Like thousands of fellow pastors in the regions of Ontario entering into Phase 2, the question is being asked: are we going to open?
For the past 12 weeks, places of worship were closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. For many congregations this was a shock that generated a mixed bag of varying opinions.
Since then, hundreds of pastors have had to re-adjust to life on the fly if their employer was able to keep them on the payroll. I have blogged about some of this weeks ago, and I won’t repeat myself here. I will however, use a previous blog to launch me into this weeks thoughts.
In an earlier post, I shared some thoughts about Ezekiel. You can read that post by clicking here.
Needless to say, Ezekiel was having a bad day. Life was not lining up the way he expected, desired or prayed for. However, we all at times need God to shake us up in order to settle us down. This past week I found myself reading and meditating upon the vision of the life-giving river.
So, with this vision in mind, allow me to ask a few questions of my own pertaining to being open.
Are we open to being led: In this vision Ezekiel is being led by God to continue journeying away from the Temple. It seems that the Lord is intent on leading Ezekiel to areas that He has measured off in the distance. In a third of a mile increments, Ezekiel follows the One measuring. The act of measuring in the Bible can mean God’s protection, identification with and purpose for the thing being measured (See Zechariah 2 and Revelation 11). Here we see that God is measuring off new territory for His life-giving stream to impact. In the vision, the river grows in volume as it flows further from the temple.
Section by section, an area is measured. Section by section the river deepens. Section by section, the temple building is smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror. Here’s the point, every time God moves, Ezekiel follows.
Needless the say, these last number of weeks we all have been ‘measured’ of sorts. Many have had to repurpose themselves, reflect upon life and the world, reset priorities, rethink careers, readjust lifestyles, and even realign values. Some have simply taken a recess. But have we considered the possibility that God is leading us into something new?
As a pastor, I realized long ago that a new score card was needed when it came to how I measured success. In times past the church valued the external measures of ‘three Bs’: bodies, budget and buildings. North American culture likes to count and so does the church. However, in recent years churches and leaders have had to develop a new way to measure success. The vision given to Ezekiel seems to suggest that God desires to establish a life-giving flow from His temple outward. So, perhaps it is time for a new score card that measures missional impact.
Are we open to new things: I am thankful and proud of the many pastors who caught the passion to reach outside the walls of the building and become focused on the people who do not attend. Seriously, even if we wanted to keep the focus internally, people were not allowed to enter. Talk about a hit to the attendance numbers. But our continued focus on the ninety-nine could be going against the very flow of God. Here’s why.
The river in Ezekiel’s vision is said to be flowing towards the Arabah (47:8). Arabah literally means ‘the depression’. This ‘depressed’ area is said to be the region surrounding the Dead Sea. Not much life in there. I guess that’s why God decides to go in that direction.
It should not be stunning to us that God seems to passionately desire to bring His river of abundant life to the dead areas of the world. You and I were not worthy to receive His abundant life, but it was offered because of God’s merciful compassion and grace. He is always on the lookout to bring His people home. In that regard, we are like that little fish called Nemo that has a Father searching the world in order to bring us back to Himself.
Here’s the point, perhaps the Lord is using this time to lead us towards new expressions of His abundant life to the surrounding community. We all have a neighbour don’t we? Furthermore, perhaps ‘the church’ in many aspects is being re-tooled to better reach the areas of deadness around us. Maybe that is the whole point. Maybe we are being led to discover new ways to reach the world. Maybe this is what Jesus died for.
Are we open to healing the world: Sometimes we are all guilty of focusing too much on our own tribe. We all are guilty of this. The fact that so many pastors and evangelists preach this passage and vision as a personal revival message is proof of such. Here’s how.
We must remember that this vision was given to Ezekiel in context of land distribution. The land that God measured was to be given equally to all the tribes of Israel (47:14, 21). No tribe was to receive more than the other. But God takes it even further. Yahweh commands for all the aliens and foreigners living within the tribes to also receive an equal share (47:22-23). That means that all the non-Israelites living among the tribes were to receive the same promised inheritance equally. In other words, God’s river of life was to always impact and include others into His tribe. Perhaps this is why God is measuring off distance from the temple. Maybe He wants to enlarge the area, and impact for people with His healing river flow.
So let me ask another question: Do you see what the Lord sees?
Ezekiel is asked this very question (47:6). This question reminds me that this vision seems to emphasize what God is doing rather than what Ezekiel and the Temple are able to do. Also, this question is helpful because it seems to invites us to experience and participate in whatever God is doing. For some unknown reason He desires to work through people like you and me. So a question could be: what is God doing right now to bring His healing presence to the depressed regions that surround us?
Maybe that is a better question to ask. So again, hey pastor, are you open?