Day 245

Standard

Ezekiel 32:17 – 33:20; Jeremiah 52:28-30; Psalm 137:1-9; 1 Chronicles 4:24 – 5:17

Mike James, Pastor of Children and Young Families Ministry
 
Recently, I encountered a serious issue on a sports team I coach.  A few of my athletes violated our team’s training rules with regard to controlled substances and health practices.  While the actual situation did not involve illegal drugs, under-age drinking, or tobacco use, their actions were against another rule they had agreed to keep.  Violations of the training rules results in a suspension from the team for the season.  These young men owned up to their mistake, admitted it, and even voluntarily addressed the team to apologize for their actions.  They did not complain and accepted their suspension which started the same day they admitted their actions.  Instead of offering excuses or lies, these young men took responsibility for their mistake.
 
Other members of the team talked with me about their frustration at the rule and the consequence.  They felt that the “punishment did not match the crime.” They cited other teams which they believe are violating the drug/drinking/tobacco policy but are not getting caught and thus not having suspensions.  A few choruses of “it is not fair” were heard as well as comments like, “what they chose to do did not hurt anyone and was not illegal, so what is the big deal?”   It is easy for us to look for someone else to blame, or compare our situation to others when we are in conflict. My answers to the team were probably not very convincing or satisfying even if they were correct: everyone signed an agreement to their conduct, and each person has to keep that commitment regardless of what anyone else is doing, or whether they get caught.
 
In the Old Testament, it often seems that God is very heavy-handed, vengeful, ruthless, and cruel.  Judah and Israel made many mistakes and chose to violate their covenant with God.  The consequences were harsh; war, sieges, capture, bondage, and execution.   They had made a commitment to God, chosen not to honor that commitment, and God was following through on the conditions of the agreement.  Israel and Judah had no one to blame but Israel and Judah.
 
God is an equal opportunity God with a level playing field.  While he was using other countries to discipline His people, God was still going to hold those nations accountable for their own actions.  In today’s passages we see a list of some of countries which God used to correct Israel and Judah who could expect God’s punishment: Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Elam, Meshech, Tubal, Edom and Sidon. We even get a shocking statement for the exiled Israelites celebrating this punishment in Psalm 137:9.
 
It is hard to want to follow and love a God that seems consumed with cruelty and death.
 
Yet even amongst the death and destruction, the God of love and grace is ever present.  While God is harsh with the nations, He always gives opportunity for people to personally admit their mistakes, repent, and turn to Him. Verses 10 to 20 of Ezekiel 33 are a plea from God for all the people to turn towards real righteousness (actions, attitudes, beliefs, and motivations all matched together).  Does God rejoice in destroying people? No!  Does God desire everyone to turn to Him? Yes! Does God want lip service to following Him, or does He want us to actually surrender and follow Him?  Do we have to be righteous first, or will He accept us where we are at?   Verses 17-20 answer these questions directly:
 
“Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live. O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.” (Ezekiel 33:17-20 NLT)
 
I thank God that He is far more gracious that I can understand.
 
What happened with the athletes? The athletic rules committee reviewed their case and gave them a reduced suspension of a few weeks instead of the full season. If the young men had not shown responsibility for their own choices and actions, the review board would not have extended grace to them.

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One response »

  1. Thanks Pastor Mike,

    I found myself drawn to the same verses. When we except Christ and become righteous through His mercy & grace it’s not over, we now have a commitment & covenant with Him. The right way isn’t the easy way nor is it always the most appealing. Every day we are faced with decisions to move closer to Him or to move away. When we choose Christ it gets harder because we now have a target on our backs from the evil one who would like nothing more than to see us fail.

    When we become a Christian we are not magically propelled through our daily routines. We must move forward through constant, prayerful decisions that bring us toward Him. When we fail, which we will do from time to time, we must own it and repent, seeking His forgiveness and mercy as we are now held more accountable that those who have never chose Him.

    He is the way, the truth and the life.

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