffer from a lack of Spirit-infusion. Until the Spirit works His way into us, we are only ever going to be spiritual zombies. It takes the Knowledge of the Scriptures, and the Experience of the Indwelling to comprise the Knowledge of God. So often our faith, which begins as a mystical experience of a supernatural god, deteriorates into doctrine and dogma. This is not to say learning doctrine and theology is bad…not at all…just that the intellect can easily replace the spirit as the center of our faith. Real power doesn’t just come from mental ascent. Real power to live differently, to live in unity or in harmony, to learn a better way, a way of love, doesn’t just come from getting your theology sorted out. Having a grounded theological basis is never a bad thing, but when we put too much emphasis on that and lose the harmony between our brains and 124


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our hearts, we miss out on the melody God has designed for His people. In the western church, we’ve fallen so in love with our doctrine that it often has replaced our love for God. Consider the following tragic comedy: I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a guy standing on the edge about to jump off. I ran up and said, “Stop, don’t jump off the bridge.” “Why not?” “There’s so much to live for.” “Like what?” “Are you religious?” “Yeah.” “Buddhist or Christian?” “Christian.” “Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?” ”Protestant.” “Me too. Are you Episcopalian or are you Baptist?” “Baptist.” “Me too. That’s so awesome. Are you Baptist Church of God, or are you Baptist Church of the Lord?” 125


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“Baptist Church of God.” “Me too. That’s awesome. Are you original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God.” “Me too. That’s awesome. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1879 or Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1915?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1915.” “Die heretic,” I yelled and pushed him off the bridge. While that story is undeniably funny, it’s equally sad because it is true. In my short tenure as a senior pastor I have been asked the most ridiculous questions that reveal people’s priority of dogma over deity: Are you sure you’re a Christian? You don’t wear a tie. Can I come to your church and still be a Christian? Am I a Christian now? Or a Baptist? You guys talk so much about Jesus? Are you some kind of cult? I got baptized at your church last year, but since then I’ve learned you guys aren’t Christians and now I want to get baptized for real? Will you let me out? I kid you not, these are all actual questions I’ve been asked and they all come from people professing to be Christ-followers who are eager to prove that I (and by extension our church) am not. 126


Come off it.

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The most stirring language in the Scripture isn’t the language of theological peculiarities…it’s the language of prayer; it’s the language of experience. We’ve got to recover the experience of God without letting go of all we’ve learned about Him over the last couple thousand years. We might articulate this need as the need for harmony between gnosis and noetics, the two Greek words for knowledge. Gnosis is head knowledge; it’s the stuff you learn. There’s a lot we need to learn and a lot we need to apply to ourselves to understand. However, that’s not the fullness of Christian spirituality or the most important part of our faith. The other kind of knowledge the Greeks talked about – noetics – is an experiential knowledge. When someone works as a construction worker for forty years, you take it they know what they’re doing. They’ve banged a few thumbs, they’ve cut off a few parts of the front of their boots, and they know what they’re doing. They know because they’ve lived and experienced it. Christian spirituality is about both kinds of knowledge: gnosis and noetics. Gnosis is the head knowledge, noetics is the knowledge that comes with experience. Too much experience without understanding and you’re a whack-job. Too much intellect without any elbow grease and you’re a white-glove whipper-snapper. It takes both to really know God and to experience new life. 127


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I want both. I don’t want to just know about God, I want to know Him personally. I don’t want to just know that it’s important for me to be nice to people who are different. I actually want to love people more. It’s not enough to know what I’m supposed to do or what I’m supposed to think. I actually want to believe it and do it to a greater degree than I am already. There’s an ethic of transformation in the life of someone who knows God. Knowing Him changes us. And, you might ask, in what sense are we to know God? Are we to know Him in the biblical sense? Yes – though I suppose that question fails to escape every possible irony. To know means to have an intimate familiarity with someone (1 Samuel 3.7, Genesis 4.1). When a husband knows his wife, they make a baby. We’re told that knowing God is the highest priority of humanity ( Jeremiah 9.2324). Ezekiel’s chief concern was not primarily the restoration of a people, but a recognition by the people of who God is and what He intends to do in the world: You shall know that I am the Lord. 128


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In Ezekiel’s vision, the undeniable supernatural quality of his vision and the miracle it portrays is obvious. And the reason God acted in such a remarkable way is because He wanted His people to know Him. Knowledge of God is a consequence of action taken by God. God may act either to save (cf. 37.11-12), or to punish (cf. 35.15), but His motivation is always self-revelation. God wants you to know Him. The truth is that no one comes to know God through conceptual reflection, analysis, research, or apologetics. People cannot be told about God and know Him. They must experience God for themselves, and when they do they are often humbled and wowed. God acts, we witness, we know. Divine action is the trigger for recognition. Our goal as resurrection people is to live in such a way that others see and experience God through us. We want people to know God as He has chosen to reveal Himself, to understand that He is the source of life – the Creator, our Redeemer, and the One who gives life – and we want them, ultimately, to be so caught up in the knowledge of God that they cannot help but worship Him and live lives that seek to please Him. My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite 129


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him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3.14-19 MSG

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dead onor dead your fienetthe water ,

Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe on these slain, that they may live‌ I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall settle you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and performed. Ezekiel 37.9, 14 Early on in our family life I made a rookie-dad boo-boo. We were going on a short vacation, just one night somewhere, and I knew that my son (our only child at the time) was not a big fan of staying in hotels. There was nothing for him to do, no space of his own, no good place to sit and see the television. Even though we never spent much time in the hotel when we traveled, those first few minutes in 131


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the morning or the last hour or so before (his) bedtime can be really miserable if you’ve got an upset toddler. Anyway, I thought I’d planned ahead this time. I’d gone out to the store and found this cool speedboat that he could play with in the tub in our hotel room. I packed it away as a surprise, and when we got there and he began to fuss I pulled out this marvelous magical miracle of monolithic proportion and helped him climb into the tub to try it out. It didn’t work. It needed batteries. I went down to the lobby to the little store they had, but they didn’t sell any C batteries. For some reason I decided to wait until the next day to get the right batteries, but by then it was too late. We were going home the next day and Jake had already been put off by the speedboat. Lesson learned: things that need batteries need batteries; things that are supposed to move on their own are the absolute worst toys in the universe – lopsided, with no momentum to level it out; heavy and awkward, so that if you push it (in this case) the speedboat either sinks, tips, or only goes two nautical inches away from you; too small to put action figures in; blah, blah, blah. They are the worst if you’ve got to pretend they actually work like they’re supposed to. The similarity between the Dry Bones and the bathtub speedboat is striking: They both need power to move. 132


The bones cannot live without the Spirit – they need an animating force, batteries, energy, steam, the life-giving breath of God.

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Neither can we. You can look like you’re alive – or like you’re a perfectly good speedboat – but still be dead on your feet – or dead in the water, if you prefer my child’s metaphor. The breath that revitalizes the Dry Bones is not ordinary breath but the life-giving breath of God Almighty. Only He is able to restore His people to life. Only He can bring us home. And He does. The dead are not raised because they’ve been reconstituted biologically, but because they’ve been gifted with God’s Spirit. The God of creation and the God of resurrection is the same God. He is a life giver. He gives life to those who never were, and He gives new life to those who have ceased to be. This is the way God works. In the beginning, God’s gives life to creatures who would be nonexistent or lost if not for his loving desire to create from nothing or restore from death. The lump of soil in Genesis 2.7 that God had molded into the form of a man did not become a living soul until He had breathed into it. 133


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Jesus, in John 3, reminds us of the timelessness of this Truth: Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3.5-8 As far as Jesus is concerned he is introducing nothing new. There can be little doubt that his statements here are based upon Ezekiel 36.25-27: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put My Spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Notice that, whereas the new mind and the new heart are given to Israel, the new Spirit is placed within her. We are transformed (an ongoing process) by the renewing of our minds (cf. Romans 12.2) and the restoration of our hearts (cf. Jeremiah 24.7, 32.29), but God gives us (a one-time event) His Spirit. 134


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The Spirit’s job is to make you alive, and only the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3.6). In the case of Ezekiel’s vision we notice that once the Dry Bones have this new Spirit, God gives them assurance that He will renew His Covenant with them – they will live, they will be His people, they will settle in the Promised Land, and they will know that God is who He says He is: the Sovereign Ruler who calls forth loyalty and obedience. Concordantly, the people are expected to observe the Covenant, which suggests a radical spiritual revitalization. We need a radical spiritual revitalization. Most of us are lead either by our heads (which we control) or our hearts (which are out of control), but we are called to be led by God’s Spirit (inviting Him into total control). We need another Pentecost. Pentecost was the day on which the Holy Spirit descended on the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 2), ushering in a new wave of God’s supernatural activity in the world. I get why this is scary for some people, but it is biblical. The Bible is full of things I wish it didn’t contain and full of instruction I wish I didn’t have to learn. But God gave us the Scriptures to form us into the people He wants us to be, not into the 135


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kind of people who get to be comfortable all the time. Pentecost was a spooky thing because it was completely outside of everyone’s realm of experience. It was something new. It was a new way to be in communion with God – to literally be filled with God’s Spirit in the same way that the Dry Bones were filled with God’s life-giving breath. As Christians, we are no longer people animated by the things of this world – the batteries of lust and sex and power and position no longer work in our speedboat – we are now animated by the Spirit – and this has remarkable consequences for how we change, for what is possible in this world, for who we are enabled to become, and for what we are enabled to do in order to shadow God in the redemption of the world. Pentecost changes everything. And now we find our fundamental identity not simply as people who follow Jesus, but as people who are animated by the Spirit of Jesus. He’s not just our example, his Spirit is the batteries in our tub toy. Most of us have a hard time understanding this, though; we feel like we get it intellectually, but living it is much harder. For sure. The real trick about Christian spirituality is not how complicated it is, but how subtle. Our problem is not the absence of the Holy Spirit to transform us, but that we do not recognize the Spirit or His activity around us enough to cooperate with Him in His work of transformation. What changes you, what gives you life, is the Spirit. Without the Spirit’s breath of life, you’re still very much a corpse, a zombie, undead but not living. 136


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That’s the central message of Ezekiel’s vision for us, foreshadowing Paul’s words in Romans 6.11: Count yourselves dead (to sin) but alive (to God).

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come to your senses Each of us are expected to become like Jesus in this lifetime. We have to grow up before we grow old. John Wimber Because it is so clear to us upon reading Ezekiel 37 that our real life is the life given to us by the Spirit I think it might be worthwhile to invest a little time and space into what it means to be spiritual. The number one rookie mistake is when you tend to believe that what you don’t do yourself doesn’t happen. But Christian spirituality is more about what God is doing in you than what you are doing to achieve something spiritual. If He leads and you follow, you’ll dance a whole lot better at the ball. The real challenge in understanding spirituality is not that it’s hard, but that it’s subtle. We’re all caterpillars. We’ve clambered into the chrysalis of Christian spirituality 138


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and are in the process of rebirth. The process takes a while.

No one can tell you how to be spiritual. It’s the equivalent of trying to tell someone how to be wise, or be older, or be African – you can’t give a prescription for this stuff. That’s not to say there’s nothing to learn, or nowhere to focus our intentionality. It’s just that it’s not as easy as learning how to be trilingual, creative, or proficient in applied finite mathematics. Because those things are totally easy, right? Christian spirituality is like being in a play; even as you are playing your character, you are also playing out the will of the director. Be you – play your character; but don’t forget whose vision you’re following. God is the director. When we get around mature Christians, or when we read spiritual writings (in addition to the Scripture) that are designed to help us understand Christian spirituality, it’s like we’re standing next to someone with a flame. Because they see more than we do, they help us to see it as well – they share their candlelight, so to speak. Over time, we catch something from them – a perspective, an orientation, a demeanor, a posture – and it’s like our own candle has been lit too. Then together we see much more of God than we did before. Since the day we were born we’ve been primarily concerned with ourselves. That’s not to say that we’re all selfish, just that we’re all restricted to self-centeredness by virtue of culture, biology, and sin. Only when we awaken to the Spirit do we begin to truly understand what it means to be selfless – to be oriented towards the other. As we deepen this understanding, we experience: 139


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A sense of immensity – God is in the large and in the small, in the details and in the macrocosm, there is no finding or losing Him in life, He is everywhere if we’re attentive enough to perceive Him. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139.7-10 So, the stock broker who gets fired and wonders where God is in the midst of all the garbage and heartache he’s about to endure needs to know that God is in fact with him, and that will help him space his thoughts a little differently, moving away from despair because he now understands that God is here – just as He is everywhere. God is present with him, suffering alongside him, consoling and encouraging him, strengthening him for what is to come. A sense of depth and time – God has been at work on His human project for a long, long time. He was working on you before you lived, on your parents, during the foundation of our society, our culture, our country, our currency, our ethnicity, and our language. 140


He goes back a long way.

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God was weaving and treading and growing your future, your spirit, since the dawn of time. What He did then affects you now. Words in the Bible, like Israel, Covenant, Atonement, Blessing, Judgment, Promise, and Hope, all have something to do with you specifically. I am God, the God of your fathers. Genesis 46.3 I knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. Jeremiah 1.5 So, the teenage kid who feels like no one loves, understands, or has any use for him can take hope because God has been anticipating him for thousands of years, preparing for him since eternity. God is eager to work with him on being animated by His Spirit for His mission to heal the world. A sense of number – God has a bewildering array of means and markers He can employ to seize your attention, 141


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change your direction, validate your progress, and increase your capacity for His Spirit. You will never stop learning some new way, some new thing, some new behavior of the Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men…For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink…But eagerly desire the greater gifts, for now I will show you the most excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12.4-6,13,31 So the Christian who has been floating around church her whole life, totally bored by it all and wondering if this is all there is to Christian spirituality – her fear is transformed she colludes with the Spirit, mining the Scriptures and plumbing the depths of historical Christianity, to create a fresh experience of the God who has patiently been waiting for her to wake up. A sense of proportion – God is Lord of your heart and soul, and Maker of the Galaxy. There are more galaxies than people on planet earth, and the God who speaks to you through Scripture is the God who crafted those galaxies like a science project. He loves you, as He loves the universe in which He placed you, as He loves the environment in which He has situated you, as He loves those He has given you to love.

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Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstonewhile the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Job 38.4-7

So the young mother who finds herself afflicted with breast cancer, afraid to hope that God could heal her because He might not, is now brave enough to ask Him for healing because nothing is impossible for the God who paints the sky with stars. A sense of quality – God grows things, and people, and places. Nothing is complete – not yet. As you come to know God you will appreciate things, and people, and places as they are right now, not looking for them to be finished early or lamenting that they have been completed too soon. You will accept the unity of the world as He creates it in front of you. May the God of green hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15.13 143


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So the father who looks at his children with worry and disappointment is released from his need to control them as adults and enabled to love them as God loves them. He can extend grace to them as he begins to understand that their story isn’t over and their tragedy has by no means been written. A sense of novelty – God is love, and love is laughter and delight and abundance and joy. God is severe at times, and we understand this, but in understanding his severity we often forget His love. Don’t. Laugh, and God will tighten your stomach; eat with friends, and God will set the table. I have seen the task which God has given to us and we are rightly humbled by it. He has made everything beautiful in His time; He has put an enigma into our hearts, so that we cannot fathom what He is doing in the world. Still, I know that there is nothing better than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. We get this life from God whenever we eat, drink, and enjoy our small efforts in the world. Ecclesiastes 3.10-13 So, the vintner who is afraid that God might be displeased with his passion, is comforted by the knowledge that God drinks wine, and loves it, and celebrates with us the fruit of our labor. A sense of movement – God works sometimes in imperceptibly slow ways, and at other times with alarming speed and alacrity. 144


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God is working in you now, and in those for whom you pray.

But you give in to despair when you begin to think that God is not working because you cannot perceive His pace. He is too fast for you to see Him; He is too slow for you to catch His movement. His ways are those of extreme agitation cloaked by a veil of immobility. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. Isaiah 55.8 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3.9 So the aging widow who wonders if she can ever be whole again begins to understand and believe that there are many wholenesses for her – companionship in this life, companionship with God, companionship in the next life with her deceased husband – and that these wholenesses are God’s promise to her of resurrection. A sense of the organic – God has created everything in connection to everything else. You are not a sailor in an open sea, neither affecting others 145


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nor bothered by pests.

You are swimming in the ocean and everything you do touches everyone else, just as they touch you. God made it this way, and works in us to help us understand the implications of our dominion over this interconnection – this hyperlinked, fluid, and yoked existence. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6.4-5 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one--as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. John 17.21 So the team leader begins to wonder whether or not the good he does to his employees and the courtesy with which he treats others will ever pay off in his marriage or with his children. And his agony over losing at home while winning at work will change as he is transformed into a person who is courteous at home and does good to the wife who loves him. We develop these senses over time as we listen to the Father, as we incarnate the Son, and as we are led by the Spirit. This isn’t all there is to Christian spirituality, just a beginning for beginners, but they are some of the transformational perceptions I’ve had over the years of walking with God. 146


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One final thing – perhaps the most important thing – to remember about living the life of the Spirit: What happens to you is not as important as what happens in you. God is less concerned about outcomes, and more concerned about cultivating the Kingdom. Results are His department. Obedience is ours. That’s the very beginning of what it means to be spiritual.

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his image is everything )

I was a young man when I first heard the term “habitual sin.” It’s a sticky term because – if you’re like me – you feel like every sin you commit is habitual. I habitually lose control of my thoughts, my tongue, my temper, my perspective on grace, etc. But there are some sins that seem to have a kind of power over us. These sins might be different for every person – for some it might be excessive gambling or drink, for others it might be rampant lust or hate, still for others it might be selfabsorption or disregard for creation. The point is Christians struggle with sin. We want to be different, but it’s hard. One of the questions I am routinely asked by Christ-followers goes something like this: No matter how hard I try, I just can’t stop doing _____. People are dying to figure out how to conquer their sin. Of course, the solution to our struggle is betrayed by the question. 148


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You cannot trust in your own ability not to sin.

By yourself, you have no power over sin. Self-control is, ironically, not self-directed but directed by the Spirit. It is the Spirit that has the power to help you conquer sin. The up-and-down spiritual experience of most Christians is a sign of spiritual failure – but the failure is not that they aren’t good enough or aren’t trying hard enough; the failure is in thinking that being good and trying hard are what conquers sin. It is the Spirit that conquers sin in us. Consider: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, 149


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you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8.5-14 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5.17 Being filled with the Spirit is really a two-part deal: We submit to His authority‌ Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit Ephesians 5.18 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. John 14.21 And we trust in His promises‌ This is the confidence we have before God, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us, since He hears us we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5.14-15 Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11.11-13 The only way you can live the Spirit-sponsored life is through faith and by trusting God and His promises. But as you grow in your ability to trust God, your life will 150


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demonstrate greater fecundity of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5.22, 23).

You will become a student of the Scriptures, present with God in prayer. You will begin to shadow God more faithfully as you are continually (re)formed into the image of Christ (Romans 12.2; 2 Corinthians 3.18). You will have experiences in which you are ennobled to tell others of God’s love and grace to you (cf. Acts 1.8). You will be empowered to resist temptation (1 Corinthians 10.13; Philippians 4.13) and to rise above spiritual conflict in the world (1 John 2.15-17). Now, if all that seems rather ambitious I suggest taking it one step at a time. There’s a little exercise I do that helps me take all this theology and doctrine of the Spirit and put it into practice in real life, in a really simple way. It’s called spiritual breathing. Spiritual breathing, like natural breathing, is a process of inhaling the pure and exhaling the impure. 151


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When you take a (natural) breath, ask God to fill you with His Spirit; to be more gracious to be more considerate to be more patient to love the unlovely to love the unlovable to forgive slights, offenses, and insults to connect your suffering with the sacrifice of Jesus to see others as God sees them to be stronger to be more bold to be faithful and, I suggest that you just pick one aspect of God’s grace to “inhale” with each breath. Don’t try and get it all in at once or you’ll pass out. When you exhale, ask God to purge you of your sin to be less hateful to be less judgmental to be less proud to calm down to refocus to walk away to let go of the desire to get even to let go of your need to get in the last word to do no harm to forgo the final insult, and, may I also suggest that you check yourself to ensure that you are not justifying some kind of sinful behavior on the basis that – since you do it so often – it’s just who you are or how God made you. 152


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Let me give you an example of how this works for me in real life. I was at a restaurant the other day with my family and I hear the people behind me talking about our church. I love our church. But our church does attract a lot of negative attention. We live in a very conservative community, largely populated by lapsed Catholics and Mainline Protestants. Since our church is full of young (or young-at-heart) people, many of whom are decorated with tattoos and piercings, and since we play music written well-after Frank Sinatra died (he is dead, right?), and since we prioritize social justice and ecological concern right up there with evangelism and witnessing, we get attacked. Like at this restaurant. This guy is sitting right behind me – the backs of our heads accidently touched several times – and he is complaining loudly about our church. He has obviously never been, though, since he is complaining specifically about me and my “heretical” views. I got mad at first. And then sad. My kids are a little young to understand what he was saying, but my dad was a pastor and I remember all the times people said hurtful things about him when I was around. That stuff was hard for me to hear as a kid – and it was garbage, just gossip and bitterness justifying the prejudices of shallow people against the worthy example of a good man – and I get sad thinking that my children will have to endure their share of this – in spades – because of who I am and what I do and where we live. And because of the jerks. My wife saw me start to fume – she can tell I’m about to give this mudslinger directions to jerktown – but something happens before something happened. A little voice inside of me said, Prove him wrong. I did my little spiritual breathing exercise. I exhaled my anger towards the idiot, 153


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and I inhaled and asked God for grace. I exhaled my hurt feelings, and I inhaled God’s perspective. I exhaled my worries for my children, and I inhaled the knowledge that God will pastor them through their hurts just like he did for me. I exhaled my desire to stand up for myself and give into a satisfyingly public confrontation, and I inhaled the understanding that what this man really cares about is Truth and he feels like I’ve somehow compromised it. I exhaled my strong conviction that I am right and just and should be vindicated, and I inhaled the memory of Jesus who was right and just and vindicated me by dying on a cross without vindication in this life for himself or his first followers. And then I was ok. We ate lunch, and enjoyed ourselves, and laughed about it later. Because it wasn’t a big deal. It could have been. I could have made it a big deal. But instead, God talked me down into a manner that was big enough to handle a little slander, a little offense, and a little embarrassment. That’s a very practical example of how this exercise works, and – more so – of how the Spirit works to (re)form us into the image of Christ. Now it’s your turn. It’s your turn to live by the Spirit. It’s your turn to overlook an offense, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile. It’s your turn to be resurrected, to come into new life. 154


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It’s your turn to be inspired. It’s your turn to cooperate with God, to know Him and to make Him known, to align yourself with His purposes, and to shadow Him in the redemption of the world. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3.18 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Romans 8.26-30

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part four

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implications for sub mis ion (

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miracles adventure stories &

The Dry Bones are brought back to life…ever wonder where they went? I mean, what did they do after God brought them back to life? Are they grocers somewhere? Do they work at Foot Locker? Maybe they’re waiting for something cool to happen, still out in the desert, wondering if they’ll get to try Starbucks? Various theories have sprung from the great minds of Judaism over the years: Rabbi Elazar believed they stood up, sang a song, and then died. Rabbi HaGallili believed they went into Israel, got married, and had children (he claimed to be one of their descendants). Rabbi Yehudah, expressing the majority opinion, claimed the whole thing was a visionary metaphor, that there was no actual resurrection army and therefore they didn’t go and do anything. But all these things are really just speculation. This is not after all an adventure 158


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story, but a miracle story. There is a difference between the two: The miracle is getting a life; the adventure is living one.

This is a miracle story because life comes to the lifeless, but the adventure happens off-screen, like Lazarus’ story, or the story of Jairus’ daughter, or of the Moabite raider whose corpse resurrected after he was dumped on Elisha’s bones. Adventure stories aren’t concerned so much with specific incidents, but with plot, tension, character, and development. We have adventure stories – Acts, Jonah, Esther, Philemon, Exodus, – but Ezekiel’s story focuses on the miracle. That means that some details are left to the imagination – like what happened after they were resurrected. Well, we know one thing the army did for sure: they complained. They say they are cut off and their hope has perished. They tell God that what they really want is not resurrection life, but just life. They wonder: what good is resurrection if, once resurrected, you are separated from your loved ones, your home, and your God? Despite our failings, most of us think we would hesitate to question the God who brings us resurrection…actually, scratch that…the God who has brought us resurrection, but we actually question Him all the time. 159


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The point I’m trying to make is that it seems awfully presumptuous to complain right after you’ve been newly awakened from the dead. However, instead of scolding the newly-awakened, God promises the very things they’re asking for: He promises to restore their land to them, to reunite them with their people – His people – and to fill them with His Spirit as they re-enter a covenantal relationship. God promises that resurrection life will not be fulfilling because it’s no longer death; but that it will be fulfilling precisely because of the quality of that new life once it’s received. This is an important point: Resurrection people are supposed to live. Most of us miss this. We think that life is for something else – work, responsibility, church, whatever. All of those things are good, but they are not life. Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. John Lennon I have come that you might have life, and life abundant. John 10.10 If you’re alive, and also alive with the life-giving Spirit of God, then the miracle has already occurred – even if you don’t perceive your life to be particularly miraculous. Each of us is in the middle of a miracle-story. The question now is whether or not you’re ready to live the adventure story that will happen afterward, the story that begins here and now, after your “resurrection.” 160


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Is life enough for you, now that you’ve encountered the miraculous life-giving power of God through creation, birth, and re-birth into resurrection life in Christ Jesus? Are you ready to live? The next couple of chapters are designed to help you understand what you’re supposed to do now that you’ve been resurrected. I want you to see and understand how we, as God’s people are led by the Spirit to carry on the incarnation of the Son according to the will of the Father. Sound confusing? Don’t worry. It’ll become much more clear. The point is this: we’ve only just begun. God has brought us out of our desolation, but that was only the first part of His design to heal the world. Now comes the part where we work alongside Him. Now comes the adventure.

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what is the father doing

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In the following chapter I’m going to do what I can to help you understand the nuts and bolts of living with the Spirit. I want to help you get a handle, in real life, on what it means to have your dry bones re-animated by God and for you to live life the way He has designed it. But first it’s gonna help you a lot to understand who is helping you and how. So, first off, you’ve got to understand the basic premise that being spiritual is about doing the will of the Father. In fact, one of the questions the founders of the Vineyard church used to ask was: what is the Father doing? Everything Jesus did, he did because it was the will of the Father. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. John 6.38 Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6.9,10 162


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Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7.21 Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours be done. Luke 22.42 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6.40 Like Jesus, we’ve got to get attuned to the will of the Father. Our faithfulness as God’s people begins by understanding the Father’s desire for His creation. It is the will of the Father that the Son accomplishes through the means of the Spirit. All things proceed from the Father, but wholly through the Son in the Spirit. Cyril of Alexander The Father is both the origin and the object of our worship through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. When the Father is the object of worship, the Son and Spirit are not diminished, but properly glorified together with the Father as one God; 163


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for the fullness of the Father and of the Son dwells in the one Spirit given to us.

Everyone has to come under the will of the Father. We forget this, easily and often, but we need the Father and His protection. We’re like little kids playing football with our dad and some other older men. We’re only allowed to play because of our dad. It’s by his protection, his covering, that we can run around on the field. But because we’re like little kids we tend to get bratty and complain about the game, we cheat to try to even the odds against our massive opponents, but every time we do we cheapen our Father’s protection, possibly even raising the ire of the others around us. Respect the game. Respect your Father. That’s the most important thing you need understand in order to cultivate the life of the Spirit. Many of us try to become faithful disciples without the Spirit. This can’t happen. If He’s not involved, you won’t go anywhere. The Spirit is essential – and the Spirit only does what the Father tells Him (cf. Ephesians 1:17). And if this all feels neat and tidy to you, then you should probably start getting worried, because being led by the Spirit is messy business. This is why the Celtic church used to conceptualize the Holy Spirit as a wild goose rather than as a dove – geese are unpredictable, impassioned, and impossible to catch. The Spirit is like that – you never know where the Spirit will take you. You can never contain or control Him; you can only cooperate with Him. And cooperation, by the way, is the right word to describe life in the Spirit – even 164


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though the Spirit is the animating power of our new life, there will always be some role to play as His co-pilot. There is always some work for us to do – it’s all Him, but we cooperate with Him. Think, for example, of Lazarus in his resurrection story ( John 11.38-44). Jesus calls him forth from the grave: Lazarus, come out! but then commands his disciples: you unwrap him. He does the miracle, we do the work. But, again, that all proceeds from the Father. Just like in Ezekiel’s vision – nothing happened until the Father spoke. The Father sent the Spirit to do His will. And now He’s sending you.

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the immanent and the ultimate Some want to live within earshot of the church bells, I want to run a rescue shop within three feet of Hell. C.T. Studd No one has first dibs on God. He’s not mine or yours, He doesn’t belong to Iran any more than He belongs to Bulgaria, He’s not the white-man’s God or the Aboriginal Deity. He is Lord of All. He is the Maker of Heaven and Earth. We are His people. 166


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The Earth is His temple.

And God is busy using His people within His temple to establish His kingdom. One of the hallmarks of Ezekiel’s ministry was his focus on “the nations.” This term was used as a means of referring to the whole wide world, not just Israel. Ezekiel refers to “the nations” 93 times in his book, likely because he was forced to come to grips with two competing authorities: God, in whom Israel believed, and the nations, in whom Israel now lived. Ezekiel was bringing together the ultimate authority of heaven with the limited authority on earth. He was demonstrating that God’s work in the world is not just aimed towards Israel, but towards all the nations. Israel may be at the center, but God wants to be the God of all nations and He wants them to be His people (cf. Ezekiel 5.5), recognizing Him, obeying Him, and worshipping Him. The key issue here is allegiance – allegiance to the kingdom of God and His son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The God who rescued Israel from her hopeless condition (in Egypt and in the Valley of Dry Bones) is incarnate in Jesus (who saves us from our sin and through whom God the Father lavishes His blessing on us), and alive and at work in us through His Holy Spirit (who teaches us how to live according to the Father’s will as we incarnate the Son). And God’s kingdom requires one hundred percent allegiance. 167


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If you’ve been kicking around church or reading the Scriptures, you’ve probably come across the word repent. People think it means something along the lines of: feel terrible about what a crummy person you are, and then beg God to still speak to you while promising never to suck at anything again ever. That’s not quite accurate. The word repent comes from the Greek word metanoia. It means changing your allegiance. Every allegiance we have, including the ones to our country of origin, the ones to our spouses and to our children, must be subservient to our allegiance to Jesus. We buy into him first and most wholly, then everything else falls into place because of it. That gets tricky sometimes, because we really love our politicians. We really love our families. We really love our country. There’s nothing wrong with those loves, though, unless they take the place of our first love, unless those allegiances somehow bump Jesus off his rightful place as king of the hill in our hearts. Jesus has no room for competitors. One of the things I find woefully frustrating is how many competing allegiances Christians in particular have. We have allegiances to our denominations, to our churches, to our particular pet theologies, 168


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to particular books of the Bible, to the way we do services and the way we spend our money.

But those things are all different than our allegiance to Jesus. That doesn’t make the everything else bad, just different. Often what happens, though, is that we lump all that crap together. We are burdened by our allegiances. Consequently, if someone asks us to examine something as inane as our musical preferences for the sake of reaching out into the world around us, we tend to feel like it’s an assault on our allegiance to Jesus. It’s not. The kingdom is much bigger than that, it is much broader and more inclusive than that. At the end of the day, Christian spirituality is about Jesus and not anything else. Certainly it is not about what you wear or what you play. I’d rather go to church every single day in a suit and sing hymns (which I hate times ten) and still have it be absolutely guaranteed that it’s about Jesus. My life is for Jesus, my family is for Jesus, and our church is for Jesus. About every four years in the States there’s a pretty huge debate among Christians about who to vote for. In my mind that’s the ugliest time where the fewest number of people really ask themselves: To whom does my allegiance belong? Jesus is not a politician, not a special interest group, lobbyist, or member of any political party. 169


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Which means we should probably chill out a bit about our Jesus-politics. Whenever you mix politics with Jesus, all you get is politics. Len Sweet Another of the competing allegiances we tend to have is heaven. Christians often love Jesus because he can get them into heaven. But this betrays a profound misunderstanding on our part. To clarify, Jesus really wasn’t all that interested in heaven. In fact, one of the things people get so wrong about Jesus’ teaching is they think every time he talks about the kingdom of heaven, he’s talking about going to heaven when they die, but he’s not. What did the angels say when Jesus came and announced himself to the shepherds? Peace on earth. What did he say when he came to Mary? Peace on earth. What does Jesus say in the Lord’s Prayer? Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth… We distort and cheapen the Gospel if we relegate it to how to get into heaven later. That’s not the clear teaching of scripture. What happened when Jesus came to the earth? Did everyone become angels or did he become a man? What happened when Jesus rose from the dead? Did he get wings? 170


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The word for angel in Hebrew is the word seraph; it means fiery, flying serpent. Most literally, it’s a sixedwinged dragon made out of fire and covered in eyes. When Jesus got up out of the tomb, was he a six-winged-fiery-flying-dragon-serpent-covered in eyes, or was he a man? The kingdom of heaven is as much about the here and now as it is about the there and then. Ezekiel understood that his role was more short-term than just prophesying about the end of the world or about God’s final eschatological clean up of it. Ezekiel knew he prophesied about God’s ultimate plans to heal the world, but also about His imminent plans to heal the world. That’s why he spoke so much about the nations – he wanted them, as God still wants them, to know God. To know Him now. The Kingdom of God is not a place, but a fact: We belong to God in Christ through the Spirit. The fact is that in our lives things ought to be the way He wants them to be, not the way we want them to be, not the way our husbands or wives want them to be, not the way our government wants them to be. The kingdom is the place where things are just as God wants them to be. It’s about the here and now, not the there and then; a fact, not a place. 171


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Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. Philippians 2.12-16 Healing the world isn’t about saturating culture with our religion – it’s about cultivating God’s kingdom here and now, on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven Matthew 6.10 People asked Jesus many times for clarification about the kingdom. Understand, in First Century Jerusalem the idea of a kingdom was a pretty loaded idea. Jerusalem, at one point, was the capital city of the Kingdom of Israel, which had then been conquered by the Kingdom of Rome. They were already juggling two kingdoms in their minds; Jesus muddies the waters by throwing in a third. To help clarify his meaning, Jesus supplied a loose collection of stories and similes: …the kingdom is like a man who sowed seeds 172


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…the kingdom is like a mustard seed …the kingdom is like yeast …the kingdom is like a treasure in a field …the kingdom is like the pearl of great price …the kingdom is like a net thrown into a lake …the kingdom is like a king settling accounts …the kingdom is like a landowner hiring men …the kingdom is like a king and a banquet …the kingdom is ten virgins looking for oil

Jesus didn’t give them a definition or a charter of rights and freedoms, a constitution, some kind of parliament or congress or legislature. Because the kingdom of God isn’t about outward controls. The kingdom of God is in them. It is in you. The kingdom of God is present in you when you do the things God wants you to do. Let me try and give you some concrete examples: You’re participating in the kingdom every time you are generous rather than greedy. You’re a citizen of the kingdom every time someone is cruel to you and you respond with kindness, or someone reviles you and you turn the other cheek. There’s always evidence of the kingdom in your life if you’re truly living in it. Imagine there are a couple of guys at a bakery in England. One guy goes up to pay for his donut and he pulls out American dollars. It’s immediately obvious to the baker that this man is a citizen of another kingdom based on the way he handles money, on his misplaced assumptions, 173


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and on his funny accent. There’s proof he belongs somewhere else, to someone else, to some other set of values.

That’s what the kingdom is like. In all the parables Jesus tells he is trying to show us that people who have the kingdom in them live differently. They make different choices, do different things. They’re thankful and generous; they live and function differently. The language of the Scriptures concerning the kingdom is very strange. We’re told the kingdom is near and the kingdom is coming and the kingdom is already here. Theologians refer to this as a kingdom dialectic, because there’s a both/and, or an all three/and. They call it the already/not yet kingdom. It’s already here in you; it’s just not everywhere else yet. I think of the kingdom as being like a franchise you personally have inside you. We, altogether, have it, but you, as an individual, have the Kingdom of God alive and well in you all by your cute little self. A few years ago, there was no Starbucks in my city of Jackson—it was a very dark 174


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time. Then the Lord shone his grace upon us and the eastside super-grocery store Meijer put in one of those faux-Bucks stands where you could buy Starbucks coffee for four dollars a cup and feel like you were getting what you needed. In many ways, that fake, eastside Meijer Starbucks is like the kingdom. When you get there, you realize that [a] this isn’t the real Starbucks, and [b] it’s ok, because you can get what you need. That’s you. You’re the eastside Meijer Starbucks of Jesus. Still, the most potent illustrations of the kingdom are supplied by people around us living differently. Every day people within our own community are crafting their own parables: …the kingdom of heaven is like a retired couple who adopts a child …the kingdom of heaven is like a young man studying for his bar exam, yet still finds time to volunteer at the rescue mission …the kingdom of heaven is like a married couple showing mercy and grace to their daughter, newly impregnated by her high school boyfriend …the kingdom of heaven is like a mom teaching her son how to pray …the kingdom of heaven is like a man showing kindness to the debt collector who calls him every hour… In all these examples we see the kingdom alive and at work in people. My friend Angela told me she used to sneak communion to her little brother. Growing up Catholic, her had family strictly observed the prohibition against underage communion. Until you had reached the age of accountability and been confirmed, you were not permitted to participate in the sacrament of the Holy Supper. But Angela’s kid brother loved the stories in the Bible, and loved God, and was 175


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heartbroken that he was kept from communion. So Angela began a black market sacrament. She’d go to the priest at the altar, and when he wasn’t looking she’d snatch extra communion wafers. At home, she’d pour some grape juice into a shot glass and perform the rite in her kitchen for her fervent and godly baby bro. Isn’t that awesome? Trust me – I understand the “rules” for communion. I get the rationale. But love for God should always be rewarded, and when the church won’t allow you to come to Jesus, you need your big sister to smuggle him into your home. Can I get a witness? The way we live is needs to demonstrate to the world a different set of values, a different authority. It will be a natural, unforced critique of the way the world works in its creed and selfishness. If you’re going to be a kingdom person, a kingdom servant, a kingdom steward, a citizen or franchise, you’ve got to recognize that the kingdom inside of you has to be obvious. You have to ask yourself constantly: How am I living? Is this how God wants me to live? That’s an intensely practical question. It’s focused on what you do. What are you doing with your time? What are you doing with your relationships? How are you treating others? Is there any sexual sin in your life that needs to be addressed? Is there any financial sin in your life that needs to be dealt with? 176


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Is there any sin at all in your life that needs to be attended to? Furthermore, if you’re more or less sinless, is it because you’re just useless?

The young woman who proudly proclaims she has never sinned in anger may only be able to say such a thing because she has never left her Christian home, her Christian school, or gone outside the influence of her Christian friends. She is in a bubble where sin – sure – is neigh impossible, but where – and this is equally troubling to God – she is of no value to the world. She is not cooperating with God to heal it, because she is afraid of being dirtied by it. Are you just sitting at home playing with your cat, not sinning, or are you cultivating God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? The kingdom goes with you; you bring it with you everywhere you go. You not only have to think about cultivating the kingdom inside you; to a certain extent, you have to think about colonization. When you’re getting together with others or when you’re going to work, you’re setting up an outpost for the kingdom. No matter what kind of job you have, you have to think: What’s my role here as an ambassador of the king? What should I be doing in this group of moms and kids that I play with? What should I be doing in this situation to help grow the kingdom? You should be able to look at your life and ask: What evidence is there that I’m living according to the lifestyle of the kingdom? One of my good friends began following Jesus after a motorcycle accident in which 177


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he lost half of his right leg. He told everyone about the greatness of God who had saved him. He was a preach-a-maniac to all of his bar-hounding friends. But he never made a positive impact in the lives of his friends until he stopped swearing like a sailor in his beach volleyball league. Until my friend began to understand that the way he would speak at the bar while not preaching about Jesus was actually more destructive than constructive to the cause of Jesus, he had zero positive impact on those around him. It wasn’t until he began to control his language that people began to notice a true kingdom difference in him, rather than something that turned him into an abrasive, jerk-face. My friends Mark and Jaylene also gave me a special preview into the kingdom. A few years ago, they discovered that they would be receiving an addition into their wonderful family, a beautiful daughter named Lalen. Unfortunately, Lalen was born with Downs’ Syndrome. Mark and Jaylene were crushed. They knew that their daughter’s condition would never affect their love for her, but they also knew that this scenario was sure to present some unique challenges and require them to reorganize their entire lives. Additionally, both Mark and Jaylene were painfully aware that the future would be difficult for their little girl, and that she would grow up suffering in a way that most of us will never understand. One night, over coffee, Mark had a kind of revelation. He thought to himself: we’d volunteer. He explained this to Jaylene: I know this is crazy, but just imagine if there were a certain number of Down’s babies that were going to be born this year and someone had to have them. Someone would have to take a child that required special attention, extra love, 178


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If that was the case, we’d volunteer. Given the opportunity you and I would be first in line to make that sacrifice. That’s what we’re doing now: we’re going to volunteer to give our daughter special attention, to love her a little bit extra, and to be brave in every situation surrounding her illness. Stories like Mark and Jaylene’s ought to compel us to ask some difficult questions. Is there evidence of the kingdom in your life? Have you cultivated a lifestyle of repentance allowing you to look at your life every day and say, “If I’m with Jesus, then I’ve got to look different than this, but I’m not there yet”? I think it’s possible – even scriptural – to live as if we were in Heaven by allowing God to have His way with us. By acting as God’s agents in our city, I believe that we can actually bring His world to ours. And – to bring this whole kingdom schtick full circle – I think that’s what Ezekiel saw in his vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. He saw not only a scattering and smattering of soldiers’ remains, but the future of God’s people and for the people of the world. He saw that we do not have to live like we’re dying; that we do not have to succumb to the culture of death in our world; that we can be filled with God’s own life-giving Spirit now; that we can walk in newness of life now; 179


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that we can rise up, be reunited with our loved ones, be returned to a place we call Home, and once again be called the People of God.

Ezekiel looked at the Valley of Dry Bones and saw the Kingdom of God.

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conclusion Prayer changes nothing, except the person who prays. Anonymous Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. Soren Kierkegaard I got into an argument once with a good friend about the nature of hope. What hope is there, really, if everyone of us dies eventually? What can we really trust God for, if not for the things we want? We want God to heal us, and he doesn’t. We want God to change us, and we remain the same. We want God to save us from our circumstances, but here we are, right where we’ve always been. So what’s the point of hope? 181


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What good does it do to pray, or trust, or ask God for things to be different – especially when all the spiritual people tell us that the point of praying is not for God to help, but for us to be changed through the process of petition? The point, my friend, is the difference between getting your ass kicked and going down swinging. If you’ve ever been beaten up, there’s nothing more humiliating than curling up into the fetal position and whimpering until it’s all over. Make no mistake, life is difficult. You will take a beating. But if you’ve been beaten up more than once, you might have had that little voice inside of you that says: Next time, I’m not going down without a fight. I might not win, but I’m not going to take my punishment either. And you know what? The kid who goes down swinging, rarely gets picked on a second time. So why hope? Why fight against the pervasive despair? Because hoping, and fighting, produces a different kind of person than the one who lies down and cries. We have real hope for the future – we are promised resurrection life with Christ in a new Creation in which we experience our world in the way He intended. And that hope isn’t just eschatological – it’s the hope for heaven on earth, not just heaven after earth. And so I’ve got to believe that earth can become more heaven-ly. 182


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And I’ve got to believe that I can become more god-ly. I’ve got to believe that the life I’ll be living then is available to me in some small measure now if I’ve got the jam to work for it. I may not be rich, but riches don’t last anyway. I may not be perfectly formed, but I’m getting a new body anyway. I may not be all-knowing, but knowledge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.

So while I’m here I’m choosing to play the long-game, the eternity incubation game, and hope that with God I can begin to experience the impossible-madepossible. Ezekiel’s vision gives me that hope – the hope that God isn’t finished with me, that my story doesn’t end in tragedy, and that things can – and will – be different as God breathes His Spirit into these dry bones. [Our God] gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Romans 4.17

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dr david mcdonald Lord we are walking, wounded the waking dead dead to the world dead to rights dead in our sin we stumble toward you hands in front groping for breath suocating on the earth we clutch at life give us the gasoline-breath of your Spirit fuel us in-spire us to run on wind this is our oxy-genesis the (re)creation of spiritual bodies nephesh hyah auto-pneumatic for the people, by the people we are your people if you’ll have us again, amen.

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hermeneutical

an exploration of theology, scholarship, and background information

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rigmarole

that will prove useful in better understanding Ezekiel’s vision

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american christian israeli ?

?

?

I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! Romans 11.13-24

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Whenever we read the First Testament, especially as Westerners, we run into a number of snags. Chief among them is figuring out what all this stuff about Israel has to do with us. Also, we might ask: Does the Church replace Israel as the people of God? What happens to Israel? Are all the promises given in the covenants fulfilled or are we still waiting for them to be fulfilled? What is the Church’s role in these promises? This chapter is going to briefly pull us out of the text of Ezekiel’s vision in order to clarify some of the underlying issues about why we’re “allowed” to study that vision and apply it to contemporary life. Before we get into this too deeply, allow me to explain some of our terms. The church and Israel are not one-and-the-same, and we must be very careful not to go back into the First Testament and replace the word “Israel” with the word “church” wherever we see it. Israel is a nation-state. Jews are an ethnic group. When the Bible refers to Israel (or Judah) and the Jewish people (or Hebrews) it means exactly that: the nation and the ethnicity. However, there is a distinction between Israel (God’s chosen people) and the remnant within Israel (those who choose God, in return). All Jews are part of Israel (the nation-state), but not all Jews are part of the remnant-Israel. Confused yet? Think about it this way: consider the United States. Some, mistakenly, think of the USA as a “Christian” nation. Whatever they mean by that, we must recognize that being American does not automatically make you a Christian. So it is with Israel. 189


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Just being Jewish doesn’t make you ‘Christian,’ or to be far more accurate, doesn’t mean you have chosen to be faithful to the Covenant[s] with God. The remnant was a group of people within Israel who chose to stay faithful to God during (especially) the exile, when the majority of the Jewish people had turned away from Him and were no longer observing their covenantal obligations. When Paul talks about the church being grafted into Israel (cf. Romans 11), he is talking about the church being grafted into the remnant-Israel. He doesn’t mean that we become Jewish and that some Jews lose their Jewish-ness; he means that the remnant is not limited to an ethnic group or a nation-state. So, to sum up, we have four terms referring to God’s people in the Bible: Israel (the nation-state), the Jews (the ethnic group, the descendants of Abraham), the remnant (those within Israel who remained faithful to God while the majority of their countrymen abandoned the Covenant[s]), and the church (lovers and followers of Jesus Christ from any [and every] nationality and ethnic group). Ok – back to our original question: what are we supposed to do with all the stuff about Israel in the Bible? Well, since the best way to interpret Scripture is with Scripture itself, let us begin with Genesis 12 in which God promises Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation, which was Israel and the Jewish people. Additionally, God promised that the Jewish people would possess a land, and that through this nation all other nations of the world would be blessed. So, from the outset God reveals that Israel would be His chosen people, but that His blessings would not be limited to them exclusively. Galatians 3.14 addresses the nature of this blessing: He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the 190


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Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. All the world, then, will be blessed by Israel, through whom will come Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. God’s plan to heal the world culminates in Jesus – born from the line of David, a physical descendant of Abraham. Of course, Christ’s sacrificial death wasn’t meant for just the Hebrew people but for all the world as well. Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3.6-8 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3.26-29 Since we are “in Christ,” we share in the blessing of Israel and God’s plan to heal the world. In this sense, we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Paul in the Book of Romans identifies the Church with Israel saying, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”, and goes on to explain that it is not the natural children but the children of promise who are Abraham’s offspring. This, however, doesn’t mean that the Church and Israel are the same, just that they are 191


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connected somehow. Furthermore, the Church is described in the same kinds of ways in the Second Testament that the prophets described Israel in the First Testament. For instance, Israel is sometimes called the son of God — the Church is also spoken of in terms of sonship (cf. Galatians 3.6ff ). The relationship between God and Israel is sometimes likened to a marriage (cf. Hosea), as is the relationship between God and the Church. There are plenty of other examples, but you get the idea. Romans 11:16-36 records the illustration of the olive tree, in which the olive tree represents God’s plan of salvation. Israel (the “natural” branches) have been broken off from the olive tree, and the Church (the “wild” branches or shoots) have been grafted into the olive tree. It stands to reason then that neither group is the “whole tree,” so to speak; rather, the whole tree represents God’s workings with mankind as a whole. We can conclude from this that God’s designs for Israel (then) and God’s designs for the Church (now) are both part of His plan to heal the world.

Again, I understand why this terminology gets so confusing – especially since (in many places) “Jews” and “Israel” seem to be used interchangeably, while “remnant” is hardy ever used at all. But we must remember these distinctions in order to correctly interpret the Scriptures for today. 192


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In short, then: the Church is part of the remnant of Israel – those who have chosen allegiance to God (now through Jesus Christ) above any other concern and place none of their trust for salvation in either nationality or ethnicity. Having now grounded ourselves in a proper hermeneutical understanding of Israel, the remnant, and the Church we can return to the text of Ezekiel’s vision with full confidence that his message is, in fact, for us. And that, my friends, is how you split a theological hair.

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evil and the project of humanity I’m very hesitant to write a “brief ” section on the problem of why a good and allpowerful God would permit evil and suffering into His Creation. In my mind, that one issue is a topic for a book – better, a whole series of books – all by itself. And yet, I recognize that this is one of the most common questions people have about God: Why is He letting these bad things happen? I also recognize that this question lies at the heart of many people’s reluctance to embrace God. They wonder: How can I love and trust someone who chooses to allow evil into the world? Because of the sensitive nature of these questions, and the profound personal pain coming from those who ask them, I want to be very clear that the following few pages are only the beginning of a response. I don’t expect you to find answers to every one of your questions here. I do, however, want to demonstrate that there are answers to these questions and that these answers are well-reasoned and can be deeply satisfying. With that, let me begin: First, we would be wise to understand that much of the suffering in the world is self-inflicted. Not all suffering is such – we would be cruel to say 194


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so – but much of the run-of-the-mill suffering works much like karma. You get back what you put in. If you’re irritable, you’ll likely suffer the loss of many jobs. If you’re reclusive, you’ll likely suffer the absence of many relationships. This is an oversimplification, but the principle must be acknowledged that much of the time we have some complicity in our own misery. Next, we would be wise to accept that much of the natural evil in our world – earthquakes, contaminated water – is at least partially affected by the maltreatment of our planet by us, its primary inhabitants. Of course not all the natural evil can be labeled this way, but the systemic erosion of our natural resources (not the least of which is our ozone layer) accounts for a lot of sickness, death, and the spread of disease (our greed gets in the way of supplying vaccines for diseases we have already cured but are too “cost prohibitive” to manufacture and/or disseminate). Again, this is an oversimplification but we must accept the principle that we, too, are responsible for much of what happens on this planet. Third, we might wonder why God does not limit the actions of criminals, sadists, and child abusers. Certainly they, at least, could be stopped in their tracks. They could, it’s true, but the cost would be very great to all humanity for it would require that God limit not only their capacity for freedom but for everyone else in the world as well. Apparently ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’ has some metaphysical application. Inside every human being is the potential for great harm and great good. Only we decide which path we will take in this life. For God to limit the choosing of our paths to only the good path would make us something quite less than human. I find this portion of my answer, by the way, the least satisfactory – nevertheless, it remains a portion of the real reason behind the presence of suffering in our world. Finally (though much more could be said), the Christian understanding of evil is rooted in the Fall. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God, the presence of sin – a creation-distorting, relationship-raping, dehumanizing force of black destruction – entered 195


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the world with dire consequences. Sin affects us, our relationships, our understanding of and closeness with God, and the created order itself. Furthermore, the agents of sin – dark spiritual powers, brooding forces, evil wills – are continually at work to undo God’s goodness and the good efforts of His good people. Sin has a will, and – sadly – it works in us all. So, why doesn’t a good, all-powerful God stop evil? Because to do so would require that He completely de-frag creation and cease the project of humanity. To save us, He would have to destroy everything we believe He ought to save. At this point, some might wonder if God’s chosen solution to all the suffering and evil in the world is simply to do nothing. Thankfully, God has not abandoned us just yet. To the contrary, His solution to this stalemate is two-fold: Primarily, He began to redress the problem of sin by coming here to live among us. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, knows exactly what kind of suffering we endure and he endured it too. We take strength from the suffering of Jesus, and Jesus’ example demonstrates how we can have great faith, hope, and love in the midst of such great evil. Secondarily, God provided every believer with His Holy Spirit to guide and govern us in this life, to make us strong enough to endure hardship and gentle enough to avoid causing more of it (insofar as we are able to cooperate with Him). Again, I feel like each of these points and sub-points could be explored at length and along many important detours…but this book is not about providing a systematic apologetic for God’s involvement in the world. This book is meant simply to remind us that God is involved in the world, that He does love us and is working on our behalf, and because of that 196


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there is hope for those who feel hurt, cut off, and desolate.

For Further Reading Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey

God and Human Suffering, by Douglas John Hall The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis Evil and the Justice of God, by N.T. Wright Satan and the Problem of Evil: constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy, by Gregory A. Boyd

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the dreams we see Have you ever had a dream so vivid you were sure it was real? I get those all the time. I have a recurring dream about an old, dilapidated Spanish home on a coastal hill surrounded by temperate rainforest. This is my “dream home,” and because I’ve had the dream so often I feel like I’m home whenever I have it. But, as far as I know, this place doesn’t exist anywhere outside my head. My daughter has experienced the same phenomenon, only in her dreams giant ladybugs crawl down her mouth while she’s sleeping and lay eggs in her stomach. This is why, whenever she has eaten too much, she tells us she has a “tummy egg.” Dreams that are so real you cannot distinguish them from waking life are common. Less common are God-given visions that allow us to more accurately perceive real life. Ezekiel’s vision of the Dry Bones was given to him so that he might better understand God’s purposes and plans for His people. His vision reflected a reality more concrete than even the physical reality we normally perceive. In some ways, his experience of the Valley of Dry Bones was like being jacked into the Matrix. Everything was hyperreal – a sensual onslaught. Ezekiel’s vision, however, was categorically different than the ones my daughter and I have. First, Ezekiel’s vision was not merely a mental image, but a kind of divine kidnapping. God’s Hand scoops him up and teleports him to a remote locale. Because of this, some commentators see in Ezekiel’s description a kind of trance seizure: the Lord seized (a physical seizure) me, 198


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and took me by His Spirit (not physically, but in a vision) to a valley. Certainly the arrival of the Hand of God upon Ezekiel speaks to the overwhelming force with which the prophet perceives himself to have been snatched by God and carried off. And Ezekiel wasn’t just given a profound spiritual preview of the future. His experience was mediated by God Himself who narrates, defines, and explains the vision. I’m often asked whether or not God speaks through visions (or dreams) today. People want to know whether there’s any credibility to what they’ve seen, or what their friends have experienced. They want to know if they can muster up a few visions of their own, like a spiritual Red Bull to get them through life. It’s a good question. The answer is, “Yes, with a few caveats.” First, some deny that God speaks through visions any more. The reason they say this is mostly because they’re terrified that if we open the visiongate a crack, all the crazies will jump through and start a bunch of new sects. While their caution is warranted, their skepticism is not. Joel 2.28 clearly states that God will “pour out His Spirit on all flesh…and [our] sons and daughters will prophesy, our old men will dream dreams and our young men will see visions.” Peter cites this reference during his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.16-21) when he tells everyone that what was prophesied then is happening now and will continue to happen with increase frequency. God speaks through visions – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It would be unbiblical. However, just because God does speak through visions doesn’t mean that every time someone says they’ve had one we should believe them. Visions must be tested. 199


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First, and most importantly, we should test visions against the scripture. If the vision we’ve had contradicts the Bible, then we obviously had our wires crossed. Visions should never be given equal or greater authority than the Word. If the vision is consistent with the Bible, then we’re okay to move to the next phase of discernment. And if, as is most common these days, our vision is just some kind of word-picture, then we can simply take it as some kind of timely encouragement, brought to our mind by the Holy Spirit. The next step in vision testing is to share it with a few wise and mature Christians – people you know and trust – and get their prayerful take on it. Ask them if they feel you are to do anything with this vision. Ask if they feel you are to act on it in some way, or share it with a specific person. Prayerfully consider what God would have you do in response to the vision (cf. James 1.5). Pray before and after you hear them out and ask God to reveal to you what He’s trying to say. Visions can be tricky, often cryptic, and it’s worth checking and re-checking just to make sure you don’t do something inappropriately weird. I realize this must seem like a lot of steps to go through after receiving a vision, but these are sensitive issues and we want to be sure that we’re hearing from God and not just eating too many sour gummy worms. Visions are often timely, but we shouldn’t rush into acting on them if there’s even a little doubt as to whether or not they’re legit.

Outside of North America and Western Europe, there seems to be much more in the way of prophetic activity, spiritual dreams, and supernatural insights. This is entirely consistent with the biblical example of visions being frequently used by God to reveal His truth to people in the early days of Christianity. If God desires to communicate His message to a person, He can use whatever means He finds necessary—a missionary, an 200


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angel, a vision, or a dream. There is no limit to what God can do; however, I’m often asked why they see more of this than we do. Sometimes people mistakenly assume it’s because the places “over there” are uneducated or superstitious. Obviously that can’t be the case, however, as places like China, Korea, Brazil, and South Africa are even more technologically advanced than we are, and boast a far superior system of public education (though, not everyone in those places gets fair and equitable access to their tech and/or their schools). In my mind, there are two big reasons why we don’t see more of this in the West: We don’t expect it, look for it, believe in it, give credence to it, or mine the Scriptures for proof of it. It’s just not part of our practical theology. We have an anti-supernatural bias in the West. We love the supernatural on TV and in movies, but because of the prevalence of the supernatural there we’re very skeptical as to whether or not what we see or experience in real life isn’t the product of lights and lasers, smoke and mirrors, green screens and golems. One last note: if you feel like you get a lot of visions, or prophetic dreams, or get lots of word-pictures or mental images about spiritual scenarios, chances are you’ve got the spiritual gift of prophesy (cf. 1 Corinthians 12.28, 29; Ephesians 4.11-12; Romans 12.6-8). This is a God-given ability to speak on behalf of God to others – to act as a kind of conduit for particular messages God wants His people to hear. This is spooky stuff, but don’t get too spooked or too geeked about it. There is a reason the First Testament refers to the burden of a prophet. God is probably not going to use you to predict the future; He will more likely use you to offer insight and perspective on current conditions and how things might turn out if changes aren’t made. Be as clear as you can while sharing your insights, and prepare for the fact that what you’re doing is controversial. Prophets see things that others often don’t (or don’t want to), and you’ll need the courage to “tell it 201


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like ought to be.�

Ezekiel’s visions may prove to mean more to us than just the transmission of a prophetic message; he may also prove to be our model – for transmitting our own faithfully delivered messages from God, for speaking truth, for igniting hope, and for sharing a vision of the promised future.

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Because Ezekiel’s vision deals with death and resurrection, some background information on the Jewish concept of the afterlife may be helpful. In biblical Judaism, when someone died they were typically thought to go to one of two places: either Sheol or the Place of the Patriarchs. Now, before I explain further, let me just preface by remarking that Sheol is a very different place than our modern understanding of Hell, and the Place of the Patriarchs is very different from our idea of a disembodied Heaven. As I said, I’ll explain more as we go. For now, just know that we’re talking about something different here than what most might assume. Life and death, for starters, were thought of quite differently then – more like a continuum, less like opposites. Those who were sick were closer to the temperature of death, often resulting in visions of those trapped in death. Conversely, those who were in the full bloom of life, young love or new enthusiasm, were thought to be more present with God. Life, in scripture, is not deathlessness but healthy, blessed existence. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, 203


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that both you and your descendants may live; Deuteronomy 30.19 Sheol was a word that people used to describe their own personal battles against the forces of anti-life in this world and in the next. Those who went to Sheol became emptied and weakened shades, incapable of producing normal sounds. Brought low, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth; out of the dust your speech will whisper. Isaiah 29.4 There was also a social connotation to Sheol. So, for example, when Israel was in exile, God’s people were seen as being dead; when they repatriated, they experienced a kind of national revival. This is clearly seen in Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Also, when someone was widowed, barren, or lost a child it was considered a living-death, while to have children later on in life was seen as a miracle akin to resurrection. As a result, Sheol was a word that meant some place as well as some state of being. Sheol was a place you went after you died, but you could also suffer in the pits of Sheol now. We use the word death like this sometimes: You look like death warmed over… I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus… You are so dead when s/he finds out what you did… 204

You smell like you’ve got one foot in the grave…


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But we mean something quite a bit less sincere when we say these things. We are being colloquial. The ancient Hebrews, on the other hand, were being literal. My soul is full of troubles, And my life draws near to the grave. I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength, Adrift among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And who are cut off from Your hand. You have laid me in the lowest pit, In darkness, in the depths. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah You have put away my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an abomination to them; I am shut up, and I cannot get out; My eye wastes away because of affliction. LORD, I have called daily upon You; I have stretched out my hands to You. Will You work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise You? Selah Psalm 88.3-10 205


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Sheol was thought of as the last little bit of someone’s unfulfilled life prolonged for eternity. So, if your life was awful and you just couldn’t wait to die and get it over with…then guess what? You were in trouble – because that desire would land you in a perpetual state of listlessness. Like his fellow Israelites, Ezekiel understood the realms of the dead to be broken up into three tiers: Heaven, the realm of Deity (8.3); Earth, the realm of the living (31.14); Sheol, the realm of the dead (26.20). Their conception of Sheol was much like a vast cemetery, with the most important persons in the center. At the outer rim were murderers and evildoers, then the uncircumcised, then terrifying foes, then fallen heroes – the rams of mighty men – located in the heart of the netherworld in positions of honor. There is no mention of the righteous after death in the book of Ezekiel, though elsewhere we are made to understand that the righteous rest in the Place of the Patriarchs. In their conception, that which survives is not simply the spiritual component of the human being, but a shadowy image of the whole person – like a sort of phantasm. In Sheol the deceased lie on beds in their graves (complete with stone 206


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pillows, strangely enough) and they are arranged according to nationality. They are not asleep, by the way, but fully conscious – aware not only of one another in their relative positions, but also of the fact that the way they lived has determined where they now rest. Additionally, someone who died an unfortunate or untimely death was thought to have departed into Sheol, just as those who loved and survived them were thought to be stuck in Sheol in this life. So Jacob, for example, when he learned that his young son Joseph had (reportedly) been eaten by wild animals, refused to be comforted saying: I will go down mourning my son into Sheol (Genesis 37.35). Do you catch what I’m saying, here – Sheol had nothing to do with punishment. It’s much more about quality of life and harmony in life than reward or judgment. In terms of the Christian belief in the resurrection, Sheol has two great meanings: First, that God will not abandon us after our deaths into the emptiness of hell or misery. Second, that God will not abandon us now into the emptiness of despair, self-pity, irreconcilable sorrow, lifelessness, depression, learned helplessness, or the endless consumption of reruns on TBS after 2am. The LORD deals death and gives life; He casts down into Sheol and raises up. 1 Samuel 2.6 TNIV The Place of the Patriarchs, on the other hand, was quite different. Again, since the Hebrew mind conceptualized life and death differently than we do, and since Sheol was the prolongation of an unfulfilled life, we must understand that the Place of the Patriarchs is really just a term used to describe: 207


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1. a fulfilled life in this world 2. the perpetuation of fulfillment through children and grandchildren in this world which a. allowed people to die in peace, with the assurance that all is right with the world b. gave testimony to the goodness of YHWH who honors those who honor Him by extending blessings from generation to generation. So, the Place of the Patriarchs is a misleading term, because it might be better to think that those who died a fortunate death at a ripe old age, leaving behind a healthy family, join the company of the Patriarchs because they died in the same way. In the case of those in the Hebrew Bible who die blessed, there is nonetheless survival of a certain, but very important, sort. If we examine the deaths of such people, we see that their survival actually lies not in the transport to a dierent world (like the Christian Heaven) but in their lineage. Madigan and Levinson Abraham, for example, dies after arranging the marriage of his favored son Isaac and (in addition to Isaac) fathering six other sons who become the fathers of many nations just like God promised in Genesis 25. Job, too, after his great tragedy, lives to see “four generations of sons and grandsons,â€? which we are made to understand is the fulfillment of his blessing by God ( Job 42.16). And what, you might ask, does any of this have to do with us in the here and 208


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now?

For starters, it requires our acknowledgement that God is the God of Life and not the author of destruction. That may seem obvious, but I think it’s a point that bears repeating – especially in an increasingly hostile world of competing religious ideology. Christians, it seems, get more and more eager for violence every day. We want to bomb our enemies, bomb the Muslims, kill the terrorists, and teach our adversaries a lesson. We tend towards blood thirst. And, while some occasions may warrant violence – the defense of a rape victim in the midst of her brutalization, for example – we trip too quickly into it and forget that God is the author of Life. The last word from the God of Life is not death and judgment, but revival, spring, and resurrection. He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 25.8 In Ezekiel’s case, he would have been hard-pressed to make his case for God as the Author of Life without his vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. While God spoke through the prophet in chapter 36, it is unlikely that anyone took seriously Ezekiel’s resurrection cry until it was accompanied by such a fantastic vision. Once God showed up, demonstrating Himself and His designs in a new way, the people began to hope for life once more. 209


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Behold, I will open your graves and bring you out alive, O my people. I will bring you back into the land of Israel. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall settle you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and performed. Ezekiel 37.12-14

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any way the wind blows

God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Say to the breath ‘this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’” Ezekiel 37.9 Whenever we visit a foreign culture there is always something lost in translation. Comedian Jim Gaffigan has been very public about his frustration in trying to communicate to people from other countries how Americans eat. He claims other cultures don’t understand the difference between an appetizer and a dessert. But it’s perfectly obvious, isn’t it? An appetizer is the food we eat before we eat our food, whereas a dessert is the food we eat after we’re done eating our food. When we try to translate Ezekiel 37 into English, we run into a similar kind of problem with the word ruach. Ruach means wind, spirit, and breath. It can also mean singing and laughter. If one word with so many meanings feels foreign at first, relax - we have English idioms that work like this too. We get a second wind, we breeze in and out, 211


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we shoot the breeze, we get a breath of fresh air, we’re in love and feel lighter than air, at night our radios go off the air, when something happens we don’t like we hope it will blow over, when we get angry we blow up at one another, when we are stressed and need to release we blow off some steam.

Ruach is used in three ways in this passage – as an agent of transportation, an agent of activation, and an agent of animation. It is picked up by the wind – the ruach moves us. It prophesies to the spirits – the ruach responds to the Word. It prophesies to the breath – the ruach brings life. In the first instance, ruach refers to the wind that blows in the atmosphere. This is the kind of wind we usually refer to when we talk about “the wind.” I shall bring upon Elam the four winds, From the four ends of the heavens; And I shall scatter them in all these directions. Jeremiah 49.36 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Revelation 7.1 212


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In the second instance, ruach refers to the spirits of the dead who have been scattered across the globe. Since the dead warriors were not properly buried, their spirits could find no rest and haunted the earth. For devout Jews it would be unacceptable to compare these spirits to ghosts or shades, so it may be better for us to conceptualize them as some kind of “self ” or “essence.” From wherever these spirits went to hover in the four directions of the world, let them gather and come. Rabbi Rashi In the final instance, ruach refers to the life-giving breath of God’s Holy Spirit that enables and empowers the (re)created warriors to get back on their feet and live. So – I tend to think of this complex little arrangement like this: The breath of the earth, comes. The breath of the souls, resides. The breath of God, animates. The wind comes and creates movement; the souls come back into the bodies for identity; but only the breath of God brings life. Since wind and life-breath are conceived of as the same element in biblical 213


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spirituality, it’s important to note that death is synonymous with a stoppage of breathing – ex-spiring – whereas, revival entails in-spiring. As in Genesis, God brought life to one man by breathing into his human model. In Ezekiel, God summons the four winds of the world to bring life to an entire army. Here’s why I think this is valuable information, and not just cool stuff to geek out on at Bible camp: there is much over which God has control and there is much at work in the world according to His purpose. At His command, according to His purpose, we often find ourselves the beneficiaries of radical help. Now that you have some understanding of God’s breath, you might wonder how it relates to our spirits and souls. Most of the time, people confuse or equate the spirit with the soul. But they are different. A spirit (ruach) is the disposition, the mind, of a thing. Spirit is the life-giving breath that God gives to non-living things. So, the wheels in Ezekiel 1, for example, are just that – wheels, non-organic – but when the Spirit enters them they come to life. As human beings, we are both spiritual and physical creatures together. Our spirituality cannot be separated from our physicality. To be only spiritual would mean being no longer human. To be only physical would mean the same. God created us and put His breath in us and when He did we became living souls (nephesh hyah, Genesis 2). Put another way we don’t have souls, we are souls. A soul-creature is a being in whom physicality and spirituality are intermingled. Interestingly, animals are noted as being nephesh hyah in Genesis 1 – without a two-stage creation. Though I won’t explore that here, I’m surprised to realize that the question of whether or not animals have souls is so easily answered by reading the Bible in its original languages. To extrapolate this metaphysical understanding into a metaphor, think of the soul as being the car whereas the spirit is the gasoline. 214


The soul is what lives, the spirit is what animates.

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The soul is the what, the spirit is the how. This has special bearing in Ezekiel 37 because it helps us understand why resurrection is required. If we are both spirit + body (= soul), then a body with no spirit is not human; just as a spirit with no body is not human. The Dry Bones, reconstructed, were not nephesh hyah. They were not human. They were still corpses. The spirits wandering all over the earth were not nephesh hyah. They were not human. They were just wisps, phantasms, nothings. Only when the two come together is there nephesh hyah. Human beings cannot “be” if divided. There is no half-human. It’s all or nothing. Soul, Corpse, or Wisp. So in order for God to truly save His people, He had to resurrect them in new physical bodies and animate them with His breath. This is why the idea of a “spiritual” heaven is so bogus. Nowhere in the Bible is there any evidence whatsoever that the spiritual bodies Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15 are ghosts or floating spirits. 215


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There’s no such thing. Everywhere, always, the promise is for God to (re)create us, in new bodies, with our same identity, our same will and emotions, our memories, and He plans to place us back into our own land – a new heaven, a new earth. I’ve written extensively on this elsewhere in a book called Dying for a Fix, but for now just let it sit that the you you’ve got will be the you you’ll get, only somewhat upgraded.

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part onefor fquesurthertionsreflection :

1. Prior to reading this book had you ever heard of the prophet Ezekiel before? If so, what did you know about him? Had you heard of his eccentricities? If so, which ones? How weird did he seem to you then versus now? 2. Ezekiel’s message was unpopular. How do you think that unpopularity would have affected him as a person? What does it tell us about Ezekiel that he consistently delivered God’s message to the people even though they didn’t want to hear it? What can you learn from Ezekiel in this regard? How is God calling you to be faithful in difficult circumstances? 3. What similarities do you see between the people in Ezekiel’s time and USAmerican Christians in ours? In what ways should we caution ourselves, based on their example? What do you think our “spiritual blindspots” might be? 4. Of all the imagery listed in chapter 2, which word-picture most grabs your attention? Why? 5. Contrast the two biblical images associated with valleys: warfare and fertility. Which of these images is most prominent in Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones?

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dr david mcdonald 6. What is the “phantom pain” described in Ezekiel’s vision? Do you have any phantom pain? Do you sometimes feel cut off ? What hope do you have in those times? What “gets you through?” How do you think you will process those times differently after reading Ezekiel’s vision? 7. Of the four major themes in Ezekiel’s writing – Covenant, Land, Zion, David – which one do you resonate with the most? Which one do you understand the least? Why? What might you be able to learn from delving into the other less resonant themes? 8. Take a moment to consider Ezekiel’s emphasis on people “knowing the Lord.” Why does God want us to “know that He is the Lord?” What do you think that means? What implications does that have for us in real life? How could you demonstrate to God, to yourself, and to others that you ”know?” 9. What do you think it means to be animated with the Spirit instead of being animated with breath? If someone truly was being kept alive by God, how different do you think their lives would look from someone who was being kept alive by just oxygen?

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the eleofmentspirsitual formation DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR SOUL The adventure of (re)turning Most of us can recognize some aspect of our lives that is undesirable, regrettable, and/or dead. Maybe you feel as though you have lost yourself somewhere along the line. You’re not alone. In the Book of Ezekiel, we see God coming to the Hebrew people in a place where they are defeated, in exile, and spiritually dead. It is here, that God pursues them and offers them the promise of new life. Commit to God in prayer an area of your life where you feel dead, lost, defeated. Ask Jesus to be in the center of that area and to breathe new life there. Be a careful listener and obedient to follow through on what God is promising and telling you. DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR CHURCH Finish the whole thing. Commit to work through this book. Too often we start books (and other stuff ) and never finish. This teaching atlas is full of incredible life-changing information and material. While it isn’t a “self help” manual per se, it invites you to discover a relationship that will help you grow and choose a better way of life. That relationship is with Jesus. Spend time reading and interacting with the teaching atlas to discover what God has in store for you.

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dr david mcdonald DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIPS Journey through a biblical story with someone (like your kids) Get together with a few others and walk through a Bible story together. Read it aloud (a children’s Bible would work just fine) and discuss the images in the story. Think in pictures first (is there running, conversation, items used or talked about…). Once you have made your observations, talk over what might be some spiritual implications or lessons from them. Commit your ideas, questions, and direction to God and trust the Spirit to lead. After all, the Spirit is the best teacher.

DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR WORLD Love requires action Most communities have some sort of “Community Action Agency” that lists ways in which citizens of their community can help in a tangible manner. Check out what is available in your area and jump in to serve. A little can go a long way in making a difference. Invite others to join you (family, small group, neighbors…). If you’re a Windie, we invite you to look at www.caajlh.org and find something off the many opportunities listed to help the Jackson community and surrounding area.

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part twfoor fquesurthertionsreflection :

1. Is it significant to you that God has a plan B? Have you ever felt like you needed His plan B? Is there some part of you that thinks you’re still in plan A? Why? How about Plan Z? Why? What does it mean for you to live according to the plan God has for you now? Who can help you do that? 2. In what ways does Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones remind us of God’s original creation of humanity in Genesis 2? In what ways is it different? How does knowing about Ezekiel’s vision change your understanding of God as the Creator? 3. Of the four stages of spiritual reconstruction – connection, covering, casing, breath – which has been most important for you? Which one do you feel like you’ve got plenty of? Which one do you feel like you’re missing? Why? 4. If you were to imagine a window open in the sky, with God looking down on you, how do you think He would feel about your life? What would He say to you if He could holler down? Does this make you want to live differently? Why? Or why not?

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dr david mcdonald 5. What significance does it have for us that death always precedes resurrection? What does it mean for you that something will have to “die” in order for something new to be “born?” How does that relate to your job? Your marriage? Your dreams? Does this “death” scare you? Why? What might “resurrection” look like for you? 6. What connection is there between “metaphorical resurrection” and “actual resurrection?” What kind of new life will we be satisfied with? 7. Consider the story of King David and his dying son at the end of this section. What relevance does this story have to our conversation about death and new life? What can you learn from David?

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the eleofmentspirsitual formation DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR SOUL A new spirit awaits Grab a Bible and take a look at Jeremiah 29.11-13. Read through the verses a good dozen times and let them sink into your spirit. What is God saying to you through them? How might He be looking to heal and restore parts of your past? Take time to memorize the verses over a 2-3 day period, realizing that the truth revealed there is a GIFT. We do nothing and can do nothing to deserve it. It is simply God’s promise for real deliverance in our lives.

DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR CHURCH Try worshipping one, serving one Most churches have more than one service now-a-days. Many even have different kinds of services from which people can choose. Here’s an unselfish idea, why not try worshipping at one service and then serving in another (like ushering, children’s ministries, hospitality, etc.). See what God does in your life when church no longer revolves around you, but around what God is doing in the collective needs of your local church body.

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dr david mcdonald DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIPS My way or the highway… Are you an individual who likes to have things your way, who’d rather just do it than ask for help from others (after all they might not do it right, right?). Or maybe if you do ask for help, do you go back through what was done and change it to fit your preferences? It is so easy to put stuff and projects above people. The Bible challenges us in this attitude, saying that we are to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others…” (Philippians 2.3). We invite you to ask others for help (not easy, we know). Then hold loosely what doesn’t really matter and work with compassion and patience through what does. Remember, it’s more important to invest in building up a person than to have things “just so.” DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR WORLD Simplify - Donate your extras and unnecessaries Times are hard for many, yet most of us still have more than we need. Agreed? If you answered “yes,” then do a small part to combat our culture’s consumerism by giving away your extras and unnecessaries to a second-hand store or donation site. Make sure you don’t then go out and replace what you gave away with more stuff.

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part thforreefurquesthertiornseflection :

1. Have you ever experienced a time of spiritual dryness? How did it feel? What kinds of questions did you have? Did you try and “get over it?” Did it work? Did you eventually come out of that dry time? If so, what was the “coming out” like? Was it caused by an event? Did it just gradually come to a close? Reflecting back, what did you learn from that time? What wisdom do you have that you could share with others around you based on your experiences? 2. Have you ever felt like a “zombie?” Do you know anyone that looks lifeless, hopeless, and cut off ? What hope is there for “zombies?” How can we ensure that the hope we offer in Jesus is not delivered like some kind of platitude or easy answer to life’s difficult problems? 3. Think for a moment on the interplay in Ezekiel’s vision between Word and Spirit. Have you experienced a similar interplay in your own life? How does God speak to you? When you read Scripture, do you consider that God is speaking to you through it? How so? What about the Spirit – how has God’s Spirit come to you in the past? What was it like? How have you learned to recognize the Spirit at work in and around you? Can you think of anyone in your life who is particularly gifted at being led by the Spirit? What could you learn from them? 4. What’s the difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it in your heart?

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dr david mcdonald 5. Many Christians are very good at living by the “Christian rules” but not very good at being animated by God’s Spirit. Why do you think this is? How can you tell when you are being too driven by outward conformity and instead of being led by the Spirit? 6. Of all the “senses” listed in this chapter, which one excites you the most? Which one confuses you the most? Why? 7. What do you think it means to “be spiritual?” 8. Have you ever struggled with a habitual sin? Do you still struggle with the same sin? How have you tried to overcome this sin in the past? Were you successful? Even if you haven’t completely been freed of this sin’s power, what helps you cope? How differently does this chapter speak about habitual sin than how you’ve previously thought about sin? 9. Who ultimately has the power to defeat sin? How can we tap into that power? What does that power look like?

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the eleofmentspirsitual formation DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR SOUL Spiritual Animation Find I Corinthians 15 in a translation of the Bible that is comfortable for you (you can find online translations at biblegateway.com). The writer of this letter, Paul, talks about Jesus followers as people animated by God’s Spirit, rather than motivated by the cravings of the flesh. As you read through this passage and examine your life in light of it, what would you say motivates you? Does the Spirit animate you, or the world with its desires? Talk to God about these areas of your life. He can handle your honesty. Over the next few weeks, repeatedly ask God to increase your submission to the Spirit as animator in your life. DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR CHURCH Plan to attend a learning opportunity Spiritual growth doesn’t happen haphazardly. It requires our investment. It is very important that we each purposefully find opportunities to learn and grow in our knowledge of basic biblical principles such as who Jesus is and what he teaches, and what it means to be part of a church body. Take a look at what is offered in your community via churches and faith-based learning institutions and take the necessary steps to get connected. If you are part of the Westwinds community, plan to attend Chai Tea University, a weekend spiritual formation opportunity happening this fall. Look for more information through community email, the draft and at the CUE services. 230


dr david mcdonald DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIPS Follow through on a nudge It is not uncommon for us to have someone come to mind that we haven’t seen or talked to in a while. When this happens to you, acknowledge that it is God’s Spirit speaking and follow through on that nudge. First, take a moment to pray for that person and your connection to him/her. Next, make contact by picking up the phone. (Face-to-face is always best, but sometimes distance makes that impossible. Voice-to-voice is the next best step before any other form of communication.)

DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR WORLD Set the pride aside. Do a charitable act without telling anyone. Keep your eyes open for how God is working in the world around you and humbly jump in. Check your motivation for seeking recognition by keeping it between you and God and notice how that feels to you.

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part fofourr fuquesrthertionsreflection :

1. Take a moment and consider the difference between a “miracle” and an “adventure” story. Have you ever experienced any miracles? What parts of your life have best qualified as adventures? Which have you enjoyed more? What does it mean for us to experience a miracle, but live an adventure? 2. What does it mean that “resurrection people are supposed to live?” How does that apply to you in real life? What do you suppose are the qualities of “abundant life?” Do you think you’re living an abundant life? Why? Or why not? Can you think of anyone you know who does have an abundant life? What does their life look like? 3. Many people are initially confused by the idea of the Trinity (that God is One, but comprised of Father, Son, and Spirit). If you’ve never heard anyone explain the concept of the Trinity before, take a moment and ask someone in your satellite group or in your church to explain it to you. If you don’t know anyone you might ask, consider purchasing a copy of Doxa: what you believe matters through the Westwinds bookstore. There is a chapter on the Trinity inside. In Bleached, one of the things we’ve tried to emphasize is the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. What do you think it means that everything the Son and the Spirit do proceeds from the Father? How can we know and do the Father’s will? Do you believe you are currently living according to the Father’s will? How do you know? 4. Describe the role of the Spirit in our spiritual lives. What does the Spirit do in us? What does the Spirit do for us? How can we cooperate with the Spirit? 232


dr david mcdonald 5. Ezekiel’s vision was delivered primarily to the people of Israel. What significance, then, is there to his emphasis on “the nations” for us living outside of Israel? To whom does “the nations” refer? What does God want to do with “the nations?” What does He want them to do? 6. Have you ever heard the terms “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of Heaven” before? In what context? Prior to reading this section of Bleached, what did you think those terms referred to? 7. What is the kingdom of God? How do we know when we’re participating in it? Can you think of anyone you know who lives the lifestyle of the kingdom? What are they like? 8. Consider for a moment the word “repent.” What does it mean? Is there anything you need to repent of currently? What is it? Is there someone you can share this with? 9. Consider Jesus’ kingdom similes. Which one resonates best with you? Why? What do you think it means? How does it relate to your own life? 10. What does it mean for you to be considered a franchise of the kingdom? 11. How does Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones connect to Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom of God?

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the eleofmentspirsitual formation DO SOMETHING FOR YOU SOUL Confession = Life Sin separates us from God and keeps us from experiencing LIFE as God intends. In short, sin affects our whole lives and keeps us “dry.” In the process of becoming a Jesus follower and being spiritually ( Jesus) formed, we are to practice confession. Confession is simply acknowledging your sin before God and asking Him to forgive you, and then inviting Jesus to be an ever increasing LIFE source in your everyday. (Take a look at Proverbs 28.13,) Spend some time evaluating your life and areas or practices that are “drying” you out, separating you from God. Confess them transparently to God (and another trusted person in your life, if possible) and experience the life that comes from God’s forgiveness through Jesus. (Check out Romans 10.9-10, James 5.16, and I John 1.9.) DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR CHURCH Donate a day If you have some extra time to spare, why not check to see if your church could use some help. Spring always brings with it the need for extra attention around the building (inside and out), preparing planters, touching up any damage from harsh winter weather, as well as the constant need for extra office hands for those odd office jobs. Call the church office to find out more about how you could give a little time.

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dr david mcdonald DO SOMETHING FOR YOU RELATIONSHIPS It takes time… Reflect on your current relationships. Are you building into the life of anyone? Are you investing in getting to know them on a regular basis? Take some time to pray, asking God to reveal someone who you should get to know better. Act on what you hear, contacting that person and setting up some time to meet. Commit to spending time with that person (weekly, if possible) and allow God to direct your time together.

DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR WORLD Discover the size and shape of your footprint Check out www.myfootprint.org and walk through the short quiz to see what kind of lasting effect your lifestyle is having upon our planet. Once you’ve completed the quiz, rise to the occasion and make some changes in your life to lessen your consumption of non-renewable resources. Invite others to join you in your strive for change. Brainstorm creative and accessible practices for people to engage in protecting our environment.

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t he atb a t at ll e hi l l e l

a fictional reconstruction of the events that preceded, and caused, the Valley of Dry Bones thereby connecting Good Friday to Ezekiel’s vision

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Good Friday is the day we remember Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross. It is “good” because it is the time when God fully embraced the suffering of sinful humanity, gave Himself fully to it, and exhausted the darkness of sin. But it is not a gleeful or happy time. It is gruesome and grueling, but with a good result: Three days later, on Easter Sunday, Christ rose from the dead. He came out of the other side of death into new life. Theologians identify Christ’s resurrection as a kind of fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision concerning the Valley of Dry Bones. In that vision, the prophet is taken to a valley graveyard and speaks to the bones with God’s voice and they live again. But both stories show that before there can be new life, there has to be a Good Friday, a valley of blood and tears. What follows is a fictional reconstruction of why the valley of dry bones was so horrific a vision for the prophet. This is the darkness before the morning, the absence before the presence.

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603 B.C.E. :: Babylon, Al Hillel :: It is noon, a Friday

I am tired of soldiering. I have walked too many times into the blood and muck and watched my fellows fall. There is some exhilaration in battle, but it is just work – like bone setting or metal working. A job done well feels good. But I have done too many jobs, and the goodness dims. Across the field, in a valley, are some thousands…maybe more. They gleam, but quiver also. Fine armor over pretty arms. I think we’ll be done early. We come at them, bulls shouldering metal bulrushes, and they fall. They are not soldiers. Not really. They are fine-looking statues. No. They are sticks. Toys. We should have sent our daughters to fight. Our lines relax and the men begin to look for trophies to claim. I see nothing I like, but take fistfuls anyway to sell. As I reach, I see movement from the left, and twist to avoid a spear. One survives. He is wild-eyed. I note his wounds – many, but mild – he must have been caught under a horse or pile. He foams. That’s never good. His spear is quick, and I am a victim of age and tenure, so he sticks me in the gut. It is shallow, but deep enough to stoke my passions. He ends badly. My father was a bull, a lion, a griffon, an angel. He brought death to dozens each day, and laughed after. In this moment, I was the angel, and I carved this thing in front of me like a sacrifice. He came apart, properly prepared, and I gave Baal his heart. Still impassioned, I walked the valley and jabbed at the slain. None made a noise. 239


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Everyone died, and I was my father – the bull. The valley was a meat shop now that the battle was over, a butcher’s board open for business. I’m not sure why we came, I’m not even sure it matters. But we came. We fought. And we won. I killed a hundred men. Almost. People think that a battlefield must sound like a forge, with clanging and shouting, but it’s different. It’s like a run through the mud. There’s a lot of panting and everything sounds wetter than you’d think. Wet clothes. Wet sod. Wet meat. The priest told us we came to fight because these men had defiled the temple walls and were the enemies of our gods. The eunuch told us we came to fight because these men were slaves who had stirred the queen’s passions with their youth. The king told us we fought because no Jew should worship Nebuchadnezzar – not after those three escaped the fire – but these did. But who cares why? I’m a soldier. I fight. I see their carcasses as food for the birds of the air, and the beasts of the earth. I watch to endure no one frightens the beasts away. This valley is full of dead men – soon it will be only their bones. Then only their dust, which will be the dry dirt of the valley floor. *

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Even after they were dead, and we were sure of our victory, we rode our horses over the bodies. The men made jokes. Those who had listened to the eunuch made jokes about how impossible it would be to lust after these ‘beautiful’ boys now. Those who had listened to Nebuchadnezzar said Belteshazzar’s friends were safer in the furnace than these fools on the field. Those who listened to the priest decorated the ground in pinkish paint like the infidels had desecrated the temple. With the bodies of the enemy soldiers, we filled the valley like grass. The pieces were like dandelions, littered and seeding the ground. We made sport and- gave their flesh to the eagles and vultures to feed upon. A woman was found watching from the hills and the men made sport of her. I watched her after. She was broken. She exhausted her grief, collapsed, and passed out. She came to an hour later, angry, spewing rage. She was a broken dragon. She spoke of their god and His promise to look after them. I don’t know if she was angry with us for killing her god, or angry at her god for losing. I don’t know who she blamed, but it was a performance I had not previously witnessed. She vowed her god would avenge them. I guess maybe their god doesn’t die very well. Sore loser. I got up to leave but was startled to see her bend over and begin digging. She was making graves. I told her to stop. She didn’t. I told her again, and the dragon spewed. I spat and walked off. Someone else will kill her later, and maybe I’ll bury her if I decide to care. But I don’t. Like I said, these bones can stay here forever. Let this be the ruin and desolation of those who serve the god who keeps dying. *

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I am tired now, and the spoils of war have spoiled. I have spoiled. The dragon-woman is still hucking curses and woe-begotten prophesies like spears. I want her to shut up, but I can’t be bothered to move. I’m ready for home and bed. I’m ready to stop. Some chuckling brings me around, though, and I see three younger men – my kin – coming back to the woman. They think she’s funny, and they missed their turn for sport earlier and their blood has not stilled. They begin to tease and blow kisses. Her resolve falters and they are on her like dogs. I tell them to stop. They don’t. No one listens to me. But I am the bull again and I stand up – more aggrieved that they disrespect me than that they plug this woman. They tell the bull to blow his horn, and I’m angry. I’m the angel now. The devil. And I add to the butcher’s bill one of my own. The other two pop up and there’s a new lust and a new anger. They mob me and I go down for some stupid woman. After they’re done with me, but before my lanterns go out, I see them kill the woman. She’s thrown on top of me. I guess our bones will be here for the dying god when he finally feels like getting up again. I ought to be angry – with myself, with my people – but what good would that do now. I’m here forever – cut off from my people, separate from my land. I am the cut flower, the bladed grass. I am a bull on the altar, the angel of death. Make no mistake – this is the way of our god: take what you can, fight what you want, crush who you hate. I’m tired of it, but as I slip away I think maybe it would have been better if I didn’t die here in this valley of judgment and war. 242


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The early Jewish conception of resurrection was very different from what we have come to know as Christians. The Hebrew people believed that at the end of the world God would raise up all those who had been slain in defense of Israel to fight once more in new, resurrected bodies. They read Ezekiel 37 and saw in this vast, awakened army a promise for a future resurrection and peace through victory. They are not the only ones to think like this. Many people look to God to destroy their enemies, many look to Him for victory and security, but God is not at work to wave a flag or win a war. God is Christ-like. And the Way of Jesus Christ is not the way of the military conqueror – Christ was killed by conquistadors. It is only much, much later that we have come to realize how wrong those early conceptions of resurrection were. The promise of Ezekiel 37 is not the promise to bring destruction to our destroyers, and so become destroyers ourselves. The promise is for life. The promise of Good Friday is not that we will kill those who killed Christ, but that we will come into new life. We must forgo our love of blood. We must release our desire to get even, to give others what’s coming to them. We are not meant to be soldiers, but living sacrifices. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12.24

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For whoever wants to save his life must lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. Luke 9.24 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other one also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop them from also taking your tunic. Luke 6.29 Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22.36 The Valley of Dry Bones is a scene of final judgment, but we are not the judges. Those summoned here are those who make the fields of life a vast and conglomerate killing field. Wreckers, destroyers, warriors be warned – there is a God who witnesses and He stands with the victims. There is a God who stands against you, against the abuse of power and the exercise of arms. These bones lying here are bones of contention. May you no longer love lying among the bones of the violent, but may you instead rise up into new life with God. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live‌ 244


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r eso ur ces Ezekiel: Vision in the Dust by Daniel Berrigan The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48 by Daniel I. Block “Beyond the Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision of Death and Afterlife” by Daniel I. Block Yechezkel (Ezekiel) by Rabbi Moshe Eisemann Dry Bones Dancing by Tony Evans Ezekiel 21-27 by Moshe Greenberg Creative Bible Lessons in Ezekiel by Anna Aven Howard Ezekiel by Robert W. Jenson Between Heaven and Earth: Divine Presence and Absence in Ezekiel by John F. Kutsko Between Cross and Resurrection by Alan E. Lewis Resurrection by Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levenson The Book of Ezekiel: Volume Two by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery by Leland Ryken (ed.) et al. “Make No Bones About it” by Leonard I. Sweet An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor Resurrection by Geza Vermes The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright Ezekiel: Volume Two by Walther Zimmerli 246



Bleached: Hope for the Desolate